Did you know your hairdryer can help break in new leather shoes? Your microwave has the capability of fusing glass, measuring the speed of light, and squeezing the remaining juice from fruits. Your smartphone can read things out loud to you, like how many people are in your picture or the number of emails you receive. It can also take your words, put them into print, and send a message. …And if you don’t have a smartphone, any cellphone can unlock a car that uses a key-fob. Those are only a few additional things hairdryers, microwaves, and cell phones can do.
When we get new toys, excitement pounds the body. We use that toy right away—sometimes without reading the instructions or studying all of its capabilities. And it works great! You dry your hair. You cook food. You make calls and fire off text messages. Then, when the initial excitement wears off and you spend more time with that gadget, you discover additional features and more functions. It delights you even more.
So, let’s take a few minutes to revisit Bethlehem. Approach the manger with a curiosity that discovers all this child comes to do. Grasp those priceless joys God pours out on this most holy day. God Sent His Son! A Son to live with us under law and to live with us through his redemption.
Yes! Of course! We know that already! While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son (Luke 2:6-7). Stop and ponder that for a moment. Those well-known words are not a simple retelling of the first Christmas. God puts those words down in writing so that you can see a promise kept. A promise thousands of years in the making. A promise first made to trembling Adam and Eve. A promise repeated to childless Abraham. A promise proclaimed by the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Zechariah, Malachi. A promise repeated to millions, many of whom shrugged it off. [W]hen the time had fully come, God sent his Son…
God did what he said he would do. He did not turn his back and forsake a world of rebels. He did something the world did not deserve, something the world did not request. God Sent His Son. Not an angel. Not another prophet. Certainly not fiery destruction. He sends the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last, the One present before the world began and the One who stands long after time ends. God sends the only One who can change our lives. God Sent His Son.
So look again at the manger. The One lying there is God. When you see this baby, you see the face of God. When you touch this baby, you touch the perfect God. When you hold this baby, you hold Almighty God. When you listen to this child, you listen to God. When this Teacher comforts you, God comforts you. When this Teacher forgives you, God whispers forgiveness directly to you. God sent his Son, born of a woman…
True God—and at the same time, true man. Jesus is a human being— just like you and me. There’s a reason for this: Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity (Hebrews 2:14). Humanity— like skin and bones and blood. A brain and eyes, ears, mouth, and nose. Jesus gets hungry. He grows sleepy. He cries and mourns. He has our human needs and our human emotions.
Yet, this goes deeper still. Because Jesus has flesh and blood, he, too, is born under law. God’s law, meaning, God expects Jesus to obey every single command. Consider that. God creates his commandments, his worship laws, and a law to govern life (Exodus 20-31). Then, he chooses to live under that law. He holds himself accountable to the same demands he created.
What king does that? Kings who create laws tend to live outside of those laws. Yet, your Jesus is born in order to live with you under law. That means, Jesus knows what it is like to be tempted. He knows how difficult it is to trust God to provide food and income, and to protect health. Jesus also was tempted to make his own bread out of stones (Matthew 4:1-4). He knows the feeling to challenge God’s promises. To act in half-unbelief. The devil tells him to jump off a building because God would [supposedly] keep him safe (4:5-7). He confronts that green envy to guard wealth, to love pleasures so much you would rather give up heaven than give up your life (4:8-10). Jesus also read the Word, heard the Word, and let the Word sink into the heart, and still faced the pull to run away from it. [Jesus] been tempted in every way, just as we are— yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15).
God Sent His Son for this reason: to live with us under the law and to obey every single article, sub-article, point, and detail. In Jesus you see perfection.
That perfect life marches to the cross. He takes your place (and mine) under God’s punishment. No, not that Jesus just no longer lives. Rather, God’s punishment is separation. Jesus is separated from the Father. God the Father turns his back on his Son and does not listen to Jesus’ cries for help. Yes, God is still present, but does not love. It would be like a prisoner locked behind bars. You throw the key down the hall and walk away. You hear the screams, but do not turn back. You ignore the tears, the sobbing, the crying. You walk away, leaving that criminal to fend for his own life. This is hell. To live forever without God’s love. This is what you and I deserve; to live forever without God’s love— and Jesus suffers so that you (and I) never will.
God Sent His Son to live with us under the law so that he may live with us through his redemption. Redemption. To ‘redeem’ means to ‘buy back.’ That’s what grocery stores do. A grocery store sends a coupon for $.50 off some groceries. Bring it to the store, hand it to the clerk, and she will give you $.50 to get the coupon back. We are conceived in sin, and born dead in sin (Psalm 51:5; Ephesians 2:1). Sin binds us to hell. The only way out of hell is perfection; the only offer God accepts is holiness. We have nothing to offer that God wants, but Jesus does. He walks into heaven, stands before the throne of his Father, and hands him his perfect life. The Father takes that perfect life and he releases us from hell. You (and I) are free. You (and I) are redeemed, ‘bought back’ to Jesus.
God Sent His Son to redeem those under law. That is your status now: free! Yes, guilt flares up. Shame might plague you. Frustration swells over poor choices. Yet, nothing will bind you to eternal misery. When Jesus died, his blood unlocked our chains. When Jesus rose, hell’s gates were thrown open and we ran out and up!
This is the reality!— and this is what makes Christmas so grand! God Sent His Son to live with us through his redemption. Jesus does not free us so that we can simply live for no reason, no purpose. You are not set free like animals released into the wild, aimlessly searching for family or home, for purpose. Rather, the shackles of slavery are removed so we can live under God’s care.
God sent his Son… that we might receive the full rights of sons. That is what you have, the “full rights of sons.” That includes you, ladies; God hands you what the firstborn son received. In the past, the son inherited the father’s wealth when the father died. All of it. He became the boss of the family business. He cared for the household. He managed the wealth. He receives the full rights to do and manage as he pleases. Nothing was divided. Nothing was split. Nothing was limited. He owns everything. When God says, we might receive the full rights of sons, he makes clear that nothing of his is off limits.
