Sermons

An archive of the most recent sermons by Pastor Ehlers.

If it’s true, it changes you (April 21, 2019)

April 23, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

If it’s true, it changes you

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Ask anyone you meet what Easter is about, and they could answer you. Even atheists and agnostics know that beyond all the bunnies and baby chicks, past the eggs and candy, Easter is the day that Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. But is it true? Is it historically verifiable? Does it hold up to the toughest scrutiny? If it’s true, that changes things. If it’s true, it changes you!

Today we are going to look at just that. We are going to look at the events of Easter recorded in the Bible. Then we are going to examine the evidence to see if this is credible. And finally, we will take a look at the effect this has on those who believe it to be true. Because if it’s true, it changes you.

First, let’s look at the events that took place – events that are so set in stone that even those who don’t believe them to be true could tell you what the Bible says happened to Jesus. Anyone who’s heard of Jesus knows “That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, [and] that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). And Paul explains to the Corinthians, to you and me, that this story didn’t start with him. He was not the originator of the “Christ story.” He says, “what I received I passed on to you” (1 Cor 15:3). I am a messenger of his death and burial, and an eyewitness of the resurrection truth.

Each of these events are important in their own right. It was Christ’s death on the cross that paid the price sin – for everyone’s sin. You may not think of yourself as a “bad person”. I hope not. But have you ever told a lie? That’s sin. Have you ever gossiped and ruined someone else’s reputation? That’s sin. Have you ever harmed someone? Even if just by the hatred of your heart. These are all sins. Sins that are wrong. Sins that must be paid for. The sacrifice of God himself was the only sacrifice that could sufficiently pay for all sins. He was buried. This too is significant because you don’t bury someone who is still alive! This statement validates the fact that this guy is truly dead. Jews wouldn’t have buried an unconscious individual. Romans wouldn’t have let a breathing individual off the cross – and if anyone knows when a person is dead, a Roman soldier in charge of crucifixions certainly would have. The fact of the burial sets up the reality of the resurrection. And that’s the last key event – the lynch pin in all of this. It’s what frees you from sin and death. It’s what makes you different. It’s what makes Christianity different. If the resurrection didn’t happen, then the rest of the story doesn’t really matter. If the resurrection didn’t happen, then really all of Christianity is pointless. So, the big question is, “Did it happen?”

When trying to verify historical fact, there are certain kinds of evidence that historians look for to make events credible. Archeological evidence can often offer clues and start to paint a picture. Writings from ancient historians can really help piece things together – especially if they are relatively close in time to the event itself. But what historians find as absolute gold is eyewitness accounts confirming the details of an event. Often in ancient history, we are lucky if we have 1 or 2 ancient eyewitnesses. That kind of testimony makes for a pretty credible, pretty airtight case. So, 1 or 2 eyewitnesses. How many do we have verifying the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus? “He appeared to Cephas” (that’s the apostle Peter) “and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living” – people who could either verify what Paul was writing here, or shred this letter to bits if it were not true – “then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared also to me” (1 Cor 15:5-8).

Now, granted, not all of these 500+ people left a written account for historians to find. But we do have 6 eyewitness accounts in the Bible alone: Matthew, Mark, John, Paul, James, and Peter. I’d add that Luke, although not an eyewitness himself, investigated the events and interviewed eyewitnesses of the event – so his writing is a very reliable, very early, second-hand account. And don’t just think of these people as biblical characters validating the story they are in. These are real, living, breathing people who wrote their testimony to real people in real places. I’ll also add that there are several eyewitness and close second hand accounts written by people not in the Bible. The Jewish historian for Rome, Josephus, would be one of these contemporary accounts. Why do I spend so much time talking about all of this? Because if it’s true, it changes you! If these writings are credible eyewitness accounts, then the resurrection can be declared historical fact according to the same standards that other historical fact is established by. And let me tell you, the evidence is in. It’s in on an overwhelming scale that Jesus existed, that he died, that he was buried, and that he rose from the dead. I understand this doesn’t happen every day. I understand it’s hard to believe. But the evidence is there. This overwhelming number of eyewitnesses agree on the events that really happened.

Let’s now look at the evidence from a rational perspective. Would the Jews, who wanted Jesus dead and gone, would they allow Jesus to be buried if he wasn’t certainly dead? Not a chance. Would the Roman soldiers have let a merely unconscious person off the cross? Keep in mind, that they weren’t too fond of the Jews in general. Not a chance they would. They even made sure that the criminals crucified that day were good and dead – breaking the legs of two, and piercing Jesus through the side because they were sure he was already dead, but they wanted to make absolutely certain. And regarding the resurrection, would the Romans have stolen the body? NO! The soldiers would be killed if a prisoner of Rome had gone missing. Would the Jews have gotten rid of the body? NO! They wanted him to stay dead, and they would have loved to have evidence of the fact that they ended the hypocrisy of this Jesus. Would the disciples have stolen the body? Why? They resigned themselves to the fact that he was dead. They didn’t have a convincing motive. They didn’t have the means to do so. And they certainly didn’t have the opportunity. The Pharisees and Sadducees used their power and position to make sure no one would be able to steal the body. And when it did turn up missing, they admitted to it! In fact, we have recorded evidence of the beginning of the “stolen body” story – they paid the guards to say it!

The final nail in the coffin is Paul himself. He wasn’t always an apostle of Christ. In fact, quite the opposite. He was a very intelligent, very influential Pharisee with all the right connections. He made it his mission to end Christianity. He even obtained letters giving him permission to hunt down and imprison Christians. If anyone could have put an end to this “Jesus myth” it would have been Paul. Christians were terrified of him. He had the authority to make their lives very painful. And if there was any body to be found, he would have been the one to do it. They only needed to produce a body. If ending Christianity and proving Jesus to be false was his goal, then why wouldn’t he hunt down the body and make it public. He couldn’t. There was no body to be found. Instead of finding the dead body of Jesus, he found something else.

He found the living body of Jesus. Jesus met him on his way to Damascus. Paul was heading there to imprison Christians, but Jesus met him on the way – appeared to him in the flesh – so that, when did arrive in Damascus, he was a changed man. The effects of the resurrection are truly incredible. In that moment, Paul realized that he was fighting against the truth. In that moment, he realized that Jesus was indeed alive! And Paul, didn’t just fizzle out into the background. Rather, he used his intelligence, his influence, his connections and became one of the strongest proponents of Christ. A night and day difference all in an instant. This is the same Paul who wrote many of the books of the new testament. Paul is living evidence of the power of the Gospel and the effect it has! This change that Paul experienced by God’s grace also led him to work harder than all the other apostles. Really, it wasn’t him. It was God’s grace moving him.

You know the events. Even if you didn’t believe them, or don’t believe them yet, you know the events. Take a look at the evidence for these events – an objective and fair look. It’s all there! From Jesus really dead on the cross and buried, to his resurrection and empty tomb. There are eyewitness accounts, second hand accounts, and historical accounts – more than any other event from that time period. And it’s never been disproven by fact. It wasn’t then, and it still hasn’t been now. However, reaching a verdict that this is true is not enough. If it’s true, it changes you. See the disciples changed from scared and cowering behind locked doors, to boldly proclaiming the resurrection in a matter of days. And willingly proclaiming this message all the way to their martyrdom. See Paul going from the strongest opponent of Christianity, to the strongest proponent. See people in countries all around the world holding to this truth even to the point of death.

How has this truth changed you? First, and most notably, “By this gospel you are saved” (1 Cor 15:2). All your wrongdoings have been forgiven by God. All of your sins, no matter how big or small are gone. You also have the sure hope of your own empty grave one day. Jesus rose, and on the Last Day, he will raise you to new life with him. “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor 15:10). By the grace of God, I am forgiven. By the grace of God, I am his own. By the grace of God, I too will be raised from the dead! By God’s grace, this message which I heard from my parents, or a friend, or family member can be traced all the way back to one of those first 500 eyewitnesses. Who will be next in the chain? Who will you share it with? Who do you know that needs to be changed by this true message – this message of first importance in life? I know it may feel awkward or scary to share this message. What if they laugh? What if they make fun of me? The grace of God goes with you. He works through you. He brings about the change of heart that comes from hearing the true message of Christ risen from the dead.

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All will acknowledge him (April 14, 2019)

April 15, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

All will acknowledge him

Isaiah 45:22-25

Ignoring your brother or sister when you were younger or a nosey neighbor might make them go away. But there are things in life that do not go away even when ignored. Bills can’t be ignored. If you do, they will send you another one on brightly colored paper so that you take notice. And if you continue to ignore, they will cut off whatever service you refuse to pay on. Health issues can’t be ignored. If you ignore a minor toothache, it could turn into much worse. If you ignore a strange growth, you will be forced to take care of a more severe problem down the road. If you ignore the pain in your chest, your obituary may acknowledge what you refused to.

There’s another problem that cannot be ignored. Unfortunately, so many of us do. In a way, you could think of it as a silent killer. In fact, it slips under the radar so easily that I don’t think it’s ever been put on an autopsy report even though it is the cause of every death 100%. If you haven’t guessed, I’m talking about sin. It infects every single one of us. It’s easy to ignore. And if ignored for too long, the effects are detrimental.

