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.
In the past I have shared how my daughter, Clara, thought I would leave her. Now, she understood I prepared sermons and Bible classes in the church office. She knew I visit fellow members at their homes. Yet, when I tucked her into bed, said good-night, and shut the door, she thought I was leaving her. Tears would stream down her face. Her crying grew hysterical. She even tried to climb out of her crib just to be with me.
Just because I am not physically in the room with her does not mean that I left her. Her wellbeing is always on my mind. I make sure no intruder or fire rustles through the house. I make sure her room-temperature is set just right. The baby monitor in her bedroom allows me to hear every single noise. If she wakes up crying, I hear her. If something falls, I hear the thump. If she wakes up, I hear her talking to herself. At a moment’s notice I can still tears, calm fears, and lift her into my protecting arms.
That is something that can never be repeated enough: “I am still here. I am with you always.” Words like that provide comfort in a world racing towards its final day. Words like that instill courage even as the moral standards of society disintegrate all around you. Words like that provide assurance that your future (and the future of your [grand]children) will be fine. Christ is Our King! You live under grace and You live in peace.
The book of Revelation reveals that this has always been true. In Revelation, Jesus shows you what must soon take place (1:1). What are those things? You, the Christian, will be falsely represented. School teachers may label the Bible’s teaching on sexuality as ‘Wrong.’ Friends may laugh that you control your drinking. Family from out of town might resent you carving out time for worship during their visit. The government may redefine the Bible’s definition of ‘immoral’ and threaten you with punishment if you do not condone what is wrong. You may even die because the world hates the God you represent (2:9-10). False teaching will creep into churches. Pastors will deny the virgin birth, the resurrection, and reject Jesus as the only Way into heaven. Those churches may swell because so many devour these beliefs (2:14-16). Neighbors will call themselves Christian, but deliberately disobey God (3:14-18). These are the things that must soon take place. In fact, the next 19 chapters [of Revelation] reveal opposition to God’s Word. Droves forsake Jesus’ teachings. Remaining Christians are hunted down, tortured, and murdered. You look and the devil seems to do whatever pleases him.
Even though these troubles are coming, God still says: Grace and peace to you… Isn’t that amazing? God knows the coming terrors, he sees the approaching heartache, he knows how small and helpless you (and I) might feel and he still says: Grace to you…
Dear friends, these things that must take place may be terrifying. We do not want to experience that terror. We do not want to hear our children reject what the Bible so clearly taught them in catechism class. We do not want our [grand]children to be oppressed in the future, let alone us. We do not want government forcing its un-Christian beliefs. We don’t want these things to happen. We want comfort. We want control. We want joy. Yet, Jesus prepares us with: these things must soon take place.
That leaves us scared. We may focus more on the trouble instead of the One who remains over every trouble. We can live as though our God has abandoned us. That it is left to you to survive in this life. That you can never really be sure what the future holds.
Your God is with you. That is why he gives us these words. To him who loves us… ongoing action. When your friend turned from the Word, leaving you with tears streaming down your cheeks, God was still there. When you felt like throwing hysterical fits because government does not automatically protect religious freedom, God is still there. When we feel the future offers absolutely no hope, when we dread the future for our children, God is still there. He loves us, and has made our future full of hope.
Jesus demonstrates his love by coming down from heaven. He used his Word to comfort the helpless and diseased. He used his Word to strengthen the faith of those oppressed by self-righteous religious leaders. Jesus even clung to God’s Word when unjust judges sentenced him to death. He relied on the Word even when the cross must soon take place. He did not crumple in fear at the sight of death. Rather, he entrusted all things to his Father.
Jesus loves us by living a fear-free life. He loves us by never doubting God’s control. He loves us by freeing us from our sins by his blood. You have been set free from a fear of death in hell. You no longer live separated from God. Rather, God embraces you. You live under grace.
Grace[…] to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come [that is, God the Father], and from the seven spirits before his throne [that is, God the Holy Spirit], and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
Jesus Christ… is (1) the faithful witness. Pay attention to that: is. That means, when he tells you that you have peace now, it means you have peace. Why would he lie? Where do you see him ever change his mind? The devil might poke and prod you to think differently— but remember, the devil’s a liar. Why listen to someone who tells untrue statements? Point to these words here: Jesus has freed you from your sins. Period.
Jesus Christ… is (2) the firstborn from the dead. First child born have privilege and power. When Jesus rose, he was declared to be God’s approved Son and your Savior. If he has the power to rise and free you from your sins, then you can be absolutely sure he has the authority to raise you from the dead.
Because Jesus Christ… is (3) the ruler of the kings of the earth, meaning, his Word will stand, regardless of those fight against it. As a parent, I have commands: “Eat dinner at 5:00pm. Bath at 7:30pm. Bed at 8:00pm.” My kids can think they have authority to overrule this. Good! They have their wishes, but I have the power to put mine into effect. Your Jesus has the power to put his commands into effect. No one can stop him from descending out of heaven. No one can stop him from judging the living and the dead. No one can stop him from bringing you into his heavenly kingdom!
Christ is Your King! His entire life is lived for you and your benefit. You live under grace, that is, undeserved love. You can look ahead and see what must soon take place. Troubles might surround you, but you will enter heaven. You have grace; God is on your side. As a result, you live in peace.
Jesus has made you (and me) a kingdom. Jesus’ kingdom is not a territory of land with armies, walls, and a government. Neither is Jesus’ kingdom heaven. Jesus’ kingdom is his rule. He rules and directs your heart with his Word. You are his kingdom.
If Christ reigns and you live under him, then it means you reign too! Imagine the Tigers winning the World Series. You’re excited, after all, it’s your team. Yet, you don’t get a championship ring. You don’t get to touch the trophy. You don’t get a champagne shower. You’re a fan who celebrates outside the main celebration. Yet, Jesus does not have you celebrate outside of heaven’s glorious celebration. You get to celebrate in his throne-room in heaven. You get to celebrate now because this is a done reality.
He has made us priests… A priest serves God and brings good news from God to people. Jesus has made you a priest. You can pray to God directly for anything at anytime. So, when life grows daunting, you may approach God directly in prayer and stand confident he hears you. Yes, out of the seven-billion people on earth, God sees you— individually— as a prized possession, just like a parent can pick their one child out of a crowd of many children.
What is real now, you will soon see with your eyes. Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. This will happen. Those who have died and are still living, those buried and those cremated, those lost and those in marked graves, Jesus will raise. He will not forget or overlook anyone. That includes those who pierced him. The Jewish leadership, Roman soldiers, and Jewish rebels all thought they were erasing Jesus from the face of the earth. For some, the last time they saw Jesus was on the cross, crying and dying. What a surprise when the One who died will appear again clothed as the majestic King he is! They will mourn forever. For you, this is the day you go home (John 14:2-3).
This is not a wish, but the reality of what has been true all along. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and Omega is the last. In English, we say that a store has everything from ‘A to Z,’ meaning that store lacks nothing. Your Jesus existed before time began and he will remain long after time ends. Which means, there is never a time he lacks power. There will never be a time when he holds no authority. Rather, he reigns forever and ever— and no one and nothing stands over him. Because of that, you live in peace.
Today is the Last Sunday of the Church [calendar] Year. Next week starts Advent. We again get to hear the prophecies of Jesus’ coming to earth, his arrival on Christmas Day, and his early ministry.
Yet, today you get to see everything Christ has done. The baby born in Bethlehem lived perfectly and died in our place. His resurrection declares we too will step out of our graves and enter heaven. We can be sure of this because of his past actions and because of his unbreakable Word.
Through all of life’s turmoil, Christ was still there, ruling, reigning, ordering, protecting, guiding, and staying you all along— just like the father always has the wellbeing of his child in mind. Christ still reigns. No matter what may come your way, nothing can silence Jesus’ forgiveness. Nothing can stop his return. Nothing can stop him from hearing prayer or answering prayer. Christ is Our King!—and he always will be, both and forever! You live under grace. You live in peace.
