June 3, 2019

Ascension - 1 Peter 4:7-11

The Nature of our Service is About Loss and Love

1 Peter 4:7-11 Now the end of all things is near; therefore, be serious and disciplined for prayer. 8 Above all, maintain an intense love for each other, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Be hospitable to one another without complaining. 10 Based on the gift each one has received, use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God. 11 If anyone speaks, it should be as one who speaks God's words; if anyone serves, it should be from the strength God provides, so that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ in everything. To Him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.

Forty days after Jesus rose from the dead, He and a small band of His followers assembled in a small town outside of Jerusalem. Jesus would rise up to heaven, visibly, until He was out of their sight. And then He was gone. We appropriately refer to this event as Ascension, a date observed by Christians every year 40 days after Easter.

The first followers of Jesus finally experienced the very thing they feared most – losing Jesus. He was gone and since then He has not returned in bodily form to earth, at least not in a normal way as He had lived (Paul’s conversion). One wonders how the disciples reacted to this. Loss changes people in different ways. When loss involves a deeply cherished and respected individual, it can be a difficult time. Mental health experts say that loss can change people in their daily routines, in what they prioritize in life, in long-term goals, and even in a person’s faith. Sometimes, loss leads a person closer to God, to once again appreciate and use the blessings of faith which God shares through His Word. At other times, loss causes a person to push against God – to become bitter and angry, and to lose faith.

Good or bad, loss certainly changes a person. So, what about the disciples? They were so weak and feeble just a little over 40 days before. They all forsook Jesus to save their own necks. They worried and contemplated what to do, assuming He was gone as they huddled together in a locked room. It seemed then that loss had changed them for the worse. As they now stood gazing up to heaven, witnessing with their own eyes the departure of their Lord and Savior, we can hardly overestimate the gravity of the situation and how crucially important the coming days would be. 

Of course, you already know the answer. You wouldn’t be sitting here today if positive change had not come about through the loss of Jesus at Ascension. Truly, there wasn’t really a loss per se. Jesus wasn’t dead or defeated. He didn’t leave because enemies subdued Him. He departed in victory, according to His plan. And yet, we still know how dearly cherished Jesus was to the disciples. Even knowing that He was in heaven, it would still be tough to move forward without Him. Who wouldn’t have that struggle, having experienced the sublimity of working with God’s own Son in the flesh for three years?

The greater question is, how did the disciples do it? How did they move on so seamlessly, and build the Church of God on earth? How did they conquer an empire that deeply opposed their beliefs, that killed and imprisoned them, a global power that defied the rest of the world’s nations? How did Christ’s disciples eventually span the entire earth, reaching each continent with the gospel, and establishing Christianity as the major religion in the world? And perhaps most important, How do we continue that legacy today?

The answer is through service. Service to God, service to our fellow humans. And service done through loss and love. 

This portion of God’s Word before us today is not about the Ascension, but it does describe the nature of the service we offer in the name of our victorious Savior. And throughout Peter’s words we see how loss changes us.

The disciples became different men when they lost Jesus. You could say the training wheels were taken off. They were abundantly blessed to be with Jesus but they also needed to grow in their faith. Jesus indicated this when He said on the eve of His death, John 16:12 "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 "However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. (Joh 16:12 NKJ)

The coming of the Holy Spirit, ten days after Christ’s Ascension, marked a turning point for the disciples. They were emboldened to stand for the gospel. They felt the responsibility of bearing the banner of salvation. Overall, as far as their personalities and characteristics were concerned, not much had changed. They were still common men, sinners in just as much need of the message they were preaching as their audience was. But now, when called by God to step up and serve, they delivered. The Holy Spirit sustained them in Christ’s absence, just as He promised to, and just as He continues to do today.

Through loss, they were changed for the better. Peter now describes some of those losses that apply to us. Overall, the message is that service involves giving up (losing) certain things for the benefit of others.
·       Instead of living for the moment, and for the cares and pleasures of the world, we train ourselves in discipline and sobriety.
·       Instead of operating by the qualities of our sinful nature, with quarrelling and self-pride leading the way, we serve without complaining – thinking more of the other person’s interests than our own.
·       We use our gifts and skills to help others, to build them, rather than looking for ways to separate ourselves.
·       And the most important loss of all involves confessing our sins before God and seeking to receive change than can only be given by Jesus. Yes, forsaking sin and temptation is a loss. Swallowing one’s pride and admitting fault takes sacrifice. But it’s change for the good.

Too many people try to live their lives without loss. Some are afraid of loss. What would it mean to be less popular? How can I be happy with fewer possessions? What will happen to my vision and dreams if I serve others? These are all thoughts generated by fear – fear of losing out on something. In other circumstances, spiritual blindness leads people to foolish priorities. They become consumed by sinful pride. Interactions with others are only done as a means to some other end. This too, is a path that seeks to avoid loss.

This insistence on keeping a certain level of comfort and attachment to the world, while saying that we follow Christ, can be extremely detrimental to our faith. It causes us to loosen our defenses and cut corners of guarding against temptation. It provides a faulty confession and witness to the world around us, so they get a warped picture of what it means to be a Christian.

God says we don’t have to dance around loss, but rather we can embrace it. Not in the sense of hastening after it, but in trusting that He changes us for the better when we experience it. The is what the disciples realized through the Ascension of Jesus. They lost something, but they gained a gift in the process and it led them the better service. When God deprives you of something, try to discern the blessing in disguise. When you come to confess your sins, actually bring something before the Lord. Talk to Him about what you’re repenting about. Don’t over generalize to the extent of falling between the cracks. Contemplate your life before God’s commandments with brutal honesty. Trust that when you bring something before Him, you will lose it in exchange for His mercy. When we lose the selfish, sin-ridden inhibitions of our fallen nature before Jesus, we understand better the second aspect of the nature of service, growing in love.

Loss is the catalyst for change, but it’s love that provides the power. Love is what gives meaning to loss. And so, God tells us, Above all, maintain an intense love for each other, since love covers a multitude of sins. “Above all” refers to that which leads the way in your life [emblem]. If you think about your values and qualities as a line of things that describe you, what would be at the very front? What would be the thing you want people to see the most? God says that should be love – the kind of love that can cover a multitude of sins.        

