January always brings change. After all, it kicks off a new year. You get to throw out the old calendar and hang the new. Yet, January does more than mark a new month, it (1) changes your routine. Depending on your Christmas spending habits, how many you shop for, and the number of Christmas lights strung around your house, your expenses might be higher than normal. The winter season changes from cool to cooler and dark to darker. The family which has been migrating from house to house will soon return to their downstate responsibilities. January alters your routine. Not just that, January might (2) introduce a year of firsts. First anniversary not celebrated. First birthday without a spouse. First vacation not taken. First summer without the house. First year away. Even bigger events might occur; January may (3) start new life-changes. You will graduate. You will start college. You will be Mr./Mrs. You might move and have new neighbors and friends, as well as a new routine. Even if nothing life-altering lies ahead, January brings at least one change: (4) your birthday. You will be another year older and another year closer to some significant life-change, be it a new school, a new child, retirement, or Social Security [benefits]. January ushers in so many possibilities, so many adjustments.
That can be an unsettling truth. Change happens by force. You cannot stop time; you cannot control what events enter your life or how those events will impact your life. Change rolls on— either with you or dragging you. That’s not always a pleasant feeling.
So, how do you enter a New Year with confidence? How can you chase away those fleeting fears and anxieties? Look to your God. The Lord Does Not Change-- even in a changing world. God’s grace remains the same.
Grace brought (the nation of) Judah home. ‘Grace’— that is, ‘undeserved love from God.’ For 70-years Judah lives locked inside the Babylonian empire. That’s 70-years of not working your fields, not running down the street to your hometown grocery store, not playing in your acreage. Every familiar comfort is gone. Your grandparents are the last ones whose eyes marveled at Solomon’s breathtaking temple. The king does not consider your Jewish interests; your culture just melts away. That was then, this is now. Now, 50,000 Jews stand in southern Israel (Nehemiah 7:66-69). Now, city walls are rebuilt (2:11-20). God’s temple stands reconstructed now (Ezra 3:7-13). Jewish leaders govern. All this— because God made it happen.
For Judah it was not good enough. Yes, life trended better, but it was not like it was in the past. The new temple was not splendid enough. National boundaries are not large enough. Leaders are not spectacular enough. Life was not as good as it was before captivity. It looked like God changed his blessings, that God chose to hold back the good life from Judah.
Know the feeling? Relationships change. Children tend to grow older. That means, your daughter will get a driver’s license and hang out with friends. Your [grand]kid will trek off to school. Your son will move away for a job. Your daughter may leave father and mother and be united to her husband and become one flesh (Matthew 19:5). That brings adjustment. Your daughter may not be able to stop her chores (like she used to do), leave her family, and appear on your doorstep every single time you call. Your [grand]son who lived at your house (when younger) will probably spend more time at his house. That adjustment is not always welcome. It becomes easy to complain how life was not as good as it once was. It becomes easy to complain that your family does not meet unrealistic expectations. To accuse your own child of no longer caring about you. You (and I) can act as though God has taken away a blessing.
Comfort levels change. Life may still feel nonstop busy. The calendar is littered with practice times and game days. Work calls for longer hours and extra days. School heaps only more work and deadlines. Maybe it feels as though every friend took turns inviting you to their house, to some restaurant, to their holiday party. Just when you finished one job, another three jobs popped up— in the rain, in the kitchen, at your brother’s. No matter how hard you tried, you just never could get ahead. That activity brings adjustment. You cannot sit and relax as you might wish. Schedules create stress. Responsibilities get postponed. You feel sapped. You feel overwhelmed. You (and I) can grow even tired just relying on ourselves. We can act as though God is no longer present to hear our cry or carry our burden.
Life changes. Another year brings age-related events. You love her, but she still dies. You exercise and eat well, but you must still downsize. You live a Christian life, but people still hate you. That brings adjustment. You try to control life, but your best-intended wishes fizzle out. You might think God either (1) cannot work things for your good or (2) choose not to work for your good (read Romans 8:28).
You see, worry erupts because we think God has left us. That God is not for us, but against us (consider Romans 8:31). That God does not have authority over heaven and earth (consider Matthew 28:18). That God does not hold us in his righteous right hand (consider Isaiah 41:10). Worry declares that God has changed and does not keep his Word. And if God has changed, then you (and I) can no longer rely on him.