That means, you are God’s son now. You have changed from ‘sinner’ to ‘saint!’ You can approach God for any need, with any concern, for any reason at any time just like you approach your earthly father. God listens because he sees you as belonging to him.
He gives you heaven—and nothing is off-limits there. You can enter his throne room. You will not have to make reservations to see God. You will not need to pull a number and stand in line. You will not have ranks in heaven— where the rich live by the golden sea or the strong-in-faith live in luxury mansions and you live in the barracks. You are all sons of God. Regardless of your past, regardless of your time as a Christian, regardless of how much Bible you remember, you all have full access to God’s heaven— live in the same place, see the same God, and will enjoy all things.
If you are sons, then it means the father has graciously lavished this gift on you. You do not need to fabricate reasons all is well between you and God. Rather, the you can point to the manger and live confident. God Sent His Son to live with us through redemption.
When we get new toys, excitement pounds the body. We use that toy right away—sometimes without reading the instructions or studying all of its capabilities. And it works great—but so much joy is overlooked without studying that object more. Hairdryers, microwaves, and phones have so much potential when you take the time to study their uses a little closer.
Christmas becomes dull and repetitive when we rush over the Christ in the manger. Approach the manger with curiosity and discover a child who lives with us under law. Any pressure to undo the past, any despair flies away when you grasp how Jesus lived in your place. Then, he brought us to himself—without our actions or asking! Look to the manger and grasp those priceless joys God pours out on this most holy day. God Sent His Son! A Son to live with us under law and to live with us through his redemption.
What makes a gift ‘perfect’? After all, that’s really what you’re looking for this Christmas season, right? You want to hand that special someone the ‘perfect’ gift. Or, maybe you would like to receive the ‘perfect’ gift. So, what are looking for? What makes a gift ‘perfect’?
Perhaps three qualities stand out. (1) It fills some physical, emotional, or mental need. A chore becomes easier. A friend is happier. A child knows he is loved. (2) Whoever receives this ‘perfect’ gift will benefit. Life gets better, not worse. (3) Finally, the receiver understands just how much he will benefit from this gift. Let’s summarize those points like this: What makes a gift ‘perfect’ depends on how prepared a person is to receive it. If you see no need for this gift to fill, then you will not understand why you need it or how it benefits you. That gift is not appreciated. It’s rejected. It’s forgotten. If you identify a need, then you understand how this gift fills a void in your life. You will appreciate it. You will treasure it. You will hold it up for all the world to see it as it really is: the ‘perfect’ gift.
Preparation is key in receiving the ‘perfect’ gift. So, God prepares us for his perfect Gift. He wants you to fully appreciate just what it is Jesus comes to do. So, he sends a special messenger to Prepare Your Heart for the Lord! You get ready for this gift by straightening out the rough places so that you can see the salvation of your God.
When you think about, not many were ready for the first Christmas. Mary and Joseph were really the only ones expecting Jesus to arrive soon. Angels had to broadcast the good news to a handful of shepherds (Luke 2:8-15). The Holy Spirit leads an elderly prophetess (named Anna) and lifelong believer (named Simeon) to Jesus (2:25-27; 36-38). A star guides wise men (Matthew 2:1-12). Really, Jesus’ birth is almost a well-kept secret. In fact, from age 0 to 30, you hear very little about him. He has not started his ministry. He does not have disciples. He has not performed miracles. No one knows the Son of God has come to earth! If no one knows he has come, then no one is looking for him. If no one is looking for him, then no one will pay attention when Jesus preaches. People would consider him as just another great teacher.
Enter John the Baptist. The Prophet Isaiah tells us that John is the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’
Isaiah pictures an old practice. In ancient times, kings sometimes traveled from their country to another country. Yet, you did not cruise down concrete highways or graded dirt roads. You had an almost impassible trip across an untouched desert with boulders, cliffs, and valleys. So, an official went ahead of this kingly procession. He hiked through cities and villages, trumpeting: “Hey! The king is coming! Get ready for his arrival!” Citizens prepared by clearing a path through the desert. They pushed aside boulders. They filled in swampy areas and low-spots. Steep inclines were leveled. They removed obstacles so the king could come to them.
John the Baptist is that forerunner of Jesus; his ministry starts first. Yet, John does not live in the desert to clear away boulders. Instead, he Prepares Hearts for the Lord. He clears out spiritual boulders, fills in despair over sin, and levels off arrogant pride. He straightens out the rough places [of the heart]. He gets us ready to appreciate God’s gift of a Savior.
He does this by preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. To ‘repent’ means “to turn”— much like making a U-Turn. So, imagine you are driving north on US-127. If you make a U-Turn, then you have completely changed direction; you are now heading south. That’s why John trumpets: “Repent! Look at your life. Turn from what is wrong. Face what is right!” That is the only way you will ever be prepared for Jesus. Because repenting means you must turn. It means you are not as perfect as you might think. It means you need a Savior.
Stand before the mirror of God’s commands. How do you measure up? Have you loved God with all your heart, mind, and soul? (Matthew 22:37-39). That means, you never once worried about your financial picture, about your health, or about the future because you trust you heavenly Father always provides and protects. Have you respected God’s Name? That means, you never cursed out of frustration; you never used the Lord’s Prayer as a good-luck charm for success. That means, you brought every single anxiety to God in prayer because God is capable of handling it. Have you made time with God a daily priority? That means, you made an honest effort to be in worship every opportunity— even if it meant skipping Sunday sports because they interfered, even when it meant waking up and you really wanted to sleep in, even when it meant turning off the television for a 5-minute devotion. Have you shown respect to your government officials— including the ones you did not vote for? Are you treating your body as the temple of God? Do you guard your heart from greed and give generously the work of your congregation? Are you free from jealousy and willing to admit when you are wrong? God demands that you be holy because he is holy (Leviticus 19:2). That does not include a “Yes, but…”
That’s the automatic impulse. We often think we are morally better than we really are. That attitude flourishes when we bend God’s commands. We know we should be in worship, but we make up the excuse: “God knows what’s going on in my life. He understands.” We know God’s blueprint for marriage, but we still say, “Well, God just wants me to be happy.” Maybe you feel you could give more generously, but still comes the thought, “Well, I have that trip and this new gadget. I just have nothing.” The heart constantly pumps out exceptions to God’s commands. It enters God’s courtroom, sits in his judge’s seat, and begins interpreting the commandments God set down. Then it acts as though God must approve our interpretation.
