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After seven years, on Sunday, August 16, 2020, Pastor Andrew Ewald held his final service at St. John Lutheran. He currently serves Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church of Mosinee, Wisconsin.
The sermon manuscript is not available at this time, but the sermon videos are. You may watch the most recent service on our YouTube page. Stay up to date with most recent messages by 'Subscribing' to our channel.
The phenomenon is called ‘The Cocktail Party Effect.’ Have you heard of it? Your brain has the ability to identify and comprehend a single voice from a large, noisy crowd. For example, somewhere in that jumbled tangle of arms and legs is a child that belongs to you. Your eyes strain to pick out some shape, some piece of clothing that clearly identifies your child, but you see nothing. Ears only pick up random shouts and yells and shrieks and screeches. Suddenly(!) you catch one voice that stands out from the rest. Eyes instantly zero in on that delightful sight: Your child! Empty baseball stadiums are pumping in a kind of ‘fan soundtrack.’ Catch a game on television and you hear fans chatter and mumble and cheer and boo. Among the obscure mishmash of noise one tinny voice rings out: ‘Hotdogs! Cooollosal hotdogs, herrah! Work captures your attention. With single-minded concentration, you prune flowers or measure the post, text your friend or scroll through Facebook. Yet, one voice breaks your trance: ‘Hey!’ You can be surrounded by commotion and still pick a single voice out of a crowd.
So, can you hear it? That one voice? Many call for your attention; many promise relief. You grapple with deadlines and battle stress. More statewide restrictions mean that more want your opinions. How your congregation handles a pandemic can stoke fear and nervousness and uncertainty. It may feel like you live in a sea of chaotic chatter, unsure of who to follow. Yet, one voice rises above the rest. A voice crying for your attention. A voice promising real relief. God Invites You to ‘Come!’ Receive real satisfaction. Find eternal life.
So, can you hear it? The cry? The invite? You stand right in a thick sea of commotion, right in the smack-dab middle of a bustling market. Tents and tables lining both sides of the street stretch on as far as the eye can see. Behind each table paces some excited merchant calling for you. Rhythmic jingles promise only good, beckoning you to come closer. Open hands pan over products, solutions for any trouble. A cheerful face desires your trust.
Out of the hundreds clamoring for you, one voice rings loud and clear: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” Come! Take the glass of ice-cold water. Let it satisfy your parched, sapped body on a sticky summer day. Come! Take the glass of fine wine. Let its full, rich depth captivate your senses. Come! Take the glass of creamy whole milk. Let its nutrients fill your belly and the fat tickle your emotions. Come! Take a seat at this endless banquet. Let no thought of cost (or fear of making a bad investment) keep you away. Come! Delight in this refreshing relief!
Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? That would be absurd, right? Who would buy something labeled ‘bread,’ when it really is not bread? Who would invest time with something that does not satisfy? Better still, how can you gain relief from something incapable of providing relief? You cannot.
Perhaps by now you realize that God is not describing a real marketplace filled with real food. Rather, these vivid pictures of food and how food benefits you pictures how only one Merchant can provide the relief wanted, the relief no one else can guarantee. That one Merchant is God.
That does not stop other voices from calling out for your attention, your trust, your heart. The voice of vacation offers to stomp out stress. Hit the water. Lounge around. Forget your schedule. Leave life’s problems behind! Except a getaway does not actually make stress vanish, does it? Heading up north does not make a virus go away; you will return home to restrictions. Vacation promises relief, but cannot give permanent relief.
The voice of a friend offers a better life if you just lay Scripture aside. ‘Just stop listening to your pastor,’ they say. If you are not happy, then …get the divorce! …yell at your parents! …insult your government! Except that advice does not actually make life happier, does it? Torching relationships does not remove the stress of dealing with difficult people. Friends may offer happiness, but cannot give peace.
Maybe the voice of ‘you’ offers rest. Panic about the coronavirus. Worry about your health. Get depressed about the future of your congregation. Obviously you are fully capable to handle all of life’s problems on your own. Except you can’t, can you? You may hope to control the future, but you lack that ability. That means, you cannot give yourself rest.
So many voices call for your attention, your trust, your heart and each voice will let you down. That’s why God calls their product: ‘Un-bread,’ ‘Un-satisfaction.’ As in, you want bread (that satisfies) and think you have it, but in reality you do not. You bought something not-authentic. If you make a loaf of cardboard part of your regular diet, you will not be nourished. You will stuff yourself with junk. You will starve. You will die! If you feast on words that do not line up with God’s Word, you will die.
Among the chatter of luxury and earthly opinion and personal ego, pay attention to the ‘Cocktail Party Effect.’ Hear one voice rise above the rest. Hear God Invite You to ‘Come!’ and receive real satisfaction. Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. What is it that delights the very depths of your soul? This: I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.
Do you like reminding others of the promises you have made to them? Sometimes we hope the listener forgot what we promised so that we do not have to go through the effort of keeping our word. Yet, God points to his promise and his seriousness in keeping his Word. Seven hundreds before Christmas, God promises Jesus. When the time comes, he sends the great Son of David.
The Twelve disciples hear his voice. Thousands dot the hillside and Jesus says, They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat (Matthew 14:16). They cannot! (And yes, they checked.) They all turn out their pockets, but find little money. They search for a feast, but come up with one lunch packed for a boy. Someone even takes the time to do the math; eight months’ wages could provide only a bite (Mark 6:37). What voice do the disciples hear? The little whisper that creeps up so often: ‘How can I solve my problem?’
While the Twelve are stuck on themselves, Jesus literally takes the problem into his own hands. With a blessing and a breaking, he feeds over 5,000 mouths. Yes, one miracle demonstrates how Jesus can meet our physical needs— but it also points out something else: Jesus has the same power to meet our spiritual needs.
On that Good Friday, his parched lips taste sour wine. Even more, his whipped body tastes the sourness of separation from God. God wrings out his innocent blood all over us and throws his lifeless clay into a tomb. And as God sees us, he does not see people feasting on un-bread; he sees people covered in Jesus. The Son of David so pleased God that God raised him from death. Now he reigns on a throne over all things.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander of the peoples. That witness is Jesus. He has a firsthand knowledge of the facts. You have peace with God. Put another way, God hands Jesus final authority. He has the final word. He speaks truth.
God Invites You to ‘Come!’ Come, receive real satisfaction for all of life. Listen to the one voice who lifts off guilt and sucks away the fear of death. Listen to the one voice who makes you right with God and calls you ‘favored.’ Come, find eternal life.
Understand that correctly. ‘Eternal’ life. That ‘eternal’ does not start when you die. ‘Eternal’ starts now. As in, you will walk from this life into paradise, just like you walk from an indoor building into the outdoor parking lot. Nothing changed. Life continued. You changed location. That means, eternal life has already started. Your God, with his Word, keeps you on that eternal path that leads from earth and into heaven.
He leads with his voice. Jesus blasts through the chatter of all the voices ringing out today. No, not because the tone is louder, but because his Words actually do what they say they will do. Just consider verse 5. Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations that do not know you will hasten to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor. Those words are written 700-years before the birth of Jesus and 2,700-years before today. Those ‘nations’ are you. People stream from all corners of the world, from all corners of Clare County and gather around one voice. (Hint: That voice is not mine.) You run to feast on promises God has made and kept.
That voice gives life. Life— a meaning to live, a purpose for life. Sometimes that voice cuts the heart. Worried about your health? Do not worry (Matthew 6:25-34). Angry about leadership? Well, pray for them, including the ones that wrong you (1 Timothy 2:1). Depressed about the future of your congregation? Remember that Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, not the face in the pulpit (1 Peter 5:4). Your Jesus, with his Word, steadies unsure hearts. He provides relief by directly telling you: ‘You cannot handle all these things. You do not have that ability, but I do. Hear what I am doing. Let me worry about holding people accountable or providing a new Pastor. Live at ease. I will do what I say I will do.’
That one voice still rises above the commotion so that we can always hear it. When crisis strikes: ‘Come!’ Immediately trust that your God is with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). When the future remains unclear: ‘Come!’ Remember that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and always (Hebrews 13:8).When you have a crummy day: ‘Come’ Cast your anxiety on him (1 Peter 5:7). God Invites You to ‘Come!’ into his Word. There you find eternal life.