The good news is there’s a cure! It’s free! And there are people taking this cure to anyone and everyone they can get to! The cure is Jesus. Not imitating Jesus. Not studying and understanding every single word he said. Not being perfect like him, but simply turning to Jesus and trusting him. “Turn to me and be saved” he says, “turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth” (Is 45:22). Just acknowledge me as Savior. Trust in me to deliver you from this disease of sin. Because that’s what I’ve already done.

To put that all into perspective, it would be as if the cure to cancer was discovered. And this cure would be so simple that it sounds ridiculous. Something like, take a cup of water – doesn’t matter what kind, clean or dirty – add a little bit of dirt to it, leave it sit for three days and then drink it. It’s free. It’s easy to explain and do. People could take this cure all over the world and people everywhere could be healed if only they acknowledge and do this simple cure.

Isn’t that what the cure to sin is?! No, not drinking water, but pouring it over your head while speaking specific words. Not drinking dirty water, but drinking in the Word of God. Not drinking dirty water, but eating and drinking Christ’s body and blood given for you. It’s simple things. It’s accessible to anyone. It’s a cure that’s being taken across the world in a variety of ways. It’s just that simple. “Turn to me and be saved” (Is 45:22). There is no other religion, no other god that makes it so simple. Only the God of the Bible has paid the price to obtain forgiveness for the whole world. No other religion announces God’s own sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. No believer of any other god can say, “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7). It’s simply the invitation to believe it. It’s all done!

Why, then, do so many reject this invitation? Is it because they have not heard? In rare cases, sure. But between missionaries, technology, and even history, God’s Word has most certainly gone out to all the ends of the earth. Is it because it’s too hard to do or too difficult to understand? What’s so hard to understand about Jesus died so that you wouldn’t have to? Turn to Jesus and you will be saved. No, I think it’s that we don’t want to acknowledge it. Acknowledging Jesus means that I have to acknowledge something about myself. It means I have to acknowledge that I am weak, and that I struggle. It means I have to acknowledge that the thing I do, the thing I love to do, I have to acknowledge what I’ve really known all along – that it’s wrong. It means I have to acknowledge that there’s something wrong with me, I have a problem. It means I have to open my eyes and acknowledge that death isn’t just something that comes at the end of life, it’s something that begins an eternity which is sealed by what happens in my life now. I know I need a Savior. But sometimes I just don’t want to acknowledge it. Sometimes I’d rather ignore the problem. It’s like feeling the pain of something wrong, but refusing to acknowledge that it could be something serious, like cancer, and needs to be treated.

The good news for my swaying soul is that the invitation stands. “By myself I have sworn” says God – because there’s no higher authority by which he can swear, “my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked” (Is 45:23). Have I had a day in which I needed to keep digging up new lies to cover up my original sinful action? God’s invitation stands, “Turn to me and be saved” (Is 45:22). Have I enjoyed my newfound freedom a little too much and after 4 years of college spent away from God, finally wondering if he will still take me in? God’s invitation stands, “Turn to me and be saved” (Is 45:22). Have I lived my entire life doing what I’ve wanted to do, only to hear in my last moments about this problem of sin that I have? Knowing in my heart that if the pastor only knew the kind of life I’ve lived he wouldn’t even give me a chance. God’s invitation still stands, “Turn to me and be saved” (Is 45:22). That invitation will not be revoked! It’s an invitation filled with love and longing. It’s an invitation filled with power – helping us realize what we need and what he freely gives. It’s an invitation for you.

However, even though that invitation is purely gospel and pure love, there is the flip side to the coin. What if I reject it? Like a wedding invitation that’s there in your hands. Or like some simple instructions to cure the cancer that plagues your body, what if I don’t want to acknowledge the problem? What if the solution sounds too ridiculous… too simple? What if I reject it?

I think of all those who were bitten by poisonous snakes with Moses in the wilderness (Nu 21:4-9). There was a definite problem in the camp, and no it wasn’t the poisonous snakes! Those snakes were only sent so that they would wake up and realize the real problem before it was too late. The real problem was rebellion. They spoke against God, saying, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness” (Nu 21:5). That was before the snakes. Now, surrounded by biting snakes, invited to listen to God, look at the bronze snake upon a pole and live, how do they respond? Those who acknowledged the problem and trusted God’s invitation to live did just that. They lived! Those who continued to rebel, died in their unbelief, refusing to believe the simple solution.

I see the same thing when Jesus rode into Jerusalem with a single purpose in mind: to establish “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” (Lk 19:38). And the way he would do that was to be lifted upon a pole… a cross. Those who acknowledged the problem of sin and trusted God’s invitation to “turn to me and be saved” (Is 45:22) would do just that. They would live! And those who continued to rebel… those who told Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” (Lk 19:39), well, they just didn’t see it. They didn’t see that Jesus, one by one, was fulfilling every single Messianic prophecy in the book. They didn’t see that Jesus’ death was the cure to sin. They didn’t see that in the Lord alone are deliverance and strength (Is 45:24). They didn’t see it then… but one day, they will. After a lifetime of refusing to acknowledge the plain truth, there will be a day when Jesus comes again. Not as an infant. Not gentle and riding on a donkey. But coming on the clouds with all power and authority. On that day, there will be no denying it any longer. Before him every knee will bow; and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Php 2:10-11). Some – those who have raged against him all their lives – will be put to shame with such an acknowledgement, because they refused to believe it when they still had the chance.

But for others, for all the descendants of Israel – and no this isn’t talking about physical descendants. This is in line with Romans 11 which says that once the full number of Gentiles has come in, in this way all Israel will be saved (Rm 11:25-26). This is spiritual Israel. This is you and me! On the Last Day, when the Lord comes in power and authority, all the descendants of Israel – you and me included – will find deliverance in the Lord and will boast in his salvation! You will say of him, “In the Lord alone are deliverance and strength” (Is 45:24).

He rides into Jerusalem to display that strength – but not in the way we might expect. His strength, and your deliverance, is on that cross. It was there that he removed the disease of sin that so many try to ignore. It was there that he paid for sin, defeated the devil, and made physical death into nothing more than a doorway. The cure is simple: “Turn to me and be saved” (Is 45:22). Acknowledge me. Trust in what I’ve done for you. Amen.

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God has made you rich! (April 7, 2019)

April 15, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

God has made you rich!

Romans 11:11-21

What has God blessed you with for being a Christian? Maybe that’s too broad. What has God blessed you with that would make an unbeliever jealous? I saw a movie recently that actually made fun of one of the characters who had a very full and busy life. She had a number of kids, a job, and a husband who didn’t really do too much, all while she was trying to put herself through school to better her family. And when things got so hectic that she was just a mess, her “tag-line” – the line that the movie made fun of this character with – was that she would just keep saying to herself, “I’m blessed. I really am. I’m blessed.”

Is that all we have as Christians? Is it all just calling ourselves blessed despite any situation because that’s how we are supposed to feel? Is it just calling ourselves blessed because we have a future hope of another life that will be better? Because looking at it on the surface level – from the perspective of an unbeliever, in a normal position – it doesn’t necessarily seem all that great. There are times when you have to moderate yourself rather than indulge in the fullest. There are times when you really should be at church or else feel guilty about not going. And, in many places of the country, maybe not quite yet here, but in many places, it’s tough being a Christian – especially for our young people going into public schools and universities.

Yet, there is a particular kind of instance in which all of that is flipped. I didn’t really realize it until it was said to me. It’s when things go wrong. When your week has been tough and stressful because things haven’t quite been going the way you had hoped. Oh, and let’s throw a stomach flu in the middle of the week just to really shake things up. It’s when the car won’t start, or you’ve lost your job and you are really questioning if you are going to be able to make it. It’s when your close friend who’s basically family died suddenly with no warning – no reason at all. In these moments, who do your unbelieving friends call? Who do they turn to? If they turn to other unbelievers, what can they say except, “Yeah, life is really hard sometimes. You just have to suck it up and take it.” In these times they often turn to their Christian friends who have a different perspective on things.

And yes, we may start the conversation with, “Life is hard sometimes.” But it doesn’t end there. Because you know, and I know that there is a plan for everything. And not just a random, chaotic plan that’s set in stone and treats everyone as ants scurrying underfoot. But there is a plan that God has put in place – that God puts into action. And let me tell you a little bit about this God. He’s a God who has your best interests in mind. Yes, you Christian, he has your best interests in mind in his plan. And yes, you unbeliever, he has your best interests in mind. It may not always be what you think is best, but it’s what he knows is best. And that’s good news. That’s reassuring. Because how many of us have done something that we knew was “best”… but a while later, in hindsight, it didn’t turn out to be so good. We learn these things as we grow older. We learn to look at the bigger picture as our own picture expands. Well, you can’t get a much bigger picture than “Alpha and Omega” – “Beginning and End.” God sees the whole picture, your whole picture, from start to finish and all at the same time. He’s had all of eternity to consider what’s best for you in this very situation you are facing right now, and he’s seen all possible outcomes. You are in his plans. You are in his hands. He knows what you are facing right now. Turn to his Word to see what he might be doing in your life right now.

