Politicians are elected to serve the interests of a group of people. So, this group of people expect their elected official to bring unique community needs before a larger assembly, and then together, with other politicians, craft laws for their benefit. That is expected.
Expectations can bring frustration. Your needs might not always be met. Your congressman might vote impeaching the President (of the United States), but you do not want that. Maybe you did want the President impeached and your congressman did not. Your representative may fight for a gas tax that you did not want. Perhaps you did want a gas tax, but your representative did not push for it. A senator could endorse universal health care, but you do not want higher taxes. Perhaps you do want healthcare for all, but your senator does not. Politicians promise advocating for you. They guarantee taking your concerns and suggestions and putting them into law. Yet, that does not always happen. A politician might chase his own self-interests. She may act for her constituents, but your interests are not the majority’s concerns. The reality that your individually unique needs are not always addressed can ignite frustration. When you feel ignored, you feel insignificant. That fuels the pressure to rely on yourself.
That’s what makes Christmas Day special. God Most High, King of the universe, leaves his majestic throne room in heaven and comes to earth to be with us. God does not ignore your greatest need; he works for your interest in order to be with you forever. So rejoice! Because God Is With Us! How do you know? His name assures us. Can you be sure? Yes! His actions prove it.
Listen to God’s assurance in Matthew 1:22-23. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”
There it is! A guarantee that God will keep your interests on his mind. God says he will be ‘with you.’ He will stand in flesh (with a body!) and experiences the same troubles of flesh! He will grieve at a funeral (John 11:35). He will see crippled limbs and heart-wrenching disease. He will observe fear in the eyes of the poor. He will watch the mighty abuse power. Yet, your God does not isolate himself from the world’s problems behind the ivory towers of a King’s mansion. He lives in the world and deals with the world. He will identify fear and handle it. He will understand anxiety and end it. He will recognize struggles and fix them. God promises to be with you!
What a promise that is! God will make all things well and whole! God will restore a bond of love! For hundreds of years people longed to see what you see, to celebrate what you celebrate! God had the prophet Isaiah share this promise seven-hundred years before the first Christmas! (That is three-times longer than the existence of our nation!) Millions of Christians over hundreds of years look ahead to that moment, but never see it. So many left wondering if God would make his intention happen.
You are [probably] not that anxious. We live on the other side of that promise. We can point at the record of God keeping his Word. [W]hen the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons (Galatians 4:4-5). Christmas reveals that God did what he said he would do.
When you think about it, a promise really has no value. It simply exists as mere words strung together— words that may or may not bring an action into reality. That can make it difficult to rely on those words. You are not sure what you will receive. (1) God promises to be with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). Still, life hurts. Grandpa dies; that’s not fun. A friend manipulates you, abuses your kindness. Where was God to stop that? Is he really with you? (2) God promises to deliver you from trouble, so rely on him! (Psalm 50:15) Yet, a loved one only grows sicker and weaker. The marriage is not improving. Recovery is slow. Is God listening? Is really here? (3) God promises to will make your path straight, so trust him—in good and in bad! (Proverbs 3:5-6) Yet, you found the perfect job opening, and with your skill-set, you should get it. You make plans and they seem pretty definite. Right now, life feels fine, you are content. Where does God fit in when life feels under your control?
Promises do not always fill us with comforting peace. A promise should be a guarantee of future action, but so often promises are so often changed, forgotten, or broken— and we cannot rely on them. Even though God promises to be ‘with us,’ we may struggle with feelings of fear and anxiety. How does that happen? Our humans drag God down to a human level. We hear his promises, but receive them as equal to promises from faulty human mouths. We can treat God like some politician who does not always have our interests in mind. A politician who serves the interests of others. Really, our human heart can call God a ‘liar.’
That’s why God does Christmas. Christmas Day took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” Do you realize how awesome that is?! The Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans worshipped a plethora of deities— and not one [so-called] god cared for his people. If enemies invaded the land, you frantically bargained for their attention. Sacrifice money, animals, people— and hope that was enough. Then there always remained the heart-stopping possibility that the gods simply did not care.
God does not send another prophet. He does not send a king. He sends himself. ‘Immanuel’ is a Hebrew word; it means: IM= with. MANU= us. EL= God. ‘God with us!’ That little baby Mary cradles in her arms, the little baby locking eyes with you, that little baby by his simple presence alone is ‘Immanuel,’ God-with-us!
Do you wonder if God truly cares about your needs? Do you worry that God might have more pressing matters on his mind? Do you think that with over 7-billion people in the world, God cannot possibly deal with your [seemingly] insignificant fear? End that anxiety here. God Is With Us. How do you know? His name assures us. Even more, His actions prove it.
You realize that behind certain names lie certain responsibilities. A politician carries more than just a title. A ‘President’ must lead or a ‘congressman’ crafts bills. ‘Immanuel,’ God-with-us, is not simply the name of God on earth. ‘Immanuel’ does work!
