December 21, 2018

Advent 3 - Matthew 11:2-11

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Our Expectations Fall Short of our Savior’s Excellence

Matthew 11:2-11 And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples 3 and said to Him, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?" 4 Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: 5 "The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. 6 "And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me." 7 As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 "But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. 9 "But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. 10 "For this is he of whom it is written: `Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.' 11 "Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."

A recent study looked at the question of why people quit or change churches. The answers were distilled into four categories. People change or quit churches because:
1.     Sermon quality
2.     Welcoming environment/people
3.     Style of worship
4.     Location

One pastor penned an article about the study and concluded with this thought: “The translation is clear – Americans treat church like a product to consume instead of as a family to belong. When we treat church like a product, we consume until our needs are no longer met.”

Especially at a time like this, around Christmas, this kind of thought resonates because there is so much consumerism among us. It even feels like, at times, the season of Christmas has been overcome by it. So much emphasis is put on getting what we want, meeting our desires, and moving on if we don’t. No wonder the same kind of thinking has affected our church life.

However, this pastor still got it wrong, I think. His definition of church is that it’s a “family to belong.” True, in one sense. Church is a spiritual family. Even the Bible describes our faith as being children of God and members of His heavenly family. But, for the purposes of indicating why people should join or leave a church, is the familial atmosphere really the most important element? The pastor’s explanation falls into the very same pit that he criticizes. He takes a gift from God and makes it all about ourselves. The church is God’s family, but as His home, we need to remember that He is in charge. It is above all other things, the place to hear His voice, as our heavenly Father. It is not about a family in so far as I look for what makes me feel most at home or that I choose what is most familiar to my experiences in life. Church is about listening to my Father. That is our place in the family of God.

The pastor’s criticism of the results of this study led to him to form his own conclusions – the reasons he thought were important enough to leave or join a church. He says,
-        It’s ok to leave for family or marriage. If you can’t find a spouse through your church or you marry someone who attends a different church, go ahead and decide for yourselves which church fits your needs best.
-        It’s ok to leave a church if you live more than 30 minutes away. If that’s the case you can’t reasonably expect to attend regularly or participate in activities.
-        It’s ok to leave a church if you can’t agree with the church’s leadership. If you think things should be done differently then don’t work on it together or even consider adjusting your thinking according to God’s Word, but find a place that does things the way you want.

For a pastor who is critical of people treating church like any other commodity, he sure makes some interesting suggestions that sound very consumer-driven. Only at the very end of the article did he say anything about the content or doctrine of a church and the bearing that has on attending.

Both the study and the article are sad indictments on the American view of church, even from those who recognize the problem! 

According to Jesus, the same criticism could have been given to the people of His day, even to the disciples of John the Baptist. They came to Jesus, early in His ministry, and under the direction of John the Baptist, and asked Him a simple question: "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?"

From their perspective, it was a question that made sense. John the Baptist had worked for his entire life to prepare for the coming Savior. He had deprived himself or life’s luxuries. He had committed every cause to the name of Christ. And what did he have to show for it? He was locked away in Herod’s dungeon. Obviously, this was a disappointment. After how important John’s mission was, with his own father graced by the arrival of an angel, Gabriel who sits in God’s own presence, to announce his birth, it was a selfish little king that held him captive. How disappointing this must have been for John, to not know what was going on outside those prison walls and to not know whether his life’s calling had been to any effect. Yet, John was not without expectation. He still heard of Jesus and so he sent his followers to find out.

This question makes sense in the context, but it was still revealing of a lack of trust. Jesus doesn’t answer with a direct reply, but rather in a way that drove home the bigger point, He points John’s disciples to what He has accomplished.
-        The Blind Receive Sight: Isaiah 29:18, 35:5
-        The Lame Walk: Isaiah 35:6,
-        Lepers are cured: Isaiah 53:4
-        The deaf hear: Isaiah 29:18-19
-        The dead are raised: Isaiah 26:18-19
-        The Good News is proclaimed: Isaiah 61:1

These activities of our Savior were confirming clues that He was the Messiah. John didn’t need to be out of prison to know. John didn’t need to have a private confirmation ceremony with Jesus. There was no formal passing of the torch. Jesus knew that John knew his Old Testament prophecies (the Word of God), and He tells John, “Listen to what I have done.” Each of these things was not only a sign of Jesus’ power as God but a fulfillment of God’s promises of who the Messiah would be. Each one was recorded in the Old Testament, often by Isaiah, as a finger-print identity of God’s chosen Savior. Jesus fit that identity in an undeniable and remarkable way.

It’s likely that John knew the real answer – of course Jesus was the one. What John probably meant was, what is your plan? Jesus was not exactly fitting John’s expectation about how this would all go. As John taught and proclaimed repentance and the immediacy of the kingdom of heaven, it’s hard to imagine that he thought he’d be rotting away in prison when Jesus came on the scene. John was looking for His Savior, but looking according to his own expectations. And so, he doubted, if only for a brief moment.

That doubt is encapsulated in one word – offend. Jesus’ final parting message to John’s disciples was, “Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” Giving offense is a common transgression in our culture, perhaps more so than at any point in human history. Much is said today about avoiding triggering language and being cautious not to say politically incorrect things. Half-hearted apologies are given all the time by notable figures and celebrities on Twitter or at staged press conferences. Offense is a big deal, but it’s a much different type of offense.

You get a taste of that in the meaning of the Biblical word. The type of offense Jesus warns about is something that causes a person to no longer believe, or causes them to sin. It’s where our English word “scandal” comes from. In this immediate context it was being offended at the authority of Jesus as the Savior and therefore, not believing it. This type of offense is completely dangerous to a person’s faith. But, it’s a far cry from what offense typically means today. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary states that the word offend historically means “to violate or transgress the divine law or to do wrong.” This is very much the same as the Biblical concept. However, the same dictionary also says the modern understanding of offense means “to cause (a person or group) to feel hurt, angry, or upset by something said or done.” This is quite a change.