And the really good news, is that even our sinful actions he can turn into good. Do you see what he did with the Israelites? They rejected Jesus. They crucified him and wanted him gone. They wouldn’t believe when the Apostle Paul announced his resurrection to them. This seems terrible, what is God doing? Why would he allow this to happen if he really has a good plan? His own chosen people will all be lost! No. Not at all. In fact, as Paul says in these verses, it was by the Israelites’ rejection of him that he brought to himself his whole chosen people. For when the Jews rejected the gospel, Paul went instead to the Gentiles, to everyone else, who welcomed it and received it with joy! So many more were saved! But God wasn’t even done yet. When the Gentiles eagerly received the Good News, some of the Jews became jealous and wanted what the Gentiles had. Isn’t that how it is? What we despise when offered to us, we often want when others gladly take it. By their jealousy, they were forced to take a second look – and many returned to God believing the good news! So, “if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (Rm 11:15).

And God could be working this same plan through you. He has made you rich by grafting you into him through faith. He supports you, and you trust his plan for your life. By this strong graft you are able to weather life’s toughest storms and make it out alive. Perhaps because you see his big picture, or are simply able to trust that he will support you through whatever. People want that! They want stability in their lives. They want what you have. They want to be grafted into something rather than blown against the rocks of life. And it may take just that for them to realize what they want – what they need. They need the stability of knowing that someone has a plan for their lives, and that the someone has their best interests in mind.

However, this privilege, meant to make others jealous, also comes with a warning. Do not become haughty or arrogant. Do not take lightly what you’ve been given. Be humble of your position. Although it’s meant to make others jealous and want what you have, remember where you came from. “If some branches have been broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in… do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches” (Rm 11:17). In other words, remember where you came from. You too at one time were a wild and dead branch. You were not part of the original chosen people – the people that God put a hedge around so that the Savior could come into the world. You too were blown against the rocks of life and needing a connection to your Savior at one time. And it was God who graciously included you in his plan and provided just that Savior.

Remember what you are doing here as well. You do not earn your place here by who you are or what you do. You do not earn a more favorable life because your actions are favorable in God’s eyes. “You do not support the root, the root supports you” (Rm 11:18). You are here to receive the strength needed to go another day. You are here to strengthen your understanding of just how firmly connected to the root you are. You are here to be upheld and supported through anything life throws at you so that on the Last Day you may be found still grafted into the root, where you shall then remain forever.

Finally, remember how you got here. Some were cut off so that you could be here. There were Jews who rejected Jesus, persecuted him, even had him crucified because of their disbelief. They were broken off from God’s people because of their unbelief. You stand by faith. (Rm 11:20). You too could be broken off just as easily if you reject the gift that God has given you. But you stand!

You stand not because you have earned the right to stand but because Jesus has earned it for you. Because Jesus was broken off in your place. It was Jesus who was cut off from the land of the living to suffer the punishment of hell that wild branches like you and me deserve. It was Jesus who did this willingly. It was Jesus who did this so that you would no longer be considered a wild shoot, but precious in God’s eyes. Precious enough that he would pick you up, carefully prepare you and graft you into himself where you shall remain because he has planned it that way.

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A Father’s Foolish Love (March 31, 2019)

April 15, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

A Father’s Foolish Love

Luke 15:11-32

It’s a letter from home. It’s for you!

My dear son. My dear daughter,

My heart shattered the day you came and asked for your share of the estate. Yes, I’ve always intended to give it, but typically it’s something that’s given after a father has passed away. Asking for it sooner was like you saying, I wish you were dead. It broke my heart. It broke my heart that you didn’t want to have anything to do with me. You thought I was oppressive and overbearing. Perhaps even stingy. You asking for your share and intending to leave was a disgrace to me. Nevertheless, I gave it.

I could tell that you’ve been unhappy for a while, but I always wondered why. I’ve given you a home and safety. I’ve given you luxury and comfort. Everything I have has always been yours. Everything I’ve earned, I’ve shared with you freely. But it wasn’t enough for you. When you asked to divide the estate, you also ripped my heart in two. But I gave it to you. You wanted wealth, and I gave it. You wanted freedom, and I allowed it. You wanted to leave, and I didn’t force you to stay.

My heart broke again a couple days later when you gathered all you had and headed for the door. You weren’t even going to say goodbye. I could have told you what you were going to find – chasing after your dreams, desires, and passions – but I knew you would not listen. You can be stubborn in that way. I could spare you a lot of trouble in running away from me, but I know you will have to find out on your own. In the beginning it will be fun. In the beginning it will be great! You will experience things you’ve never experienced before – things I’ve warned you about in the past. You will have your fun and get your high, but it won’t last. You will be forced to return to that same vice again and again, or find something else that seems to offer more, but it too won’t last. Soon you will be searching for fulfillment in things that do not fulfill. And when all your money and health runs out, then you will realize the trouble that’s always been lurking.

You will need to depend on others – hitch yourself to them – just to survive. Your whole life will become a desperate struggle just to survive. The way you’ve chosen is hard. You will ask for help, but no one will give it. You will ask for food, but no one will give you anything. It will seem as if the whole world, even God himself has forsaken you. But the truth is, it was you who have forsaken God. You who have forsaken me.

Many have called me foolish for doing such a thing – for loving you and providing for you even when you disgrace me. But isn’t that what a father does? A father loves his sons and daughters even when they are disobedient. A father still provides food, health, and wealth to his sons and daughters even when they are not deserving. Some would say it’s foolish love. I simply call it a father’s love.

With foolish love,

Your Father

 

 

It’s a letter from home. It’s for you!

My dear son. My dear daughter,

I hope you are well. I really and truly do. But I know that’s likely not the case. At this time you’ve probably hit rock bottom. Although, you may not realize it yet. I wonder, what it will take for you to realize the depths you’ve sunk to. Realize what running has gotten you, and how good you really did have it in my house.

Perhaps it will be when you look down at the staff in your hand as you are driving the pigs and you see your arms encrusted in dry mud and your tattered clothes worn to rags. Perhaps it will be when you sit against the fence post to rest only to realize you are surrounded by animals considered unclean by our people. Or maybe it will be after you plunge your face into the pigs’ trough for a drink – the only water you can get – only to see the strange face of a repulsive man staring back at you – a man who has been reduced to drinking water from a pigs’ trough. Will you come to your senses then?

I pray it doesn’t need to go that far. I pray you will realize from my words alone that the path you’ve chosen leads to trouble, hardship, and eventually disaster. I pray you will see the ugly picture of a man painted in my word and realize that this is you. A son who has disgraced his father. A daughter who has dishonored her family name. A child who was given everything, and threw it all away for fleeting joy. I pray you will hear my words and turn from your ways. Turn from ruin and destruction, and see how good you have it in my house.

Because indulging in such a life is always senseless. It’s insanity. All your attempts to find a happy, exciting life while running from Me will lead only to the edge of despair. Once you realize this, then the insanity will be over. Then you will finally come to yourself knowing that without Me, you are nothing. May the Spirit I send with my Word bring you to such understanding.

My love still goes out to you. Every morning and every evening I go out to the rooftop and peer off into the horizon, searching for you, hoping to see you. Every day I head into the marketplace and to the city gate to tune into the news from other cities, hoping to hear some news about you. Often I’ve sent my Word out to you, wondering, hoping, that you will just listen. Everyone else says I’m foolish for such optimism – foolish for still loving a son or daughter who should be dead to me. But I still love you. I won’t give up reaching out to you until you are safely in my arms again.

With foolish love,

Your Father

 

 

It’s a letter to home. It’s from you!

My dear Father,

I’m writing this to you, but I’ll wait to say it in person.

Your words hit hard. You were right all along. I’ve been receiving your letters from the beginning, I don’t know how they found me. I don’t know how you found me. People in the streets would give them to me. The pastors and teachers in the temple would hand them to me. But I refused to listen. I refused to even open them. I enjoyed the life I was living. I enjoyed the freedom I had…. That is… until I didn’t.

It seemed that all at once the walls came crashing down. Suddenly the very things that offered excitement and freedom imprisoned me and I couldn’t live without them. When money was running out, I had to scrape together what I had for this thing that had mastery over me. When I saw the evil for what it was, it still had its claws sunk deep into me. I thought I’d never escape. I thought I’d never survive. When all hope was lost I finally turned to the one thing I still had. The one thing that was never taken from me. I finally began to open your letters one by one – I finally read your words to me. I trembled at the love and concern you poured forth to me despite how I treated you. I shuttered to think of how I rejected your help and abandoned the protection and safety you freely offered me all these years. I ran from the good you provided. I finally realize this now. Your words have changed my heart. I want to return. But can I?