Dear friends, do not confuse God’s changelessness with our change. Put this way: We change, and so we think God changes too! But, The Lord Does Not Change. Even in a changing world, God’s grace remains the same.
God himself says that: I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. He does not merely say this; he proves it.
Judah had every reason to be wiped off the earth. Before their 70-year exile, God exposes their wickedness, pleads with them to turn, and promises to protect them. Yet, no one treasures that Word. Then, even after exile, Judah sees how wicked they can become! Parishioners drag blind and diseased animals into God’s temple for an offering— animals not even fit for a king (1:8). Christian men marry women who worship false gods. That marriage introduces strange beliefs in Christian homes (2:11-12) and priests do not care enough to correct it (2:8).
Worshippers are afraid to give God too much money (3:8-12). God saves them and they respond by turning away! Yet, God keeps his promise—a promise to send Jesus through Judah (Genesis 49:10). That is ‘grace,’ undeserved love from God.
Even though Judah’s love changed, God’s love remains the same. He proves that by bringing his Son into the world. He proves that by sending his Son to the cross. He proves that by holding Jesus accountable for our lack of trust. He proves that by raising his Holy One out of death. He proves that by declaring you “Not guilty!”—and repeating those words each week. Each day he leads you to the foot of the cross and says, “My Son died for you.” The Lord Does Not Change. God’s grace— the love God richly lavishes on you-- remains the same.
That undeserved love affects our lives in tremendous ways. A new year is upon us, but you do not enter it alone. You live each moment under the protecting hand of a God who never changes his promises.
Think about how this looks in a changing world. Your congregation might have changed from the first time you started worshipping here. And it will— because time passes! Time adds age. That means people get older. When we get older, our situations change. We become adults and leaders, parents and grandparents, active and retired. Time brings change to appearance— and we may not like that change because it takes us out of our comfort zone.
Even though change happens by force, God has not changed. And if God has not changed, then his Word of promise remains the same. God will always point you to peace in Jesus. Regardless of how many people are here. Regardless of what the future holds for your congregation. Regardless if church is full today and empty tomorrow. God still speaks peace in this place, to you. That makes your future certain. What is there to worry about?
God’s Word will still work in the heart. That means, you do not need to worry about how long your congregation will remain. Ten-, Twenty-, Thirty-years? Longer? The Lord Does Not Change. That means, [F]aith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). God has not made it your job to create faith. It is not your job to bring people in, fill your church, make it big, and make the community notice it. Nope. God simply hands us the job of remaining faithful to his Word. In this New Year, you will have opportunities to do just that. To grasp it. To share it. To preach it.
God’s grace remains the same. Not only is its message unchanged, but God still deals with you (and me) in grace. God, in undeserved love, still hears your prayers. Whenever you have anxiety, cast it on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). Even if your concern appears so insignificant, call on him in the day of trouble. He will deliver you and you will honor him (Psalm 50:15). How do you know? Because your unchanging God has promised: The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry (Psalm 34:15). The reliance on self shrinks. The reliance on God grows.
Your God gives you strength for whatever might come this new year. If you must say good-bye to a fellow Christian, be confident that person is in heaven. God’s grace remains the same. Jesus says that: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). If someone ill recovers, then rejoice! Appreciate the blessings God will still give through that person. If you feel completely overwhelmed, then Be still and know that One God remains in control (Psalm 46:10).
God spells it out quite clearly so that you (and I) have no reason to fear. The Lord Does Not Change. God’s grace remains the same.
What good news for a new year! All I know is that January brings change. A (1) change to routine, a (2) year of firsts, a (3) new life-changes, and, if anything, (4) another birthday. This year will undoubtedly require adjustments, but you need not worry. The Lord Does Not Change-- even in a changing world. God’s grace remains the same. Because of that, you can be sure God’s every promise to bless you, carry you, and strengthen you will follow you always.
Enter this new year with confidence. You do not need to know the future because you already know the present. Your Lord Does Not Change— even in a changing world. God’s grace remains the same.
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.
"I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb; Ever glad at heart I am… " Be honest with yourself, when singing those words, was there a moment when you felt this hymn was just a bit childish? …like this song is meant for little kids and not for adults? …that you’re too old to be singing this? … that you need something with a more complex focus and moving melody in order to capture inner angst? To be honest, sometimes I think so.
The words are simple and the melody catchy. It’s a song for little kids. But, isn’t that the point? That this child-like hymn is purposely in our hymnal so that you can be a child?
