February 20, 2017

February 19, 2017 - Acts 16:24-35

Theme: The Earthquake that Opened the Door to Life
1) A Life of Freedom and Service
2) A Re-focused Value of Life
3) Life Eternal in Jesus 

People are always looking for a sign from God. Many times, this leads them to undervalue the Word of God and to read into things that happen in their lives. It’s entirely within the realm of God’s power to communicate directly through signs, but it should never overshadow the clear words He has already recorded in the Bible. Jesus said that “a wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign (Matthew 16:4).” Sign-seekers can quickly become wicked and adulterous because they replace the Word of God with their own particular experiences and supposed visions. There’s also a certain amount of pride in believing that God would communicate directly with you through a vision and not with someone else. God has certainly shown signs in times past, but in this age He speaks through the Bible. That’s because we live in the age of fulfillment through Jesus Christ. No other work needs to be accomplished. Everything for our salvation has been recorded in Scripture.

Even though we have the clear words of the Bible, it’s amazing that so many people today are looking for and claiming to have seen signs from God. Now, there are plenty of times when God protects us in life or when He works through something outside of His Word in order to lead or teach us. That can certainly happen and often it does without us even recognizing it. As the author of all creation and as an all-powerful deity, God is always working ‘behind the scenes’ we might say. But, these occasions are different than receiving a divine sign that appears to be the voice of God speaking directly to someone. Without Scripture to be our guide, that voice could just as easily be Satan’s to lead us astray.

But the thing about signs, especially miraculous ones, is that they are spectacular and they make us feel special. Reading the same words of Scripture over and over again can become mundane. It’s only natural to want something more fantastic from God. If we share such an opinion let us be aware of falling into wickedness and spiritual adultery as Jesus warned.

We speak of signs today because we have one in our text. And that is the interesting thing about Scripture. When you follow Scripture and trust the words that are recorded, the signs given to believers of long ago become signs in our lives too. We may not witness them directly in the present, but they serve to teach us just as they taught the original witnesses. Our text comes from the early Church, and is found in Acts 16:24-35:

Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. 25 But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were loosed. 27 And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. 28 But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, "Do yourself no harm, for we are all here." 29 Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 And he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" 31 So they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household." 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household. 35 And when it was day, the magistrates sent the officers, saying, "Let those men go."

The sign from God in this section is the earthquake. This sign could be understood as sort of a hybrid between the two that we previously described. God was working behind the scenes in a way but He also had a strong message that would be revealed through this earthquake. Of course, that message only came to fruition in the words and actions of Christ’s disciples present that evening. When we think of earthquakes, we aren’t typically overcome with feelings of hope and joy. Earthquakes are scary and disastrous. They lead to destruction and ruin. Yet, this earthquake was different. Instead of bringing death, it brought life. Just as the doors of that ancient prison in Philippi were open, so also this earthquake continues to burst open a number of doors to life with God. The first door led to a life of freedom and service.

Part 1: A Life of Freedom and Service

Now, think about this event from Paul and Silas’ perspective. If you were chained up all night in a dark, dank prison cell; far away from the comforts of home and surrounded by strangers of questionable character; what would be the first thing you would do if the chains were broken and the doors were opened? You would run to freedom, wouldn’t you? Of course, any sane person would. Yet, Paul and Silas stayed where they were and it wasn’t because they were crazy.

They stayed because they trusted God. Even though the door to life and freedom had been opened, Paul and Silas recognized the Lord’s hand in this activity. And they also knew that there were more important things than saving their own skins. Paul and Silas were not gluttons for punishment. The evening before they were wrongfully imprisoned and beaten for exposing some of the local peoples’ abuse of a demon-possessed girl. The girl’s masters made a profit on her ability to tell people their fortunes. They kept her in this state of awful demon possession in order to turn a profit. Paul and Silas exposed this disgusting practice and exorcised the demon from the girl. And what did they get in return? Beatings and a prison cell. You can be sure they didn’t enjoy it so why didn’t they get out as soon as they could? The answer is they didn’t stay for themselves, but in order to continue serving God. And they had an amazing opportunity before them. God had opened a door, not only to freedom, but also to service.

