January always brings change. After all, it kicks off a new year. You get to throw out the old calendar and hang the new. Yet, January does more than mark a new month, it (1) changes your routine. Depending on your Christmas spending habits, how many you shop for, and the number of Christmas lights strung around your house, your expenses might be higher than normal. The winter season changes from cool to cooler and dark to darker. The family which has been migrating from house to house will soon return to their downstate responsibilities. January alters your routine. Not just that, January might (2) introduce a year of firsts. First anniversary not celebrated. First birthday without a spouse. First vacation not taken. First summer without the house. First year away. Even bigger events might occur; January may (3) start new life-changes. You will graduate. You will start college. You will be Mr./Mrs. You might move and have new neighbors and friends, as well as a new routine. Even if nothing life-altering lies ahead, January brings at least one change: (4) your birthday. You will be another year older and another year closer to some significant life-change, be it a new school, a new child, retirement, or Social Security [benefits]. January ushers in so many possibilities, so many adjustments.
That can be an unsettling truth. Change happens by force. You cannot stop time; you cannot control what events enter your life or how those events will impact your life. Change rolls on— either with you or dragging you. That’s not always a pleasant feeling.
So, how do you enter a New Year with confidence? How can you chase away those fleeting fears and anxieties? Look to your God. The Lord Does Not Change-- even in a changing world. God’s grace remains the same.
Grace brought (the nation of) Judah home. ‘Grace’— that is, ‘undeserved love from God.’ For 70-years Judah lives locked inside the Babylonian empire. That’s 70-years of not working your fields, not running down the street to your hometown grocery store, not playing in your acreage. Every familiar comfort is gone. Your grandparents are the last ones whose eyes marveled at Solomon’s breathtaking temple. The king does not consider your Jewish interests; your culture just melts away. That was then, this is now. Now, 50,000 Jews stand in southern Israel (Nehemiah 7:66-69). Now, city walls are rebuilt (2:11-20). God’s temple stands reconstructed now (Ezra 3:7-13). Jewish leaders govern. All this— because God made it happen.
For Judah it was not good enough. Yes, life trended better, but it was not like it was in the past. The new temple was not splendid enough. National boundaries are not large enough. Leaders are not spectacular enough. Life was not as good as it was before captivity. It looked like God changed his blessings, that God chose to hold back the good life from Judah.
Know the feeling? Relationships change. Children tend to grow older. That means, your daughter will get a driver’s license and hang out with friends. Your [grand]kid will trek off to school. Your son will move away for a job. Your daughter may leave father and mother and be united to her husband and become one flesh (Matthew 19:5). That brings adjustment. Your daughter may not be able to stop her chores (like she used to do), leave her family, and appear on your doorstep every single time you call. Your [grand]son who lived at your house (when younger) will probably spend more time at his house. That adjustment is not always welcome. It becomes easy to complain how life was not as good as it once was. It becomes easy to complain that your family does not meet unrealistic expectations. To accuse your own child of no longer caring about you. You (and I) can act as though God has taken away a blessing.
Comfort levels change. Life may still feel nonstop busy. The calendar is littered with practice times and game days. Work calls for longer hours and extra days. School heaps only more work and deadlines. Maybe it feels as though every friend took turns inviting you to their house, to some restaurant, to their holiday party. Just when you finished one job, another three jobs popped up— in the rain, in the kitchen, at your brother’s. No matter how hard you tried, you just never could get ahead. That activity brings adjustment. You cannot sit and relax as you might wish. Schedules create stress. Responsibilities get postponed. You feel sapped. You feel overwhelmed. You (and I) can grow even tired just relying on ourselves. We can act as though God is no longer present to hear our cry or carry our burden.
Life changes. Another year brings age-related events. You love her, but she still dies. You exercise and eat well, but you must still downsize. You live a Christian life, but people still hate you. That brings adjustment. You try to control life, but your best-intended wishes fizzle out. You might think God either (1) cannot work things for your good or (2) choose not to work for your good (read Romans 8:28).
You see, worry erupts because we think God has left us. That God is not for us, but against us (consider Romans 8:31). That God does not have authority over heaven and earth (consider Matthew 28:18). That God does not hold us in his righteous right hand (consider Isaiah 41:10). Worry declares that God has changed and does not keep his Word. And if God has changed, then you (and I) can no longer rely on him.
Dear friends, do not confuse God’s changelessness with our change. Put this way: We change, and so we think God changes too! But, The Lord Does Not Change. Even in a changing world, God’s grace remains the same.
God himself says that: I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. He does not merely say this; he proves it.
Judah had every reason to be wiped off the earth. Before their 70-year exile, God exposes their wickedness, pleads with them to turn, and promises to protect them. Yet, no one treasures that Word. Then, even after exile, Judah sees how wicked they can become! Parishioners drag blind and diseased animals into God’s temple for an offering— animals not even fit for a king (1:8). Christian men marry women who worship false gods. That marriage introduces strange beliefs in Christian homes (2:11-12) and priests do not care enough to correct it (2:8).
Worshippers are afraid to give God too much money (3:8-12). God saves them and they respond by turning away! Yet, God keeps his promise—a promise to send Jesus through Judah (Genesis 49:10). That is ‘grace,’ undeserved love from God.
Even though Judah’s love changed, God’s love remains the same. He proves that by bringing his Son into the world. He proves that by sending his Son to the cross. He proves that by holding Jesus accountable for our lack of trust. He proves that by raising his Holy One out of death. He proves that by declaring you “Not guilty!”—and repeating those words each week. Each day he leads you to the foot of the cross and says, “My Son died for you.” The Lord Does Not Change. God’s grace— the love God richly lavishes on you-- remains the same.
That undeserved love affects our lives in tremendous ways. A new year is upon us, but you do not enter it alone. You live each moment under the protecting hand of a God who never changes his promises.
Think about how this looks in a changing world. Your congregation might have changed from the first time you started worshipping here. And it will— because time passes! Time adds age. That means people get older. When we get older, our situations change. We become adults and leaders, parents and grandparents, active and retired. Time brings change to appearance— and we may not like that change because it takes us out of our comfort zone.
Even though change happens by force, God has not changed. And if God has not changed, then his Word of promise remains the same. God will always point you to peace in Jesus. Regardless of how many people are here. Regardless of what the future holds for your congregation. Regardless if church is full today and empty tomorrow. God still speaks peace in this place, to you. That makes your future certain. What is there to worry about?
God’s Word will still work in the heart. That means, you do not need to worry about how long your congregation will remain. Ten-, Twenty-, Thirty-years? Longer? The Lord Does Not Change. That means, [F]aith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). God has not made it your job to create faith. It is not your job to bring people in, fill your church, make it big, and make the community notice it. Nope. God simply hands us the job of remaining faithful to his Word. In this New Year, you will have opportunities to do just that. To grasp it. To share it. To preach it.
God’s grace remains the same. Not only is its message unchanged, but God still deals with you (and me) in grace. God, in undeserved love, still hears your prayers. Whenever you have anxiety, cast it on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). Even if your concern appears so insignificant, call on him in the day of trouble. He will deliver you and you will honor him (Psalm 50:15). How do you know? Because your unchanging God has promised: The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry (Psalm 34:15). The reliance on self shrinks. The reliance on God grows.
