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.
What is your ‘escape?’ You know, that sanctuary where you drown all your anxieties, fears, and stress? … that haven which helps soothe stinging memories? …that refuge you enter when hopes and dreams crumble away? Do you have an ‘escape?’
My garden is my escape. When my attention fixates on problems that cannot be solved, the garden redirects my attention onto the things that can be solved, like weeds that must be pulled and branches that need pruning. When my eyes replay the pictures of dear friends now gone, the garden pulls my eyes to search for cucumbers and tomatoes hiding under leaves. When the mental work calendar demands more hours than there are in a day, the garden rolls out the transplanting and the landscaping that can be planned now and done later. Anxiety and stress, sadness and frustration melts away in my garden-escape.
Yet, my ‘escape’ has one major shortcoming: it cannot end trouble. My ‘escape’ cannot erase [delete] painful heartache. It cannot free up a busy schedule. At best, an ‘escape’ distracts you from life’s troubles, but you must return to those overwhelming challenges. How can you ever do that?
You need a better escape. Some place that ends anxiety and stress, that wipes away tears rolling down your cheeks, that builds you up when frustration leaves you mangled. And you have that rock-solid place of rest. When troubles press into you and you do not know where to turn, remember this: God’s Word Strengthens Weary Hearts. When you feel pressed down, feast on God’s promises.
Picture it. Elijah stands high on a mountain, looking down on a city he loves so dearly, on a people wandering from their God. Most of those citizens now flock around this scene on the mountain. Four-hundred-fifty priests are piecing together an altar to this god called: ‘Baal.’ A god considered active in nature; he sends the rain and allows crops to grow and produce. A god so many trust.
Elijah watches priests dance circles around the altar, arms stretched out to the heavens, heads thrown back, howling at their god to receive their sacrifice. Someone pulls out a sword, another brings out a spear, and they begin slicing into each other, hoping the sight of blood would move Baal to have compassion and take action. From sunrise until sunset they shout, plead, beg: “Baal, answer! Baal, act!”—and nothing happens.
While the priests ramble on, Elijah constructs an altar out of twelve stones. He digs out a trench around it. Then, he lays kindling on top and arranges his sacrifice. He commands: Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood (1 Kings 18:33). He does that again… and again… and again— four times total! His sacrifice is sopping wet. Kindling, stones drip. Water pools in the trench. Standing before the altar, Elijah prays: O LORD… let it be known today that you are God in Israel… (18:36-37). Fire instantly spills from heaven, devouring the meat, incinerating stone and wood, vaporizing the water.
Elijah turns from the smoldering altar. “This is your God, Israel! Follow him!” points Elijah. Masses chant: “Yes, the Lord— he is God! We will leave Baal! The Lord—he is God!” (18:39).
This is it! God proves his existence in the most spectacular of ways! Everyone knows God is real! In fact, God’s blazing fire should ripple throughout the country, toppling down idol worship once for all. Everyone would worship him! In the greatest of successes comes the lowest of threats from the king’s wicked wife: “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of [the slaughtered priests of Baal]” (1 Kings 19:2).
Just like that Elijah’s confidence deflates. [He] was afraid and ran for his life, scrambling out to a desolate area. There, he finds his ‘escape:’ a scraggly broom tree and [he] sat down… No servant pesters him. Queen Jezebel’s threat is a distant thought. Now he can unload his thoughts, his burdens, his deep-seated emotion. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”
Prophet after prophet after prophet pointed to God, and Israel only plunges ever deeper into unbelief! You live as God’s light in the world, but the world chews up your Christian living and spits it right out. As Elijah wallows in the dust, he’s confronted with an undeniable truth: He controls very little. And that absolutely crushes him.
Know the feeling? You love God oh so dearly. People see you as a ‘Christ-follower.’ You imitate Christ in your living— not to be better than others, but to shine Christ to others. Still, the world chews up your Christian living and spits it right out. It leaves you questioning the value of a Christian life in an increasingly Christ-less society. “The world is changing! I cannot stand against it! I must change my social beliefs to blend with it!”… “No one cares to listen anymore! I must change the “offensive” parts of the Bible so that others may listen!”…“Oh, so few worship now. Why am I here? I don’t want to be one of the last ones! I don’t want to be stamped: ‘Failure.’” And it’s not always the world that afflicts, is it? Personal suffering threatens to overwhelm you. You feel crushed and weighed down because you have no answers for cancer. You feel lost after an untimely [early] death. Questions surge after a painful accident. You missed the life-goals of: having a good job, earning enough money, having the perfect family. Friends hurt you and you feel so sad. All these troubles pile up and leave you struggling with your own faith, wondering: “Does God really cares about you?”