God tells us a bit more about this love, too. First, it’s to be offered in a sincere and deep way. The word “intense” is used in our verses. This is a love that goes above and beyond. It’s a love that makes sacrifices and looks out for the interests of others. Secondly, this love upholds the Word of God. As we love by our words, it should be according to the God’s Word. As we love in our actions, they should honor and glorify Christ. And this love is the kind that instead of excusing sin, covers it with repentance and forgiveness.

The love of serving others by faith is rare. Jesus predicted this and explained why it’s rare saying, “And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold (Matthew 24:12).” Love suffers when sin abounds. Jesus agreed with Peter when he wrote that love must uphold God’s Word. Without that connection, Christ is not honored, the gospel is not imparted to sinners, and service is not rendered to one another. We must love in truth, not in making concessions for every belief outside of God’s Word. The world’s love is cheap. That kind of love changes from person to person. It’s based on fleeting feelings and temporary experiences. God calls the believer to something deeper and more stable. Love that doesn’t change. Love that does not have its origin in this world but in the very nature of God. This is why true, unadulterated service to others is rare, because the love that fuels it is rare.

Whenever lawlessness abounds over love, someone is excluded. When Christians do this, it leads them to belittle others outside of the church. It causes Christians to despise those who are different, instead of caring for their needs. It leads Christians to become hypocritical and self-righteous – using their faith merely as a way to hold power over others. But lawlessness affects those outside the church, too. It causes them to denounce all other beliefs that do not align to their own, in the name of tolerance and justice. It leads them to use equality as a cloak to suppression of righteousness and control. It has all the signs of utopian bliss, but it cuts and excludes just as much as the most hateful, racist, and bigoted person. In both examples, Christian and non-Christian, when lawlessness abounds, love grows cold.

Christ alone offers love that embraces all – that brings change for the better, and that upholds true holiness. A love that serves. There will be loss – don’t mistake that for worldly division and prejudice. Loss doesn’t mean you’re doing things wrong, or that you’re not right in what you believe. God’s loss is directed first at the self. He wants you to see the need and experience that loss before you tell others about it. He desires that each person look honestly at their own heart and intention, because in so doing loss is revealed and then love changes. No one you talk to is going to be changed like that by you pointing the finger, or by you conceded God’s Word. You first experience loss and love in your life, and you share both with others. Loss of pride. Loss of distrust. Loss of self-reliance. Loss of sin. And in place of it all, love from Jesus. No one is excluded, especially God.   

It didn’t seem helpful or loving for Christ to depart the world and go to heaven. One wonders how the first disciples made it. Well, like them, we need to take that first step – stop gazing up and look forward. We see the same thing that they saw – serve God and one another. Along the way there will be loss and there will be love, and that’s the message we continue to share from God’s Word. With that as our source, we have every blessing from the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Easter 5 - 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

Caught in Between Time and Eternity
Through God’s Choice and in God’s Comfort

2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

But we must always thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God has chosen you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, so that you might obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

15 Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions you were taught, either by our message or by our letter.

16 May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal encouragement and good hope by grace, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good work and word. (HCSB)

It’s no fun to be caught in the middle. We like to have our freedom of options. If something doesn’t satisfy or stimulate us, we like to move onto something else. But, to be “caught” means to have no other options.

There are times when we’re caught in the middle because of necessity in reaching an end to something. Take the dentist’s office. No one wants to be there. When you have a cavity it’s not like any other legitimate options exist. You’re caught. Caught between denying the reality of the situation and the drill and Novocain. But, there’s a purpose. No one wants to be there but at least there’s a positive meaning behind it. [airport]

Other times, however, we’re caught in the middle simply because something is beyond our control. Think of a natural disaster or a health crisis. It’s not that God can’t work good out of those situations but they’re not things we enter into willingly. They are out of our control.

It’s never enjoyable to be caught in the middle – no matter what the situation is – no matter what the purpose is. There are plenty of examples of this in life – but there are also many in our faith. We see an example today in the second letter to the congregation of Thessalonica. The text divides nicely into three sections, and we’ll take a look at them individually.

To start, there’s one call to action in this section – what we might call a command from God. This is His expectation for us. This is something He is telling you to do in your life. The call to action is in verse 15: Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions you were taught, either by our message or by our letter.

This is the middle. This is where you feel caught in your faith-life. What you’re in the middle of, however, is God’s abundant mercy through His Son, Jesus, as given to you by the Holy Spirit. In case you’re unsure – that’s a good place to be. You see, we’re caught in the middle of time and eternity – but it’s not a precarious situation because God tells us that He is in control.

God’s control of the matter is structured as His choice and His comfort. Verses 13-14 describe choice. Now when that word is used most people immediately think of faith as a choice they make for God. Catchy illustrations like an ignition switch or opening the door to God’s mercy are often used to describe choice. If that’s what we understand, our hope in these verses is severely limited. Rather, the choice described here, as it is elsewhere in the Bible, is God’s. God chose to save us. God chose to send us spiritual aid when we were in need. God chose to give His only begotten Son. That’s what these verses are telling us.

In a way, we could call verses 13-14 the staples of our faith. In these brief words we’re taught that God called us, that He brings us salvation by faith, that this is based on the power of the Holy Spirit, that this is a truthful message which is contained in the Bible, and that through faith we share in the glory of our Savior Jesus. These are well-known teachings but they have profound meaning for our lives, and these first two verses are packed with valuable information about being a believer.

Verses 13-14 center around God’s action – the choices He made for our salvation. And that’s really what our faith rests upon. When we say that God made a choice, there’s much more to that than just planning salvation beforehand (as amazing of a teaching as that is). It also means that God made the choice to carry that plan through to completion – an act which involved sentencing His own Son to death on the cross. It also means that God made the choice to transmit the blessings of faith through the gospel – an objective, unchangeable measure of His grace that applies to all people. This choice also determined to give this blessing by the power of the Holy Spirit, working with and through the Word of God wherever it is proclaimed in its truth. These are all actions that God alone chose to do.

God describes these things both from His perspective and from ours. Verse 13 is about eternity – the realm of God’s working. Verse 14 is about time – the realm in which we receive God’s blessing.