Part 2: A Re-focused Value of Life
When Paul and Silas chose to stay put and not walk through the door to freedom, the Lord opened up another door for them. This was the door to a re-focused value of life. As I’m sure you remember from Sunday School lessons on this story, the Roman punishment for allowing prisoners to escape was death. The jailer figured he’d get things over quickly and was about to end his life before Paul spoke up and said, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”

The jailer’s response is the basic question that all people must answer. But, what exactly did he mean? Based on the context of the situation it would seem that he was thinking of physical deliverance from the Roman authorities, not salvation in Christ. But, Paul would capitalize on the opportunity to deliver the direct Gospel salvation. We can be sure that as Paul and Silas accompanied the man to his home, ate at his table, met his family, and baptized them all; the difference between physical and spiritual life was explained.

The jailer’s attitude and question summarize the struggle that mankind suffers from because of sin. First, there is an over-emphasis on this present life. The jailer figured this was it. In his mind there was no purpose in continuing to live. He probably believed in the multitude of Roman gods and goddesses that offered no answers for life after death. As a result, he came to the conclusion that the value of his life was nothing anymore, and so he decided to end it. The same conclusion is always met when life on this earth is emphasized over life in Christ. The end of the process will always lead to despair because of sin.

The analysis could be done in our lives. How much pain and toil could we spare ourselves by emphasizing Christ’s life over ours? How much more would we value life today, and life in Christ, by “seeking those things which are above” as Christ instructed? Treasures in heaven over treasures of the earth. Likewise, when faced with the doors of personal freedom or opportunity to serve God, which is the one you choose? Would you exert more effort and energy in order to restore a fellow brother or sister in a “spirit of gentleness” or would you take the easy way out? Is the work of the Lord at church or home a priority or a chore? Does your understanding of personal freedom involve acts of service to God and fellow believer? Sometimes God opens doors before us that are difficult and even troublesome to walk through. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t part of His will for us.

The second point about the jailer’s example is this. He did not know Christ, so he naturally looked to himself. The way he phrased his question is not coincidence, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” He knew there was something unique about Paul and Silas, but all he could do was speculate. He asked them in sincerity, but at this point in his life he knew nothing more than what he could accomplish by himself. Truly, the jailer must have been confounded; seeing the hope and peace that Paul and Silas had; while torn in his own heart about what would happen.

Part 3: Life Eternal in Jesus  

Paul’s answer marks a pivotal moment in both this text and in the history of Christendom. It doesn’t get any simpler, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Countless abuses have occurred in the name of Christ and the Church by disregarding these simple words. Some would say, “Choose the Lord Jesus as your Savior or prove yourself to be born again in His name.” Others say “Work for the Lord Jesus Christ and show that you’re worthy.” Still some say, “Help yourself and God will help you.” And still, some are so sick of the pious ads that they give up asking and assume Christ is no different than any other god.

No abuse can rob us of the simple truth: Believe in Jesus Christ.     

What followed should not be missed either. After this reply we’re told that Paul and Silas went to the man’s house, preached to Him from the Word of God, and baptized him and his family. What started that evening through a miraculous sign, was completed and sealed through the simple expressions of God’s grace in Word and Sacrament. There was nothing mysterious or mystical about these things. Paul and Silas weren’t magic men. They followed the clear command given by Jesus at the Great Commission, as they always had; “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all thing I have commanded them.”

God can show us things, open opportunities, or wake us up through signs. But, when it comes to answering that all-important question, “What must I do to be saved?”, He doesn’t mess around. He keeps it simple and straightforward through the Gospel promise of forgiveness. Would we want it to be any different? The door to heaven and eternal life is so simple that even a little child can enter it; as they do through baptism. We have no reason to doubt that there were children of such a nature in the jailer’s house that evening who received this precious gift.

That door to life eternal, through the spoken and sacramental word, is wide open to all. We may not think that to be the case, since Jesus Himself called it the “narrow way.” But, it’s not the promises of God that make it narrow, rather it’s the limitations we put upon ourselves through the sinful flesh. We, too, like the jailer are tempted to run from our problems or to de-value the new life of faith in Christ. We are tempted like Paul and Silas to walk only through the easy doors of life that suit us the best. And most dangerous of all, we are tempted to approach every problem by first asking, “What must I do?” instead of by humbly confessing, “Lord, I believe, let Thy will be done.” 