If you were to die tonight, are you sure you would go to heaven? Or, if God asked you, “Why should I let you into heaven?” what would you tell him? (I know, those are pretty heavy questions to start with.) But I imagine most, if not all, of you have wrestled that question at one time or another. At one time you may not have known Jesus, and so you were never quite sure what happens after death. Perhaps you’re the lifelong Christian who trusts in Jesus as Savior, but you still wonder: “Is that really enough? Is that really what it takes? Only Jesus?” Maybe you toss and turn all night, reliving such humiliating shame that never goes away. And God loves you? Really? After you hurt so many? After the mess you made? Are you sure you will go to heaven?
That can be an unsettling question. Yet, think about what is really being asked. (1) You ask that question because you understand eternity is a long time. When life ends, eternity begins. You do not want to enter eternity unprepared; you do not want to go to hell. So, you wonder what it takes to enter heaven. Then (2) you want to be sure. You want a rock-solid, sure-fire, certain answer as to what will happen after you die.
Now, there are two places where you can look for answers. You can look at yourself, or we can read what God says in the Bible. Our reading from Hebrews actually deals with both objects.
Verse 11 takes us to the place where many start looking for certainty: themselves! Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices… These sacrifices go on repeatedly. Each animal slaughtered, bleeding, dying serves as a picture. That is the purpose for Old Testament sacrifice— it pointed ahead to the final, complete sacrifice Jesus makes. Yet, many failed to trace their offerings to the cross. Instead, they fixate on their actions. Go to church. Bring your offering. Give your offering. Be kind. Be a better parent. Be a better spouse. Be more patient. Demonstrate to God that you are trying your hardest to live a good life. Where you fail, show God that you are trying to change. Where you succeed, hold that up as a good work before God.
The natural reaction, isn’t it? We consider God ‘good.’ Since God is ‘good,’ we feel that God wants us to be ‘good.’ Yet, we cannot be as ‘good’ as God is. So, we change God’s standards and hope our ‘good’ is ‘good enough’ for God! Ask a stranger on the street: Are you sure you would go to heaven? Chances are, he’ll say, “Yes, I think so. I try to be good.”
Yet, there’s a problem with that thinking. All those sacrifices the priests offered, all the offerings given, all the ‘good’ instructions both priest and believer obey could never take away sins.
God cannot stress that enough. Look at all those priests [plural]! We’re talking a line of priests that stretch on for about 500 years. For thirteen generations the priest appears at the temple day after day. For thirteen generations the priest offers sacrifices day after day. No son was a better priest than his father. No great-great-grandson ministered better. Sacrifice continued because sinners committed new sin each day. Sacrifice continued because nothing we offer can erase sin or blot out guilt or remove shame. If those sacrifices removed sin, would they not have stopped being offered? (Hebrews 10:2)
Here’s the point. The question about entering heaven can be unnerving. The temptation is to look at your morality. To rely on good behavior. To lean on church habits. To trust that you are morally superior to others (like criminals or abusers). God says, “This is not (and never will be) enough.” Are you sure you will go to heaven? If you’re digging inside of yourself, you only face unending torment.
You need a better answer, and God gives you one. Compare verse 12 to verse 11. But when this priest… that’s Jesus, and he is different from the hundreds of priests that came before him! Because Jesus offered for all time one sacrifice for sins… Every other priest offered endless sacrifices. Not just that, animal blood was not the answer to removing guilt. Jesus actually deals with sin. He offers not just one sacrifice, but the final sacrifice.
Do you get the point God is making? Jesus is better than any offering we could give God. Jesus is without sin. He never hurts his friends. He never attacks his family. He never lives a night he regrets. Instead he says, “I have come to do your will, O God” (Hebrews 10:7). Jesus is perfect.
He is the sacrifice laid on the altar of the cross. God lifts off our shame, our failures, our guilt and places it squarely on the body of Jesus. Nails pierce his hands and stretch out his body. Slowly he bleeds, slowly he suffocates. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Yet, it is not you who die for what you have done wrong, it is Jesus.
If you wonder what God does with your wrongs, then look at the cross and see the Father drape them across his Son. Jesus is the payment made for our debt.
You can be sure his death is enough. [Jesus] sat down at the right hand of God. God does not accept the imperfect into heaven, but only the perfect. When Jesus rose from the dead, he is declared “Perfect!” If declared “Perfect,” then you can be sure his payment made for your benefit is declared “Perfect” as well.
Want more proof? Since that time (the time he entered heaven) he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool… Our feet walk through dust and mud and garbage. That grime is unwanted. So, we keep our feet away from people’s noses and clean hands. If someone is your footstool, then it means that individual has a status worse than stinky, grimy feet. When an ancient king conquered his enemy, he would set his foot on the enemy’s neck. That conquered foe is worse than his stinky, grimy foot. More than that, step down and he could end life. Jesus has made the devil his footstool. The devil cannot demand you join him in hell. Sin cannot demand you suffer eternal consequences. Jesus has paid sin in full for all time!
Want even more proof? Then hear what God says he has done for you. [B]y one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. Pay attention to the verb: he has made perfect (or, “made complete”) These events happened in the past, but the results carry on! Jesus died (in the past) and his death still impacts you today. Jesus rose (in the past) and his resurrection still means you are forgiven today.
How much more proof is needed to say that Jesus has removed the consequences of sin? What more must be said to remove fear and trembling about eternity? Only Jesus Makes Heaven Certain! He has paid sin down once for all and He has made you holy.
Today’s theme is ‘Saints Triumphant.’ Do you know who those triumphant ‘saints’ are? Believers. Christians. You. (read 1 Corinthians 1:2)
Scoffing? Laughing? Doubting? ‘Saint’? Surely not you! You still feel guilty; you remember the fresh hurt you inflicted. God must see that! Your past is one giant mess— a couple divorces, a few children who resent you, a past with drugs and booze. How can God wash that away? God must want something more from you. Certainly God doesn’t just forget sin without you working it off.
Ah! but he does! God cuts through your emotions with his Word. The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time,” says the Lord. “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” A covenant is a guarantee or contract. God makes a contract with you: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”
What joy to hear that! God does not ignore sin. He doesn’t shrug his shoulders and say, “Ah, no big deal.” If God tried to overlook what we did wrong, then we would always be terrified that he might dredge them up later. Instead, God deals with sin. Jesus covered over our faults with his life. God does not see sin on you. He sees Jesus’ perfection. He sees you, a saint. A holy person. He has made you holy.
And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. Jesus died once. Jesus will only die once— because his one sacrifice is enough. It will never expire. It has already been accepted by the Judge of the universe! Point to Jesus. Say, “He died for me!” Since he did, stand confident of eternal life.
So, here’s two truths to take home. First, if the devil reminds you of your past, point to Jesus. Point to your baptism. [A]ll of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:27). When you were baptized, Jesus dressed you in his perfection. You can be sure that happened because Jesus said so. This is his gift. You can be certain he does not lie or change his mind (Numbers 23:19).
Second, when Christians die, they enter heaven. That means your spouse who believed in Jesus as Savior is in heaven now. That means your child, who was baptized and clothed in Christ is in heaven. That means mom and dad, brother or sister, grandma or grandpa— every single believer are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple (Revelation 7:15). That’s not something we hope is real. That’s something we know is real because God says it is real. Only Jesus Makes Heaven Certain.
The promise of eternal life never depends on you. Do you realize that? In Hebrews 10:11-18, where does God point and say, “Now do this…”? He never does, does he? Instead, through every single verse all you see is Jesus and what Jesus has done for you so that you can live certain you will enter heaven.
That’s the answer to our questions. Are you sure you will enter heaven? Yes. Be confident of that. Jesus died. Jesus rose. Jesus ascended. Jesus will come again. If you stood before God and he asked, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” Point to Jesus and say, “You accepted his life for my benefit.”
You will never find certainty in your emotions, you will never find certainty in your behavior. That’s because God never points you there. Instead, Only Jesus Makes Heaven Certain! He has paid sin down once for all and He has made you holy.
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.
(from Easter Sunrise service...)
The warm, bright sun was melting the snow into a slushy, sloppy mess. His feet burrowed into a firm spot in the fresh, soft earth. A few feet away from him opened a hole measuring four-feet wide, eight-feet long, and six-feet deep. Above this pit was suspended a casket.
