May 28, 2016

May 8, 2016 - Ascension Sunday

Theme: When Our Plans Meet God’s Will
1. David’s plan: a temporal house - God’s will: a heavenly home
2. The disciples’ plan: an earthly leader – God’s will: a spiritual King
3. Our plans: mothers and families

Proverbs 16:9 A man's heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.
Consider these familiar passages:
·         I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go into the house of the LORD." (Ps 122:1)
·         LORD, I have loved the habitation of Your house, And the place where Your glory dwells. (Ps 26:8)
·         One thing I have desired of the LORD, That will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD All the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD, And to inquire in His temple. (Ps 27:4)

The words of King David leave us with little doubt that he loved going to church. The psalms he wrote lead us to believe that he loved even the THOUGHT of going to the LORD’s house. As David settled into being king over Israel and built himself a palace, this love of the LORD and love of the worship of the LORD led him
to devise a plan. He told the prophet, Nathan, “See now, I dwell in the house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells inside tent curtains.” (2 Sam 7:2) When King David brought the ark to Jerusalem he had prepared a tabernacle, a tent structure, to place the ark within. To David this did not seem right. He felt that the LORD deserved better and wanted to start a church building project.

Nathan’s reply? “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the LORD is with you.” Great idea! Go for it! Nathan could think of no reason why not. David’s heart was in the right place - he thought the living God deserved a better place of worship than inside tent curtains. The King had a plan and the prophet said to go for it!

How many times haven’t we been in a similar situation? Our zeal for the LORD leads us to devise a plan. A plan that comes from a believing heart which loves the LORD. Which one of us hasn’t prayerfully, thoughtfully, and lovingly made plans or made requests of the LORD which did not violate Scripture and come from our zeal for the LORD and His worship? We can hear the Prophet Nathan’s response, “Go! Do all that is in your heart, for the LORD is with you!”

While the Prophet Nathan told the King to go ahead with his plans, it wasn’t God’s ultimate will for King David.
Rather than David’s plans to build a house of cedar for the LORD, the LORD would build David a house. “I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom,” said the Lord. The LORD promised that from David’s lineage, an eternal King would come. This is the promise of the Messiah, the Savior of the World. Like the Ark of the LORD residing in the humble tabernacle, the fulfillment of the LORD’s promise to King David would not look all that glorious to the naked eye. From David’s seed, a humble virgin named Mary, from a no-nothing town of Nazareth, a child would be born. His first bed was an animal’s food trough. His ministry only lasted 3 years and was marked by rejection. He was rejected by the religious
leaders of the day and condemned to death by crucifixion by the powers that be. So inglorious was this Seed of David, that He didn’t even have His own burial plot - His corpse was laid to rest in a borrowed tomb. Like the Ark of the Covenant inside tent curtains, it seems that the promised Seed of David deserved a better life and dwelling than Jesus of Nazareth experienced.

Yet the LORD reminds us again and again just as we had last weekend: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways, For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.” This humble Seed of David was not just A Son of man, but the eternal and almighty Son of God. When the Word was made flesh and dwelt (literally, pitched his tent) among us, He was establishing an eternal reign. Through His humiliation, He was conquering our sin. His miserable death on the cross, was to pay the debt to God for our transgressions. By the cross, He was crushing Satan underfoot. And from that humble, borrowed tomb Christ rose and overcame death forever.

Flash forward now to Christ’s ascension. We see the humble Seed of David ascending to an eternal throne in heaven, at the right hand of God the Father, “far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. 22 And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Eph 1:21-23) This is the consummation of the Building project that the LORD was planning for King David. The Son of David, Jesus Christ, would ascend to the right hand of the Father where He would rule not just over a piece of real estate, but over all of Creation for the good of His Church. The plans of the King of kings was much greater than the plans of the King of Israel.

There wasn’t anything wrong with David’s desire to build a temple to the Lord. It wasn’t a sinful or wicked desire. It just wasn’t the Lord’s plan. Sometimes, that’s the way it goes for us too. Our ideas, our desires, our prayers, may be good and just, but God has a better way.

Part 2

Ascension also reminds us another group of believers who had plans that didn’t quite work out the way they wanted. Upon seeing Jesus in His glory after the resurrection, Luke tells us the disciples’ reaction: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” The disciples thought this would be the perfect time for Jesus to take His rightful claim as King of Israel. What had puzzled them so much during their Lord’s suffering, namely that Jesus would subject Himself to these horrific acts, was a thing of the past.

