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.
A fiery orange light lit up the car’s instrument panel. A glowing ring encircled this tiny engine block with a little fan. Is that the shape of the engine? And why the circle? Wouldn’t the shape of an engine be enough? Why is the light orange? Why not a red light? …or green? …or blue? !!Bang!! Smoke billowed from under the hood as the car clunked and clanged to a sputtering stop.
The vibrant yellow sandwich-board stuck out against the floor. A plain-looking stickman floated horizontally with legs and arms flailing wildly. What a funny picture! Who thought of that? Is that how people fall? And those languages! Obviously one is Spanish, but what’s the other one? French? Italian? !!Slip!! !!Screech!! !!Crash!!
Dark, stormy clouds swirled overhead. Somewhere in the distance a shrill siren shrieked. The weather radio flashed lights and played its own scratchy, screechy tune. How do you produce a tone like that? An orchestra? Or do you use a really out-of-tune keyboard? Could they maybe make something a little more pleasant sounding? !!Thwack!! !!Thud!!
Signs are important, but what a sign draws attention to is even more important. A ‘Check Engine Light’ indicates engine trouble. A ‘Wet-Floor Sign’ identifies a slippery and hazardous area. A tornado siren cries out to take shelter immediately. Signs are important, but what a sign points out is even more important. If you fixate on the sign itself, you fail taking appropriate action. You can suffer catastrophe.
We find signs today. Signs many see and hear. Signs pointing to a more important matter. Signs calling for action. The sights and sounds of Pentecost capture our attentions, but do not ignore their important impact. What Do These Sights and Sounds Mean? And what do they mean for us today? We live in the final days and We have work to do.
Envision the events of that first Pentecost. (Just a refresher: ‘Pentecost’ means ‘fifty.’ The day of Pentecost marks fifty-days after Easter.) 1 When the day of Pentecost came, the [disciples] were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs— we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
The sights and sounds have their intended effect. Crowds from Italy to North Africa, from Turkey to Syria— crowds from all over the Mediterranean world pour into Jerusalem to celebrate an important Jewish festival. Sunday morning, noise jolts thousands awake. The roaring sound of rushing wind calls people into the streets. The strange sight of flame flickering over the heads of a handful of men piques curiosity. The extraordinary spectacle of men who share a common language, now clearly communicating in another known language, with clear words and a clear topic captures attentions! Masses swarm, eager to make sense of sights and sounds!
So, 14 Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 ‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people.’ Scan this sight of flame and preaching and the sound of wind and language. This is no random coincidence of nature or a bunch of babbling buffoons. No, God predicted this event. On Pentecost God gave the disciples the ability to speak in known languages so that they could clearly communicate the good news of Jesus as Savior.
But! — do not rush past those opening words: ‘In the last days,’ God says[.] The Bible does not use that phrase as a reference to the final seconds before you see Jesus. The ‘last days’ simply refer to all the days between Jesus’ ascension and his final return. Because Jesus can return; he completed his mission. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and buried. He descended into hell, rose again the third day. He ascended into heaven and seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. What’s left to do? He will come to judge the living and the dead. So, What Do These Sights and Sounds of Pentecost Mean? We live in the last days. Jesus can return at any moment.
Does that help you understand what you have seen and heard? Floodwaters gushed through Gladwin and Midland. Your families were affected. Your friends lost businesses. Even our fellow Christians suffered! An invisible virus lingers. Some get sick, some die. Politicians stand divided on proper guidance. Tensions increase over state restrictions— are they too stringent or are they just right? You hear of wars and rumors of wars. Famines and earthquakes ravage various lands. Masses are turning from the Christian faith in droves. Wickedness increases; the love of most grows cold (Matthew 24:4-12). These sights and sounds can leave you wondering: ‘What in the world is going on?’
Dear friends, signs are important, but what a sign points out is even more important. We can very easily fixate on troubles and try to answer: ‘Why is this happening?’ (as though God will answer from heaven). When those puzzled Pentecost people wondered what the sound of wind and sight of speaking meant, where did they find the answer? In the Word of God.