For everyone involved that evening, the earthquake was a wake-up call. A call to freedom and service. A call to value life once again. But, only through Jesus was it also a call to eternal life. Amen.

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

February 16, 2017

February 12, 2017 - Matthew 5:17-20

The Character of the Kingdom of Heaven
1. Broken by man, re-built by God
2. Many parts, one purpose
3. Small causes, big results

Our theme for today is about character. Not a surprising thing, after all we are using the Bible and we are in church. However, this character is not what you typically think of first. Usually when people talk about character they are speaking about a virtue of humanity; something that a person exhibits that sets him or her apart from others. Character, at least for today, is still generally regarded as a good thing in our society. When you think of your closest friendships, character is present with anyone whom you consider close.

Though it may seem like it, our text is not about human character. So much is made of the human spirit nowadays; but God’s not pushing that today. A character can also mean an individual within a story. Oftentimes a character is fictional, but not always. This is how our text speaks today. Jesus describes the Character of the Kingdom of Heaven. There is certainly an attitude of honor and integrity built into that, but only because of one individual; one character, Jesus Himself. Today we consider that Character as it pertains to God’s kingdom, both who He is, what He has done, and how He did it. From Matthew 5:17-20:

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 "For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19 "Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 "For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Part 1: Broken by man, re-built by God

The first element of the character of God’s kingdom is that although it was broken by mankind, it was re-built by God. The concepts of breaking down and building up are central to this text, but they come out to us in different terminology. Jesus speaks about the destruction of His Word and the breaking of His commandments. That’s straightforward enough. Those who sin against the law of God destroy it in their lives, and in the lives of others. Jesus’ warning is legitimate, “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven…”

This reminds us of the awesome responsibility we have as Christians. Our actions do not just affect our own lives, they reflect back on Christ and down to those who know little to nothing of His Word. In many cases, the Christian’s life serves as the witnessing tool to either bring someone closer to God or lead them further away. The side we’re on depends on how we use the Word. For the many times we misuse God’s Word, or ignore it, or break it; God is there to build us back up. He does that building up the Word. That’s the concept we get in the word “fulfill”.

To fulfill means to fill something in where it is lacking. A good picture is that of a cup. If the cup of our spiritual righteousness is lacking, as it is; God fills it to the brim and more. Think of King David, who wrote in Psalm 23, “my cup overflows.” But, fulfill also means to make complete. A filled cup is certainly complete in the sense that it is full, but simply being full of something says nothing about the quality of the contents. That’s where the idea of completeness takes up the flame. Fulfillment through Christ is also perfection through Christ, complete in every sense of the word; both in respect to quantity and quality. Christ not only filled in all the missing parts of your life; He did it the best way possible. Quite a gift that is, and it reminds of the secure nature of the kingdom of heaven. When sins and errors create holes in the structure, Christ re-builds it by fulfilling God’s promises.   

Part 2: Many parts, one purpose

The next thing Jesus describes about the kingdom’s nature gives us a glimpse into that fulfillment. He says, “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” In this verse, the “jot” is literally the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet, iota (yoda). The “tittle” is the smallest marking in the Hebrew alphabet. Another translation clears through the confusion: “not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter (HCSB).”

The point of the statement is clear. Even the smallest part of God’s Word is abundantly important to Jesus. And not even the smallest part can be abolished. We rely on the Word of God in our lives and in our teaching. According to this verse, we are doing the right thing. Yet, it is this very point which is so often maligned by our opponents. We are accused of being literalists and fundamentalists, negative buzz words in our culture. Our teachings and applications are called archaic and irrelevant, because we put the Word above human opinion. Be assured that if you honestly attempt to follow what Jesus says here, you will be persecuted for it. 

There’s certainly ways in which faithfulness to the text can be taken to the extreme and become a dangerous thing. We have an example of that in the Bible, when Paul wrote; “But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter (Romans 7:6).” Focusing on the precise letters, at the expense of the meaning, is not the way God wants us to use His Word. Truth and attitude are both important to properly understanding the Bible and applying it.