Many call for your attention; so many promise relief. You grapple with deadlines and battle stress. More statewide restrictions mean that more want your opinions. How your congregation handles a pandemic can stoke fear, nervousness, and uncertainty. It may feel like you live in a sea of chaotic chatter, unsure of who to follow. Yet, one voice rises above the rest. A voice crying for your attention. A voice promising real relief. God Invites You to ‘Come!’ Receive real satisfaction. Find eternal life.
‘You can’t see the forest for the trees.’ That familiar phrase describes getting so absorbed in the present that you lose sight of the big picture. The third-grader concentrates sketching the perfect percentage sign that she fails to learn how to convert decimals into percentages. He wants a Hawaiian vacation, but does not select trip dates because he’s too fixated on which airport to depart. The house lies in shambles during a renovation. Instead of envisioning the new cabinetry and hardware, the new hardwood and carpet, her attention is entirely consumed by a bathroom paint color. ‘You can’t see the forest for the trees.’ You are too absorbed in the present that you lose sight of a bigger picture.
In Romans chapter eight, God reveals the big picture. Actually, God steps outside the realm of time and into eternity. He unveils his eternal plan and how you fit into that plan. Do you see it? Can you see the forest for the trees?
Take a step back from the obstacles you confront today or the suffering you face tomorrow. Lay aside (for a moment) the pain you feel from loss or the sting from a relationship. Turn down the political drama ringing in your ears or the stress whispering in your mind. See the forest for the trees. See how All Things Work for Our Good! God chose us to be his. God executes his unbreakable plan.
Listen again to Romans chapter eight, verse 28. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. ‘All things,’ God says, ‘work for good’— and when God says ‘all,’ he means ‘all.’ No exceptions. No limitations. He does not say, ‘Well, dementia is too hard for me to handle’ or ‘Eh, your friend-break-up is not covered.’ No, God makes clear that the events throughout the daytime and what happens at nighttime, from the food you eat to the clothes you wear, from brushing your teeth to the next breath you take, all of it falls under his care. All things work together for good.
Do you believe that? In this life you (and I) deal with situations that are not always pleasant. Your loved one died and it still hurts. No matter how much time passes the memories just keep popping up. The gun on the wall brings you back to a hunting trip. A leaky faucet reminds you how he could fix anything. The chair sit in the living room, but he is not coming in and sitting down. The urn on the mantle proves it. The tombstone at the cemetery tells you that. It hurts! You wish they were back! You wonder, ‘Why, God? Why did you take him at such a young age? Why did she have that terrible cancer? Why couldn’t you have stopped the accident? God, do you care how this affects me?’
Surgery is scheduled. In a few days the heart specialist will replace your failing aortic valve. Afterwards you will be able to walk better and longer and farther; you will feel less tired. Still, one issue just keeps nagging you: Aortic valve replacement is a significant surgery for someone your age. What if recovery takes months, not weeks? What if you never fully recover? What if you do not survive surgery?
The coronavirus still devours the globe like a wildfire. It seems like every day spits out more negative news. Scientists reveal a new way for the virus to spread. Research suggests that once sick, you can sick again. Specialists predict more infection, a longer virus-season, and more death. Leaders debate nonstop about the benefit in reopening or restricting. In some ways it feels like you’re stuck in a nightmare or an episode of the Twilight Zone that will never end. You wonder, ‘God, can’t you stop this virus? God, can’t you calm the negativity? Can’t you just let everything to go back to normal now?’
After seven steady years, the next month will bring change. A familiar face who brought God’s Word to you at church and a classroom, your hospital bed and dining room table, the one who celebrated your wedding or comforted you at a funeral, the one who helped you through a difficult moment is leaving. Now what? Who will serve you next? Will you like the pastor who comes next? What if a new pastor never comes?
All Things Work for Our Good? If that’s the case, then why you don’t feel it (emotionally)? If that’s the case, then why doesn’t the situation prove it?
It can be difficult to see the forest for the trees. That’s why God makes it a point to tell you the things you need to know. He chose us to be his.
With one verse God yanks you (and me) out from a know-it-all self-pity. With one verse he gently redirects us in sorrow. With one verse God brings comfort to weary hearts. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. ‘All things work for good,’ but God does not address every single person in the world. He narrows down the audience to ‘those who love God.’
That’s you. Keep staring at the big picture. You did not choose to love God first. You did not try your hardest to live a good life and God now says, ‘I love you.’ Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Instead, we love because God first loved us! (1 John 4:19). Another way of saying that is: God made us lovers of God! He unloaded our short-sightedness and needless worry. He took off our sadness and mourning and saddled Jesus with it all. He watched as Jesus buried all our afflictions under his blameless life.
How do you know that what Jesus did on the cross is yours personally? Because God says this: All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:27). Baptism has made you a lover of God. All Things Work for Our Good because God chose us to be his.
God sees to it with his unbreakable plan. Listen to verse 29: For those God foreknew he also predestined… God knows all things and he knew you would be here, listening with a heart full of faith. In fact, God made sure of it. That word ‘predestined’ pictures putting a boundary around someone (like putting a fence in the backyard to keep your children yours). God has put a boundary around you for you to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. God has already cleansed you spiritually. Right now, he sees you in the likeness of Jesus. Innocent. Blameless. Without fault.
Some days we soil that likeness, but a gracious God washes away filth. One day, that unblemished likeness will be on full display because you will be in paradise. You will stand with Jesus, the firstborn— the One who makes heaven possible! He will stand with you, along with many other believers.
You can be absolutely certain of this— because God’s work is all interconnected. 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 an unstoppable reaction.
In verse 30, God knocks over the very first domino in a line of dominoes. And those he predestined, he also called… God put a boundary around you, but how did God call you to faith? A phone? A disembodied voice whispering in your ear? A warm, fuzzy feeling inside? No! The Bible spells out everything Jesus has done to save you. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:16-17). That good news hit your ears and penetrated your heart. At God’s right time, the Holy Spirit gave you faith to believe Jesus is your Lord and Savior.
[And] those he called, he also justified… That word ‘justify’ means to ‘declare someone not guilty.’ A ‘justifiable homicide’ means that you face no charges in a self-defense shooting death. If God ‘justifies’ you, it means that he declares you innocent.
And so you are! The instant God called you to faith is the moment he dropped all charges against you personally. You can stare at death without fear; you will not go to hell. You stand innocent!
[And] those he justified, he also glorified. Did you notice that verb ‘glorified’? It is past tense meaning, this is something God has already done. Do you feel glorious? …wrapped in sheer perfection? …holding high honor as God’s child? We are not in heaven yet— but God considers it as good as done.
So, he tells you what’s coming. You will stand wrapped in the splendor of Christ, in a place without tears or sorrow or sadness or mourning or heartache or pain (Revelation 7:15-17). Make no question about it! The moment God marked you off, the dominoes fell right in line. God executes his unbreakable plan.
Take a step back from the obstacles you confront today or the suffering you face tomorrow. Lay aside (for a moment) the pain you feel from loss or the sting from a relationship. Turn down the political drama ringing in your ears or the stress whispering in your mind. Do not miss the forest for the trees.
God reveals his start and your end. What we do not know is everything in the middle—what surprises pop up and how it affects us. Yet, here is one thing we do know: All Things Work for Our Good.
God will see fit that even the challenges faced in life only increase our reliance on him. A virus? Well, has it taught you to reprioritize? Did you carry such a busy schedule that you did not always have time to be a [grand]parent? Did you think you could control every single event? When stuff leaves, it redirects you to rely on God and thank him for what you have. Surgery? What if you die? Well, where would you be? With your loving God, just as he planned. What if he dies? Well, what does God promise? That he is with God, just as planned— and you will be too at the right time. Knowing the future brings comfort to a sad heart. Change? What will church be like? It will still have God’s Word and you will still hear it. It will still remind you that the messenger is not more important than the message. You will still see Jesus the Savior.
Do not miss the forest for the trees. Instead see God’s plan unveiled for you. All Things Work for Our Good! God chose us to be his. God executes his unbreakable plan.