Your God gives you strength for whatever might come this new year. If you must say good-bye to a fellow Christian, be confident that person is in heaven. God’s grace remains the same. Jesus says that: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). If someone ill recovers, then rejoice! Appreciate the blessings God will still give through that person. If you feel completely overwhelmed, then Be still and know that One God remains in control (Psalm 46:10).
God spells it out quite clearly so that you (and I) have no reason to fear. The Lord Does Not Change. God’s grace remains the same.
What good news for a new year! All I know is that January brings change. A (1) change to routine, a (2) year of firsts, a (3) new life-changes, and, if anything, (4) another birthday. This year will undoubtedly require adjustments, but you need not worry. The Lord Does Not Change-- even in a changing world. God’s grace remains the same. Because of that, you can be sure God’s every promise to bless you, carry you, and strengthen you will follow you always.
Enter this new year with confidence. You do not need to know the future because you already know the present. Your Lord Does Not Change— even in a changing world. God’s grace remains the same.
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 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.
He sat in his car in the church parking lot. In just a few minutes worship would be over and then he would know. You see, he used to attend a Lutheran church, but had stopped worshipping decades ago. Now into his mid-fifties, he felt the need to reconnect with a congregation. So, he sat in his car, waiting. The moment worship ended, he watched one person walk out the front door. Another followed, and then another, and another until everyone had left. He got his answer. “That’s not the church for me,” he later said to a friend. “The members are too old.”
They invited me to the kitchen table. These first-time visitors had just moved up from a Detroit suburb. Now they wanted a congregation to call “home.” They made their expectations pretty clear. “We want contemporary songs, modern instruments, and a casual feel. You should really think about giving us what we want.”
I asked him, “How do you like your church?” A sixth-grader, standing on the street-corner next to me. His parents wanted a church with more kids his age. So, they left one congregation for another church in the area— a larger one at that. What did he like about his new church? “Oh, it’s good,” he said. “We have bowling, Wii and XBox [video-game consoles], movies, and snacks.”
How do you respond to statements like that? (By the way, those are all real conversations I had with real people.) Your sister lays out her preferred worship style. Your friend describes how he wants the sermon/message presented in church. Your child implies that your congregation is out-of-touch with people— and you stand there in unfamiliar territory, struggling to summarize the purpose of your congregation. What do you say?
Our reading from Ephesians provides you with the only right response: Keep the Main Thing in Church the Main Thing! Only Jesus is our peace. Jesus is the only cornerstone for life.
Look once again at the end of verse 14 (in our reading). You’re immediately met with this towering, dividing wall of hostility… a wall created with its commandments and regulations. God built up this wall around Old Testament Israel. He assembled a civil law for the protection of personal property and individual rights. He constructed a ceremonial law that laid out when Israel should worship, how often, what sacrifices to bring, and the reason for each sacrifice. That wall was meant to protect the faith of the believing Jew from the influence of the nonbelieving Gentile.
The Gentiles (those not of Jewish ethnicity) sacrificed food to the sun, blessed their crops by visiting prostitutes, and bowed down to a myriad of non-existent deities. God’s wall divided Jews from Gentiles.
But that wall created another division; it stops the imperfect from approaching the Perfect. God’s command stops you still and towers high above you: Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). The Jews had God’s commands, but rebelled against them. Judges refuse justice, spiritual shepherds lead masses to false gods, kings trust mortal men. The Gentiles lived “far off.” They (1) had no knowledge that Jesus would save the world with his perfect life. They (2) did not even have a Bible to introduce them to Jesus! God still looks down from heaven to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. But all have turned aside, they have together become corrupt. There is no one who does good, not even one (Psalm 14:2-3). Every single person enters life divided, separated, far off from God. No one does good. Not even one!
And he sensed it. I stood beside him at his mother-in-law’s funeral. “I hope she’s with all of her loved ones,” he said. “She is,” I replied. “Jesus did everything necessary to bring her to heaven.” His response?“Eh… maybe. I hope she’s there.” This son-in-law attended a church far larger than the one I was in. His congregation had far more programs for every age-group imaginable. Yet, for the many decades he spent worshipping there, he never found peace with God. He stood in front of that dividing wall and was convinced that the only way to approach God was to do more good to outweigh his bad. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c2a4.htm; see Paragraphs 1459-1460)
Here’s the point: Keep the Main Thing in Church the Main Thing. Because when you lose Jesus, you lose peace.
You lose peace when you place a higher priority on temporary things. You reach out to your community through Easter-postcard invites, doorhangers, an online presence. It seems like your words fall on deaf ears. Then out comes the pity-cry: “No one wants to hear God’s Word. We try to get it out, but nothing works. Woe is us!”
You share the most significant news ever: “Jesus alone gives eternal life!” You announce it in Sunday School. You hear in Bible Class. You sing it in worship! The results are not what you want. Out comes the pessimism: “Yeah, I thought more would come. Boy, things aren’t like they used to be. We might as well just stop the effort.”
First-time visitors, friends, children, even the sixth-grader on the corner all have in mind what they want from a church. It might have nothing to do with the Bible, but they don’t care. They want to feel entertained. Not too long after, the heart ponders: “Well, I would enjoy worship more if it was just more exciting …or I had someone here to talk to …or I fill in the blank.” Inside each of us lurks this slimy temptation to exchange God’s pure Word for sand that passes through the fingers! To fall for that trap will rob you of peace forever!
Do you know what the main thing in church is? What is the only way through the dividing wall of hostility? I’m not sure our reading can make it any clearer. After all, how many times do you hear: In Christ or in him or through him? Twelve times! Is it any secret? [Jesus] himself is our peace, [he] has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…
Jesus did what you (and I) could never hope to do. He did the only thing that really matters; he tore down the wall between you and God. Your Good Shepherd stands up in the Bible. He searches for those lost and harassed, like sheep without a shepherd. And he speaks, “I am your perfection. I did what you could not. I obey every single command and regulation with all my heart, mind, and soul. Stop digging for peace in yourself. I am your peace.” With his own perfect flesh he stamps God’s commands and regulations ‘Kept!’ ‘Obeyed!’ ‘Fulfilled!’ In his one body he reconciled [you] to God through the cross.
He ends the hostility between you and God so that you have peace forever. He rises and breaks down the walls of death. He comes and preaches peace to you… To you! For all the times you (and I) exchange the pure Word of God for something trite and trivial, you have peace. For all the times you (and I) selfishly prioritize pleasure over hearing God’s truth, you have peace. For all the times you (and I) hang our heads, moping as though we are losing, Jesus rises with victorious peace.
My friends, Keep the Main Thing in Church the Main Thing! God clearly explains the reason you gather here: to focus on Jesus. Because only Jesus is your peace. And the more you hear that good news, the more it changes your entire outlook on life. Because Jesus is the only cornerstone for life.
That wall of hostility is busted down. So what? So then, you are no longer foreigners and aliens… You are not separated from God. Rather, right here, right now, you are fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household. God has written your name into the citizenship rosters of heaven. He takes you by the hand and is leading you through this valley of the shadow of death to bring you safely to a heavenly country.