I offer no excuses, only a confession. “I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants” (Lk 15:18-19). I realize that I don’t deserve to be called your son, your daughter, anymore. But I would rather be a lowly doorkeeper in your house, than dwell within the tents of the wicked any longer (Ps 84:10). I know that even with this request I am throwing myself upon your mercy – clinging by faith to the hope that in your faithful love you will be merciful to me and not turn me away. I know some call it your foolish love. I did at one time too. But it’s only foolish to those who don’t think they need it. But now, what I once called foolish – that you would love me, despite my running, despite my wickedness – what I once called foolish love is now the most beautiful love to me. The faithful love upon which I cast my plea for forgiveness as I fall down upon my knees.

Father, every one of your words – even those I once thought were harsh – proclaim your abounding love for me. I don’t understand why you still love me so, but I lean upon your faithful love as I beg your forgiveness.

Your son

Your servant

 

 

It’s a letter from home. It’s for you!

My dear son. My dear daughter,

I still remember the day I saw you while you were still a long way off. Your silhouette against the setting sun danced upon the horizon in my eyes! I dropped everything and before my servants even knew what I was doing, I ran to you! Your head was hung low as you trudged along. You probably didn’t even realize who it was with arms wrapped around you lifting your tired feet off the ground. My love for you welled up from my innermost being and I didn’t even let you speak a word before that love overflowed in a shower of reaffirming actions. I remember that embrace. I remember that kiss upon your cheek. Though you’ve caused a lot of pain and heartache, all was forgiven long before you appeared on the horizon.

Once I finally gave you a moment to breathe, you began to speak, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Lk 15:21). But I didn’t even let you finish. You were home again, that’s all that matters. You don’t have to prove anything to me. Let me reaffirm my love to you!

I ordered one servant to bring the best robe and cover your shame with it. I call it the robe of righteousness! I ordered another servant to put a ring on your finger – the signet ring of my house giving you all the legal rights and authority of being my son and being my daughter. Then I told the rest of the servants to bring the fattened calf and kill it. We are going to have a feast of celebration! Everyone is overjoyed to see you returned! My servants, my other sons and daughters, and of course myself.

And don’t even begin to question my love or call it foolish once again. Don’t bring up worthiness or whether you are deserving or not. You ought to know by now that I do not treat you as your sins deserve (Ps 103:10). Instead of foolish love, think of it as my faithful love. And besides, I’ve already made arrangements to pay all your debts. I’ve sent my Son, my only begotten Son, to pay any and every debt you have accrued. The slate is clean. Come now, lets enjoy the feast! For you were dead and are alive again; you were lost and now are found!

 

With faithful love,

Your Father

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Repent! (March 24, 2019)

March 25, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

Repent!

Luke 13:1-9

Does it strike you as much as it should? When you hear about a death that should not have happened. When you hear about a church shooting, a person taking the life of another. It seems they are occurring more and more frequently. They are occurring close to home. Does it strike you with a punch to the gut as you think, “This should not be”? It shouldn’t happen this way. What do you turn to? How do you explain such things?

In Jesus’ day, they had a way to cope with such tragedy – a way to explain away, or justify, such things. They reasoned that this person must have been a worse sinner than others. They must have done something really terrible that God would punish them in this way. Most people in Jesus day had this mentality. So they approached Jesus with a recent event, Pilate killing some Galileans offering sacrifices in worship. They came to Jesus looking for an explanation, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?” (Lk 3:2). But Jesus says, “I tell you no” (Lk 13:3). The sad fact is that sometimes bad things happen to good people. In fact, by going contrary to the thinking of his day, by saying it’s not because of some special sin, Jesus was emphasizing the tragedy of this event – that Pilate would enter a place of worship and slaughter those there like animals. It’s tragic. It’s shocking. It’s the pungent stench of the persecution in their time. It should sting the nostrils and knock the wind out of you.

To emphasize his point even further, Jesus brings up another, perhaps more familiar event. A tower fell and killed 18 people. Was this because they were worse sinners than all the rest in Jerusalem? In that case this disaster could at least have been justified. In that case we could find some semblance of solace. But once again Jesus says, “I tell you no” (Lk 13:5). There’s no justification for it, no reason. It’s tragic. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes bad things just happen.

In fact, won’t we all meet a similar fate one day? Maybe it won’t be at the hands of evil people or the result of a tragic disaster, but won’t we all die one day? And whether it’s due to violence, an accident, or natural causes the underlying reason, the actual reason, is because of sin. Not this person more than this person. Or that person was really bad. It’s sin in every single one of us and sin in the world around us. It’s not supposed to be this way. God didn’t create a bad world. Sin did. We did, because of our own sin. Yes, it’s sad. Yes, it’s tragic. There is no reason except the sin that infects every one of us. Sin, no matter how great or small leads to tragedy in this world and will one day lead to our very own tragic death.

Just because it’s bad and tragic, however, doesn’t mean we can’t learn anything good from it. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be aware of our own mortal state. Every death we encounter should be like a punch to the gut or a slap in the face reminding us to wake up! Reminding us of our need to be rescued, our need to be saved… our need to repent. Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you will likewise perish” (Lk 13:3,5). Repent, or you too will meet a terrible end. Because it’s not just the physicality of death that makes it a terrible end. No, what is even more tragic than death itself is the eternal separation from God that any sin earns us – that any sin deserves. Is it a little lie to spare yourself? Is it gossip to ruin someone else? Is it unbridled hatred or the consuming fire of lust? No matter the sin, “unless you repent, you will likewise perish” (Lk 13:3,5). What is truly tragic is the death of any unrepentant sinner. The tragic events of this life should serve as a sobering reminder to us every time it happens for the need to repent. Repentance is the only escape from an even worse fate that these. Worse than becoming the victim of a tragic accident. Worse than being slaughtered by a mad man.

There is good news, though. And that good news takes the form of a parable – a story that Jesus tells to teach a lesson. “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (Lk 13:6-9). Good news? Where’s the good news in that?! They’re talking about cutting down a tree and I know the tree is me! The good news is that the tree is still there. After the first harvest, and seeing no fruit, the owner did not just cut it down. Even after the second year, he did not cut it down!

The good news is, you are still here. You still have time. You are alive today. The decision of the fig tree owner wasn’t a hasty one. God is patient. He is longsuffering. He wants to see you turn to him so that you can bear fruit! You are alive today. You can repent today. You can turn to God today and be spared from that truly tragic fate of dying in unbelief and condemnation for sin. That’s what repentance actually means. It simply means turning – turning to God as the source of your salvation.

God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Cor 10:13), so that you can stand up under it. And isn’t one of those ways we stand after temptation in turning to God in repentance? Turning to God so that he can take away the burden of guilt and forgive the debt of sin? A beautiful picture of how merciful God is, is found in the first reading (Ex 3:1-15), in the burning bush. “Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up” (Ex 3:2). The fire of God’s blazing holiness surrounded the bush, yet did not consume it. God then commanded, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground” (Ex 3:5). Flames of fire that did not consume. Ground too holy for sandals, but not for sinful flesh. God appearing in power, but calling himself the LORD, a name which means “free and faithful love.” This is your God. A patient and loving God, not wanting anyone to perish.

Notice also that even when it is clear there will be no change, even after the owner gives the command to cut down the tree, you have one who steps in on your behalf! You have one who intercedes for you and gives you more time and a fighting chance! This intercessor digs around you, churning up the soil and adding nutrients, water and fertilizer. He wants to see you thrive in faith. He does everything it takes to give you the best possible chance of coming alive and turning to God. Christ, your mediator, by the Holy Spirit working through Word and sacrament brings faith to life in your heart, so that you may be pleasing in God’s eyes. It’s a sobering warning that there is a time limit. Everyone dies one day – some even unexpectedly. But God is patient, long beyond what we deserve, and gives you more time. More time for faith to grow. More time to come to him. More time to be saved.

In fact, he gives you more in his own death than you could ever imagine. When considering tragic deaths – by accident, by Pilate’s hand, or even the tragedy of natural death – don’t overlook Jesus’ death too quickly. Don’t skip over it and jump right to Easter. If any death needs an explanation, it’s the death of Jesus. Sinless and holy. Son of God – eternal God in the flesh! Why did he have to die? It certainly isn’t because of sin. That wouldn’t make sense for Jesus. And yet, he did die because of sin. Not his own. But for every single one of yours. And for every single one of mine. And for every single sin of the entire world. In fact, when considering the terrors of Jesus’ crucifixion – that terrible way to die – “do you think that he was a worse sinner than all others?” In a sense you could say yes. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). His is the most tragic death, and yet at the same time the most beautiful for those who know their sins – for those who know that all their sins were laid on him – for those who were rescued from a tragic death, by his loving death.

He died, so that you could live. “If it bears fruit next year, good!” (Lk 13:9). Jesus did what it takes to bring your dead branches to life. Your heavenly Father looks for that fruit of faith – that fruit which is evidence of a connection to Christ. And this looking isn’t just a glance out the livingroom window. It’s a searching for – going out to the tree, letting his fingertips touch the leaves, combing through each branch for the tiniest hint of a bud. That’s the idea packed into this word for “looking for fruit.” It’s a careful and patient searching – a searching with hopeful expectation. And it’s what your God does for you. He made you alive through Christ. He eagerly searches your life for the fruits of repentance. He looks for that love and patience, learned from him, put into action in your life. Not because these fruits of faith are what save you, but because these fruits are evidence of living faith, true faith in the Living One who died and rose for you.

