May 20, 2019

Easter 4 - Isaiah 38:9-20

It’s About Time!
1. A Cry for Deliverance
2. A Lesson for Life

Isaiah 38:9-20 A poem by Hezekiah king of Judah after he had been sick and had recovered from his illness: 10 I said: In the prime of my life I must go to the gates of Sheol; I am deprived of the rest of my years. 11 I said: I will never see the LORD, the LORD in the land of the living; I will not look on humanity any longer with the inhabitants of what is passing away. 12 My dwelling is plucked up and removed from me like a shepherd's tent. I have rolled up my life like a weaver; He cuts me off from the loom. You make an end of me from day until night. 13 I thought until the morning: He will break all my bones like a lion; You make an end of me day and night. 14 I chirp like a swallow or a crane; I moan like a dove. My eyes grow weak looking upward. Lord, I am oppressed; support me. 15 What can I say? He has spoken to me, and He Himself has done it. I walk along slowly all my years because of the bitterness of my soul, 16 Lord, because of these promises people live, and in all of them is the life of my spirit as well; You have restored me to health and let me live. 17 Indeed, it was for my own welfare that I had such great bitterness; but Your love has delivered me from the Pit of destruction, for You have thrown all my sins behind Your back. 18 For Sheol cannot thank You; Death cannot praise You. Those who go down to the Pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness. 19 The living, only the living can thank You, as I do today; a father will make Your faithfulness known to children. 20 The LORD will save me; we will play stringed instruments all the days of our lives at the house of the LORD.

Last weekend we studied a message from Isaiah chapter 40 about waiting upon the LORD. We saw how faith trusts in the LORD’s power and grace and waits for Him to act in our lives. Today, our lesson from God’s Word is very similar, especially since it comes just two chapters before in Isaiah. But the situation it describes is very unique and different.

Most of what you’ll find about King Hezekiah in the Bible comes from the books of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. Hezekiah was a king over the two southern tribes of Benjamin and Judah. He was a godly king. We’re told that he followed God faithfully. And Hezekiah needed God because he was tested greatly and, despite his faithfulness, he wasn’t perfect. Even though we’re not kings, and our generation is far distant from Hezekiah’s, these two things are true of our lives also. We’re tested and we’re far from perfect. Therefore, we have much to learn today as we consider the thought – “It’s About Time!” A cry for deliverance and a lesson for life. 

Hezekiah had a tumultuous life to say the least. If you ever feel like God is being unfair to you, I encourage you to read about Hezekiah. As the king of Judah, he was responsible for protecting his people from devastation and upheaval at the hands of the mighty Assyrian empire. About 15 years before these events, the Assyrians had defeated the 10 northern tribes of Israel. Soon after, they pressed south at the last two tribes which formed the nation of Judah. The Assyrians surrounded the city and set a siege to starve the people out. Hezekiah prayed to the LORD for deliverance and the Assyrian army was destroyed in one night by an angel from God.

One might expect joy or relief after this event, at the very least a period of peace, but in the very next verse Isaiah was sent to tell Hezekiah: “Thus says the LORD, Set your house in order, for you shall die (2 Kings 20:1).” We’re not told why the LORD gave this message. We’re not told what Hezekiah would die from. All we know is that, once again, Hezekiah prayed for deliverance; and, once again, the LORD delivered him. The LORD said that Hezekiah would live another 15 years.
What we have before us today are the thoughts that went through Hezekiah’s mind as he received this response from God. In beautifully detailed writing, Hezekiah paints a picture of the ups and downs of faith. In many ways we hear the cry, “It’s about time!” as Hezekiah so desperately seeks relief from God – knowing that his times and his life are in God’s hands.

The thoughts surrounding Hezekiah’s anguish can really be summed up in something David wrote in Psalm 31. He said to the LORD, “My times are in Your hand.” When Isaiah pronounced that Hezekiah was going to die, Hezekiah had to come to grips with the reality that the LORD was in control. Even if we’re not on death’s doorstep, the same thing applies in our lives. Paul would conclude a similar thought in Romans, “Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's” (Rom 14:8 NKJ)

This is an important realization to come to as a believer. So often, it’s easy to think that God’s late in our lives. We get frustrated when He doesn’t act when we think He should. Consider, again, the theme of waiting by faith which we explored last weekend. The cry of desperation when we see the LORD’s answer often becomes, “It’s about time, God!” as if He’s late or sluggish in His dealings with us.