You can be sure of this. [You have been] built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. God picked you up from the rock pile of humanity. In baptism, he laid you among many other bricks in a wall. With his Word, he mortared you in. With the Lord’s Supper, he tuck-points, making sure the mortar remains tough and strong so that you will never fall away. Your peace is this life is not dependent on your emotions. Those change from day to day. Your peace for heaven is not dependent on how moral you appear. You can never be good enough. You peace for life is anchored to the work of Jesus, the work which the Bible records. Point to it. It is a foundation. It will never break or crumble or fail. The Main Thing in Church remains Jesus. Listen to him because Jesus is your only cornerstone.
Jesus is your only cornerstone. People come to faith only through the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Some days, you may feel as though you are failing as a congregation. It is no secret that an increasing number of people are staying away from the Word than coming to it. You may feel as though the Word must change in order to gain larger numbers. You might think you need different activities or a different style of worship to invite people here. Now, those things are not wrong in themselves. Yet, when the purpose for attending church is to be entertained by things that cannot save, you have stepped off the only cornerstone for life. Faith comes only by hearing the Word Jesus sent out through his prophets and apostles. Not with youth entertainment and praise bands and the age of a congregation. Faith comes from the Word.
God makes that explicitly clear. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. God used his Word to bring you to faith. He still sends out the same Word, the only tool that brings others to faith as well. Keep the Main Thing in Church the Main Thing. Point people to Jesus, the only cornerstone for life.
God has handed you the priority-message: Jesus himself is our peace. Jesus’ death and resurrection promises you life in God’s family. So, you do not need to worry. Instead, you get to live in and work to share that Word of peace. You can always live built on this cornerstone.
So, what is the purpose of your congregation? If you struggle to put it into words, then repeat what our selection says here. It gives you the only right response: Keep the Main Thing in Church the Main Thing! Only Jesus is our peace. Jesus is the only cornerstone for life.
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.
Here’s an all expense paid vacation to the Bahamas. In this envelope is your plane ticket, your hotel and dinner reservations, as well as spa reservations, fishing and scuba diving expeditions, and parasailing trips. Everything you need is right here. Take the envelope, travel to the right airport, hotel, restaurant, and activity center, claim your reservation, and enjoy the trip!
After all, it’s a vacation… And vacations allow a break from the everyday busy-ness of life. No pressing deadlines to haunt you. No exhausting trips to doctor appointments. No stressful child-sitting. No nerve-wracking phone-calls. Just let your mind wander. Let someone else care for you. Do what you want whenever you want. Daydream. Nap. Relax!
Now, you could take this envelope jam-packed with tickets and reservations. You could spend thousands (of your own dollars) on a plane. You could spend hours scouring the internet for the best hotel rooms. You could spend all week calling restaurants and charter boats and day spas. Even though I arranged the entire trip for you, you could try to make all the arrangements for yourself. Then you would be quite stressed, anxious, and exhausted during your entire vacation. In fact, it would not be much of a vacation at all, would it? You would be working to obtain a ‘rest’ that has already been given to you.
It would be foolish to work instead of rest. It is just as foolish to work when you could be Receiving Your Sabbath Rest from God. The time you spend with God— hearing his Word, reading devotions, gathering in worship— is a time where God gives you rest and God comes to you.
In the Old Testament God set aside a special day of rest called the ‘Sabbath Day. Remember, ‘Sabbath’ is a Hebrew word meaning: ‘rest’ or ‘cease from work.’ God instructs: Six days you shall labor and do all your work-- your field work, your construction jobs, running your restaurant, sitting at your work desk, doing tedious household chores and errands— but the seventh day is a Sabbath, a ‘day of rest’ (Deuteronomy 5:13-14). On the seventh day you stop your busy-ness. Why? So that you may have a clear, stress-free mind to recall, remember, and reflect on what God has done for you.
So, ancient Israel stopped working, and the clear mind (that comes from resting) allowed them to remember that they were once slaves in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15). They could recall the sweat and heat, the aches and pains, the twenty-hour-a-day/seven-days-a-week-labor, the lack of personal freedom. Then they remembered how God pried them out of Egypt with ten plagues and led them into an entirely brand new way of life. As the nation remembered what God did, they could reflect how God did all this out of mercy. This recalling, remembering, and reflecting motivates thanks to their awesome God.
The Pharisees knew God commanded them to Remember Sabbath by keeping it holy (Deuteronomy 5:12). The way to demonstrate respect for the day is to not work.
Jesus’ disciples are walking through a grainfield on a Sabbath day. They’re snagging handfuls of wheat kernels, rubbing them together in their hands, cracking open the chewy husks, and snacking the soft grain. The Pharisees are watching this. In their book, plucking is the same as reaping— as though the disciples are swinging harvest sickles (or jumping into the John Deere to harvest wheat).
They rush up to Jesus, chiding, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” This plucking is not forbidden by God. In fact, God allowed people to walk through grainfields and take just enough to fill the stomach (Deuteronomy 23:25). It was the Pharisees who called this action ‘illegal.’ In fact, the Pharisees added extra layers to God’s commandments. When it came to the Sabbath Day, they added 39 classifications of forbidden work.
There’s a reason they did this. The Pharisees recognized their own sinfulness; they are not perfect. So, they add regulations that they could keep. Yes, they might not love God with all their heart, mind, and soul (Matthew 22:37), but they could obey their 39 different rules of approved work. They could sit in the synagogue for hours. They could put an end to their excessive laboring. They could stay out of the grainfields. Because they could keep their own manmade rules, they felt proud.
That pride soared even higher when they caught others breaking their rules. The Pharisees could not only (1) obey manmade rules, but (2) did something the majority could not. So, they point a finger at the disciples, calling them worse sinners than they. The Pharisees even imply that Jesus failed to be God’s approved Savior because he did not call the disciples’ actions wrong.
You see, the purpose for spending time with God is for God to give you rest. Stop to recall, remember, and reflect on the Savior who brings peace with God. Yet, the Pharisees did not want this spiritual rest. They wanted to work for God’s favor.
Inside each of us is that same workaholic heart. It can take something so beneficial like worship or personal devotions and twist it into something great you do to earn favor with God. It happens when you slip into bed Saturday night and wake up Sunday morning feeling as though worship is some enslaving command.“Well, I gotta go to church. It’s expected. I must do it. I can’t wait until it’s all over then I can get on with my day.” Instead of finding spiritual refreshment, worship becomes a chore.
Fingers points at those neglecting worship. “Well, Dan was baptized and confirmed here, but he hasn’t been to church after confirmation!” What’s the purpose behind that statement? Do you sincerely desire to call back someone neglecting the Word? Or, do you feel that God is happier with you because you came to ‘church’ and you showed up more often than Christmas and Easter service only? Has your worship attendance become some sort of track record you want God to reward?
Do you, like the Pharisees, create and follow manmade rules for worship? Like, kids must be quiet— and if your child is quieter, then you are a better parent. You must wear a suit & tie, a dress or slacks; you must wear a certain standard of clothing— and if you do, you are a more sincere Christian than others. You must sit still and follow along— and if you are actively engaged the entire time, then you had a good day. Do you brag about your Sunday School attendance as though you love God more than those who do not come? Are you holding up Bible class attendance and your daily devotions as badges of honor before God?
You see, you may not condemn people for crushing grain in their hands on the wrong day. Yet, inside each of us beats a heart which wants you to measure and compare yourself to others according to your own manmade rules so that you look morally superior
Do you want to know what Jesus says about that? The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. If you believe you are doing God some great service by worshipping, reading your Bible, and learning God’s Word, you are fooling yourself! The ‘rest’ you get with God is not some meritorious work. It never was (and is) meant for that purpose. To believe it is will rob you of ‘rest’ forever.
