April 16, 2018

Jesus Calms - Luke 24:36-49



Theme: The Calming Influence of Jesus in the Scriptures
1. Calm from terror 
2. Calm from doubt
3. Calm from joy

The first Easter Sunday was a whirlwind for the disciples. Everything they had been through with Jesus was now coming to a head and we get a taste of the chaos in our text. Our text divides into two primary sections. We read the first, verses 36-43, which describes the frenzied state of that day:

Luke 24:36-49 Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, "Peace to you." 37 But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. 38 And He said to them, "Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 "Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have." 40 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. 41 But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, "Have you any food here?" 42 So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. 43 And He took it and ate in their presence.

The disciples needed to be calmed. They were scared. They were in doubt. They were shocked. Their emotional inventory was bursting over. To calm them, Jesus taught them from His Word, as we see in the remainder of our text:

44 Then He said to them, "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me." 45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. 46 Then He said to them, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47 "and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 "And you are witnesses of these things. 49 "Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”

An amazing transformation took place through these words. The disciples, who throughout Jesus’ three year ministry had been meek, timid, and mistake-prone, now moved forward to form the early Christian Church – the very foundation that we continue to build upon today. What happened? How did they go from wandering followers who left their Master to be killed by His enemies, to courageous defenders of salvation? What happened in the 50 days from Easter to Pentecost, the window of time for this transformation? Peter himself went from denier of Christ to gospel preacher before the very tribunal that crucified his Lord. What happened was that the disciples were calmed through the peaceful influence of the Scriptures.

Part 1: Calm from terror (from the Jews – they needed peace)

Peace was the first message Jesus spoke to them on Easter. Before He appeared to them in the upper room, the disciples were huddled in fear. They were scared that they would be the next target of the bloodthirsty crowd that had demanded Jesus’ crucifixion. They were afraid that they would be hunted down by the Sanhedrin, one by one. To the disciples, everything seemed over. What does a person who is scared need? Peace. Jesus had every right to chastise His disciples. He had every right to demand penance for their laziness and disloyalty in the Garden. But, the first thing He says is “Peace to you.” Jesus recognized that the disciples agonized over their mistakes already. They felt the guilt and shame of letting Jesus down. They were at a low point. And so, Jesus offered an encouraged word of peace.

Jesus knows the same about your life also. He knows when you are at a low point of shame and guilt because of your sins. David wrote of his own sins, The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart-- These, O God, You will not despise (Psalm 51:17). It’s okay to be broken and contrite because God says that when you repent in sorrow over your sins, He will not forsake you. He will be there to offer peace. Jesus did that for His own disciples, during this tumultuous time, and He continues to do it for you. Those who truly recognize and confess their sins for what they are, have peace from God. There is calm over the fear of what we have earned for ourselves.

Part 2: Calm from doubt (about Jesus – they needed answers)

However, the disciples needed more help from their Lord, as we so often do. The next stage of their emotional chaos was doubt. Could it really be Jesus? Was He different? Was He just a ghost – simply a vision and not truly alive? They suffered from doubt, and therefore needed answers. And quite an answer Jesus gave to respond to their doubt. He allowed them to see and feel the wounds of the cross. He ate food to show them that He was more than a vision.

It’s kind of funny that Thomas forever is known as “doubting Thomas” because he wouldn’t believe the disciples’ word until he had proof. Yet, here, shortly before Thomas’ story, the rest of them had the same feeling. They wanted proof that they could handle and see. They didn’t want to believe until their senses had been satisfied. Rather than taking Jesus at His Word, they wanted to define the criteria of faith. So many people today are the same – even good Christians – even us. We talk about trusting Jesus, but so often we fall into the trap of trusting ourselves by making faith about what we observe.

But, there was much more going on here than just providing rational evidence. Scars are also reminders. They teach us lessons. There is an emotional significance to them because they bring us back to their point of origin. For example, I have a large scar on my knee. I will forever remember, with great clarity, how I got that scar. I was canoeing with my dad and younger sister, who wasn’t more than 5 years old. I was in the front of the canoe, charting and directing the course on the river – for the first time. Due to my lack of experience I panicked when the current started leading us to a set of rapids with low-lying trees. When you’re in a canoe being led by a current that you can’t control, you stay clear of low-hanging objects. Rather than re-direct, I panicked. I was clotheslined by the overhanging branch, thrown out of the canoe, which was subsequently pinned underwater beneath even lower branches. Here’s where I got my scar. As I bobbed down the river I knew I should have lifted up my legs and just floated, but I panicked again and tried to stand up and walk out of the current. Bad idea. My knees scraped against the jagged rocks and when I finally emerged I had a huge gash. It likely could have been even worse. This scar reminds me to stay calm in uncertain circumstances. I am continually reminded of that lesson.

We could all list similar lessons about other scars I’m sure. What a much greater lesson was given through Jesus’. Here’s where we see the spiritual connection. The nail prints and the gouge from the spear were not just lessons for Jesus – they were the marks of salvation for the entire world. When Jesus showed these wounds to the disciples He was not just giving evidence of His resurrected life. He was displaying the irrefutable promise that they had eternal hope. His scars were the very best answer for their questions of doubt – not just physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. Physical proof may calm a skeptic’s heart for a time. But if there is no spiritual backing – it will not last. More pressing than the intellectual doubts of the mind are the spiritual doubts of the heart. A person may have all the logical proof they desire, but if they still have the hollow doubt of a sinner’s heart – knowing that something more before God is still needed, they will never be calm. Jesus’ wounds calm the mind and heart – by giving proof of the resurrection, but also by fulfilled the demand of a righteous offering for sin.

Part 3: Calm from joy

One might expect the chaos to end here, but the toughest stage was still before the disciples. Upon seeing and touching the resurrected Savior, we’re told a most fascinating thing. They still did not believe for joy. Their fear had been overcome. They questions were answered. But, they still did not believe because of joy. What do you do for that? We don’t often think of joy as an impediment that needs to be overcome. But, as strange as this sounds, we’ve all had moments before where the joy of something was just too much. Think of a child on Christmas morning. Think of a married couple on their wedding day. Think of a team who just wins the championship. Moments of intense joy can be overwhelming.

