‘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.
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.
The elevator doors whoosh open. Stephanie looks out, but this is not her floor. She steps back in and scoots off to the side as this droopy-faced, wrinkly seventy-something-year-old man enters. The doors slide shut and up they go.
The man looked a little strange. His obviously-dyed-black hair reached his shirt collar. (Not really the haircut for older men.) Speaking of which, a flashy sport coat covered a plain black t-shirt. His slim-cut jeans made his legs look like wrapped sausages. This man visibly carried decades life experience. Soon, those elevator doors opened again. Stephanie reached her floor and stepped out. Elevator doors shut and up went that man.
A co-worker watched Stephanie step out. Eyes bugged. Mouth gaping open. ‘Do you know who was in the elevator with you?’ ‘No.’ ‘That was Mick Jagger! You rode the elevator alone with Mick Jagger!’
Stephanie had no idea she stood right beside Mick Jagger. He wore nothing to suggest that he was the lead singer of the Rolling Stones. No paparazzi crowded the elevator, no one even took pictures with the guy! In fact, he was not even with his manager or inner circle. Just him alone tending to some business. Stephanie missed out on an awesome opportunity to know him better. She did not see the man behind the appearance.
Today is Palm Sunday, which means, we are tracing the final days leading to Jesus’ crucifixion. He enters Jerusalem and spends all day Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at the temple, and if not there, then at the house of his friends, Mary and Martha (Mark 11:11). He uses these final hours teaching his disciples, increasing their knowledge of his saving plan, and bolstering confidence as they take the Word to heart. Because the week ahead will be tough. You may feel emotionally (and physically) drained from all this commotion about a virus. The disciples will feel even worse. Maundy Thursday will come, and after celebrating the Passover, an armed mob will snatch Jesus away. By Friday, they will either see their naked friend dying on a cross or they will hear of his demise. So, today, Palm Sunday, prepares them and us for what lies ahead. Do not lose of sight of your Savior—who he is and what he comes to do. Behold, Your King Comes to You! He rides with peace and He brings deliverance.
The gospel of Matthew records the events of that triumphant day. Starting at chapter 21, verse one, it reads: As [Jesus and his disciples] approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
Jesus gives instructions, yes, but do you see what he just did? He plainly tells the disciples what lies ahead! Understand, Jesus had not traveled on ahead, cased the place, and now returns with a report. He gives a glimpse of his divine power. Remember, Jesus is not merely a man; he is also true God. As God, he holds the power to heal, control nature, read hearts, and reveal thoughts and the future. Simply put, as God, Jesus knows all things happening in all places at all times. Giving instructions like he does, provides a reminder of who he truly is. The One preparing to enter Jerusalem is God himself! (Keep that in mind as you hear Matthew continue his account.)
This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet [Zechariah]: “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ”
Is that how you picture the majestic grandeur of kingly procession? Stand on main street— and here comes Queen Elizabeth. Hunched over on a grayish, fuzzy-haired, short donkey, hooves clippity-cloppiting down Hamburger Hill. No jeweled crown or royal gown. Some dash out the front doors and huddle around her; others zip by her running errands, driving home. Would you expect this kind of royal arrival? Of course not! Queen Elizabeth plans a trip to Clare, Michigan, and you have long lines of glistening motorcades and swarming security. Crowds pack the streets; helicopters hover overhead. If you even get to see the queen, gems and gold twinkle off her manicured appearance.
That’s what you expect: dominance, power, grandeur. But this? Gentle? Humble? Riding a donkey? Him approaching you, not you approaching him? What king acts like this? ...Honestly? The King we need.
Remember, Jesus prods the heart with a reminder: He is God. As God, he knows all things. That means, he knows that you (and I) do not always take his Word so seriously.
Oh yes, we might try to cover that fact up, but Jesus sees right through the charade. He knows how the heart places high value on status. When you seek self-praise because of your [grand]child’s achievements. When you feel powerful because of the number attached to your bank account. When you gloat, thinking your own might keeps you safe. He knows the pleasures your heart secretly craves. The passionate thrills of intimately confiding in someone not your spouse. The bloodthirsty revenge that seeks to humiliate others and exalt yourself. The never-ending greed that thinks this one object will finally satisfy to the point of never needing ever again! Jesus knows when and where and how often the heart throws rocks at his commands, plugs its ears to his Word, and spits at his place in your life (and mine).
It’s a wonder Jesus that does not storm into Jerusalem as the King he truly is. That he does not roar down main street riding a thunderstorm as his chariot. That legions of angels do not blast their trumpets and a gilded throne does not thump down. If Jesus arrives as God Almighty, then who can stand?!
Instead, Your King Comes to You. Catch that? You make appointments to meet with the queen or the President, but Jesus comes to you.
What sight to behold! Jesus enters Jerusalem not as mighty warrior-King, but a King going to work. A donkey is a beast of burden, a work-animal. Jesus does not even ride a grown animal, he rides its young, never-before worked child. He rides something lower than a low-class work-animal. He does not arrive to thump down divine authority. Your King comes to go to work. He shoulders the commandments of God we are to keep. Never once griping that he deserves better honor and respect. Never once grabbing at gold and crowns. Never once considering about destroying the arrogant leaders. He sets himself under God’s plan to be our Savior. Behold, Your King Comes to You! He rides with peace so that he can bring deliverance
Matthew continues telling the day’s events. The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.