Jesus was scandalous to the people, perhaps even to John the Baptist and his disciples, because Jesus had difference expectations. As the Lord and Savior, His methods and plans would not always fit in the prism of their logic. The same trend unfolded throughout Jesus’ ministry, in His interactions with the Pharisees and Sadducees, the people of the regions, and even His twelve disciples. Jesus operated on a different level of wisdom and intuition and shattered the expectations of those around Him.

This is something that John the Baptist should have been well aware of, for it was the same calling card of his ministry. Once John’s disciples departed, Jesus asked the remaining crowds, three times, “What did you go out to see?” He was referring to John’s ministry, as it took place in the wilderness. John was an intriguing figure. People saw that he spoke with authority. They recognized his knowledge of the Scriptures. They could sense the sincerity and truth of his message. Yet, John didn’t fit into the image that most people had of a famous prophet – as the Forerunner of the Messiah. He was kind of an odd duck. Even he shattered expectations. And because of that some were offended, literally unbelieving, at his message.
Despite the unusual nature of John’s ministry, Jesus validated it at the end of our text. But, if you notice, in doing so Jesus also validated His own uniqueness. "Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." What a compliment to John, that of those born among women there was no one greater! But, that compliment only served to set the stage for the most important point – the lowliest in the kingdom of heaven is even greater than John.

That verse is a wonderful summation of the meaning of Jesus’ ministry. What had the people gone out to see with John? Not someone easily intimated. Not one who would willingly back down. Not a person who was rich and luxurious. What was John? A prophet, and as a prophet his primary purpose was to point to Jesus. John defied expectations, but with a reason. The more important question is, What have you come out to see from Jesus?

-        Do you want a sermon that makes you feel inspired or sounds relevant?
-        Do you want Jesus to be close to where you’re at in life?
-        Do you want a Savior who won’t get in the way with your family life, or one who won’t ask you to change anything in your life?
-        Are you okay with Jesus if He says something offensive or harsh, or if He challenges the status quo in your heart?  

Be cautious and wise with what you wish for from Jesus, because it’s all too easy to treat your faith like a mere commodity – to be consumed when you want or how you want. Take the good, discard the bad. Accept what I want, leave when there’s something I don’t want. Our expectations always fall short of our Savior’s excellence – and thanks be to God for it. Because Jesus is a unique Savior, calling sinners to repentance, building a kingdom in heaven, redeeming us by free grace, exalting the lowly over the great, and so many more expectation-shattering things – I can have hope that He is my Savior.

Today, I don’t have to seek Jesus on my terms. I don’t have to make His house all about what I want. I don’t have to fear when He admonishes me or calls me to change part of my life, because I know He has my best interests, even the interests I need that I don’t even know I need yet. That is Jesus, abundantly different than any of god of this world, just like John the Baptist was a different prophet.

What do you come out to see? Another way to ask that question is, why do you go to church? Jesus gives you more than product, a faith much more valuable than gold, silver, or any other commodity. His righteousness by faith. And His shed blood for your forgiveness. And thanks be to God for it. May that always be your priority and your expectation. Amen.

And thanks be to God that it is so. Amen.

Advent 2 - Malachi 4:1-6

The Strokes of God’s Artistry
1.     I do this…
2.     I commanded…
3.     I will send…
4.     I come and strike…

Malachi 4:1-6 "For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up," says the LORD of hosts, "That will leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings; And you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves. 3 You shall trample the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day that I do this," says the LORD of hosts. 4 "Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. 5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. 6 And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse."

Recently I was at the airport, waiting near baggage claim to pick Gretchen up. As I walked around the airport I noticed several works of art. Perhaps they are there to class up the place a bit, or to give some of the local artistic flavor to visitors, or just to give people waiting like me something to look at. One piece I noticed looked magnificent and beautiful from a distance, almost like a stained-glass display. Brightly colored pieces shimmered before a backlit frame with a dazzling array of sparkles that changed from each angle you gazed upon it. I had to investigate further – what was this stunning artwork made from?

As I approached, the sublime thoughts in my head fell back to earth, for the artwork was nothing more than a bunch of warning light covers, the same you’d find on a construction cone or on the back of a bicycle. From far away, it gleamed with beauty. Close up – it didn’t look so spectacular – but rather quite ordinary. Perhaps that is part of the ingenuity of the artwork – using common and everyday items to make something that is beautiful.

That piece of artwork reminded me of the way our God can take and shape the common, ordinary, and sometimes even broken aspects of lives into a beautiful tapestry of glory. Glory for the individual believer who inherits eternal life in His name and also glory to that saving name – the only one under heaven given among men by which we can be saved (Acts 4:12).

Today, we see that truth in action in the final verses of the Old Testament. In the last official prophetical account given before Christ’s birth, the LORD reminds the hearer of the many things He accomplishes – acts that are like the individual strokes that make up a grand artistic masterpiece. Each singular thing seems common in and of itself, but when taken together it shows God’s amazing grace. God works in many and mysterious ways, and oftentimes His grand plan is already complete by the time we catch on to its beauty and wisdom. That certainly was the case for many people upon the birth of God incarnate into the world. The Old Testament prophesied that the Messiah would come unexpectedly, almost as if He appeared out of nowhere. But not because He was truly mysterious or that He wanted to catch people off-guard. It was simply that we have a hard time perceiving the Lord’s plan.

Part 1

To help our study today, I want to start from the end. When looking at the actions that God states in this text, the final one is that He would come and strike the world with a curse. This action is offered not as a guarantee but as a warning. To the initial reader it is still a matter of question about whether God would have to follow through on this warning. This seems like kind of a low spot on which to end the Old Testament and upon which to begin our study. But there’s a reason God gave this final warning and a reason why we begin with it today.