This is why feeling caught in the middle is tough. God’s in eternity. We’re in time. His blessings are true and certain, but they must also be received. It’s so easy to get impatient and want to move onto something else. But the reality is that there’s nothing comparable out there. There’s nothing worth moving onto. So, sometimes in life we just have to stay where we’re at – and take God at His Word.

Jump to the last two verses. Here we see the other side of God’s work, which is centered on comfort. May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal encouragement and good hope by grace, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good work and word.

Yet, we have the same connection that we had in choice. God frames comfort from both His perspective on ours. Our faith gives us and eternal encouragement through Jesus. But it also encourages our hearts and strengthens us in every good work and word today. Think of verses 13-14 as what God does and verses 16-17 as the effect it has – both in eternity and in time. When we see, believe, and trust in the gospel (what God does) and we combine that with heeding and following the call of God to treasure this – we receive the blessed effect – comfort (encouragement) for our faith.

Sometimes, people resist the place of faith because of the tendency to move on to new options. Again, that’s why we naturally hate to be caught in the middle. We want the freedom to express ourselves with different options. We want to keep that back door open just in case things get too uncomfortable. We want the choice to take an easier path.

But faith keeps us in the middle. And that’s a good thing. Faith does not leave us any extra options. There is no escape route when things get too difficult. In trial, faith leads us to trust. In temptation, faith leads us to obey. It always keeps us centered between God’s choice and God’s comfort.

Overall, the message here is that God has us covered. To be caught in the middle of His choice and His comfort is a blessed place to be. It’s not restrictive or demanding. There’s a purpose behind all of God’s work to keep us centered in this place. To keep us from falling from His grace, God gives us something to do while we are sheltered.

And that’s where we come back to the one command of this section: Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions you were taught, either by our message or by our letter.

God calls you to stand firm in this place – the place of your faith. Don’t be distracted by the other options for spiritual living in the world. Don’t allow Satan to tempt you into thinking that God doesn’t mean what He says. Stand firm. Hold your ground. You do that by clinging to God’s Word. That’s what Paul meant with “the traditions you were taught, either by our message or by our letter.”

When we hear “tradition,” we think of some custom or ritual that’s part of the culture we live in. Many traditions, while useful, are not necessary. Many traditions in the church have come and gone. Some are new, some are old. Here’s an important point to remember – this is NOT what Paul is talking about.

At his time, the tradition was the truth which was passed down from one generation to another. Think of Paul’s generation. They didn’t yet have a complete Bible. The truth was not transmitted through pages and ink; but from fathers to sons, and mothers to daughters. This tradition was not a custom or ritual. It was the truth of God’s revelation through Jesus. It was the gospel – the message of salvation.

Paul wrote similarly to the Corinthians: For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. (1Co 15:1 CSB) This was the tradition – the message of Christ. Paul wasn’t imploring the Thessalonians or Corinthians to hold to this tradition because it was their generation’s identity as Christians. He implored them to do this because it was the truth just as much as it is for us. Today we say, Scripture, or God’s Word, or the Bible – but it’s the same tradition which was passed down to Paul, and which he passed down to others.

It’s the Word of God – whether spoken through a message like this, or learned by a letter written in the Bible, that’s going to keep you in the middle of God’s grace. The Word is a protective thing. It destroys the ploys of Satan. It shatters the misconceptions of the world. It casts down the pride of your heart. Only God can do that, and He chooses to do so through His Word of truth. This is not a bad thing – we need protective from God’s Word more than we want to admit. But even as good as this gift is, it’s still not the best thing about God’s Word either.

The best thing about the Word is that it makes God’s faithfulness your own. Did you notice how personal Paul got? He tells the reader that it’s OUR gospel, OUR message, OUR letter, and OUR Lord Jesus Christ. You’re included in that group because you have faith in Jesus. The greatest treasures of His grace, even His very own Son, are yours. You partake in the greatest that God has to offer. Even though He made the choice and He earned the comfort – it is yours. That’s what you have when you’re caught in the middle of His love.

The struggle between time and eternity is real. It’s tough to be a sinful, mortal human who strives to follow a perfect, almighty, eternal God. Sometimes it’s so tough you want a way out. You want an easier option. You want to follow the masses. Don’t. Any path apart from Christ is a lie. There is nothing better. There is nothing more you can earn or choose. There is no greater comfort – no better balm for life’s woes that you can find. God has you covered. To protect you and to encourage you in your faith. When you are in His grace, you’re exactly where you need to be. Amen.

May 20, 2019

Easter 4 - Isaiah 38:9-20

It’s About Time!
1. A Cry for Deliverance
2. A Lesson for Life

Isaiah 38:9-20 A poem by Hezekiah king of Judah after he had been sick and had recovered from his illness: 10 I said: In the prime of my life I must go to the gates of Sheol; I am deprived of the rest of my years. 11 I said: I will never see the LORD, the LORD in the land of the living; I will not look on humanity any longer with the inhabitants of what is passing away. 12 My dwelling is plucked up and removed from me like a shepherd's tent. I have rolled up my life like a weaver; He cuts me off from the loom. You make an end of me from day until night. 13 I thought until the morning: He will break all my bones like a lion; You make an end of me day and night. 14 I chirp like a swallow or a crane; I moan like a dove. My eyes grow weak looking upward. Lord, I am oppressed; support me. 15 What can I say? He has spoken to me, and He Himself has done it. I walk along slowly all my years because of the bitterness of my soul, 16 Lord, because of these promises people live, and in all of them is the life of my spirit as well; You have restored me to health and let me live. 17 Indeed, it was for my own welfare that I had such great bitterness; but Your love has delivered me from the Pit of destruction, for You have thrown all my sins behind Your back. 18 For Sheol cannot thank You; Death cannot praise You. Those who go down to the Pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness. 19 The living, only the living can thank You, as I do today; a father will make Your faithfulness known to children. 20 The LORD will save me; we will play stringed instruments all the days of our lives at the house of the LORD.

Last weekend we studied a message from Isaiah chapter 40 about waiting upon the LORD. We saw how faith trusts in the LORD’s power and grace and waits for Him to act in our lives. Today, our lesson from God’s Word is very similar, especially since it comes just two chapters before in Isaiah. But the situation it describes is very unique and different.