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This is Love (March 17, 2019)

March 25, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

This is Love

Luke 13:31-35

The easiest way to illustrate what I mean would be to point to a marriage and the vows that husband and wife make. These vows are fashioned after God’s own command “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). And “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord” (Eph 5:22). But just because I am using an illustration of husbands and wives, doesn’t mean the rest of you are off the hook. And it doesn’t mean that today’s sermon is just about the love between a husband and wife. In fact, it’s not even the main point. It’s just a very real way to illustrate my point because we can point to the vows that each made to “promise to be faithful, as long as we both shall live.” It’s also seen in the exchange of rings, circular rings, as a “symbol of my love and faithfulness.” The main point is love. We are commanded to love – not just husbands and wives, but all people. “A new command I give you” Jesus said, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (Jn 13:34).

“As I have loved you.” I can’t get past that phrase. Jesus loved me so much. Jesus loved you so much that he willingly went to death for you. And this wasn’t just a decision made in the moment – he was captured and it was his life or yours. No. From day one his whole life was about living for you. Every step he took was one step closer on his journey of dying in your place. He had a plan for your salvation. He stuck to that plan every step of the way.

He even stuck to that plan when others tried to change it. Some Pharisees, of all people, warned Jesus of the death that they saw coming for him. “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you” (Lk 13:31). Now, why would some Pharisees be suddenly so concerned about Jesus? Weren’t these the very people who were trying to make it difficult for Jesus every step of the way? Weren’t these the same people who were plotting against Jesus and trying to take his life? Why the sudden concern?

A few interpretations have been given. Perhaps some Pharisees were truly sympathetic toward Jesus and wanted to spare him from meeting the fate of John the Baptist, whom Herod had beheaded. However, the far more likely scenario, is that they were trying to speed Jesus on toward Jerusalem where he would be met with death. You see, Jesus was in Perea, which was on the eastern side of the Jordan River – in Herod’s territory. They wanted him to flee across the Jordan right into Jerusalem where they could much more easily rally a mob. In Jerusalem they more sway, than in Perea or Galilee where Jesus was fairly popular with the people. So, it seems they only feigned love, to feed their own appetites of revenge.

Jesus was already on his way to Jerusalem. But despite threats and masked warnings, he would not be deterred from the plan that had been set a long time ago. He would not be swayed from neither the type of death he would face, nor the timing of that death. Se he responded, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’” (Lk 13:32). It’s a somewhat cryptic statement, because there are several layers to it. First, Jesus was saying that he would not be swayed by others from the timeline set by God. He had his plans. He knew the timing. The Pharisees could do nothing to change that no matter how hard they tried. Second, he was hinting at and foreshadowing the timeline of his death and resurrection. He numbers the days figuratively in this context. We know that because he does not leave the region after 3 days. But in doing so, he is also once again alluding to the literal timeline of his death and resurrection, and just what that would mean. “On the third day I will reach my goal” (Lk 13:32). On the third day, my purpose, salvation and life, will be accomplished! My love will reach its fulfillment.

It was love that lead him along every step of that path. It was love that lead him to the cross where he would die. It was love for you that led him, almost stubbornly to do the only one thing that could save you. What was that phrase again? The one that I began with? “As I have love you, so you must love one another” (Jn 13:34). I’ve already failed. Sure, I’ve vowed to my spouse that I would love her as Christ loved the church from day one… but I haven’t. Sure, I bear the name of Christ, by which I serve as his representative – salt and light – in the world… but every day I fail to love with the stubborn kind of love that Jesus gave to me. And yes, I call it stubborn for a reason. Because if you’ve ever dealt with a stubborn person, you know that they will stick to their decision, their plan, despite all reason and logic against them. It just doesn’t make sense! Well, the same goes for Jesus’ love. He knew his fate, and yet he went. He knew the kind of people he was saving, and yet he went. He knew the multitude of ways he could have gotten out of it, and yet he went – straight on to his death. Unwavering to death

What is most surprising, however, is the people he went for. He went for people like these Pharisees, who rejected him, plotted against him, and made life difficult for him at every turn. Why? It just doesn’t make sense! He went to the cross for the very people who captured him, put him on trial, and nailed him to the cross. Even saying, “Father forgive them” as they did it! Why? It just doesn’t make sense!

It makes about as much sense as defending someone who doesn’t want anything to do with you – yet you do it anyway because you know they will face serious punishment if you do not. It makes about as much sense as caring for and paying medical bills for someone who injured themselves… while trying to vandalize your property and rob you. It makes about as much sense as a husband loving his wife, a wife loving her husband, or you loving your neighbor even when they have been rude or harsh to you. I call it “stubborn love” because God doesn’t say, “love them if they deserve it.” He simply says “Husbands, love your wife…. Wives, submit to your husband” (Eph 5:25). “Love one another. As I have loved you” (Jn 13:34).

That is exactly what Jesus did for each and every one of you. He was unyielding in his “stubborn love.” He loved you even when you did not know him. He loved you even when you held him at arm’s length. He loved you even when you’d rather he wouldn’t because you wanted to do your own thing and set aside God’s commands to indulge yourself. Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t have a love like mine – a love which gives up when rejected. A love which yields when it is not received. A love which at times is only a fake love – like the Pharisees feigning love to warn Jesus so that they can get what they really wanted. That’s you, and that’s me.

Thankfully, Jesus is not like me, and is unyielding in his “stubborn love” for me and for you. What he says to Jerusalem, he says to you each and every time you wander off, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Lk 13:34). We kill the prophets when we’d rather not heed God’s Word. And we stone those sent to us when we can’t believe there is forgiveness for sin. But no matter how we feel about it, God’s love remains. It does not change. When it comes to loving you, Jesus is pretty stubborn about it. It was his unwavering love that brought him to the cross to die. And it is his unyielding love for you that means you will never die!

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Thank God for Grace (March 10, 2019)

March 13, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

Thank God for Grace

Hebrews 4:12-16

Jesus is good! The way he resisted every single one of Satan’s temptations. Not just resisting the actions, but the sinful desires as well. And we might think, “Yeah, but he’s Jesus!” I know you wouldn’t state it quite that flippantly, but there is this sense – because we cannot fully grasp how Jesus could have the fullness of both natures, fully God but also fully, completely human in every sense of the word. So, we get this sense that of course Jesus can do it. He’s God’s Son after all. But to simply go with that would be to miss what Jesus actually did in the wilderness. Jesus felt fatigue just as you do. He felt the pangs of hunger just as you do. There were limitations to his human flesh just as you and I have. For 40 days Jesus was being tempted by Satan himself – the one who has been perfecting his craft for thousands of years. It wasn’t just these 3 temptations we have highlighted in the gospel reading (Lk 4:1-13). It was constant, ongoing temptation. The things that Jesus’ humanity craved – food, relief, display of authority – he threw at Jesus everything he had. Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin” (Heb 4:15). He’s good!

Often we look at that reading and think, there is a way! I can do it too. And we take it with this Hebrews reading and say, “With Jesus’ help, I can resist temptation.” And you certainly can! Leaning and relying upon God’s Word, just as Jesus did, relying on the Holy Spirit to strengthen you, you can resist temptation. Don’t give up on that! But let’s be honest. I’m not going to be able to do it every time. I’m not going to perfectly rely upon the One who can help me resist. I’m never going to have that same phrase put at the end of my story, “Benj was tempted in every way – ….. and he sinned.” And what about those times that I’ve sinned; that you’ve sinned? Are they just swept under the rug since Jesus forgives sin?

Picture the Word of God as a scalpel in a surgeon’s hands. “The word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb 4:12). God’s Word, like that precise instrument, doesn’t miss a spot. It cuts to the root of sin with ease. It circles around and exposes every bit of sin even in the secret recesses and crevasses of our hearts and minds. “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb 4:13).

There is judgment for every single sin. And often the sins that we fall for are not the full-frontal attacks of outright heresy, Satanism, or gross sin. But it’s the so-called “little” things. It’s confusion of priorities. It’s gradual conformity to the world – so gradual, that we may not even realize it’s happening. These sins too are honoring the prince of this world as if bowing down to him. These sins too are replacing God’s will with something else. We are tempted in every way and there’s not a person in here who can claim that same phrase as Jesus did, “yet he did not sin.” Each and every one of us has brought God’s wrath upon ourselves. “[He] judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart… everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb 4:12-13).

We need an intercessor. We need a mediator – someone who will go before us an plead our case. We need a High Priest, who, like the priests of old went into the temple on behalf of the people, through the curtain which separated sinful people from a holy God. He approached God on their behalf and made atonement. You have such a high priest! You have a Great High Priest who didn’t just go behind the curtain of a man-made temple, but has ascended into heaven, which, like a curtain, isolated us from the presence of God. Jesus has gone through that curtain. He has entered heaven to represent you in God’s presence.