However, the particular danger Jesus addresses with the verse in our text is much more prevalent in the world. It is the common religious practice of churches and Christians today to do exactly what Jesus says not to, to break His Word. Actually, very much like fulfillment, the literal Greek word is much more telling. The concept of “break” in verse 18 is actually “to loose or set something free.” One English translation says, “Whoever relaxes one of these commandments...” Jesus is describing the individual who systematically dismantles His Word. The activity is like a tennis shoe that is worn untied. The strings get looser and looser until eventually the entire shoe comes off. Jesus wants our laces to be tight. This goes back to the teaching that God inspired the Bible word for word. Psalm 119:160 reminds us: “The entirety of Your word is truth.” Proverbs 30:5 reads “Every word of God is true.” Jesus’ precept goes back to verbal inspiration, but it affects so much more.

The terminology of least and greatest reminds us of another example of the small and insignificant being important. “Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. And if one member suffers all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it (1 Corinthians 12:27, 12, 26).” It would be quite a preposterous thing for us to say that one Christian is more important or less important than another. We are all members of the body of Christ, working together as one, though different as individuals. God treats His Word the very same way. Each letter; each marking, is important and necessary for the re-building that Christ does. “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work (Ephesians 4:16).” Let us not loose nor destroy that Word in our lives.

Part 3: Small causes, big results

The final point about the character of God’s kingdom is like the second. Just as many small parts have one main purpose, so too there are many small causes that lead to big results. This last point is really the direction that Jesus continues to go after preaching these words. He speaks of two examples of loosing or breaking the Word of God: murder and adultery. Certainly both of these sins clearly violate the commandments of God. However, Jesus digs even deeper by pointing out that they both begin in the heart. Jesus says, “Whoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of judgment.” And “whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Jesus is leading us to understand that small causes in our hearts can lead to big results, whether positive or negative. It was also Jesus who compared faith to a mustard seed, which starts out barely visible to the naked eye yet grows large and produces hundreds of other seeds. These are hardly the only examples, even in the Bible. Our lives are living examples of these very truths. The divine service in church is the place where sinners meet God. We converse with Him and receive from Him, in all too common ways. Simple water at baptism. Ordinary bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper. Common confessions of sin and absolution which have remained almost unchanged for 500 years. These are small causes which lead to big results; and results that we absolutely need to live with God.

But there’s even more than that. Like that mustard plant, the fruits keep on growing. The small cause of speaking a kind word to someone or asking how their week went, can lead to big results of encouragement and strength. The small cause of turning off the TV or computer when something vile comes up can lead to big results in avoiding repetitive behavior that builds itself up against the Word. The small, and often thankless, cause of coming to church every week and making it a priority can lead to the big result of stability and peace in your heart in the midst of a warring world. The small cause of one Christian voice that would defend God’s Word can lead to the mightiest of movements that topple godless hierarchies and institutions. These things have all happened before and can happen again. It’s part of the character of the kingdom of heaven.

Of course, just as these things all come back to the Word of God, as Jesus taught, that means they also come back to Jesus. He is the Word made flesh. But, as we also have seen today, He is the character of the kingdom of heaven. Without Him nothing works or makes sense. Take a brief look at the parts of our sermon theme. Each of three could be equally applied to Jesus the person, as they are applied to a godly attitude of faith. Jesus was broken on the cross, yet came back through the resurrection. Jesus works today through many small parts, believers like you and me, as His body, the Church. And Jesus made a life of small causes that led to big results; keeping God’s commandments, leading even His parents and instructing the scribes, comforting the downtrodden, healing the sick, defending the innocent and defending those in authority, and patiently molding the next generation of faithful disciples.      

Not one letter, or marking, of God’s Word makes sense without Jesus. He is the true character of the kingdom of heaven, both in attitude and in person. May our lives be filled and completed through the atonement of our Savior. May we seek to prioritize every word of God as rock-solid, indispensable truth for our lives. And may we be led by the Holy Spirit to produce the fruits of faith that would honor Jesus. Amen.

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

February 9, 2017

February 5, 2017 - 2 Peter 3:14-18

Theme: Come Down from the Mountain to the Plain
1. To personally grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ.
2. To publicly defend and proclaim the Word of God

We all know what it feels like to have such a good day that you don’t want it to end. It could be a day where everything goes your way, or a day when you reach the culmination of a long goal or hard work. Sometimes, it’s about a day where we’ve had a fun time with family or friends, or maybe the weather was excellent. There can be a certain feeling of sorrow when a day like this comes to a close. Life continually moves along and so nothing good lasts forever and so it can be difficult to come down from the high of a good day.  