It was never God’s desire or will to strike the earth with a curse but it did happen. Most people confuse those two options by thinking that the simple fact that something happens means that God intended it to happen. But the Lord tells us all over His Word that many things happen in the world that are not His intended will. The key concept here is freedom – the freedom which God created humans with and the freedom by which He leads us in our lives. There are many areas of life that are beyond the scope of our power or intellect and therefore solely in the hands of God. However, no action of God occurs outside of freedom. Though we lack control sometimes, He still does not force anything upon us. We always have the ability to opt out, if you will, from what God intends and desires.

However, we can’t mention freedom without also mentioning the effect sin has had on it. Freedom is really an aspect of God’s love for us, but sadly it’s often misused. We misuse freedom whenever we stray from the law of God. We misuse that freedom when we blame God for the consequences of the decisions, we, or some other person in the world, made. And so, even when it comes to truth and justice, God warns, instructs, guides, and even pleads, but He doesn’t force. There is always freedom. So God says, consider and take to heart the things I say, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.

Has this curse been given? We do live in a sinful world. We are sinful people. We do sinful things. In that way we are cursed. But our text seems to be talking of something more here – a divine punishment rendered in the future. As God warns us throughout His Word, we are aware that an even more devastating punishment than the problems of the world exists for those who reject Christ. This is the eternal curse of hell. God tells us two things about that curse. He doesn’t want to have to give it and yet if the situation He describes does not change, He will give it.

This is the plaguing struggle each sinner feels in their heart. They know God is merciful and loving. They know He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Yet, He remains just and we have no leg to stand on in defense for sinners. It’s nice to know that God doesn’t want to render the divine curse of punishment, but fair is fair, and fair is right. We deserve nothing. Think about that. We say it all the time but sometimes we don’t actually believe it. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. We have no right to complain to God or to act like we’re just good enough to get out of the curse. We deserve nothing and though we confess that all the time, sometimes we don’t believe it.

This is where the Old Testament ends. This is the final warning – the final message. There is no comfort here, until you look at the bigger picture. It seems like an impossible situation. God does not want to punish, yet He must or He’s not God. What hope is there? Here’s where I venture to declare that this is not a sad scene or a hopeless picture. This last act of God is not only a warning, but a promise. For through His Son, God accomplished the impossible. Upon Jesus, the curse of the earth was placed. God fulfilled His word of warning and thereby also accomplished His promise of hope. He did not desire it, but He gave it – upon the body of His only begotten. Here we see the importance of Jesus as human – as us. He came down into earth – to be cursed with the earth’s punishment. This was the only way that God could render divine justice and also save all of mankind.

So we start today at the end, which for our faith is also the beginning. God has cursed the earth, the punishment that He so desperately wanted to avoid, that He pleaded with centuries and generations of people about, happened all the same. It’s just that Jesus took it all upon Himself and buried that curse in the depths of the earth.

If you hone in on only one part of God’s artistry, that He judges sin and condemns unbelief, you fail to see the beauty of how it all works together. On its own, divine punishment is a harsh, unloving premise. Yet, within God’s eternal plan of salvation it is the believer’s greatest hope.

Part 2

This is why we start at the end. The curse leveled against Jesus, for our sins, opens up understanding to the rest of what God tells us about His actions. It gives a value and a quality to the other things of which God speaks. It shapes the very being of our faith, like giving purpose to a bunch of random colors and angles.

So, when God tells me that I will conquer in the end, the sacrifice of Jesus gives me a reason to believe it. Just a moment ago I felt no hope because I am firmly in the camp of the condemned. Many more moments will come like that in my life, yet God promises “But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings; And you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves. 3 You shall trample the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet…” God says, I will do it. Jesus gives meaning to my victory.

When God tells me about His commands – how they are important for my life, how they are the lamp to my way, the sacrifice of Jesus gives shows me what those commands are all about. It’s significant that here at the end of the Old Testament revelation of God’s Word, God takes time to remind people about how important His law and commandments are. He says, "Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. Like the other parts of Scripture that address God’s law, it’s abundantly clear. Yet, don’t we look for each opportunity we can do deflect and detract from God’s law? Aren’t we constantly scanning our hearts and minds to find short-cuts and ways out of our divine mandates from the Lord? Does the law really apply? Hasn’t Jesus done away with it? Who’s to say what to believe today? We are constantly attacked, either from outside or from within, to ignore God’s commandments. But He clearly says – “Remember them.” Jesus gives meaning to my understanding of God’s law.

And when God says that He will send Elijah, who we know to be John the Baptist, the sacrifice of Jesus allows me to trust and believe – even if I didn’t see it with my eyes. For us, this may be an easy one. We can read in the New Testament where Jesus quotes this very verse and tells us that it was speaking of the coming of John the Baptist, the Forerunner of the Savior’s’ birth. From our perspective, it seems to be little more than a temporary Biblical exercise of examining cross-references. But, don’t miss the bigger lesson here. It’s more than an academic exercise, it’s a reminder of the lifeblood of our faith in Jesus. Who this Elijah is may not be a question anymore, but there are still plenty of things that God promises to us that we must wait for by faith. The same exercise and the same process at play with different details.

In fact, most moments of prayer model this very thing. Remember when Jesus taught the parable of the persistent widow? The lesson was, God’s answer in prayer may not always be immediate or what you expect. Prepare to wait upon Him by faith. The sacrifice of Jesus gives meaning to the practice of my faith today – either being led closer and closer to Jesus by trusting His Word, or drifting further by charting my own path of feeling and expectation.