For just a minute, step into the life of a child. Picture it: you have no job, no stressful deadlines, no demanding schedule. You have no need for a certain amount of income, and therefore, no pressure to make a budget work. In fact, your parents pay utility bills, doctor bills, grocery bills, and car bills. Children have such simple and sincere relationships. No stewing over the harsh words she said to you. No nervousness of saying the right things in order to keep others happy. Children simply blurt out what’s on their mind without a second thought. Children have an innocent view of life. They trust, not question. They’re relaxed, not worried. They have peace, not anxiety. Does that hymn sound childish now?
I would guess that most, if not all of you have wished at some point in life to be a child again. To get rid of the stress. To get past the tough relationships. To remove those pressing responsibilities. To put an end to all the nonstop, incessant worry. To live at complete ease.
Perhaps that is what makes these words (John 10:11-18) some of the most beloved words for a Christian. Today you sink into the bliss that comes from living under the care of Jesus, Your Good Shepherd. But remember this: Good Shepherd Sunday does not exist for one day only. Each day Jesus Remains Your Good Shepherd who sacrificed his life for yours and who brings life in his fold.
He cannot stress that enough. Jesus plainly says, “I am the good shepherd.” In the Greek language (the original language of the New Testament) that little phrase comes out even stronger. Jesus literally says: “I, I am the Good Shepherd.” It’s like he’s tapping his finger on his chest saying, “Hey! Look at me! Concentrate on who I am; focus on what I am capable of doing! I am Your Good Shepherd.”
Do you understand what he means by calling himself “good?” In our English language “good” can mean many things. You eat “good” cake. A ‘B+’-grade-average in school might be “good.” Those standards of “good” change from person to person. “Good” cake does not mean it’s the “best” cake ever. A “good” grade could be an even better grade. Jesus is not just another “good” Shepherd— one among many shepherds (and you might find someone better). No. When Jesus calls himself “good,” he sets himself apart from everyone else in the world. He’s “good” because he lays down his life for the sheep.
The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. Since he does not own the sheep, he abandons the sheep and runs away when he sees the wolf coming… The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. If you lose a friend’s book, you do not lose money; you did not lose a possession. Your friend suffers the real loss; you do not. If the wolf mauls the sheep, the hired hand loses nothing! The sheep-owner must purchase replacements. The hired hand only cares about saving his own life.
Jesus sets up this marvelous contrast between self-centered, careless shepherd and himself, the Good Shepherd who sacrificed his life for you.
That is a truth you (and I) will never outgrow. Yet, that is a truth with which you (and I) grow discontent. I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb; Ever glad at heart I am? How childish!
If it feels that you have lost that sense of child-like innocence, then it is because you have wandered from the protecting care of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. You stress out over money because you do not trust Jesus will provide. You grow anxious in a society growing more God-less because you do not think Jesus will keep you safe from your enemies. You worry because you think Jesus will lead you headfirst into danger— and you will lose grip on your family, lose your health, and lose your life. You lose child-like trust because you feel that Jesus is not leading you in the places you should go.
The truth is, if you do not follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd, you will follow someone else. Those self-centered, careless shepherds (Jesus condemns) are not these wicked thugs lurking around every street corner. Instead, a “shepherd” is anyone you trust more than Jesus. A “shepherd” can be a non-Christian friend who urges you to follow her unpleasing, non-Christian advice on marriage. A “shepherd” can be listening to a preacher on the radio or television who twists the clear teachings of the Bible simply to make you feel emotionally happy.
Do you see what those shepherds do? When danger comes and the unexpected happens, they leave you! They do not care to soothe your sorrows. They do not provide rock-solid assurance. They leave you abandoned for the devil to devour you. So, here’s a key point: when Jesus says, I am the good shepherd, he’s telling you, “Focus on me!”
Jesus Is Your Good Shepherd who sacrifices his life for you. That makes him “good”— because he does something no one else does.
Pay attention to that one little word: “for.” The Greek way of saying it is: For your benefit or for your advantage. Jesus lays down his life for the advantage of the sheep. The devilish wolf circles around you— and at one time had your life in his death grip. Jesus did not run away, leaving you to die. He ran towards death on Mount Calvary. He allows nails to fasten him to wood. He braces up under God’s death sentence: “Guilty for sin!” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The jaws of death close around him— and you go free. You, the sheep, the one who liked to wander, go free and you get to live.