The disciples knew that Jesus being alive was a good thing but they were in sensory overload. They couldn’t process it all. It was because of their joy that they did not believe. They were still in a frenetic state of emotional chaos over everything that had happened. It was finally when Jesus taught them from the Scriptures and their understanding increased, they were calmed. Jesus was giving them a foundation to stand on in their faith.

Feeling joy is great, but without an steady foundation to fall back on, it can still be a stressful thing. To be calm in your heart you have to have some place steady. For the believer that is the Scriptures. Even joy can cause uneasiness. The Word of God keeps us level. It gives us a home that we can return to again and again when we need an emotional break.

This is also why faith in Jesus is about the Word, not about feeling alone. The Christian who is on fire for the Lord may wonder, how do I keep this up? What happens if I fail? How do I keep moving forward if these feelings of joy dissipate – because surely they will in this world? It helps to return to the origin of faith – the objective fact that Jesus is the Savior; the irrefutable proofs of what He accomplished. These things are recorded for us in the Word. This is why God says that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” The Word is our safe space -whether we seek shelter from fear-induced frenzy or joy-induced frenzy. The Word is stable spot.

Some of us are intellectually led people; those of us that are analytically driven, fact-oriented, truth seekers. We don’t get caught up in emotions. Others are the opposite. Those who want to feel an emotional attachment. Those who look beneath the surface of the details and seek a deeper meaning of things. Jesus connects to both and calms both when troubles arise. And to do so, He used the Scriptures. The Word of God contains the straightforward truth. To the intellectually driven person the Word can be tested and analyzed. However, the Word of God also speaks beauty into a person’s life. It connects on a spiritual level – reaching the human heart. It changes how we feel, not just what we think.    

In this account we see how the resurrection of Christ and the Scriptures have a practical, day-to-day application for our lives. This gospel helps us cope with today, not just with preparing for eternity. The themes of eternal life are certainly important any time we focus on the work of Jesus but we should also remember that He does not abandon us today. There is a place of calm for you today and it comes through a better understanding of Jesus through the Scriptures. Calm terror, calm from doubt, and even calm from joy.

Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

April 9, 2018

The Christian's DNA - 1 John 1:1-2:2



Theme: The DNA of a Christian
Strand 1: The Life and Truth of Jesus
Strand 2: Fellowship with God and Believers
  
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life-- 2 the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us-- 3 that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full. 5 This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

2:1 My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

One week removed from celebrating the resurrection of Christ, we continue to focus on life. Isn’t that what the resurrection is all about? The life that Jesus took back. The triumph of life over death. The promise of eternal life in heaven. We always come back to life. Here on earth, the building block of life is DNA – the threadlike structure that forms and develops organisms. Without DNA there could be no life. Within DNA we see the awesome and ever-complex design of God.

Each human, each organism in fact, has unique DNA. No two are the same. Yet, the basic structure of function of DNA remains the same. Spiritually, we have DNA as well. It’s what makes a person a Christian. Like the DNA of our bodies, our spiritual DNA has the capability to develop life and also the capability to protect life. And much like the DNA of our bodies, the factors of our spiritual life flow together like strands built around a single purpose. That single purpose is to bring a person to faith in Jesus.

Part 1: Strand 1: The Life and Truth of Jesus

The words before us are essentially an object lesson of this very thing. One scholar says that John’s epistle is not like a set of bricks side by side, where each topic is addressed independently of the other. He says rather the letter is like a spiral where each topic flows around and in relation to the central theme of Jesus Christ. Structurally, this letter is like a DNA strand. It contains all we need to create and sustain life in Jesus Christ. And like our bodies, there’s more than what meets the eye with this spiritual DNA; it is complex and beautiful – a product of God’s design. Today, we consider the DNA of a Christian – with two strands in particular: The life and truth of Jesus, and fellowship between God and one another.

Life and truth are extremely important in the person and work of Jesus. So important, in fact, that they can’t be separated. The life that Jesus lived and won for us is dependent on the truth of who He was and what He did. Today, life and truth and both under attack. Life is devalued. Truth is not sought. Those who believe such things have a hard time understanding Jesus.    

You can’t separate who Jesus was (truth) from what He did (life) anymore than you can separate the sun from light. The Sun is light. You can’t have light without the sun. Likewise, Jesus is what He did. He stands for everything that He accomplished. We see this life and truth based on Jesus immediately in the words of John, the apostle. He speaks from the perspective of an eye-witness when it comes to establishing the truth. John says, That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life-- 2 the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us.

Three aspects of an eye-witness come forth. That which John heard, saw, and touched. John has this unique perspective as one who was with Jesus and he shares it with his readers so that they will know the truth. The stories about Jesus were not myth. They were not oral legends that were passed down over thousands of years. John was an eye-witness. Some of those to whom he wrote had also seen Jesus. If any of this was not true it could have easily been pointed out.

Here, then, is where life enters. The truth about Jesus establishes what He accomplished. John says that eternal life with the Father has now been manifested, literally made known, to us. In verse 4 he tells the Christians that he wants them to know what Jesus is so that their joy could be full. This is the joy of the resurrection, and it applies to us just as much as it applied to eye-witnesses. Yet, there is no joy if you take away truth from what Jesus did. Truth does matter. 

This strand of truth and life is no longer supplied by eye-witness testimony today. We can use what John and others witnessed but it comes to our lives through God’s Word. It is in the written and spoken Word that we now behold the Word incarnate – the Word which John spoke of in the first chapter of his Gospel. Through the Word of God today we continue to share truth and life through Jesus Christ.

Here’s where the battle lines are drawn – where we see attacks on life and truth. Today it is considered arrogant to claim to know the truth. People think you’re too proud if you call others wrong in their beliefs. Many are trying to meld all religions together so that we don’t have to talk about truth. Carrying the banner of God’s Word brings persecution and shame. Yet, John tells us that you can’t be a Christian if you deny the truth – it’s like trying to deny your own DNA. Our life with God, the life that Jesus won through the resurrection, is inseparably linked to truth. This is why every attack on God’s truth is dangerous – even if we try to convince ourselves that it doesn’t affect faith in Jesus. By denying truth, no matter what part, we deny the way that God creates and sustains life.