Off to the side several young girls sobbed, heaving, gasping for little shots of air. Tears dripped down their cheeks. Lips bent into trembling frowns. This is grandma— someone who impacted their lives. She cradled them as babies and watched them at night. She taught them how to ride horses. Helped with homework. Smiled and laughed, told jokes and fabulous stories. Now she’s gone. Closed in a casket. Lowered into the earth. Never again to step foot into their homes. Never again to step into their lives.
As the creaky crank carefully lowered the casket into its vault, a sharp rebuke cut through the air: “Be happy! Come on, this is a celebration!” Those words may have cut deeper than the sight of death itself.
Demanding that people be happy at a funeral does not automatically bring happiness. Call it a celebration if you will. Tell jokes. Drink beer. Blast rock ballads. Relive memories. Yet, those human efforts do not stop the source of tears. Paint death as this beautiful escape from life, but it still leaves an empty hollowness inside.
You see, human solutions offer very little comfort when confronting death. Your Jesus does not skirt around the cause of death; he confronts death head-on. Because Jesus lives, you also may boast in the face of death: I Know My Redeemer Lives! This is our reality. This is our confidence.
Listen to our reading from Job 19:25-27. I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!
What a marvelous truth to hear— because we can so easily overlook it! Tucked right in the middle of those words is a reality we are all too familiar with: “My skin is destroyed.” That is not a pleasant thought. Yet, it is a reality every single person faces— whether you want to admit it or not. Babies are born. They enter this world without blemishes, healthy, have all these years ahead of them. Yet, the minute that baby arrives, the clock of life keeps ticking down. Babies get older. Teeth come in and fall out. Bones grow longer and then grow brittle. The mind learns and later forgets. Eventually that young, healthy baby grows into his own aches and pains, sore joints, cancer and disease, and watches death approach ever closer.
That’s why our Bible reading says: After my skin has been destroyed. It’s not a matter of “if” you get older; it’s a matter of “as” you get older.
That is a reality the entire world faces. That is not much to celebrate. Yes, shake a fist at death. Say: “Ha-ha, Death! I still have a smile plastered to my face!” Drink beer and blast rock ballads. Yet, none of those human solutions address the real issue of death. Paint death as this beautiful escape from life. But it will not stop the tears from flowing at the graveside.
In order to solve the problem of death you must deal with the cause of death. The cause, God explains, is sin. “Sin” is breaking God’s law (1 John 3:4). This stubborn arrogance refuses to bow down to God’s instructions. Instead, this puffed-up-pride wanders off after the rash foolishness of a faulty heart. That is “sin,” disobedience. “The wages of sin is death,” the Bible says (Romans 6:23). That’s the punishment; the soul who sins is the soul who will die (Ezekiel 18:4). Death came to all people because all sinned (Romans 5:12).
But that sounds so harsh, doesn’t it? Who wants to hear that? It just drags you down. It is not popular to say or admit. In fact, you may believe (or genuinely feel inside) that God loves you just as you are. That he chuckles when you lose self-control at the bar. That he leans in with balled up fists propping up his chin, nodding in agreement as you explain that you will use your body outside of marriage, how you will reject the parts of his spoken word you don’t agree with, how you have the right to lambast your elected leaders. With great big smug smile you can act this way and God has no right to hand down consequences. And still, remember, the wages of sin is death.
Not just the end of time on earth, but the end of time with God. Those who rebelled against God are thrown into hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched (Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:48). That’s not really much to celebrate. Yet, that is the reality sin brings.
Here is another reality: My Redeemer Lives! Mary Magdalene races to the tomb, arrives, puzzled. The stone is rolled away. The tomb is vacant. It takes two angels to piece the puzzle together: Jesus is not here! because He has risen! (Luke 24:6)
My Redeemer Lives! To “redeem” means to “buy back.” In the Old Testament, if a widow was on the verge of losing property or found herself in dire financial straits, a close-relative would buy back the property for her. He would buy her back from financial calamity. The debt owed to buy back your life from death in hell is perfection— a price you (and I) could never offer God.
Yet, Jesus, your Redeemer buys you back from spiritual calamity. The Son of God submits to God’s Word. Did you catch that? “Submits.” He obeys his leaders— like Pilate, who sentences him to death. Like Herod, who is a Jew drunk on power and greed. Like Caiaphas the high priest who calls the Son of God a liar! Never does Jesus cut himself off from the Word. Yes, Jesus knows everything in the Bible, but still worships every single week. His heart thrives listening to God’s commandments. Delights in obeying them. He hands over his perfect life as the price needed to buy you back from hell’s dungeon. And God accepts the payment.
He raises Jesus back to life, declaring him to be without sin, without the punishment of death. My Redeemer Lives! This is true! This is seen in a tomb that is empty! This is our reality! My Redeemer Lives! This is our confidence!
You can be absolutely sure that you will live forever in heaven. Jesus is your Redeemer, the One who rose Easter day in order to say: Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:40).
Even after my skin has been destroyed… Yes, bodies laid into the ground decay. Flesh and skin rot away. Bones dry out into dusty remains. Scoop a handful of sandy dust and you do not see life. The pile is so dry, lifeless, unable to be reassembled. Yet, because your Redeemer lives, in my flesh I will see God. In your flesh. In your body, with your legs standing you up, your neck turning your head, your hands reaching out, your mind comprehending who you see. The God who created Adam from a pile of dust in the Garden of Eden will use his same power to recreate you— and everyone else who died.
Yes, everyone. That includes Adam and Eve. That includes their son, Abel, the one murdered by his brother Cain. That includes those killed in wars fighting for the Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, English, French, and Americans. That includes those lying in marked graves and those lying in unknown locations. That includes those cremated. That includes your mother or father who died. That includes your spouse, your son, your daughter, your Christian friend. Because Jesus lives and declares you guilt-free, it means death cannot hold you. He will raise you from the dead—body re-created, body made immortal. We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:51-53).
Job (the author of our reading) understood that reality. If you have no sin, then you should not die; you should live forever. Since death races towards each of us, it means you are sinful. Since you are sinful, it means you (and I) have turned away from God. The reason to celebrate this morning is not because we ignore what causes death. The reason we celebrate is because Jesus Christ removed the cause of death. Jesus Christ has removed sin from you (and me). And so, I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me. This is our confidence.
I remember standing a few feet away from a hole measuring four-feet wide, eight-feet long, and six-feet deep. Above this pit was suspended a casket. Off to the side several young girls sobbed, heaving, gasping for little shots of air. Tears dripped down their cheeks. Lips bent into trembling frowns. This is grandma— someone who impacted their lives. She cradled them as babies and watched them at night. She taught them how to ride horses. Helped with homework. Smiled and laughed, told jokes and fabulous stories. Now she’s gone. Closed in a casket. Lowered into the earth.
In the end, on the Last Day, the trumpet will sound. Jesus Christ will send his angels to gather the living and the dead. That grave on that hillside will open up. Grandma will sit up, body perfectly restored; flesh and bones immortal. She will open her eyes and see Jesus. Yes, the next person grandma will see is Jesus.
This is the reality for a believer. This is the confidence we carry because Jesus rises from the dead. So yes, blast the music. Relive fantastic memories. Smile—if you wish. But understand the real reason for your celebration. Jesus Christ has removed sin and therefore swallowed up death forever. Jesus, My Redeemer Lives to give me life!
(from our midweek Lenten service)
A thick, solid oak door stares back, locked and shut. Two security guards stand stationed at each doorpost. Behind that door is the Oval Office. The President of the United States sits at his intricately carved, but imposing Resolute Desk. Red phone sits on desktop off to one side; the pen signing any bill into law rests on the other side. Here sits arguably the most powerful man in the world. Able to consider your concerns. Able to react appropriately to them. Able to make your wants happen. Yet, on the door hangs a sign:
DO NOT ENTER.
AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY.
Try to barge into the room and you will be stopped by security. Flash your driver’s license, show your birth certificate, prove your United States citizenship, but those documents do not authorize you to enter. Even if you could break into that room someway, somehow, the President would have no idea as to why he should consider your requests; he does not know you. You simply do not have the qualifications, the privilege, or the right to enter. That door and that sign stand as a barrier, a reminder of your inability to approach the President freely and confidently. It leaves you feeling inadequate.