We get that sense when we think of Christ’s Transfiguration. The sight was so magnificent that Peter requested that three tabernacles be built; one each for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. Part of this was Peter responding in a moment that he didn’t fully understand. But, there was also an element of joy to Peter’s request. He didn’t want this to end. He wanted to continue being in the presence of His Lord’s glory. But, as happens with all good things, it came to an end. We sang of that in the final verse of hymn 135:

“Tis good, Lord, to be here.
Yet we may not remain;
But since Thou bidst us leave the mount,
Come with us to the plain.”

The hymn writer captures the scene well. Up on the mountain, in full display of the Lord’s glory, things seemed pretty good. But, the end was not yet. God still had work to do and work for His disciples to do. In order to follow Jesus, they needed to descend to the plain. So, too, it is in our lives. We have not witnessed the Transfiguration of our Lord, but there are moments when we are called to descend from the spectacular and inspiring down to the common and lowly.

The Transfiguration clearly made a big impression on Peter. He would write about it later as a defense of the validity of His faith; remarking how he did not follow false fables when it came to Jesus but he actually was an eye-witness of Christ’s glory. He was talking about the Transfiguration. Later on in the same letter, Peter describes what it means to descend from the mountain to the plain. This portion comes as our sermon text, from the end of Peter’s second letter:

2 Peter 3:14-18 Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; 15 and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation-- as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.

Part 1: To personally grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ

The Lord beckons us to come down from the mountain to the plain, first of all in order to personally grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. If there was anyone who knew the importance of growth, it was Peter. The books of Acts, and 1 and 2 Peter paint an entirely different image of Peter than do the Gospels. Peter’s early track record with Jesus was nothing to boast about. He was certainly impetuous and eager in many things. Boldness was not something he lacked. But, it was wisdom that was often in short supply. I’m sure in the later years of his life Peter probably reminisced with a smile about his former ways. When you look at the composite view of his life in the Scriptures, Peter was certainly someone who grew.

But in order to grow as a Christian, you must be in the thick of this world. You have to come down from the mountain. New life by faith in Christ can certainly feel inspiring. But, life is not lived in an isolated bubble of good feelings. In order to grow one must be out in the world, on the plain, in order to learn and experience the guiding hand of Christ by faith. Peter was thrust into this scenario right after the ascension of Jesus. In the early chapters of Acts, Peter is the main leader in the church. He is one who is preaching boldly, leading the Christians, and suffering for it. Peter displayed his growth by rejoicing after suffering a beating for Christ’s name. He epitomized the early church’s motto of “we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).”

Jesus even prepared Peter for this, saying near the end of His ministry: John 21:18 "Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish." Ultimately, Peter would give his life in service of His Lord.

We may not be subjected to the same dangers as Peter and the early Christians, but we are still faced with the decision to stay on the mountaintop or come down to the plain. Perhaps your mountain is church. Is that the only place where you grow in the Lord? Just for one hour or two on a Sunday? Is this the only time you surround yourself with the Lord’s Word? Furthermore, is church the only place where you are willing to talk about your faith? Do you keep it distant when you’re out during the week and only bring it out on Sunday? These are examples of ways that you might be staying in your “safe space” while refusing to come down to the plain.

Life on the plain isn’t easy, that’s why it’s the plain. But life is not lived only in the extraordinary, either. The measure of our days is built upon the successive things we do in the common and ordinary times. To encourage you in your personal growth, Peter writes, Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; 15 and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation. This is an interesting statement because literally Peter is saying, “Eagerly be a patient Christian.” He implores you to wait upon the Lord’s power, mercy, and word but to do it eagerly. That’s a hard line to walk. But, that’s why Peter also says, “Consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation.” Jesus is the engine that drives our personal growth. It took extreme patience to come to earth and live, suffer, and die in our place; so much so that patience itself isn’t’ even a complete enough word. Jesus was more than patient; He was “longsuffering”. Jesus did more than wait, He suffered continually in our place. He proved Himself worthy as the Son of God and as our Savior by never once stepping out of line in the midst of that longsuffering. And so Peter tells us, this is our salvation.