In that little baby lies the might to do what we cannot. He grows up and stands up against every attractive temptation. The devil, who so often leads us into doubt, cannot get Jesus to doubt God’s providing care. Those fears which tug on us to question God’s reasoning cannot get Jesus to challenge God. Self-reliance leads us to think we are God, life’s ultimate handler. Yet, Jesus bows under God’s control. Jesus does what we cannot. He withstands temptation. He stumbles not once. In him is life.
Jesus, Immanuel, is with us as he brings every single promise of God to complete fulfillment. The Son of David is pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, and the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5). The Son of God towers over death by his own resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4). What does this have to do with you? Everything Jesus does on earth is done to bring you into God’s favor. At your baptism, God said: I have summoned you by name; you are mine (Isaiah 43:1). God binds himself to you. God Is With Us.
God Is With Us to this very day. The first Christmas occurred over 2,000 years ago. Jesus ascends into heaven a little under 2,000 years ago. Although off the earth, God remains with us for our comfort. I mean, what accusations can Satan launch at you? He will call you ‘not perfect,’ not good enough for God. He will point out your wickedness and negligence. He will claim that that one secret sin is unforgiveable. How do you remove guilt and shame? Jesus steps up to you and covers you in his innocent life. God does not see filth, he sees purity. God Is With Us to silence those accusations. God is With Us and we can stand before him without fear.
Even more God Is With Us in his Word. If I sent you a letter, you receive my thoughts and my intentions. (You might even hear my voice in your head.) When you read the Bible you see God’s heart and hear what’s on his mind. He makes it pretty clear: [N]either death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). How do you know that? Jesus came to connect you to God; his actions prove that God Is With Us! The troubles you face will only make you stronger because you do not rely on your abilities, you rely God’s powerful might. The funerals you attend will only reinforce the splendid truth that heaven is life’s ultimate home. The good times you enjoy only lead you to thank God for that rest and enjoyment. God’s Word shapes our response to life in this world. We know God Is With Us because his actions prove it.
That’s what makes Christmas Day special. God Most High, King of the universe, leaves his majestic throne room in heaven and comes to earth to be with us. Yet, God is not an elected politician serving the interests of some, or working only for the majority. He does not make promises that are broken or changed. God works for your interest in order to be with you forever. So rejoice! Because God Is With Us! How do you know? His name assures us. Can you be sure? Yes! His actions prove it.
Four years ago, a camera team roamed around Michigan State University, asking random students one question: ‘Do you think you’re going to heaven?’ The video posted 15 responses. Here’s a few:
Do you think those students sound confident? No, not really. Upon what did everyone place their hope? Every single response mentioned: ‘doing good,’ ‘church membership,’ and ‘being a good guy.’ Did those answers provide much comfort? By my count, the words: ‘I don’t know,’ ‘I think,’ ‘I hope,’ appear 23-times. So, upon what do these students place their hope for heaven? (1) Individual effort and (2) personal opinion— and neither provide any comfort!
Do you think you’re going to heaven? That question might weigh heavy on your mind, and maybe you worry that your response is not good enough. Chase away worry by grasping a sure Word. God’s Word Makes Us Sure that every effort fails to obtain God’s favor. God’s Word Makes Us Sure that Jesus freely gives us God’s righteousness.
Let’s gain certainty from Romans chapter 3. Starting with verse 19, we read: Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law… Stop there for just a moment. Remember God’s ‘law?’ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Matthew 22:37-39). God etched those commands onto two tablets of stone (Exodus 20:1-17). He even took that law and carved it on every single heart— yours and mine included (Romans 2:14-15). That means, you, I, the entire world are obligated to obey and conform to those commands.
Have you? If God replayed your entire life on a big-screen, what would find? What would he see you do at the bar? What would God discover on your browser history? What would God learn from you about his gift of marriage? Do you want to repeat the words you use to describe the leaders he has placed in authority over you? (read Romans 13:1) Would you be proud standing before God, looking him straight in the eye, and declaring: ‘God, I loved you so much that my life is perfect picture of your law!’ No. That searing guilt, the restless shame that keeps you (and me) awake at night, the stomach-churning regrets only showcase our blemished hearts.
No wonder people have difficulty answering that question: ‘Do you think you’re going to heaven?’ Because that shameful filth clings to us; it never leaves! And you hear that haunting reality in every response. Those students make up and try to enforce rules about a heaven they do not own! If you own heaven, then you can create the standards for entering heaven. (For example, if you own a restaurant, you can make a dress code. You can exclude those who do not meet the dress code.) But you (and I) do not own heaven. That means we must meet the standards of the One who does. When the standard is: ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matthew 5:48) we fail.
God’s expectations do not make you (and me) look good, they expose our wickedness before God! Every mouth is stopped… you (and I) have no acceptable excuse. [T]he whole world [is] held accountable to God.