That same feeling can flare up when you approach God. You pray, but it appears he does not listen. You worship, but he feels distant. You trust his eternal presence, but you question if he tends to more pressing matters. It leaves you wondering: Can you really approach the Almighty God freely and confidently?
Feelings of inadequacy disappear as you focus on the work of Jesus Christ your Great High Priest. Jesus Our Great High Priest Makes Us Priests! Now, We approach God through Jesus and We approach God with confidence.
That is a radical new truth for these Jewish Christians. You see, these Hebrews are familiar with Old Testament worship practices. Their relatives painted visual portraits of the [Old Testament] Tabernacle.
The Tabernacle is the ornate tent that served as a house of worship. It could be packed up and moved as Israel traveled through the desert. When set up, it was about 45-feet long by 15-feet wide (about the size of our present-day worship space). Inside, a large, thick curtain divides the space into two sections. One section is the Holy Place, where any priest would offer incense, keep the lampstand lit, and the sacred bread stocked. The other section is the Most Holy Place. The Ark of the Covenant rests there. To approach the Ark is to approach God Almighty.
Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place. Yet, he could not enter whenever he liked; he could only approach one day each year (see Leviticus 16). Before he entered, he had to offer a sacrifice as payment for his own disobedience first. Stand in the Tabernacle facing the Most Holy Place and listen to the imposing curtain preach: sinners cannot enter.
On Good Friday, Jesus split that curtain in two. You can now look into the Most Holy Place; you could walk through the curtain and into the presence of God! [W]e have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus… Jesus has sprinkled his blood as a sacrifice, a payment, that removes the stain of sin. He has dressed you in the robes of perfection. His life, death, and resurrection has made you right and blameless before God. Jesus Christ our Great High Priest Makes You a Priest. Because Jesus died and rose again, We can approach God through Jesus. Jesus is a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body.
You know this; more than that, you believe this. Your baptism has brought this truth into your heart and life.
And so, why that nervousness in approaching God? Why the worry that God does not pay attention to your prayers, that he might not be listening? Why the fearful dread that you are all alone to confront life’s challenges? Why the lingering doubts that even after you pray, even after worship, God might not answer you? Why does the question still appear in our minds: Can I really approach the Almighty God freely and confidently?
That is a fear that often flares up, does it not? Sometimes it feels as though you stand before God only to see the sign hanging on heaven’s gate:
DO NOT ENTER.
AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY.
Do you want to know why that feeling rises up? Because you are not seeing Jesus, the only and living way to the Father. You are trying to approach God on your own merits, as though God must listen to you because of who you are and what you are able to accomplish. It is as though you (and I) approach God thumping your chest, flashing your self-worth:“But God, it’s me! I go to church! I give money! Pay attention!”
If think God only cares about you because of your behavior or your merits, then you will always be nervous in approaching him. You will never be confident that God will listen and respond. When you stare at yourself, you realize how inadequate you truly are. And you feel so unworthy to approach him. And you feel that God will not listen to someone who has done the things you have done. And you fear that the lack of an answer means God is angry with you and is either (1) ignoring you or (2) handing you trouble. And you tremble as though you walk through this life blind and alone.
Remember, the high priest could not enter the Most Holy Place by himself. He needed a sacrifice for his own sins first. Without Jesus, you can never approach God with confidence. The thick curtain of sin separates you from him.
Listen again as to why you can approach God at all. [W]e have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus. That little word “by” points to the tool (or instrument) used to approach Jesus. Just like you cross a river by means of a bridge, so also you approach God by the work Jesus completed for you on the cross. That means your confidence is not found in your efforts, but rather on what Jesus did for you.
As you look at the cross, watch Jesus use his body to rip down the curtain of our sin. Just like the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place after offering a sacrifice for sin, so also you (and I) can approach God because Jesus is our sacrifice for sin. Jesus Our Great High Priest Makes Us Priests! We approach God through Jesus. Since Jesus is our way to the Father, We approach God with confidence.
[L]et us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith… You approach God with confidence, without fear or apprehension or nervousness. Rather, you approach him in prayer trusting that he hears. You gather in worship, confessing your sins and trusting those sins have been removed as far as the east is from the west. You approach not doubting, but firmly confident that you now stand before God.
This is bold, but it is Jesus who makes you bold to approach God at all. He points you to two great acts he has accomplished once and for all time. (1) [H]aving our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience… Look to the cross. Remember he did die as a sacrifice for your sin. His life has been applied to yours. His innocence wiped out your debt. (2) [H]aving our bodies washed with pure water… Remember your baptism. Why? You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:26-27).
You are God’s child, people who have God’s ear. A good father pays attention the needs of his child. He considers your concerns. He can react appropriately to them. He can make your wants happen. And yes, sometimes earthly fathers fail us. So, how much more confident can you be in approaching God!
Just like a child asks her father, knowing that he will pay attention to her needs, Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. When life’s challenges press you down, when failing health makes it feel as though God is distant, when life feels as though God has turned his back and plugged his ears, remember that God is faithful. The devil will always tempt us to despair and question God’s care. Yet, God is not a man that he would lie (Numbers 23:19). Access to him is open because he says it is open. You may approach him now on earth and live confident that you will walk before him in heaven.
As if that is not enough reason to approach God with confidence, God hands you more encouragement. [L]et us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. As you gather for worship, you will grow closer to God. You will memorize his promises. You will continue squashing doubts. God will fill you with confidence to persevere in your Christian life. You will grow closer to God as you grow closer together. You join a group of people in worship public who confess the same faith you have. You receive spiritual encouragement from those who may struggle with the same feelings of inadequacy. You are energized to continue pressing on to your heavenly hope.
All this because Jesus Our Great High Priest Makes Us Priests! We approach God with confidence.
Jesus has ripped down the sign:
DO NOT ENTER.
AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY.
By his death on the cross Jesus is the new and ever-present way to approach God. Jesus, your Great High Priest, ministers to your great spiritual needs by making you a priest. Sins removed. Access granted. Confidence to approach God any time, any place, for anything granted.
Feelings of inadequacy disappear as you focus your attention on the work of Jesus Christ your Great High Priest. Jesus Our Great High Priest Makes Us Priests! We approach God through Jesus and We approach God with confidence.
(from our midweek Lenten service)
Jesus needs to work on motivational speaking. Now, he does not appear to have much difficulty gaining disciples. He finds Peter and Andrew, James and John in their fishing boats, and simply says: “Come, follow me,” and they follow him! (John 1:39-41) He travels throughout Galilee, preaching and teaching, and large crowds listen to him! (Matthew 4:23)
But then, he reveals what believers can expect from the world because they put his teachings to work in their lives:
You feel this pressure inside, almost like a tug-of-war raging inside of you. On the one hand, you feel this desire to follow Jesus without shame. You prepare to endure insults and name-calling and ridicule and any other unfavorable things that could come your way. After all, you do love Jesus; he has called you to faith. Still, as much as you love him, you wish your confidence could be a little stronger. You do not know if you would stand up in a hostile room and openly admit that your life reflects the teachings of Jesus. You are not so sure if you would confess your faith if it meant losing your life.
So, how can you possibly cling to your faith in the face of ridicule? Remember this: Jesus Our Great High Priest Serves at a Great Altar He bore our disgrace so that We may offer sacrifices of praise.
These Hebrew [Jewish] Christians needed the same reminder. Remember, they face intense pressure to give up their Christian faith. Many who share their flesh and blood [their ethnicity] practice Judaism. That means mom and dad still worship in the synagogue and read only the Torah (first five-books of the Bible). Their neighbors elevate the teachings of Moses and Elijah the prophet, treasuring these words more than the words of Jesus. Friends and co-workers do not share the belief that Jesus is the Savior of the world. Instead, they’re still looking for the coming Messiah.
To further complicate matters, these Jews live in the Roman Empire during a time when Christianity is not embraced. The Roman Emperors are ramping up persecutions against Christians. Some lose their property because they worship Jesus. Others get arrested. Still others stare down the sword. There’s immense pressure to give up on Christianity and to return to Christ-less beliefs.