Peter’s Pentecost sermon points our attentions to the Word of God— specifically, to the good news of Jesus as Savior. He points to the One who washed away your sins (and mine)— the real reason to be afraid. He points to the One who stepped foot outside the tomb by his own power. He points to the One who tells the terrified disciples on Easter: ‘Peace be with you’ (John 20:19). What Do These Sights and Sounds Mean? Beginning with that first Pentecost some 2,000 years ago, God makes clear: We live in the final days.
When what you see and hear troubles you, when you wonder what God is telling you, then turn to his Word. Remember: We live in the final days. That’s alright! At the perfect time he will bring you to be with him forever (John 14:2-3). There is no fear over that. You spend eternity with God paradise not because you are a good person, but because Jesus is perfect for you. Because Jesus has done everything needed to save you.
That’s good news. That’s important news. That’s news the world needs to hear. What Do These Sights and Sounds of Pentecost Mean? We have work to do.
Listen again to those words from Joel: 17 ‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. Now, before Jesus is born, God selected certain people to be prophets. He gave them a message through a vision (Isaiah 6) or a dream (Daniel 7) or conversation (Exodus 3). The prophet would then share this message with an audience.
Joel looks ahead to a time when God will send out more prophets, but these would not be your Old Testament prophets. He uses the word: ‘prophesy’ in a broader definition, meaning: ‘to proclaim.’ Those who heard Peter’s sermon could take that good news home with them and share it with their family, friends, and neighbors. Those individuals could share the good news with other family, friends, and neighbors— and so on. God unleashes his Word to the entire world! What Do These Sights and Sounds of Pentecost Mean? That God has given you (and me) his Word to hear and to share.
I preach this morning! I am telling you about Jesus, the Savior of the world, just like God intended (and promised) so long ago. At this moment, I am doing this through video. Just two months ago, the message you heard was mainly shared within the walls of the church. Now you can hear the good news on any (internet-connected) device. Think about that for a moment. This coronavirus-shutdown has drastically changed life, but do you see what it has good has come from it? So many churches were forced into digital arenas. God is blasting his Word (again) throughout the world. Platforms like YouTube and Facebook can be accessed by the billions spread out across the world! It has become that much easier to be in the Word. What Do These Sights and Sounds of Pentecost Mean? That God has given you (and me) his Word to hear and to share.
About a week ago, I stood in line at shop. Two employees were discussing the flooding in Midland, all the rain we had. You could tell they were trying to make sense of it. Why did this happen? What is going on? Their best answer was: ‘Mother Nature is trying to tell us something.’ That’s it! Their answer is the same as their question! They stare at the signs, but not to what the signs point out.
God says, 19 I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. Many see the same troubles you do. The flooding. The virus-restrictions. The unrest. The increase of wickedness. Love growing cold. Signs abound, but what they point to is even more important. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
Jesus is coming soon. Does your brother think he can negotiate his way into heaven? Does your daughter think she can keep ‘taking a break from church?’ Does your neighbor think eternity is no big matter? Is your friend scared about everything going on? Do you see people at the grocery snap? (Really, because they are afraid of dying?) What Do These Sights and Sounds of Pentecost Mean? That God has given you (and me) his Word to hear and to share. 21 [E]veryone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ We have work to do.
Signs are important, but what a sign draws attention to is even more important. A ‘Check Engine Light’ indicates engine trouble. A ‘Wet-Floor Sign’ identifies a slippery and hazardous area. A tornado siren cries out to take shelter immediately. If you fixate on the sign itself, you fail taking appropriate action. You can suffer catastrophe.
We find signs today. Signs many see and hear. Signs pointing to a more important matter. Signs calling for action. The sights and sounds of Pentecost capture our attentions, but do not ignore their important impact. What Do These Sights and Sounds Mean? And what do they mean for us today? We live in the final days and We have work to do.
The reality sunk in: they would not win. They could not win. They tried, yes. Those youngsters kicked the ball, threw the ball, caught the ball, but the other team kicked harder, threw further, caught better. The scoreboard clearly reflected that. The fifth-graders completely outmanned, outmuscled, outmatched the first-grade kickball team in every possible way, leaving those first graders slumped in demoralizing defeat.