You are created first. Then, so that you enjoy peace with God, God gives you opportunities to find physical and spiritual rest. Receive Your Sabbath Rest. Did you catch it? Receive. Not something you earn. Rather, God gives you rest.
You receive rest as you spend time in God’s Word. God does not command you, living after the time of Jesus, to worship only on Saturday. You are free to set aside a specific day for worship (Colossians 2:16-17). You are allowed to work, if needed, on your worship day. Why? Because The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.
The point of the Old Testament Sabbath Day is to spend time with God— and not just for one day, but daily time with God. As your Substitute he does what you (and I) have not.
Jesus is a Son born to the man, Joseph. Jesus has flesh and blood; he is a real, living human being! Since he is born of a woman, he is born under God’s law (Galatians 4:4). That means the Third Commandment is laid on Jesus. Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy (Exodus 20:8).
He makes worship his custom. Never does he skip worship because he’d rather be fishing. Never does he groan and gripe that time with God is some chore. Rather, Jesus delights spending time in the Word! He not only listens to God speak, the Word of God is on his lips He preaches to crowds. He teaches. He encourages with the Word. The Lord of the Sabbath dies for your (and my) abuse of the Sabbath. His blameless life satisfies God’s anger forever.
God keeps coming to you with that precious message: “Forgiven!” On Easter Sunday (Sunday!—the day on which you worship!) Jesus hands you eternal rest! Recall how he comes to set you free from guilt. Remember he paid the price with his life. Reflect that now you are set free from sin, set free from work, set free to live in peace! As you recall, remember, and reflect, praise and thanks will gush out.
That is the purpose for diving into God’s Word. It’s all about what God has done for you! As you better grasp how God has, in Jesus, truly forgiven you all your sins, you live a new kind of life. No longer is worship about you doing something for God. No longer are you fighting to look morally superior than others. Rather, you heart lives at rest knowing God has done all the work need to save you!... and to make you his!
Love for worship motivates you to call others to faithful worship. So, look around. Do you recall those who worshipped with you once, but have now grown a little slow? A brother? ...sister? A son? ...daughter? …grandchild? A friend? A neighbor? Why does it hurt you when people stay away from God’s house? Because they see no need to thank God for setting them free from death in hell. They ignore the only One who will give real joy and peace in life. You have experienced real rest in the forgiveness Jesus brings. That makes you qualified to share your experience with others. You may be related to those slow to worship. You may be a friend. You may be an acquaintance. So, pick up the phone and call them. Shoot a text message. Drive to their house. Hold up the real rest given in worship. Your love for the day of rest compels you to do so.
Love for God compels you to spend time with him. So, you carve out time to spend with God. You make daily devotions a priority. Either you read a page in the Meditations booklet. Or you find strength in a chapter of the Bible. Or you grow in Bible Class as you see what God is capable of doing for you. You Receive Your Sabbath Rest because God comes to you.
You could try to earn God’s favor by behaving a certain way. You could measure yourself to a little child. You could make sure to stand up first and speak the loudest. You could stare at your watch so that you do not miss out on devotion-time or Bible Class. You can live quite stressed, anxious, and exhausted trying to be good enough for God. But you would be foolish to work instead of rest.
God hands you his Word so that you may Receive Your Sabbath Rest. The time you spend with God— hearing his Word, reading devotions, gathering in worship— is a time where God gives you rest and God comes to you.
Imposing stone columns surround you, soaring to incredible heights before interlocking together high above. Thick brick walls press in on your right and left, each one also towering well over a hundred feet above you. The polished granite floor under your feet glistens. Pieces of clear glass pack massive window openings, letting bright white unfiltered light to pour into this temple. A hundred feet ahead lies four steps rising up to an intricately carved altar. On this platform is planted a dominant royal throne. Music fills the air all around you, angelic voices blending together singing praises. Can you picture the scene?
If you can’t, just Google: “British royal wedding ceremony pictures” and drink in those exquisite details. White poufy flowers drape walls and dress the front. Children’s choirs stand to your right and left. Delicate hats rest on the heads of every royal lady. Shiny medals hang from finely pressed military coats and gowns flow from each guest. This is the sight of power and dominance and respect.
You get to stand in that grand temple. No, this is no royal wedding. You stand in far more powerful, far more dominant, far more glorious setting. You stand before the King of the Universe! …in his presence! …in a sight of brilliance and dominance! The Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God Almighty! But how? He stands apart from sin.
Do you see that?
Look through the eyes of Isaiah the prophet. [T]he Lord [sits] seated on a throne… The Lord. Do know what that [name] means? Lord is not God’s first name like: Bob or George or Dick. [The name] Lord has a meaning; Lord credits God as One with authority, all-power, superiority; the One holding control over every single thing in the world with unsurpassed might. This is the God who rules the entire universe! This is the God before whom each individual must give account (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:12)! This is the God who holds final judgment over your eternal future! And your feet remain planted just a few feet away.
Staring straight ahead, you only see the legs of his throne. Your eyes trace those legs up higher and higher; your head tilts back more and more, reminding you of just insignificant you are compared to him. [T]he train of his robe fill[s] the temple. Exquisite white linen sprawls across the polished floor, touching each wall, covering every square inch that you dare not step on these unsoiled garments.
Above him were seraphs… such unique angels that we know nothing more about them other than what Scripture says here. These angelic beings flash like flames of fire, showcasing the power and the purity found in this temple. Look up; see seraph after seraph after seraph fill the space above your head. [Each one has] six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.
And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” You sing the same song in the Common Service. Ho-ly, ho-ly, ho-ly Lord God of heav-en-ly hosts: heav’n and earth are full of your glory Yet, they do not prepare for Holy Communion. These seraphs trumpet a very truthful reality: God is holy. That means two things: (1) Holy: the Lord has no moral fault; he is perfect. (2) Holy: the Lord stands opposed to everything and everyone that is imperfect. Holy: because he is set apart from our sins.
Does that sound quite right? The puffed up, proud society in which you live boom: “Hey! Wait just a minute! Who is God that he should call my hate wrong? Who is God that he commands me how to treat my body? Who is God that he condemns my unbelief?” That proud human heart tears down Isaiah’s sight and replaces it with one where the human sits in the throne next to God— or, worse yet, in the throne over the Almighty.
Have you wandered into that arrogance? It comes out when you intentionally skip worship for the boat or for yard-work, but you cover over it with your self-understood excuse: “Well, God understands. I’m busy.” Never mind God commands your whole heart (Matthew 22:37); you can determine to give God part of your love. That proud heart smirks oh-so-smugly at harsh words meant to destroy. “Well, she made me angry.” “Dad needs to get with reality.” “I must exert power over my neighbor.” Never mind God expects words to build up (Matthew 5:22); you must have the authority to overthrow God’s command. That arrogant heart wraps an arm around God, calling him your buddy who understands why you can lose self-control, why it’s acceptable for you to neglect your parenting discipline, why it’s alright for you to create your own beliefs. Inside each of us is this heart which believes it sits on the throne of God. That it sits in authority over God. That you are free to live according to your rules. That God is honored by your presence.