Sometimes you have to take a few steps back and see the big picture, in order to appreciate the beauty of God’s work. That’s what we do in Advent, as we study the texts of God’s Word that foretold the birth of our Savior and the many accomplishments that God won through His work and name. These texts are more than mere history lessons. In a much greater way they are the enduring manner by which the Holy Spirit prepares and equips us to receive Jesus. On the surface, simplistically, we may have plenty of reasons to resist God’s Word. Take individually, the areas of our faith may seem common. But, take them as a whole, and in view of the curse of sin upon Jesus for us, and the Lord’s beauty shines forth. Let that be the Holy Spirit’s work among us today and always through His Word. Amen.

Advent 1 - Romans 13:11-14

Living in Christ’s Advent Light

Romans 13:11-14 Besides this, knowing the time, it is already the hour for you to wake up from sleep, for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over, and the daylight is near, so let us discard the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk with decency, as in the daylight: not in carousing and drunkenness; not in sexual impurity and promiscuity; not in quarreling and jealousy.14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no plans to satisfy the fleshly desires. 

The theme of light and darkness, and day and night, is very common throughout the Bible. In fact, from the very beginning of creation, we see God’s work set in contrast to darkness. But, this theme gets even more interesting when you dig deeper into specifics. For example, in John 9:4 Jesus warned about working “while it is day, because the night is coming when no one can work.” In that context Jesus described the coming judgment of God as night – or the ending of a day.

However, in this section from Romans, Paul frames the very same thought, God’s coming judgment, as a time to wake up – a time when the night is over. The key to understanding how this theme is presented in different ways, lies within the context of the section. In John 9, Jesus was speaking from the perspective of unbelief. He was describing that the ministry of God’s Word, “working during the day,” was so important because each person’s time of grace is limited. From the perspective of unbelievers, the Lord’s Final Day is darkness.

However, here in Romans the context is about our current Christian lives. From that perspective, Christ’s return is like the light shining forth through the darkness. We are to wake up from the darkness of unbelief and sin and live by faith in Christ in the daylight. Luther’s explanation to the Third Article, based on the work of the Holy Spirit, describes it like this: “...the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”

Twice, the word “enlighten” is used to speak of the work of faith created by the Holy Spirit. This word hearkens back to this age-old picture in the Bible of the difference between light and dark and day and night. Faith in Jesus is the light that illuminates the sinful heart. It eradicates the creeping darkness of unbelief and sin – exposing it for what it is and destroying it completely.

It’s no surprise, then, that this same theme is common during Advent – the first coming of Jesus. Talk about a light indeed! The Old Testament believers had waited for millennia for God’s promise of a coming Savior. There were many dark times in their history – times when it seemed like all was lost. Even God’s own servants, the prophets, had dark days where they doubted whether or not there were any who still believed. Yet, as faint as it was, a light started to shine and continued to grow. Herod tried to snuff this light out – but couldn’t prevail. The Pharisees and Sadducees tried to drown out the noise of this Light’s preaching, and like Herod, even tried to kill it. But, they only made the Lights’ influence brighter in the hearts of the people. That Light was Jesus, born as a Savior to the entire world – and it’s His coming that we celebrate during Advent.

Our verses today point us to the same Light – this time for our lives today. The same Holy Spirit teaches us that the enlightenment of faith is never separate from how that faith is manifested in our lives. We can learn from those who came before us but their stories mean nothing if we fail to believe in Jesus. The end of our text describes: …so let us discard the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk with decency, as in the daylight: not in carousing and drunkenness; not in sexual impurity and promiscuity; not in quarreling and jealousy.14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no plans to satisfy the fleshly desires. 

What’s ironic today, and even more so sad, is that God’s path is often perceived as being in the darkness. It’s not that people see God’s will as wicked or evil, instead they consider it to be outdated – thing of the past. We hear a lot today about enlightened thinking – attitudes and beliefs that go beyond traditional, religious-based living. We’re told to accept all lifestyles, tolerate all opinions, and embrace all differences – even if doing so betrays God’s Word. This is what enlightened thinking means to the world. Those who resist such beliefs are said to be living in darker times.

Our Advent message today is such a needed reminder for our lives. Living in the day, as God describes it, does not involve embracing sin and unbelief. Paul writes that instead we “discard” those things – fully recognizing and trusting that Jesus Christ has conquered them in our stead. In their place, God calls for decency, peace, and no intention to satisfy the flesh. This is what living in the Advent light means. From God’s perspective, the truly enlightened path is according to righteousness in His Word. In a similar manner, the writer of Hebrews states, Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:1 NKJ)   

Again, it’s the light of Jesus our Savior that beckons us to “lay aside the sins which so easily ensnare us.” To do that is not outdated or irrelevant. God tells us it’s one of the very reasons that He sent His Son to earth as our Savior. Jesus came to establish and perfect our faith as the solid certainty that our transgressions have been atoned for by God. This isn’t just about sins in our modern, 21st century American culture. We might say matters of sexuality, pride, materialism, immorality, greed, and so on. No, the light reveals even the sins that we Christians try to keep secret and hidden – gossip, self-righteousness, hypocrisy, and failures to follow in Christ’s steps. The Advent light of Christ tells us that now is the time to discard, to lay aside, those sins in repentance. The light has arrived – everything is revealed. God calls us to wake up from our fleshly slumber and live in the name of our Jesus.  

In terms of preparation, our text speaks of it in what we wear. First, it says to put on the armor of light and then to put on the Lord Jesus. If you’re like me – the less prepared I am when I wake up the more prone I am to make a mistake in my wardrobe. There has been more than one day where I come home from a long day only to finally notice that my shirt is backwards, or inside out, or had a big food stain on the front – all because I was in a rush at the beginning of the day.

God says what we wear on that Final Day matters. Living in the light involves a wardrobe. It’s putting on Jesus by faith. In Galatians, Paul wrote, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Gal. 3:27).” Baptism is one of God’s gifts to equip us with the proper wardrobe of salvation. Now, God’s promise is that when He examines our lives in the light of His holiness, He sees the works of Jesus. That’s exactly what we need – without Jesus we are found wanting. But, let us remember, what the light exposes goes back to how prepared your heart is. Do you believe in Jesus or is it just another matter of religion that you’ve put off until later? Now is the time – Now the light of Advent has come.

Baptism has clothed you with Christ. For many of us – our baptism day was “when we first believed.” Like the Romans – our salvation is now nearer than that first day. Are you ready for the Advent light of Jesus? Clothed in His righteousness – you are. Equipped by faith, you can live in His light, even if it reveals all things about your life – good and bad.

Advent is a season of joy and hope. Jesus and His Word, the Light of Advent, is where our joy and hope come from. Joy for today in sins forgiven. Hope for the future in heaven.


November 26, 2018

Pentecost 27 - Luke 13:22-30

Stay with Jesus
1. Presently through His Word
2. Eternally in His kingdom

Luke 13:22 Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?" He said to them, 24 "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, 'Sir, open the door for us.'"But he will answer, 'I don't know you or where you come from.' 26 "Then you will say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.' 27 "But he will reply, 'I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!' 28 "There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last."

There’s a well-known saying in real estate – “location, location, location.” In terms of the value of your home, location is so important. The structure itself can be changed, but the location cannot. Homeowners want a location that’s going to have lasting value.

Location is also important for our faith, but in a different way. For your faith, it’s not the physical aspects of location that are important. What’s important is what is going on where you are located. Another way of thinking about it is what is happened is present time. As Christians, there’s an eagerness to always look forward, to the future. Just like a little child who cannot bear the anticipation of presents on Christmas, so also it can be difficult for us to stay in the moment of where we are at. But that is where Jesus directs us in the verses of our text this morning. He speaks about the importance of your life now, and what is going on to support your faith right now. He speaks about your location.

The question posed at the beginning was a common one: "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?" It would be nice to know the answer to that question. In the immediate context Jesus was preaching a lot of things about the kingdom of heaven. From the beginning He had made it clear that there are believers and unbelievers on earth. Believers will be saved. Unbelievers will not. Jesus’ ministry in this sense was incredibly simple. But, as it still is today, it’s hard to believe what He’s saying. We, too, wonder, will only a few be saved?

The person who asked this question wanted to cut to the chase. Perhaps they thought there was value to what Jesus taught. Maybe they even believed that He was the Savior. But, they figured, can’t we just skip ahead? Who’s gonna be saved? Give us a clue Jesus. The Savior’s response is telling. The very first word brought that person back down to reality, and back to their current location. Jesus replied, Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Other translations say “strive” or “contend.” The meaning is that we should be more focused on what is going on today. Don’t worry about how many people will be saved or lost – that answer belongs to God alone. Consider yourself. Stay in the present.

Today, this question has sort of taken a different form. Very often it’s posed as this, “Why are some saved and not others?” The Bible tells us why. It depends on a person’s relationship with Jesus. Believe in Him and you are saved. However, human psyche wants to get beneath the surface. Why, though? Why is it that way? Well, again, the Bible gives us that answer. Jesus is the Savior. Jesus has atoned for the sins of the world. All people can be found righteous – meeting the demand of Almighty God – by faith in Jesus. But, only through Jesus, because only Jesus suffered, upheld the Law, died, and rose again from the dead. If we want those blessings, we need to receive them from the One who achieved them – only Jesus.

But, yet again, that’s too simple for the human mind. We want to dig deeper. We want to access the mind of God, not just to consider what’s there, but to give our stamp of approval. Is God fair? How could He claim to love all people and yet sentence some to hell? The further we dig into those questions, while ignoring the actual answers that God provides in His Word, the further away from God we will find ourselves – until we reach an island of our own pride, isolated from all Biblical truth.

Many false teachings have developed in the quest to answer, “Why are some saved and not others?” Some Christians say it’s based on works. The way you prove yourself worthy is by what you do, or by what others in your life have accumulated on your behalf in God’s spiritual bank. Others say that the answer really rests with you. Have you accepted Christ or not? God is aware of your answer, but you alone offer it – so get on with it. They demand this even to the extent that they say Christ only died for believers, so if you want to be sure your sins are paid for you better believe.

How tangled we get the deeper we thrust into the unknown. I don’t want you to think that we shouldn’t question things. Part of the beauty of the Christian faith is growing into a deeper and deeper faith by seeing how God answers our questions in His Word. If you never question things, you’ll never grow in this way. It also highlights the precious gift that God’s Word is. It really is our attachment to Him while we wait for heaven.

What I warn you about is being discontent with the answers that God provides and seeking to interject your own. That will not help you arrive at the truth. Listen to what Jesus tells you here. He may not answer your question word for word, but what He does tell you is something much more important for your faith. He tells you, don’t be so focused on things to come that you forget about things today.

Part 2

Within the example that Jesus gives is a similar lesson. On the day that the Lord comes back to judge the world, there will be many who are left out unexpectedly. They will have all the markers of true believers. They desire to be in heaven. They know who God is. They even call Jesus “Lord.” However, they will be excluded. Why? Jesus answers twice, “I don't know you or where you come from.” Jesus describes unbelief in terms of not knowing who a person is. Obviously, as God Jesus knows all people. But He’s speaking about knowing them by faith – knowing them as a believer. Jesus pictures that as a location: “where they come from.” If Jesus doesn’t know where you come from, you are not His own.

Faith in Jesus is about knowing where you are now, just as much as where you’ll be after this life. Those who fail to consider their present circumstances have no part in Christ’s kingdom. Those who are too invested in questions about the future are in danger of neglecting the current needs of their faith. Jesus tells us to focus on what pertains to our lives and that involves preparing for His return. He has given us more than enough details in His Word about what will happen. He has not told us everything, but more than what we need to be saved. Focus on this Word from God.

Many of the Jewish people of Christ’s time thought they had a free ticket to heaven because they were Jewish. They were God’s people from the very beginning of time, how could they possibly be left out? Jesus was warning them from being caught off-guard. They thought they would make it because of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob - their forefathers. How surprising and painful it would be to see that this was not the case!

What would be analogous to our lives? What might we use as a reason to neglect management of our faith in present time? What blessings become burdens because they supplant the daily use of God’s Word?
·       Knowledge of Christ and His Word? “I know what the Bible says, I don’t need to keep hearing it over and over again.”
·       Wisdom and experience in this world? “I used to believe what God says but then I realized I was naive and I finally grew out of it.”
·       How about the truth of our confession? “Thanks be to God that we’re not like those other Christians who have so much error in their church!”
·       Could it be something in our relationships, perhaps in our marriages, where we put our family above what God says, and we’re more loyal to family than to God.

We, too, like the Jewish people of Jesus’ day, have many things that can get in the way of considering our present circumstances. But lest we hear the same judgment from Jesus, let us always be aware of where we are from. If you need a reminder, it’s all over the Bible. Take 1 Peter 1:3-5 for example, Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  

Where are we now? Living in the resurrection of Christ. We’re not in heaven yet. It’s coming. Peter says we’re waiting for it to be revealed in the last time. But right now, we’re victors by faith in Jesus. We’re products of His death for sins and resurrection over the grave. If you ask me, that’s a pretty good place to be. Falling from that location is not about evil triumphing over you. You’re a conqueror now. Evil has nothing on you. The danger is in stepping off the safe ground of faith and venturing out on your own. Looking too far ahead into things that only God knows. Being discontent with what you have now. Thinking that you’re stronger than you are. The reasons for drifting are varied and never stop. The protection Jesus offers is always the same, though. Through His mercy, given any moment you need it in the gospel, you are assured of your redemption from sins and the promise of eternal inheritance in heaven. That’s the solid footing of faith. Could we ask a hundred unknown questions about heaven? Yes. Could you spend all our time speculating between varying opinions? Surely. But, who needs that when you have Jesus – the resurrected Jesus.

A chapter later in Luke’s Gospel Jesus preached about a similar theme. This time, He portrayed it as a great feast. No one wants to be left out of that heavenly banquet. No one wants to be on the outside banging on the door, “Lord, Lord…” Within that story Jesus described the Gospel invitation saying, “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready. (Luke 14:16-17).” That’s where you are now. “All things are ready. Come.” Stay there, with that blessed truth from Jesus, and you have nothing to fear. Know where you are today, living in His resurrection, and you will be with Him in heaven.  Amen.

November 23, 2018

Thanksgiving Day - Luke 21:1-4

True Thankfulness…
1. Thinks first of God
2. Cares more for others

A pastor tells this story of an elderly man:

During my days in college, one day an old man showed up at the door of the house we were renting. Opening the door a few inches, we saw his eyes were glassy and his furrowed face had a prickly, grey beard. He held a wicker basket with a few unappealing vegetables. He greeting us with good morning and offered his produce for sale. We were uneasy enough to hastily purchase something just to get him to go away – in both pity and fear.

To our chagrin, he returned the following week. He introduced himself as Mr. Roth and explained how he lived down the road in the tiny shack. As our fears dissipated, we realized that it was cataracts, not alcohol, that gave his eyes a glassy disposition. During future visits he would shuffle in with two mismatched right shoes and play his harmonica. With an attitude fixed on future glory in heaven he would sing old gospel tunes and we’d visit about vegetables and religion.

On one visit he exclaimed. “The Lord is so good! I came out of my shack this morning and found a bag full of shoes and clothing on my porch!”

“That’s wonderful, Mr. Roth!” I said, “I’m so happy for you.”

“You know what’s even more wonderful?” he asked. “Just yesterday I met some people that could really use them!” 

There’s no doubt that we’ve all met people like Mr. Roth before, though it is a rare thing. These are the people who embody what it means to be thankful to the Lord. They express their thankfulness through generosity to others. They want others to feel the love of God as they do. Consider another example, this time from the Bible:

Luke 21:1-4 Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, 2 and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3 And he said, "Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. 4 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." (ESV)

What we see here is a lesson on true thankfulness. I’m going to venture to guess that the topic of thankfulness can be an uneasy one for Christians. I say that because we’re dealing with a topic that is pointed at our lives. Thankfulness is something we express. It is a good thing, but never the less still something we do. Our greatest comfort in life always comes from what God does. That’s why we center around His Word in church. We want to hear and be reminded of what God does. That’s where comfort and hope come from.

Although Thanksgiving is no doubt a cheerful holiday as well as a major theme in the Bible, we can struggle with it at times because it is within the realm of our responsibility. This is true in similar areas of our faith that are also directed at our lives. Things like: prayer, praise, offerings, stewardship, and fruits of faith. Sometimes, it’s second nature to neglect these aspects of our faith because they are secondary to what God does. Of course, it’s also easy for the opposite effect to take place, namely that we make more of them than we should. How do we strike the appropriate balance? We get a lesson from this widow.

Part 1

First of all, she is entirely dependent on God. We’re told that the widow offered two small copper coins that day. The only other account to describe this story, from Mark’s Gospel, provides a little more detail. Mark tells us that the two coins made up what was called a “quadrans.” This is a foreign term to our ears so it’s hard to really grasp what the widow gave. But by comparing other monetary figures from this time we can understand that a quadrans was about 1/128th of a denarius. A denarius was the amount of one day’s wages. That really helps us understand the widow’s poverty. All she had was a mere fraction of even one day’s wage. Even if she kept those two copper coins she would still have nothing of any value.

Yet, there must have been a certain amount of fear in her heart as she committed her offering. This was truly all she had. As Jesus described, there was much more going on than just her offering something to the Lord. She was committing her life to the Lord. That’s the first marker of a truly thankful spirit. The exact amount of money doesn’t matter. The significance of the offering isn’t as important. God wants us to give of ourselves, before we give of our possessions. He wants us to commit our hearts to Him by faith – a faith that trusts and relies on Him in all circumstances.

Paul describes the same mindset in Romans: Romans 8:31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-- how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Faith is not having all things figured out on your terms. It is knowing that even though life is chaotic and out of your control, that God holds firm to you. Faith also looks most of all at forgiveness in Jesus. If God accomplished that, free of charge we might add, why would He neglect your daily needs? If God is for you, nothing can be against you – in food, clothing, shelter, protection, and eternal life.

Is that how you approach your offerings? There are many pitfalls associated with giving. Many are the ways we can fall from true thankfulness. Sometimes we think that giving to God is more of an investment than an offering. Isn’t it only logical to conclude that the more a person gives the more influence, power, or responsibility in church they should have? Not according to Jesus. That’s giving on the outside without giving from the heart. That’s trying to serve the Lord without trusting the Lord. This widow gave because she knew that God had control of her life. She believed that God would not abandon her. She trusted that her reward in heaven far surpassed any wealth of this life. And she was thankful of God’s gifts. Because she kept God first and foremost in her life, she abounded with generosity and thanksgiving. She was focused on God’s will and not her own cares and desires.  

Part 2

The second aspect of a truly thankful heart is that it cares more for others. We’re not told what the money given that day was spent on. Surely, the widow’s coins amounted to nothing in terms of what is accomplished for the temple work. Yet, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t powerful in its effect. By submitting herself to the Lord, the widow also showed a higher regard for others in her life. She did not esteem herself as more important than her fellow citizens and believers of God’s family. A truly thankful attitude points in the same direction.  

It’s easy to let our thankfulness be like our forgiveness – only offering it when the situation meets our terms. Sometimes, we refuse to forgive because someone isn’t sorry or they haven’t reached out to us and apologized first. Likewise, there are times when we are only thankful if our expectations are met. Did the Lord provide what we thought He should, or when we thought He should? Do I have the quality or standard of life that I feel I need? Would I really be content and thankful with just clothing and food?

The widow’s caring attitude, putting others above herself, was a product of operating on the Lord’s terms. Our human flesh looks at that as restrictive. God tells us it is actually liberating. His terms free us to genuinely serve Him and care for others. The widow did not live by her definitions of rich or poor, or society’s. The Lord’s terms, as given through His Word, guaranteed that He alone determined her quality and worth. It wasn’t about her society or what others said about her. She was valuable to Jesus because He loved her. Her expressions of thanksgiving were valuable, not because of the money or how they looked to others, but because they revealed precious faith in her heart. A believer who trusts completely in God, no matter how poor they are, is truly a powerful thing.

Speaking of power, isn’t that why this story is so impactful? The widow was powerless, yet she was commended by her Savior. The widow had nothing, yet she was still thankful. The illusion of earthly power robs us of the same treasures. One of the most famous passages in Scripture is Philippians 2:13: I can do all things though Christ who strengthens me. That passage is popular in an age where God’s Word is not popular. Why? Because power has not gone out of style. People want power and strength and if Christ can give it, it might just be worth it to follow Him. But so often when people don’t get the power they imagine, or their influence doesn’t take the form they want, they give up on God. That’s seeking Him on their terms, not His.

Most people don’t realize the context of that passage. It’s very similar to the widow from our text today. In the prior verses of Philippians Paul wrote, Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Paul’s boast of strength in Christ was set in terms of need. He relied on Christ because He needed a Savior, not because it was a popular catchphrase that fit with his line of thinking. The power of the thankful believer always comes back to the same thing – Christ. It is when we are in need that Christ strengthens us. It is through repentance and humility that we receive the power of the Gospel. Jesus proclaimed that He came to save the lost; that those who didn’t need a Savior had no part in His kingdom. Never underestimate the power of Christ in your life. What a miracle that He can forgive sin! What a blessing is His underserved love for the lost! And in terms of thankfulness, how amazing it is that He can take ungrateful, self-serving, lost people like us and lead us to gratitude in our hearts. That is powerful indeed.

A truly thankful attitude is a surprising and unexpected thing. But, that doesn’t mean it must be rare. You’ve all seen and experienced those kinds of people before – the ones who defy expectation. The ones who are content despite being in need. The ones who are thankful and trusting of the Lord in all circumstances. Like Mr. Roth, like the poor widow, like the Apostle Paul, you too can rejoice in thanksgiving through the power of Jesus. What a blessing indeed! Amen.


November 19, 2018

Pentecost 26 - Ezekiel 34:11-24

Theme: Mind Your Own Business
1. Take care of God’s Word
2. Consider the faith of others
3. Leave the rest to God

Ezekiel 34:11-24 "'For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

17 "'As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? 19 Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

20 "'Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, 22 I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. 23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.

Last weekend we talked about sheep in our sermon. Our primary focus was on Jesus as the Lamb of God as John saw Him in the vision of Revelation. Today, we reflect on a portion of Scripture that we mentioned last weekend, from Ezekiel. In this text, the Lord looks at us. In the immediate context He judged the immoral, unrighteous spiritual shepherds of Israel. This makes us think about how we treat God’s Word today, especially pastors and teachers. But, even though the emphasis is on our lives, or more appropriately an activity of our faith, God is dominant in this section.

But before we get into the text, consider this application. One thing that little kids get caught up in so much is what other people are doing, especially their peers. This is such a common thing that parents continually echo the same refrain, “Mind your own business.” Sometimes, a little kid is a tattle-tale. They hide behind the mask of good intentions when all they really care about is getting someone else in trouble. Sometimes, a little kid uses someone else’s wrongdoings to excuse their own – “He or she did it first!” Sometimes, a little kid doesn’t like that another little kid is having fun so they walk over and kick the toy their playing with or they push them over. There are plenty of example. Mind your own business.

The thing is we all need to listen to that rebuke. It’s not just little kids that exhibit these attitudes, they creep into adult lives much easier than we think. Feelings of discontentment abound when we focus on what others have and what we don’t have. Anger and grudges grow unchecked when we can’t get over the one who started it first. Gossip lingers as we spend all our time looking at what is going on in other peoples’ lives. The Lord says the same thing – Mind your own business.

In this text, the Lord is directing the message at us, but so much of what He says is about Himself. He’s telling us to mind our own business, because that’s what keeps us from straying from His will. The transition of the text is found in the phrase, “As for you…” in verse 17. God is bringing our attention to that verse. “Listen up” He says, this is something you need to be concerned about. This is your business. Yet, the most important thing to remember in these verses does not come from that section, nor is it focused on us. The most important thing in understanding our business is to know what is only the Lord’s business, and leave it all to Him. The rest of the context is dominated by God’s business.

Twenty-four times in these verses, the Lord says He will do something. Many of them repeat. He’s describing His business.

I will…
Ø  Search
Ø  Look
Ø  Rescue
Ø  Gather
Ø  Bring them out
Ø  Bring them in
Ø  Pasture
Ø  Tend
Ø  Have them lie down
Ø  Bring back
Ø  Bind up
Ø  Strengthen
Ø  Save
Ø  Judge
Ø  Be their God

It is unmistakable that the emphasis here is on the Lord’s power and work – even in a section that is directed at our lives. Do you understand the purpose? To know your role, you have to know the Lord’s. To serve Him, He must serve you. We get into trouble when we don’t mind our own business by letting the Lord do His. So, when we do get to that phrase, “As for you…” what does the Lord say?

First, take heed to His Word. The LORD tells Ezekiel that the false shepherds muddied and contaminated the precious waters and pasture for the flock. The spiritual import of this judgment is not difficult to discern. Jesus taught that He could give living waters to people so that they would never thirst again. Jesus instructed His followers to eat the bread of life which according to Jesus was “every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” When a pastor or teacher allows false teaching to enter the church, they are treading over and muddying these waters and bread.

Sometimes, we wonder why the pastor puts up so much of a fuss about the doctrine of God’s Word. We are familiar with the common thoughts that enter our minds and that we hear in the world. “That teaching isn’t central to salvation or the gospel, why are we arguing with others about it?” “Wouldn’t it be a better use of time to agree to disagree and work on bigger issues?” “What’s so wrong about letting people believe what they want to?” It’s easy to think like this. We’re constantly bombarded with temptations to trample down the truth of the Word of God. Even pastors think like this from time to time. Yet, these verses show us why it’s so important not to budge an inch in matters of doctrine. There’s plenty in life that we can leave to a person’s individual liberty, and we should, but when God speaks clearly in His Word it’s His decision. 

As we continue in God’s discourse to Ezekiel we see why this is important. Verse 19: Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet? What we do with our faith affects others. Ultimately, as far as impact in concerned, faith is between you and God alone. But, when you live in a world with other people and when you make statements and confessions about what you believe, you will affect their faith too. God tells you to mind your own business when you consider the faith of others. Earlier, He described the impact that the false shepherds had on others: You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.  

When you speak about your faith, do you consider the impact it has on others? Do you think about how you speak? Is it in love? Is it based on God’s truth? These are all considerations that God requires of you as a Christian. In another “as for you” section of the Bible, Paul instructed Titus, a young pastor, But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: (Tit 2:1 NKJ). Similarly, to Timothy, another pastor, Paul warned about falling into the attitude of telling people only what they want to hear. Rather, he instructed, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” (2Ti 4:2 NKJ)

To give people the living waters and the bread of life means at times we will have to rebuke and admonish. Preaching the truth of God’s Word is not about telling people what they want to hear. As sinners, we resist the truth. We simply are not loving or caring for God’s flock if we ignore what He says. That, God told Ezekiel, is leading to flock to slaughter.

There is so much for us to keep track of as it concerns our business as Christians. It can feel overwhelming at times. However, do not forget the most important part your work – what God has done. Remember that in this section, which speaks so clearly to how you handle the Word of God, the emphasis is still on God. And even more so, the emphasis is on Christ. The LORD concludes His message by saying, 23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.  

This is pure Gospel, as clear a Messianic prophecy as there can be. When God said this to Ezekiel, David was dead and in the grave. The true Davidic prince was not the greatest of Israel’s earthly kings, but rather David’s greater Son and Lord – Jesus – King of Kings. Through His reign, established at the cross and in His love for the whole world, peace has come to earth. He is the one shepherd. The one to right to wrongs. The one to heal the ones and bind up the brokenhearted. The one to feed the flock in truth. The one to complete what all the other shepherds could not. Because Jesus did that, you now can do your part. Because He took care of His business, you have a place to serve. Don’t butt him out of your life by forgetting His daily grace and power. Don’t trample over His Word or muddy up the precious life-giving waters of forgiveness by removing His Word from your heart. Believe that He has done what He has promised.

As for you…there are many responsibilities to being a Christian. But, don’t be overwhelmed and don’t get ahead of yourself. It’s good to mind your own business. Much more vital than “as for you” is what God will do, and what He has done. “I will” your Lord and Savior declares, and He has in Christ Jesus. Thanks be to God that now there is a place beside Him for you and me. Amen.