Do you have a “good” Shepherd? Yes! Yes, you do! You have a Good Shepherd who lays down his life and takes his life up again. Jesus descends into hell, not to suffer, but to announce: “Devil, you have lost your hold on my flock!” He bursts out of the tomb to tell you the good news: “I Am Your Good Shepherd and I remain Your Good Shepherd!” I sacrificed my life for you in order to bring you life in the fold.
Yes, life. You see, while you live, you either live as believer or nonbeliever; there’s no in-between. You either live with God now by faith or you do not.
When Jesus laid down his life for you, he brought you out of one way of life and into a completely different way of life. You once wandered in the pastures of death, but now he has led you into his believing flock. He uses a special word to tell you that: He “knows” you. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me… To “know” means more than just memorizing facts and information. To “know” means “learning something by experience.”
So, for example, I may “know” your child. Your child is a man (or woman), about yea-tall, about this age; she works in town, he travels, she is married with this many children. Yet, I only know facts, information. Would it be safe to assume that you “know” your child better than I do? Yes, you know information, but you have a personal relationship with your child. You can decipher their body language and behavior. You recognize their interests and needs. You can describe their demeanor and personality. You have learned about your child’s needs and you respond appropriately to those needs.
So, when Jesus says: “I know my own…” he’s not saying, “Yes, I stuck my cattle-tag in their ear. That one’s mine.” He knows you personally. Jesus, Your Good Shepherd, understands the fears that keep you up at night and comprehends why they bother you. He comforts your fears with a promises, I, the Almighty God, am with you always (Matthew 28:20). Jesus, Your Good Shepherd, senses the concerns you have about your health, and he gives you the strength needed for your health battle. Jesus, Your Good Shepherd, sympathizes with your sadness at a funeral, and he comforts you with promises of eternal life. Jesus, Your Good Shepherd, knows your gifts and special skills, and he opens opportunities for you to serve and he smiles as he watches you serve. Jesus is Your Good Shepherd who brings life in his fold.
Yes, an entirely new way to look at life. You do not live for your own self-wants. You are not abandoned. You have Someone great who stands watch over you. You can be certain of this. In our final verses Jesus says: The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father. This sounds like a disconnected, random thought— but don’t miss the point. Pontius Pilate, the Jewish leaders, and Roman soldiers did not muscle him onto the cross. Jesus submits to and follows the Father’s plan to save you. He lays down his life willingly. Then, he willingly takes his life back from death. This he does, not for his own benefit, but for yours.
Since he has made this great payment, it means nothing will separate you from the fold. With your Good Shepherd bringing you life, you will live protected. You will live perfectly content. Jesus is Your Good Shepherd who brings life in his fold.
Yes, I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb sounds childish. But, isn’t that the point? That this child-like hymn is purposely left in our hymnal so that you can be a child?
That is how you live! As a child under the care of another! As a little lamb under the protection of Someone greater! Yes, life with Jesus presents a clear path. How? Know this: (1) Your Good Shepherd sacrificed his life for you, for your advantage. He has called you to faith and has brought you into his believing flock. You have eternal life.
Yet, you have life now too. Even though the future may be murky and decisions weigh on your mind, you have a powerful Shepherd to guide you. Listen to his voice. Trust those promises because they are meant for your good, not to harm you. When perplexed, go to your Good Shepherd in prayer and trust that he will guide you, even when you do not know how. You are Jesus’ little lamb.
Perhaps that is what makes these words some of the dearest for a Christian. Jesus Is Your Good Shepherd. But remember this: Good Shepherd Sunday does not exist for one day only. Each day Jesus Remains Your Good Shepherd who sacrificed his life for yours and who brings life in his fold.
That’s what I get to do today— hang my new calendar. You know what’s so awesome about that? Nothing is written on my new one. No appointments, no conferences, no family obligations. In fact, I get to start with the month of ‘January.’ It means I can’t flip back and be reminded about all the things that happened. Instead, I only can flip forward and see what I can do— and with all that blank space, boy, what time I have! During winter: woodworking. During spring: gardening. During summer: vacation. During fall: soccer, football, and school. So much potential awaits.