One sight resurrected hope: A grownup! Little eyes gawk as he jogs towards their bench. Tiny legs jump in joy. Fists pound the air. Beaming faces cheer. Here is someone able to outman, outmuscle, outmatch the entire fifth-grade team! His very presence makes the fifth-graders cower in fear. He scores run after run after run after run— and no one can stop him! The lead quickly tips in his favor. The fifth-graders are completely overwhelmed; they brace for certain defeat. The once-helpless first-graders now bask in certain victory!
Do you know that sensational feeling? Maybe you remember the playground days. Or, the grueling math problem. The overwhelming car breakdown. The sheer helplessness as you were bullied by health, by co-workers, by a lawsuit. Then entered the math whiz. The ace mechanic. The specialist. The boss. The legal shark. The mere sight of your champion makes you swell with confidence. Their presence guarantees success, leaving you to march on in certain victory.
That swelling sense of victory would be appreciated about now, wouldn’t it? Not only are you dealing with a health crisis, but you have also stayed away from your friends and family for 60-days [two months]. As if things could not get much worse, now you have flooding on top of it all! Life’s challenges just seem to be compounding! You are squeezed tighter and tighter, and are not sure how much more you can handle. The truth is, you cannot handle these challenges— not on your own— but your Champion can. Yesterday, today, and always Jesus prays for you. Jesus Prays for You to see his glory and to share in his glory.
I imagine that Jesus’ glory is not always so easily seen. I mean, just think for a moment: What is ‘glory’? How do you define it? The children in catechism class usually make this angelic sound: ahhhh (A sound is not really a definition, but I digress…) Maybe you hear [the word]: ‘glory’ and think: ‘bright light’ or ‘heaven’ or ‘perfection.’ Might I offer a more concrete definition? ‘Glory’ means ‘to own (or possess) splendid greatness.’ To receive the respect your qualities deserve. To receive the fine lifestyle your rank is owed. To stand superior over all things.
So, when Jesus looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you,” that must have caught the disciples’ attention. This is what they are waiting for: Glory! National respect for being a follower of Jesus. A lifestyle of ease and luxury. Positions of power in Jesus’ shiny new kingdom. The disciples’ vision of glory centers around Jesus removing all earthly suffering.
Maybe that’s why this past week felt like a punch to the gut. We want a world free from struggle, but a virus proves our world is not perfect. We want to secure comfort, but a flash flood suddenly rips comfort away. We want some control over who we can see and where we can go, but that privilege is not ours yet. What makes all this frustrating is that it feels like Jesus is absent. Gone. Not around. Certainly not holding back loss and pain and suffering.
The troubles you (and I) encounter can block Jesus from our eyes. What blocks Jesus is not that he went away. It’s that our wants take first place. The disciples do not want suffering. The want glory— and they want it now. They find glory in Jesus, but do not want him to die. They want him to establish a new kingdom in which they would co-reign! If they got their wish, how would they be saved? A pandemic, social distancing, floods, health issues, the estranged child, the back-biting politics can leave demanding success now. When these troubles linger, we can begin challenging God. Questioning his care for you. Challenging his management of the universe. Wondering if you will be satisfied by the end of the year. We can wrongly conclude that the presence of trouble means that God does not care. If God does not care, then we do not need him. Yet, if we do not have God, then how would we be saved?
So, Jesus Prays for You. He approaches God the Father Almighty with the request that you see his glory. Maybe it helps to have the right picture in mind. Understand, Jesus does not sneak into some side-room, kneel down, and then prays while keeping the words in his head. He prays out loud, in presence of his eleven disciples. Jesus prays for himself, yes, but also with the intention that we hear the content.
He prays: For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. That might not sound so strange because we stand on the other side of Easter. Here, in John chapter 17, the setting is Maundy Thursday, the night on which Jesus is betrayed. Over the course of roughly twelve hours, mighty men will arrest him and whisk him off to the courts. Lies will pass as truth. Soldiers will spit and mock, punch and club. Other soldiers will muscle his hands and feet down as someone else drives nails through them. With the tug of a rope, the cross will rise into place. Jesus will suffer. He will die. Still, he prays: For you granted him authority over all people[.] Jesus claims control— even on the night of his arrest! He holds authority— including the authority to avoid the cross!