Do you see who sits on the throne? Not you. Not me. Not the seraphim either. In fact, even the seraphim tremble at the sight. The ones already in heaven cannot even look at the face of God! So how can you (and I), mere mortals living in an unclean world approach God and live? The best we can is join with Isaiah, trembling, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
The LORD God Almighty is Holy, Holy, Holy. He stands apart from our sins. Yet, your
Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God Almighty cleanses you with his life.
Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar… The altar. The place of sacrifice. The place where blameless animal after blameless animal sacrificed its life to remove sin.
Flying from the altar of forgiveness, the seraph touches [Isaiah’s] mouth [with that coal] and says, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” A holy God does not sweep Isaiah away into the very depths of hell. The God of patience and mercy cleanses him with his life.
Your Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God Almighty deals with you in the same patience and mercy. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son (John 3:16), the disciple John writes. God the Father sends his only Son into a life soiled with sin’s awful grime. The devil pushed pride before him. Jesus faces the pull to run away from the cross and live a cushy earthly life. Yet, he never does. He treasures the Word of the Holy God above all things— remaining the Holy One of God.
This Holy One, the One seated on this magnificent, towering throne steps down and humbles himself. Leaving heaven, he takes the form of a servant, allowing corrupt men to spit on him, punch his face, crush a mockery into his head, and nail him to a cross. God so loved you that he laid his one and only Son on the altar of the cross in order to cleanse you.
Jesus leaves his tomb and says: See… your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for. Jesus bridges the gap between you and God; that’s what is meant by the word “atone:” Jesus makes you “at-one” with God. At your baptism the Triune God announces, “Look, this water and my Word has touched you: your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” At the altar, Jesus touches you with his body and blood, together with the bread and wine, and says: See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Jesus has removed the stained garments of arrogance and dressed you in splendid white robes. He has washed grimy pride away. He has cleansed an arrogant ego. He makes you (and me) acceptable to approach the Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God Almighty because his holy life has been used to cleanse you.
Now cleansed, your Triune God calls you to a holy life. Just look at Isaiah. Just moments earlier trembles at the sight of approaching a holy God, fearing his life would roar to a violent close. Yet, a merciful God sets him free from bondage to hell. Set free from threats of death, he is free to serve God with a willing heart and life. He heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” [Isaiah] said, “Here am I. Send me!” Touched by that forgiving love, he is transformed to share it with many others.
God may not have called you to be a minister or missionary. Yet, he has called you into a new way of living. Forgiven, restored, brought into his family, you can approach God with confidence.
Your singing of “Holy, Holy, Holy!” comes not from fear, but from hearts thriving on the forgiveness through a Triune God. You shout: “Holy! Holy! Holy! Is the LORD Almighty!” giving God credit for his perfection and him giving you that perfection for eternal life in heaven. You praise God as you read your Meditations devotions. You praise God as you study God’s Word in Bible class. You praise God as you take his Word into your hearts. You demonstrate proper love for God as you place him in the first-place spot of your hearts. His Word drowns out your words… and thoughts… and opinions. You are following the One who is Holy, Holy, Holy!
You bring your offerings to God. Gifts of money, of your time, and of your talents. You support a minister bringing God’s Word to your ears and heart— and to your friends and community. You offer God a beautiful space where he might reign and dwell. You serve him from a heart motivated by love. The Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God Almighty has called you to a holy life.
On this Trinity Sunday, you stand between two halves of our church readings. From Advent (end-November) through Pentecost (mid-May), we study the life of Christ: his faultless birth, innocent living, and perfect life sacrificed, and triumphant resurrection. Now, after today, the focus shifts from the steps taken to save us to the teachings Jesus gives over his three-year ministry.
You are ready for this growth. Your Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God Almighty has ushered you into his grand temple. You look up to see the One high and exalted, seated on his magnificent throne. Yet, you do not fear. Through the blood of Jesus, the Father declares you forgiven. The Holy Spirit points at your baptism as evidence that you belong to God. Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD God Almighty! He stands apart from sin. His life cleanses us. He calls us to a holy life.
"I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb; Ever glad at heart I am… " Be honest with yourself, when singing those words, was there a moment when you felt this hymn was just a bit childish? …like this song is meant for little kids and not for adults? …that you’re too old to be singing this? … that you need something with a more complex focus and moving melody in order to capture inner angst? To be honest, sometimes I think so.
The words are simple and the melody catchy. It’s a song for little kids. But, isn’t that the point? That this child-like hymn is purposely in our hymnal so that you can be a child?
For just a minute, step into the life of a child. Picture it: you have no job, no stressful deadlines, no demanding schedule. You have no need for a certain amount of income, and therefore, no pressure to make a budget work. In fact, your parents pay utility bills, doctor bills, grocery bills, and car bills. Children have such simple and sincere relationships. No stewing over the harsh words she said to you. No nervousness of saying the right things in order to keep others happy. Children simply blurt out what’s on their mind without a second thought. Children have an innocent view of life. They trust, not question. They’re relaxed, not worried. They have peace, not anxiety. Does that hymn sound childish now?
I would guess that most, if not all of you have wished at some point in life to be a child again. To get rid of the stress. To get past the tough relationships. To remove those pressing responsibilities. To put an end to all the nonstop, incessant worry. To live at complete ease.
Perhaps that is what makes these words (John 10:11-18) some of the most beloved words for a Christian. Today you sink into the bliss that comes from living under the care of Jesus, Your Good Shepherd. But remember this: Good Shepherd Sunday does not exist for one day only. Each day Jesus Remains Your Good Shepherd who sacrificed his life for yours and who brings life in his fold.
He cannot stress that enough. Jesus plainly says, “I am the good shepherd.” In the Greek language (the original language of the New Testament) that little phrase comes out even stronger. Jesus literally says: “I, I am the Good Shepherd.” It’s like he’s tapping his finger on his chest saying, “Hey! Look at me! Concentrate on who I am; focus on what I am capable of doing! I am Your Good Shepherd.”
Do you understand what he means by calling himself “good?” In our English language “good” can mean many things. You eat “good” cake. A ‘B+’-grade-average in school might be “good.” Those standards of “good” change from person to person. “Good” cake does not mean it’s the “best” cake ever. A “good” grade could be an even better grade. Jesus is not just another “good” Shepherd— one among many shepherds (and you might find someone better). No. When Jesus calls himself “good,” he sets himself apart from everyone else in the world. He’s “good” because he lays down his life for the sheep.
The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. Since he does not own the sheep, he abandons the sheep and runs away when he sees the wolf coming… The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. If you lose a friend’s book, you do not lose money; you did not lose a possession. Your friend suffers the real loss; you do not. If the wolf mauls the sheep, the hired hand loses nothing! The sheep-owner must purchase replacements. The hired hand only cares about saving his own life.
Jesus sets up this marvelous contrast between self-centered, careless shepherd and himself, the Good Shepherd who sacrificed his life for you.
That is a truth you (and I) will never outgrow. Yet, that is a truth with which you (and I) grow discontent. I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb; Ever glad at heart I am? How childish!
If it feels that you have lost that sense of child-like innocence, then it is because you have wandered from the protecting care of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. You stress out over money because you do not trust Jesus will provide. You grow anxious in a society growing more God-less because you do not think Jesus will keep you safe from your enemies. You worry because you think Jesus will lead you headfirst into danger— and you will lose grip on your family, lose your health, and lose your life. You lose child-like trust because you feel that Jesus is not leading you in the places you should go.