Most of what you’ll find about King Hezekiah in the Bible comes from the books of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. Hezekiah was a king over the two southern tribes of Benjamin and Judah. He was a godly king. We’re told that he followed God faithfully. And Hezekiah needed God because he was tested greatly and, despite his faithfulness, he wasn’t perfect. Even though we’re not kings, and our generation is far distant from Hezekiah’s, these two things are true of our lives also. We’re tested and we’re far from perfect. Therefore, we have much to learn today as we consider the thought – “It’s About Time!” A cry for deliverance and a lesson for life. 

Hezekiah had a tumultuous life to say the least. If you ever feel like God is being unfair to you, I encourage you to read about Hezekiah. As the king of Judah, he was responsible for protecting his people from devastation and upheaval at the hands of the mighty Assyrian empire. About 15 years before these events, the Assyrians had defeated the 10 northern tribes of Israel. Soon after, they pressed south at the last two tribes which formed the nation of Judah. The Assyrians surrounded the city and set a siege to starve the people out. Hezekiah prayed to the LORD for deliverance and the Assyrian army was destroyed in one night by an angel from God.

One might expect joy or relief after this event, at the very least a period of peace, but in the very next verse Isaiah was sent to tell Hezekiah: “Thus says the LORD, Set your house in order, for you shall die (2 Kings 20:1).” We’re not told why the LORD gave this message. We’re not told what Hezekiah would die from. All we know is that, once again, Hezekiah prayed for deliverance; and, once again, the LORD delivered him. The LORD said that Hezekiah would live another 15 years.
What we have before us today are the thoughts that went through Hezekiah’s mind as he received this response from God. In beautifully detailed writing, Hezekiah paints a picture of the ups and downs of faith. In many ways we hear the cry, “It’s about time!” as Hezekiah so desperately seeks relief from God – knowing that his times and his life are in God’s hands.

The thoughts surrounding Hezekiah’s anguish can really be summed up in something David wrote in Psalm 31. He said to the LORD, “My times are in Your hand.” When Isaiah pronounced that Hezekiah was going to die, Hezekiah had to come to grips with the reality that the LORD was in control. Even if we’re not on death’s doorstep, the same thing applies in our lives. Paul would conclude a similar thought in Romans, “Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's” (Rom 14:8 NKJ)

This is an important realization to come to as a believer. So often, it’s easy to think that God’s late in our lives. We get frustrated when He doesn’t act when we think He should. Consider, again, the theme of waiting by faith which we explored last weekend. The cry of desperation when we see the LORD’s answer often becomes, “It’s about time, God!” as if He’s late or sluggish in His dealings with us.

The thing is, while the LORD constructed time in His infinite power, it’s something that He is above. God is eternal. Therefore, He can never be late because He always is. Lateness can only apply to a creature who is bound by time. So, David says, “My times are in Your hand.” The LORD is always present and always attentive. Even in the most dangerous of settings, when life and death are on the line, God is present. And when He chooses to act, we know it’s the best moment. As the one who oversees all time, God knows when the best moment is for your life.

The cry of desperation comes forth because this is a difficult thing to go through. While we know that something good lies up ahead in any tragedy, because God promises it to be so, we can’t see it immediately. Hezekiah reflected upon this even after He received deliverance from the LORD. Hezekiah describes his life as fragile thread in the weaver’s control, like a fleeting shepherd’s tent that is pitched in one moment and uprooted the next, like a chattering bird who cries out in need. The struggle is so real that Hezekiah even depicts himself as a lion’s victim when faced with his lack of control in the face of God’s plan.

But Hezekiah records these descriptions for more than just portraying His struggle. He wants to remember. Hezekiah wants to remember what the bitterness and anguish feel like and he wants to take that with him in the future. Consider what he writes in verse 17: “Indeed, it was for my own welfare that I had such great bitterness; but Your love has delivered me from the Pit of destruction, for You have thrown all my sins behind Your back.” In verse 15 he also remarked, “I walk along slowly all my years because of the bitterness of my soul.”

Part 2:

Hezekiah used the pain he felt to remind him of what the LORD had done. It was bitterness, but he would take it with him the rest of his days. It was agonizing to endure, but it was for his own well-being. Hezekiah speaks this with the clarity of faith, the 20/20 vision of being able to look back on a struggle and see the LORD’s hand in it. For the believer, the bitterness becomes a reminder of grace. And this phenomenon of faith turns the desperate plea, “It’s about time,” into the gentle reminder, “It’s about time.”

That’s where the LORD led Hezekiah – to appreciate the time he was given on earth – whether it was his last day or whether he had 15 more years. As we might expect, Hezekiah came away from this situation with a new-found appreciation for his life. The LORD gave assurance of this promise in a sign that literally turned back time, as He made the sundial in Hezekiah’s palace reverse 10 degrees. But this event caused Hezekiah to think of much more than just himself – it brought him back to considering the LORD.

The fact that life is about time means more to the believer than just time to cross off more bucket list items or time to spend with family. It means time with the LORD. We call that our time of grace, and it’s a precious gift from God that we far too often take for granted. Hezekiah wrote, The LORD will save me; we will play stringed instruments all the days of our lives at the house of the LORD. Hezekiah thought of going to the house of the LORD not just to praise God, but to spend time with Him. Hezekiah realized once again what a wonderful gift that was. Sometimes, Christians forget that so God reminds them by taking the opportunity away. Sometimes, He takes our time with Him away, not because we’ve forgotten it, but to build another part of our faith that needs nourishment. Just as we need to remember that every moment of life, whether we live or die, is under God’s control; so also we need to remember that the LORD enriches our faith by the trial.

We can look back in history and see examples. The early Christians were threatened by the authorities, many to the point of death. They were threatened by false teachers, to the point of denying Christ. Through these things the LORD taught them that “It’s about time,” the time of grace with Him. And so, the early church defended the sacred books of the Bible. They developed statements of faith like the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. They took the message of Christ to countries and kingdoms where our ancestors came from. The entire time, the LORD was watching over His Church.