What do you do? You stand at field’s edge, looking out across amber waves swaying gently in the wind, knowing that the yellow-greenish kernels are almost plump and ripe enough for harvest. You feel this sense of satisfaction well up inside.
Yet, something grabs your attention. Something impossible to ignore. Something not so satisfying. Sewn into the landscape is a patchwork of absolutely inedible, non-nutritious tares. Worthless weeds! Their slender, grassy stalks blend right into the wheat. All season long both wheat and weed grow side-by-side, straining upwards green-inch by green-inch, promising a rich harvest— that is, until the head [of the crop] formed. Now both ‘pleasing’ and ‘unpleasing’ remain planted together soaking in the final useful days before harvest. So, what do you do?
You planted good seed; you want good results. Blotches of green weeds is not only an unpleasant sight, but weeds steal valuable space and soak up precious resources. They choke the wheat and stunt the growth. That’s why today’s farmers spray and gardeners weed. You want the trouble removed.
So, what the servant ask really sounds quite logical: ‘Do you want us to go and pull them [the weeds] up?’ Without trouble life could flourish! Life could thrive! And wouldn’t you welcome that?
In a world where ungodly influences creep up and press your faith and strangle your joy, our Good Master gives this encouragement: Live as Wheat among Weeds as you remain in the world together and as you await the final harvest.
Jesus’ parable paints a pretty straightforward picture. You envision a field. Good wheat seed planted. An enemy scatters useless weeds. Both wheat and weed grow so intertwined that it is near impossible plucking out weeds without pulling up wheat. So, wait until the sickle strikes and then separate the two (Matthew 13:24-30).
Yet, parables— these earthly tales— always have a spiritual point. This time Jesus is not describing how the Word sprouts faith just like seed sprouts crops (read Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23). No, in this parable the characters are different. The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. ‘Sons (that includes women too) of the kingdom’ are believers. You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:26-27). Baptism puts the ‘good’ life of Jesus on you. And now God Almighty peers down from his holy throne and he sees ‘good’— not because you try hard to live a moral life, but because he finds Jesus covering you. That means, you (and I) and every believer across this planet are the wheat.
The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The devil wants nothing good to grow in God’s world. He scatters sneaky temptations in the hopes of luring people to follow ego instead of Scripture— and he succeeds! Look around and you can clearly recognize some weeds. The neighbor who proudly claims no need for God. Groups that specifically target (or persecute) Christianity. Those who deliberately lay aside God’s ‘right’ for humanity’s ‘wrong.’ At other times, weedy hearts blend into the world and you do not know who is or is not Christian. So, what do you do?
That’s really the question this parable is asking, isn’t it? How do you, the Christian, operate in world that is not entirely Christian? The Crusaders of 1096AD waged war against the un-Christian. The Spanish Inquisition of 1478AD exposed and executed the godless. The Temperance Movement of 1920AD tried forcing the drunk to live more Christian-like by passing laws (like Prohibition). Yet, what does your Master command? (After all, that’s really who we obey, right?) He says, Let both grow together.
The point of the parable is not to exterminate the ungodly or complain that this world is so un-Christian. Actually, the parable is so much about others, it’s about you. The Master gives you a command. ‘Let both grow together.’ As for you, Live as Wheat among Weeds.
So, do you? A gentleman interested in joining a local congregation pulled the Pastor aside after service one Sunday. He motioned towards another family standing near the coat rack. ‘Pastor, I know Ted and Diane over there from the little league games I coach. By the way they act at games, I had no idea that they even went to church.’
Do your words and actions clearly identify you as wheat? Does your mouth praise God here only to spew out lewd jokes and curses at the store? Did a quick temper rain down wrath on your own family? And while maybe a weakness, are you still nursing that grudge? … withholding forgiveness from those who wronged you? … refusing to admit fault, that you caused the pain? Do you point out sin— not in the hope to correct it, but stroke your own ego? What do your Facebook (or restaurant-table) comments reveal about your respect for God’s governing authorities? Can I tell that you pray for your leaders? Or, would I find only criticism? Do you think [inside] that some do not deserve the good news of Jesus because of their welfare status? …their skin color? …their political views? …the cause they protest? Do you Live as Wheat among Weeds?
Maybe it is good that the Master is patient. Maybe it is good that he does not immediately pluck out weeds because what he finds in our own hearts is not always pleasing, is it? Instead of living as God-pleasing wheat, we can allow un-Christian weeds to take root.
Instead, your God is patient and wants no one to perish (1 Timothy 2:4). He makes that crystal clear as he takes the perfectly ‘good’ life of his own Son and throws it into the fiery torments reserved for sin. The Master takes all weedy spots in us— our impatience with ungodliness, our less-than-wheat-like behavior— and removes them all.
Your God has cures every soul-destroying disease and fungus so that you (and I) may thrive as wheat in God’s field of the world! After all, isn’t that who you are in this parable? God has made you wheat at your baptism. He nourishes you with his Word of forgiveness and strength so that you may live as God-pleasing. So, his encouragement is natural: Live as Wheat among Weeds as you remain in the world together. Let your life have an influence on the ungodly in because a day is coming— a day when weed and wheat will be separated. Live as Wheat among Weeds as you await the final harvest.
Jesus stresses that, doesn’t he? ‘The harvest is coming!’ Jesus uses 54 words in the original Greek (61 in our English reading) to describe the end of weeds. As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. By comparison, only 13 words (in the original Greek; 14 in the English reading) explain the wheat harvest. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
Yes, you see evil— and Jesus does too. It might seem like the wicked thrive right alongside the wheat, but that time will reach an end. The know-it-alls who make up fantasies about God, the arrogant who proudly exchange Scripture for ego, the careless who allow the trappings of the world to choke out faith will be thrown into hell. Weeping and agony will continue for all eternity; it never ends.
There’s no secret about it; Jesus reveals what he will do! For the weedy, this serves as a warning. For the wheat, this provides assurance. You, the believing wheat he has made you to be, are gathered into heaven’s storeroom forever!
Yet, let’s not fixate only on the ending. Look at what you are now. You are wheat [now] living among weeds [now]. That realization drives us to repentance.
That seems like a strange to start. Repent? Admit fault? Yes, compare your life to God’s Ten Commandments. Where you stray, you admit that you strayed, but you also hear God’s pardon. Repentance involves two parts: (1) Confess wrong and (2) Hear God turn you right.
Hear God lay out marriage as one man and one woman bound together in his presence (Genesis 2:24). As God’s ‘right’ sinks into your heart, let your marriage radiate joy in a world that considers marriage painful. If you’re not married yet, but are considering commitment, then work towards marriage as God desires. Or, let us encourage couples towards marriage.
Hear God say, ‘I forgive you’ (John 20:19-23). Let that forgiveness fuel you to forgive, just as in Christ, God forgave you (Ephesians 4:32). Even if that means approaching your child and saying, ‘I am sorry that I lost my temper.’ Even if that means approaching someone younger than you and saying, ‘I am sorry that I treated you harshly.’ Even if that means biting your tongue and saying, ‘Spouse, I am sorry for arguing.’ Let God’s free pardon motivate your free pardon.
Hear God say, ‘The authorities that exist have been established by me’ (Romans 13:1). If you feel that politics is filled with disrespect, then be the one who shows respect. Make clear to your circle of friends that you pray for your leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Carefully choose what you ‘share’ on Facebook, steer away from posting slander. Give thanks to God for the country in which you live. Do you think that will stand out? You are not wheat meant to blend in with weedy lifestyles. You are the wheat meant to live as wheat!
That proves a blessing to those who need encouragement. Like the Christian spouse who struggles to make worship a priority. Like the daughter who claims to believe in God, but feels no reason to obey God when he says, ‘Come, worship me’ (Psalm 122:1; Hebrews 10:25). Like the neighbor who considers Christians no better than non-Christians. Live as Wheat among Weeds so that the world finds Jesus through you. That gives us plenty of work as we await the final harvest.
What do you do? You stand at field’s edge, staring out across a landscape where both ‘pleasing’ and ‘unpleasing’ are planted together soaking in the final useful days before harvest. Those wicked blotches only steal valuable space and soak up precious resources. Ungodliness chokes out godly living and presses faith. Life may feel better if we just remove all un-Christian influences.