Just like Elijah, you (and I) feel pressed down. Why? Because you are trying to fix things that you cannot fix and to control that which you cannot control. When you realize how little control you have, you get angry with God because you (and I) think we can order him to fulfill all our demands.
Self-reliance pushes the head right into the heart. You stare at yourself. You trust yourself. Yet, the greater your self-reliance, the harder you fall. The harder you fall, the greater opportunity you have to look up to Jesus.
As Elijah sinks to his lowest low, God’s angel knelt beside his head. He touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” Shaking himself alert, Elijah looks around and sees a cake of bread over a little fire and a jar of water. Yes, the angel feeds him, but how does bread and water help? His troubles had not gone away; he’s still a wanted man! Spiritual decay still ravages the hearts of so many Israelites.
The angel of the Lord came back a second time This time he does not just feed Elijah with bread and water, he feeds him with the Word. “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” Can you see the gears grinding in Elijah’s mind? He relied so heavily on himself, imagining that he is the crucial mechanism to solving Israel’s spiritual decay! Yet, God puts his ministry in its only correct perspective: “Elijah, that’s more than you’re capable of handling on your own.”
The angel of the Lord is a special person. You see, that angel is not from the Lord; he is the Lord. That Lord reminds you: “The journey of life is too hard for you to handle on your own, but it is not too hard for me to handle.” When you feel pressed down, look up to heaven!
Jesus speaks—and does everything he promises! No one stands in his way. Even when it appears the Jewish leaders succeed, Roman soldiers crucify, and the cross kills, Jesus still triumphs. He loads your (and my) self-reliance onto his back and removes it. Jesus plants his heel into Satan’s head. His unblemished blood spills before God and shows his innocence. His empty grave reveals the Father is pleased with Jesus. Then, the Word reaches your ears: “Peace be with you!”
And what peace you have! Dear friends, when you are tempted to rely on yourself, look up to Jesus. There you see the One who has crushed Satan’s head so that you will never, ever fear death in hell. See Jesus, who rises into heaven so that he can return to [his] Father and your Father, to [his] God and your God (John 20:17). See your God, the One enthroned in heaven, reigning from his high throne, keeping his watchful eye on you, making sure to work all things for your good (Romans 8:28). Weary hearts receive strength from God’s Word—because in the Word, God promises your forgiveness. He promises to handle your burdens. He promises to remain with you always. Yes, God’s Word Strengthens Weary Hearts. Feast on his promises!
The promises of Jesus speak in such a way to the human heart that only Jesus could bring real peace. Eyes fill up with tears at funerals when you hear the Bible read. No, not out of sorrow or sadness. Rather, tears flow because God reveals the sight of blissful paradise— the paradise Jesus gave to that loved one, the paradise your loved one enjoys now. Anxiety melts away when you hear Jesus promise to provide all things better than he already does the birds of the air and the flowers of the field (Matthew 6:25-34). Hearts flutter when they see the Holy One enthroned in heaven scoffing on the trivial works of man (Psalm 2). You grasp peace because God the Holy Spirit is working in your heart. He wraps your heart’s fingers around God’s promises tighter and tighter. He increases your confidence of knowing God remains in control no matter what. When the storms of life may gather, you may run into God’s promises, your rock of refuge.
God’s Word Strengthens Weary Hearts. Sometimes, it makes you stronger by removing that which makes you weak. The Holy Spirit cuts away the frightful clutter of your (and my) human heart. Yes, the clutter. God’s Word purges pride— and reminds you (and me) that you are not in control; God is. It clears out self-reliance and returns you to Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
God’s Word clears out Elijah’s self-reliance. He prays, weeping that he is the only believer left. And God answers his prayer. No, not by taking Elijah’s life. He answers it better. In fact, he increases Elijah’s trust over time. Do you realize it takes 40 days and 40 nights for God answer Elijah? At Mount Sinai [Horeb] he says: I reserve seven thousand in Israel— all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him (1 Kings 19:18). “Elijah, you’re not the last Christian.”