The devil has done such a good job of getting us to believe just that. That in the end, God will listen to us. That we have more authority than God.
That kind of attitude really does not want a Savior. It says, “God, there is nothing wrong with me or the way I live.” To live in the wrong piles up boulders of excuses. Pride carves out low-spots and hills so that God cannot live in us.
That is why John preaches: Prepare Your Heart for the Lord! Your God is coming. Yes, he came once as a little baby and conquered sin. Soon, he will come in his final victory march. Prepare Your Heart for the Lord. Straighten out the rough places. How does John straighten out those rough spots? With God’s Word. That is the tool God gives him. [T]he word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. John preaches law and gospel so that all may see the salvation of your God.
God’s law Shows Our Sins. It holds you (and me) up to God’s holy standard and says, “You have fallen short. Close enough is not good enough. Nor am I asking what you think. I am telling you what you must be.” (Roman 3:23) Stare at that law and you reach the conclusion that you can never approach God by yourself. The law Shows Our Sins, but God’s gospel Shows Our Savior.
“Gospel” means “good news.” John tells us good news: “Jesus walks into spiritually devastated hearts.” He lifts us from the valley of despair over sin. He removes the boulders of guilt. He levels towering hills of shame. Jesus, with his life, has made straight our hearts. With his Word, he carries the good news of salvation.“Salvation” simply means “to deliver” or “to rescue.” Jesus has rescued you (and me) from the hell we deserve. Look at Jesus and you see this is the One God has sent for your future. Jesus is God’s salvation.
How does Jesus’ work enter your life? Through baptism. [John] went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. So, why does John baptize? For what purpose? For the purpose of forgiveness. John’s baptism washed hearts clean; it flooded life with forgiveness.
You see, baptism is not something you are doing for God. You are not declaring your commitment to be God’s follower. Nor do you have to be re-baptized because you were too young to remember it. Baptism is something God does for you. God comes to you. God enters your heart. God smoothes outs sin and paves a road that welcomes the Word.
Your baptism has marked you as God’s child. If God’s child, then different from those who want nothing to do with him. It means you will stand out. You might be the only one in your family who worships. You might feel a little uneasy when Christmas concerts intentionally omit any mention of Jesus. People might look at you weird because you have a church home. You may feel out of place. You may feel this pull to behave more like the world, than as God’s child.
Martin Luther wrote in his 95-Theses: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” Remember, “repent” means “turn.” Each day you compare your words, thoughts, and actions to God’s commands. When you do wrong, you see it. You admit it. You confess it. You hear God’s forgiveness. God’s Word turns you from what is wrong and faces you to what is right. You turn to see the salvation of your God; and you see that God has delivered you from hell and soon will deliver you into heaven.
That makes a ‘perfect’ Gift. Yes, Jesus is ‘perfect’— and remains perfect, regardless of what anyone thinks of him. Yet, he is your perfect gift. God’s law reveals our sin. We see the need for forgiveness. We see the void of life. The good news is that God has straightened out crooked hearts and has smoothed out the rough spots.
Preparation is key in receiving the ‘perfect’ gift. So, God prepares us for his perfect Gift. He wants you to fully appreciate, to grasp just what it is Jesus comes to do. So, he sends a special messenger to Prepare Your Heart for the Lord! Keep clinging to this perfect Gift. Straighten out the rough places so that you can see the salvation of your God.
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 is the answer to God’s question? What have you done? It’s very clear and understandable; it is not difficult to grasp. It has a very simple answer. What have you done?
Adam and Eve heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day… Remember, this is their God! The One who creates this perfect paradise! He gives the word and earth roars into existence. Rivers slice through landscapes and fill up seas and oceans. Vegetation shoots up, producing all sorts of flowers and trees, every kind of fruit and food. Sun warms the air, moonlight illuminates the night, stars twinkle in the sky. Fish fill the seas, birds soar through the skies, animals roam the earth. Then God stoops down and holds out the keys to his creation and says: Fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish and birds and creatures (Genesis 1:28).
Rule everything! Except for one tree, one untouchable tree: ‘the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’ (2:17). No, it does not possess magical powers. God is not holding back secret knowledge. Obeying this command demonstrates that Adam and Eve love God more than anything else. Because love for God accepts his wishes; it does not challenge him. It finds perfect contentment in doing whatever pleases God.
Now this. Hiding. Running away from the God who holds this open, unobstructed relationship with them!
The Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
How does the man answer? “God, I was naked, so I hid! I had no clothes. That’s why I could not see you. It’s just not appropriate. Let me find something to put on.”
“Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
“Hey, God, you know that woman you put here with me? Yeah, she picked the fruit. She put it into my hands. She made me eat it. She did the wrong!
Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
How does the woman answer? “God, I can tell you what the serpent did. He lied to me. He said the fruit was beneficial— and he seemed trustworthy. He’s the one who told me to do wrong.”
Those are not the answers God is looking for, are they? You know, as well as I, Adam did not answer God’s question. Eve did not answer what God asked. What you find here is blameshifting. You find defending actions. You find justifying choices. You find minimizing consequences. You find ignoring commands. Do you realize what one thing is missing in all of those answers? Accountability. “The willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions” (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/accountability)
God simply says, “What did you do?” God does not ask Adam about Eve. He does not ask Eve about the serpent. He is not looking for excuses. He is not duped by their finger-pointing. God knows full well what they have done. He knows behind every action is a motive. That motive, when it does what God calls ‘wrong’ has rebelled. That motive comes from a heart which wars against God. Refusing to call disobedience ‘wrong,’ places you at war with God.
Take a look at these two people standing naked before the mighty Judge of the universe. Take a moment to realize these are your ancestors. Just like you have inherited the physical makeup of your parents, you have inherited this same rebelliousness from Adam and from Eve. And the same excuses they make remain the all-too-common excuses in our world today.