Do you know that feeling? The United States government will not arrest you because you are here tonight. They will not confiscate your property. They will not beat you, imprison you, or kill you. Yet, your government has passed laws that contradict your Christian beliefs and politicians may pressure you to change your beliefs to fit their wants.
You no longer can expect to call same-sex marriage “wrong,” without hearing insults flung back at you. Pro-choicers will accuse you of standing against healthcare if you label abortion as “murder.” Un-Christian ideas may not only be introduced into schools, but forced upon children to memorize. You know such worldly teachings are wrong— but when actually confronted with the reality to stand up against it, you may opt to tolerate un-Christian ideas so that you do not face trouble (or punishment).
Or, following Jesus can put you at odds with those nearest to you. You explain to your friend: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16).Yet, she argues that all people will be saved— regardless of what people believe or if they believe. She even calls you “narrow-minded” and “elitist” for saying such things.
God’s Word is in your heart, and so you remind your [grand]child to honor the marriage bed (Hebrews 13:4). Yet, your [grand]child rejects you. He calls the Bible “outdated.” She points to her friends with the excuses: “Well, no one gets married anymore.” “We’re just trying things out.” “Yes, we have a child together (and are legally bound to that child for 18-years), but we just don’t want to commit quite yet.”
You tell the grocery-store clerk that you go to church— and she just stares at you as if something is wrong with you. And you feel ashamed. People will treat you differently because of your connection to Jesus. Family may hate you because God’s Word exposes their behavior as “wrong.” You may face prosecution, jail time, or death— because you obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).
It is difficult to live this way because it means you will not always feel happy. You may lose friends. You may lose popularity. You may lose your life.
Do you know how to make all the shame go away? Ignore Jesus’ teachings. Change Jesus’ teachings. Ask the world what you should believe. And you will be happy— at least, for a while. You will have success, fame, and popularity on earth, but one day life will reach its end. Then you will stand before a perfect Judge and he will see that you loved this world more than you loved obeying him.
We need encouragement to persevere in our life of faith, just like these Jewish Christians did. So, the writer of Hebrews reminds you: We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat. (The tabernacle is temporary place of worship before the temple is built). In the Old Testament the High Priest carrie[d] the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering… Life is found in the blood; without blood you cannot live (Leviticus 17:11). Once a year the high priest slaughtered, not a sinner, but a goat. He sprinkled the blood on the Ark of the Covenant, handing over a life as payment for the lives of people (see Leviticus 16). Then the bodies are burned outside the camp, symbolizing the removal of sin.
Yet, this great Day of Atonement pointed Old Testament worshippers to the work of Jesus Christ. We have a new altar— and this altar is a cross.
On the altar of the cross, Jesus also suffered… Think about that! Jesus also suffered— for what? He has done nothing wrong! Instead, the Jewish nation to whom a Savior is promised, rejects their Savior. Religious leaders call the teachings of Jesus, “Wrong.” They arrest the Son of God, put him on trial, and falsely accuse [God!] of evil. The disciples are so ashamed of him they flee. Even a dying thief scoffs at him! Then, the government, established by God himself, abuse innocent life. Whips rip his back open. Roman soldiers nail Jesus to a cross and then taunt him: “Come down if you are the Son of God!”
Do you realize Jesus could have avoided the cross? The moment he sees Judas the betrayer coming, he could have ran away. He could have given the answers the high priests expected. He could have called down legions upon legions of angels to fight for his freedom. Yet, if Jesus abandoned the cross, then how would you be saved?
So, Jesus, our perfect sacrifice, also suffered outside the city gate. He carried our sins on his back. Our feelings of embarrassment for following him. Our desire to tolerate Christ-less beliefs. Our pursuit for worldly pleasure. Our thoughts of quitting our faith. He carries them outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.
That is what you are now. Holy. Innocent. Without fault or guilt. Forgiven. Jesus Our Great High Priest Serves at a Great Altar. He bore our disgrace so that We may offer sacrifices of praise.
As you look at the cross of Jesus, you are confronted with this inescapable truth: (1) Cling to Jesus, expect the world to ridicule and insult you, endure some trouble in this life, but gain heaven. Or, (2) Ignore Jesus’ teachings, condone the world’s god-less ways, feel content that you blend into a Christ-less society, but spend eternity in hell.
You see, Jesus endures disgrace, but gloriously rises above disgrace forever and ever! He has made the same promise to you. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. You will stand out in this world because you put Jesus first in your life. But you will stand out in this world because you love Jesus— the One who gives you eternal life.
Faith focuses you attention on what you are living for. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.
So, what more is there for a Christian to have? You already have it all! You have heaven! So, what value does money have? You spend it today, but it does not follow you into heaven! What value does popularity have? It’s here today for jobs, relationships, and friendships, but popularity leaves when you leave this earth. What value is health? We preserve it as we remain stewards of God’s gift of bodies, but we will have perfect health in heaven! You realize there is nothing more valuable, nothing more important than the perfect life given for you on the cross. Everything else in this world pales in comparison. There is nothing more to gain. We already have it all! So, you are free to give all!
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. You give God sacrifices of praise. You already do that! You sing songs which retell God’s promises and hymns which express your confidence that God will keep his promises. You may not sing, but you openly give God credit. You confess to the world around you, “Thank God!” “I prayed to God!” “God is good!” You give God credit for what his power in your life. The words out of your mouth leads others to respect God, or at least notice what God has done. You offer sacrifices of praise.
Following Jesus in faith sounds daunting— at first. Persecution? Hatred? Family rejecting and opposing your beliefs? Yes, all those things may happen, and they may hurt. Yet, you are following Jesus by the way of the cross. Those little pains you feel, remind you to lift up your eyes and remember why you suffer: because Jesus suffered for you.
Jesus suffered to set you free from sins. You believe this. You hold it dear in your heart. You make sure nothing rips it out of your life. Yes, when the cross presses into you, lift your eyes up to Jesus, and gladly follow him because you are traveling to your enduring city and your Almighty God.
So, how can you possibly cling to your faith in the face of ridicule? Remember this: Jesus Our Great High Priest Serves at a Great Altar He bore our disgrace. We offer sacrifices of praise.
(from our midweek Lenten service)
It can happen that after a politician is elected, he forgets the struggles of the people who elected him into office. No longer does he hold their interests in mind; he works only for his own advantage. Perhaps he starts endorsing an agenda contrary to the political beliefs of those in his district. He may fight bills that would actually benefit his constituents. Maybe his constituents reach out to him for help, but he ignores their pleas. Politicians can lose touch with their constituents. People elect him to fight for them, but he may fail to do so.
When a politician no longer fights for his constituents, people are hurt. Their needs are not being met. They grow frustrated because no one listens to their challenges. Eventually those constituents stop trusting, supporting, and voting for that particular politician. They end up replacing him.
Maybe you battle a similar feeling when you approach Jesus. You know he died for you. You know he rose from the dead and promises to raise you also. You know he entered heaven and is preparing a place for you. He blesses you, but when temptation beats you down, you may feel as though Jesus is a politician who has forgotten about you. That he remains only a high, majestic God who is far too busy with the universe than to deal with your troubles.
In our selection from Hebrews, God combats any fears you may have in approaching Jesus, your great High Priest. Jesus Christ is Our Compassionate High Priest who sympathizes with your weaknesses and who strengthens you in weakness.
Remember the content (and background) of this letter. The title “Hebrews” identifies the ethnicity of its recipients; “Hebrews” are Jews. Now, these Jews do not reject Jesus as Savior, they are not embracing the teachings of Judaism. These are ethnic Jews who are Christians; they follow Christ.
Yet, they confront a significant challenge. In Judaism, they saw a high priest minister to their needs. One time each year the Jewish high priest would enter the temple. Half of the temple was partitioned off with a large, thick curtain. One side was called ‘The Holy Place’ and the other side: ‘The Most Holy Place.’ Inside the Most Holy Place rested the Ark of the Covenant. God’s presence dwelt there. Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place and approach the Ark of the Covenant. Yet, the high priest could not enter any time he desired; he could approach only once each year after offering a sacrifice for his own sins first.
For some of these Jewish Christians, they wonder if Jesus understood the struggles they had and if he could identify with their sin. After all, Christianity did not have a high priest. Could Jesus fill them with the same concrete comfort of peace with God?