For by works of the law no human being will be justified [that is, ‘be acquitted,’ ‘be declared innocent’] in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. That means, scrounging for comfort in your own self-made rules only leads to a dead-end! (If arcades still exist), you play games, make the right moves, win tickets, and turn those tickets in for prizes. You get something for your effort. You cannot step up to God, hold up your life, and say, “Here you go, God! That should get me something!” God clearly says that his righteous verdict does not come from obtaining enough tickets. For by works of the law no human being will be justified. God’s Word Makes Us Sure that every effort fails to obtain God’s favor.
How does that make you feel? Probably not too comfortable. That’s the point. God crushes the heart so that you might cry out, ‘Oh no! Now what?’ Because God wants you (and me) to stop looking at our hearts. To stop looking at our faulty actions. To stop digging through our flawed thinking. God wants you (and me) to stop looking at you (and me).
When you cry out, ‘Oh no! Now what?’ do not look at your flawed word, look at God’s Word. God’s Word Makes Us Sure that every effort fails to obtain God’s favor. God’s Word Makes Us Sure that Jesus freely gives us God’s righteousness.
Listen again to verse 21: But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it… There it is! God’s ‘righteousness’— that precious announcement of innocence! Where does God tell you how to obtain it? He does not point at your opinions or feelings or wishes or expectations. God reveals his righteous verdict in the Bible.
There, in the Bible, God clearly says: [T]he righteousness of God [comes] through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. God sets his righteous verdict on you through faith. Think about that for a moment. That ‘faith’ (God speaks of) is ‘trust in Jesus as Savior.’ God the Holy Spirit put into your heart the conviction, the certainty that Jesus has completely satisfied God’s anger. That’s why you call Jesus ‘Savior.’ You did not save your life, you did not help even one bit. Jesus alone rescued you from consequences.
God wrote this down in the Bible for you to confront. For there is no distinction, all (you! me! the world!) have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and [you and I] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God declares you (and me) ‘not guilty’ in his sight free of charge. No strings attached. No repayment expected. God drops the charges against you.
You know that, but can you be sure? Is God really serious? That you owe nothing? Sounds too good to be true! It’s not! God’s not asking what you think about his actions, he is telling his actions. You see that God did not ignore your offenses, he actually punishes them. God put [Jesus] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. That word, ‘propitiation’ means: ‘atonement.’ God used Jesus to make you ‘at-one’ with God.
This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins… God did not sentence you (or me) or Adam and Eve, Noah, Moses, or anyone immediately to hell. Even though we fell short of reaching God’s high standard, even though we stood under God’s judgment, God patiently waited. Yes, he still held people accountable, but transferred the consequence from you (and me) onto Jesus. Because God is just. He cannot let evil go by unpunished. That would be unjust, corrupt. So, a just, fair God punishes Jesus for your failures (and mine). He holds Jesus accountable for our crimes. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Since Jesus made the payment for our crimes, God is fair to declare us ‘innocent,’ ‘not guilty.’ That means God justifies you— you who are still haunted by your harsh words and overbearing presence. God penalized Jesus for your past. That means God declares you ‘not guilty’ — you who still struggle keeping your life free from drunken nights, indecent thoughts, and drugs. God sentenced Jesus to death in your place. That means God declares you ‘innocent’— you who feel ashamed that you hurt mom, that you yelled at dad, that your greedy, grubby fingers love stuff more than loving to help people. God made Jesus suffer shame. Then, God raised Jesus on Easter because Jesus is more than enough to serve and complete our death-sentence! (Romans 4:25).
Dear friends, God’s Word Makes Us Sure that Jesus freely gives us God’s righteousness. This word does not come from my mind. It does not come from your opinion. It comes straight from the mouth of God. If Jesus wins for you what you could never merit, why look at yourself? If your past haunts you, if you feel so undeserving of heaven, if you are not sure if you will enter heaven, look to Jesus. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
Can you be sure? Well, how do you know if your spouse loves you? How do you know if your children love you (or your parents love you)? How do you know if your heart is healthy? How do you know what the weather will be like tomorrow? Do you wait for a disembodied voice to whisper in your ear: “Your spouse and children love you?” Do you sit on the edge of your hospital bed waiting for a warm sensation in your chest— a feeling confirming that your heart is indeed healthy? Will you drive home, hop out of your car, rake your yard, prune your bushes, trim the trees, supposing that your actions will produce a warm, sunny day tomorrow? Of course not! That would be absurd! When you want a sure answer, you look to a qualified source. You listen and understand the plain meaning of their words. You see actions reinforcing those words.
Your spouse and your children are qualified people to say: “I love you” and then show their love in their action. A heart specialist is qualified to read your heart tests and say: “You are healthy.” The meteorologist, who reads weather patterns for a living, can point at the picture of a sun over your city (on your television screen) and say: “It will be sunny tomorrow!” These qualified people can give you sure answers. They can give you assurance.
So, ‘Do you think you’re going to heaven?’ It really does not matter what ‘I think.’ It matters what God says. And God’s sure Word reveals his sure announcement: ‘You are forgiven!’ Chase away worry by grasping a sure Word. God’s Word Makes Us Sure that every effort fails to obtain God’s favor. God’s Word Makes Us Sure that Jesus freely gives us God’s righteousness.