John goes so far as to take one element of the truth, namely that we are sinners, and say that if we deny it we deceive ourselves and even make God a liar. The fact is that God cares about the truth so much that He sent His Son to earth to suffer and die so that you could know the truth. He used multiple writers across different periods of history to accurately record His Word so that you would know truth – and that you would have life. This is part of the fabric of how God created you and renewed you. You simply cannot be a Christian without caring about the truth.  

John knew this struggle well. At this time John lived in Ephesus. Many believe these letters were written in response to a false teacher of that time named Cerinthus. Cerinthus was doing what many do today – trying to blend all faiths into one. He took parts of Judaism, parts of Christianity, parts of a cultural religion of that time known as Gnosticism and combined them all. Cerinthus denied almost the entire Bible as inspired and authoritative from God. His attack on the truth even led him to deny that Jesus was God – and what Jesus did on the cross. Because Cerinthus denied truth, he also denied life.

John fought against these false teachings because he knew first-hand what was at stake. He saw Jesus, listened to Jesus, and touched Jesus. John’s conviction as a Christian stemmed from the truth. Without it he was lost. You have the same truth today, passed down in the Scriptures. Treat the Scriptures with care. Use them often. Trust what they say, because they will create and sustain life in Jesus.     

Part 2: Fellowship with God and believers

John mentions fellowship as another aspect of Christian identity. Here’s where we see the life and truth in action. Fellowship in the Christian life involves spiritually sharing God’s blessings in Christ. It helps to think of our fellowship in two parts based on directions. Vertically, each Christian has fellowship with God by faith. Horizontally, Christians have fellowship with other Christians based on a shared confession of faith. Life and truth are important to both directions. God has established faith with believers by the Holy Spirit’s work in their hearts through the truth of His Word. This relationship fulfills Christ’s promise when He says those who believe in Him that they have passed from death to life. Believers are living eternal life today.

Horizontally, our fellowship with other Christians is based on the truth of God’s Word. Our confession of faith ought to line up correctly with God’s Word. This is why we see multiple horizontal fellowships in the world – not all Christians agree with everything the Word of God presents. Many also do not believe that unity in all matters of God’s Word is necessary or even possible. 

Much like DNA, fellowship is all about creating life. God makes establishing fellowship with Him by faith a priority in His Word. This marks the beginning of fellowship. It’s no surprise then, that God compares this to being reborn or coming back to life from death. Likewise, earthly fellowships of Christians are to go forth into the world and bring the life-saving gospel to all people. This spiritual DNA strand is also concerned with protecting life. One of the grand designs of DNA is that it has the ability to adapt to situations. If you are suffering from a virus your DNA code can actually change in order to release a helpful protein, and then go back to its original design.

In a similar way, the same Creator has designed fellowship as a protective measure against the harmful effects of sin. John speaks about this in matters of confessing our sins. Refusing to confess sin is similar to resigning oneself to a physical illness without seeking treatment. God has given us an antidote for sin. He has designed the Christian life with a means of receiving this treatment whenever we need it. It’s called confession and repentance.

Our horizontal fellowship is meant to act like an immune system to protect our vertical fellowship with the Lord. This is why unity in God’s Word is so important. If we don’t agree on what is right and wrong, how can we properly diagnose and treat the spiritual viruses that threaten us. Some say it’s impossible to agree on the truth. Perhaps on the surface that’s true with sinners. Some also say it’s impossible for sinners to have fellowship and be united with God. (2:1 – God has done this so that we don’t sin – but we do!). Perhaps that’s also true on the surface. But, Jesus got beneath the surface when He suffered, died, and rose again. Jesus turns impossible situations into practical truths worth believing. He is able to unite fractured believers. He is able to forgive fallen sinners. Just because something seems impossible to our ears does not mean it is truly impossible to God, nor does it give us a free pass to ignore what God commands.       

These two strands mark the Christian’s DNA. But most important is what they encircle: Jesus Christ the righteous – your Advocate. He gives life and truth to our lives. He established unity with us by faith and allows us to extend the same gift within our churches. Ultimately, our lives are measured by Christ’s. The fabric of our identity by faith is established and strengthened by Him. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Easter Sunday - Acts 2:29-32



Theme: Through the Resurrection: A Puzzling Question becomes Faith’s Answer

Acts 2:29-32 "Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 "Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, 31 "he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. 32 “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses.”

We know what the world says about today. It’s the same thing they’ve said about our faith from the very beginning. They refuse to accept that Christ is alive – literally they refuse to believe it. They act like it doesn’t matter either. “So what?” the world says. To them it’s more than ironic that today is also April fool’s day. Peter tells us the rallying cry of unbelievers is that there’s nothing new under the sun – which is actually a Christian concept to describe human sinfulness. The skeptics apply it to God, though. They say nothing has changed since the beginning of time. They say there’s nothing special about Christ, or God, or the faith which we confess and believe. And especially, the resurrection.

Today, it’s popular to lump Christianity in with the other religions of the world. People say that religion can serve a purpose culturally, but only in so far as we deem it worthy – and that worthiness obviously changes from culture to culture. Some Christians even say this. They strip the Bible of its historical accuracy and say that it’s only a collection of cultural myths that serve as metaphors to the modern man. If you want to make it part of your culture, you can, but it’s not a big deal either way. Ultimately, it’s no different than the Egyptian religion, or the Greek and Roman gods, or any other deity that has ever existed. Sadly, for many, even many Christians, the Resurrection is nothing more than a child-like fairy tale with a moral lesson. Christ didn’t actually rise from the dead, they say; rather it’s the story that teaches us we can become new people and create a better world. What a sad, limping gospel that truly is.

It’s well-nigh impossible to believe that how the world sees religion today is even remotely connected to the gospel that Peter boldly spoke in our text on Pentecost Sunday. It’s impossible to believe that a mere fairy tale is what caused countless numbers of Christians to risk their very lives to establish the New Testament church; to be willing to be killed instead of denying the faith. There was something more to the resurrection of Christ than a wish-fulfillment myth. For Peter and the others, as for us, the resurrection of Christ is irrefutable proof that death is conquered. It was not fulfillment of a mere wish that early Christians had, which differed in no way from other religions. No, it was absolute proof that Jesus backed up His promise to be the resurrection and the life, that all who believed in Him would have eternal life too. The resurrection of Jesus was not a wishy-washy concept. It had teeth and voracity. It struck people in the heart. It left them with a feeling that could not be explained away or sidetracked.