Yet our Good Master gives encouragement to reveal your identity and to make clear your purpose now: Live as Wheat among Weeds as you remain in the world together and as you await the final harvest.
I’m not sure if life could have gotten any worse for Paul Gerhardt. The enemy encircling his hometown promised retreat in exchange for a small fortune. When the townspeople handed the money over, the army still set fire to hundreds of buildings anyways— including Gerhardt’s house. Later that same year, plague swept through his village, leaving over three hundred dead. Somehow Gerhardt still managed to graduate from the seminary, but received no parish. For fifteen years he scraped by as a tutor and hymn-writer. When he did receive his first Call, he was quickly fired because he refused to preach state-ordered false teaching. During unemployment, his wife died. Four of his five children died, leaving him a poor single father with a six-year-old son. Life promised more when he was assigned to a new church— but this calloused, overbearing congregation treated him harshly for the next seven years until he died. I’m really not sure if life could have gotten any worse for Paul Gerhardt.
That’s how life is often viewed, isn’t it? It’s as though a scale hangs inside the heart and we place items on both ends in order to determine their value (or, importance). You sit stuck in traffic, but the other lane is moving. So, you weigh the question: Do I have time to wait or should I switch lanes in the hope of moving ahead? You ache inside. So, you weigh the question: Is this pain worth a doctor-bill or can I treat myself? Your phone pings and you weigh the question: Is the time spent with friends more valuable than resting at home? This one life encounters a myriad of quandaries, leaving you (and I) to weigh what might be the best choice forward.
In most cases, decisions come easy (or, without serious consequence). Yet, when suffering appears, you feel a real tension inside: Is it worth suffering with Christ?
Before you reach an answer, our reading has a question for you: Are Your Expectations of Christ Balanced?
On one end of the scale we find our connection to Christ. Romans chapter eight makes it abundantly clear. God made Jesus our sin offering and condemned him in our place. No longer do you (and I) stand condemned to death in hell. Instead, we are set free! The Holy Spirit has swung open the cell door and led you (and I) out by the hand and into the camp of God. Resting on that scale sits your new identity: Child of God. Heir of eternal life. Co-heir of heaven (Read Romans 8:1-17).
With those titles still ringing in the ears, you hear this: I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Would you agree?
You see what hangs on the other side of the scale. ‘Suffering’— a heaping pile of real, legitimate suffering. Struggling stock markets, stale social security checks, and a fragile economy stokes stress over if you will have enough. Your relationship strains as communication keeps breaking down. The mere flashback of the casket (or urn) front and center in church still brings tears. Christianity shrinking in America means an increase of un-Christian laws and conversations and topics.
But it’s not necessarily these kinds of suffering that hurt, is it? After all, everyone in the world confronts discouragement and decay and disease and death; you are not alone. No, what makes suffering more painful is the fact that so often suffering comes because of your connection to God!
You stand up for what God’s calls ‘right’ and you suffer consequences. Cancer continues its unstoppable spread despite your many prayers. You do not participate with a corrupt boss, but it is you who loses the job while he still makes money. You stand firm on God’s design for marriage, but your beloved child cuts off communication. You make clear trust in God, but the friend treats you like an idiot. You invite the neighbor to worship, but he just laughs. You obey God, but he does not rescue you. You obey God, but the world still hates you. You obey God, but life does not suddenly become carefree without any inkling trace of trouble.
You feel that balance-scale teetering in the heart. ‘Christ’ sits on one end and ‘suffering’ on the other. You are left weighing: Is it worth suffering with Jesus, or is it better to throw him in the dust and move on without his Word ruling your life? The reason why such a thought could even come up in the first place is because our sinful heart thinks that Christ should reward us for following him.
Might our expectations actually contribute to suffering? I mean, you do realize that God never shies away from the reality that you (and I) can suffer as Christians, right? After all, our reading made it pretty clear: I consider that our present sufferings… those unpleasantries exist! And why? [T]he creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
Death and decay were never part of God’s intentions; life and immortality were! Yet, Adam and Eve shattered the one simple command God gave: ‘Do not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.’ As a result, sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned (Romans 5:12). Why do hurricanes rip into cities and floods wash away towns? Why do water levels rise and why does water dry up? Why do people oppose Christianity? Why do bodies get sick and break down? Not because God left us! But because sin festers in this world! And a consequence, a wage of that sin is death! (Romans 6:23)
Have you weighed that? Are Your Expectations of Christ Balanced? If we overlook the existence of sin in this world, if we forget to take into account that sin affects all creation, if we fail to grasp that sin without Christ brings death, then we will fail to see what Christ has accomplished for us.
Jesus does not sit at one end of the scale, unwilling to touch the sufferings in this world. Instead, he came into the world and neutralized them one by one. If we think that God has no idea what suffering is, then look at the cross. See the One who shouldered the load of hell itself so that you will never know what it’s like to suffer eternally. See the One who snapped the neck of death itself so that you will never die eternally. See the One who stomped on Satan’s filthy head so that he could silence those slimy lies eternally.
Christ now sits at one end of the scale, but how overwhelming he is! Able to raise every believer— including your cremated husband and your wife who died from cancer. Able to swallow up guilt so that God finds no spot on you. Able to bring all things to a close by his own powerful might and authority.
When you weigh suffering, Are Your Expectations of Christ Balanced? Weigh the cause for discouragement. See Christ conquer that cause, that sin. Persevere in this life with patient eagerness.
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. ‘Nature’ is pictured as a spectator standing in the crowd outside the Doherty Hotel during the [Clare’s] St. Patty’s parade. She strains her neck and stands on her tip-toes to see— not floats— but you wrapped in God’s glory.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. A woman in labor is usually not smiling. There’s usually shouting and yelling and sweating and pain. But then!— you hear a baby cry and pain suddenly transforms into joy! In childbirth things go from ‘bad’ to ‘better,’ not ‘bad’ to ‘worse.’
Even in creation, you see ‘bad’ knowing there is ‘better.’ Drought and famine is not perfect. Viruses and tumors are not perfect. Down trees and contaminated lakes is not perfect. Diseased deer and invasive species is not perfect. You see these things— but do not dwell on them. Let them be powerful reminders that God will bring all things from ‘bad’ to ‘perfect!’
Not only does creation yearn for Jesus to return, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. Because you know what’s coming. You have the firstfruits of the Spirit. The Israelite gladly gave the very first cuttings of his harvest as an offering to God. He did not worry that he gave too much or go without later. Instead, he gave in the confidence that God would provide more. A pastor put it this way: ‘The firstfruit offering was a pledge, a token, God’s down payment, assuring that God would give them the rest of the harvest also’ (from The People’s Bible: Romans, 136).
God has deposited the Holy Spirit in you when you were baptized. Holy Scripture clearly says: Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Your baptism is God’s pledge of more to come. You will be wrapped in glory, in pure splendid greatness, forever.
There’s no question about it. God has already adopted you. Jesus signed the legal papers with his blood. The Father has put his seal of approval on that document. And now, God leaves the office and walks down the hallway. We patiently sit in the cafeteria, waiting for his appearing. Because soon the unseen promised will be reality seen.
For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. Patience is difficult— especially today. High-speed internet and on-demand streaming teach us to expect things now. Medicines and hospital offers to remove discomfort now. Cell phones and text messages demand instant response. Our own two feet can take us away from a toxic situation. We live in a world of ‘quick-fix’ solutions to the troubles we face, but God’s many promises in the Bible set our sights on the best yet to come. Not only do unseen promises encourage us, but the actions God has already done prove his seriousness in keeping his Word.
God’s Word anchored Paul Gerhardt through life. I’m really not sure if life could have gotten any worse. What I do know is that Paul Gerhardt wrote some of the most prolific hymns perfectly tying together the Christian’s hope in the face of suffering. Hymns like “Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me,” “Jesus, Your Boundless Love to Me,” and “Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow” sound so strange given what you know about his life. For a man who lost so much he makes clear that he really lost nothing.
Christ dying and rising again has so overwhelmed all suffering that your future is only one of glory. You may be experiencing suffering now. Yet, God’s Word lifts your eyes to what lies ahead and assures you of victory even this present suffering.