We know well of many of the Reformers from the 13, 14, and 1500s who staked reputation and life upon the Word of God. They lived by the same truth – “It’s about time with God” and they made the most of that life. Today, our church and our teachings benefit from their sacrifice. Less than 100 years ago, Lutherans in America were forced to decide between giving up on critical teachings such as the inerrancy of the Bible, God as Creator, and in some cases the very principles of grace alone, faith alone, and Scripture alone. Faithful Christians were once again called to remember that Life is about Time with God – the Time of Grace to spend in His Word with faithful obedience. Each generation of believers is called to this trial in different ways, to appreciate the time they have been given to witness of God’s love for sinners in His Son Jesus, and to appreciate that gift for themselves. Like Hezekiah, we can reflect with appreciation on this opportunity despite the accompanying bitterness and anguish.

Stacked against such odds, many would have thought that the Church of God would have fallen to the pages of history. Like Jerusalem surrounded by a host of Assyrian soldiers, many today mock believers as weak and on the brink of total loss. And yet we hold the line. Because what we seek to protect is also that which gives us strength. Hezekiah stated, “For Sheol cannot thank You; Death cannot praise You. Those who go down to the Pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness. 19 The living, only the living can thank You, as I do today; a father will make Your faithfulness known to children.”

700 some years after that statement, Hezekiah’s Savior would state similarly, "For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him." (Luk 20:38 NKJ) We rejoice in our Time with God – our time in His grace, we hold the line of His truth as given in His Word, because He is the God of the living, and living men and women praise His name. That blessing in our Risen Savior’s name is worth remembering, and worth cherishing. And by faith in Jesus, we can get past saying, “It’s about time God,” and we can humbly and cheerfully reflect, “It’s about time with my God – the living God for living believers. Amen.

May 6, 2019

Easter 2 - John 10:11-18

Theme: How a Church Becomes Scattered and How it is Saved

John 10:11-18 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired man, since he is not the shepherd and doesn't own the sheep, leaves them and runs away when he sees a wolf coming. The wolf then snatches and scatters them. 13 This happens because he is a hired man and doesn't care about the sheep. 14 "I am the good shepherd. I know My own sheep, and they know Me, 15 as the Father knows Me, and I know the Father. I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 But I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. Then there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 This is why the Father loves Me, because I am laying down My life so I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down on My own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again. I have received this command from My Father."

Dear friends, how often do we think that just because we have the right to do something, we’re right about how we do it? The first thought is “right” in the sense of ability, the second thought is “right” in the sense of appropriateness. I think our culture is rife with this attitude and it’s dangerous. People think that because they have the right to free speech, everything they say is right. At work, those employees who have been there the longest often feel like they have special rights or privileges.

This attitude is present within the church too. It can happen that pastors believe their opinion should outweigh others because they have a divine call from God. But just because you have a right, that is, to speak to the congregation on behalf of God, doesn’t mean you’re always right. It can happen to members, when they think that they should get more sway in decision-making or they should get all the projects passed that they want, because they give so much in their offering.

This very attitude is before us in our text, when Jesus speaks of the difference between Himself (the Good Shepherd) and the hired man. Jesus is talking about taking care of His church – the flock. When we read these words, we want to think that the hired man is some enemy or imposter. But Jesus is really pointing at us – His followers. Believers have been given the privilege, the right, to be representatives of Jesus on earth. We are caretakers of the Church. We call this the office of the keys and Jesus first gave it to His disciples on Easter Sunday. Ever since, believers have the right to use God’s Word in their lives and the lives of others – to bring the law and to bring the gospel. But just because you have the right, doesn’t mean you’re always right.

As hired hands, in that sense, we are not as qualified as Jesus. What He says about the hired man, applies to us. Too often we flee from the call of God and we scatter the flock with our own agendas. The original disciples did this very thing on Good Friday. They were hired men who let down their Lord and His flock. They guaranteed faithfulness to Jesus. Peter defiantly said, “Even if all others forsake you, Lord, I never will.” But they all fled when the wolf came. The first thing they needed to realize, as we do in our calling, is that it takes humility to follow the Lord. This helps guard against an attitude of entitlement, which makes us think that just because we’ve been given a special privilege from God we are perfect in the way we carry out that privilege.

Earlier in His ministry, Jesus told a parable that got to the heart of this issue. He said, Luke 17:9-10 Does he [the Master] thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'"

We are what Jesus said – unworthy servants. We don’t deserve a congratulatory pat on the back because we serve God. That is what we should do. And for every time we get something right, there’s usually a host of other things we’ve gotten wrong. Just because we are called to a special purpose does not guarantee that everything we do is right. Rather, this reality causes us to constantly work on our approach. It leads us to test all things – whether from a pastor or from a neighbor, in light of God’s Word. It keeps us on our toes to be sharp in God’s Word. Because, despite our mistakes, we are still called by God.

The main problem with the hired man is described in verse 13: Jesus says that the hired man doesn’t care for the sheep. Now that sounds a bit too harsh to be describing the typical Christian. We may not be perfect but most of us care a lot about others, and we go out of our way to show it. But remember who the comparison is with – Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Compared to Jesus, we do not care about our fellow neighbors as much as we should. Sometimes we are good at ignoring that fact because we choose to compare ourselves with the world, or other Christians, instead of Jesus. But God holds us to the standard of His Son because that’s who we represent.

The Church of God becomes scattered when we fail to care for others as Jesus would. This also probably happens more often than we want to admit. I think most often an uncaring attitude springs forth when we diminish the worth of others. Isn’t that really what the hired man does in the text? He sees the sheep as a mere commodity – something he is given charge over but not something that is valuable to him. Therefore, he refuses to risk his neck to protect them. How different is the care that Jesus provides! He knows His sheep and they know Him. He has a personal relationship with them. They are not interchangeable parts of a greater whole, they are precious on an individual level.

When we recognize this about the nature of caring for others, that it must be personal, it helps us come to grips with our shortcomings – the times when we have fled from our post as representatives of Jesus among His flock. A lack of care can spread like a disease among a church. It happens when we treat others based on appearance. When we measure their worth based on what they can offer us. An uncaring attitude runs rampant when we look at serving one another as a burden and not a blessing; when we quit serving because others are not meeting our expectations. An uncaring attitude flourishes when we treat the church like a business venture, and we measure success based on the budget numbers or annual stats. An uncaring attitude is glaringly present when we go out of our way to avoid others, instead of offering a simple word of support or taking a genuine interest in their lives. An uncaring attitude is most harmful when we use the Word of God to beat others down or to hold them under our vain expressions of self-righteousness. The examples could go on and on. Lack of caring destroys the church.