The truth is, if you do not follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd, you will follow someone else. Those self-centered, careless shepherds (Jesus condemns) are not these wicked thugs lurking around every street corner. Instead, a “shepherd” is anyone you trust more than Jesus. A “shepherd” can be a non-Christian friend who urges you to follow her unpleasing, non-Christian advice on marriage. A “shepherd” can be listening to a preacher on the radio or television who twists the clear teachings of the Bible simply to make you feel emotionally happy.
Do you see what those shepherds do? When danger comes and the unexpected happens, they leave you! They do not care to soothe your sorrows. They do not provide rock-solid assurance. They leave you abandoned for the devil to devour you. So, here’s a key point: when Jesus says, I am the good shepherd, he’s telling you, “Focus on me!”
Jesus Is Your Good Shepherd who sacrifices his life for you. That makes him “good”— because he does something no one else does.
Pay attention to that one little word: “for.” The Greek way of saying it is: For your benefit or for your advantage. Jesus lays down his life for the advantage of the sheep. The devilish wolf circles around you— and at one time had your life in his death grip. Jesus did not run away, leaving you to die. He ran towards death on Mount Calvary. He allows nails to fasten him to wood. He braces up under God’s death sentence: “Guilty for sin!” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The jaws of death close around him— and you go free. You, the sheep, the one who liked to wander, go free and you get to live.
Do you have a “good” Shepherd? Yes! Yes, you do! You have a Good Shepherd who lays down his life and takes his life up again. Jesus descends into hell, not to suffer, but to announce: “Devil, you have lost your hold on my flock!” He bursts out of the tomb to tell you the good news: “I Am Your Good Shepherd and I remain Your Good Shepherd!” I sacrificed my life for you in order to bring you life in the fold.
Yes, life. You see, while you live, you either live as believer or nonbeliever; there’s no in-between. You either live with God now by faith or you do not.
When Jesus laid down his life for you, he brought you out of one way of life and into a completely different way of life. You once wandered in the pastures of death, but now he has led you into his believing flock. He uses a special word to tell you that: He “knows” you. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me… To “know” means more than just memorizing facts and information. To “know” means “learning something by experience.”
So, for example, I may “know” your child. Your child is a man (or woman), about yea-tall, about this age; she works in town, he travels, she is married with this many children. Yet, I only know facts, information. Would it be safe to assume that you “know” your child better than I do? Yes, you know information, but you have a personal relationship with your child. You can decipher their body language and behavior. You recognize their interests and needs. You can describe their demeanor and personality. You have learned about your child’s needs and you respond appropriately to those needs.
So, when Jesus says: “I know my own…” he’s not saying, “Yes, I stuck my cattle-tag in their ear. That one’s mine.” He knows you personally. Jesus, Your Good Shepherd, understands the fears that keep you up at night and comprehends why they bother you. He comforts your fears with a promises, I, the Almighty God, am with you always (Matthew 28:20). Jesus, Your Good Shepherd, senses the concerns you have about your health, and he gives you the strength needed for your health battle. Jesus, Your Good Shepherd, sympathizes with your sadness at a funeral, and he comforts you with promises of eternal life. Jesus, Your Good Shepherd, knows your gifts and special skills, and he opens opportunities for you to serve and he smiles as he watches you serve. Jesus is Your Good Shepherd who brings life in his fold.
Yes, an entirely new way to look at life. You do not live for your own self-wants. You are not abandoned. You have Someone great who stands watch over you. You can be certain of this. In our final verses Jesus says: The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father. This sounds like a disconnected, random thought— but don’t miss the point. Pontius Pilate, the Jewish leaders, and Roman soldiers did not muscle him onto the cross. Jesus submits to and follows the Father’s plan to save you. He lays down his life willingly. Then, he willingly takes his life back from death. This he does, not for his own benefit, but for yours.
Since he has made this great payment, it means nothing will separate you from the fold. With your Good Shepherd bringing you life, you will live protected. You will live perfectly content. Jesus is Your Good Shepherd who brings life in his fold.
Yes, I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb sounds childish. But, isn’t that the point? That this child-like hymn is purposely left in our hymnal so that you can be a child?
That is how you live! As a child under the care of another! As a little lamb under the protection of Someone greater! Yes, life with Jesus presents a clear path. How? Know this: (1) Your Good Shepherd sacrificed his life for you, for your advantage. He has called you to faith and has brought you into his believing flock. You have eternal life.
Yet, you have life now too. Even though the future may be murky and decisions weigh on your mind, you have a powerful Shepherd to guide you. Listen to his voice. Trust those promises because they are meant for your good, not to harm you. When perplexed, go to your Good Shepherd in prayer and trust that he will guide you, even when you do not know how. You are Jesus’ little lamb.
Perhaps that is what makes these words some of the dearest for a Christian. Jesus Is Your Good Shepherd. But remember this: Good Shepherd Sunday does not exist for one day only. Each day Jesus Remains Your Good Shepherd who sacrificed his life for yours and who brings life in his fold.
(from Easter Festival service)...
Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!
Doesn’t that just fill you with joy? Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! That is good news. That makes today a happy day! A lighthearted day! A day of peace.
That’s what Easter tends to bring: peace. Most people do not work today— and maybe that includes you. No boss hands you a list of deadlines. No customer demands your immediate help. No co-worker irritates you. Today is quiet. What joy that brings! Quiet! The phone is not ringing. No text messages buzzing at you. No Facebook post to reply to. Stressful conversations are not on your mind, not even on your radar! In fact, perhaps you planned a perfectly peaceful family gathering. You’ll gather around a splendid Easter dinner, gorge yourself on honey ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, and those addictive Pillsbury crescent rolls. The [grand]kids will hunt for Easter eggs. You’ll watch them, those innocent little faces bubbling with sheer joy. At the end of it all, you’ll sink into your plush, over-sized La-Z-Boy, close your eyes, and drift off to sleep. What joy Easter brings! What happiness! What peace!
So, here’s the question: How long does that peace last? A year?... Six months?... One month?... One week?... One day?... Less than that?
I’m going to assume that you do not have the luxury of stretching Easter out into a multi-day celebration. Chances are, tomorrow, you must resume all the things you put off today. That means, tomorrow you must work, and with it comes the stress of deadlines and irritating requests.
You have doctor appointments to make, appointments that only stress you out. The [grand]kids and family return home and the family grudge returns as well. It does not seem like peace remains too long, does it?
So, what do you do? Where do you find peace— and not just temporary peace, but the deep-seated peace that puts your mind and heart at rest forever?
God directs your attention to the only place where you find that real, lasting peace. Not just a peace he wants you to know, but a real peace in which believers throughout the ages have stood and one in which you get to stand today. Welcome to the Feast of Victory! Jesus has swallowed up death forever. Peace reigns for the people of God.
In our Old Testament reading, God prepares just that for you: a feast! On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines. Just imagine the scene. Standing high on a majestic mountain, away from the noise and busy-ness and stress and deadlines of life. Buffet tables stretch out before you as far as the eye can see. The finest of foods heaped on tabletops. The most expensive red wines opened just for you. Can you picture that? Imagine the absolute, complete satisfaction from indulging in such an extravagant feast! Your physical needs stuffed with emotional delight. Your body relaxes in sheer bliss. Your mind at peace— because all your stress has been answered; God has removed every single worry you will ever have.