This old calendar, well, it conjures memories of where I’ve been— and it has been quite a year. Birthdays and anniversaries are marked. I see doctor appointments and conferences. The kids had sports and library dates. A vacation is scheduled in there. I remember some enjoyable days, but there are other days I did not like. I had funerals to attend— yes, funerals to conduct as a pastor, but funerals where I had to say goodbye to someone too. My vacation triggers memories of stress, deadlines, and conflict. The months were busy— and it made summer (my most favorite time of the year) zip by. Yes, today I can throw out the old calendar, with all of its stress, obligations, and pain, and hang up a fresh clean slate.
Still, I can’t shake one feeling: Is 2018 going to be better? Did that thought descend into your mind as you watched the ball drop? Did you wake up wondering if life would be drastically different today? You know many enjoyable days lie ahead; past experience teaches you that. You know there will be challenging days— because past experience teaches you that. By the end of 2018, will you have more good days than bad?
I can’t answer the question— I wish I could, but I don’t know the future. Yet, I can tell you one thing— and it’s the same truth God teaches you today: Cast Your Anxiety on God! Grasp his care for you and Humbly live under his power.
Listen to our reading from 1 Peter 5:6-7: Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
What words for sore ears! God invites you, encourages you, no— he commands you— Cast All Your Anxiety on Him! That’s why we memorize this Bible verse— so we never forget it! In fact, this verse is put to a beloved song:
What a Friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry Ev’rything to God in prayer!...
(Christian Worship Hymnal #411, verses 1).
Music ties words to memory. Memorizing Bibles passages keeps God’s Word on your lips and heart. So, the very instant anxiety flutters into your heart you can fly off to God! Right?
Well, maybe. I can’t speak for you; I can only speak for myself. As I flip through last year’s calendar, I see anxiety streaking across every month, every week, every day. I can still visualize the heart-wrenching sobs at funerals. My heart ached when I heard about marriage tensions. I kept wondering: “What can I say to set things back to normal?” Doctor appointments are scribbled down; a nebulizer was needed; steroids ordered for a kid. It brings back memories of the “worst-case-scenario.” What if the littlest cold leads to the worst of conditions? (Believe me, I’ve seen illness become something worse). I see “Election Day” circled. In its aftermath I wonder: “Boy, how are foreign negotiations going to look now? … or my little nest egg? … or my children’s future?” Pastor conferences shared statistics and articles about the growing epidemic of people staying out of church (and worship). Stress creeps up, whispering: “So, what are you going to do to turn things around? How can you do God’s job and bring people to faith?”
Maybe your calendar replays similar tears and stress, nervousness and fear. You recall your anxiety; it weighed heavy on you. You stayed awake at night wondering how to solve conflict. You barely got through one day without asking the “What if”-question. You did not know what to do when you listened to FoxNews or CNN or scrolled through Facebook. That anxiety flares up so often and stays so long, doesn’t it? Let me ask: When you grew anxious, where did you cast that anxiety? Did you live 2017 stress-free because you brought every trouble to God?
You know, the verse: “Cast all your anxiety on him…” doesn’t stand on its own, like some catch-all truth. It goes together with verse 6. Peter actually says in the Greek: “Be humble, therefore, under the powerful hand of God, so that he may raise you up in time, [live humble] by casting all your anxiety upon him.” (personal translation) In order to Cast Your Anxiety on God, you have to first understand that stress is something you cannot handle on your own. That’s something that rubs against our very nature.
By nature we are self-reliant; we have this feeling we can do what God does. A part of your hearts would actually have you believe that you can control life-events that feel small and insignificant. So, you look up to heaven and say: “God, I can handle this on my own. It’s just a standard hospital stay… It’s just a little argument… It’s just a birth of a child… It’s just a little bad habit… I can fix this all by myself.” Yet, if you ever felt anxiety or stress, then it means you cannot fix those issues. To puff up your self-reliance only pushes God further out of the number-spot in your heart— the spot where he must be. Your heart will try to finish what we want by nature: to be God… to call the shots… to live life on our terms.
That’s why God speaks these words today. We are not God—but God is God. We cannot solve every problem or cure all our anxiety—but God can. So, Cast Your Anxiety on God! Why? …because he cares for you.
God himself says that. God himself reveals it. Just last week you traveled to the manger and saw God-in-flesh. Jesus trades his throne in heaven for a feedbox on earth. He leaves glorious angels for faulty human beings. He exchanges a domain of singing and enters a sphere of sorrow and tears, anger and frustration. The simple fact that Jesus even entered your world (in the first place) shows just how much he cares for you.