Most of the time, you don’t have to look hard to see if a church is a caring one or not. And at every step of the way, the personality of a congregation is reflected in how personal its members and mission are. Do we care about others as we should or do we act more like a hired hand? This is a question worth asking regularly.

Part 2

Through Jesus, we see how the Church is saved. He knows the sheep. He cares for the sheep. He seeks out the lost sheep. He laid down His life and He took it back again. Essentially, everything that Jesus is is contained in this imagery of Him as the Good Shepherd. This simple title describes who He is in the fullest sense and what He provides in our lives.

The Good Shepherd cares for the sheep. He cares so much that not only does He refuse to abandon the flock in danger, He goes out of His way to seek the lost and straying. Jesus taught that in the parable of the Lost Sheep, how as the Good Shepherd He willingly leaves the rest of the flock to search out someone who is lost. To be lost is to live in sin or to follow a false teaching about who God is. Remember that that point was so important to Jesus, so much a part of who He is, that He gave two other parables saying the exact same thing (Parable of the Lost Coin and the Parable of the Prodigal son). If it’s important to the Good Shepherd, it should be important. Therefore, as we represent Him with caring for others, we speak against sin and we warn against false teaching. But we seek the lost with personal care, knowing that Jesus gave His life for all.  

Jesus cares so much that He seeks out those whom others do not – those whom others think don’t belong in God’s Church. But I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. Then there will be one flock, one shepherd. This saying was directed at the Gentiles, who at that time were deemed outside of the kingdom of God by many of the Jews. But that wasn’t the case – Jesus cares for all people. The only ones outside are those who reject Him. If we tend the flock as we should, we won’t exclude others just because they are different than us. We won’t bring judgments or accusations in matters that God leaves to our freedom. We won’t accept others because they match the description we imagine when we think of a Christian. We won’t make membership in God’s Church about projecting a self-image of strength.  

How are we doing at this point as we think about our lives? Sad to say, factionalism continues to be a problem in churches, even in our own. Self-righteousness leads us to judge others of a different religion, or a different denomination, while also ignoring our own inconsistencies, sins, and failures. [Plank and speck syndrome]

But there’s a host of other variables to consider as well. How well are you doing at trusting Jesus when He promises what He does? Do you believe that He cares for you, that He seeks you out, that He knows you by name? Because sometimes when we have insecurities in those areas of our faith, we project them on others around us. It’s good to ask if you trust Jesus, or if you have allowed the hired man to have the final say in your faith? Did you come to hear Jesus today, or did you come for some other reason – perhaps Christian guilt, a family member’s request, or simply out of habit? Sin doesn’t just affect us on the side of being Christ’s representative. It beats upon the door of your heart more than ever when you consider being a child of God by faith. Satan wants to rob you of your own hope in Jesus before he even thinks about you as a mouthpiece. He doesn’t just want to pluck away the fruits of your faith, but to rip up the whole plant by the root.

Don’t let Satan deter your hope in the Good Shepherd. Don’t come to hear me, or anyone else – come to hear Jesus. Don’t come out of guilt or fear, come for peace and joy.

This lesson today is a difficult one to balance. We need to heed our calling to preach the Word – to represent Jesus. We are hired as laborers in His vineyard. We are all members of the same body – called to the same purpose. And this is a great privilege. It may not always feel like that, and it may not be a glorious earthly calling to be a hired representative, but it is a blessed privilege to follow Jesus and display His glory. We need to remember those things. But we also need to trust the Good Shepherd. Our confidence is not in men or women, in church buildings or legacies, or in synods or denominations. If it is, the Church will be scattered because we will lack the care that Jesus gives. There is a purpose to all of those things, but only with the right balance.

Likewise, when we are unfaithful, when we fall into the cycle of vanity that makes us thing we have the right to do and say what we please – we need to repent. We need to remember how important humility is to this whole thing. This is all summarized in one thought: As much as we learn about ourselves in this text, we learn even more about Jesus. And that’s the right balance.  

Sometimes there’s so many ways the Church becomes scattered, we neglect the one way it has been saved – Jesus laid down His life and took it again. He did that for the lost. He did that for those currently outside the flock. He did that for the person we’d least expect Him to do it for. And, He did that for you. Focus on Him – the Good Shepherd, the one who saved the Church and you will have that balance. Amen.

May 1, 2019

Easter 1 - 1 John 5:4-13

The Spiritual Person…
1. Relies on Testimony to believe
2. Trusts that the Holy Spirit comes in ordinary ways

Spirituality – what is it? Perhaps the best answer is that it is a term that is used to define how we speak about the immaterial aspects of humanity. That’s probably the basic definition. But spirituality is often connected to religious belief. For us Christians, spirituality is firmly based in God’s Word. It’s where we get answers to our questions about the unseen elements of human existence – feelings, emotions, faith, the soul, and so on.

One interesting thing about our culture is that people are becoming more spiritual, but less religious. According to a Pew Research study, since 2012, we’ve seen an 11% decrease in people expressing themselves as both religious and spiritual, but an 8% increase in people who express themselves as spiritual but not religious. Today, about 27% of adults in the United States think of themselves as spiritual but not religious – that’s over a quarter of the adult population.

I guess a lot could be riding on how a person defines “spirituality.” If someone thinks of spirituality in terms of being an organism that is attached to and aware of non-material things, what we often call the meta-physical realm, then that would be true of every human. However, more often what we mean by spirituality is having more than just an awareness, but a connection, to immaterial things. Other words for these immaterial things are a person’s soul, or the supernatural realm, or a connection of some type to a divine being. When most people in our culture think of spirituality, they still think of these things. And that’s where a disconnect from religion is alarming.

Religion and spirituality have always been deeply connected. This is certainly the case in Christianity. But what we see is that religion is becoming more based in humanity, and farther detached from spirituality. Consider these thoughts as we now shift our focus to a section of God’s Word, from 1 John 5:4-13:

4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6 This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. (ESV)

John calls the truly spiritual person, one who “has been born of God.” That’s a good definition for spirituality in the Christian sense of the word. But what exactly does that mean for our lives? We see two things today: 1. A spiritual person relies on testimony to believe. 2. A spiritual person trusts that the Holy Spirit comes in ordinary ways.

