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.

November 13, 2018

Pentecost 25 - Revelation 7:9-17

The Lamb is Able
1. To receive praise
2. To cleanse through blood
3. To use His power to provide

Revelation 7:9-17 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen." 13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?" 14 I said to him, "Sir, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 "Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. 16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." (ESV).

How long ago was it when someone asked you what your favorite animal was? You might notice that in our short bios of the kids in school we ask some of them that question. Typically, it’s probably a question along the lines of what your favorite color or food is, usually asked of kids. But there’s certainly nothing wrong with adults having a favorite animal either. If you have been in my office you’ll notice I have a picture of a lion, my favorite animal.

If we had to choose a favorite animal of the Bible, it would probably be a lamb. The simple lamb is an animal that is so important throughout the Bible that you almost have to learn about it to understand what it means to be a Christian. Yet, I’m willing to guess that few people, if any, have ever said that their favorite animal is a lamb. A lamb is a young sheep, and one of the primary attributes of sheep is foolishness. Sheep are not smart animals. They are often helpless. They are easy prey for predators. They get themselves into trouble a lot.

What is it about this animal that is so important to the Bible? Obviously, we see a Lamb in our text today, from Revelation. This Lamb is Jesus. Jesus was called the Lamb of God because He came as the sacrifice for our sins. Early on the New Testament, John the Baptist declared of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).” That was at the beginning of John’s Gospel, now in the final book of Revelation, another of John’s, we see Jesus again as the Lamb.

We’ll talk more about Jesus as the Lamb, but in order to really appreciate the significance of this animal, you have to dig deeper into Scripture. What we see is a perpetual theme throughout God’s Word. One of the main themes involving a lamb is sacrifice. The Lord commanded His people in the Old Testament to use lambs as sacrifices – for sin and guilt. These offerings before the Lord were much more than just an act of worship. It was symbolic of the Lamb, the one here in Revelation, who would offer a sacrifice that was more “acceptable (Romans 12:1)” – a sacrifice “once for all (Hebrews 10:10).”
Two prominent stories come to mind about sacrifice. Abraham being told by God to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. At the moment of decision, God provided a male lamb – a ram – to take Isaac’s place; thereby prophesying in action the very thing He would do with His Son – the One who would not be spared. Of significance is also the Passover festival, when a year-old male lamb, without spot or blemish, would be killed and its blood spread upon the doorposts of believers’ homes. Yet, again, in this sacrifice God embedded a picture of the very thing He would do to spare sinners of death.

Think of other important stories in the Bible involving a lamb:
·       It was a lamb that Nathan used to teach David of his sin, picturing the innocence of the one that David had defiled (2 Samuel 12).
·       It was a lamb that Isaiah used to described eternal peace in heaven, that the lamb would lie down with the lion (Isaiah 65:25).   
·       The prophet Jeremiah likened his ministry to that of being a lamb led to slaughter as the people persecuted and rejected Him.
·       Ezekiel, as did Zechariah, spoke of how the shepherds of Israel, the spiritual leaders, had led God’s flock astray – literally to be killed.
·       Jesus, the Good Shepherd, promised that He alone was the way to safety for His sheep, that is, believers.

Part 1: To receive praise

Throughout the entire Bible, the lamb is prominent. And no more so than here in Revelation. Here we see three things about Jesus, the Lamb. He is worshipped. He cleanses by His blood. And He leads and reigns for you. And much like the other parts of Scripture, what is portrayed through Jesus here is parallel to what it means that we are His lambs. What He has achieved, you share in. How He has brought peace over sins, you embrace. You have a place with Him – in relation to Him. The praise He receives comes from your lips. The blood He shed for your life. The power He wields in your interests. We are lambs of God because we are with the Lamb of God.