Yet, this is the purpose of his prayer: to see his glory. The cross will take away Jesus’ life. It takes a God-pleasing life and straightens you (and I) to be God-pleasing. It peels away a blameless life and puts it on you. It removes the Lord from life and gives you eternal life. Yes, the cross brings suffering, but the cross is not the end. Easter’s brilliant sunbeams burst forth from an empty tomb. Death fought so hard to hold Jesus down, but lost. Jesus snapped it. He undid it. He outmanned, outmuscled, outmatched death once and for all time. Easter reveals Jesus’ glory, his splendid greatness as King of all. I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.
Yes, Jesus receives his full, rightful glory as he ascends into heaven. Still, Jesus prays—a he prays out loud, so that you hear that his ascension is also meant for you. Jesus Prays for You to see his glory and also to share in his glory.
Just listen: I have revealed you[r name] to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. Now, ‘knowing’ is not memorized information filed alongside your knowledge of state capitals. Rather, ‘knowledge’ is accepting the simple truth that Jesus died for your advantage. How does that knowledge became yours? By Jesus revealing with words! What Jesus speaks has been recorded in the Bible. The Bible keeps pointing you (and me) back to the power behind God’s promises, back to the things he is doing. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.
You share in Jesus’ glory as you take to heart the results of his powerful reign. Natural disasters are out of our control, but not God’s. We benefit from nestling in God’s hands that protect us and restore our losses. A health crisis poses a serious threat, but we conquer fear by remembering that the Lord of life holds us. Restrictions limit us, but God has provided the mental strength to press on. Even more, the challenges we face powerfully teach us that the things considered so valuable can leave us. (If they leave us, then how valuable are they?) In the midst of loss, God still works all things for your good. You share in his glory, you take hold of his splendid greatness as you apply God’s unchanging promises to life.
Jesus Still Prays for You to share in his glory— literally. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. (That’s you!) All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. After Easter, Jesus holds a forty-day-long victory parade. On the fortieth day he stamps an exclamation point on that victory. Last Thursday marked Ascension Day. (Maybe your calendar noted the occasion.) Jesus goes up higher and higher in heaven, not with droopy head and saggy eyes, as some pathetic loser who knows that he failed and must retreat. He ascends in powerful might. No one and nothing outranks him. No one can prevent him from reigning. Never again will he die. Never again will he face humiliation. Jesus does not hope, but guarantees his return. A return where all people of all time have no choice but to blurt out the fact that he won (Philippians 2:9-11). A return where he does not hope, but brings you into your heavenly mansion (John 14:2-3). A return where he makes all things new forever (Revelation 21:5). He says these things out loud so that you may share in his victorious glory.
Are you starting to regain that sensational feeling? …The feeling that comes when your champion barges onto the scene? You are dealing with some large struggles. A health crisis. Staying away from your friends and family for 60-days [two months]. Flooding. General health problems. The sight of evil flourishing. The sight of good shriveling. Troubles from an estranged child. Changes from empty nesting. Life’s challenges can feel like they compound! You are squeezed tighter and tighter, and are not sure how much more you can handle.
The truth is, you cannot handle these challenges— not on your own— but your Champion can. Just like the helpless cheer at the sight of their saviors, the mere sight of your Champion makes you swell with confidence. The sight of Jesus guarantees success, leaving you to march on in certain victory. Yesterday, today, and always Jesus prays for you. Jesus Prays for You to see his glory and to share in his glory.
Why does Psalm 23 stand out as one of the most beloved psalms of all time? I mean, enter any Christian bookstore, any Hobby Lobby, any Wal-Mart and you will find artwork of sheep and a shepherd. Surf through Amazon’s marketplace and you will find these words etched on bookmarks, collectible plates, and Bible covers. Enter any Hallmark store and you are sure to find these words in a greeting card. What is it about Psalm 23 that makes it so endearing, so captivating? Is it the picture of a man whose face is worn rugged, who is beaten by the weather, living in the dry, desolate wilderness for the sole purpose of caring for sheep? Is it the deep-seated delight as you watch him retrace a wandering path just to find one lost sheep? Do you marvel at his determined, fearless resolve to fight a savage wolf with nothing but a shepherd’s staff? What is it about the twenty-third psalm that strikes the heartstrings?