The thing is, while the LORD constructed time in His infinite power, it’s something that He is above. God is eternal. Therefore, He can never be late because He always is. Lateness can only apply to a creature who is bound by time. So, David says, “My times are in Your hand.” The LORD is always present and always attentive. Even in the most dangerous of settings, when life and death are on the line, God is present. And when He chooses to act, we know it’s the best moment. As the one who oversees all time, God knows when the best moment is for your life.

The cry of desperation comes forth because this is a difficult thing to go through. While we know that something good lies up ahead in any tragedy, because God promises it to be so, we can’t see it immediately. Hezekiah reflected upon this even after He received deliverance from the LORD. Hezekiah describes his life as fragile thread in the weaver’s control, like a fleeting shepherd’s tent that is pitched in one moment and uprooted the next, like a chattering bird who cries out in need. The struggle is so real that Hezekiah even depicts himself as a lion’s victim when faced with his lack of control in the face of God’s plan.

But Hezekiah records these descriptions for more than just portraying His struggle. He wants to remember. Hezekiah wants to remember what the bitterness and anguish feel like and he wants to take that with him in the future. Consider what he writes in verse 17: “Indeed, it was for my own welfare that I had such great bitterness; but Your love has delivered me from the Pit of destruction, for You have thrown all my sins behind Your back.” In verse 15 he also remarked, “I walk along slowly all my years because of the bitterness of my soul.”

Part 2:

Hezekiah used the pain he felt to remind him of what the LORD had done. It was bitterness, but he would take it with him the rest of his days. It was agonizing to endure, but it was for his own well-being. Hezekiah speaks this with the clarity of faith, the 20/20 vision of being able to look back on a struggle and see the LORD’s hand in it. For the believer, the bitterness becomes a reminder of grace. And this phenomenon of faith turns the desperate plea, “It’s about time,” into the gentle reminder, “It’s about time.”

That’s where the LORD led Hezekiah – to appreciate the time he was given on earth – whether it was his last day or whether he had 15 more years. As we might expect, Hezekiah came away from this situation with a new-found appreciation for his life. The LORD gave assurance of this promise in a sign that literally turned back time, as He made the sundial in Hezekiah’s palace reverse 10 degrees. But this event caused Hezekiah to think of much more than just himself – it brought him back to considering the LORD.

The fact that life is about time means more to the believer than just time to cross off more bucket list items or time to spend with family. It means time with the LORD. We call that our time of grace, and it’s a precious gift from God that we far too often take for granted. Hezekiah wrote, The LORD will save me; we will play stringed instruments all the days of our lives at the house of the LORD. Hezekiah thought of going to the house of the LORD not just to praise God, but to spend time with Him. Hezekiah realized once again what a wonderful gift that was. Sometimes, Christians forget that so God reminds them by taking the opportunity away. Sometimes, He takes our time with Him away, not because we’ve forgotten it, but to build another part of our faith that needs nourishment. Just as we need to remember that every moment of life, whether we live or die, is under God’s control; so also we need to remember that the LORD enriches our faith by the trial.

We can look back in history and see examples. The early Christians were threatened by the authorities, many to the point of death. They were threatened by false teachers, to the point of denying Christ. Through these things the LORD taught them that “It’s about time,” the time of grace with Him. And so, the early church defended the sacred books of the Bible. They developed statements of faith like the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. They took the message of Christ to countries and kingdoms where our ancestors came from. The entire time, the LORD was watching over His Church.

We know well of many of the Reformers from the 13, 14, and 1500s who staked reputation and life upon the Word of God. They lived by the same truth – “It’s about time with God” and they made the most of that life. Today, our church and our teachings benefit from their sacrifice. Less than 100 years ago, Lutherans in America were forced to decide between giving up on critical teachings such as the inerrancy of the Bible, God as Creator, and in some cases the very principles of grace alone, faith alone, and Scripture alone. Faithful Christians were once again called to remember that Life is about Time with God – the Time of Grace to spend in His Word with faithful obedience. Each generation of believers is called to this trial in different ways, to appreciate the time they have been given to witness of God’s love for sinners in His Son Jesus, and to appreciate that gift for themselves. Like Hezekiah, we can reflect with appreciation on this opportunity despite the accompanying bitterness and anguish.