He did not really know his dad. I mean, dad was home— in fact, he was home every single night. He mowed the lawn and trimmed hedges. He repaired leaks and fixed squeaks. He drove to soccer practices and ball games. His La-Z-Boy conformed perfectly to his body. Yes, dad was home— but dad did not talk much. He never talked about work. He taught batting techniques, but never really critiqued anything. He never screamed or cheered at the game on television; he just watched. He was a quiet man.
Yet, every night, right before bedtime, little eyes watched his dad scribble in a journal. Each day ink filled another page. Each week more pages were used. Each year a new journal was needed— until they were needed no more.
Hours after the funeral dinner, that son sunk into the form-fitted La-Z-Boy. A box packed full of faded, fuzzy-edged journals lay open. He grabbed one written long ago and started flipping through it. “May 19th: Joe remembered his batting technique and scored the game-winning double. I could not be any prouder of him.” “June 28th: Bought Joe another ice-cream cone after he dropped the first one. Made his tears stop.” “August 23rd: The heat makes roofing unbearable. But I press on for my family’s good.” He leafed through journal after journal, until he came to the last one. On the last page, written just a few weeks earlier, was this sentence: “When I reflect on years past, I thank God for the blessings of wife and children— all of whom I love very much.”
Decades of wondering came crumbling down. These journals, this written word, reveal love once unknown. This child has in print a clear, plain declaration of his father’s love. He can return to these words again and again and find concrete evidence his father loved him.
The written word makes the unknown known. That very fact abolishes fear. It obliterates nervous worry. It ends baseless ideas the human mind makes up. God does not leave you wondering about his love for you. The Bible Makes an Unknown Relationship Known. It tells of God reconciling you. It increases your grip on your future hope.
That makes the Bible important. From cover to cover are words that do not come from the opinions of men, but words God the Holy Spirit instructed men to write down (2 Peter 1:21). That means the Bible is God’s ‘journal.’ This contains his commands, his judgment, and his delight. Since you have this ‘journal’ you have insight into God’s expectation for you.
Yet, if you did not have the Bible, what would you have? A diseased, rotting faith— much like the faith of the Colossians. Remember the false beliefs polluting that congregation? A mixture of (1) Jewish and (2) pagan teachings. So, these Christians think God still requires Old Testament religious ceremonies and also concoct superstitious answers to the mystery of who God is and how God lives. This belief poisons them! It has actually led some to challenge the almighty, eternal power the Son of God has (read Colossians 1:15-20). These Christians downgrade Jesus from ‘Savior of the World’ to ‘Super Human Being.” If you treat Jesus as anything less than the Savior, you push away the payment he made for guilt. You start believing an idea not true.
That makes the Bible important. God is not sharing opinions; he reveals truth. He tells what he sees. In verse 21, he shares a very ugly, but very real, truth. You (that’s you and me) were alienated and hostile in mind, in your evil deeds. God makes clear: “You stood in this camp. You stood distant and far away. Just like a foreigner has a different culture than American culture, you had a different attitude than the attitude I expect.” That attitude? Evil! [T]he sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. [Since we are] controlled by the sinful nature, [we] cannot please God. (Romans 8:7). It’s impossible!
If you (and I) stand as alienated enemies of God, can we enter heaven without a Savior? No! Of course not! You know that; in fact, you confess: “I believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord.” You do not downgrade him… do you?
Well, what is your answer to this statement: ‘I am going to heaven because (fill in the blank).’ …“because I’m trying my hardest to be a good parent, a faithful church-goer, a good child”? …“because I am generous and giving”? …“because I’m better than criminals and sex offenders”? Did your answer contain that little word: ‘I’? Did the mental focus instantly shift to that little word: ‘I’? Are you going to heaven because you try? …or made a decision to believe in Jesus? …or because you are somewhat moral? Don’t you see what God clearly wrote in verse 21? You were alienated! You were saturated in evil! You could not, cannot, and can never approach God by you doing the action!
You see, like the Colossians, our minds can step off from the Bible. Yes, we have the Bible in our homes. We hear it in worship. We study it throughout the week. It sinks into our ears and hearts, but our sinful nature can blatantly ignore what God clearly reveals. The sinful nature wants to be sure it will enter heaven. So, you point to you instead of Jesus— and that happens because of doubt cannot trust that what God has spoken is truthful and reliable. That is a poisonous belief.
That makes the Bible important. The Bible Makes an Unknown Relationship Known. God reveals that you (and I) stand in an evil camp, but in verse 21 he says: You were formerly alienated… That is what you were. Past tense. Formerly. At one time. But today, right now, right here, this moment: different.
Why? How? He has now reconciled you… To ‘reconcile’ means ‘bringing two opposing parties together’ or ‘to end hostility.’ Here, Jesus is the subject. The subject performs the action. The action affects the object— and you are the object. Jesus (did the action of) reconciling (the object:) you.
See when that took place? That verb ‘reconcile’ is past tense too— meaning, the action was finished long ago. Long ago, God directed his hatred of evil against Jesus. He found our doubting in his Son. He glared at our arrogant-self-worship in his Son. God made Jesus into his enemy, targeted him with wrath, and destroyed him. Jesus has now reconciled you in his fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.
God removes the mystery of what he sees in you. The Bible Makes an Unknown Relationship Known. He puts it down in print so that you clearly know what he has done for you. You are presented: (1) Holy, that is, cleansed from moral filth. (2) Blameless: no shame lingers; no fault is seen, no motive for blackmailing. (3) Above reproach: no one can accuse you of evil before God. The relationship is clear: God has reconciled you. That changes your present and future. t increases your grip on your future hope.
Verses 26 and 27 explain how: The mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, [h]as now been manifested to His saints (The Bible reveals Jesus your Savior. You believe this. You are a saint, a ‘holy person.’) to [you] God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles [non-Jews] which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. So, what do you gain from the Word? Riches. Treasures. A fortune. God pours peace into your heart— peace that comes from sin forgiven. Shortly after our opening hymn, what do you hear? God, our heavenly Father, has been merciful to you. He has given Jesus, his Son, to be the atoning sacrifice for sin. Jesus ‘atones’—that is, Jesus makes you ‘at-one’ with God. Since you already stand at-one with God, you have no fear! No nagging guilt! No cringeworthy shame! God the Father says: “I see you holy, blameless, without reproach! This is what I see.” The Father’s love is clearly revealed in his journal, the Bible.
What joy! Your life is not chained to a set of rules and demands that will determine how much God loves you today. No! God has (1) already reconciled you. Therefore, (2) live as someone reconciled.
What does that look like? Well, if I go to your house, I do not open your refrigerator, grab a sandwich, sit down, and start eating. I am not welcome to take what is yours; your possessions do not belong to me. We do not have that close, open, confident relationship. (Usually you have that comfort with family and a close friend.) Now, if we have that close relationship, then I can walk into your house and raid your fridge without worry. We have this open, confident relationship.
So, God is ‘at-one’ with you. He harbors no anger, no grudges, no memory of wrong (Jeremiah 31:34). That means, you can read God’s promises and take them. Make them your own. Say: “This is what God is doing.” God will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways (Psalm 91:11). Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26). [C]all upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me (Psalm 50:15). Nothing in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:39). In my Father’s house are many rooms… I am preparing one for you (John 14:2-3). This all means, that when we tremble about our standing before God, when we feel unworthy or wonder if God hates us, we have somewhere certain to turn— and that somewhere is not you. The Bible Makes an Unknown Relationship Known. That increases your grip on your future hope.
For decades a son wondered of his father’s concern. Finally, he held in his hand the very thoughts of his father. These journals, this written word, revealed love once unknown. This child has in print a clear, plain declaration of his father’s love. He can return to these words again and again and find evidence his father loved him.
The written word makes the unknown known. That very fact abolishes fear. It obliterates nervous worry. It ends baseless ideas the human mind makes up. God never leaves you guessing about his love for you. The Bible Makes an Unknown Relationship Known. It tells of God reconciling you— which means, you have no reason to try to ‘woo’ God. Everything needed to turn God’s heart to you is done. What joy. What freedom for life! The Bible Makes an Unknown Relationship Known. It increases your grip on your future hope.
The fate of the free world depended on one man. Yes, one man. Supreme Commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower, planned ferrying over 350,000 Allied troops across the English Channel and onto the heavily armed beaches of Normandy. He needed a day. So, chief meteorologist, Captain James Stagg had one job: get the weather forecast right.
The margin for error was zero. Stormy seas would sink ships, swallow tanks, and drown thousands. Postpone the invasion and you give communist Russia a chance to control all Europe. Pass on calm weather and Nazi Germany would discover the invasion. Yet, selecting a day was difficult. In Michigan, we gage weather as it moves across the country; we see what approaches. To the west of the English Channel is nothing but open, unpredictable Atlantic Ocean; you had no records. On top of that, Eisenhower had already selected a date: June 5, 1944. Captain Stagg advised against it. So, Eisenhower faced a decision: trust your meteorologist or trust your own instincts? Who do you trust? (https://www.usatoday.com/amp/9914207)
In our day of redacted Mueller reports and exposed church abuse, it feels impossible to trust anyone. So many promises lie broken— and with them lie shattered dreams, deflated hope, and painful heartache. It just seems best to rely on yourself.
So, who do you trust? Easter gives us the only answer. The events of this day have changed the course of life forever. Because of Easter you find A Word that does as promised. A Word that gives life. So, Cheer Up! You have God’s Word!