Are Your Expectations of Christ Balanced? Weigh the cause for discouragement. Persevere with patient eagerness.
It might just be the most heart-wrenching, eye-drooping, shoulder-slumping, stomach-groaning, head-dropping thing someone you love can ever say: ‘But you promised!’
Ah! You did! But you forgot! And now you are too swamped to make good on your word. With the grocery shopping done you bee line home so that you can get the ice cream into the freezer before it melts and dinner on the table before bed. ‘But mom, you promised we would go swimming!’ You have only a few hours left to get the freshly sharpened blade on the chainsaw and clear those dead trees before the sun sets and the monsoon rains roll in. ‘But dad, you promised that we would play catch!’ You sink right into the La-Z-Boy at the end of another exhausting day. Just as silence sets in, you discover a very annoyed-looking spouse standing in the doorway. ‘But you promised a night out!’
So many promises made! So many promises not kept! So, those words ‘I promise,’ can kind of fall to the ground and slide right out the door because you cannot rely on people. A promise may seem to offer no guarantee and, as a result, no rest.
Perhaps that’s what you crave at this moment: Rest. When exasperated over racial tensions and 2020 elections, when edgy about health and stressed about your future, when so much makes so little sense, The Lord Gives You Rest by speaking a Word of promise and by keeping a Word of promise.
In listening to Moses this morning, you find that’s what he really wants— rest! Moses has just spent forty days on Mount Sinai. There, God hands him commands that carve out Old Testament Israel as unique, special, set apart from all other nations. When others see Israel, they would know beyond doubt that this people belong to God. So, how heart-wrenching, eye-drooping, shoulder-slumping, stomach-groaning, head-dropping to watch the Israelites now. In the short span of forty days, the high priest crafted a knobby-kneed, feeble cow-calf out of gold. He urges and encourages a worship service for this new god. The celebration quickly spirals so out of control that this people— remember, set apart for God(!)— sink into a raging orgy (Exodus 32:1-8). This mess gives no rest. Instead, it brings some very well-deserved consequences. About three thousand are put to death for their calloused unbelief (32:27-29). The remainder suffer a plague (32:35). The worst consequence is what God says next: Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey, but I will not go with you (33:3).
Can you just feel the blood drain? No longer will God be visibly, physically present. No more leading as a pillar of cloud by day, no more presence of fire at night. No more purifying bitter water with a finger or wiping away enemies with a hand. No more sitting at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, where Moses could listen and ask. From this point forward Moses would lead millions alone. Developing his own war strategies. Relying on his own wisdom. Hoping for the best. No rest. Just stress and anxiety and burden and fear.
Know the feeling? How come [do you know it]? Why is it that we long for peaceful rest in the first place? You battle anxiety because that one person is going to show up at the Fourth of July get-together. You feel overwhelmed by the phone-call that shared some very life-changing news, almost too much think through at one time. The blood-pressure rises when that Facebook post pops up or when the television camera pans the scene of protests or when listening to the other side talk. Fear ripples through the body when holding that college letter or the monthly bill. Blood boils the instant you discover how someone exploited and abused your trust. What is it that robs us of the restful peace we so desperately crave? Well, what prevented the Lord from leading Moses and the Israelites into the Promised Land? It is the proud, stubborn refusal to admit that the Lord is most worthy of praise. Simply put, it’s sin!
Yes, we can point finger at the crooked criminal, the stubborn sibling, the proud parent, the arrogant arguer who trounce all over God’s commandments and unleash torrents of pain on us. Yet, it’s not just others who bring unrest into life, is it? We carry that same sin-infested heart that also trounces over a holy God.
Do you see that? You (and I) can easily identify how worldly troubles impact us, and yet those worldly troubles are just symptoms of a much deeper problem. The sinful heart within us is hostile to God (Romans 8:7).It does not listen to him. It does not want to pray in trouble. It does not want to love our enemies. It does not want to forgive those who wrong us. It does not want to trust in God’s protection and wisdom. The sinful heart within wants to treat God like another flawed human being who makes a bunch of promises with no intention of actually keeping them. As a result, that sinful heart declares independence from its Maker. It claims that you can handle all of life’s problems on your own because you are just as powerful and perfect as God. The reason we stress out and get anxious and frustrated and cheat and manipulate— the reason we do these things is because we are not God. If that proud, self-reliant attitude rules our heart, then we will never have eternal rest.
Moses could have tried leading millions by his own wit and wisdom, but he would have failed. That’s why Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.” When so much makes so little sense, where does Moses turn? To the Lord
He even uses that heart-wrenching, eye-drooping, shoulder-slumping, stomach-groaning, head-dropping thing loved ones say. ‘But God, you said!’ Understand God did not forget his promise to remain with Moses and lead Israel into a new land. Instead, Moses takes hold of God’s own Word and holds him to it! He knows God cannot break a promise. By just speaking a Word of promise, The Lord Gives Moses Rest.
There is no question as to what God will do. In fact, the Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest… I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” Why does God do the very things Moses asks? Maybe we point at those words: I am pleased with you and I know you by name. It sounds like Moses behaved so well that God has no choice but to bless him— but that’s not true. God does not respond only when you work hard enough. God does not rescue you because of good behavior. God does not answer because you sweet-talk him. God answers because he is pleased with Moses. Put another way, God in rich, undeserved love delights to give Moses his promise.
If I printed out this selection from Exodus for you, you would see the ‘Lord’ spelled in all capitals. I’ve said it before, that spelling is not a typo; it’s intentional. The ‘Lord’ in all capitals tells you two things about your God. He is (1) serious to punish and (2) even more serious to forgive (Exodus 34:6-7). That becomes crystal-clear in Jesus.
Your Lord not only speaks a word of promise, but he actually keeps his word of promise. He is so serious to put an end to the unrest caused by sin that he puts his one and only Son into your world. Your Jesus lets God’s undeserved love lift him above sibling rivalry and family squabbling. Your Jesus lets God’s mighty power steady his heart in the midst of tragedy and death. Your Jesus lets God’s providing remove any worry for clothing and food. In all the things that cause us stress, Jesus relies on God’s perfect commands so that his heart remains untainted for you. You yourself cannot bring real rest to your weary heart, but Jesus can— and he does.
Do you want rest? Do you want relief from the shame that haunts you so often and keeps you awake at night? Do you want peace from the violent, abusive anger that has [seemingly] become all too common? Do you want certainty in world where so many proudly turn their back on their Maker? Then find rest in Jesus. Find rest in the One who died and rose again, so that he could go before you into heaven, not to leave, but to prepare your eternal room (John 14:2-3). The Lord Gives You Rest by keeping a Word of promise.
So, what does that mean for you? Well, child of God, take hold of the Word. Hold it up before God’s face and say, ‘But God, you promised!’‘Call on me in the day of trouble, you will deliver me’ (Psalm 50:15). ‘Cast your anxiety on me, I care of you’ (1 Peter 5:7).‘All authority in heaven and earth belongs to me’ ‘Surely I am with you always’ (Matthew 28:18, 20). ‘The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit’ (Psalm 34:18).
Know that these are not just empty words that kind of fall to the ground and slide right out the door. Go back to the cross and see that God has kept his promises. He has rescued your soul from trouble, an anxiety-filled demise, has healed your broken heart and restored you. What he has done then, he will continue doing— in his perfect timing, in his pleasure. (After all, he has shown you that he is serious about his Word.)
Heart-wrenching, eye-drooping, shoulder-slumping, stomach-groaning, head-dropping thing someone you love can ever say. No. When exasperated over racial tensions and 2020 elections, when edgy about health and stressed about your future, when wrestling with guilt and wondering if God truly loves you, when so much makes so little sense, The Lord Gives You Rest by speaking a Word of promise and by keeping a Word of promise.
The resolute voice of the Supreme Commander crackled over the radio. In a matter of hours, over 7,000 vessels would storm heavily fortified beachheads. Some 3,500 aircraft would soar over enemy lines. One-hundred-fifty-six thousand [156,000] soldiers armed and ready for battle leaned in to hear their commander’s encouraging voice.
Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!
…In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely.