Stacked against such odds, many would have thought that the Church of God would have fallen to the pages of history. Like Jerusalem surrounded by a host of Assyrian soldiers, many today mock believers as weak and on the brink of total loss. And yet we hold the line. Because what we seek to protect is also that which gives us strength. Hezekiah stated, “For Sheol cannot thank You; Death cannot praise You. Those who go down to the Pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness. 19 The living, only the living can thank You, as I do today; a father will make Your faithfulness known to children.”

700 some years after that statement, Hezekiah’s Savior would state similarly, "For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him." (Luk 20:38 NKJ) We rejoice in our Time with God – our time in His grace, we hold the line of His truth as given in His Word, because He is the God of the living, and living men and women praise His name. That blessing in our Risen Savior’s name is worth remembering, and worth cherishing. And by faith in Jesus, we can get past saying, “It’s about time God,” and we can humbly and cheerfully reflect, “It’s about time with my God – the living God for living believers. Amen.

May 6, 2019

Easter 2 - John 10:11-18

Theme: How a Church Becomes Scattered and How it is Saved

John 10:11-18 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired man, since he is not the shepherd and doesn't own the sheep, leaves them and runs away when he sees a wolf coming. The wolf then snatches and scatters them. 13 This happens because he is a hired man and doesn't care about the sheep. 14 "I am the good shepherd. I know My own sheep, and they know Me, 15 as the Father knows Me, and I know the Father. I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 But I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. Then there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 This is why the Father loves Me, because I am laying down My life so I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down on My own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again. I have received this command from My Father."

Dear friends, how often do we think that just because we have the right to do something, we’re right about how we do it? The first thought is “right” in the sense of ability, the second thought is “right” in the sense of appropriateness. I think our culture is rife with this attitude and it’s dangerous. People think that because they have the right to free speech, everything they say is right. At work, those employees who have been there the longest often feel like they have special rights or privileges.

This attitude is present within the church too. It can happen that pastors believe their opinion should outweigh others because they have a divine call from God. But just because you have a right, that is, to speak to the congregation on behalf of God, doesn’t mean you’re always right. It can happen to members, when they think that they should get more sway in decision-making or they should get all the projects passed that they want, because they give so much in their offering.

This very attitude is before us in our text, when Jesus speaks of the difference between Himself (the Good Shepherd) and the hired man. Jesus is talking about taking care of His church – the flock. When we read these words, we want to think that the hired man is some enemy or imposter. But Jesus is really pointing at us – His followers. Believers have been given the privilege, the right, to be representatives of Jesus on earth. We are caretakers of the Church. We call this the office of the keys and Jesus first gave it to His disciples on Easter Sunday. Ever since, believers have the right to use God’s Word in their lives and the lives of others – to bring the law and to bring the gospel. But just because you have the right, doesn’t mean you’re always right.

As hired hands, in that sense, we are not as qualified as Jesus. What He says about the hired man, applies to us. Too often we flee from the call of God and we scatter the flock with our own agendas. The original disciples did this very thing on Good Friday. They were hired men who let down their Lord and His flock. They guaranteed faithfulness to Jesus. Peter defiantly said, “Even if all others forsake you, Lord, I never will.” But they all fled when the wolf came. The first thing they needed to realize, as we do in our calling, is that it takes humility to follow the Lord. This helps guard against an attitude of entitlement, which makes us think that just because we’ve been given a special privilege from God we are perfect in the way we carry out that privilege.

Earlier in His ministry, Jesus told a parable that got to the heart of this issue. He said, Luke 17:9-10 Does he [the Master] thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'"

We are what Jesus said – unworthy servants. We don’t deserve a congratulatory pat on the back because we serve God. That is what we should do. And for every time we get something right, there’s usually a host of other things we’ve gotten wrong. Just because we are called to a special purpose does not guarantee that everything we do is right. Rather, this reality causes us to constantly work on our approach. It leads us to test all things – whether from a pastor or from a neighbor, in light of God’s Word. It keeps us on our toes to be sharp in God’s Word. Because, despite our mistakes, we are still called by God.

The main problem with the hired man is described in verse 13: Jesus says that the hired man doesn’t care for the sheep. Now that sounds a bit too harsh to be describing the typical Christian. We may not be perfect but most of us care a lot about others, and we go out of our way to show it. But remember who the comparison is with – Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Compared to Jesus, we do not care about our fellow neighbors as much as we should. Sometimes we are good at ignoring that fact because we choose to compare ourselves with the world, or other Christians, instead of Jesus. But God holds us to the standard of His Son because that’s who we represent.