That is where you find cheer. Look again at our gospel reading. Verse 1 says: [O]n the first day of the week, at early dawn, the [women] went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. It is Easter, but you discover a cheerless scene. Yes, the first Easter morning is a funeral procession. How could it not be? This group of women watched Jesus die! They saw him buried here! Inside this tomb lies a dear Friend, a beloved Teacher, a trusted Preacher. That is an unwanted reality. They cannot restart the heart. They cannot force the brain to function. They cannot make lungs breathe. Jesus is gone and they cannot fix it. They stand absolutely powerless to create cheer in life.
When they reach the tomb, they found the stone rolled away[,] but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus… How much worse can it get? The body is missing! Again, this unwanted reality just crushes them! They were not there to stop the robbers. They did not install security systems. They cannot investigate and hunt down the criminals. These women not only lack the power to raise the dead, but they also cannot control the one thing they could control: make final preparations! They cannot fix it! They cannot do what they want! They are powerless to find cheer in life.
While they were perplexed about this, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. [T]hey were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground… Now this! Two men— two angels— who live in heaven, who stand beside the Holy God, now have a message from the Almighty. How can you not tremble? Because whatever comes out of the mouth comes from God. That message may not be good— and the women would be completely powerless to stop what God will do.
That first Easter is loaded with strange emotions. Those women stand mortified, they are stressed, they are anxious for the exact same reason I so often am: Because I rely on myself!
Why the self-reliance? Because I know ‘me’ better than anyone else knows ‘me.’ ‘I’ know my weaknesses. ‘I’ know my goals. ‘I’ know my needs. No one else knows my desires better than ‘I’ do. No one else thinks about them more than ‘I’ do. Yes, the police officer protects me, but he’s watching over thousands of others. He cannot be everywhere at once. Yes, the teacher cares for me, but she has other students in the classroom. Yes, I know my family is there for me, but each one cares for his own needs first. So, I take it upon myself to find cheer in this life. If I trust myself, then maybe I will be satisfied. Except, like the women, I confront many insurmountable obstacles. I want to prevent sickness, but I cannot stop cancer from entering my body— and I cannot wish it away. I want peace in my family, but I cannot stop my sibling from ruining my plans; I cannot control personalities. I want to reach my goals and dreams, but I fall into addiction again, I stumble into old habits, I foil my own plans. Trusting myself does not bring the peace I so desperately crave.
Studying these women only reminds me of the purpose for Easter. This day happens because of us. Those women think self-reliance will help them. In reality, self-reliance caused their sadness. That is why Jesus came in the first place: because each one of us consider ourselves more reliable than a reliable God. In short, self-reliance calls God a liar. Now where does that self-reliance leave the women? The women stare at death and cannot fix it. I stare at death and realize I cannot stop my own grief, I cannot stop my own death, I cannot stand before the throne of God and live! Nothing I can do will erase that awful truth. What good self-reliance does!
Thank God he sends angels. Yes, angels. Messengers. If God never did this, then I would still be scratching my head at the empty tomb.
Do you realize where the angels point the women? To a promise God made. The angels said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” “Well, what did you see? You witnessed sinful men beat him. You saw him suffer and die. You watched him buried. Since everything happened as he said, what do you think will happen next?”
Can you see the light turn on? And they remembered his words… People make promises and break them, change them, forget them. God is not another person. God intentionally made a promise and God deliberately kept his promise. Just like that, fear gives way to joy, assumptions crumble, self-reliance vanishes; trust in the promises of God swells!
God did what he said he would do. He hung your (and my) self-reliance on Jesus and crushed it. He leaves him to die by wicked men. Leaves him to be crucified. Leaves him dead. Then, he raised him— body and soul, alive from the grave.
Dear friends, Cheer Up! You have God’s Word! Easter proves that God’s own Word does as promised. He not only makes promises, but keeps his Word—which means, God is completely reliable. Because of that, God’s Word gives you life.
Yes, life. The resurrection of Jesus is not just one single promise kept long ago. No, the resurrection carries some very long-term results. Imagine setting up a row of dominoes. Tap the first domino and it falls into another, which falls into another, and another and another, and so on. One domino causes many other dominoes to move.
Here, God raises Jesus to life. Sounds simple, except that centuries earlier God had promised to raise his Son (Psalm 16:10-11). On Easter, God reached down and raise this one Person to life. Therefore, this one Person is not just another man, but God’s promised Son! (Romans 1:4). One promise kept.
Remember, Jesus is God’s Son. Jesus hung on the cross— and God loaded him with my self-reliance and crushed him. He makes him pay my crime. Now, Jesus lives—again! The Bible says: Jesus died because of my sin and was raised to declare us ‘Not Guilty!” (Romans 4:25). That means God has accepted his payment on your behalf! That means Jesus removed condemnation. That means guilt no longer damns you. Another promise made and kept.
If Jesus wipes your spiritual record clean, it means God sees you as innocent— which means God kept another promise: Jesus destroyed the devil’s work (1 John 3:8). If the devil cannot convince God to lock you in hell, then it means you will not go to hell. Jesus keeps another promise! Because Jesus lives, you also will live (John 14:19). If you will live, then it means Jesus is keeping another promise: You will live in heaven! (John 14:2-3). Another promise falls complete: Because Jesus lives—no one holds authority over him, no one tells him what to do or how to behave (Exodus 15:1-11).