In a strong contrast with what we have – a great high priest – these verses also tell us what we do not have. A high priest who goes up into the heavens seems like a far off and distant representative – one who doesn’t really know the needs of those he’s representing. But, you “do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with [y]our weaknesses. [You] have one who has been tempted in every way, just as [you] are” (Heb 4:15). As exalted and radiant and superior as your high priest is, he is also your brother. He knows your struggle with sin. He knows where you come from. He knows the burden of being different in a dark world. He knows the ridicule you face.

The book of Hebrews is like that – weaving an intricate picture of Jesus. When the writer has put our Lord Jesus on the highest pedestal he can, then he interjects a verse like this, “tempted in every way, just as we are” (Heb 4:15). And we are amazed to hear it! So human does it reveal our Lord to be. His empathy with us results from having been tempted, like we are, while he was on earth. And yet, there is one vital difference. He was totally without sin! Being without sin, he is able to compensate for your weaknesses and to remove your sin as your perfect substitute. So, he is exalted Lord in heaven, then brought low – shown to be just as human as you are, just like you – and then he is exalted once again, but not without you! He is exalted as your Great High Priest.

Therefore, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence!” (Heb 4:16). There’s a whole sermon in that one little phrase itself, “God’s throne of grace”. When we typically think of a throne, we think of a king’s power, of his right to judge us. But God’s throne, as pictured here for us is a throne of grace. Think about it: It wouldn’t be called a “throne of grace” if God wasn’t expecting those who need grace. Here, it’s not called the “throne of justice” or the “throne of holiness” but the “throne of grace”. As a king might extend his scepter, God extends his grace. He expects to extend it. He expects those who need their wrongs covered by grace, and he does just that – not temporarily as the priests of old did, but permanently.

Contrast that with how the halls, courts, and thrones of worldly powers are largely closed to us today. Or, they are accessible only through ritual, red tape, and countless – mostly unsympathetic – intermediaries. Approaching the throne of grace requires an intermediary too, but he is most empathetic to your case. He wants you to be there. He leads you there by the hand. He jumps through all the hoops, even went to the cross so that you could approach not a throne of judgment, but a throne of grace! There’s no more red tape. No more ritual. It’s open to you.

Therefore, since we have a Great High Priest, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess” (Heb 4:14). How can we be reluctant – shrinking back from God or cowering in the corner? Since you have one who has ascended into heaven – gone through all the red tape for you – let us hold firmly to the faith. That faith that says because Jesus died for my sins, in my place, I can approach God! That word “profess” is really better translated “confess”. “Confess” means to say the same thing. Being a “Confessional” Lutheran church, means we hold to a set of statements that we have in common. So, what’s the faith that we confess? What statement are we making and who are we confessing it with? Our faith is in Jesus. We speak what he speaks. Time and time again he says to countless individuals – each one sinful just like you and me – he says, “Your sins are forgiven” (Mt 9:2). “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace” (Lk 8:48). Thank God for grace!

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Unfading Glory (March 3, 2019)

March 13, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

Unfading Glory

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

How’s your baptism holding up? Still squeaky clean? My child was baptized just minutes ago. And like dishes fresh from the dishwasher, he’s radiant! All his sins have been washed away (Ac 22:16). But what about you? How long has it been for you? A year since you were baptized? A decade? Not trying to make anyone feel old, but… Half a century? What has all transpired since then? How many times have you found yourself in the muck of sin? How many more sins are there to be forgiven?

You know, God had established something for that – a yearly sacrifice that would be made, in addition to all the others, a sacrifice made to atone for all wrongs in the past year. It was the sacrifice of the Day of Atonement. On that day, the people would all gather together. The priest would sacrifice a bull first for his own sins, so he could enter the tabernacle, then he would sacrifice a goat for the sins of the people. He would sprinkle the blood upon the ark of the covenant and then upon the people. It was saying, “your sins have been atoned for by blood.” And the eye-opening reality of this whole thing was that every year there were more sins. Every year atonement had to be made. Every year, the same thing, because sins kept piling up. 40 years in the wilderness, sins piled up. 40 annual sacrifices for sin – not to mention all the other daily and situational sacrifices that were made. And, if the Israelites were faithful to this command, a sacrifice would be made year after year – not just for decades, not just for centuries, but for millennia! Because sin kept staining those stubborn sinners.

You’ve probably noticed, that we do not offer a yearly sacrifice of atonement. No blood of bulls or goats are offered here. Why? Have we stopped sinning? You know as well as I do that that’s sadly not the case. Does God no longer demand an accounting for sin? No, that’s not it either. God’s Word stands, “The wages of sin is death” (Rm 6:23). Well, then, maybe we have something else, another ritual that serves the same purpose of atonement. What about the Lord’s Supper? That’s something we do repeatedly for the forgiveness of sins isn’t it? Well…. Yes and no. Yes, it is for the forgiveness of sins. Don’t doubt that. Jesus makes that clear. But no, it isn’t a sacrifice of atonement that we perform again and again to cover our sins every two weeks.

There’s a reason why the Old Testament Israelites sacrificed again and again every year to atone for sin. And there’s a reason why we no longer need to do so. It all goes back to Moses. Moses had the distinct honor and privilege of being able to speak with God face to face. After he had spoken with God for 40 days and 40 nights atop Mt. Sinai, he brought the two tablets of the covenant law down from the mountain to share with the people. But something remarkable had happened! Moses didn’t know it at first, but the dropped jaws and trembling looks from his fellow Israelites alerted him to it. After speaking with God face to face, Moses actually reflected God’s glory in a way. His face was radiant. And the people were awestruck by it! In fact, they were even afraid to come near Moses.

But this glory faded. The radiance of his face died down in between his conversations with God. So, Moses used a veil. And note carefully, it says both in Exodus and is especially clear in 2 Corinthians that the veil was not meant to shield the people from the radiance of his face. When he spoke with God, there was no veil. And when he conveyed what God said to the people, there was no veil. The veil was put on after he spoke with the people. 2 Corinthians gives the reason why. It was “to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away” (2 Cor 3:13) – so that they would not see the fading glory.

Moses’ face reflected the glory of the Sinaitic law. That glory was a fading glory. Glorious, yes, but it wasn’t meant to last. That’s why Moses hid the fading glory from the Israelites. That’s why sacrifices for sin had to be made again and again and again. Because this law-based covenant, the covenant where the people had to make atonement for their own sin, wasn’t the full solution for sin that God had in mind. In fact, Paul calls Moses’ law preaching “the ministry that brought death” (2 Cor 3:7) and “the ministry that condemns men” (2 Cor 3:9). So, these sacrifices weren’t the real solution to sin. Why, then, would God command something that wasn’t the real solution? Because it was their connection to the one who would be the Solution. And it drummed into their hearts and minds and lives that sin is serious, and the solution to sin would be death – a sacrifice. Bulls and goats were not the solution, but they pointed to the One who would be. Anyone seeking to attain God’s glory by the works of the law will ultimately find only condemnation. Because although the law is glorious, it’s glory fades because of our sinfulness. So, God has in mind an even more glorious covenant which never fades!

Allow me to make very real what I mean. If Neziah were not baptized, there would be another way… but only in theory. The other way is keeping the law – but only if he could keep it at every single point. Abstaining from every single thing that God forbids. Delighting in every single thing that God commands. And he would have to do this every single day of his life from the moment he woke up in the morning to the moment he went to bed. Actually, even through the night, while he sleeps and when he dreams. He could go that route. You and I could attempt to go the route of the law. But in reality, it’s already a lost cause. It’s a ministry that only brings condemnation and eternal death for two reasons. First, not one of us in able to keep a spotless record. Every single person sins every single day. And second, every single one of us is born sinful – inherited from our parents. The Bible says, “[sinful] flesh gives birth to [sinful] flesh” (Jn 3:6). It also says that “[the sinful mind] is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Rm 8:7). So, since conception, you and I are already a lost cause.

That is why I’m so glad that God preserved him until today. Because I know that God works through baptism. And he’s attached a specific promise to baptism. “He saves… through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit… so that being justified by his grace, we become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Tit 3:5,7). It gives me great hope, and great assurance because it’s something I can lay my finger on. My son’s sins are forgiven because he is baptized. He is an heir of heaven with the sure hope of eternal life because God has saved him through baptism.

God has saved you through your baptism too. And your baptism stands, whether you are still wet with the water or you were baptized decades ago, not one sin clings to you. The glory of this New Covenant does not fade. Because when you were washed, you were also connected to Christ. So that, “[you] no longer live, but Christ lives in [you]” (Gal 2:20). Now you, “who with unveiled faces reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord” (2 Cor 3:18). You never have to veil this glory because it never fades!