The Church of God becomes scattered when we fail to care for others as Jesus would. This also probably happens more often than we want to admit. I think most often an uncaring attitude springs forth when we diminish the worth of others. Isn’t that really what the hired man does in the text? He sees the sheep as a mere commodity – something he is given charge over but not something that is valuable to him. Therefore, he refuses to risk his neck to protect them. How different is the care that Jesus provides! He knows His sheep and they know Him. He has a personal relationship with them. They are not interchangeable parts of a greater whole, they are precious on an individual level.

When we recognize this about the nature of caring for others, that it must be personal, it helps us come to grips with our shortcomings – the times when we have fled from our post as representatives of Jesus among His flock. A lack of care can spread like a disease among a church. It happens when we treat others based on appearance. When we measure their worth based on what they can offer us. An uncaring attitude runs rampant when we look at serving one another as a burden and not a blessing; when we quit serving because others are not meeting our expectations. An uncaring attitude flourishes when we treat the church like a business venture, and we measure success based on the budget numbers or annual stats. An uncaring attitude is glaringly present when we go out of our way to avoid others, instead of offering a simple word of support or taking a genuine interest in their lives. An uncaring attitude is most harmful when we use the Word of God to beat others down or to hold them under our vain expressions of self-righteousness. The examples could go on and on. Lack of caring destroys the church.

Most of the time, you don’t have to look hard to see if a church is a caring one or not. And at every step of the way, the personality of a congregation is reflected in how personal its members and mission are. Do we care about others as we should or do we act more like a hired hand? This is a question worth asking regularly.

Part 2

Through Jesus, we see how the Church is saved. He knows the sheep. He cares for the sheep. He seeks out the lost sheep. He laid down His life and He took it back again. Essentially, everything that Jesus is is contained in this imagery of Him as the Good Shepherd. This simple title describes who He is in the fullest sense and what He provides in our lives.

The Good Shepherd cares for the sheep. He cares so much that not only does He refuse to abandon the flock in danger, He goes out of His way to seek the lost and straying. Jesus taught that in the parable of the Lost Sheep, how as the Good Shepherd He willingly leaves the rest of the flock to search out someone who is lost. To be lost is to live in sin or to follow a false teaching about who God is. Remember that that point was so important to Jesus, so much a part of who He is, that He gave two other parables saying the exact same thing (Parable of the Lost Coin and the Parable of the Prodigal son). If it’s important to the Good Shepherd, it should be important. Therefore, as we represent Him with caring for others, we speak against sin and we warn against false teaching. But we seek the lost with personal care, knowing that Jesus gave His life for all.  

Jesus cares so much that He seeks out those whom others do not – those whom others think don’t belong in God’s Church. But I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. Then there will be one flock, one shepherd. This saying was directed at the Gentiles, who at that time were deemed outside of the kingdom of God by many of the Jews. But that wasn’t the case – Jesus cares for all people. The only ones outside are those who reject Him. If we tend the flock as we should, we won’t exclude others just because they are different than us. We won’t bring judgments or accusations in matters that God leaves to our freedom. We won’t accept others because they match the description we imagine when we think of a Christian. We won’t make membership in God’s Church about projecting a self-image of strength.  

How are we doing at this point as we think about our lives? Sad to say, factionalism continues to be a problem in churches, even in our own. Self-righteousness leads us to judge others of a different religion, or a different denomination, while also ignoring our own inconsistencies, sins, and failures. [Plank and speck syndrome]

But there’s a host of other variables to consider as well. How well are you doing at trusting Jesus when He promises what He does? Do you believe that He cares for you, that He seeks you out, that He knows you by name? Because sometimes when we have insecurities in those areas of our faith, we project them on others around us. It’s good to ask if you trust Jesus, or if you have allowed the hired man to have the final say in your faith? Did you come to hear Jesus today, or did you come for some other reason – perhaps Christian guilt, a family member’s request, or simply out of habit? Sin doesn’t just affect us on the side of being Christ’s representative. It beats upon the door of your heart more than ever when you consider being a child of God by faith. Satan wants to rob you of your own hope in Jesus before he even thinks about you as a mouthpiece. He doesn’t just want to pluck away the fruits of your faith, but to rip up the whole plant by the root.

Don’t let Satan deter your hope in the Good Shepherd. Don’t come to hear me, or anyone else – come to hear Jesus. Don’t come out of guilt or fear, come for peace and joy.