Still, Jesus reveals his care even more. He knows what it is like to sense anxiety. He weeps when John the Baptist is murdered (Matthew 14:1-13). His heart goes out to those led astray by false teaching (Matthew 9:35-36). He has compassion on the sick. He begs forgiveness for angry men who nail him to the cross (Luke 23:34). All through life, Jesus takes one concern after another to God in prayer.
Then on the cross, Jesus unveils the greatest depth of care for you. Jesus had done nothing wrong! Yes— he is innocent of any crime, but it goes more than that. Jesus never doubted God the Father’s care for him! He never once said: “I’ve got this God, I can make this bread and fish feed 5,000 people all by myself (Matthew 14:13-21)… I can use my own efforts to open this man’s ears (Mark 7:31-36)… I can suffer the sins of the world by my own power” (Matthew 26:36-46). No! Jesus Casts His Anxiety on God.
When you see Jesus on the cross, he’s not there for himself; he’s there for you. He removes your self-reliance and suffers. He loses life so that you can have eternal life! God cares for you so much that he uses Jesus to wrap you in perfection!
Cast Your Anxiety on God! because he cares for you. You know God cares for you because Jesus rose from the dead. Easter Sunday declares the guarantee of eternal life!
Maybe we have difficulty tying the resurrection to our current circumstances. We know Jesus rose again for us, but we have lived in world of anxiety for so long. So, how does Easter comfort us?
Have you found yourself stranded for help? A car battery won’t start… A ladder is needed… Food is needed… something? You needed help and someone came to help. A battery is jumped. A ladder is loaned. Food is given. This individual helped you in your need. So, the next time you have a need… the car battery dies again… the garage door is stuck … the light bill is due, who are you going to turn? To yourself? To a stranger? No! You would ask the person who freely helped once before!
In the same way, look at Easter and continually tell yourself: “For me! Jesus did this for me!” If Jesus took such great lengths to free you from death in hell, why would he not help you now? Why would he let you be crushed under trouble’s weight? Why would he not answer you? The devil tempts us to think he does not care for us. Nothing could be further from the truth! God so clearly says: I care for you. Not “for people.” Not “for the world.” He personalizes it: for you!
That is why you Cast Your Anxiety on God! You grasp his care. Here’s how you continue Casting Your Anxiety on God: live humbly under God’s power.
To live humbly under God’s power simply means to trust God will do the things he says he can do. On own, it sounds frightening to trust. It sounds like we have to muster the courage. But that’s not how it works. You trust grows because God strengthens your trust.
Read your Bible. See how powerful God’s hand truly is. It creates—makes something more than a house or dinner— it makes living trees and millions of unique kinds of fish and forms fiery stars. It enforces— unleashing plagues frogs, gnats, locusts on the Egyptians. It draws the shade of darkness. It stops the sun, adding more time to the day. It provides— raining manna-bread down in the desert, transforming two fish and five loaves of bread into a meal for thousands. That is what your God is capable of doing. Can you match that? Can you begin to match it? What joy to know this powerful hand rests over you— not in fear— but in love!
So, you live humbly under God’s power—putting every concern on him and trusting he is fully capable of handling it. That’s why Peter zeroes in on the things that keep you awake at night. He points at every little financial concern— the times your bills go up, the times when your social security stays flat. Peter drags up your every tension about school, high school, and college. He exposes all fear about how your children will grow up, who they will be, what they will do. He highlights any concern you have about your diagnosis and cure. He tells you: “Take them all, package them into a little ball, and throw it on God.”
There is nothing too big or too insignificant for God to handle. If God had limits, would he not tell you? Instead, God holds nothing back: All your cares, cast on him. When you cast those concerns, they no longer are your concern. The word “cast” is that of “throwing” like a stick or stone. As you walk along a river, you bend down, grab a small rock, and throw it into the water. It will not return to you. You will not go after it. That rock is gone. It’s out of mind. You are not worried about it. Cast Your Anxiety on God! Humbly live under his power
Take a moment and look through your old calendar today. Thank God for the joys God has given you. Thank God for standing beside you during challenging times. Even though anxiety may have overwhelmed you, God still saw fit to bring you into this new year.
Look through your new calendar today. Do it with confidence. I don’t know what the new year will bring. I can’t answer the question— I wish I could, but I don’t know the future. Yet, I can tell you one thing— and God teaches you this truth today: Cast Your Anxiety on God! Humbly live under his power and Grasp his care for you.