When we come down from the safety of the mountain to the frustration of the plain; we grow because Jesus did the same thing, and now uses His grace to bless and strengthen us.

Part 2: To publicly defend and proclaim the Word of God

The rest of this text goes on to tell us why life on the plain is difficult and what we should be invested in while we are there. When it comes to that most important teaching of salvation in Christ, Peter warns, as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.

When Peter was on the mountaintop with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, there were no dangers present. He was simply in the presence of His Lord, completely protected. Coming down, though, things would get much more difficult. Life would go back to normal. That’s also what makes the different mountaintops of our lives so enticing. We are protected. We are safe. We don’t have to venture outside of our comfort zone.

Peter explains to the Christian reader some of the things they will have to deal with on the plain. There are many out in the world who would tear down the work of Jesus Christ. Some may do it in ignorance, but Peter speaks of others who would deliberately do it. They actively twist and distort God’s Word. They obscure the message of salvation to the point that someone cannot receive it. This is the true danger we are confronted with.

It’s interesting that if you think about it, almost all false teachings are done with good intentions. People often do it because they think they will gain something better by it. For example, if a particular word from God is not popular in the current world, change it and we can get more people in our church. Or, if God calls something a sin, but no one else wants to believe it, just let the matter go and you’ll never have to have that difficult conversation of admonition. No one changes the Word of God because they think it’s a harmful thing to do. They always feel like they know better or they’ll get something better for doing it. Peter tells us the truth. Anyone who changes God’s Word does it to his own destruction.

And for the Christian, Peter also reminds us, you know these things already so be prepared. Yes, life on the plain is difficult, and yes, we are confronted by many enemies and opponents. But, we know this already and we know what our hope is. We have Jesus, and His gift of salvation. Nothing can rob us of that, unless we are willing to give it away.

Here’s where we must ask ourselves about our willingness to contend for the faith. Jude writes, “I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints, for certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ (Jude 1:3-4).” Growing personally in Jesus Christ is important, but so is publically defending and proclaiming His Word. Both tasks are involved in descending from the mountain of safety to the plain of real life.

Have you asked yourself recently, “How am I doing at defending my Lord’s word?” Are you ready to stand up in the face of opposition and give your confession of Jesus as Savior and Lord? This doesn’t mean you have to be expert apologists or theologians. Oftentimes, it’s the simplest of God’s followers that give the best defense of His Word; people like young children, the elderly, the sick, or those who have next to nothing in the material possessions of the world.

We live at a time when social movements rise up all the time in the face of disrespect or offensive actions. Would you rise up for God if someone disrespected Him? Would you come to His defense before those who would twist and distort His Word? Or, would you hold it in until you’re back on the mountaintop of safety? Remember that when you defend your faith you’re doing it for more than just God. Peter tells you that those who change God’s Word do it to their destruction. What does it say about us as Christians if we know that but don’t care enough to say anything about it?

You know this beforehand, don’t allow it to lead you into falling away from your steadfast foundation in Jesus. It takes courage and it takes patience. Life on the plain is difficult. But, it the same, and even more, for us to have anything worth defending. The longsuffering of our Savior is salvation. That is the steadfast foundation we have been given. That is what we risk losing when we fail to grow to grow in or share the same.

Protection and safety in our spiritual lives is not about hiding from the enemy, nor is about keeping that good feeling of being a newborn Christian. We, too, must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God. That’s life on the plain, but as the hymn-writer wrote, so we believe. Jesus is by our side.

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

February 1, 2017

January 29, 2017 - Matthew 14:22-33

Theme: When You’re in the Storm, Listen to Jesus

Matthew 14:22-33 Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. 23 And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. 24 But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary. 25 Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. 26 And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out for fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, "Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid." 28 And Peter answered Him and said, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." 29 So He said, "Come." And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. 30 But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, "Lord, save me!" 31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, "Truly You are the Son of God."

Imagine the stress that must have been on the disciples that evening. They were obviously terrified in the storm; we’re told that much. But, they also had been in the midst of it for some time. Matthew records the story using the Roman ordering of time. The Romans divided the night into 4 watches. By the time Jesus reveals Himself, it’s sometime in the early morning hours and the disciples had been in the storm for several hours.