This lesson today is a difficult one to balance. We need to heed our calling to preach the Word – to represent Jesus. We are hired as laborers in His vineyard. We are all members of the same body – called to the same purpose. And this is a great privilege. It may not always feel like that, and it may not be a glorious earthly calling to be a hired representative, but it is a blessed privilege to follow Jesus and display His glory. We need to remember those things. But we also need to trust the Good Shepherd. Our confidence is not in men or women, in church buildings or legacies, or in synods or denominations. If it is, the Church will be scattered because we will lack the care that Jesus gives. There is a purpose to all of those things, but only with the right balance.

Likewise, when we are unfaithful, when we fall into the cycle of vanity that makes us thing we have the right to do and say what we please – we need to repent. We need to remember how important humility is to this whole thing. This is all summarized in one thought: As much as we learn about ourselves in this text, we learn even more about Jesus. And that’s the right balance.  

Sometimes there’s so many ways the Church becomes scattered, we neglect the one way it has been saved – Jesus laid down His life and took it again. He did that for the lost. He did that for those currently outside the flock. He did that for the person we’d least expect Him to do it for. And, He did that for you. Focus on Him – the Good Shepherd, the one who saved the Church and you will have that balance. Amen.

May 1, 2019

Easter 1 - 1 John 5:4-13

The Spiritual Person…
1. Relies on Testimony to believe
2. Trusts that the Holy Spirit comes in ordinary ways

Spirituality – what is it? Perhaps the best answer is that it is a term that is used to define how we speak about the immaterial aspects of humanity. That’s probably the basic definition. But spirituality is often connected to religious belief. For us Christians, spirituality is firmly based in God’s Word. It’s where we get answers to our questions about the unseen elements of human existence – feelings, emotions, faith, the soul, and so on.

One interesting thing about our culture is that people are becoming more spiritual, but less religious. According to a Pew Research study, since 2012, we’ve seen an 11% decrease in people expressing themselves as both religious and spiritual, but an 8% increase in people who express themselves as spiritual but not religious. Today, about 27% of adults in the United States think of themselves as spiritual but not religious – that’s over a quarter of the adult population.

I guess a lot could be riding on how a person defines “spirituality.” If someone thinks of spirituality in terms of being an organism that is attached to and aware of non-material things, what we often call the meta-physical realm, then that would be true of every human. However, more often what we mean by spirituality is having more than just an awareness, but a connection, to immaterial things. Other words for these immaterial things are a person’s soul, or the supernatural realm, or a connection of some type to a divine being. When most people in our culture think of spirituality, they still think of these things. And that’s where a disconnect from religion is alarming.

Religion and spirituality have always been deeply connected. This is certainly the case in Christianity. But what we see is that religion is becoming more based in humanity, and farther detached from spirituality. Consider these thoughts as we now shift our focus to a section of God’s Word, from 1 John 5:4-13:

4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6 This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. (ESV)

John calls the truly spiritual person, one who “has been born of God.” That’s a good definition for spirituality in the Christian sense of the word. But what exactly does that mean for our lives? We see two things today: 1. A spiritual person relies on testimony to believe. 2. A spiritual person trusts that the Holy Spirit comes in ordinary ways.

Let’s take a step back and think about John’s letter for a moment. Last weekend, we had a sermon text from John’s Gospel. We brought in the beginning of this first letter as a connection to what John saw on Easter. We notice this trend throughout his letters – there are many obvious connections between the two. The last verse of our text today is a great example as it’s almost a word for word copy of John 20:31.

The meaning of this is that it’s clear who the author is. These are both John’s writings, they fit his style. But there’s an even more important connection. John’s first letter builds upon the truths that were expressed in His Gospel. There certainly is a lot of application in John’s Gospel, that’s actually something that makes it different than Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But, there’s even more application in his letter. This is an instructional letter to Christians based upon the truths of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. In that sense, the word “testimony” is vitally important to understanding John’s letter – and to understanding what it means to be a spiritual person, or one who is born of God.

There’s a very important verse in John’s letter to remember as we think of bringing all these thoughts together in our text. Right after John lays out a clear definition of the good news of forgiveness in Jesus, he writes, “but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked (1 John 2:5-6).