The instant reaction might be to focus on how it makes you feel. You feel at peace because Someone great protects you. You feel satisfied because Someone great fills your soul. You feel confident because Someone great leads you. We can emphasize results (and that’s good)— but might I offer a different cause? The real underlying reason why these words resonate with us? Psalm 23 delights— not because of how it makes us feel, but because of what the Shepherd does. When you study his work and his ability, you realize this is the Shepherd we need.
That realization comes into focus with just the opening words. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Can you imagine the scene? The shimmering sun peeks over the horizon, its brilliant beams chase away shadows, its radiance illuminates the sprawling landscape. High overhead birds soar. Mist hovers over still water. Dewdrops sparkle on crisp, lush grass. Look around and what do you see? Peace! In fact, that ‘peace’ is amplified by what is not present. No enemy barreling towards you. No crushing heartbreak. No disappointment. No burden. No pressing responsibility. They do not exist here! Stop— and you hear silence. No sirens, no alarms. No calls for your attention. No shouting. No drama. No conflict. Stress is completely wiped out, forever removed!
You find a pasture of paradise— something not seen in this life. No, what we often see is frustration as plans fall apart. The dream does not strengthen marriage, it just creates more arguments, more conflict. It seems like everyone on your social media feed has a better life than you, they have reached significant goals. Fear always lingers. No matter how long you stare at the bank account, it does not make money appear. The news media tends to create problems and never solves them. The worst-case scenario constantly plays out in your mind. You just want to know for sure that the future will be okay. Then, there remains those relationships that paralyze us. You want the grudge over, but the brain creates another excuse why the phone call can wait another day. The sister always cries for help, but she never actually takes your advice to heart. She’ll burden you with the same problem again next week. Bundle up the challenges you (and I) carry and we feel so exhausted, so worn, so overwhelmed, so hurt, so broken. Psalm 23 captivates our attention because you find peace, security, safety.
Still, what makes us yearn for rest from every mental, physical, emotional struggle? (Of course, apart from the benefits of a peace-filled life.) What draws us into this serene pasture? Realizing that you (and I) fail to bring peace into life.
Do you remember how the psalm begins? ‘The Lord is my shepherd.’ Who does the leading? The Lord. The Lord speaks, we follow. The Lord speaks, we respond accordingly. Yet, how often our foolish hearts ignore his Word! Proud hearts can grow so confident in your (and my) ability, thinking that our decisions, our choices can bring meaningful security and unlock peace among relationships. So, with chest puffed out, we lay the Bible aside and chase whatever fantasies seem pleasant at the moment, thinking this kind of living will bring us real happiness.
In reality, the opposite is true! I mean, God did not say, ‘Go hold a grudge.’ He does say, ‘Forgive, as I have forgiven you’ (Colossians 3:13). No wonder we get tied up inside! Pride does not want to listen to those words. As a result, it invites heart-decaying consequences. God says, ‘Trust in me with all your heart, mind, and soul,’ (Proverbs 3:56). Still, pride wrestles for control. No wonder we worry! We try to do God’s job! Worry happens because we confront our own limitations; we lack the power make everything work out just the way we want. God promises: ‘Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because…Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’ (Hebrews 13:5). A little part of us shoves those words aside, considering them unnecessary. That God is too overbearing. Yet, what does greed do? Greed never has enough. Greed is a chronic wasting disease. No wonder we feel no satisfaction when greed saturates the heart!
The point is this: Self-reliance feels no need for God. No need for God watching over you. No need to follow God’s Word. A proud heart relies on you! How foolish! What guarantee can you make for real rest? Even worse, the further we wander from the Word of our God the further we wander from our God! The further we wander from him, we do not find peace. We find misery. We walk a road that will only bring everlasting heartbreak.
So, no wonder Psalm 23 draws us in! Yes, we gain many blessings from Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Yet, do not overlook the obvious. Who is a better shepherd? You— who cannot enter paradise? Or, Jesus, the Shepherd who has the ability to create this rest and then lead you into that rest?