Do you see where this feast takes place? On this mountain… This is not a literal mountain like Mount Everest or Mount Olympus, some actual location you find God. Rather, “this mountain” pictures God wrapping his arms around every Christian and every Christian standing around God. A victorious God who stands over every trouble to satisfy your physical, emotional, and mental needs perfectly. No worry. No stress. No fear. That, my friends, is peace.
The devil does such a tremendous job of dragging our eyes down from this majestic mountain scene. He drags our minds away from feasting on God’s promises. He lures our heart away from placing trust in God’s control. The devil pulls us back under this shroud, this covering, so that you (and I) cannot and do not see the peace that already exists with God.
Instead, the devil wants you to find peace inside yourself. In your own trust. In your own choices. In your own efforts. Look around at your world. You turn on the nightly news and see school shootings. You watch riots and protests erupt as tensions between two groups escalate. You shake your head when hearing of people in powerful positions crossing physical boundaries. Lives are lost. Injustice spreads. Trust is broken— and where do many search for re-uniting peace? In social media #hashtag groups! In electing the “right” politician! In protesting for change! And while these are noble causes to address abuse, they are not the answers to trouble.
Violence continues because hatred burns inside the heart. Physical boundaries will continue being crossed as long as people ignore God’s expectation of sex within the bonds of marriage. Arguments will rage on as long as selfish, self-centered hearts refuse to consider the needs of anyone else. If you hope to find peace for the troubles and stress of this life in your own efforts, you will be sorely disappointed. The reason peace escapes us is because of the sin inside of us.
Sin not only breaks relationships with others, but it breaks a relationship with God. God says: The soul who sins will die (Ezekiel 18:4). In fact, [Your sins] have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear (Isaiah 59:2). Knowing that your (and my) choices deserve eternal death in hell gives no peace.
Instead, God give you a real, lasting peace by raising Jesus from the dead. It seems so simple. A body once dead has returned to life. Yes, simple action, but profound truth. Because Jesus lives, you will live forever.
You see, Jesus is born on Christmas Day to bring peace on earth (Luke 2:14). No, not world peace, but peace to you— in your life— on earth. Jesus brings real peace by living the life you (and I) have not. He is perfect. The sick approach him; he calls on God to heal. Soldiers arrest him; he places trust in God. Jewish people want him to be king; he sets his sights on opening the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is perfect, and in him is the perfect payment for our self-trust and despair.
On the cross your sin (and mine) covered Jesus. Jesus is punished. Because he carries our sin, God turns away from him. Jesus is abandoned, cut off from the love of God. He suffers hell. Since he carries sin, he dies; the shroud of death covers him.
For three days he lies dead, in a tomb. He looks like everyone else, people who live and die and remain dead. But, on the third day, everything changes. Jesus comes back to life! Yes, a dead body starts breathing. Heart beats. Brain functions. Muscles flex and move. Eyes open, see, and react. Jesus sits up, swings his legs over the edge of his rocky bed, stands up, and walks out of the tomb alive!
So, what does the resurrection of Jesus Christ mean for you? First, The LORD Almighty has destroyed the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations, he will swallow up death forever. Jesus rips away your sins (and mine). If he ripped away your sin, then there is no more punishment. You are forgiven! You have peace with God!
That means, you will gather on that mountaintop in heaven. You will stand in that great banquet hall with tables stretching out for miles in front of you. You will feast on the finest of foods and drink the finest of wines. Your body and soul will be completely satisfied as you stand in the presence of God. The resurrection of Jesus Christ brings you the peace of knowing you have eternal life!
Second, The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces… from your face. He does that now. When cancer scares you and you feel crushed that you doubted God’s care, God forgives you. When you fight with your family and feel ashamed of the words you use, see Jesus step out of his tomb and say, “You are forgiven.” The debt is removed, canceled out, pardoned. You stand before God without guilt. God himself says this! [H]e will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. Because Jesus lives to declare you forgiven, tears caused by sin are wiped away forever. You still live at peace with God. You still hold the peace of eternal life.
Third, you have peace in life now. Even after Easter ends. Even when you return to the stress of deadlines and dreaded conversations. Even when you are unsure about safety in schools, shopping malls, or in your home. You have peace.
Because Jesus has guaranteed your future, you can say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”
God has become our God. This feast of victory does not only exist when you enter heaven; this feast of victory goes on now. God stands triumphant over every evil. He has secured your future. It means, you can trust his promises, his guidance. While you may not know the future, while you may grow stressed out over what the future might hold, remember this: Jesus lives! He lives to make heaven your home! He lives to bring you safely there!
That means nothing will separate you from the love of your God. Not the stress of deadlines. Not the fear of cancer. Not the strife that comes from family arguments. Set your minds on the peace of knowing God is with you and God will keep his Word. He promised a Savior right when the world was created. He kept that promise. You can be sure that you may run to him in every time of need. You can be sure God reigns and rules now! Peace reigns for the people of God.
I’m going to assume that you do not have the luxury of stretching Easter out into a multi-day celebration. Chances are, tomorrow, you must resume all the things you put off today. That means, tomorrow you must work, and with it comes the stress of deadlines and irritating requests.
You have doctor appointments to make, appointments that only stress you out. The [grand]kids and family return home and the family grudge returns as well. Yet, peace will remain.
Jesus lives! He lives to be your life. To be it. Always set your attention to the life God has prepared for you. A feast of victory—victory over sin and death and the lies of the devil! Heaven open! Heaven is yours! God sees you reigning with him!
Since this is so, you set your eyes on this glorious sight. Jesus lives to keep his Word. To comfort fears. To pardon guilt. To guide you through this life knowing where you are heading.
God directs your attention to the only place where you find that real, lasting peace. Not just a peace he wants you to know, but a real peace in which believers throughout the ages have stood and one in which you get to stand today. Welcome to the Feast of Victory! Jesus has swallowed up death forever. Peace reigns for the people of God.
Fifty-eight percent. Fifty-eight percent of Christians [those are people who (1) have an established church home or (2) label themselves ‘Christian’] will attend Easter service. That’s according to a 2013 survey (https://lifewayresearch.com/2013/03/26/survey-one-in-five-americans-undecided-about-easter-church-attendance/). So, that means 42% percent of Christians will stay away from Easter worship. Remember, these are Christ-ians. People who make a place for the Word of Christ in their hearts! People who ponder the teachings of Christ! People who claim Christ is important to them! One out of every three Christ-ians will stay home Easter Sunday!
Now granted, some may want to worship Easter Sunday, but just cannot. Poor health keeps them homebound. Family emergencies pop up. Work keeps them on the road or in the business Sunday morning. Still, only a tiny fraction of Christians fall under those unique circumstances. One out of every three Christians will stay home Easter Sunday.
Do you know how many unchurched plan to attend? Forty-one percent, with an additional 20% who are undecided. That means, even among non-Christians, about one out of every three will stay home Easter Sunday.
So, what does a survey like this reveal? It is not that you thump your chest boasting about your superior worship attendance. It is not for the snarky little comment, “Well, those people hate Jesus. They’ll get what’s coming to them.” A survey like this asks: “What is the purpose for you coming to worship on Easter?”
The prophet Zechariah answers that question for you this morning. He prepares you for Easter by placing your attention on a King and on his work. See Your King Come! He enters in humility. He establishes a kingdom of peace.