I’ve never been in an open water storm before, whether on a large sea or the ocean. Perhaps you have. But, I have been out on water enough to know that it doesn’t take long to feel like matters are out of your control. Certainly the disciples felt that way, and with it came a lot of stress. But, at the sight and sound of Jesus, something amazing happened. With the storm still raging and the wind blowing, Peter requested to join the Lord on the water. What a strange prayer by Peter, why not ask Jesus to come to the boat or to calm the sea? Clearly, Peter wanted a taste of Jesus’ power. We know how it feels. We desire it too; to witness and experience God’s almighty power. In a life built around faith, there is always a desire to realize God’s presence first-hand.

But raw power was not enough to alleviate Peter’s stress. Sure, it worked for a moment as Peter did the impossible; becoming the only other person in history to walk on water. But, in a panicked state of doubt, Peter took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink. A few seconds of relief and back he was, under the pressure of sin once again. What Peter didn’t realize that night was that he didn’t need a miraculous sign from Jesus in order to be released from the pressure. Something much greater and much simpler was with him, His Savior’s gracious words of life, salvation, and reassurance.

It sounds simple because it is simple. In fact, our text graphically portrays how simple the help we need is. All you need to do is exactly what God beckons you to do, follow the voice of your Savior. When you remove all the other words of our text and single out the things Christ speaks, you see it all. I put them in red in your bulletins to show you: Jesus says to you as He did to Peter:
·         “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”
·         “Come”
·         “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

The storms of our lives seek to rob us of the security we have by faith in Jesus Christ. Satan uses them to make us afraid and to get us to doubt. Yet, all we need is the calming voice of Jesus, saying the very same things back to us. He reminds us to be cheerful, not afraid. He calls us to His side and through His Word day after day. And He lovingly reminds us, faith does not doubt.

Think of it in another way, with another analogy from the sea. There are two ways to handle deep ocean water pressure. One is to use a tiny, submarine-like vessel that deep ocean diving teams use to investigate ocean life at great depths. It repels the stress of the ocean depths by several inches of thick, steel plates. It is rigid and not easy to move around. Viewing is limited to thick, porthole glass windows. It gets the job done but it’s difficult to use. The other way to repel stress at those depths is how the aquatic creatures who live there do. They don’t have thick, bulky membranes. Rather, they designed to be free-flowing and light. Their bodies naturally protect against the pressing ocean by allowing the pressure to work through them. It’s as if they are transparent in that sense, the pressure of the ocean becomes part of who they are.

In a similar way, we can become rigid and bulky when dealing with the stress and pressures of life. We can put up our defenses and block everything out.  We’ll get through life this but it doesn’t make for a very fulfilling life, and it blocks out those around us. But, God gives us the ability to pass directly through the stress; to open ourselves up to others. Like deep-water sea creatures, faith in Christ shields us as if the pressures aren’t even there. The calming voice of our Savior takes the burdens away.

You may think, “Yeah, right, I wish was that easy.” I agree that it doesn’t feel like it sometimes. But, why is that? Is it because God is ineffective for us? Is it because our Savior’s Word doesn’t calm? Or could it be that we are busy seeking something else? Storms in your life work the same way that storms on the Sea of Galilee worked. They are unexpected. You are powerless against them just as the disciples were. Sometimes they last for what seems like an eternity. We cry out as the Christians of old did, “O Lord, how long?!” Storms obscure your vision and hearing, so much so that you are tempted to think of everything going on around you, not on your loving Savior right in front of you. Sometimes, sin is so pervasive in life that we don’t even recognize Jesus.

Maybe you have something on your mind right now that you’re going through. Perhaps you feel lack of contentment and too much pressure from work. You might be worried about health or safety concerns for yourself or a loved one. Do you have stress because life is so busy and moves so fast that you feel like you’re missing what’s important? Maybe there are just too many questions and not enough answers. What storm are you in? Could be more than one too.

We could always spend time listing things that make life difficult, problems that linger, or ailments that annoy us. But, nothing you’re going through, or can encounter, makes Christ’s words difficult. “Be of good cheer, He is with you. Come to Him. And do not doubt, but believe.” That’s all; so incredibly simple and filled with the “peace that passes all understanding.”