Do you see how Easter changes life? You live by the promises of God— because those promises are not empty wishes, but guarantees of what God will do next!
Those promises carry you through every situation. God promises life is not the end for the Christian; life continues in heaven! That means your loved one is not forever forgotten. No, she stands in the throne-room of God. He weeps and mourns no more! (Isaiah 65:19-20). Your body may not do the things it once did. You cannot build muscle, you cannot spark energy, you cannot stop cancer from spreading. Yet, your God promises: I am with you. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10). Regret may relentlessly shame you. You feel so unworthy to be around friends, parents, children, God. Yet, God points to Jesus and promises: Because he suffered your penalty, your lawless acts I remember no more (Hebrews 10:17). Where do you find peace like that? Never in yourself, but in the only One who does as promised.
A new day dawns Easter. A new day that reveals God is absolutely serious about saving you …about loving you …about being your strength. That removes self-reliance. That lifts you from stressful anxiety. That puts your trust in a God who never fails you. Cheer Up! You have God’s Word! A Word that gives you life.
A word like Captain Staggs’. Eisenhower selected June 5, 1944 for D-Day. Captain Stagg advised against it. So, who do you trust: your meteorologist or trust your own instincts?
Eisenhower could not see the future, but he trusted the word of his meteorologist. Sure enough, June 5th proved stormy. Waves chopped. Rain pelted. Winds whipped. The mission would have failed. Yet, June 6, 1944, brought the calm weather predicted. The Allies invaded, stormed Europe, and destroyed Nazi resistance. That victory brought new life throughout the world.
Easter brings new life for you. In our day of redacted Mueller reports and exposed church abuse, it may feel impossible to trust anyone. So many promises lie broken— and with them lie shattered dreams, deflated hope, and painful heartache. It may feel best to rely on yourself.
Yet, Easter reveals life! Life in heaven! Life lived with God on earth! Because of Easter you find A Word that does as promised. A Word that gives life. Yes, the events of Easter have changed the course of life forever. So, Cheer Up! You have God’s Word!
The fuel gauge in your car is not sharing an opinion. It reports the actual amount of gas in your tank. If your car carries an adequate supply of fuel, it reads ‘Full.’ If your car does not carry an adequate amount of fuel, it reads ‘Empty.’ Your gas gauge reports actual readings.
Now, you can choose to ignore those readings. You can run errands while the gas gauge flashes ‘Empty.’ You can refuse to accept the fact that your car needs attention. You can disagree when your gauge reads: ‘Empty.’ That’s fine— but the fuel gauge in your car is not sharing an opinion. Regardless of your thoughts on the matter, when the gauge reads ‘empty,’ your car will stop.
There are instances in life that do not seek your input. Rather, they convey a very real truth. When Jesus preaches and teaches, he is not seeking opinions. He preaches and teaches for the sole purpose of conveying a very real truth. Now, your heart can disregard his warnings, but Jesus makes one thing abundantly clear: Jesus Marches On in spite of rejection, to gather you under his forgiving wings.
That is why you find him where you do today. Jesus stands in present-day Jordan. He has already walked down the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36) and is forging ahead one last time into Jerusalem. Only the Jordan River separates him from reaching his destination.
This territory belongs to King Herod. At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” Maybe that’s true. After all, Herod did behead John the Baptist. Still, the Pharisees do hate Jesus that they may be making a veiled threat.
Whatever their motives, one thing is very clear: Jesus is not wanted. God sends John the Baptist to Herod with this message: “You committed adultery by divorcing your wife and stealing your brother’s wife. This is wrong” (Matthew 14:3-4). Understand, God does not offer a suggestion; this is his Sixth Commandment. Yet, Herod does not cherish this command. He refuses to obey it. In fact, he treats God’s command as an opinion. He throws John in prison. He continues living with this brother’s wife, thinking of his rebellion as no serious matter. God sends Jesus to the Pharisees with this message: “You appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness… First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean”” (Matthew 23:26-27). This is not an opinion; Jesus makes clear: if you reject the need for a Savior, you will die. The Pharisees do not want a Savior. They want a leader who fights the Romans. A leader who rekindles the national pride of Israel. A leader who rules with power, peace, and prosperity! So, they chase their wish instead of the truth.
That is the purpose for sending out the Word: to call back wandering hearts. God has been doing this for centuries. He sends steady streams of prophets armed with his Word. Jeremiah foretells destruction because of Judah’s unbelief, but Judah rejects Jeremiah. They do not want to hear the truth, let alone be confronted with it. Even the priests rage against the God they supposedly represent. If you read the rest of Jeremiah 26, you see God’s prophets slaughtered. The problem is not with God’s judgment; the problem is with their heart! You look at such treatment and Jeremiah is not to blame. John the Baptist is not to blame. Jesus is not to blame. Wicked hearts produce wicked actions!