Anytime we stray away from the simple words of God about His Son’s death and resurrection, the message loses force. Skeptics today say that Christians are just dreamers because they think we avoid the tough questions. But being a Christian does not grant a free pass on mental wrestling. You and I know well that confessing Christ’s name is not an easy pass from spiritual conflicts. If anything, being a Christian brings with it an even greater awareness of the tough questions. We’re not just academically discussing the Word of God. We’re claiming to stake everything – even our entire eternal existence – on what that Word says. How can we escape the questions about the very things we trust? We, too, like the rest of the world, must give an answer.

Peter was answering a puzzling question in our text. It was a question that had long hounded the Jews of Jesus’ day – one that He even posed to them. And it’s a question every person must eventually answer. Who is Jesus?

Jesus obviously addressed this question a lot. Even His very presence begged it. However, it was in one particular section that He connected it to David; which is where Peter found the impetus for his own treatment of it on Pentecost. We read from Matthew 22, where Jesus says, "What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?" They said to Him, "The Son of David." 43 He said to them, "How then does David in the Spirit call Him`Lord,' saying: 44 `The LORD said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool "'? 45 "If David then calls Him`Lord,' how is He his Son?" 46 And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore (Matthew 22).

This was the puzzling question. How could Jesus be David’s descendent and also David’s Lord? What it ultimately comes back to is the person of Jesus. He was unlike anything anyone had ever seen. Completely God and completely human. Clearly, just the bare logic of the question astounds us. No one can scientifically explain how God could become human. Furthermore, how could a person even measure God? It takes faith to answer this question.

This is why the Pharisees were left speechless before Jesus. This is why the world continues to reject what Jesus came to do. It takes trust in God to accept the answer. Jesus was David’s descendent and His God because He was able to be both. More importantly for our lives, Jesus had to be both. He had to be perfect – to plan and execute the task of salvation from eternity. He had to be like us in order to carry our sin. If He wasn’t, the blessings would not have applied to our lives. Jesus certainly could have atoned for sin on His own, but without being human it would not have translated to our lives.

It takes trust in God to answer this puzzling question, but not because faith blindly follows anything it chooses. Here’s where the world thinks that Christians have an easy pass. To say that something must be accepted by faith sounds like a cop-out. The world tells us that we are avoiding the tough question. Eventually, the world pities that Christian who makes such a confession, as if they are some lunatic who doesn’t know right from left. To the world, there’s a noble courage involved with confronting the spiritual questions of life head on and bringing them in to submission to the human will. It’s considered weak and naïve to trust.

Understanding the two natures of Jesus is a lot like understanding His resurrection. They both defy reason. But the connection runs even deeper. They are also inseparably linked in spiritual importance. It is through His divine power that Christ conquered death. But, it was also with His human body that He died and came back to life. You can’t have a resurrection without a fully divine and human Savior. This is why Jesus asked people about Himself as He was approaching the cross. To see Jesus was to see eternal life. To know Him was to know that death would be destroyed. The Pharisee’s missed the boat because they didn’t want to trust. Many in the world continue on the same path because they don’t want to trust.

Trust seems like an easy way out of the puzzling questions because it involves obedience. Obedience is despised in our culture. In fact, obedience is despised by all people who are hungry for power and control. Therefore, we are often told that obedience, and the trust in God from which it flows, is only for simple-minded people who want to keep their head in the sand. We’re told that you can only get to a position of faith by ignoring the puzzling questions.

What do you think about these accusations? Do they apply to Christians? Well, they certainly could. There are plenty who believe to avoid strife and difficulty – even Jesus admitted as much when He taught that hypocrisy is real. But, to make that determination, you have to go back to the basis of one’s trust. If your faith has no backing then it truly is blind. However, listening to Peter, that’s not the impression with which we’re left. Peter speaks with the confidence of someone who has found the answer to a question. Peter, being a Jew himself, certainly wrestled with the person of Christ; even more so with the resurrection of Christ. When Jesus foretold His death and resurrection, it was Peter who stood up and said it would never happen. When Jesus was on trial, it was Peter who denied the Lord. Peter knew the tough questions and he didn’t skirt around them. His hope abounded because he found the answer from God – not because he avoided the struggle. w

How did Peter get to this position of confidence and hope? It was through the Word of God. Led by the Holy Spirit as he studied the Word, Peter saw what David prophesied about Jesus. In his own moment in the spotlight, it was this Word that Peter fell back on to defend his faith in Jesus. It was only once Peter let go of his own will and submitted to His Savior’s that he found the answers he was looking for. That’s what faith in Jesus does. It sheds light on tough questions but it also changes the human heart to trust God above all others.

Countless numbers of believers have been through the same process as Peter. Paul would use the same defense of his faith in Acts 13, again going back to David. Even David himself used it as Peter described, how David had to wait on the Lord to fulfill the Messianic promise of which he was aware. Believers don’t avoid the tough questions – we answer them in Christ. There is no greater example of faith’s power in this way than Christ Himself – who didn’t avoid the fate of death but rather conquered in it. He didn’t skirt around the grave. He was consumed by it. He didn’t run from Satan’s temptations – He stood up to them. He didn’t hide from the taunts and jeers, not just on Good Friday but during His entire life – rather He responded in truth and love. You simply can’t be a follower of Christ by avoiding the tough questions – because He didn’t.

And more importantly, you don’t have to avoid the tough questions – because He didn’t. Through Christ’s resurrection, you have been brought to the cross and even past it. You have been carried in to the grave. You have been raised. You stand victorious against Satan and hell today. That’s the power of faith. It may be called weak. It may be deemed foolish and naïve. But, there is nothing more powerful than a believer who trusts their Savior and leaves everything to Him. Today, God tells you that not even death can stand in your way. If that is the case, why worry what the world says? God has answered every question.