The time in responding allowed Elijah to reflect on God’s Word. Do you think, that after day 10, he realizes he had not eaten for some time? Do you think after day 20 he realized God has some strength? Do you think after day 37 he realized God has control to carry out his plans? For forty days and forty nights God re-centered Elijah’s attention and heart back onto his promises. God’s unbreakable, unchanging Word strengthened Elijah for life in an ever-changing, always breaking world.
Little by little, God re-centers your (and my) heart back onto his promises. He teaches us patience as we wait for his answers. Some answers have come. Others are coming. Still others will continue to come. God’s Word Strengthens Weary Hearts as you feast on God’s promises.
Elijah’s death threat never disappears. King Ahab and Queen Jezebel always stew in anger, but Elijah has strength to stand up to them. How? The Almighty King of the universe is on his side— and no one can stand against Him.
And that’s the perfect ‘escape’ the world will ever have. In fact, it is better than an ‘escape.’ God does not distract you from troubles; he deals with troubles. Feast on his promises and satisfy your anxious mind, you stressed out heart, and confused-twisted emotions. When you feel pressed down remember this: God’s Word Strengthens Weary Hearts.
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.
Last month’s issue of Forward in Christ [our synod’s magazine] shared some shocking statistics. A recent survey gathered religious beliefs from members in the largest Lutheran church body in America. The survey revealed:
So then, is it any wonder your world behaves so schizophrenically chaotic? Is it any wonder no one can agree on what is morally “right” and what is morally “wrong?” Pastors— those who call themselves “messengers of God”— hold the Bible in one hand, but preach a message found nowhere in that book! They instead create a message meant to scratch itching ears (2 Timothy 4:3). Is it any wonder droves are fleeing worship? If those same pastors proclaim, “All people go to heaven!” then why attend? When you dump the Bible, you will create your personal set of beliefs based on opinions, ideas, and reason.
Those statistics serve as a grim reminder of Satan at work still. You are a Christian living in an increasingly Christ-less world. That means, you will face the constant temptation to conform your beliefs to what the world expects to hear. Yet, tuck this truth into your memory: God’s Word Breaks Rebellious Hearts. Listen to it. Use it.
God is telling Ezekiel the same thing. Ezekiel grows up in a Christian nation. Just recall everything God gives Old Testament Israel. Father Abraham receives— and passes down— the promise of Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior of the world (Genesis 12:2-3; 15:4-5). This Israelite nation, set free from Egyptian slavery, camps around Mount Sinai. God carves out Ten Commandments for them. No, not to restrict freedom. Rather, these commands are meant to keep believers, believers, and to protect against destructive false teaching (Exodus 19:5-6). The nation understands that; they even shout: Everything the Lord has said we will do! (24:3) God sets up kings as shepherds to steer the people away from false teaching and to lead them to trust God.
Do you see how God describes that same nation here? I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn.
Obstinate! Stubborn! The people have the Word, but they resist obeying it! Masses skip worship. And those who did attend simply went to church because it fulfilled an obligation. National leaders trust puny mortal men instead of the powerfully immortal God! Judges are bribed; widows are cheated; orphans ignored. God sends out steady streams of prophets to call people back to him, but those prophets are rejected, beaten, and killed. Then, even after God strips away their freedom, the nation scratches its head asking: ‘Why has the Lord decreed such a great disaster against us? What wrong have we done? What sin have we committed against the Lord our God?’ (Jeremiah 16:10).
Ezekiel is to preach to these people: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says?’ It’s not that they do not know what God teaches. It’s that they reject what God teaches. That makes Ezekiel, a Christian in an increasingly Christ-less nation, a minority.
Do you know that feeling? To feel outnumbered? … to feel as though no one cares about God’s expectations? You urge and plead with your adult-child to worship with you just like they did 40 years ago, but he shrugs off your invite [again]. You chirp up and defend the life of the unborn, but your friend looks at you as though you are a dumb, hateful, and stupid. You make it no secret: “I worship at [Faith/ St. John] Lutheran,” and your friend lists off every fault they have with your church: “It’s too ‘strict,’ too boring, too old, too (fill in the blank).”
You encounter so much resistance that the resistance begins rubbing off on you. Take a moment and ask yourself: Do you feel ashamed when you say out loud: “Marriage is between one man and one woman for life?” Do you think your congregation needs to ask people what they want to hear instead of hearing what God wants them to hear? Do you stand out as a Christian among your friends? Or, is it becoming difficult to see the difference after a night out? … in your relationships? …with the words you use?
The devil lures you, little-by-little, to change with the world, even if it means changing what God has taught you. When you evaluate your thoughts, words, and actions, you will see how successful he has been.
Dear Christian, rebellious hearts will always resist listening to the Word— yours and mine included. The heart does not want to face insults or unpopularity at the expense of God. The easiest way to make sure your life is pleasant is to push God away.
Just look at Jesus’ homecoming. Childhood friends shout, “Carpenter, you are too insignificant to preach to us!” (Mark 6:1-6) Thousands swarm around Jesus. When Jesus does not preach what they want to hear, they leave (John 6:66). Do you know just how tempting it is for Jesus to change the message? To crawl on his knees, hands folded, begging, “Please, tell me, what do you want to hear?” Instead, Jesus shares the truth you (and I) need to hear: You (and I) are a son of man. A mere mortal who will one day be ripped from this planet and forced to stand before the eternal Judge in order to explain why you felt God’s Word could be changed to suit your interests.
For that reason Jesus is born the son to a man named Joseph. Jesus, the Son of Man, does not change the Word to gain popularity. Rather, when asked: “Who do you say you are?” he answers in truth, “The Son of God” knowing full well that answer would bring death (Matthew 26:62-64). He receives the death sentence because you (and I) changed our beliefs to save our lives. Yet, it is Jesus who never changes God’s teachings in order to save your life.
Why Listen to the Word? Well, listen to God call you, “Forgiven.” Listen to God promise you unending life with him in heaven. God’s Word Breaks Rebellious Hearts like yours and mine. Listen to it. Then, go out, use it.
That was God’s instruction for Ezekiel. As [God] spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. Who brings Ezekiel to his feet? God. God the Father speaks his Word. God the Holy Spirit gives Ezekiel the courage to speak. The power of the Word rests with God.
The same Word strengthens you to stand out in your world today. One powerful way to preach is by putting the Word into practice in your own life. It’s no secret Sunday mornings have become another Saturday. Families spend Sunday mornings at baseball and softball games. And if you lament that so many choose sports over worship, then use the Word. You see, sports will still be played on Sunday as long as parents let their kids play. If families set worship as a higher priority, it forces organizers to change scheduling. Simply let coaches know, “I would play, but after worship.”
Summer is time spent with family, fishing, and camping. When away, make it clear: “God’s first.” Head out after worship or locate another Wisconsin Synod congregation near your area. Invite your children to come with you to worship or let them know you will duck out for an hour and they can remain home. You, by your example, are powerfully preaching that God (and his Word) take priority in your life.
If you feel out-of-place to say a dinner prayer with your family at a restaurant table, then pray! Make others feel out-of-place that they do not thank God for their daily bread [earthly possessions]. Instead of you changing to meet the ever-changing standards of your world, live in such a way for the world to change to God’s standards.
And yes, will one person really make much of a difference? Well, what does God say? Whether they listen or fail to listen— for they are a rebellious house— they will know that a prophet has been among them. Did you catch that? God does not guarantee Ezekiel that he will have instant success. God even suggests he will face resistance because the nation is rebellious. If people reject the message, it does not mean the message is less powerful. The fault lies with the person. Not the message, not the messenger. God simply tells you: Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’ Use the Word and let God worry about the results.
God’s Word Breaks Rebellious Hearts. All Ezekiel did was preach. Some did not listen. Yet, they did not reject Ezekiel. Instead, they must answer to God why they rejected his prophet. Others did listen. Eventually Israel returned home. They rebuilt the temple and set their hearts back on God. The line of the Savior was handed down from generation to generation. Faithful Joseph and Mary brought Jesus into the world. Twelve apostles carried the life-changing Word to the corners of the earth. Through their work and God’s blessing, you have the Word today. God’s Word Breaks Rebellious Hearts. You get to use it.
Your world will continue behaving so schizophrenically chaotic as long as God’s Word is changed to meet worldly standards. Masses will never agree on what is morally “right” and what is morally “wrong” if they search for answers apart from God. Droves will flee worship as long as pastors proclaim the lie: “All people go to heaven!” Dump the Bible, you will create your personal set of beliefs based on opinions, ideas, and reason.
As a Christian living in an increasingly Christ-less world, you will face the constant temptation to conform your beliefs to what the world expects to hear. You may even feel unaccepted, unpopular, unwelcome. That something is wrong with you.