The reason for preaching is not to kill, but to save. Not to take away life, but to save life! Jesus himself even laments this: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! If people do not want him, then he will let them have their wish. Jesus Marches On in spite of rejection.
That is an absolutely terrifying reality. God makes it abundantly clear that he is not accepting our opinions. He commands. Jesus does not ask if you appreciate marriage, he lays out a one-man and one-wife commitment until death. Jesus does not ask if worship can sneak into your busy schedule, he commands that you set aside time for worship. Jesus does not ask if you would enjoy respecting your authorities, he commands that you respect them. Jesus does not ask if that one sibling is worth your time, he commands that you purge all bitterness from the heart. God does not change his demand of obedience. It is God who demands you (and I) change to obey. If we do not, Jesus Marches On.
I wonder, how many think that they will enter heaven simply because they demand that God accept them? Humanity might feel that they have the authority to stand before their Maker and demand that he receive them into heaven for no other reason than they say so. And that God will have no other choice but to cave in and accept this plea.
When met with rejection, Jesus Marches On. Herod intimidates Jesus with death, the Pharisees threaten Jesus, and Jesus responds: Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal. Jesus will do as he pleases without interference. Nothing will hinder him from preaching the good news to both believer and nonbeliever. In fact, Jesus forces people to fall in line with his plans. [N]o prophet can die outside Jerusalem. Jesus’ time had not yet come (John 7:30, 13:31-33). Herod would not kill him in Jordan. The Pharisees would not stone him. Jesus would be crucified in Jerusalem. Nothing will stop those mouths from admitting: ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ Nothing. On Palm Sunday Jesus will ride into Jerusalem. People will shout, “Hosanna! Save us, son of David!” Everyone who rejected him as king on that day will forced to acknowledge him as the King he is on the Last Day.
Jesus Marches On in spite of rejection— and no one will stop him because Jesus Marches On to reach his goal of gathering you under his forgiving wings.
This is the reason for Christmas Day; this is the reason Jesus is born. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life… For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:14-15,17).
On that gloomy Friday Jesus would hang rejected. The Pharisees gloat that Jesus is leaving. The people shake their heads, mumbling: “What a fool.” Even God the Father pushes Jesus away like some foul filth. Understand, Jesus is rejected because we chose to reject him. This is what sin deserves: rejection. Yet, it is not you suffering God’s rejection; it is the only One who never rejected his Father. Even in suffering Jesus Marches On to his goal— the goal of gathering you under his forgiving wings. On the third day he reaches it.
Jesus’ resurrection declares that God still accepts Jesus, and that God now accepts us. You can be sure that God does love you, that God does forgive you. How? Well, God used baptism to choose you. This is what God’s Word says: [B]aptism […] now saves you also— not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus Marches On to the grave and into life in order to gather us under his forgiving wing.
That is where you rest now. You live under God’s care, and you always do because God rules your heart with his Word. For 47-years [Faith] 137-years [St. John] God has sent you an unbroken chain of Pastors. These men stand in front of you and proclaim: ‘This is God’s Word..’ Think about that for a moment. These men are not spewing out personal opinions about life or fabricate ideas about God. A prophet of God has no right to change the Word— and if he does, then God holds him accountable (Isaiah 8:20; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15; 2 John 10-11). A prophet must point to God’s Word and speak only the Word (Jeremiah 23:28).
Those Pastors are sent to you, to bring the Word to you. That may mean your Pastor addresses sin in life. He is not trying to look superior. He is not trying to ruin your day. He is not trying to control your life. Those would be ungodly reasons. Jeremiah does not preach destruction so that he might feel better about life. He preaches some very difficult words because so many strut down the wide road into hell. He speaks to turn back! That’s why your Pastor may say some very difficult words. Understand, he does it out of love. As a fellow Christian, receive those words in love.
That is why we (including me!) willingly receive correction when needed. We listen because these are not manmade words, but the Word that comes from your God. When sin is exposed, do not reject correction. Instead, cherish God’s Word. We forge commitment in marriage because the love God has for us compels us to love his command for marriage. We pray for leaders because the love God has for us compels us to love respecting leaders. We set worship as priority because the love God has for us compels us to love growing in our faith. As we keep the Word in our hearts, we remain gathered under the forgiving wings of the Savior.
The Word preserves life, just like a fuel gauge maintains a frustration-free life. Your gas gauge reports actual readings. If you choose to ignore those readings, then remember, you are not rejecting an opinion. You are rejecting the truth.
When Jesus preaches and teaches, he is not seeking opinions. Jesus Marches On in spite of rejection. When the heart considers this harsh, just remember: The greatest love that God could ever demonstrate is revealing an unbelieving heart so that people may see Jesus and live. That is why Jesus Marches On. He pushes past rejection to deal with your very real punishment. He pushes past rejection to complete his goal of gathering you under his wings. That makes you ready to shout: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! You will not fear. You will rejoice that your Jesus is marching for you.