But… [t]he United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats… Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength… Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons… and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory! (http://www.kansasheritage.org/abilene/ikespeech.html)
How do those words strike you? What tone do you pick up? You hear confidence. Positivity. Determination. Yet, did you also catch the unwelcome truth not hidden? Tucked within the message itself is a dose of reality. ‘Your task will not be easy.’
Why say something like that— especially moments before the largest invasion in world history?! Because it is the truth! Combat will be fierce. Opponents powerful. Tactics aggressive. The fight will not be easy. But making expectations known is not meant to frighten. It is meant to remove fear!
Jesus has some very sobering words for those who bring Christ to a world without Christ. ‘Officers might arrest you. Soldiers flog you. Courts condemn you. All will hate you because of me’ (Matthew 10:14-23). How terrifying! That’s enough to keep faith to yourself! Yet, Christ prepares you to bring that message. Christ defends you as you live it. Hear Jesus treat hardship after hardship so that you can Confess Christ with Courage.
Just last week you watched Jesus hand the disciples a delightful task. ‘Go to the lost sheep of Israel and proclaim that the long-promised Savior has come!’ (10:5-7) What wonderful words! Words that lift crushing guilt off of heavy hearts. Words that cheer those who mourn and ache over the brokenness sin caused. Words that proclaim peace with God now and forever! The message of a Savior reunites the world with their God!
Not everyone welcomes it, do they? You stand firm on Scripture’s clear definition of marriage: one biological man and one biological woman committed to one another until death (Genesis 2:24). Still, that puts you at odds with a loved one, and how that hurts! A child avoids you and will not listen to Scripture. Instead, you absorb insults: ‘old-fashioned,’ ‘bigoted,’ ‘intolerant. You champion honest work and honest leaders, but a bribe covers over crime. The guilty go unpunished. You, the innocent one, suffer loss, the lack of a fair trial, a lack of justice. You bring the Word of Life so that the world might have life! Yet, so many seem comfortable in their mortality. The daughter will follow her own made-up fantasies of God (as though her opinions make personal beliefs true). Your brother really just does not seem to care what happens when he dies. Your neighbor chirps at you for suggesting that he might go to hell. You thank God for your food, but at the restaurant, you wonder what people might think of you if they watch you pray. After all, your breakfast friends always have something snarky to say about God. The Word of God pressed into your heart, the Word you carry out into the world is not always embraced.
Do you feel that impulse inside? Yes, there’s the desire to simply hide the Words the Holy Spirit has placed on your heart and on your lips. Do not correct the erring child or the spiritually lost neighbor or the flat-out wrong friend. But, that’s not necessarily the impulse I’m describing. Rather, have you ever griped that life would be so much easier if you just change Scripture to say whatever the world wants to hear? Stop holding up Jesus as the exclusive Way into heaven. Stop insisting that we cling to all of the Word. Then opposition would go away.
In verse 24, Jesus has this to say: A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. The teacher teaches and the student benefits from him. The master pays and the servant benefits from him. The message does not belong to you; you did not create it. It is not yours to change. Nor did you start the task of proclaiming Jesus to the nations! It is Jesus who sends you out with his Word. The reason why we feel that tension inside is because the heart veers towards loving the things of this life more than the One who gives us life.
Throughout these difficult verses Jesus underscores this intimate connection you have with him. He prepares you for the challenges of living a Christian life in world without Christ. Yet, he does not do this to frighten, but rather to remove fear. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!
Do not be surprised if the world rejects you for the message you carry. They rejected Jesus too! Israel’s Teacher (Matthew 23:8) carries out his task: He exposes a heart divorced from God, in serious need of reconciliation. Yet, the religious pupils gladly tailor God’s commands to meet their worldly agenda for power and prestige. The Master of creation allow his creation to serve him! Yet, the servants consider the Master’s commands burdensome and rebel (Matthew 21:33-46). The Holy One of God wrapped in flesh wins hearts by driving away Satan. Yet, the majority call him: ‘Beelzebub!’ ‘Lord of the flies!’— another name for ‘Satan’! (Mark 3:20-28)
Your Jesus is attacked too— for the same Word that you hold so dearly! Through it all, he remains unafraid. He stands unafraid before Roman Governor Pilate. He stands unafraid when crowds chant: ‘Crucify! Away with him!’ He remains unafraid as soldiers set his cross in place (Matthew 27:11-26). Wicked men were able to kill the body— but no one could kill his blameless soul.
Instead, God raises him from death! The risen Teacher returns to his pupils that Easter morning with words peace. ‘Peace’— the end of all hostility between you (and God). ‘Peace’ for the times we failed to speak up. ‘Peace’ for our love of this world. ‘Peace’ of a restored connection to God.
What is there to fear, dear friends? Jesus died and rose again in order to remove the greatest fear of all time: The fear of dying in hell. Nothing else even comes close to that frightening, dreadful place!
Friends, Jesus knows the tension of holding to the Word in world that resists it. He knows the weight your heart will carry. He makes those realities known— not to frighten you, but to prepare you. He makes known his victory so that you are not scared. Confess Christ with Courage because Christ defends you.
Listen again to his encouraging voice: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Let’s get one thing straight. ‘The One who can destroy both body and soul in hell’ is not the devil. The Bible makes clear: (1) The days of your life rests in God’s hands (Psalm 31:15) and (2) it is God who damns the nonbeliever, but welcomes the believer into heaven (Matthew 25:31-46). The devil does not have that job— or even that ability.
Yes, the world could kill you because they hate message you bring. A message that stresses a need for the Savior! Do you know how many of Jesus’ Twelve disciples died a natural death? Just one. Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Simon, crucified. James, Judas (not Iscariot), and Matthias, stoned. Bartholomew beaten. James and Paul, beheaded. Matthew and Thomas, speared. Only John, the writer of the Gospel, the three letters, and Revelation, lived to an old age— but even then, he died exiled from his homeland!
There may come a time when people barge through these doors, arrest you, and imprison you. There may come a time when someone beats you up or stabs you or throws a rock at your head because of the words coming out of your mouth. Still, Jesus says: Do not be afraid of them. Do not fear the wicked because they cannot stop God. They cannot stop God from calling you ‘Child.’ They cannot stop him from raising you out of the dust of death. They cannot stop him from welcoming you into heaven and putting a ring on your finger and crown on your head. Humanity lacks that power. Christ defends your life for all time!
Yet, what about now? …your life in world rapidly redefining gender and marriage? where many debate the beginning of life and the end of life? …where laws are passed about what words can and cannot come out of your mouth? Well, listen to Jesus’ response: Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Did you catch that? God cares about sparrows and hair! Do you? Honestly, so many sparrows exist that you can replace one with another. And hair? You might worry only if it’s leaving! If Jesus cares about forgettable things, then be sure, your life— worth more than a measly bird or strand of hair— will not be forgotten!
In fact, Jesus promises: Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. Those who find Christ inconvenient, those who plug his Word from ears and chase it out of their hearts, those do not want Christ will get their wish. They will not be with him in heaven.
As for you, Christ has put his Word in your heart. Each Sunday you literally confess: ‘I believe in the Father, Maker of all things… I believe in Jesus, the Savior… I believe in the Holy Spirit, the One who creates and strengthens faith…’ You, together with like-minded believers, confess a belief and trust in our Triune God. Even though this world seems to be harnessing Christianity, you are free to gather here, to confess your faith out loud, to sing and encourage, to listen and be strengthened. Your God feeds you with Words that he does not feed sparrows because he cares about you.
How’s that for a speech? You realize that moving forward with confidence does not happen by removing all reference to danger. Remove a solid dose of reality and run the risk of falling into despair. Make expectations known and remove fear!
Jesus has some very sobering words for you who bring Christ to a world without Christ. ‘All will hate you because of me’ (Matthew 10:14-23). Yet, he equips you to Confess Christ with Courage. Christ prepares you. He makes known his supreme victory over death, the devil (and his empty lies), and a nonbelieving world. He wins. Period. Now, Christ defends you. He applies forgiveness to you. You will never overwhelmed. You will never lose. You will march into victory. What a reason to live, to Confess Christ with Courage.