Within that concept of Jesus as the Lamb is also a paradox however. As we mentioned before, why a lamb? Why a naïve and foolish creature – one which is so easily led astray? Well, that question is easy to answer from our perspective. We are foolish. We are ignorant. We are almost numb at times to the dangers around us. As the hymn writer aptly puts it, “The Shepherd dies for sheep that love to wander.” (TLH 143) But, what about Jesus? His characteristic as a sheep is not one of foolishness or stupidity. Jesus is the lamb in His innocence. A lamb is no predator. A lamb is not a danger to anyone. It is pure in that sense. The two concepts are no so far removed. The world often despises purity as a naïve and unrealistic thing – a pursuit not worth owning. The world loves strength. Yet, the two views of the lamb are also worlds apart. Our sins are the very things that separate us from God. Jesus had to come as one of us – He had to be more than the Shepherd, in order to win us to God. As our Savior, He is eternally worthy of our praise and honor. May it always be so in our hearts.

Part 2: The blood He shed

Here is the second paradox. We are washed clean by shed blood. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that blood is far from clean. Blood serves a good purpose but when it is shed, it defiles. Shed blood is messy and ugly. It is anything but clean and holy. Shed blood was so defiling that God commanded the Israelites to stay away from it. Those who came into contact with blood were required to be thoroughly cleansed. Yet, as John witnesses this vision one of the Elders remarks, These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. John knew this already. He wrote in his first epistle, “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).” John also knew it because He saw it. He was at the foot of the cross. He witnessed the literal blood of Jesus flowing from His head, hands, and feet. John described the blood and water that flowed from the side of the Lamb, as His lifeless frame hung from the cross. John knew enough about blood. He didn’t really need the Elder to explain it.

But, John was witnessing the effect of all that work His Savior did. We, too, know what it is to come into contact with that Lamb of God. We know what John felt – the awe, the mystery, the wonder, that God’s Son would willingly shed His righteous blood for us. We know our sins. We feel the guilt. The paradox of being sinner and saint; of knowing the righteous judgments of God, that those breaking them are deserving of death. Our Savior’s love and grace is not a confusing thing. But, that He would do it for me. That takes more. That is something to meditate on, as much so as blood that cleanses. Neither John nor the Elder really needed an explanation to what they were seeing. But, they both were in the state of grand appreciation and depth of blessedness – of witnessing the love of the Lamb. We, too, have been and a privileged to witness the same, as we share the sublime grace of God who daily washes us of the filthy stains of our sins in the blood of His. 

Part 3: The power He wields in our best interests

The final aspect of the Lamb is that He takes care of His flock. In contrast to the false shepherds of the Old Testament or the hireling of the New Testament, Jesus uses His power in our best interests. John’s vision of the scene concludes with images of how the Lord provides. They shall no longer hunger or thirst. They will be protected from the dangerous elements of the world, with their Lord in His presence. Tears and sorrow will be a thing of the past. For such gifts to be given, we need power. These are elements of the world that we are powerless against. Without the Lord’s daily provision, we would be helpless.

But, this power is capable of so much more. John describes at the beginning: After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"

The power of Lamb is able to accomplish the seemingly impossible. It brings about the unity of all peoples from all backgrounds. It allows for sinful rebels to bow down in obedient worship and praise. These are miracles. These things are not part of some grand utopia here on earth. This is not a product of human hands and efforts. John says it as he hears it: “Salvation belongs to our God!” The Lamb provides for us – even for our eternal salvation, because He can. The gift is His to give. He is worthy. He is able.

Far too often, we’re too focused on our lives to think of this. We’re too worried about the things we can’t control. We’re too angry about the things that go wrong. We’re too confident in the things we’ve done. Look up, dear sinner! Salvation belongs to your God. The Lamb owns it. The Lamb freely gives it.   

And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.

The Lamb knows your need. He shared in the hunger, thirst, and pain.
The Lamb knows your sorrow. He shared in the tears and hurt of sinful loss.
The Lamb knows your anger. He felt it in His body and in His soul as He shed His righteous blood to atone for your unholy life.

The Lamb is able and worthy – for you. Amen.