Let’s take a step back and think about John’s letter for a moment. Last weekend, we had a sermon text from John’s Gospel. We brought in the beginning of this first letter as a connection to what John saw on Easter. We notice this trend throughout his letters – there are many obvious connections between the two. The last verse of our text today is a great example as it’s almost a word for word copy of John 20:31.

The meaning of this is that it’s clear who the author is. These are both John’s writings, they fit his style. But there’s an even more important connection. John’s first letter builds upon the truths that were expressed in His Gospel. There certainly is a lot of application in John’s Gospel, that’s actually something that makes it different than Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But, there’s even more application in his letter. This is an instructional letter to Christians based upon the truths of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. In that sense, the word “testimony” is vitally important to understanding John’s letter – and to understanding what it means to be a spiritual person, or one who is born of God.

There’s a very important verse in John’s letter to remember as we think of bringing all these thoughts together in our text. Right after John lays out a clear definition of the good news of forgiveness in Jesus, he writes, “but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked (1 John 2:5-6).

This letter is about walking in God. This is the spiritual path. But, as we get to the final chapter of the letter, as John is summarizing all of this – what word keeps coming up? Testimony. Eight times John uses “testimony” in our text. That shows us how important this word is to our faith, and to what it means to be a spiritual person. The Greek word for testimony is martureo – where our English word for “martyr” comes from. A martyr is someone who gives their life for Christ – a believer who is killed for their faith. They received this title because offering their life was the greatest testimony to their Savior.

But we see something important in this for our lives. Testimony is not self-determined. The martyrs gave their witness because there was no other path. They died for the truth – not for what they chose. True testimony does not change from person to person – in either substance or in application. It means the same thing for all people. It’s not about what we feel. This testimony is the basis of our faith. We saw that last weekend as we talked about John’s eye-witness testimony of the resurrection and what that means for us who read his words today. Here in the letter, John brings in the application of that truth to our lives as it pertains to living with and under God’s grace.

Part 2

Remember that although John emphasizes testimony here, our faith is not about assembling a bunch of random facts about God in our brains. Spirituality is about a union with God – being born of Him. As John said in chapter two of the letter– whoever claims to abide in God should be walking in His will.

This is one of the divine mysteries of Christianity – union between humans and God. Other religions have a semblance of this notion. Most well-known is probably Greek mythology, where the gods and mankind interacted regularly. But Christian union between God and humanity is completely different. It’s not just about coming into contact with the divine, but being changed and led by God. As John develops this concept in his letter, he does so in a very Trinitarian way. For example, consider
1 John 3:23-24 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. (ESV)


1 John 4:13-15 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. (ESV)

John mentions the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – thereby expressing the true God – but then he also includes the believer. John says, “by this we know that he (God) abides in us.” John says, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” This is the union of faith, not merely an interaction, but an indwelling of God in the believer. This is spirituality. The mystery is that our union with God is compared to the union of Trinity – a feature of God that completely transcends our comprehension. It’s not that we become God, for that would not be a union. It’s that every quality, attribute, and virtue of God completely influences our lives because we are in Him and He is in us – by faith.

The thing is, our text brings us back down to reality because it tells us that this spirituality comes in very ordinary ways. That’s what all this talk of blood of water is about. John says that Jesus came by blood and water, and that the Holy Spirit testifies with this blood and water about the truth. Although this is a somewhat mysterious section – John seems to be getting at the way that Jesus, as God and Man, manifested Himself in the world. Two pivotal points in His life involved water and blood. First, His baptism, which marked the beginning of His public ministry and sealed Him as the Messianic Savior, well-beloved by the Father in heaven. Second, His death, by which He shed the blood that washed us clean of our sins. Jesus came in these ways and they testify about union with God by faith. But, they’re also quite ordinary. Water and blood are common. They are earthly. Spirituality has an ordinariness to it too.

Natures shows depict the animated way in which animals show off to a prospective mate. Usually the more unique and flamboyant, the better it goes. A lot of people act that way with the Holy Spirit’s presence – that it must be supernatural and awe-inspiring because that’s the way it was for certain people in the past. The connection between that surreal outward experience and testimony is not popular today. Testimony seems boring. It requires reading and learning. It involves personal discipline and quiet moments spent in God’s Word. It’s demands obedience – being willing to listen to God speak, rather than choosing one’s own self-determining path of spirituality.

Water and blood bring us back down to reality and to what Jesus had to do on earth to redeem us from sin. Spirituality is ordinary and supernatural all at the same time. Just as Jesus was human and united with the Father and the Spirit at the same time. Remember, their union reflects your union with God by faith.

Remember, with every fact (testimony) comes an application – that’s spirituality. There’s no better way of expressing that mystery than in the ways God has given us – baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Water and blood. Water and blood that find their true meaning and power in Jesus. When we baptize, we’re not tapping into the baptism of Jesus. When we commune, we’re not re-sacrificing Christ on the cross. The significance of water and blood in His life has happened and is complete. Our use of baptism and the Lord’s Supper is connected to Jesus, but it is also independent of His achievement of righteous and His death – which are both finished.

This is spirituality. This is true union with God. A constant lifeline of power from the things that Jesus accomplished for us on earth – the testimony of God’s love for sinners- with the expressions we use today to receive God’s grace. It’s not about showmanship and human esteem. That’s fake spirituality. True union with God is quite ordinary and common in appearance. As simple as water and blood. Yet, blessed with divine power from the eternal God through the testimony of His Word.

So, what does it mean to be spiritual? What does it look like to follow God? Look no further than His Word – the testimony of Jesus Christ. Amen.

April 23, 2019

Easter Sunday 2019 - John 20:4-9

There is Joy in the Little Things
1. As proof of the resurrection   
2. To keep your faith in Jesus strong  

John 20:4-9 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. (ESV)

When something significant happens, we remember specific details. I remember the inside of the room where Micah was born. I even remember what was on TV that night, the national championship game for college football featuring Auburn vs. Oregon. I can’t match any other specific national championship games, dates, or opponents in the games since then. But thinking about that little detail brings me joy.

I remember the first night that I spent as a tenant in an apartment. The first official night that I have living on my own. Partly, because it was Fall and I was too scared to turn the heat up so I shivered in the cold.