To close, listen to what Peter would go on to write to the Christians he was called to serve, again, not dodging the tough questions, but answering them in Jesus and through His resurrection:   

1 Peter 1:3-4, 6-7 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

March 27, 2018

Palm Sunday - 2 Corinthians 4:11-18



Theme: High Risk – High Reward Shareholding
1. You have gone from death to life
2. You are able to believe and speak 

Ever since the beginning of time, people have shared together. We know that sometimes it takes some learning to grow in sharing with others, but it’s really a natural instinct that we all possess. Learning to share usually involves being willing to give, but we don’t typically have a problem receiving. Both are aspects of sharing.

Sharing became such a big thing early in history that God had to separate people and form different nations at the Tower of Babel. Sinful man had used his sharing capability to such an extent that he was trying to be an equal with God. Equality with God, of course, was the first lie Satan threw at Adam and Eve in the Garden. Satan wanted them to believe that God was holding out on them, not sharing what really should have been theirs to have. This same lie is at the root of all sin even today – wanting to have, to receive things in a shared relationship, that really aren’t good for us. God tells us what gives the most prosperous, spiritually rich and fulfilling existence, but our sinful flesh leads us to want something else.

This idea of sharing is so inherent to the human condition that God has designed it to be a blessing as well. We call it fellowship – sharing with God and with other Christians in the blessings of His Word. One really can’t be a Christian without fellowship, what we also call communion. Faith is a shared gift. We receive from God. We give praise and thanks back to Him. We express our convictions with other Christians for mutual strength and comfort. The Christian faith is meant to be shared, not practiced in isolation.  

As we reach the beginning of Holy Week, we ask ourselves how we share in the work of Christ. It’s only natural to think that if we are truly in a sharing relationship with our Savior, there is something we must contribute. But, it’s precisely the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus that shows us the uniqueness of our faith. We share with our Lord, but we need not offer anything – He has taken care of it all. To more fully explore this thought, we read from 2 Corinthians 4:11-18, where Paul explains the benefits of sharing with Christ by faith:

2 Corinthians 4:11-18 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So then death is working in us, but life in you. 13 And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, "I believed and therefore I spoke," we also believe and therefore speak, 14 knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. 15 For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God. 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Part 1: You have gone from death to life

Publicly, one of the most common ways of sharing is to combine resources in hopes of gaining more for each participant. People join together to do bigger things. People share visions and goals to make a greater impact. The hope is that the better you are at this, the more you’ll get from it. This kind of sharing has been going on in different ways from the very beginning but we probably know it best in the modern stock market. You can use your money to become a shareholder in a company, buying tiny portions, called stocks, and receiving part of the profits. Anyone with experience in the stock market knows that risks are involved. If the company doesn’t perform well, you have to share that loss. If the entire market collapses, everyone suffers. It’s sharing with high risk and high reward.

It’s not surprising then, that God compares the sharing that believers have with Him by faith in the same way – high risk, high reward. Two different parables highlight this aspect – both spoken near the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. In Luke 19, Jesus spoke the Parable of the Minas. A Mina was a term used for roughly three months of wages. The Master gave His servants a certain amount of minas and expected them to make a return on the investment. This parable was spoken by Jesus just before Palm Sunday – perhaps even on the same day.

The other parable that highlights the shareholder aspect of faith is the Parable of the Talents. Similarly to the minas, in this parable the Master gives out talents, a treasure worth roughly around $1,000 dollars, to his servants, again expecting a return. This parable was spoken by Jesus on Holy Week, either on Wednesday or Thursday.

It’s very clear that as Jesus is approaching His death, He wants His followers to know that they are sharing in this work. They are sharing to receive something valuable. But it wasn’t their time to contribute, that would come later.

Here is where our text from 2 Corinthians enters the scene – for in it we see what we are sharing – and what the result is. The first, and most important gift you have received is the promise of deliverance from death. Paul writes, knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. Last weekend we talked about how the treasure of our Christian faith is not about the little details that change over time and cultures. It’s not about how the world sees us or treats us. It’s not even about how we feel about ourselves, knowing that even our own feelings can betray the reality of what Christ did for us. We see the same message being given here.

The Corinthians were being persecuted. Like us, they lived at a time, and in a culture, when it was unpopular to take a stand on God’s Word. They were mocked for their beliefs. They were belittled for their trust in God. They were pressured to conform to cultural standards in their Greco-Roman world. So, Paul takes time to remind them of what they were sharing with their Lord Jesus. They were partakers, shareholders, of eternal life. But along with that gift would come the ire from the world.

This is one the great challenges of being a Christian. We share in the blessings and in the sufferings. We don’t share so that we earn something through our suffering, because Christ already perfected that task. Just like the disciples, our task of building God’s investment comes after God completes His work and our accomplishment in that task is blessed by God. We share in sufferings because we follow the same principles and guidelines of faith that God established through His Word. Our sufferings are marks that we submit and trust in Jesus as our only Savior from sin. But, that doesn’t always feel like a sold investment, however. Sometimes the risks outnumber the rewards.

Isn’t an investment, a treasure, supposed to be profitable for our lives? What about increasing that investment among others? Who wants to share in sufferings? Well, no one, but that’s why we need to constantly remind ourselves of what Paul says. We are receiving life instead of death. We have confidence that just as Jesus was raised from the dead, we will rise also. We will be presented to God, blameless and righteous – fit for the kingdom of heaven eternally. This is true because this is the treasure that Jesus has won for us and freely given by faith in Him. We are privileged to share in His life.

Part 2: You are able to believe and speak
  
Along with that blessed gift now comes the response. What we give now that we have received. Paul, quoting Psalm 116, writes, And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, "I believed and therefore I spoke," we also believe and therefore speak. Like that privilege of life that we share with Jesus, so also we share the privilege of telling others about this gift. This is where the investment idea of the parables enters. The blessing of faith in Jesus is meant to be given just as it was given to you. It is meant to be received just as it was received by you.

Here, I’d like to paraphrase what a prominent atheist once said, “I don’t believe in Christianity, but I admire their desire to witness. If a person actually believes that they have the key to eternal life, how much must they hate someone not to share that gift?” As shareholders with Christ, we are now given the responsibility to increase the impact of the investment He made on the cross. Often there is a lot of fear and uneasiness that comes along with witnessing.         