It would be nice, right? It’s really no secret that life has changed from 30AD to 2018AD. You live in a mobile society; planes, trains, and automobiles allow you to cross vast distances in mere days. Technology lets you receive instant information and reach others immediately. We have a democratic government, instead of a Roman Empire dictator. Life is different. As a result, you face different challenges.
Sometimes you may wonder if Jesus really understands the tempting struggles you face each day. Does Jesus know what it’s like to fight lust in the 21st century? You live in a hyper-sexualized society where suggestive images are used to sell clothes, relationships, and television shows. Does he know how difficult it is to fight sexual temptation as a teenager? …or at home alone? …or when watching television?
Does Jesus know how difficult it can be to obey your authorities? To obey teachers even when they do not care for you? To respect your parents when they sin against you? To support a government which passes (and pushes) un-Christian agendas? Does Jesus understand?
Does Jesus understand just how difficult it is to stand up for your Bible-based beliefs in a society which demands you compromise? Has he ever felt that immense pressure to cover up your faith in front of a friend? Does he know how politically incorrect it is to speak Scripture on sexuality and marriage, abortion and end-of-life, raising children? Has Jesus ever felt the inner struggle of accepting the Bible as truth when you wonder if all of it is right and true? Can Jesus relate to those struggles, or is he just another politician who has lost touch with his people?
How often Satan succeeds in getting us to believe just that! That Jesus does not understand your present-day temptations. That his life cannot possibly forgive 21st-century sins. That Jesus is not your compassionate High Priest!
“So, go find someone else!” the devil tempts. Go rely on another person, another method, another way to wipe away sin! To find forgiveness in someone other than Jesus Christ Our Compassionate High Priest is to turn away from the greatest High Priest of all time.
Listen to our reading again and discover exactly how Jesus ministers to your every need. It reads: We have a great high priest. Out of all the high priests in the Old Testament, Scripture never calls any of them “great.” It only calls Jesus, the Son of God, the “great” High Priest. In other words, Jesus is superior to any other Old Testament high priest. How? The Old Testament high priest grew old and died, but Jesus did not die. Neither did Jesus have to offer a sacrifice for his own sins before entering the presence of God. In fact, Jesus did not enter the Most Holy Place only one time each year, he went somewhere better. We have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God. Jesus entered heaven, stands in the presence of God, and he remains there!
[W]e do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are. To “sympathize” means to “bear alongside with.” Jesus also bears your temptations. Two thousand years may separate you from Jesus Christ, but no matter how many years have passed, sin remains sin. Lust remains lust— whether you lust after someone decked out in a 30AD-dress or 2018 clothing. Rebellion remains rebellion— whether you riot against a 30AD overlord or fume over a 2018 politician. Changing the Word of God remains the same— whether you deny Jesus before the lions or before your friends.
You can be sure the devil tempted Jesus with the same things with which he tempts you. Jesus is tempted to destroy the Roman soldiers who repeatedly strike him. You can be sure he felt like taking revenge on the religious leaders who wanted him to bend his teachings. You can be sure Jesus knew what it was like to question God’s presence— especially when he prays and does not receive the answer we would want: “Deliverance.” Jesus is tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.
As your perfect High Priest, he sacrifices his life for you. His blameless blood sprinkles from the cross in order to make atonement for you. To remove your rebellion, your lust, your faithless challenges. To make you “at-one” with God.
When a politician remembers his constituents, he is able to fight for their needs and pass bills for their benefit. In the same way, Jesus Christ is Our Compassionate High Priest who not only sympathizes with your weaknesses, but also strengthens you in weakness.
That means you can approach the throne of grace with confidence. Thrones symbolize power, sovereignty, and respect. Imagine meeting the President of the United States. You stand in the Oval Office and he sits behind his enormous desk. Here sits the most powerful man in the world and you can ask him anything. Nervous? You may watch your words closely so that you do not offend or anger him, or ask for the wrong thing. And you certainly do not want to forget to ask him something important. The entire time you are there, you remain on edge; you feel a little inadequate.
Yet, you can approach God’s throne with confidence. Jesus Christ is Your Compassionate High Priest. He ministers to you, just like a priest would. He identifies with you, experiencing temptation, but never sinning. Now standing in the presence of God, he remains your mediator between you and God. You can approach God with confidence because you have received mercy. God does not treat you (and me) as your sins deserve. He forgives you because Jesus paid sin’s price. You have also found grace. Even when you stumble and fall, God, in undeserved love, wipes away sin. No Jesus, no confidence. With Jesus, you can approach God for help in [y]our time of need.
So when tempted, run to Jesus Christ Your Compassionate High Priest. Jesus knows what it’s like to struggle with temptation. He understands the feelings of anger and resentment, revenge and hate, lust and greed, pride and arrogance. He also knows how to conquer them.
Instead of relying on yourself to stand up under temptation, run to Jesus Christ Your Compassionate High Priest. Receive strength from Jesus to fight sin. Receive the strength needed by reading the Bible. Greed vanishes when you find contentment in God. Lust goes away when you run away from temptation. Hatred goes away when you focus on the fact God does not hate you, but rather treats you in love.
When temptation presses you down, approach God’s throne for help. When you’re mentally exhausted, ask God for strength. Strength for clarity and perseverance. When you feel impatient, when you must speak to someone you lose your temper with, ask God for patience. You have a Compassionate High Priest who strengthens us in weakness.
Jesus is not a politician who is unable to sympathize with you. He is your great High Priest who ministers to your every spiritual need. He remains a High Priest who has been tempted in every way like you. A High Priest who remained without sin. A High Priest who gave his life as a sacrifice for your sin. A High Priest who assures you that you truly stand in God’s presence forgiven. A High Priest who helps you fight the devil. A High Priest who gives you every reason to approach his throne with confidence.
So, the moment you feel temptation creeping up inside of you and you do not know where to go, run to Jesus Christ is Our Compassionate High Priest who sympathizes with your weaknesses and who strengthens you in weakness.
The Ironman Triathlon consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run. It must be completed in under 17-hours. Each segment has its own time limits. You have 2-hours, 20-minutes to finish your swim. Eight-hours to finish biking. Six-hours to run across the finish line. So, seventeen hours to cross about 140-miles of terrain! Could you do it?
You know, I wonder what kinds of thoughts float through the competitors’ minds during that race. Can you just imagine the mental strength needed to press on? You will get tired when swimming. The brain will try to convince you that if you are tired now (so early on), you will never complete the race. So, just quit. Your energy will drain as you bike. Halfway through your 112-mile bike ride, the brain will argue that the race too difficult; you just are not equipped to finish. Your legs will be beat exhausted as you run. The brain will praise you for the race you have run and will tell you that an unfinished race is just as good as completing the race.
I’m not sure what is more difficult about the Ironman Triathlon: actually competing or overcoming your doubts. The race is grueling, but surrendering forfeits victory. Push through the pain and the mental agony you can boast in complete victory.
Your Christian life may sometimes feel like you are competing in something more grueling than an ironman. You experience wonderful blessings with God, but the suffering in your Christian life grinds you down. Your mind may even tempt you to wonder if suffering is really worth continuing your race of faith.
This morning God encourages you to Rejoice under the Cross! God’s grace does not fail you and so You persevere to your eternal hope.
This morning we are discussing the Christian cross. You might have heard someone say once before: “Well, that’s my cross to bear in life.” Yet, let’s take a moment and define what the “cross” is. The Christian cross is all suffering that comes because you follow Jesus— because you listen to him, because you obey his Word.
So, the “cross” may be (1) the suffering which comes because you believe in Jesus. You become a target for those who reject Jesus. Politicians label your beliefs as “dangerous,” “narrow-minded,” and “outdated”— and your reputation suffers from ridicule. Friends call your God a ‘mythical-fairytale”— and you hurt because someone mocks the God you love. Your own child, who was raised to know Jesus, may admit that he “just does not believe that stuff anymore”— and you ache watching a child reject his need for a Savior. You agonize under the insults, the shame, the ridicule, the laughter others heap on you all because you follow Jesus.