God defines marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman (Matthew 19:4-5). Yet, the world creates its own definition to allow men to marry men and women to marry women— and goes so far as to defend why this new definition is better than God’s. Their reason? “Well, nothing bad happens.” That completely dodges God’s command: You shall not.
Many list the reasons as to why marriage is no longer needed today: “Well, my parents soured my views on marriage…” “I don’t want to hurt my kids if I get divorced…” “We’re just not ready to commit…” “We don’t have the money…” God asks you a very simple question: Are you honoring the marriage bed? (Hebrews 13:4) ‘Yes’ or ‘No?’
Neither is divorce in God’s plan. Yet, out comes the defense:“I just don’t love him…” “She won’t listen to me…” “I love someone else…” “I’m tired of this marriage…” God cuts through the heart’s sidetracking and simply asks: Are you treating your marriage as the lifelong union it is, just as you swore to me? ‘Yes’ or ‘No?”
Your media fosters an atmosphere to gripe and complain and find nothing good in the blessings God showers on you. WNEM-5 airs a news segment where people can call in just to rant— even if it is against someone’s good intentions. News reports spit out insult after insult against God’s appointed leaders (Romans 13:1-2). Social media paves the way to gossip and gripe. Apologies are hard to come by. Defending slander is easier. God asks: Are you taking words and actions in the kindest possible way? ‘Yes’ or ‘No?’
What have you done? That’s God’s question. Understand, you can point a finger at your parents, but that does excuse you from abusing God’s gift of marriage. You can justify your conversations by saying, “Everyone does it!” but that does not make right your rebellion against what God clearly calls ‘wrong.’ You can defend your choices— even when those choices clearly contradict Scripture, but it does not undo the fact you fail to obey a holy and perfect God. Trying to direct attention onto someone else or pretending to ignore what you have done solves nothing. When it comes down to it, you are held accountable for what you have done. God’s crushing question is yours to answer.
You, as well as I, know the only correct answer to our actions. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge... Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love (Psalm 51:4, 1).
God’s response is to crush sin forever. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
God rolls up his sleeves and takes action by placing enmity for you. Did you catch that? God has mercy and does not live hostile to you. Instead, he places a wall of hostility between you and Satan—and he starts with your first parents.
I will put enmity between you... devil, and the woman… Eve. God promises to rescue from hell. He starts by calling Adam and Eve to trust that Jesus would do just that. Eve would carry the promise of the Savior. God’s promise created faith in her heart. No longer did she join the dark forces of the devil, but rather lived on the side of God, as his dear child.
As the centuries roll by, the promised Descendant is passed down from generation to generation, passed down from believer to believer. The entire time God putting up this barrier of hostility between Satan and those who belong to God. Father Abraham clings to the unseen promises of God, considering them as good as kept (Hebrews 11:11-12). Great King David looks forward to the coming Savior, One who would establish an eternal kingdom in the hearts of every believer (2 Samuel 7:16). The prophet Isaiah sees the virgin Mary give birth to a Son, calling him ‘Immanuel,’ because ‘God is with us’ (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23).
Eve’s promised offspring is passed down from generation to generation— and then, Jesus steps foot on earth. He does not ignore sin; he calls people to turn from their rebellious ways. He does not justify the lack of trust from his disciples; he rebukes them for doubting his Word. He does not defend the rejection from the religious leaders; he exposes their pride.
God exposes sin because he hates sin. He hates sin so much he condemns his only Son because of it. Nails bite Jesus’ hands and feet. Thorns sting his head. Spear pierces his side. The devil serpent bites Jesus and Jesus dies. But with that bite, the devil seals his own fate.
You see, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Jesus paid the wages of your sin with his perfect life and death. Then, Jesus rises up Easter morning. Sits up on the stone slab. Removes the linens from his face and body. Folds them neatly, leaving them at the foot of his bed. Swings his legs over the edge and stomps down on the head of Satan. Jesus lives! It demonstrates that his life has removed sin’s wages forever. If he has paid the debt you owe, then it means you have life!
So, What is the Answer to God’s Crushing Question? For 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).
Now, there exists enmity between [the devil’s] seed and you. Through faith in Jesus as Savior, you stand opposed to Satan. God sees you on his side, no longer on the devil’s side. Sin’s crushing shame no longer hovers over you. You can approach the well again and again and receive the awesome refreshment of forgiveness. God has been merciful and he sent his only Son to be the sacrifice to make you at-one with God! You are forgiven! Live in peace!
Live opposed to Satan and his seed. That ‘seed’ does not refer to demons. Rather, it refers to those who live without faith, and therefore live against God’s commands. Be sure, the world will try to pull you to follow its god-less ways. The world will teach you to blameshift, to justify, and to defend. Even your own heart will wiggle and squirm in the hopes to deceive God and escape punishment.
Remember The Answer to God’s Crushing Question. God still comes to you (and me) with his Word, calling out to hearts which have wandered little too close to the enemy. His very Words cut straight to the heart of the matter. Have you wandered? ‘Yes’ or ‘No’? Love for God moves you to confess ‘wrong,’ as ‘wrong,’ and ‘evil,’ as ‘evil.’ Love for God begs, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
And he has. In sending the snake-Crusher. In sending the sin-Destroyer. In sending you to his side. Then, he puts into your hands the only weapon to strike down your enemy: His Word.
There you will find God has crushed Satan. There you will find God has conquered temptation. There you will find God has ended death. You have life—and life on his side. Stand strong against temptation—not by relying on yourself, but by spending time in the Word. See Jesus crucified and Jesus living as The Answer to God’s Crushing Question.
Imposing stone columns surround you, soaring to incredible heights before interlocking together high above. Thick brick walls press in on your right and left, each one also towering well over a hundred feet above you. The polished granite floor under your feet glistens. Pieces of clear glass pack massive window openings, letting bright white unfiltered light to pour into this temple. A hundred feet ahead lies four steps rising up to an intricately carved altar. On this platform is planted a dominant royal throne. Music fills the air all around you, angelic voices blending together singing praises. Can you picture the scene?