How do we combat that fear? Focus on the gift, as Paul outlines:
·       v.16 tells us: Renewal in the heart by faith is real today and it corresponds to renewal on the last day for eternity.
·       v.17 tells us: Suffering is temporary, life is eternal.
·       v.18 tells us: The true value of the gift of faith is not seen. What is seen is what gives fear. While we often focus on the seen, what will last is not seen.  

Being afraid of the earthly consequences of trusting in Jesus will always be an easy option for you. Willingness to speak and act in His name takes determined purpose and effort. A determination that God creates and sustains by His Word. Paul summarizes perfectly: We believe, therefore we speak. We are able to share the treasure of our faith because we believe in Jesus. That means faith unlocks the ability to serve God. As the Bible says elsewhere, without faith we cannot serve God (Hebrews 11:6).

How does faith have this ability? How can it take a weak Christian and make them confident? Well, think of it from Jesus’ perspective. Was He timid as He approached the cross? Physically weak, yes, but not timid. Was He confident? Was He in control? Absolutely, yes. The cross was tough for Jesus but the difficulty did not consume Him to the point of altering His determination. In our moments of fear or weakness, it helps to remember this because we share with Jesus in what He did. We share so much so, that it’s as if His actions become ours. It’s as if we suffered the torments and hung on the cross. That’s how much God deems us to be justified. In the very same way as Christ. Faith makes us a shareholder in that work.

And so, it is true that faith is necessary. It is true that determination and courage are necessary. But, those blessings do not come from our will. They come from Jesus. We become different when we believe in Him because He is different. He changes us. It’s not that we have reached this level on our own. Sadly, when people struggle they are so often pushed back to something about themselves. Do better. Try harder. Be wiser. None of those things will help. Rather, let us say: I believe, therefore I speak. I believe and in that believing I share with My Savior. I share in what He accomplished and achieved. I share in His victory. I share in His death and resurrection. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

March 15, 2018

Lenten Questions - part 5



Theme: The Word Moves On
1. The Word Incarnate – from His death, resurrection, and ascension
2. The Word Proclaimed – from rejection, indulgence, and apathy

Luke 23:28-31 But Jesus, turning to them, said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 "For indeed the days are coming in which they will say,`Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!' 30 "Then they will begin to say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" and to the hills, "Cover us!"' 31 "For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?"

One of the great evidences of the Bible’s trustworthiness is the fact humans have a moral code. Humans know basic right from wrong. The Bible says that this basic morality is evident from the world around us and also that God wrote it into our hearts when He designed human life (Romans 1:20, 2:14). The consequence of both factors, whether Creation or Conscience, is that humans have no excuse for immorality. There are certain pieces of information that only believers know and believe – that God is Author and Finisher of salvation and that He freely extends His grace and blessings to mankind. Those facts are not observed naturally – but the basic difference between right and wrong is.

Morality is one area that natural science cannot explain. It yields to a higher power – it demands a higher power. Certainly, this is the position of the Bible. But, we also see the same lessons presented across history. Think of Aesop’s fable of the ant and the grasshopper for instance. I probably don’t even have to explain that fable – you probably already know it well. It’s a moral lesson about preparing. The ant was industrious, responsible, and therefore prepared for the coming winter. The grasshopper was lazy, ineffective, and therefore ill-prepared for winter. The moral lessons are straightforward and unavoidable – so simple that little children readily grasp them. It is good to be a hard worker. It is bad to be lazy. They are true, lasting, and memorable because they resonate with what we already know to be true from God. God has shown us these truths in the world. He has put them in our hearts. We are moral beings because God made us that way.

The existence of morality means that there are consequences – good and bad. The ant’s consequence was that he would be safe and secure with his food supply. The grasshopper’s consequence was that he would struggle. In a much bigger way, God gives us the freedom to make decisions for ourselves, but He does not allow us to escape the consequences of those decisions. You can choose to rob a bank or to save and invest your money – both have consequences. You can choose to be kind to others or to gain by exclusion and selfishness – both choices have consequences. There are usually many ways forward depending on the situation that life presents, and so there are usually many consequences as well. Some are immediately known and seen – coming ahead. Others take time to realize.

In this question posed by Jesus this evening, He is appealing to this inner sense of right and wrong that all people share. No one in Jerusalem could claim that what would happen, what Jesus was predicting, would be unfair. They had their choice, now they had to live with the consequence. “For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?”
 
In this context, Jesus was really addressing God’s presence among people. At that time, things were green. Jesus was among them. He had given many great evidences of God’s power. He was about to secure the salvation of the entire world. This was a good time to recognize and trust in God’s presence by faith. The warning was that times would change. Soon Jesus would not be around. Soon He would return to heaven. The clear manifestations of Christ’s power on earth, opportunities to believe, would be gone – dried up. The main lesson here is that the Word of God moves on – whether in the direct presence of Jesus or in the written Bible today. God has given us an inner sense of this importance and there are everlasting consequences to the choices we make with the Word of God.

In the direct context, Jesus was addressing His presence among the people – in body. He was moving forward to do what had to be done – to die, to rise, to ascend. He, as the Word made flesh, was not going to be stagnant. He did not come to earth to chill out and show everyone how to love one another so that God would accept them. He did not come to appease peoples’ consciences so that they would feel better about themselves. Jesus came for action. He came to fulfil and accomplish and His work was at the cross and in the bowels of the grave. He came to redeem and forgive. To make right what centuries of men and women had ruined– even to generations like our own that had yet to be born.

Jesus was moving on. What choices would the people make? Sadly, many of them would be the ones to commit the coming atrocities against God’s Son – at least by having a hand in offering support or even in blind indifference. They certainly were not prepared to act upon what they knew was right. And there would be a consequence. Jesus talks about a time coming when women would be happy to be barren. This was quite a prediction for that culture because barrenness was viewed as a curse from God – not a blessing. Think of Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth, to name a few – women who struggled with the societal effects of not being able bear children.

Jesus says that the horror of the coming time would be so great that this principle of their society would be turned upside down. No one would want to have children. He was talking about the destruction of Jerusalem. After He moved on, the Romans would come sweeping down with great fervor upon Jerusalem and punish the populace for the repeated rebellions that would break out. The earthly Messianic fever would not dissipate until the Temple itself had been annihilated. People would run to the hills for refuge – few would find it.