This glory never fades because the Solution has come. All the Old Testament sacrifices of Moses’ time and following were pointing to the one sacrifice that actually counted. “Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself” (Heb 7:26-27). For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weaknesses; but the new covenant, which came after the law, appointed the Son (Heb 7:28) to be the completion and fulfillment of the Old Covenant. No more sacrifices have to be made. Nothing more needs to be done. And the moment you feel that you aren’t good enough, that your glory has faded, listen to the words he cried out from the cross once again, “It is finished” (Jn 19:30).

So how is your baptism holding up now? Like Teflon, your perfect Savior covers you in those waters so that no sin – past, present, or future – sticks to you. That’s what Peter meant when he said, “Baptism now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 3:21). People often hear that phrase, “pledge of a good conscience” and they think, “that’s me. I’m pledging a good conscience.” But look again. You are not in that sentence. “Baptism saves you.” “Baptism is not the removal of dirt but a pledge of a good conscience… by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” So, when God looks at you, it’s as if your baptism raises its hand and declares, “clear conscience by Christ’s sacrifice!” It guarantees the unfading glory that Christ achieved for all people.

If that weren’t enough for us stubborn human beings – stubborn even in believing God’s grace served up to us – he not only declares in his Word that you are forgiven and righteous, he not only washes you clean and saves you through baptism, but he also renews that covenant with you again and again and again in the sacrament of the altar. The Lord’s Supper is not a new sacrifice. It’s not a repeated sacrifice. But it connects you again and again to the covenant of Christ’s sacrifice and the glory that does not fade. Because although the glory of Christ’s redemption never fades, it often fades from our minds. So, Christ reminds us again and again, serves forgiveness to us anew, again and again in bread and wine, body and blood, drumming it into your heart and mind and life, “It is finished.” “You are forgiven.” “You are transformed.” “Your glory in Christ will never fade.”

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Learn to Forgive (February 24, 2019)

February 28, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

Learn to Forgive

Genesis 45:3-8, 15

You’ve probably heard of Joseph. Not Joseph of Nazareth, husband of Mary, belonging to the house and line of David. But Joseph, owner of colorful robe. Joseph, dreamer of dreams and interpreter of dreams. Joseph, second youngest of 12 sons. We are perhaps familiar with some of these details, but how familiar are we with the whole story – where things all started, where they ended up, and what all happened in between? It’s an important story. One that impacts you directly. It’s also a story that you could probably put yourself right into at one time in your life or another. Joseph was one who experienced all-time highs, and all-time lows. And handled it with such grace that couldn’t be attributed to his own character alone.

As Joseph, the second youngest of 12 brothers, you might think that you would simply be lost in the shuffle. Afterall, you weren’t the oldest son. That’s Reuben. You weren’t the baby of the family. That’s Benjamin. You were one of 10 middle children. At least 10. The Bible doesn’t really mention the daughters. But despite how things normally worked, you were your father’s favorite. Now that might sound like a good thing, but in reality, it wasn’t. Yes, things were very good between you and your father. He even made you an ornate robe of many colors. But out in the pastures, with your 10 older brothers, you got nothing but envious glares and jealous actions. In fact, when they saw you coming in the distance, they planned to kill you and say you were eaten by a wild animal. Thankfully, your oldest brother had a heart in that moment and convinced the others not to kill you, but to throw you into a cistern, a well.

So, there you are. Sitting in a dry cistern, looking up at the sky walled off by earth. You could probably hear your brothers making fun of you and plotting further harm as they ate lunch not too far off. Then ropes are lowered. You allow a hesitant wave of relief to wash over you as you hope they’ve all had a change of heart. Instead, when you finally make it out of the pit, you are greeted by a trade caravan. Your hands are bound with those same ropes that meant freedom just a moment ago. And you see your brother Judah counting the silver he had just been given for you. You were dragged to far off land and sold to a man named Potiphar. Yet even when things started to look up and you found yourself in charge of all of Potiphar’s household, suddenly you hit rock bottom once again. Falsely accused of trying to mistreat your master’s wife – when really it was the other way around. You were imprisoned in a dark dungeon and forgotten.

Finally, through a miraculous turn of events, you are brought straight from the dungeon to pharaoh himself to interpret strange dreams that had been keeping him up at night. And when God revealed to you that these dreams meant 7 years of plenty followed by 7 years of famine, and you told Pharaoh the interpretation, you were put in charge of the whole land of Egypt. Only with respect to the throne was Pharaoh greater than him. Talk about a rags to riches story in the blink of an eye! And finally, after the 7 years of plenty, when the years of famine had just begun, you finally received the icing on the cake! Your brothers… standing before you… bowing down to you hoping to buy grain.

It had probably been 20 years since that fateful day your brothers threw you into a cistern and set into motion a long series of terrible events! And now, here you stand, there they bow. You having everything they need, and they don’t even recognize you! What are you going to do? What would you have done in that moment? What have you been plotting and planning for 20 long years for them?

Joseph forgave! He could have had an angry argument with his brothers. He could have pinned them to the wall with their guilt and sin. He could have thrown them into prison. He could have resurrected his old God-given dreams of ruling over his family – now fulfilled because of all that has transpired. But instead he forgave! So utterly unconcerned with getting revenge, his first question actually had nothing to do with past history. Rather, he asked about present circumstances. “‘I am Joseph! Is my father still living?’ But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence” (Gen 45:3). Even after 20 years or so, their cruel actions still haunted them. It seems as though the brothers assumed Joseph was no longer alive. Now, they are confronted with not only a living Joseph, but a Joseph who has great power and authority over them. And although he had every right – humanly speaking – to enact his revenge, to punish them, he forgave!

That’s the thing with sinfulness. It has a tendency to wrong. And when wronged ourselves, we hold on to the wrong until an opportune time to get revenge or to teach a lesson. We feel that it is our duty to make the other person pay for their wrongdoing – for their sin. And forgiving?! Well, that’s out of the question. Forgiving makes it as if it never happened. Forgiving means I wasn’t bothered by it. Forgiving means it wasn’t really wrong. That’s our attitude, isn’t it. If I forgive, then the person who did me wrong gets off scot free and doesn’t learn anything from this whole ordeal. They may even go on to do it to me again!

Did we learn nothing from the cross? Did we learn nothing from Jesus who himself was wrongly handed over? Who was accused of crimes he didn’t commit? Who not only was crucified unjustly, but faced God’s wrath for all the sins of the whole world – that he never committed. And yet, he prayed for those who were mistreating him, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34). That’s letting go in a serious way. Because between you and me, it doesn’t really matter who wrongs who more. Jesus says very clearly, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Lk 6:27-28). “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36). But for God, there has to be vengeance. There has to be payment for sin. Because God is Holy, judging and punishing sin, there has to be a zero sum in the end. But because he is also merciful, he doesn’t punish you. He forgives. He let go of that wrath hung around your neck, and laid it all on his Son, Jesus.

That’s what forgiving means. Forgiving does not mean they didn’t do anything wrong. It doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt you. Forgiving is simply letting go. It’s saying that although I have every right to take my vengeance upon you, I’m going to let go of that right and let God handle it. And God did handle it. He punished every single sin, for every person who ever did you wrong. He punished that sin in Christ’s crucifixion. And do you know what else he took to the cross? He took your sin there. He took all of your wrongs, and all the times you have mistreated others. And rather than punishing you for your sin with the only just punishment – that is, hell – he forgave you, and punished Christ. Therefore, let go of your wrath, because that’s what God did for you.

Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come close to me.’” (Gen 45:4). It wasn’t because they couldn’t hear him. It was to dispel their terror and fear. It was to embrace them in love. “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt. And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you” (Gen 45:4-5). All this time they thought he was dead. All this time that guilt hung over their heads. All this time they had to look at their father’s downcast and depressed face. And Joseph had every right to be angry with them. The truth is plain, they sold him here! But instead Joseph lets go of that anger, that vengeance, and covers over any past hostility with love and forgiveness. And such a joyous reunion it was because of that love! “He kissed all his brothers and wept over them” (Gen 45:15). Moreover, they could all see how events meant to hurt or harm were used by God to bring about his deliverance. Finally he could see God’s plan and declare, “God sent me to save lives” (Gen 45:5).

He didn’t see it right away though. He probably didn’t hear it in the rude and despising words of his 10 older brothers. He probably didn’t see it as he stared up at the sky surrounded by walls of earth on all sides as he sat at the bottom of a cistern. He probably didn’t feel it as he was bound and shoved into the hands of the Midianite merchants and dragged on tired feet all the way down to Egypt. God had abandoned him, he must have thought. Just as his brothers abandoned him – even worse, sold him – to a far-off land. I’m not even sure if the fog began to lift as he climbed the ranks in Potiphar’s house. Probably not the plan, but at least some of God’s favor was finally coming his way. Until once again he hit rock bottom, thrown into prison. It probably wasn’t even when Joseph rose to take charge of all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh, that he really saw God’s plan. Only, when God used Joseph, after all of this, to preserve a remnant through a long and severe famine, to save lives by a great deliverance, did he finally see God’s plan.