If you can’t, just Google: “British royal wedding ceremony pictures” and drink in those exquisite details. White poufy flowers drape walls and dress the front. Children’s choirs stand to your right and left. Delicate hats rest on the heads of every royal lady. Shiny medals hang from finely pressed military coats and gowns flow from each guest. This is the sight of power and dominance and respect.
You get to stand in that grand temple. No, this is no royal wedding. You stand in far more powerful, far more dominant, far more glorious setting. You stand before the King of the Universe! …in his presence! …in a sight of brilliance and dominance! The Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God Almighty! But how? He stands apart from sin.
Do you see that?
Look through the eyes of Isaiah the prophet. [T]he Lord [sits] seated on a throne… The Lord. Do know what that [name] means? Lord is not God’s first name like: Bob or George or Dick. [The name] Lord has a meaning; Lord credits God as One with authority, all-power, superiority; the One holding control over every single thing in the world with unsurpassed might. This is the God who rules the entire universe! This is the God before whom each individual must give account (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:12)! This is the God who holds final judgment over your eternal future! And your feet remain planted just a few feet away.
Staring straight ahead, you only see the legs of his throne. Your eyes trace those legs up higher and higher; your head tilts back more and more, reminding you of just insignificant you are compared to him. [T]he train of his robe fill[s] the temple. Exquisite white linen sprawls across the polished floor, touching each wall, covering every square inch that you dare not step on these unsoiled garments.
Above him were seraphs… such unique angels that we know nothing more about them other than what Scripture says here. These angelic beings flash like flames of fire, showcasing the power and the purity found in this temple. Look up; see seraph after seraph after seraph fill the space above your head. [Each one has] six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.
And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” You sing the same song in the Common Service. Ho-ly, ho-ly, ho-ly Lord God of heav-en-ly hosts: heav’n and earth are full of your glory Yet, they do not prepare for Holy Communion. These seraphs trumpet a very truthful reality: God is holy. That means two things: (1) Holy: the Lord has no moral fault; he is perfect. (2) Holy: the Lord stands opposed to everything and everyone that is imperfect. Holy: because he is set apart from our sins.
Does that sound quite right? The puffed up, proud society in which you live boom: “Hey! Wait just a minute! Who is God that he should call my hate wrong? Who is God that he commands me how to treat my body? Who is God that he condemns my unbelief?” That proud human heart tears down Isaiah’s sight and replaces it with one where the human sits in the throne next to God— or, worse yet, in the throne over the Almighty.
Have you wandered into that arrogance? It comes out when you intentionally skip worship for the boat or for yard-work, but you cover over it with your self-understood excuse: “Well, God understands. I’m busy.” Never mind God commands your whole heart (Matthew 22:37); you can determine to give God part of your love. That proud heart smirks oh-so-smugly at harsh words meant to destroy. “Well, she made me angry.” “Dad needs to get with reality.” “I must exert power over my neighbor.” Never mind God expects words to build up (Matthew 5:22); you must have the authority to overthrow God’s command. That arrogant heart wraps an arm around God, calling him your buddy who understands why you can lose self-control, why it’s acceptable for you to neglect your parenting discipline, why it’s alright for you to create your own beliefs. Inside each of us is this heart which believes it sits on the throne of God. That it sits in authority over God. That you are free to live according to your rules. That God is honored by your presence.
Do you see who sits on the throne? Not you. Not me. Not the seraphim either. In fact, even the seraphim tremble at the sight. The ones already in heaven cannot even look at the face of God! So how can you (and I), mere mortals living in an unclean world approach God and live? The best we can is join with Isaiah, trembling, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
The LORD God Almighty is Holy, Holy, Holy. He stands apart from our sins. Yet, your
Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God Almighty cleanses you with his life.
Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar… The altar. The place of sacrifice. The place where blameless animal after blameless animal sacrificed its life to remove sin.
Flying from the altar of forgiveness, the seraph touches [Isaiah’s] mouth [with that coal] and says, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” A holy God does not sweep Isaiah away into the very depths of hell. The God of patience and mercy cleanses him with his life.
Your Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God Almighty deals with you in the same patience and mercy. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son (John 3:16), the disciple John writes. God the Father sends his only Son into a life soiled with sin’s awful grime. The devil pushed pride before him. Jesus faces the pull to run away from the cross and live a cushy earthly life. Yet, he never does. He treasures the Word of the Holy God above all things— remaining the Holy One of God.
This Holy One, the One seated on this magnificent, towering throne steps down and humbles himself. Leaving heaven, he takes the form of a servant, allowing corrupt men to spit on him, punch his face, crush a mockery into his head, and nail him to a cross. God so loved you that he laid his one and only Son on the altar of the cross in order to cleanse you.
Jesus leaves his tomb and says: See… your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for. Jesus bridges the gap between you and God; that’s what is meant by the word “atone:” Jesus makes you “at-one” with God. At your baptism the Triune God announces, “Look, this water and my Word has touched you: your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” At the altar, Jesus touches you with his body and blood, together with the bread and wine, and says: See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Jesus has removed the stained garments of arrogance and dressed you in splendid white robes. He has washed grimy pride away. He has cleansed an arrogant ego. He makes you (and me) acceptable to approach the Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God Almighty because his holy life has been used to cleanse you.
Now cleansed, your Triune God calls you to a holy life. Just look at Isaiah. Just moments earlier trembles at the sight of approaching a holy God, fearing his life would roar to a violent close. Yet, a merciful God sets him free from bondage to hell. Set free from threats of death, he is free to serve God with a willing heart and life. He heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” [Isaiah] said, “Here am I. Send me!” Touched by that forgiving love, he is transformed to share it with many others.
God may not have called you to be a minister or missionary. Yet, he has called you into a new way of living. Forgiven, restored, brought into his family, you can approach God with confidence.
Your singing of “Holy, Holy, Holy!” comes not from fear, but from hearts thriving on the forgiveness through a Triune God. You shout: “Holy! Holy! Holy! Is the LORD Almighty!” giving God credit for his perfection and him giving you that perfection for eternal life in heaven. You praise God as you read your Meditations devotions. You praise God as you study God’s Word in Bible class. You praise God as you take his Word into your hearts. You demonstrate proper love for God as you place him in the first-place spot of your hearts. His Word drowns out your words… and thoughts… and opinions. You are following the One who is Holy, Holy, Holy!
You bring your offerings to God. Gifts of money, of your time, and of your talents. You support a minister bringing God’s Word to your ears and heart— and to your friends and community. You offer God a beautiful space where he might reign and dwell. You serve him from a heart motivated by love. The Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God Almighty has called you to a holy life.
On this Trinity Sunday, you stand between two halves of our church readings. From Advent (end-November) through Pentecost (mid-May), we study the life of Christ: his faultless birth, innocent living, and perfect life sacrificed, and triumphant resurrection. Now, after today, the focus shifts from the steps taken to save us to the teachings Jesus gives over his three-year ministry.
You are ready for this growth. Your Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God Almighty has ushered you into his grand temple. You look up to see the One high and exalted, seated on his magnificent throne. Yet, you do not fear. Through the blood of Jesus, the Father declares you forgiven. The Holy Spirit points at your baptism as evidence that you belong to God. Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD God Almighty! He stands apart from sin. His life cleanses us. He calls us to a holy life.
You keep coming back! …Every week! Even after hearing the things you hear and saying the things you do! You’re here!
I mean, how does our worship service begin? After our opening hymn, you stand up and the first thing out of your mouth is… “God, I confess that I am by nature sinful... God, I disobeyed you. I chose to do wrong and ignored the right. I deserve your wrath, your anger; God, I deserve to go to hell.” What a way to build self-esteem, right? An admission of guilt?
Then there’s the sermon. Each sermon takes a Bible-reading, explains cultural traditions and simplifies Jesus’ teachings; it takes the core truth taught and compares your life to it. You hear applications to your life, reminding you that you are not as perfect as you might think you are. Wow! Who wants to hear that? Isn’t “church” a place to learn how to live a happier Christian life? That we stop talking about the gospel and actually live it?
Now, we could stopping talking about “sin” and “evil” and “bad.” We could just start service with: “Yes, you aren’t perfect, but that’s ok! No one’s perfect here. Just forget about the bad things you do. Know that Jesus loves you!” We could sing something upbeat to get our hearts pumping, our minds excited, and our emotions raging. We could do all those things, but we still zero in on this issue of “sin.” Why?
Well, for the same reason Jesus does.
In our reading, you watch Jesus arrive in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. This once-a-year festival reminds believers that God rescued them from slavery in Egypt. This rescue also pointed forward to a spiritual rescue. God would send a Savior to lead people out of spiritual slavery and into the freedom from sin’s deadly consequences (Exodus 12).
When Jesus steps into the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.
Now, a few things first. The temple breaks down into two major parts: (1) the temple itself and (2) the courtyard of the Gentiles. Only Jews could enter the temple building, offer their sacrifice and worship. Some Gentiles [non-Jews] also trusted in Jesus as Savior. They worshipped in the courtyard surrounding the temple.
Passover worshippers are pouring into Jerusalem. Some travel long distances. Instead of dragging your sacrificial sheep across the desert road, you could purchase your appropriate sacrifice in Jerusalem (see Deuteronomy 14:24-26). In addition to the sacrifice, God required paying a temple tax (Exodus 30:12). Since many worshippers lived in the Roman Empire, they had Roman coins. Pressed into those coins is the image of the emperor—an emperor who claimed to be god. Such an arrogant boast stole glory from God. So, those entering the temple would exchange their Roman coins for Jewish coins. Then they could pay the required temple tax.
You see, selling animals and exchanging money was not wrong. Yet, there’s two things wrong about the actions taking place here. (1) Where this business is conducted. Normally, you bought animals and exchanged money outside the Gentile courtyard. Now, someone brought this business into the place where Gentiles worship! Imagine someone bringing the barn into your church. As you pray, a cow bumps into you. You lift your eyes up to heaven in prayer and cannot help but notice a sheep pooping just a few feet away from you. The lemony-pine smell of your incense blends in with the swampy stench of sweaty cattle. You try to meditate, but someone shouts: “Exchange your money here! Low transaction fees!” What could possibly move someone to bring business inside a church?
Well, that leads to the second issue: (2) The motivation behind this business. Money took precedence over the worship of God. Instead of assisting people in their worship, the Passover became a convenient tool to make money.
No wonder Jesus made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”
Here’s the point: God is serious about all of his Word. The Jews felt that because they had the temple, the sacrifices, the Word, they had the freedom to behave however they desired. They put their trust in what they had, not why they had it; they rejected the need to change their hearts.
Do you see why we still address sin? Jesus demands your heart. And yes, I know, you are a Christian; the Holy Spirit already lives in your heart by faith (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Yet, worldly filth can clutter it up. Greed. Pride. Arrogance. The stubbornness to refuse admitting that you are wrong. That your lifestyle actually does not match up to God’s commandments. That your cursing and swearing should not be. That your thoughts need to change. Your heart can get filled up with all this filth.
If this spiritual filth remains there, then, like these Passover-marketers, you find no reason for Jesus. If you do not think you have sinned, then you do not need someone to remove that sin. When, by chance, you need spiritual certainty, you begin placing your trust in something other than the Savior. You point at your church membership: “All is well because I completed [Adult] catechism class. I never worshipped, but I completed the steps.” You point at your family history: “My great-grandfather built this church. I may not include God in my life, but I want him included at my funeral.” You point at your service: “I planted the flowers. Grandma cooked the dinners. We gave a big offering. I always lent a hand. Yes, I may have created every excuse to stay out of worship, but how dare you question what I believe!” Do you see what happens? If you forbid God’s Word to cut into your heart, you will simply whip at Jesus to leave. You, like those Passover-businessmen, will believe God’s Word does not apply to you.
For many, the most shocking thing about this account is Jesus’ demonstration of anger. Does he lose control? Is he being too mean? Does he sin? Focus on something far more shocking than that: Jesus stays in the temple.