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. The Good Shepherd gladly carried every commandment of God on his heart. He found complete joy in doing his Father’s will (Hebrews 10:7-9). Never once did he brush the Word of God off to the side. Instead, that Word filled his heart— and he used the Word to remove want. Disciples who set the burden on themselves to feed five-thousand mouths, Jesus teaches to bring requests to him. A woman who no doctor could heal finds healing in the Son of God. A prostitute who carries her own shame, a prostitute so many consider too far gone to be forgiven, hears forgiveness from the mouth of Jesus. The Good Shepherd spent his earthly life gathering hearts with his Word. He led those hearts to see his payment on the cross as the payment that brings real peace to a starved soul.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want— and you lack nothing. The living Lord still comes to you with his Word. A Word that penetrates your heart. A Word that does not express a wish, but a reality. What God actually does. So, when Jesus says, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ (John 20:21-23), there is no doubt, but the ongoing, solid reality that God no longer holds our faults against us. He does not lock us out of heaven. He does not hold a grudge. He restores weary hearts and souls.
Jesus is the Shepherd we need. Only he holds the power to remove stress and anxiety, fear and nerves. With his Word in our ears and hearts, he proves to be the Shepherd we have.
That truth draws us in to this psalm. Jesus remains the Shepherd we have— even now! Sometimes you encounter this wrong notion. The idea that once you become a Christian, life becomes perfect. You have health. You have wealth. Your children become perfectly obedient. You never get stressed out at work. Never experience accidents or tragedy. All your friends leave a positive impact. That life just becomes completely easy. That’s not true. The Bible never makes such a claim. Even this psalm admits that you (and I) will have trouble. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You (and I) can walk through challenges— financial stress, disappointments brought on by children, even the thought of a covid-19-caused death. We can stand in the overwhelming presence of death— and all its overpowering torments. Still you (and I) need not fear. Why? [Y]ou are with me. Jesus, the Good Shepherd stands bigger than our challenges. His ‘rod’ and ‘staff’ are not two different objects, but really one. The Word of God gives strength in difficulty. You (and I) can press on even in the face of death because God’s Word does not make wishes, but guarantees.
God has kept those promises, hasn’t he? He sent his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16). He has provided you another day with food, clothing, and shelter— and even more, the delight of knowing that it all comes from him (Psalm 37:25). Even in the face of death, you do not stare down the dark abyss, but rather see heaven opened! The heart clings to these promises and keep moving ahead by those promises.
With the Shepherd leading, you triumph over all your foes. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Imagine walking into a five-star restaurant. The Lord receives you as his honored guest. He seats you at the finest candlelit table. You turn to look out the window and you see your enemies outside. Death’s icy grip. Satan’s life-wrecking temptations. The world’s empty promises. Their hands press against the window, aching to rush in— but they cannot. The Risen Christ has cast them outside forever. They are conquered; they can never afflict you ever again!
You turn to the feast spread before you. The finest cuts of meat. The fresh-picked vegetables. The still-warm breads. The most expensive of wines— things you may not be able to afford in this life. Imagine the emotional, mental, and physical delights of feasting! Every need is so fully, so perfectly met. The Good Shepherd grants such satisfaction with his Word—a Word that proclaims his Easter victory and a word that guarantees your share in victory! Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
So, why does Psalm 23 stand out as one of the most beloved psalms of all time? What is it about Psalm 23 that makes it so endearing, so captivating? What is it about the twenty-third psalm that strikes the heartstrings? Is it the picture of a man whose face is worn rugged, who is beaten by the weather, living in the dry, desolate wilderness for the sole purpose of caring for sheep? Is it the deep-seated delight as you watch him retrace a wandering path just to find one lost sheep? Do you marvel at his determined, fearless resolve to fight a savage wolf with nothing but a shepherd’s staff? Yes, we can ponder what the Good Shepherd does.
Yet, stop and study yourself, your ability, your efforts—and no wonder we fear! What limits we have! When we stop to study the work and ability of the Good Shepherd, you realize this is the Shepherd we need. He is the Shepherd we have. The Lord is My Shepherd.