Jesus actually quoted here from the prophet Hosea, when Hosea foretold of the Israel’s destruction at hands of the Assyrians. In both instances, the people fled to the mountains and pleaded with the hills to cover them – to no avail. Such was the totality of God’s judgment over their sins and such is the contrast between the Green and the Dry. The people of Jerusalem failed to heed God’s call to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. The consequence was stark and stunning.

Part 2

Yet, there are even bigger consequences to unbelief than earthly destruction. As Jesus taught, so we see also here: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28).” In the book of Revelation, John describes what he saw when he opened to sixth seal, depicting the final day of Judgment: “And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, 16 and said to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 "For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”

In these words, is a lesson for us – modern Christians. We do not have the Lord Christ’s direct presence among us in body – but the Word remains among us in the Preached and Sacramental Gospel. We, too, are directed to take heed of God’s Word and to treat it with care and respect – for the Word continues to move on even today. Our choices and their subsequent consequences are very much aligned with the people of Israel in the OT and the people of Jerusalem in the NT. It’s the way it always is for believers of all generations. Your relationship with the Word of God will determine your relationship with God. His presence among you today is based on His Word’s presence in your life.

If today is an era of “greenness,” with free access to Word and Sacraments and no religious persecution, what would be the time of “dryness?” It varies across each generation and even geographic regions of Christians. The key is that the same moral lesson is at play in all circumstances. Use the Word of God. Treat it with respect. Treasure it. Because what you do to the Word, you are doing to Christ.

For us, times of spiritual drought set in by taking God’s Word for granted. This is especially pertinent to those of us who have grown up in the faith. Many of us have not experienced life without the Word. Dangers of this nature are: rejection, indulgence, and apathy. Rejection of basic teachings that we have known from early on. Indulgence of pleasures and lures of the world, and not striving for true joy by the gospel. And apathy toward the issues of our time that threaten our faith and how important a regular use of God’s Word is for our lives.

These dangers indicate the dryness of the era in which we live and the warning Jesus gave to Jerusalem applies equally to us. The Word moves on. Green and vibrant can easily become dry and shriveled. We, too must live with consequence of how we treat the Word of God. The consequences will define which side we are on – but the preparation and care must take place today.

With this simple question, Jesus touched one of the most important parts of life – where we are headed and why. Instructing people about the necessity of receiving God’s Word by faith and warning them about the day of judgment are things we must continue to do. Treasuring God’s Word as we freely have it today, for our own souls, is extremely important also. But, perhaps the most important lesson we can learn comes right away in our text, Jesus tells the daughters of Jerusalem, “Do not weep for Me.”

Jesus knew what He was doing and He knew what would result from the single choice He alone could make. As vital as it is to insist on the important matters of morality by faith in Christ – to have faith is not a choice we can make. Jesus made it for us. Jesus set his face toward the cross and grave so that we wouldn’t have to choose justice on our own. He knew we would fail if we had to. He knew that we could never attain to that higher morality of God by our works, effort, decisions, or desires. So He did it for us – willingly, consciously, freely by His own choice.

And so, we too, do not need to weep for Jesus. And by faith in His name, secured by His holy wounds, we will not have weep for ourselves either. God’s choice to sacrifice His Son for sinners, results in the blessed consequence of the believer’s life in heaven. That hope will be found wherever the Word of God continues to be proclaimed, shared, and received. Amen. 

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

March 12, 2018

Lent 4 - Genesis 41:32-44



Theme: A Destiny that is Truly Manifest from God
1. Individually - Joseph’s Ability to Interpret Dreams
2. Nationally – Israel’s rise and prominence as God’s people
3. Eternally – As citizens of heaven

Any student of American history has heard of the term, Manifest Destiny. That term was first used by a magazine editor in 1845 and referred to the growing belief in American culture of the God-given right to expand westward and colonize territories. For us in the Pacific Northwest, Manifest Destiny had a direct impact. Our land, if you will, was secured through this mindset and policy of expansionism. In 1849, The United States signed a treaty with Great Britain to mark the division of nations at the 49th parallel north, where the current border between the United States and Canada remains to this day. This was a product of Manifest Destiny, without it, it’s likely that the Pacific Northwest never would have become U.S. land.

Is that a good thing? I’m sure we all appreciate that we can call Washington home. Yet, we also know the evils that came along with the idea of Manifest Destiny. It led to the deportation and mistreatment of Native American tribes. It led to the Mexican - American War and to the several thousand lives lost. It led to a nationalistic pride among many Americans in thinking that our nation can do what it wants because we have God’s supposed blessing. That’s a dangerous sentiment to hold to, and one that certainly continues even today.

This discussion is difficult to be sure. The key lesson is to be careful about determining in your mind that God has given His blessing to something that you’re doing. Unless you have clear evidence from Scripture that God has personally sanctioned whatever you are doing, you are actually lying. I suppose there is certainly the possibility that God could directly reveal Himself through another means, possible, but very, very unlikely because He has now revealed Himself through the Holy Scriptures in this New Testament age. 

Whenever humans go above and beyond the Word of God, danger ensues. We recognize from history this problem in connection with the idea of Manifest Destiny. The same issue has sprung up in many other eras as well. We get a taste of one in our text today. As Joseph’s well-known story soon comes to a close, the nation of Israel’s begins. At this turning point, God reminds us yet again of the importance of following His Word closely and taking care not to add to our ideas about God from our own thoughts. We ask the Holy Spirit’s blessing as we read from Genesis 41:32-44 and as we consider our theme for today: 

A Destiny that is Truly Manifest from God
1. Individually - Joseph’s Ability to Interpret Dreams
2. Nationally – Israel’s rise and prominence as God’s people
3. Eternally – as citizens of heaven

Genesis 41:32-44 "And the dream was repeated to Pharaoh twice because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.  33 "Now therefore, let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt.  34 "Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, to collect one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven plentiful years.  35 "And let them gather all the food of those good years that are coming, and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities.  36 "Then that food shall be as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which shall be in the land of Egypt, that the land may not perish during the famine." 
37 So the advice was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of all his servants.  38 And Pharaoh said to his servants, "Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?"  39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you.  40 "You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you."  41 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt."  42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring off his hand and put it on Joseph's hand; and he clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck.  43 And he had him ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried out before him, "Bow the knee!" So he set him over all the land of Egypt.  44 Pharaoh also said to Joseph, "I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no man may lift his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt."