The “cross” may be (2) suffering from a personal affliction. Your health is failing and despite your many prayers for healing, you just do not get better. You lose a loved one unexpectedly. He was so young, so healthy, so needed. You trip, fall, and break a bone. The timing of this particular accident makes no sense. Now you are confined to a house, tied up with restrictions and can do very little and travel nowhere. When your body hurts, when you suffer unexplainable tragedy, you still trust God, but you also feel the push to give up on him because you do not receive the answers you want.
The Christian cross is all suffering that comes because you follow Jesus. It might be others harming you for your beliefs; it may be you trusting God, but also wanting to let go of God.
When a cross presses down on you, it becomes easy to lose sight of who you suffer for. When a cross presses down, your (and my) eyes want to look down at yourself. When that happens, you begin trying to determine if (1) you have earned this suffering or (2) if you are worthy of this suffering. You look at cancer, puzzled. “I exercised. I ate well. I am a moral person. Why is this happening to me? I committed no wrong to deserve this.” A loved one leaves life too early. You begin reflecting on their life. She was an excellent [grand]mother, making each of her [grand]children feel uniquely special. He had friends and always helped out, everyone loved him. They committed no crime; they did not anger dangerous thugs— and yet they still died. Why? You love God and therefore obey him; you live an honest, patient, humble, life of service. Yet, your neighbor still laughs at your beliefs, shaking his head because he pities you. Professors not only reject God, but even call you “dumb” for believing in the unexplainable. You are left looking at yourself, wondering why you suffer for living the way God wants.
If your (and my) eyes are locked on yourself, then you will determine that you have done nothing to deserve this suffering. Instead, you discover that much of life’s unpleasantries come because you are connected to God. The easiest way to end personal suffering is to end your connection to God. If you stop clinging to a Savior, then no one will insult your beliefs. If you stop trusting the promises of God, then you no longer have to wait for him to act (or try to make sense of trouble). Throw down the cross, quit the faith, leave Jesus, end the race, and life appears to be better.
That’s true— kind of. Throw down your cross and you may have pleasant days on earth, but throw down your cross and you will suffer forever.
My friends, the Christian cross does not come because of who you are, but rather because of who you are connected to! When you hold to God’s promises, your (and my) sinful nature tells you to quit following Jesus. The godless world insults you so that you may quit following Jesus. The devil pokes your pain so that you quit following Jesus. The devil, the world, and our sinful nature try to drive a wedge in between you and God in order to split you from him forever.
And so, when the Christian cross presses into you and the temptation remains to fixate on yourself, God lifts your (and my) eyes up to the cross of Jesus. Why do we focus on Jesus’ suffering instead of ours? Because God is telling something very important: we have been justified through faith.
“Justified,” means to “declare someone ‘not guilty.’” God sets you free from suffering his anger and wrath. Yes, you heard that right; you (and I) do deserve God’s anger. Your (and my) very nature is ungodly. You are sinful from birth, sinful from the time your mother conceived you (Psalm 51:5). You are born dead in sin— not able to bring yourself to spiritual life (Ephesians 2:1). You are an enemy of God— someone who fights against him, behaving the exact opposite of what he commands (Romans 8:7). You (and I) once stood completely helpless to change that status.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. When you (and I) suffer, God points you to Jesus’ cross. Why does Jesus suffer? Why is he rejected, crucified, and killed? Jesus suffers because he would not forsake God. Jesus suffers because you (and I) have forsaken God by our disobedience. Jesus suffers your (and my) sentence for that crime. Christ died for us.
By his suffering on a cross, you (and I) have the guarantee of glory. You see, if Jesus had never suffered the cross, you (and I) would still be accountable for your guilt. Since Jesus suffered the cross, you hold the certainty that you also will share in his glory.
When the cross presses into you, lift your eyes and rejoice! Rejoice that you are not suffering because of who you are, your reputation or behavior. Rejoice that you suffer because you believe in a God who wipes away sin and gives you eternal life.
A personal cross may try to blind you from seeing God’s grace. You may be tempted to despair. So, God strengthens you to press on through your earthly race.
Look again at verse 1: we have been justified. “We”— that is personal, that means you (and me), the work of Jesus is done for your benefit! Neither does not say: “We have justified ourselves,” rather, we have been justified. Someone else did all the work and it all depends on what that person has done. The moment Jesus cried out on the cross: “It is finished!” God slammed down his gavel and declared you: “Not guilty!”—once and for all time.
Now you live reconcile to him through the death of his Son. “Reconcile”— you know what that word means, right? Reconciling is bringing two opposing parties together as friends. Your status was once that of “enemy,” but now Jesus has changed it to that of “friend.” Since you are reconciled to God, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only did Jesus cancel out the debt of your sin, but he will bring you into heaven; it is impossible to think otherwise! That is “grace,” God’s undeserved love.
The Christian cross make tempt you to believe that God does not love you. Yet, God’s grace does not fail you. He demonstrates his love by sending Jesus to make your eternity secure. With God continually pointing you to Jesus in order to remind you of his love, you persevere to enter your eternal hope.
Be sure, the devil will try to convince to quit running your race. Yet, you may also rejoice in [y]our afflictions. That sounds odd. Why Rejoice under the Cross? Rejoicing does not mean you walk around with a great big smile plastered on your face under the cross. It does not mean you must force yourself to be happy at a funeral. It does not mean you must smile when hearing tragic news. It does not mean you skip and jump for joy when some insults your faith. Rejoicing means you can take pride in your suffering. You can take pride because you know where to turn in suffering; you turn to Jesus. (1) You know God loved you to wipe away your sin. (2) You know God has opened heaven. (3) You know you may run to your Father for strength, comfort, and peace. This the how suffering produces perseverance. You persevere through troubles to enter your eternal hope.
As a result, your character grows. Have you ever faced a stressful situation that you never knew how you could conquer? Yet, when you finish the test, you recognize that you have grown. You are capable of managing your time better, you can learn many facts, or you increase personal strength to push through recovery. As you persevere through affliction, your Christian character grows. You stop relying on yourself and rely on the promises of God more. You pray more, bringing your stress and anxiety to God. You lift up your eyes to your heavenly hope, knowing this is the end-goal of your faith—this is what life is all about. And— like you heard last week, your perspective on life is properly adjusted.
Some of you are carrying a cross right now, and it feels excruciatingly heavy. You still feel raw after a funeral. You grieve over the fact life will not be as it once was. You struggle to come to grips with illness. You wonder if you can remain Christian in a society growing “Christ”-less. Yet, you are looking at the cross. You daily remember that God demonstrated his love for you by sending a Savior. You remember eternity is set. You press on through challenges with God at your side, strengthening you, comforting you, and still blessing you. You persevere to reach your eternal hope.
I’m not sure what is more difficult about the Ironman Triathlon: actually competing or overcoming your doubts. Your Christian life may sometimes feel like you are competing in something more grueling than an ironman. You experience wonderful blessings with God, but the suffering that comes as a Christians grinds you down. Your mind may even tempt you to wonder if suffering is really worth continuing your race of faith.
When the cross presses into you, look up at the cross. There see the One who suffered shame but now sits in glory. See the One who suffered for you so that you may join him in unending glory. This is the reason you may Rejoice under the Cross! God’s grace does not fail you. Persevere to enter your eternal hope.
On Saturday, January 13th, approximately 1.5million Hawaiians and hundreds of thousands of travelers to Hawaii woke up to their smartphones buzzing with this text message:
BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII.
SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER.
THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
Hawaii had 14 minutes to find shelter. In just 14 minutes homes would be demolished. Cars and boats, outdoor pools and lounges gone. Schools, stadiums, stores— all those comforts of life— would be unrecognizable. Just 14 minutes to grab personal treasures before leaving everything else behind. That means people had just 14 minutes to weigh what was valuable and what was not.
Forty agonizing minutes passed before another alert went out: < THIS IS ONLY A TEST >. For 40 minutes a false threat was considered a reality. Millions believed a real missile was on its way. Millions had just minutes to decide what items were most important to them.
[Speaking with all respect] I wonder how many have adjusted the way they live as a result of that test. Do they still recognize what objects are important and which ones they can live without? Or, have many returned to loving perishable things? Do they better grasp just how quickly life can end? Are churches a little more full? Have more turned their attention to the forgiveness God offers? Or, have people put off eternal matters for another day?