So, what was the plan? Preserving a family from a severe famine, and many nations along with them? Yes, but more than that. Preserving the promise of the Savior through Abraham’s line? Yes, but more than that. Creating a remnant, a chosen people, to safeguard that promise until the time of its fulfillment in Christ? Yes, but even more than that. In all of this, God was preserving spiritual life, eternal life, through the Messiah, who would come from a specific people, preserved in Egypt, because of a specific promise. And so, it all comes back, once again, to forgiveness. If Joseph used his advantage over his brothers to treat them as he had been treated, the family would be lost. The line of the Savior would be lost. You and I would be lost. Only because of God’s plan could the brothers truly set aside their guilt and come close to Joseph. Because God had turned sinful plots into blessing.

So, although you may not see it now in the sinfulness of others who mistreat you. You may not hear it in wicked words spoken to you. You may not feel it as an undeserved measure of hate is poured out upon you. In those moments when your heart is filled with rage, your mind is set on vengeance, and your tongue is ready with a condemning word, stop. Look to the cross. Look to the cross because that is where the roles are reversed. It is God who should be filled with rage. It is God who should be taking vengeance upon you. It is God who could so easily speak a condemning word to you. But he didn’t. He forgave. He let go. And he laid it all on Christ. You can reveal this loving and forgiving Christ to others by forgiving them when you are wronged and loving them even when they don’t deserve it. And who knows, when the fog lifts from your life, who else will be able to trace their spiritual life to Joseph’s forgiveness, and to Jesus’ forgiveness, all because you revealed Christ in your forgiveness.

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This is going to be good (February 17, 2019)

February 21, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

This is going to be good

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Pay attention, because this is going to be a good one! There’s going to be a captivating intro that grabs everyone’s attention and piques your interest in such a way that you can’t wait for me to go on and say more! I’m going to reveal a shiny new gem from this section of Scripture that no one had ever considered. I’m going to make it applicable to every single one of you. And I’m going to wrap it up with such a good conclusion that your hearts are set ablaze, ready to conquer the world for Christ.

I wish I could say that about every sermon. I wish every one was so perfect that it really changed hearts and made a difference in your life. But the truth is, sometimes I have weeks where I get a lot of time to dig into the text and consider the perfect applications, and other times, like this week, well, you have a baby and life gets very busy. There’s a lot going on. And I find myself working on my sermon in little snippets here and there. Now, that might lead you to a pretty certain conclusion as to which week the sermon is going to be better. But the reality might surprise you! I know it often surprises me.

Not always, but often, it’s the weeks that got away from me that end up being better sermons. No guarantees here, though. It’s the weeks where there is so much on my plate that I can’t possibly devote the time and effort that I would like to that end up turning out best. How can that be? What’s going on? And I don’t think I’m alone in this. You maybe see it in others as well. How can there be those people, who, despite something overwhelming or terrible they are going through, they manage to get through it with such grace – or even turn it around and make it a strength? How can Paul truly boast gladly in weaknesses? How can he delight in insults, in hardships, in persecutions?

Well, let’s clear one thing up first. This doesn’t appear to be one of those cases where through trial and adversity, Paul was actually able to better his craft and become a better missionary for it. This isn’t a tree growing strong because of the strong winds its subjected to. This isn’t learning how to succeed through failures. This is most definitely a shortcoming. We aren’t ever told what the “thorn in his flesh” was, but we are told about it. He pleaded for God to take it away. He categorized it with weaknesses, insults, hardships, and difficulties. He concludes simply by saying he is considered weak by this thorn. And to top it all off, he explains that its very purpose is to keep him from becoming conceited – literally, so that he cannot exalt or praise himself.

Why? Why is that a good thing? Why would God want to do that? Well, Paul did have quite a bit that he could have rightly boasted in. He says in verse 6, “Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth” (2 Cor 12:6). In the previous chapter he lays out the rights he has to brag. “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am more” (2 Cor 11:21-23). But Paul does not want this to get in the way of what he was really trying to do. He wasn’t trying to point to himself and how great he was. All he wanted to do was point to Christ. If he pointed to himself, people might think that he can gain such a following because of his impressive credentials and work ethic. But when he empties himself and points to Christ, then something amazing happens!

Going back to my previous example, my introduction about great sermons, sometimes God has to give me a rough week. Sometimes he has to give me so much to do that I can’t put all the work I would like to put into a sermon. Sometimes he gives me the time and lets me put all the work in it that I want, but still leaves me frustrated at how poorly my manuscript turned out. He has to do that because sometimes I can get a big head. Sometimes I can get swept away and hyped up on how great my phraseology is and how seamlessly I moved from one point to the next. Sometimes he has to knock me down a few pegs, empty me of myself, and show me how truly great his Word is when I am forced to just step out of the way. It’s interesting, but I often hear more comments about a sermon when I can take only little to no credit for it – when I truly must say, “Glory be to God.”

A wise man once said, “As long as we sinners imagine that we still have some power, we are unfit instruments for the Lord’s hands” (Lenski). Clay jars, I believe is the was Paul put it. A clay jar that’s full of itself is of little value. There would be no room to pour anything into – it would just be a lump of clay. But a clay jar that has a large void in the middle – that’s empty – that’s valuable because of what you fill it with. “We have this treasure in jars of clay” (2 Cor 4:7). Nothing special about the clay jar itself, but wow how that treasure inside really shines! And Paul continues on with this illustration – not just to talk about the emptiness of the clay jar, but its weakness as well. “to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor 4:7-9). We are weak, but he is strong!

Therefore, Paul rightly boasts all the more gladly about his weaknesses. Why? “So that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor 12:9). So that when people look at Paul they don’t just see a bold missionary or strong orator; so that they don’t just see a wise and learned man. But that they would see Christ! Christ, who gives Paul the boldness of heart and the beautiful message of Christ to share. Christ, who gives Paul such wisdom and who instructs him not just for this life, but for eternal life!

Sometimes the school of life has hard lessons for us to learn. Time and time again, I have to be reminded that if my week, if my study, if my zeal does not begin with Christ, then it is all in vain. I have to remind myself to carve out time, each and every day, to first sit and Jesus’ feet and be filled with his love and his wisdom so that I have something to pour out to you. Other hard lessons that the school of life may teach are that my health, my wealth, my relationships – whatever it is I reassure myself with – are nothing compared to the sufficiency of Christ. Because no matter what you try to fill your life with, there will always be a feeling of emptiness, a deep void, if you do not first have Christ.

That’s the sobering and yet very reassuring truth of the matter. I have nothing – nothing of my own to offer God. That’s what we talked about last week when Isaiah found himself in the heavenly throne room of God Almighty. And as the voices of the angels boomed and the room began to fill with smoke, he cried out, “Woe to me. I am ruined!” (Is 6). Here too, we see that all the things we would like to rely on – for Paul it might have been his credentials, for me perhaps my time in study, for you maybe something else – whatever it is, it is all for naught if we do not start with Christ. Like Paul, we may pray earnestly that God improve out condition, and how does he respond? What did he say to Paul? Not, “you have enough to get by,” but “I’ve already given you everything.” “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). “My grace fully covers this need of yours. In fact, you can see how complete my power is in the moments when you are weak.”

I can’t help but think of a video I saw for a product called “Line-X”. The product is a spray on coating that is designed to make anything indestructible. The video I saw, was a demonstration of just how well the product worked. Without even seeing the video yourselves, how do you think they demonstrated the performance of this product – to make things indestructible? Do you think they coated strong things like bowling balls and heavy-duty construction equipment? No. Of course not. Rather, they sprayed the coating on weak and fragile things like eggs, watermelons, and red solo cups and then dropped them, stepped on them, or hit them with a baseball bat to show how indestructible these weak things had now become. So, by the end of that video, your conclusion is not, “Wow, that’s a strong watermelon.” But, “Wow, that spray is really indestructible.”

Life is a lot like that video. Sometimes it drops you. Sometimes it walks all over you. Sometimes it feels like you’ve been hit with a baseball bat – and you are the egg. Don’t go it alone fragile eggs. Although you may like to think that you have a tough shell – I’m a guy, I completely get the need to feel tough, and strong, like I can do anything – yet this world is too much for you to handle on your own. Your shell which seems so tough and indestructible is nothing compared to what the world and Satan can torment you with. On your own, your shell will crack. It will break. You will be crushed. On your own, you don’t stand a chance. But covered with Christ – that indestructible coating. You can survive. You can endure. There is nothing in this world more powerful, more complete, more sufficient than covering yourself with Christ. Only with him can you survive the weaknesses, the insults, the hardships, the persecutions and difficulties. More than that, because of your weaknesses, your whole life will be a testament to God’s power. Therefore, you too can “boast all the more gladly about your weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest upon you” (2 Cor 12:9) – may cover you. “For when I am weak,” then he is shown to be strong. “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10).

So, was this the best sermon you ever heard? My prayer is only that you heard Christ. My prayer is that Christ would cover over my shortcomings of this week and let his power shine. Because I know that my words and my wisdom are nothing compared to his. It is only his word that can actually bring about a change in your heart and strengthen the faith that he put there in the first place.

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