The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest!”
‘Hosanna’ is a Hebrew word. It means ‘save us, please!’ That choral song comes from Psalm 118:25-26: O Lord, save us; O Lord, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
The Lord has delivered us, hasn’t he? Jesus fully knows what to expect in Jerusalem. In fact, three times he reveals the future [again] for his disciples: We are going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Matthew 20:18-19).
Jesus knows Jerusalem’s powerful religious leaders approved his arrest (John 11:57). He knows many want him dead. He knows these cheering crowds will soon embrace a new chant: ‘Crucify! Crucify!’ (Matthew 27:22-23) Still, Jesus rides towards the cross, knowing full well that instrument of torture will tear his life away— but not without his permission first.
Mark this well: Jesus rides into the hands of death; he puts himself there. He never loses control. The One who comes from King David’s family tree is the One God appointed to establish an eternal kingdom. Jesus has every intention doing just that.
When we lived separated from Jesus, stuck in a kingdom that only led to death, Jesus saved us. With his spiritually rich life, he marches into death. He set down his perfect obedience to every commandment in our spiritual column. He scrubs away our rebellious attitudes. He trims away the passing pleasures of this life. He covers over filth with royal robes. When he rises from death, he sets a crown on your head, marking you as a citizen of his kingdom. Hosanna! Save us, please! And Jesus has. Behold, Your King Comes to You to bring deliverance.
Your King Still Comes to You, still bringing deliverance. Not that you ever lost it, but that he reminds of your membership in his kingdom. He reminds you that you have been delivered from death, from the results of sin, from the power of the devil. This is where you now stand: in a column marked: ‘Delivered.’
To drive that point home we sing those words: Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! Our hymnal puts those words to song and we sing them right before receiving the Lord’s Supper.
The King sets you at his royal table. There, he gives you his body and blood together with the bread and wine. He make a royal announcement: ‘My life given and shed to benefit your life.’ He repeats the end of hostilities between us and God. He lets us depart with a word of peace: ‘Your sins are forgiven. You are at peace with God.’ Your King Comes to You, still, in the Lord’s Supper, bringing his deliverance.
How that impacts life! Jesus still knows all things. He knows our secret regrets. He knows the gnawing shame. He knows the feelings of unworthiness. He knows how desperately we want the past to remain hidden from. him. He knows how we scramble to find something good in ourselves. Still, Your King Comes to You with a word of peace: ‘That’s forgiven. I see it all, I know it all, it’s forgiven!’ The next time we join in singing those words, envision Your King Come to You, bringing his deliverance.
Do not lose of sight of your Savior— who he is and what he comes to do. Do not let the world’s troubles cloud out the majesty your Jesus holds. Do not let sin shame you into despair.
Behold, Your King Comes to You! He rides with peace and He brings deliverance.
They appear multiple times each year. Two statements. Two statements that highlight the same issue, but reach very different conclusions. Two statements that you yourself might hear. Two statements that may come out of your mouth. Two statements that demand a response:
That is a very important question and the answer is as equally important. Before we continue, we must agree on definitions. Otherwise, we will miss God’s point and reach some very different, very strange conclusions. So, let’s ask: What is ‘faith?’ What does it mean? How do you define it? Let’s use this simple definition: ‘faith’ means ‘trust.’ When you hear [the word] ‘faith’ today, think ‘trust.’ Yet, that brings up another question: Trust in what?’
Let’s look at Old Testament believer, Abram. (This is before his name change to ‘Abraham.’) Abram has faith; he has trust— but trust in what? That the sand is dry? That his camel is actually a camel (and not a lion)? That the food he eats will taste good? Yes, of course, he knows those facts to be true, but that mere information cannot protect his body and soul. Those facts do not change his standing before God! So, you realize, faith must have an object— and not just any object, but an object that can save. Now, as Christians living after Jesus, we know that saving object is Jesus. For Abram, Jesus has not arrived. Nor has he died on the cross for sin. If Jesus has not come, then what does Abram have faith in?
You find the answer in Genesis 12:1-3. There, God delivers a bundle of blessings:
1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
God makes a large request. Abram will leave the familiar landscape of a familiar community. He will leave the protection and reputation of his family. He will set out to a land he has never seen, a land never surveyed, a land loaded with an entirely different culture— all without family support. God promises not just a new land, but also a new reputation, and most importantly a new family.
The final words in verse 3 highlight a special blessing. [I]n you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. All people— from the time of Abram to present day— all will benefit through Abram. How? Abram will have a son and that son a son, and that son a son— and that family tree will stretch on for generations until it blossoms this precious flower: Jesus, Savior of the world.
Those are marvelous blessings, tremendous promises— but we still confront the same problem: Jesus did not die on the cross before Abram died. So, “How was Abram saved before Jesus was born?” Three words: The Lord said. That’s it! The Lord said.