I mean, do you recognize Jesus could have done nothing? He could have left greed destroy the moneychangers. He could have watched people buy an animal in order to simply fulfill a ritual; go through the empty motions of meeting God’s demand. Jesus could have just left the temple. He could have left those hearts so polluted with worthless filth that would only lead to destroy— but he does not.
Jesus does not sin here. Zeal for [God’s] house consume[s him]. Jesus’ anger reveals just how much he hates sin. He does not overlook wickedness, he deals with it. So, he cleanses the temple from becoming a house of greed. More than that, he cleanses the temple of the heart.
In case you think I am overstating things here, just look at how seriously Jesus treats the Passover. He, the Son of God— the Alpha and Omega, First and Last, Beginning and End— celebrates the Passover. He has to; he is born to keep God’s law (Galatians 4:4). As a boy, he and his parents went to Jerusalem for the annual Passover festival (Luke 2:41). You watch him celebrate the Passover in this reading. Then on the night he is betrayed, Jesus again celebrates the Passover.
This is not some mindless ritual; he wants to worship. He does worship with a heart full of love. More than that, Jesus holds this intense desire to meditate, learn, and speak God’s Word. The temple of Jesus’ heart is perfectly clean.
If you (and I) still think God does not care that much about our actions, then you better look at the cross. God is serious about all of his Word. He is serious about his commands. He is serious about punishing the law-breakers and those who scoff at sin. God remains so serious about all of his Word that he punishes Jesus.
Jewish leaders succeed in destroying the temple of his body. After all, they rejected Jesus as Savior; they had no use to worship him. So, they got rid of him. And for three days his body lay under a heap of rock. Then, three days later, just as Jesus promised, God rebuilds his temple. Jesus rises from the dead! He preaches forgiveness to sin-burdened hearts. He ascends into heaven to rule a spiritual kingdom. He rules now, using his Word to rule your heart.
Yes, that same Word God has placed into your life. As you remain in the Word of God, zeal for God’s house starts to consume you. It does in three ways.
(1) You hold this sincere, intense desire to grow closer to God. You make it a priority to worship. Sunday mornings are not an empty-minded ritual; this is not something you do for the sake of doing. Sunday mornings, much like the Old Testament Passover, focuses your attention on a God who delivered you from sin’s damning effects. Sunday mornings are a chance for you to be reminded that Jesus (and only Jesus) has cleaned your heart from all moral filth.
So, you can leave here happy; you can leave in peace. God, in Jesus, forgives you! You are set free from obeying the Ten Commandments in order to earn eternal life. You have been released from hell, free of charge! With happy hearts you serve God. How? By shaping your thoughts, words, and actions to the Ten Commandments. You live to serve God not because you must, but out of thankful love for him.
Zeal consumes you, meaning, (2) you want to pay attention to what God teaches. Yes, we start service with an admission of guilt. You hear about “sin”—not because I hope to make you feel bad and little about yourself. Not because we love dwelling on the past. Rather, because the moral filth that still plagues us will start whipping at Jesus to leave.
So, you listen to Jesus. You compare your behavior to his Word. God uses the Bible to strengthen you to whip out sinful habits. He points at your baptism, reminding you how the Holy Spirit now lives in you and equips you for a life of service. In the Lord’s Supper, your trust in Jesus as Savior grows so that you may remain in the one true faith until you see Jesus in heaven.
Finally, your intense love for God moves you to (3) promote the need for worship. Chances are, you will not walk past cattle-sellers and moneychangers on your way out today. You probably will not ask a moneychanger to respect God’s house a little more. But, you will come across those who downplay the importance of worship. You may have a child who has not worshipped for years, but sighs with contentment: I’ve been baptized and confirmed. My name’s still in the book. That’s what God wants.” You may have a friend who thinks that simply by joining a church, God is now happy with him. You may hear someone say: “I believe in God, but I don’t need to worship.”
Your zeal for God moves you to address these mistaken ideas. You do not need to flip over tables and chase out animals. Yet, flip false ideas on their head. Chase out excuses. Remind everyone how Jesus has set you free so that you can worship him.
That’s what keeps you coming back. No, not stopping all talk about “sin” and “evil” and “bad.” Not by starting service with: “Yes, you aren’t perfect, but that’s ok! No one’s perfect here. Just forget about the bad things you do. Know that Jesus loves you!” Not by manipulating our emotions. What keeps you coming back is zeroing in on this issue of “sin.” Jesus cleanses the temple of your heart. By his Word, by baptism and Holy Communion, he lives in your heart. With him living in your heart, you have the peace of spiritual freedom. You have the joy to serve him now all the days of your life.
(from our midweek Lenten service)
I have a confession to make: sometimes I try to make do with the wrong product for a project. I stand in the hardware store and I know I need screws, but nails are so much cheaper. So, I try to save a few dollars by purchasing nails when I really should be buying screws (and even though I save a few bucks, nails do not hold my project together). A fly buzzes around the window screen in my upstairs computer room. It annoys me. I really should run downstairs, go into the kitchen and grab the flyswatter, but I’m already holding a pencil. And I don’t want to run downstairs. So, I try to use my pencil and poke a dancing fly to death. (Here’s the disclaimer: It doesn’t work.)
Sometimes I try to make do with the wrong product for a project. I push forward with the wrong solution in the hopes of solving my problem, but it doesn’t work. What felt right in my mind was not the answer I needed. It’s the answer I thought I needed, but it still didn’t solve the problem.
Life presents a very uncomfortable reality: You are mortal. It means that one day you will stand before God, the Judge of all. What can you rely on to solve this matter? Be sure, many have created solutions to solve their accountability problem before God, but there has always remained just one solution. That solution is found in Jesus Christ Our Great High Priest! who is qualified to serve us and qualified to purify us.
This Lenten season we will study the book of Hebrews. You will quickly notice that it connects the Old Testament sacrifices and worship rituals to the work of Jesus Christ; it really ties the Old Testament to the New Testament.
The title “Hebrews” does not mean the book was written in the Hebrew language. Rather, “Hebrews” most likely identifies the ethnicity of its recipients; “Hebrews” are Jews. These are not Jews who cling to the teachings of Judaism and are still looking forward to the coming Jesus. These are ethnic Jews who are Christians; they follow Christ.
But life is growing difficult for them. After all, they are Jews. Many who share their flesh and blood [their ethnicity] practice Judaism. That means mom and dad still worship in the synagogue and read only the Torah (first five-books of the Bible). Their neighbors elevate the teachings of Moses and Elijah the prophet, treasuring these words more than the words of Jesus. Friends and co-workers do not share the view that Jesus is the Savior of the world. Instead, they’re still looking for the coming Messiah.
These Jewish Christians stand at odds with their family members. It’s difficult to hold onto Christian beliefs when the majority do not.
To further complicate matters, these Jews live in the Roman Empire during a time when Christianity is not embraced. The Roman Emperors are ramping up persecutions against Christians. Some lose their property because they worship Jesus. Others get arrested and still others are staring down the sword. (Imagine losing your house, your land, your retirement savings because someone found out you were here this one day.)
There’s immense pressure to give up on Christianity and to return to Christ-less beliefs. Life would feel so much easier for these Jewish Christians if they just cut their connection to Jesus and returned to the popular, tolerated religion of Judaism. That’s the solution to make life feel better.
That’s the solution so many still embrace today. “Sin” is not a popular subject. It does not make you happy to face the reality that you (and I) are nothing but dust and ashes; you (and I) are mortal. It does not feel good to admit that you (and I) are truly the only one at fault for breaking God’s commandments. It does not fill you with joy that you (and I) are accountable for indecency going through your head, the hurt you inflict on others, and the evil which festers in your heart. Since this is an uncomfortable reality, the natural, manmade solution is to find another belief, another teaching that will make you feel happy. Leave Jesus and find a new, popular, tolerated belief.
It’s easy to do, right? And maybe you realize it occurs in your life a little more frequently than you care to admit. Downplay the seriousness of sin. “It’s alright if I have hold little feelings for someone other than my spouse. It’s natural… It’s acceptable that babies come before marriage. Everyone does it. God cannot possibly care.” Or you compare yourself to others: “God cannot be angry that I lose my temper. My neighbor abuses his spouse. He’s so much worse than me!” Or you attempt to justify and defend your actions by blaming others: “I wouldn’t be an irritated parent if my kids behaved better… I would be friendlier if she didn’t backstab me… I could listen to my President if he didn’t (fill in the blank) .”
Each time you (and I) attempt to justify sin, you declare that you have done nothing wrong. Your heart dares to stand before God and tell him that he and his Commandments are wrong. That you, and your behavior, are acceptable.
If you wish to walk down this road, then be sure: you are using the wrong product for the problem. Ignoring sin does not solve your mortality. Considering disobedience as something of little significance does not change the fact God hates sin and will punish it. You (and I) are not qualified to change our status before God and live.
So, the book of Hebrews emphasizes one truth, a truth that is still true today: Jesus Christ is Superior.
For those Jewish Christians, the pressure to abandon the Christian faith is intense. They could leave— and who could blame them? They have family tensions, the government wants to kill them, their emotions are worn down. Yet, if they return to Judaism, they would leave Jesus, the only solution behind.
So, the author of Hebrews contrasts the Old Testaments to Jesus. In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways. As great as Elijah is or Isaiah or Jeremiah or Moses, they did not have the complete picture of (1) who Jesus is, (2) what he would do, and (3) the peace he brings. Each prophet held just one piece of the puzzle. Sometimes on a television show, six different characters hold six different clues to a riddle. When they come together, put their clues together, they discover the complete answer.
You see, each prophecy built on another. God promises his Son would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). A prophet said Jesus would come from King David (2 Samuel 7:14). Another said he would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Another said he would be the Son of God (Psalm 2:4-7). Another said he would be crushed and broken for our sin (Isaiah 53). Still another said he would rise from the dead (Psalm 16:10-11).
That’s why our writer says: In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets, but today you have something better: in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. You have the privilege of piecing all these prophecies together and clearly seeing: Jesus Christ is Our Great High Priest. Jesus is the One God promised to send. Since Jesus is God-approved, it means he is qualified to serve our spiritual needs; he is the only solution to our problem of sin. Since Jesus Christ is Our Great High Priest he is qualified to purify us.
You see, sin presents the serious problem of death. God demands a pure heart, a pure mind, and a pure soul— and Jesus has it all. So, Jesus carries your (and my) attempts to downplay the seriousness of sin. He gathers them up, carries them to Calvary, and destroys them one-by-one. For blaming others for my guilt, Jesus is beaten. For my excuses for my ill-temper, Jesus bleeds. For me daring to think that God is overbearing and that God’s commands are wrong, Jesus endures God’s wrath, anger, and abandonment.
Jesus, Our Great High Priest uses his innocent blood to purify us from all sin. “Purify,” that is, he removes the inky scarlet blot from our lives and cleanses us inside and out. Sin is gone once-for-all.
To emphasize the thoroughness of his work, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. Jesus has completed his work to remove sin; there’s no more work to be done. That’s why he can say: In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (John 14:2-3). Since Jesus has removed guilt, since Jesus has fixed your (and my) mortality-problem, you can live with confidence that your stand forgiven, holy, blameless, innocent before God.
Sometimes I try to make do with the wrong product for a project. I try to save a few dollars by purchasing nails when I really should be buying screws. I’ve tried to poke a dancing fly to death. I push forward with the wrong solution in the hopes of fixing my problem, but it doesn’t work. What felt right in my mind was not the answer I needed. It’s the answer I thought I needed, but it still didn’t solve the problem.
The solution to our mortality is not to run away from this consequence. The solution is not to try and make sin look better than it really is. The solution is not to compare my morality with others. The only solution is to lay what you (and I) have done wrong at the feet of Jesus and watch him purify us from all sin. Jesus Christ Our Great High Priest! who is qualified to serve and qualified to purify us.