When something important happens, the details are not lost. If it’s a good memory, those details give us joy. We hear John’s memory of Easter Sunday this morning, and it’s filled with little details. But they matter.

John gets specific about his race with Peter. They started at the same time. John got there first, looked in the tomb. Peter got there second, ran straight into the tomb.

John portrays the burial cloths. The linen strips that were around the body. The individual covering for the face. The fact that it was folded up neatly.

These details don’t seem important. One may wonder why with limited pages on which to share the resurrection of the story, John would record such things. But these are the details. These were the images that came into John’s memory as he thought about the Resurrection – that monumental moment, and he organically records them to transport us to the scene, as if we are there by his side. The details matter because they prove this is the testimony of an eye-witness.

The entire chapter of John 20 is about evidence – the right kind of evidence to believe. John records these words at the beginning when speaking of his own faith. The latter half of the chapter contains the memorable story about Thomas – who demanded physical proof and to whom the Lord said, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.” And the final verse, John 20:31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

John is talking about why we can believe in the resurrection. It’s not about what we see, but what God says. John needed that reminder. Thomas needed that reminder. Every believer needs that reminder. Let us not minimize the importance of the minor details, for they are proof of Jesus’ resurrection. But let us also keep from making them more important than the very Savior who died and rose for us.

ESPN has a new sports feature called “Detail.” It takes a respected professional from a certain sport and gets their in-depth analysis of current players and games. It provides a detailed look behind the scenes at the customs, terminology, and inner workings of certain sports – the type of content that normal fans and viewers don’t get to see. It’s a good idea. [Paradox between our access to details today and our fatigue of details]

Imagine getting Jesus to “detail” His path to the cross – to give us the in-depth story, the behind the scenes look. He could share what He felt when Pilate questioned Him, or all the features of crucifixion that made it so agonizing. It would be interesting, but eventually it would probably be too uncomfortable. The death of Jesus is not a light-hearted thing like sports. We need that reminder so that we don’t get indifferent to what He endured but it’s also good to keep our space from the gory details.

There’s no interview with Jesus, but it’s almost as if we have one with John in His Gospel. He tells us here what it was like to witness the open tomb. He tells us what it was like on Easter morning. Running to the tomb in haste. Excitement and expectation. Shock and surprise. Some say that John was hesitant to enter the tomb, even though he arrived first. It fits well with Peter’s ambitious attitude to charge into the tomb. John saw what was there though, even though he didn’t immediately enter. We are given the details of the scene: John sees in verse 6 and then again in verse 8. Then he believes and finally he was reminded of the Scripture. But, what did John feel? That’s harder to put into words.

John was certainly questioning what to believe at the beginning. And so, his faith had to grow. He sees, believes, and then remembers what he knows in Scripture. That was the process for John. We get a fuller picture of how he felt about that at the beginning of his first epistle. There he writes, again as an eyewitness, saying,

1 John 1:1-4 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.  

Notice the end result – joy. Full joy. Joy was what John felt on Easter. That’s what we receive when Scripture is at the root of faith. Think of how many times Jesus directed the crowds of people to believe in His Word, not just in the signs He performed. John gives his own example here. Thomas’ comes later in the chapter. There is more to trust than seeing, it’s about what God has done and continues to do in His Word. When our faith is enriched by the Word of God, there is joy.

John’s words in his first epistle sound very familiar to something Jesus said on Maundy Thursday. He told His disciples: “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). It’s no stretch to think that as John reflected upon what he saw and what the Scriptures had said, he was reminded of these words that Jesus spoke. We, too, should be reminded of the same when we hear John’s testimony and when we reflect on what Jesus did for us. He wants us to feel joy – full and complete joy.

So, why don’t we always feel this same joy? Where is the Easter joy of our Savior most of the year? It’s easy to have it today, but what about the rest of the time? Why is it that we often feel burdened and distressed in our faith, as if it’s a weight to bear in this unrelenting world? Of all the feelings in life, joy indeed seems to be most minor of all details that gets forgotten about.

Well, maybe we lose our joy by forgetting the small details that prop up our Savior more clearly in His Word. John hung onto what he saw and what he felt because it was such a monumental moment in his life. He was there. He witnessed it. It was an unforgettable experience. We don’t have that. In terms of shock value, the resurrection of Jesus doesn’t make as deep of an impression for us as it did to those who saw it. This is why we need to hang on all the more to what we have been given, the Word of God.

But don’t look at this as second best. For even Jesus directed His disciples, on the very day of His resurrection, to the same thing. John went back to what He knew about the Word, even when standing in the empty tomb. Thomas was gently reminded, even with his own hands in the Savior’s wounds– “Because you have seen you have believe, blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” In the upper room on Easter evening, Jesus told His disciples, "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,

Even Paul would write, For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Peter, upon recalling the details of another surreal experience that stuck in his memory, this time about the Transfiguration of Jesus, concluded that experience by writing, 2 Peter 1:19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (ESV)

God’s Word is not second rate – it’s the way to complete and full joy. We live in an age where people want to separate the resurrection of Jesus from His Word. There are indeed some who claim that He didn’t rise, yet they find some value in some of the words of the Bible. But more serious that this are Christians who think that the resurrection had nothing to do with the rest of the Word. Christians who want to say “Jesus is Risen,” but not that He is Creator, or that He calls us to repent, or that He tells me to take up my cross, or that He tells me not to gossip and lie, or to love my enemy, or to be on guard against greed. Have you become this kind of Christian? Do you see the gospel as most important, and the rest of God’s Word as secondary? We all do in some way and it robs us of our complete joy in Jesus.

In my experience, not just as a pastor, but also as a sinner – the times I have the least joy in my faith are times when I’m resisting God’s Word. Do you find that to be true in your life? Jesus tells you that He suffered, died, and rose again so that His Word would be fulfilled, which would mean that your joy may be full. He’s done it. It’s true and it’s there for you.
Your formula for joy is the same as John’s – see, believe, and know through the Word of God. The details matter. There is complete joy in the little things. They stuck with John because it was the most important of his life. He shared them in Bible so that you hear and feel what it was like. Because what the resurrection is about is complete joy in Jesus. And it’s yours. Amen.