Stand strong on the Word. Remember that God speaks so that you might listen, apply, and live. Remember that it’s not up to you to make God’s Word more appealing or popular. The message belongs to God. Simply lead others to hear, read, and see it. God’s Word Breaks Rebellious Hearts. Listen to it. Use it.
I recently came across these words from another Pastor and want to share them with you this morning. As I read them, try to make mental notes of anything that jumps out at you. Alright? Here we go:
The world now seems to operate according to the motto: ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’ All sinners proceed on the assumption that there is no God whom men must fear and no judgment in which man must give an account. People make no secret of their sins; they even boast about them. As at the time of the flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, sinners regard themselves as secure and carefree. They seek money, bigger houses, and other worldly pleasures. They dismiss as laughable those who witness to the truth of God’s anger and punishment. New movements continue to arise for the purpose of overturning Christian discipline and order, and for stirring up children against their parents, citizens against their government, students against their teachers, and the poor against the rich (God Grant It, by C.F.W. Walther, page 25-26).
Any phrases ringing in your ears? [Maybe:] People act as though there is no God? …Many chase after bigger and better? …Secretly shameful sins are now openly praised? …Christians mocked? …Rebels rage against government? …Christian discipline crumbles? (Something else?)
Believe it or not, these words come from a devotion written in 1850. It almost sounds as though this Pastor lives in our world today! Yet, Jesus warns you that this would happen. There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power (2 Timothy 3:1-5). As this world races to its end and as eternity marches another day closer, the devil, in his frenzied fits of rage, will fight to detract many from God forever.
That means there is still work to do. Understand, God is not telling you to go out and solve society’s troubles. Neither does he want you to point a smug, self-righteous finger at your neighbor or the stranger in the grocery store. Words like these strike home first. Reflect on your calling in life and consider the people God has placed in your life. Remember, Training Preserves Life. Remove what is harmful. Learn what is good. Follow what is right.
And she said that to me. A middle-aged woman, standing in my driveway, facing the parsonage garage-door. (The Ten Commandments are painted on it). Her eyes locked onto the Fourth Commandment: “Honor your father and mother.” She turned to me, “My kids need to pay attention to that.”
She’s right— but I wonder, has she removed what is harmful?
You see, children are not born with this innate sense of right and wrong. They are not these “blank slates” that can choose to love God or choose to disobey him. Scripture plainly says: Surely I was sinful from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me (Psalm 51:5).
God’s Word shatters this idea that babies are born innocent, or that toddlers do not really understand the reason for their tirade, and that “kids will just be kids.” The sinful heart reveals itself with tirades and tantrums, with sass-back and disrespect. Toddlers understand the word: “No.” They cry because they do not want to hear it. Teenagers know drugs and drunkenness are wrong. So, they try to hide it from their parents. Even adults manipulate one another because they are selfish. God looks down on the world, sees every living soul, and concludes: All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one (Psalm 14:3). Not one elderly person. Not one kind parent. Not one newborn baby. Not even one.
That means someone must teach God’s ‘right’ and God’s ‘wrong.’ That means someone must teach when an action is ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ That is reason for God’s command: Fathers… (and we could include father-figures, mothers and mother-figures) [bring up your child] in the training and instruction of the Lord. The purpose is to remove the sin that harmful. Sometimes that means you (and I) have to start with yourself first. Remove the faulty thoughts that are harmful.
God lists one: Fathers, do not exasperate your children… ‘Exasperating’ means to behave in a way that brings out anger from your child. To make your child resentful because of your actions.
If you wonder why a child is disobedient, a good question to ask is: Are they learning from me? Your child will believe God’s commandments are optional if you do not chastise them for disrespect or cursing or fighting or losing self-control. Your child will think faith in Jesus as Savior is unnecessary if he sees you in worship, but you do not urge him to also worship. Your child might know you worship, but hurt when you insult them and berate behavior. Instead of looking around at others, pointing a finger at their wild lifestyle, you (and I) have to examine our hearts first because your heart turns aside. It can become corrupt. It does not do the good God demands. Left unchecked, it can lead the child in your life to resent God.