November 4, 2018

Reformation Sunday - Habakkuk 2:1-4

Habakkuk’s (and your) enduring Questions and God’s Answer
1. In Fairness 
2. In Feeling  
3. In Faith 

Habakkuk 2:1-4 I will stand at my guard post and station myself on the lookout tower. I will watch to see what He will say to me and what I should reply about my complaint. 2 The LORD answered me: Write down this vision; clearly inscribe it on tablets so one may easily read it. 3 For the vision is yet for the appointed time; it testifies about the end and will not lie. Though it delays, wait for it, since it will certainly come and not be late. 4 Look, his ego is inflated; he is without integrity. But the righteous one will live by his faith.

Dear fellow redeemed:

How do you react when you’re stressed? Psychologists talk about different reactions to stress that have been observed in people. They call them defense mechanisms – ways in which we process hard times that are happening. One reaction is denial – acting like the troubling thing isn’t actually happening. Another is projection – always being focused on what others are doing wrong instead of the ways we’ve contributed to our problems. A common one is displacement – where we cope with our stress by lashing out at easier targets who aren’t responsible for it. Or there’s identification – where we associate with other people or organizations who are popular or successful as a way to mask our own insecurities.

The thing about it is that humans are astoundingly acute when diagnosing the various ways that we handle stress – yet we’re often no better in actually handling it properly and getting over it. Habakkuk was stressed out. We might say that his defense mechanism for handling that stress was to blame God. In chapter one, Habakkuk lobbed two volatile complaints at God in the form of questions. In chapter two, under our text for consideration – Habakkuk gets his answer.

The same pattern plays out in our lives and in our faith. We question God – sometimes honestly and innocently, sometimes not so much. Our questions are similar to Habakkuk’s as we’ll see in a moment. They are the common inquisitions of a mortal human’s heart. And, much like Habakkuk, God doesn’t always give us the answer we want, but nonetheless an answer that satisfies. These questions and this answer, center on three things – fairness, feeling, and faith. May the Holy Spirit who leads through the Word of God bless us through it today.

Part 1: Fairness

Habakkuk’s first question was: How long, LORD, must I call for help and You do not listen or cry out to You about violence and You do not save? 3 Why do You force me to look at injustice? Why do You tolerate wrongdoing? Oppression and violence are right in front of me. Strife is ongoing, and conflict escalates. 4 This is why the law is ineffective and justice never emerges. For the wicked restrict the righteous; therefore, justice comes out perverted (1:2-4).

Habakkuk questioned God’s fairness. Like the rest of the prophets, Habakkuk was called to preach a message to God’s people. Like many of the rest of the prophets, the message was hard and the response was not good. In the very first verse Habakkuk calls the message a “burden” which was also a play on words in the Hebrew language. The Hebrew word for a message from God also contains the imagery of something that is carried under extreme pressure. We don’t know exactly what that message was, word for word. But, Habakkuk is clear enough that it wasn’t heeded. Wickedness had reached such as level that it caused the prophet to doubt whether God cared, or what value the law of God even held. Habakkuk questions the very principle of justice, like it doesn’t even exist. And perhaps most telling of all, this first question is extremely personal. Notice the personal emphasis: How long, LORD, must I call for help and You do not listen or cry out to You about violence and You do not save? 3 Why do You force me to look at injustice? Why do You tolerate wrongdoing? Oppression and violence are right in front of me.

How often have we faced the same personal conflict? What God tells us is extremely clear. His Word is that lamp to light the way. Yet, no one listens. People do what they please with the Word of God. Evil and wickedness abound in the world. The rich and the greedy continue to prosper. The vile and the disgusting continue to find ways to hurt others. Where is justice? Some, like Habakkuk, have felt this so acutely that they even question whether or not justice really exists. Some have given up trying.

Part 2: In Feelings

Habakkuk’s second question may be less personal but it’s certainly more pointed at God, Are You not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O LORD, You have appointed them for judgment; O Rock, You have marked them for correction. 13 You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness. Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, And hold Your tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than he (1:12-13)?

Habakkuk moves on from his personal feelings to now questioning the very nature of God. This is the next logical step. If God doesn’t care about me, but claims to – how can I then trust anything else about Him? Is He eternal? Is He holy? What happens to Habakkuk here is that he allows his feelings to get in the way of God’s Word. Feelings are a lot like temptations. They’re not necessarily bad, but they’re not always controllable. We will feel the way we will feel – no one can change that. Just like we will be tempted – no one can stop that.