That is what Abram puts faith in. That is what Abram trusts. The Lord’s promises! Seven times the Lord repeats the same word. Did you catch it? [The little word]: ‘Will.’ God does not reveal a wish, he reveals an intention. When the time fully comes, God will put Jesus on earth (Galatians 4:4). That is not a possibility, that is a reality. That is something God will do. Abram takes hold of that promise and considers it as good as done. That is ‘faith.’ That is ‘trust.’
So, “How were people saved before Jesus was born?” Here’s the answer: Faith in the Savior who is coming. Realize, though, Abram does not blindly leap into the unknown. He remains entirely certain that what God promised will happen. How? Not because Abram sat down, studied the possibilities of promises happening, and then reached the conclusion that God is likely to keep his Word. Not because Abram, in all his power and might, chose to rely on God. Instead, what creates faith? What strengthens faith? What moves Abram to act? Three words: The Lord said.
God speaks and his words create faith. God speaks and his words instill trust. God speaks good news to Abram: His great Descendant will stand on earth. Abram listens. His great Descendant will be stretched on a cross and Abram’s sins will be taken out of storage and placed on Jesus. Abram is comforted. His great Descendant will settle all debts and make Abram right with God. Abram rejoices. Not because he did the action, but because God worked the action. Faith Must Have an Object. The object of Abram’s faith is Jesus— and the fact that Jesus’ work is as good as done.
That’s why the second statement begs a question. “She has faith. He has faith.” Ok… but in what? That the sky is blue? That the Lions will finally win a SuperBowl? (Alright, maybe not that.) That heaven is real? That God exists? Faith does not grab any object, but a specific promise.
Many realize that. They ask: “How were people saved before Jesus was born?” because they realize that only Jesus forgives sin. Still, those same voices torment themselves with the question: ‘Can I be sure I’m saved?’ Oh the horrors! Heart-racing despair and fearful fretting and sleepless nights and ceaseless worries. How do I know I am saved?! Maybe a better question is: Why has the object of faith changed?
The object of trust appears two times. ‘Can (1) I be sure (2) I’m saved?’ The focus is on ‘I’! The reliance is on your abilities, your efforts, your choices, your works. What a flimsy object you (and I) are! We cannot march up to God, lay down our life, and expect God to delight in what he finds! All he sees is single-minded devoted love for ‘self.’ That’s why I do not feel good. That’s why I battle shame and regret and guilt. Because I am not a reliable object to win God’s favor! Faith Must Have an Object--and not just any object, but an object able to save!
Abram looks ahead to Jesus, we look back at Jesus. As we see Jesus, those three words appear again: The Lord said. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). God speaks. Faith grabs. Faith acts. That’s why you worship today. God spoke pardoning love to you. That love set your heart in the work of Jesus. God pummels Jesus to death, punishing him for our faith-less-ness. Then, he raises him to life, holds him for us to see and says, ‘Look! Jesus lives as proof that the punishment of death is removed! Your death removed! Your life eternal!’ God speaks. Faith grabs that promise. Faith acts.
That’s why we want to remain in the Word. The Word creates faith. The Word strengthens faith. Sometimes when frightened, we may think faith is gone. That God has left us. That God is distant. That God does not care. That this struggle is ours to carry alone. That simply is not true. The Word guarantees: For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:11-12). Faith grabs that promise— not because you at it, but because God spoke! Faith automatically feasts on those words and makes them your own.
God speaks. Faith grabs. Faith acts. Wherever Abram went you see him do two things (1) He built an altar and (2) He called on the name of the Lord. Abram worships God, thanking him for keeping his promises of land, family, and Jesus. This worship also exists to point others to God.
Remember that statement? ‘She has faith. He has faith.’ The next door neighbor who never goes to church says, ‘I have faith.’ Great— but in what? That this church building is real? That you can give God $100,000 to get into heaven? In what does he have faith? That high school friend battles cancer. Even on her worst days she says, ‘I have faith.’ Great— but in what? That she has the strength to make it to the bank? That something exists after death? In what does she have faith? The brother who has not stepped foot into church since his confirmation day, says, ‘I have faith.’ Great— but in what? That God exists? Even the devil believes that! (James 2:19) In what does he have faith? Faith Must Have an Object. The only object that saves is Jesus. Faith trusts in Jesus as Savior.
Abram travels by the promises of God. Soon he reaches Canaan (which is present-day Israel.) The first promise kept! Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” Abram does not even have a child, but he remains confident the LORD would keep his Word. Even though foreigners lived in the land, even though all Abram could see was settlement after settlement of people. So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. He worships God. He tells Sarai (his wife) about the Savior. He tells the household about the Savior. He tells the neighbors about the Savior. He is not content that people should say: ‘Eh, she has faith. He has faith.’ Abram repeats the word of the Lord. As that Word hit ears, it created faith in many hearts. For generations to come, Abram’s family tree kept looking ahead to Jesus, the saving object of faith.
Two statements that appear multiple times each year. Two statements that highlight the same issue, but reach very different conclusions. Two statements that you yourself might hear. Two statements that may come out of your mouth. Two statements that demand a response: