March 27, 2018

Palm Sunday - 2 Corinthians 4:11-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 1: You have gone from death to life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 15, 2018

Lenten Questions - part 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 12, 2018

Lent 4 - Genesis 41:32-44

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 3: Eternally - As citizens of heaven

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

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

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

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

March 5, 2018

Lent 3 - Psalm 40:9-17

Theme: When You Can’t See God, He Still Sees You
1. Blinded by iniquities and persecutions
2. Protected by our Savior’s grace and truth 

Psalm 40:9-17: I proclaim righteousness in the great assembly; see, I do not keep my mouth closed-- as You know, LORD. 10 I did not hide Your righteousness in my heart; I spoke about Your faithfulness and salvation; I did not conceal Your constant love and truth from the great assembly. 11 LORD, do not withhold Your compassion from me; Your constant love and truth will always guard me. 12 For troubles without number have surrounded me; my sins have overtaken me; I am unable to see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my courage leaves me. 13 LORD, be pleased to deliver me; hurry to help me, LORD. 14 Let those who seek to take my life be disgraced and confounded. Let those who wish me harm be driven back and humiliated. 15 Let those who say to me, "Aha, aha!" be horrified because of their shame. 16 Let all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; let those who love Your salvation continually say, "The LORD is great!" 17 I am afflicted and needy; the Lord thinks of me. You are my helper and my deliverer; my God, do not delay.

When I was younger, I would say about fifth grade or so, some of my family and friends decided to go on a Halloween scare trail. Now, I was old enough to not really be scared at such a prospect, but not quite old enough to remember that it was all just fake. I remember it pretty well because as we walked down the trail, II was terrified. I mean, I was really scared. It was one of those trails, through the woods at night, with various actors who would jump out and scare the crowds as they passed. A mummy would emerge from a coffin. A chainsaw would rip through the night silence. I’m sure you can picture the scene. While I was old enough to know it was not real, I wasn’t old enough to resist the fright.

Part of the thrill of a trail like that is the unknown and the unseen. If I would walked the same path during the daylight hours, there hardly would have been a fright. I probably would have seen that most of the scary actors were just weekend volunteers with pieced together costumes – not professional goblins or torturers. When you can see clearly, you can also see what’s coming up ahead. The fright factor of being caught off guard, being shocked, doesn’t happen during the day. But, there’s also something to the dark, of the inability to see, that causes your mind to conjure up things that really aren’t there. It makes the situation much more terrifying than it really is.

Our text today is about sight. David, as the inspired writer here, speaks of the blessings of faith in terms of being able to see. But, most important to David, is that God sees him. Contextually, this psalm fits best with early in David’s life, when he was on the run from King Saul. But, even after David became king he still had his fair share of troubles. The incident with Bathsheba was a deep mark on David’s record as a God-fearing king. The sins he committed surely created a difficult trial for his faith and would have brought public criticism as well. Or even near the end of David’s life, when his beloved son Absalom rebelled, you can sense the pain of having enemies attack once again. David’s life is much like every Christian’s in this regard. There is a deep struggle against personal sins – as they threaten the vitality of faith. But there is also a host of dangers from without – as the well-known Scripture verse tells us, “that all who desire live Godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” If faith is pictured as sight, what do you do when your spiritual vision becomes obscured? The Holy Spirit’s answer is: Remember and trust that God always sees you.

Part 1: 1. Blinded by iniquities and persecutions

This text is uniquely arranged because it begins by describing the effects of faith. David says, I proclaim righteousness in the great assembly; see, I do not keep my mouth closed-- as You know, LORD. 10 I did not hide Your righteousness in my heart; I spoke about Your faithfulness and salvation; I did not conceal Your constant love and truth from the great assembly. These words describe the believer’s witness of God’s truth and love – as David says “faithfulness and salvation.”

The idea of sight comes out as David says he does not hide or conceal the Lord’s work. The response of faith is to openly witness of God. The words for hide and conceal indicate both an attitude of weakness and an attitude of deliberate intent to destroy. At times, we fall from the LORD’s righteousness in weakness of faith – at other times we are deliberately trying to resist Him. Whatever the case may be, the Spirit’s message is that both obscure the true vision of the LORD’s plan for our lives. When sin enters our lives, it poses a danger to ourselves and to those around us – because it covers up what God has done. In this same way, think of the many instances in Scripture that portray sin as blindness or darkness. The same lesson is at play – sin distorts the vision of faith.

We get a glimpse of this within the Hebrew word for sin also, from v.12. This word, often translated as “iniquity” in the New King James version means “crookedness” or “twisted.” Think of a pathway. What should be straight and clear becomes twisted and difficult to follow. Sin has that effect on our lives. It makes the path of God’s righteous law impossible for us to traverse. We can’t see the way on our own.

And so, David follows up that confession of his sin by describing what effect it has on his life – and once again he brings in the idea of seeing. For troubles without number have surrounded me; my sins have overtaken me; I am unable to see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my courage leaves me. Here’s where fear enters in. Sin blocks out God. Sin makes us unable to see God, His truth, and His blessings. Sin keeps us focused on worldly things and ignorant of heavenly treasures, just as Jesus warned when He said, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 "but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Mat 6:19 NKJ) Paul described it in similar terms when he wrote, Colossians 3:1 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1).

Faith grants a heavenly vision where we look up – to God. What a profound effect this has on our lives when we consider dangers from within and without. Faith reminds us that we don’t’ have to look to ourselves. Our vision is more than just horizontal. The very structure of our churches is designed to display the same truth. Through prayer, confession, and praise we look up to God in communication. And through His Word, the Gospel in proclamation, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper He communicates back to us with His truth and grace. Sin and persecution cloud that communication.  

This divine conversation between a believer and God, accomplished through faith, is described in our text in terms of seeking, again a term that is related to vision. You seek something by looking for it. You know you have it when you see it. Vv.14-16 read: 14 Let those who seek to take my life be disgraced and confounded. Let those who wish me harm be driven back and humiliated. 15 Let those who say to me, "Aha, aha!" be horrified because of their shame.

16 Let all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; let those who love Your salvation continually say, "The LORD is great!"
The lesson of our text is distilled down to these two verses. Herein is the contrast.
·       The wicked seek wickedness. They mock and taunt. They are brought to shame.
·       The believer seeks the Lord. They praise Him (witness of Him). They are delivered.

In both scenarios there is vision, something is produced, and there is a response. The wicked are entirely focused on themselves. There is only horizonal vision and communication. They hope to produce shame and trouble for their enemy. They respond with communications of mocking and ridicule. In contrast, the believer is focused on God. Faith produces deliverance from God and the effect is responses of praise, thanksgiving, and witnessing of God’s name to others.

Part 2:  Protected by our Savior’s grace and truth 

Now, this lesson is very straightforward. The question is, what do we do in the midst of the trials and difficulty. When we fall into sin. When we are persecuted. When God is testing us. When we fail to discern His will. When that fog, whatever it may be, conceals the power of our trust in God, what do we do? Remember that the thoughts of our text start with the result and the contrast between the two sides. Sprinkled within the text is the hope.
11 LORD, do not withhold Your compassion from me; Your constant love and truth will always guard me.

13 LORD, be pleased to deliver me; hurry to help me, LORD.

17 I am afflicted and needy; the Lord thinks of me. You are my helper and my deliverer; my God, do not delay.

Each verse that describes the LORD’s power and grace is prefaced with David seeking. David is putting into action what he talked about in verse 16. The believer seeks to see the LORD’s work. In his own communication with the LORD David desperately seeks this for himself. He wants to see clearly again by faith. Listen to the action words that David uses in his plea. Guard me. Help me. Think of me. What David seeks here is expressed with clarity because he trusts in God. In real time, David is lost in the fog of his own iniquities and the troubles bought upon by those who seek his downfall. But in his heart, there is great clarity. By faith he sees in perfect vision what God has and continues to do for him.

In verse 11, David rejoices in the LORD’s love and truth as his protection. To protect in this way means to keep an eye on – to see with perfect vision. This is what the believer seeks by faith – that God would watch over them and see them. By faith, this is a blessing. By our flesh, it is a burden. No sinner wants to be seen by God. The first thing Adam and Eve did was hide. In a very real sense, there is no escape from God’s sight. He sees and knows all. In another psalm the Spirit posed this question about His own ability, Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? 8 If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there (Psalm 139:7-8).

Many are those who try to flee from God’s sight – as foolish an endeavor as that is. What allows us to not run to embrace God’s sight is His love and truth – the very same things David took comfort in. God’s truth leads me to repentance when I see my sins for what they truly are and what they have done to my life. God’s love in Christ helps me see the great value I have before God – that I am a blood bought soul. Sins, iniquities, and persecutions will seek to cloud those two constants – God’s truth and God’s love. When our own vision is lacking in this way – we return to the blessed fact that God always sees. He sees for our health. He sees for our protection. He sees for our eternal inheritance in heaven.

Just like our psalm the benediction we will receive in a few minutes is based on sight. Sight from God that penetrates the fearful perceptions and distortion of reality from our sinful hearts. Sight that shines on us like the warmth of the sun, emanating from our righteous and gracious Triune God – All-powerful Father, enlightening Spirit, and Redeemer Son. Praise be to Him for helping us see all things clearly by faith – may He keep us in that until our final day. Amen.

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