So, God sends Jesus to remove what is harmful, to remove the ravaging effects of sin in you (and me). Jesus removes what is harmful by remaining without sin. When his disciples panic on a stormy sea, he rescues them. Not just that, but he even corrects their doubting faith. When James and John foolishly ask Jesus to destroy nonbelievers, he does not insult: “You idiots!” Rather, he teaches them that God’s love demands patience. When the Eleven cower for their lives Easter evening, Jesus does not appear with, “Cursed are you! See my hands and feet? I’m alive and you will suffer!” Instead he breathes out, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19).
Look at Jesus. See God treat him harshly on the cross. See Jesus carry your (and my) parental failures to the cross. See him rise and raise you forgiven. Jesus has removed harmful attitudes about parenting.
Jesus shows you how serious sin is. As you remember his work for you, you will remove harmful thinking. In its place, you will learn what is good.
What is good? To bring up [your child] in the training and instruction of the Lord. Who does this? You. Fathers and father-figures, God wants you to continually teach your child about Jesus. Parent-figures, God uses your roles and your relationships as ways to bring his Word to the ears and hearts of others.
He even tells you what to say. Instruct [them] in the Lord. That means, teach them what God teaches. Sometimes that learning includes, well, learning. The only way you will know what God calls ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ is to read what God calls ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ As a [grand]parent, make time for family devotions; make this part of your routine. Spend a few minutes after dinner or right before shutting off the lights at night. Read a chapter in one of the gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Summarize the one simple truth Jesus (1) teaches or (2) reveals about himself. Then say a short prayer together. God has placed you in the life of a child so that this child may know their Savior.
Not only do you instruct, but you also train in the Lord. When a child veers away from what God calls ‘right,’ call them back.
Some of you have adult children. You brought them to catechism class to learn the teachings of the Bible. Yet, it can happen that catechism class appears as a classroom lecture that does not touch the heart. Point out the catechism is not mindless information. Instead, it brings out key teachings of Scripture. The best way to drive this home is to share how something you learned from the catechism still comforts you. Speak of God’s promises when issues arise. “God’s in control over governments” (Psalm 2:1-6). “We need to pray for guidance in conflict” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). “God has given us our money, our home, and our food. He gets the credit” (Psalm 145:15-16). By doing this, you are connecting everyday life to the promises God has laid out in the Bible.
Perhaps teenagers live at home. It’s an exciting time to watch them mature and form decisions for their own personal future. Yet, remember: teenagers tend to feel a sense of freedom to do the things they did not experience with you. So, if God is a part of your life, you can be sure the devil will tempt them to try life without God. (That is part of the reason why 30% of those under age 30 no longer have a home church.) As a Christian father, share your faith with your teen. Open yourself up, expressing how God fills you with comfort, when you needed him most, and the confidence you hold now with him.
Training Preserves Life. Physical exercise increases physical health. In the same way, time in the Word and opportunities to connect faith to everyday life increases spiritual health. You learn what is good. As a result, you follow what is right.
Do you see the role you have, fathers and father-figures, [grand]parents and parent-figures? When you train a child, you are laying a groundwork for the child to follow.
That proves to be a blessing for all involved. God commands: Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Understand, God is not saying, “Obey because I will be sad if you are not.” What makes this command “right” is that it comes from God and is beneficial. Obey your parents because they share the Word of God Almighty. Obey your parents because you belong to God. Obey your parents because out of love for God, you want to do what he commands.
Those who Honor your father and mother…[have] that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” If you respect your authorities, they will not arrest you, throw you into prison or execute you. If you obey your spiritual leaders, you will not bring spiritual harm upon your soul. If you obey your parents you will not be stressed out when talking. You may receive financial help. You will receive advice and guidance. You will enjoy ease of communication. Training Preserves Life. Follow what is right.
As this world races to its end and as eternity marches another day closer, the devil, in his frenzied fits of rage, will fight to detract many from God forever. That happens when the family unit breaks down. When parents fail to teach the next generation of their God. When parents do not discipline their child as God expects. When children disobey God and reject his leaders. You do not have to look far to see proof of this happening today.
Remember, God does not tell you to go out and solve the world’s troubles. He tells you to start at home. Take a good look at your family. Is there somewhere you can grow? … Somewhere you can spend time with the Word of life? … Somewhere discipline is needed? …Is there a place to spend more time in devotion?
The purpose of that Christian family is to have all those parts work together so that all may reach their heavenly home. The way to do that is through the Word. He give us parents (and parent-figures) to speak and children to hear. Reflect on your calling in life and consider the people God has placed in your life. Training Preserves Life. Remove what is harmful. Learn what is good. Follow what is right.