The popular saying goes: ‘Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.’ You have experienced history. A global pandemic. A mysterious virus that threatens life. A complete shutdown of hospitals and school systems and factories and businesses. Children at home. Care facilities locked down. Supply shortages. Perhaps some history book will treat this subject in greater detail. Regardless of your age or health, regardless of your job status or school status, this virus has left its mark on you. You will always remember how it affected life. You have experienced history— and, as the popular saying goes, ‘Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.’ So, the question is: What have you learned?
That is an important question seeking an equally important answer. Because whether you recognize or not, you did learn something.
For just a moment, think back to the sights and sounds and emotions of the past three months. Empty shelves meant panic shopping and frantic hoarding. Many believed that if they just stockpiled meat and cleaning supplies and toilet paper, they could safeguard personal health. Somehow the lowly facemask became a lightning rod. If you wore one, you wholesaled yourself into paranoia. If you did not wear a facemask, you did not care about the lives of others. (It’s like wearing a facemask only served as some political statement.) Then national and state and global leadership send mixed messages among reopening efforts. Some predict a catastrophic second wave, but others advise venturing out among local business. One organization said that coronavirus transmission was rare, but later claimed transmission is common.
The only reason these headlines appear is because the coronavirus shoved mortality right in your face. Everyone stared at death a little closer than they ever had done before. It brought home the reality that life (or the lives of those near you) had a risk of ending. So, over the past few months you have watched how people respond to crisis; you have witnessed hearts laid bare. What have you learned? In crisis, the heart will reveal its object of trust.
So tell me, in what did many place their trust? Perhaps a television commercial best sums it up. The Pfizer drug company ran this ad: ‘In a time when things are most uncertain, we turn to the most certain thing there is…’ God’s faithful promises, right? Nope. ‘[We turn to] science.’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xl0tEfLve1U) The two saviors foisted high were (1) science and (2) government. Scientists must create vaccines. Health organizations must draft guidelines. Government must enforce guidelines. If everyone does their job, then I will survive, my life will not end. Understand, medicine and leadership are tremendous blessings, but science and government cannot stop you from dying.
Is it any wonder you witnessed hysterical fear and explosive anger? Is it any wonder people assumed the worst of others? Is it any wonder some are still edgy, paralyzed for a second wave? Mortality still lingers in your face— and we still have no surefire answer to avoid it. What have you learned? Panic erupts when the heart tries taking the place of God.
Dear friends, what you have seen is a world without Christ offering answers without Christ. Pointing fingers is easy to do, but what about you? What have you (personally) learned through this pandemic?
It really depends your reaction. You may have taken appropriate precautions to protect health (good!), but did fear try convincing you that it was not enough? Did panic flare up because you were afraid of going without food? Did personal views jade your opinions of others? That you automatically assumed the worst? That you wanted nothing to do with that individual? No sports, no school, no graduation, no work. Did you hold these objects up so high that you felt empty when they suddenly vanished? Did rising case numbers and dismal news cause you to sink into hopelessness? Are you pinning all your hope for safety to a vaccine? What have you learned from your handling of this crisis?
Maybe you, like me, learned how much a Christ-less world can influence us. How the world convinced you (and me) that our times rest in our hands. …that those who think differently only want to destroy our health. …that only government and science can provide real rest and real security. A Christ-less world daily bombards us with the notion that Christ is unnecessary.
That is a lie replayed throughout all of history. This faulty idea that weak mortal man can stand toe-to-toe with the almighty immortal God! For forty-plus years, the Israelites journey to a land freely gifted them, under the hand of a God who daily showers the nation with food and wipes away every enemy! For forty-plus years, the eyes of all could look up to God and delight in his constant care, his perfect leading, his unquestionable wisdom. For forty-plus years, hearts could rest in God. He had everything under control.
How quickly that trust shriveled! For forty-plus years, the Israelites experience real trouble. A water shortage (Exodus 17:3). Overwhelming enemy forces (Numbers 14:1-4). Harmful propaganda (Numbers 25:1-9). Poisonous snakes (Numbers 21:4-9). Rebellious cliques (Numbers 16). When those troubles flared up, so many sunk into self-trust. Alliances with the enemy. Angry rioting. The notion of giving up.
Time and time again, God did what no one else in the world ever could; he saved his people from a hellish death. God makes it clear: ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding’ (Proverbs 3:5). The instant the heart sets what God promises off to the side, we have sinned. We have broken a crystal clear command. At that point, God could wash his hands of us and let the curse of death bury us. Instead, God let the curse of death bury Jesus. He shoveled doubt and panic and fear and hysteria and self-reliance and despair onto Jesus until it killed him. And Jesus left our every weakness behind in the grave.
Dear friends, those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it. Are you learning? We have constant need of God’s Word. Constant. Not only one hour each Sunday morning. Not only for a few minutes after breakfast or before bed. Not only when we think about it. We have constant need of God’s Word— because we confront constant trouble, constant temptation, and a constant need for God’s deliverance.
Listen to our reading from Deuteronomy, chapter 11. God says: Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Take God’s teachings about his constant care, his promises to work all things for your benefit and stamp them into your heart that it leaves a visible impression.
Actually, God has already left his mark on you. At one time, the Pastor made the sign of the cross on your head and on your heart, marking you as God’s child. The water touching your head presses that cross on you. You carry the completed work of Jesus. He washed away spotty trust. He wraps you in his forgiveness.
What confidence you have for today! If you outlive this virus, then God has graciously extended your time on earth. If you do not survive this virus, then what have you lost? You step into eternity’s paradise, free from all disease and decay (Philippians 1:21-24). Have you learned that truth? You can live every single day staring death in the face without flinching!
That’s good news— good news to share. Teach them [these words] to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Every newborn infant is born with a sinful nature. The devil will work on that sweet, little baby. He will try convincing that child how God is unnecessary, unloving, uncaring. He will try leading that child to think that God has no impact on life.
Parents and parent-figures, godparents and grandparents, God is using you. He uses your experience with the sinful nature, your knowledge of Scripture, your language to speak answers that the world will never have. So, write [these words] on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many…
See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse— the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known. How many stayed locked up at home absolutely terrified that they could die? How many know-it-alls unleashed words that cannot be taken back? How much gray hair is caused from the stress of trying to control life? No matter how hard the world tries, it will never have an answer for death. To the world, death is the end of all good. So, life is lived clinging to the minutest control you think you hold. What a curse! What a curse to come when a Christ-less world will live forever without Christ!
What blessing to live under God’s answers! When that child asks: ‘What’s this virus?’ you do not have to lie a good picture. The world thinks kids cannot handle death. (I’m not convinced that is true.) What is the point of Sunday School? …home devotions? …you bringing them here [to worship]? …you praying with them? They can handle death because Jesus handled death. Keep pointing that child to Jesus and watch them live under the blessing of his care.
So, dear friends, what have you learned? Did the thought of death drive you into prayer and fill you with the peace of eternal life in heaven (if God desired to call you home)? Did you counter thoughts of shortage by looking at the birds outside and remembering that God cares for you better than they? Sports, graduations, activities, and vacations went away, but did you feel no loss because your true identity is found as a child of God? …a child who rejoices in saving faith? …a child who uses abilities, not for self-praise, but for others to praise God? …a child who can use abilities to serve others? Did the many political approaches to the virus cause you to pray that much more for your leaders— regardless of your political affiliation? Friends, what have you learned?
I learned that I still have lots of room to grow. The devil, a Christ-less world, and my own sinful self will keep tugging me to consider God unnecessary. No matter the amount of years I have had in the Word (I have a four-year Masters of Divinity and have additional credits from continuing education), I will never be at a point where I can go without God’s comforting Word. Until I see God’s face, the ‘Evil-3’ will do all they can to separate me from my loving God. The history of Old Testament Israel teaches me this. How others handled the virus teaches me this. The history of my own poor choices teach me this.
So, dear friends, what have you learned? I pray that through this challenging time you have learned how much life depends on God. I pray that your commitment to hearing, reading, and studying God’s Word has grown. I pray that your desire to regularly gather in worship has increased. I pray that you have identified areas in life where you can grow closer to God and that you will be faithful in acting on those changes. I pray that you Impress These Words on Your Heart.