This plan was long in the making too. The disciples, as with many of the Jews at that time, were brought up to believe that the Messiah would conquer their earthly enemies. Therefore, we understand why James and John would argue about who would be greatest in the new kingdom. We see why Peter drew his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane, even though Jesus rebuked him. They were well-intentioned, and they had grand plans, but not according to God’s will. Jesus’ simple reply was to the point: “It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.” In other words, “the time for the kingdom is God’s business, not yours.” God’s true plan and true kingdom, which had been in play for much longer than the disciples’ plan, would indeed come to pass. Pentecost Sunday was just 10 days away from Ascension day. The Holy Spirit would come to God’s Church and begin the construction of King David’s eternal temple, the Holy Christian Church, through the proclamation of the gospel in word and sacrament. A spiritual temple for a spiritual Savior.  

Needless to say, the disciples didn’t quite get the message right away. As Jesus left their sight on His way to heaven, they were left standing with perplexed gazes toward the sky. They needed an angel to remind them that it was time to get to work. Keep your heart centered on Jesus in heaven, but keep your eyes and hands at the task of sharing the Word. God’s plan for His New Testament Church had begun.

Part 3

Learning about examples of the Lord’s direction from the Bible is good and nice. But we’re often left asking, what about my life? Each day we’re beset by problems upon problems. Perhaps we can weather these things well here and there. But what about when big changes happen? A car accident, being laid off from work, a major illness, financial troubles, petty arguments that last years, anger and hostility within our family. You simply can’t be in the world without being exposed to major changes and problems. The Christian is left wondering, if my faith in Jesus is such a great thing, then why all this heartache? I was kind to my employer and a hard worker, why did I get let go? I was responsible with my time, my money, and my possessions, why did God take that away from me? I refrained from hurling insults and from judging, why is that person so mean to me? The questions continue day after day, but they all boil down to the one thing. The struggle of doing what is right and knowing that you may suffer from it. Why does God allow that to happen?

It's kind of like our plans. Maybe they’re not bad. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with the request or the goal, but God has a different way. You shouldn’t think that God doesn’t care or that something is wrong with you if He chooses to go a different way. The reminders of David and disciples and many others in the Bible serve as reminders for us. They went through the same thing too. But more importantly, they show us why we have hope even our plans don’t work out. For God’s eternal plan for you and me is salvation through Jesus. He has promised to make sure nothing changes that. And every plan He directs for you is centered on getting you to heaven through Jesus. David and disciples’ plans didn’t work out. But it was for their own eternal good.

We think especially today of the role of Christian mothers. A Godly mother suffers much for no reason. She cares and provides for her family yet she must put her own dreams on hold, or often give them up entirely. What’s the Lords’ plan? A Godly mother prays and prays for her children, yet so often very few family members think of her. What’s the Lord’s plan? A Godly mother knows that love must be tough sometimes; she can’t always be her child’s pal and encourage what they are doing. She must put her foot down sometimes and show them the truth; the kind of love no one else would show; yet when she does she is often despised and disrespected. In response to her love, she receives resentment. What’s the Lord’s plan? Think of how many times Godly mothers do what is right and receive what is wrong in return.

For all Godly mothers or whatever vocation you have, Jesus said, "Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets (Luke 6:22-23).”

Peter instructed the early Christians, But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil (1 Peter 3:14-17).

The message is clear, if you suffer because of the plan that God has, you are blessed. It defies how suffering makes us feel, but it is the clear evidence that we have been redeemed by Christ, and that that redemption has worked. When you show glory to God, especially when the world calls for you not to, you prove that the victory is complete. Jesus was, and still is, the only one who rightfully could complain about having to suffer. But He never has and never will, and therefore neither will we. It’s okay if God changes the plans that we make. Sometimes He does so because we are setting ourselves up for disaster. Other times He does so because He has a better alternative. But in every case He is always in control and always working for your benefit. We have assurance of this because He offered up Jesus the proof of His promise. God went to that extreme so that He could continue His plan for your life. A plan that was made in eternity and a plan with eternity in mind. If Jesus did not die for your sins and suffer unjustly in your place, the plan would have been lost.

Perhaps unwittingly we wish that was the case. If God’s will in Christ was demolished, we could always get what we want. We could be the sole authority in our lives. We would never have to worry about God interrupting our plans. But that would also be a life without purpose or direction. It would be life of selfish greed and not unconditional love for God and for one another. And it would be a life without hope in heaven.

We have plenty of reminders that God’s plan reigns. King David and the temple. The disciples and ascension. The work of our Godly mothers for their children and their husbands. But none greater than Christ crucified for us. Without a doubt the most unlikely plan. Foolish to human perception. Impossible to skeptical observation. Unknown without God’s revealing. Yet, in truth, the only plan that could work. The only way that allows life and forgiveness to exist with freedom and love. Christ for sinners, through death, through resurrection, through ascension. The only plan for us. Amen.

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

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