Manifest means to make known. Destiny means what will happen in the future. Put them together and they express certainty about future events. The next logical question is, how? Believers know the future is clear because God makes it so. But, when we look at Joseph’s life, and really most true followers of God, the opposite seems to be the case. A believer certainly knows the what the future holds in their heart. Whatever happens, will be for our good and will ultimately end in heaven. But, while we’re moving along here on earth, it’s a maze of unexpectedness.

Part 1: Individually - Joseph's Ability to Interpret Dreams

We see that in our text. We know it already in the prior context from Joseph’s life. Sold in to slavery. Abandoned and betrayed by his family. Reputation maligned for doing the right thing. Forgotten and left in prison by the one he helped. And here, in his next opportunity for freedom, the path forward comes through a dream. The very nature of dreams or visions is that they are unknown. The destiny is not clear, at least immediately. By God’s power, Joseph was allowed to interpret the vision.

The dream of the seven skinny cows and the seven plump cows was meant to prepare Egypt for famine. In the bigger picture, it also prepared the rest of the region, since Egypt would supply other nations with food. Individually, it prepared Joseph for God’s plan. Through the wisdom God had given Joseph, Pharaoh appointed Joseph to second in command – perhaps the most important person in the nation at that time, maybe even in the known world, because of the work he was given to do.

Joseph’s manifest destiny came through a simple dream. In a similar way, a believer’s destiny comes through the vision of God’s Word. It’s commonplace in our culture today to emphasize following one’s dreams. We tell kids that they can be who they want to be and do what they want to do. This is great, if their desires are right. If a kid dreams of hurting others, would we want them to follow it? If someone dreams of power over the weak, should they be urged to pursue it? Absolutely not, yet the message our culture gives is – follow your dreams and don’t let anyone tell you no.

Here we see the difference in the way God acts. When God directs your destiny, you can be sure it will lead to a good outcome – for you and for others. But, sometimes God’s path is unknown to us or not understood by us. Certainly we can say that of Joseph. How lonely he must have felt as he rotted away in the Egyptian prison – all because He remained faithful and followed God. How frustrating it must have been to help the butler go free just to be abandoned again. Yet, in all these things God was working for Joseph’s destiny. Without these bad things happening, Joseph would not have been in position to become 2nd in command of all Egypt and he never would have reunited with his family. Such is the way that God works. When He directs our lives, there is uncertainty, but we are able to reach outcomes that we could never attain on our own.  

Part 2: Nationally – Israel’s rise and prominence as God’s people
But, it wasn’t just Joseph’s life that God was directing. He was also providing a way for His people Israel to be established as a nation and even more importantly overseeing the promise of a Savior for all peoples – us included. Individually, we all face temptations to think of our lives as more important, or more special, than others. This leads us away from trusting in God’s plan and more to trying to work things out on our own terms. But this temptation comes in a nationalistic way as well. America’s version of Manifest Destiny is an example of this. But, the danger is heightened when it affects our faith. The humble establishment of Israel as a nation reminds us also of what would come – a destiny of nationalism that, for many, would overshadow the destiny of the Messiah through Jesus.

Joseph’s personal prominence set the stage for the people of Israel to grow in relative safety for many years in Egypt. They didn’t have to duke it out with the Canaanites in open warfare yet. They lived in peace for hundreds of years growing into a new nation. When the Exodus came around, it was a difficult period but it was necessary – the time had come to go to the Promised Land. Centuries of struggle and toil ensued as Israel took possession of the land God had given them. But just as soon as they gained power of the region, under David, the downward slope began. The latter periods of Israel’s history are marked with a different type of struggle and toil, trying desperately to hang on to what had been gained.    

Riddled with oppression and captivity, Israel’s latter-day history has been marked by self-motivated attempts to determine their destiny. When Christ finally came to earth, the majority killed Him on a Roman cross because He defied their nationalistic expectations. Israel mistakenly thought that God had chosen them to become a nation of earthly power. The true Jesus, the One who came preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins, was not the Messiah they wanted; and sadly, He remains that in many hearts across this globe.

How important it is to remember the significance of Joseph’s story for our lives. His story tells us of the importance of humility and respect before God. Through the toil of Christ by the gospel, not by our own self-efforts, the believer’s destiny is realized by faith. Israel would have done well to call to mind its humble beginnings in Egypt – made possible by the grace of God. Likewise, each sinner stands in awe of Christ, who took us from hopelessness lost in sin and re-shaped our lives to have purpose and eternal life.

Part 3: Eternally - As citizens of heaven

Maybe you’re like me. When I hear the word “manifest” I can’t help but think of hymn 134 in our hymnal  - “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise.” The five verses of that hymn contain the word “manifest” 11 times. The familiar refrain reads, “God in man made manifest.” That hymn is all about the many blessings we have through the God who became made known to humans – Jesus Christ. It was written for the season of Epiphany, when Jesus came to earth and was revealed as the Savior incarnate. A fitting theme indeed.

Through Christ’s birth and Epiphany the Savior was made known. But, we’re talking about more today. We’re looking at our Manifest Destiny through that Savior. To understand our place, we need to travel to Calvary. Jesus was born. He lived, preached, walked and talked. He performed miracles. He helped people. He lived the will of God in action. We follow His example in our lives. But none of that tells of our destiny. What is our future? What do our lives become? Where are we heading? For those answers, we can only look to the end of our Savior’s life. We look to His passion of suffering and dying for our transgressions. We look at His exaltation and victory over death and sin. Only then, does our future become manifest. Only at the cross and the empty tomb, do we clearly see our destiny by grace.

It is not selfish individualism. It is not vain nationalism. We are not headed toward grand visions of earthly power. We are not soon to become gods of our own. We are going to heaven. As one who trusts in Christ – the crucified and risen – your destiny is eternal and righteous. And by the gospel proclamation – it clearly known. Open to all people, all races, all ages, all sinners. With humility we recognize how God led people in the past – Joseph, the Israelites, and many others – in His plan of salvation through Christ. And with gratitude we trust His will for our lives. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.