In this short text Jesus tells us everything it takes to be a Christian. So often, when people inquire into what it takes for faith, you get some long-winded, convoluted answer about all these different signs and manifestations of the Spirit which prove you have the faith that counts. Again, it shouldn’t surprise us that the actual words of Jesus are much simpler. Perhaps He did these very actions and saw to it that they were recorded in Scripture to remind generations like ours.

He gives us the simple words which we’ve already cited; they stand for themselves. But, in those moments where our vision or hearing is disrupted, He sets an example for us to follow. Before the storm even began or Peter walked on the water. Long before the battle on the sea began, Jesus went off on His own and prayed. Let this moment not be forgotten among the others. Let us not diminish the significance of this lesson. If the Son of God can take time for conversation with His Father, we certainly can too. And if Jesus finds value to prayer; what treasures it must hold for us mere sinners and mortals.

But, as with all forms of communication, you can’t be the only one talking in your prayer life. When you speak to God, remember to listen back. God can and certainly does show His will and His answers through the things that happen in life. Peter’s situation was one such example; an unmistakable miracle with a clear message from the Lord. But, don’t be waiting around for such things either. If God desires to speak to you in that way, you’ll know it without having to wait for it. Instead, what you can do now is to listen that what God has already said. It may not be as flashy or trendy and showing off some sign or power, but the simple and clear Word of truth is able to get you through any problem.

Very often, the reason we struggle under our stresses so much is because we go our own way and put up our defenses like that tiny, deep-water submarine. Life is rigid and inflexible. Problems and cares of the world seem to dominate our thinking. But, it doesn’t have to be this way. There’s a much better way to handle stress; listen to Jesus. When you do that, you find that those seemingly distant and outdated words of Scripture contain a lot more effectiveness and power than you first thought.    

It’s not that the value of our prayers that lifts stress or eases problems. It’s that prayers bring us closer to God who does those things. Prayers put us into contact with God’s Words and God’s Words tell us the truth. Sometimes that truth can be as harsh as the sea’s cold waves and biting wind. Sometimes we fight and struggle against the truth as the disciples fought against the storm. When we’re confronted with our sins or the times we’ve disobeyed God’s will. Make no mistake, though, none of them doubted the truth of what they were up against. But, God’s Word also brings to us the truth of His love. Jesus’ statement to be of good cheer was just as real as the wind and waves. And at His command, all pressure was gone. The stress that the disciples were so helpless against, vanished in an instant.

And so the Savior beckons you to Come and trust His promise of comfort. He is able to lift your worries, stresses, and pressures away at any moment. It may be that you need to wrestle against something for a bit longer. His grace operates according to His timing, and for that we should be thankful. But, relief always comes. As Paul wrote, so we believe, “Nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Savior. He who did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” Earlier, we asked the question that many before us asked, “How long, O Lord?” Hear the reply of those faithful saints, from Psalm 13: Consider me and answer, LORD my God. Restore brightness to my eyes; otherwise, I will sleep in death. 4 My enemy will say, "I have triumphed over him," and my foes will rejoice because I am shaken. 5 But I have trusted in Your faithful love; my heart will rejoice in Your deliverance (Psalm 13:3-5). This is your hope too.   

Peter’s failure reminds us of his faith later on in a similar account (John 21:1-14). After Jesus rose from the dead, the disciples were fishing and finding no success. Jesus appears on the shore and commands them to cast their net on the right side of the boat. It is overflowing with fish. John recognizes the stranger as Jesus and tells Peter. Peter plunges into the sea and swims ashore. Two stories on the sea of Galilee. Two times Jesus appeared to the disciples. Two miracles. But also two examples of Peter’s faith. In our story, Peter measures his faith by his ability to walk on water, a mighty feat indeed. But, in the end he fails because he takes his eyes off Jesus. In the second account, he seems much clumsier. He certainly doesn’t do anything miraculous. He just jumps into the water. But, his faith is displayed in his unending devotion to Jesus. Willingness to follow at all costs, no matter how it looks to others. The second story is a much greater example of great faith, even though it may not seem like it on the surface. Faith is not based on how we look to the outside or whether we prove ourselves to be powerful. It is about following Jesus, and desiring His presence at all costs.


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