The thing is, we don’t have to be dominated by those feelings. Sometimes people get upset at God’s Word or Christians because they think they’re trying to change the way they feel. This gets upsetting to say the least because there is so much to the way we feel that is out of our control. What do you think about Habakkuk’s second question? Have you ever felt the same way? Who hasn’t wondered about the Lord’s eternal nature? Who hasn’t contemplated God’s righteousness? Who hasn’t questioned God’s plan? These are natural feelings – meaning that they don’t come about by personal choice. Therefore, they also can’t be wished away as if they don’t exist.

But, this isn’t what God’s Word is aimed at. Feelings will always be there. God’s Word isn’t trying to change that. Instead, it gives you a way through those feelings to God. Feelings may come natural but that doesn’t mean they won’t betray the truth. Have you ever felt that God is asking the impossible of you? Have you ever been fed up with waiting for God’s answer? God is telling you right now He’s not trying to change you to act like those feelings will never exist. The fact that we see these examples so often in Scripture is a testament to their reality. God is giving you a way through – an answer that fills in your personal need and satisfies your natural struggle with His will. And it is the same answer He gave Habakkuk. The righteous one will live by his faith.

Part 3: In Faith

Here is true justice. Here is where divine righteousness is found. It is by faith. The Bible always means the same thing when it speaks of faith. It is trust in God. It is relying on Jesus as the only source of truth and salvation, even over ourselves. This is where we find answers. This is how we receive justice from our adversaries – through Jesus. Habakkuk would later sing, through a song, at the end of this book: Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls-- 18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation (3:17-18).

Notice that the stress isn’t over. Habakkuk confidently understands, even though evil still exists, even though bad things happen to me, even though I wait on the Lord’s plan – I can rejoice in salvation through my God. Joy in the Lord is not the absence of bad things – or the effects of sin in our lives. Rather it is the ability to get through it in the Lord’s name, with our faith intact.

Our text puts it another way, For the vision is yet for the appointed time; it testifies about the end and will not lie. Though it delays, wait for it, since it will certainly come and not be late. The Lord tells Habakkuk that His answer will seem like it’s late, but it will not be late. It is according to His plan. Doesn’t that encapsulate the difficulty that we face in matters of fairness and feeling in our lives? It seems like the Lord isn’t listening. It feels like He doesn’t care, or that He isn’t powerful enough. In those thoughts we are tempted to doubt His Word. At those moments there are others who offer more attractive answers – quick answers that I don’t have to wait for. At that time Satan brings the full onslaught of temptation – that God’s Word is false, that God doesn’t care about your complaint, that God has moved on, that there’s no point in waiting because it’s a pointless exercise. There’s no denying the stress – but God openly tells you it’s part of the process. His answer will feel like it’s late – but it never is.

The righteous shall live by faith. That is our motto as believers because that’s the only way through this sinful world. God told Habakkuk that He knew the source of his complaints; Habakkuk’s ego was inflated. He was proud in his own thoughts. But, the Lord didn’t leave him there – Habakkuk already knew that. The Lord reassured him – you are righteous by faith, that will never be late; that will never change. Write it down, make it clear that others may know it too.

How do you handle stress? What is your go-to defense mechanism? Do you hide from it? Do you try to mask it? Do you take it out on others? Is it always some else’s fault? Recognize your questions and God’s answer – just as Habakkuk did. You, also, are righteous by faith in Jesus. Tempted to question that? Ever feel like it isn’t true? Consider this word from God about His timing – explaining why you can have confidence.

Romans 5:4-8 We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

There’s an answer worth knowing. It’s okay to witness the evil. It’s okay to feel the stress. It’s okay to have the feeling of uncertainty. You have a way through – Jesus, the one who died for you. We can glory in those conquered things, because it’s glorying in our Savior. We can see and appreciate God’s hand at work, because it is. He died and lives for sinners and so I am righteous by faith. Amen.