This morning I brought a copy of the famous painting, ‘Le Bateau’ [‘The Boat’]. In 1961 this prized piece hung on display in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Over the course of 47-days some 116,000 guests visited the exhibit— which, by most standards, is a success. But!— there was just one problem: The piece was hung upside-down. (https://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/theater-arts/moma-hangs-matisse-le-bateau-upside-1961-article-1.2455442)
Each day for forty. seven. days. professional curators studied the stripes and squiggles, discussed depth and detail, proudly and confidently handled any question. No inkling or hint or whiff of error ever crossed their mind! That is, until art enthusiast Mrs. Genevieve Habert opened up her art catalogue to reveal the right way to hang the painting (see for yourself). Even the painter’s son confirmed that Mrs. Habert was correct.
A painting so many called a masterpiece was not seen the way it was meant to be seen. Even though you might never have seen this painting before in your life, you will never be able to look at it the same way again. (If I flip upside down now, you would realize it’s upside down.) When you compare the wrong to the correct, the wrong more noticeable.
Keeping that concept in mind may help when trying to make sense of all the troubles in this world. Have the wrong perspective, and you get the wrong answers to the real problem. (You can even get the wrong outlook on life.) Genesis chapter one acts much like a painter’s catalogue, revealing God’s original creation and constant care so that we can make sense of life in this world. Only then can you Find Rest, Restless Heart in God’s perfect care, in God’s restoring plan, and in God’s complete rest.
The book of Genesis opens like a blank slate. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). Then, like adding colors to a canvas, God adds majestic twenty-four-hour stroke after majestic twenty-four-hour stroke. God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God said, ‘Let there be sky and water,’ and there was sky and water. God said, ‘Let there be land, seas, and vegetation,’ and there was land, sea, and vegetation. God said, ‘Let there be sun, moon, and stars,’ and there was sun, moon, and stars. God said, ‘Let there be birds and sea animals and land animals,’ and there were animals (1:3-25).
Unlike paintings of random stripes and shapes, spots and splotches, God’s painting has order. His masterpiece works harmoniously together— land and water for plants, lights for growth, plants for food. And each day ends with the same judgment: God saw it was good. Now, understand, ‘good’ does not suggest God did the best he could or that his efforts are better than most. ‘Good’ means ‘perfect.’
In this perfect paradise God saves his best creation for last. [He] said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” With one final stroke, God paints you (and me) as crown of his creation. All land, all waters, all animals are for your wise use and daily needs.
As if that is not enough, God takes even greater care in setting you (and me) apart from the rest of creation. God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. That ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ is not that we look like God (for God is spirit [John 4:24]) or that we have unique critical thinking skills. The image of God means that our will stands perfectly in line with God’s will. God says, ‘Here is food for you,’ and Adam and Eve say, ‘Yes, God, without question you care!’ God says, ‘Love me with all your heart, mind, and soul,’ and they say, ‘That is no burden at all!’ Everything God commands, they want to do.
At the end of the sixth and final day, God amps up the assessment of his finished masterpiece: It was very good. The most perfect-est of perfect. Step back and take in this splendid portrait and what do you see? God’s perfect care.
What happened? Compare this original painting to what you see today. Pain and sorrow, floods and sickness, unrest and injustice, death and mourning— all these things that afflict and affect— were never in God’s picture! This perfect paradise has been turned upside down! And why? Because we lost the image of God. Instead of hearts bent to God’s wants, hearts often bend to self-wants.
So, we can live as though we were meant for an upside-down world. That this world could morph into paradise if only … I had more money, I would finally feel secure. …if only I have that house, then marriage will be better. …if only I put my adversary in her right place, then I could feel more important and have more respect. …if only those politicians catered to my specific needs in my specific community, then I could feel satisfied.
The conflict we so often feel inside does not come because we need to try harder (to make the world better). The conflict comes when our hearts find greater worth in the creation more than the Creator! That leaves us with the wrong perspective looking for the answers to all the wrong problems!
We would be forever stuck with this distorted perspective if it were not for God, in his perfect care. He straightens his masterpiece.
When Adam and Eve sat stuck in an upside-world, God made a promise to set the world right-side up. For the centuries to follow, God repeated and re-stressed and rekindled his promise of a Savior so that the whole world could see life the way it was meant to be. [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). Understand, Jesus does not come to make a heaven on earth. Frankly, removing conflict now does not prepare you for eternity.
Jesus comes to restore that corrupted image by living life we did not. Never does he consider money to be the answer to life’s needs. Instead, he thanks God for even the little he has. Jesus’ heart finds real, lasting wealth in having God on his side. Yes, Jesus certainly teaches you (and me) to ask God for daily bread, but keeps underscoring a resilient trust in the Giver. Never does he exalt himself with harsh arguments. Instead, he allows leaders to insult him. Jesus lives to restore the image of God in you (and me). That becomes crystal clear on Calvary. God sees in Jesus our corrupted image, our self-centeredness, our cravings for the passing pleasures of this world— and he hands Jesus the death penalty. He peels off Jesus’ perfect image and sticks it on you.
Your risen and living Lord makes clear that he has set you straight with God. In fact, right before he ascends, Jesus points to that restored image. You heard the words moments ago: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations.’ How do you (and I) enter this family of God? Jesus tells you. By baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).
Your baptism might not seem like much. A splash of water done long ago, some words spoken. Ah, but not any plain words— but God’s power-packed Word. You were buried with Jesus through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life (Romans 6:4). A new life! Not a life where selfish wants are foisted on top of God’s desires for us. Rather, baptism works in you (and me) the desire to want to obey God. As you hear or read (or recall) God’s Word, your heart is changed to be more Christ-like. And, when you (like me) see a trail of selfish devastation, return to your baptism. See how God has washed off all crooked desires. How he drowns the past forever. How he still calls you his child!
That’s a picture set straight. In God’s restoring plan you can see things the way they truly are. In that way, you gain rest in God’s complete rest.
Let’s look at the end of our reading: By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. God did not get tired, much like you (and I) might after a long, busy workweek. God simply stopped working— and when you stop working, you rest. There is nothing more to be done.
Like life now. Nothing more to be done. Nothing more needed to save you. Nothing more needed to make God love you. Yesterday, today, always, you live in this intimate communion with God. Simple truth, something you hear each week (or revisit in your daily devotions). Yet, lose sight of this important reality— and life goes awry. (Which is really the reason so much unrest erupts.)
‘So Pastor, what’s the answer?’ How can schools manage a fall semester and restaurants safely serve customers and hundreds reassemble in one hall? How can violent protests deescalate and respect touch all people of all races and all careers? How can my life return to normal(-ish)? …my graduation parties? …my getaway? …my shopping, exercising, trip to the barber? How can everything become better? What’s the answer? I don’t know— at least, I don’t know how to handle all the logistics of social, political, and economical issues.
Yet, here is one thing I do know. When those troubles rip into my heart, when I feel sore and hurt from sights seen. When I sit at the end of another day and recount the many ways my criticisms pushed away those close to me, when I see that my prejudice did not care for others as I should. When I feel sadness because my well-intentioned hopes and dreams did not flourish as I had hoped, when I pout because my panicked hysteria did not provide comfort. When I feel all this loss, it shoves this upside-down world in front of my eyes. This pain I feel comes through my own fault. It comes through the fault of other sinful people. It teaches that imperfect people will never make a perfect world.
That realization grabs my attention and sets it squarely on God. I again see the blessings drawn from the Word. The blessings of the Holy Spirit, who leads me each to admit my flaws. The blessing of a forgiving Father, who never brings up my past. The blessing of Jesus, who restores the image of God in me. Yes, on earth, that new man inside me will struggle (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10) but in heaven I will be seen as I truly am. Your Triune God, through his Word, lifts your attentions off of the challenges and conflict in this world so that you see him strengthen you, rescue you, answer you, and save you.
That, dear friends, gives rest. No, not just a break where you do not hear negative news for a while. Rather, real rest. The rest of knowing that you can hear bad and know that God handles it all. You just get to live under that care.
Does that help make sense of all the troubles in this world? Genesis chapter one acts much like a painter’s catalogue, revealing God’s original creation and constant care. What we so often see is turned upside-down. So, God sets the picture straight. Keep focused on your God, who leads your hearts into rest and will make that rest permanent soon. Find Rest, Restless Heart in God’s perfect care, in God’s restoring plan, and in God’s complete rest.