This letter is about walking in God. This is the spiritual path. But, as we get to the final chapter of the letter, as John is summarizing all of this – what word keeps coming up? Testimony. Eight times John uses “testimony” in our text. That shows us how important this word is to our faith, and to what it means to be a spiritual person. The Greek word for testimony is martureo – where our English word for “martyr” comes from. A martyr is someone who gives their life for Christ – a believer who is killed for their faith. They received this title because offering their life was the greatest testimony to their Savior.

But we see something important in this for our lives. Testimony is not self-determined. The martyrs gave their witness because there was no other path. They died for the truth – not for what they chose. True testimony does not change from person to person – in either substance or in application. It means the same thing for all people. It’s not about what we feel. This testimony is the basis of our faith. We saw that last weekend as we talked about John’s eye-witness testimony of the resurrection and what that means for us who read his words today. Here in the letter, John brings in the application of that truth to our lives as it pertains to living with and under God’s grace.

Part 2

Remember that although John emphasizes testimony here, our faith is not about assembling a bunch of random facts about God in our brains. Spirituality is about a union with God – being born of Him. As John said in chapter two of the letter– whoever claims to abide in God should be walking in His will.

This is one of the divine mysteries of Christianity – union between humans and God. Other religions have a semblance of this notion. Most well-known is probably Greek mythology, where the gods and mankind interacted regularly. But Christian union between God and humanity is completely different. It’s not just about coming into contact with the divine, but being changed and led by God. As John develops this concept in his letter, he does so in a very Trinitarian way. For example, consider
1 John 3:23-24 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. (ESV)


1 John 4:13-15 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. (ESV)

John mentions the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – thereby expressing the true God – but then he also includes the believer. John says, “by this we know that he (God) abides in us.” John says, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” This is the union of faith, not merely an interaction, but an indwelling of God in the believer. This is spirituality. The mystery is that our union with God is compared to the union of Trinity – a feature of God that completely transcends our comprehension. It’s not that we become God, for that would not be a union. It’s that every quality, attribute, and virtue of God completely influences our lives because we are in Him and He is in us – by faith.

The thing is, our text brings us back down to reality because it tells us that this spirituality comes in very ordinary ways. That’s what all this talk of blood of water is about. John says that Jesus came by blood and water, and that the Holy Spirit testifies with this blood and water about the truth. Although this is a somewhat mysterious section – John seems to be getting at the way that Jesus, as God and Man, manifested Himself in the world. Two pivotal points in His life involved water and blood. First, His baptism, which marked the beginning of His public ministry and sealed Him as the Messianic Savior, well-beloved by the Father in heaven. Second, His death, by which He shed the blood that washed us clean of our sins. Jesus came in these ways and they testify about union with God by faith. But, they’re also quite ordinary. Water and blood are common. They are earthly. Spirituality has an ordinariness to it too.

Natures shows depict the animated way in which animals show off to a prospective mate. Usually the more unique and flamboyant, the better it goes. A lot of people act that way with the Holy Spirit’s presence – that it must be supernatural and awe-inspiring because that’s the way it was for certain people in the past. The connection between that surreal outward experience and testimony is not popular today. Testimony seems boring. It requires reading and learning. It involves personal discipline and quiet moments spent in God’s Word. It’s demands obedience – being willing to listen to God speak, rather than choosing one’s own self-determining path of spirituality.

Water and blood bring us back down to reality and to what Jesus had to do on earth to redeem us from sin. Spirituality is ordinary and supernatural all at the same time. Just as Jesus was human and united with the Father and the Spirit at the same time. Remember, their union reflects your union with God by faith.

Remember, with every fact (testimony) comes an application – that’s spirituality. There’s no better way of expressing that mystery than in the ways God has given us – baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Water and blood. Water and blood that find their true meaning and power in Jesus. When we baptize, we’re not tapping into the baptism of Jesus. When we commune, we’re not re-sacrificing Christ on the cross. The significance of water and blood in His life has happened and is complete. Our use of baptism and the Lord’s Supper is connected to Jesus, but it is also independent of His achievement of righteous and His death – which are both finished.

This is spirituality. This is true union with God. A constant lifeline of power from the things that Jesus accomplished for us on earth – the testimony of God’s love for sinners- with the expressions we use today to receive God’s grace. It’s not about showmanship and human esteem. That’s fake spirituality. True union with God is quite ordinary and common in appearance. As simple as water and blood. Yet, blessed with divine power from the eternal God through the testimony of His Word.

So, what does it mean to be spiritual? What does it look like to follow God? Look no further than His Word – the testimony of Jesus Christ. Amen.