A test has a way of prioritizing the treasures of your heart. When you must determine what holds the number-one spot of your heart, you recognize that you cannot love every aspect of life with the same intensity. You heart can only love one thing the most; it can love only one thing at a time.
In order to make sure that your heart remains anchored on your imperishable treasure of eternal life with God, God Tests You (and me). God Tests You so that you can Purge personal idols and for you to Grasp God’s unchanging promises.
In Genesis 22:1 you read: Some time later God tested Abraham. Let’s understand one chief matter: God tested Abraham; he did not tempt him. Tempting a person is to entice them into improper behavior (definition of the Greek word, πειράζω). God does not daggle juicy, attractive situations in front of you, hoping that you will wander away from him. Rather, the Bible clearly says: When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone (James 1:13).
Instead, God tests Abraham. Testing a person is: to refine the character of a person so that he may walk more closely in God’s ways (definition of the Hebrew word: נָסָה). The purpose of a test is to refine a person. To purge away everything that interferes [stymies] your trusting in God. To make sure God remains the top priority of your entire life.
God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering…” God cuts right to Abraham’s heart. “Abraham, take your son, oh yeah, that’s right, your only son, and in case you forgot, it’s Isaac, and yes, this is the son you love.” This test presents Abraham with two choices: (1) Obediently submit to God’s instruction at the risk of losing your dearly loved child or (2) Reject God’s command because you love something else more.
If this feels offensive— that God is doing something wrong— again, I urge you, please, remember the purpose of a test. A test is to refine the character of a person so that he may walk more closely in God’s ways.
Testing sometimes hurts, not God is at fault, but because we have grown a little too much in love with our world. If God approached you today and said: “Leave everything—your home, car, hobbies, video games, life-comforts, abandon them all and live in a hotel room for the rest of your life,” could you do it? It would be difficult, right? If you’re like me, the instant reaction is to start negotiating with God. “God, you can’t be serious!” “God, no! I need these things!” “God, why can’t I have these comforts?” What’s the purpose of those negotiations? It’s the heart’s way of saying, “God I love my stuff more than I love obeying you.”
Thankfully God has not demanded that you sacrifice those significant blessings, has he? He often instructs you to sacrifice smaller ones (in comparison). God instructs: On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income…
(1 Corinthians 16:2). He says, “Consider how you have lacked nothing. Give a portion of portion of what I have given you back to me, demonstrating your undivided love for me.”
That’s his instruction. What does the heart want to say? “God, I can’t give that much to you. I need food, I need entertainment, I need gas. My kids have sports. I need recreation: my hunting, my gardening, my traveling. God, I’ll give you my leftovers, but not my firsts because I just don’t have it.” In reality, the heart is admitting: “God, I love my money more than I love you.”
The purpose of a test is to refine the character of a person so that he may walk more closely in God’s ways. Another way of saying that is: God Tests You for the purpose of purging personal idols. An idol is an object the heart worships. It does not have to be a little golden statue to which you bow down, sing, and pray. An idol can be any object you worship. Your status/popularity, your self-reliance, your pride. If you love these objects, you will worship them. You will trust them. You will make sure no one steals away your time with them— even if that person is God. Left unchecked, the idols of the heart can drag you away from God.
God knows that. So, He Tests You (and me) so that you (and I) do not turn our backs on him. A test has a way of prioritizing the treasures of your heart. With a test, God cuts out a misguided love that will kill. With a test God purges away personal idols.
Yet, testing is not always to drive an idol out; testing may involve strengthening our grasp on God’s unchanging promises. Scripture never implies that Abraham loved Isaac more than God, and God had to intervene. Abraham already trusted the promises of God. With a test, his trust in God’s promises would grow stronger.
Watch Abraham grow by the way he responds. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” Abraham trusts that he and Isaac will return from Mount Moriah—someway, somehow. Isaac asks: “[W]here is the lamb for the burnt offering?” and Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Abraham even goes so far as to lay Isaac on the altar and take the knife to slay his son. How does he have the strength to do such a thing?! Abraham grasped God’s unchanging promises.
You see, a year before Isaac is born, God promised: My covenant I will establish with Isaac (Genesis 17:21). First, God names Isaac before he is even born! Second, God promised to bring Jesus through Abraham’s son.
This test is one of those moments when what we see cannot fathom how God will keep his promise. Either (1) Abraham will kill Isaac and the line of Jesus will die out and God will prove himself a liar, or (2) God will keep his promise, let Isaac live, and Jesus will enter the world. That’s really what the test boils down to and Abraham grasps God’s unchanging promises.
The book of Hebrews says: Abraham [even] reasoned that God could raise the dead (11:19). Even if Isaac died, Abraham was so sure God would keep his promise of a Savior that God would have to raise Isaac from the dead [in order to keep it].
God kept his promise. “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants numerous… and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” Abraham and Isaac walked down Mount Moriah alive. Later on, Isaac had two boys— Esau and Jacob. Jacob had 12 sons. Those 12 sons had 70 sons. Those 70 sons had many children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, (etc.). God allowed Abraham’s physical descendants to be as numerous as sand on the seashore—but that does not compare to God’s greater promise. The Bible says: Those who believe are children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7; Romans 9:7). Think of all the believers who have ever lived— from Abraham to now— the billions and billions of Christians, people who shared Abraham’s faith; they stand as numerous as the stars in the sky. God kept his Word: Through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed.
Abraham and Isaac’s great Descendant, Jesus, is your (and my) eternal blessing. A blessing because does what we could not. He fights Satan and wins.
For forty days and nights the devil launched one temptation after another against Jesus—trying to convince him that God does not have his best interests in mind. “Look, Jesus, you’re starving. God will not help you.” “Jump off the temple. See if God will really save you.” “Jesus, worship me, and you can have all the wealth and fame in the world— the kind of life your Father should already be giving you.” Satan repeatedly tempts Jesus, trying to get him to stumble and fall. And Jesus destroys each temptation with one short statement: “It is written” (Matthew 4:1-11).
Jesus grasps God’s unchanging promises, considering them as good as kept. Yes, even he is laid on the altar of the cross. Even when he is slain and life pours out of his veins. Even when his life is sacrificed in place of yours (and mine). Jesus grasps God’s unchanging promise on Calvary: “You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay” (Psalm 16:10-11).
Jesus faces pressure to turn away from God’s saving plan. Each test tempts him to believe that God does not care. Yet, he grasps God’s unchanging promises, knowing that his Father does not lie (Numbers 23:19; Hebrews 6:18). So, he marches through each trial and temptation in order to break the devil’s hold on you (and me). He crushes Satan so that you no longer believe his lies. So that you may grasp God’s unchanging promises of a new life with him.
Perhaps you are being tested right now. Illness makes you question God’s care. Loss of a loved one makes you feel alone. The frustrations in life make you wonder if God really blesses you. The devil will twist your troubles in the hopes of convincing you that God does not care. The devil will always try to persuade you to doubt God’s presence in life so that you can fall into unbelief and join him in hell.
Look to the cross and see God’s promise kept. Be strengthened knowing that God is for us, no one can be against us. God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all— how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32).
Fight the devil with the same words Jesus did: It is written! God is beside you because he has sworn by himself to be there. So God Tests You that your faith in him might become like the most rugged, hardened steel. When the day of trouble comes, you will not despair. You will tell the devil: “Go away! God has sworn by himself to be with me— and he will not change his Word.
I really do wonder how many have adjusted the way they live after that Hawaiian false alarm. Have more turned their attention to the forgiveness God offers? Or, have people put off eternal matters for another day? Do they still recognize what objects are important and which ones they can live without? Or, have many returned to loving perishable things? A test has a way of prioritizing the treasures of your heart.
So, God Tests You—not out of spite or anger— he tests you in order to purge away personal idols. To rid your (and my) heart of anything that might interfere with our trust in God. You do continue holding God’s blessings of family, relaxation, and possessions. Yet, you do so with eyes lifted up to your God, thanking him for carrying out his promises. You do so with a stronger grasp on God’s unchanging promises.