Those two things do not seem to go together. A king and humility? Zechariah preaches: Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation… This is it! This is what the people want! A king! A respected ruler! An organized and strong government! But, gentle(?) and riding on a donkey(?) What kind of king rides a donkey? Donkeys are so short; a king cannot tower over a crowd. In fact, a donkey’s dull gray coat blends into the scenery. Not to mention, this animal is a lumpy beast of burden! There is no splendor, no symbol of power and might and respect here. A king flaunts power. He marches down main street on a majestic white stallion. Glistening golden plates hang off that stallion; a plume of feathers is strapped to its head. Its bulging muscles twitch with might. Its height holds the king up for all to see. What kind king would ride a donkey? King Jesus.
The disciple Mark tells you that Jesus is the fulfillment of this Old Testament prophecy. Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Matthew 21:1-11). A royal court of nobles, ambassadors, and soldiers do not surround him. Rather, twelve simple fishermen toddle behind. No city leader rolls out the red carpet with a grand announcement and strikes up the band for this triumphal parade. Rather, random crowds lay palm branches and cloaks [jackets] on the ground. They shout, “Hosanna! Save us, Lord! Blessed is he!” The donkey does not march to the steps of Herod’s palace or Pilate’s governor-house. Rather, the donkey carries Jesus one step closer to the cross.
You see, Jesus is a different kind of King. That’s important to remember. Do you want to know why one out of every three Christians will stay home this Easter Sunday? Because Jesus is not the King they want. So many crave a king who satisfies personal wishes. A king who makes life on earth better. A king who stops all hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and fires. A king who pours wealth into homes so that no one will ever worry about money again. A king who taps a sick body and grants instant healing. A king who silences enemies of Christianity. That’s the kind of king so many crave. You know that— because if it were not true, then more would be here on Easter worshipping the King who conquered Satan.
Jesus is a different kind of King. He may not be the King the world wants, but remains the King the world needs. A King you (and I) also need.
Zechariah’s words are meant for you also. He prepares our hearts for Easter by placing your attention on King Jesus and his work. Even though you intend to worship on Easter (and many more Sundays afterwards), you can still lose focus on the kind of King Jesus is. It happens when the mind wanders in worship because it considers this timeless message of forgiveness “stale” and “boring!” Eyelids close because “you’ve heard this all before.” Your mouth fights holding back a *sigh* during the shouts of “Alleluia!” Maybe your heart craves a message you want to hear. Like, “How to be a better parent.” “How to manage your money” (really, so that you can have more money). “How to silence people who insult your faith” (because you really just want to feel better about what you believe).
Your sinful nature (and mine) may not openly reject King Jesus. You still intend to worship on Easter. Yet, inside, even our hearts can dredge up discontentment. It considers the work of Jesus “stale” and “boring.” Soon, like one out of every three Christians, you will search for a king that makes you feel happy for your short life on this earth. You will stop following the King who rules eternally.
That is why Zechariah preaches these words. He shows you the King God chooses to send. A King who comes to you, righteous and having salvation… You see, Jesus does not come for political control or earthly wealth or popularity. He is King unlike any other king this world has ever seen. He comes to fight the prince of this world— the devil— and to fight for your freedom (and mine).
That’s what verse 10 says: I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. Now, a few Old Testament references appear here. Ephraim is a tribe of Israel, but they are feisty nation, quick-tempered, and managed a powerful military. If you upset them, that army would march out either to intimidate or fight you. The thought that a nation next-door could fight you, end your life, enslave you, or take away your property makes you feel nervous. Powerful, snorting war-horses, watch them pound down your city street and you may feel a little uneasy. If you watch tanks roll down the streets, yes, you would feel safe, but you are also reminded that your nation has enemies. Enemies can attack, capture you, enslave you, kill you. Jesus comes to bring this unrest to an end.
He marches into Jerusalem, humble. He lays aside the power and prestige he has as God; he makes himself nothing. Instead, he takes on human flesh and submits to the will of God. For his thirty-three-years of life, Jesus fights your battles. He refuses to worship Satan for the fame, kingdoms, and glory of this world (Matthew 4:8-11). When Peter fights to free Jesus from his captors, Jesus orders, “Put the sword away! I have not come for a kingdom” (John 18:10-11). Even Pilate asks Jesus, “Where is your kingdom?” Jesus explains, “In heaven” (John 18:36-37). Jesus lays aside the things our world considers important and puts on the suffering and pain the world considers shameful. Yet, in God’s eyes, the pride and power of this world are shameful— because arrogant pride worships yourself, not God.
See Your King Come! He enters humbly into Jerusalem. See Your King Come to die for those who fight against him. Yes, that includes the soldiers who stretch him out on the cross. That includes those who mock him. That includes the disciples who run away to save their lives. That includes you (and me) for the times we find Jesus to be “boring” and “stale.” Jesus fights to save your life.
See Your King step out of the tomb on Easter Sunday. See Your King Come to put his righteous and blameless life on you. See Your King Come, holding the keys to free you from death and hell. The King who humbly submitted to death on a cross has become the King who establishes a kingdom of peace.
Zechariah continues: He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. You see, the peace Jesus brings is not earthly peace where every war stops, hunger ends, and every nation unites together. Jesus comes to bring peace into your heart.
Peace enters your life through the Word of God. [Jesus] proclaims peace to the nations, to people. He rises from the dead, appears to his disciples, and breathes: Peace be with you (John 20:21). Jesus breaks the hostility between you and God. That means you have peace knowing your sins are forgiven.
In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus gives you his body and blood, assuring you that he paid the price for your forgiveness. So, you can depart in peace. Why? Your sins are forgiven; you have peace with God. Live unburdened, knowing that God will remember your sins no more. He will not bring them up again when you enter heaven. You can stand before God and he will examine you head to toe, but you do not need to be worried. Jesus has removed that stain and God will find nothing on you.
The Song of Simeon praises God for the peace he brings. Simeon waited years to see the Savior. By the time he holds baby Jesus in the temple, he is an old man. Yet, once he sees Jesus, he confesses: “God, I can leave this life in peace because you kept your promise of sending Jesus. When I die I will open my eyes and see you in heaven.”
So, after receiving Holy Communion, you sing that same song: Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace, according to your Word. For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared for all people… You are confessing: “God, we have seen and have tasted the promise that you did keep a promise of a Savior. So, we can leave in peace. We can leave this house of worship knowing that you are with us, that you love us, that you will be with us. Should it come, we can depart this life in peace.”
His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. His peace has come down from Calvary, spread throughout the middle East, through Europe, across an ocean, and has reached your heart here in central Michigan.
Pay attention to the work of your King. See him fill you with the most priceless treasure this world will ever hold. See him offer and give you something no other king can ever give: Peace from guilt. Peace of eternal life. Peace of knowing God lives with you now.
Zechariah points to a King unlike any other king this world has ever seen. He points past the worldly king one out of every three Christians search for. He holds up the King God sends you. A King who fights for his subjects. A King who suffers shame and humiliation willingly for his subjects. Zechariah points you to a King who chooses to make enemies citizens. A King who brings peace into your heart.
“What is the purpose for you coming to worship on Easter? Stand ready for Easter by placing your attention on a King and on his work. See Your King Come! He enters in humility. He establishes a kingdom of peace.