An archive of the most recent sermons by Pastor Ehlers.

Peace in Witnessing (July 15, 2018)

July 16, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

Peace in Witnessing

Mark 6:7-13

I have a quick announcement that applies to the sermon today, so I hope you don’t mind me taking a moment to talk about it. When you are ushered out of church today, go to the bulletin board and take a look at the yellow sheet of paper I’ve pinned up. On it, you will see that I’ve assigned you a witnessing buddy and a neighborhood that I would like you and your partner to walk through and share the gospel with anyone you meet there. I’m not going to be giving you any kind of pamphlet or evangelism tract. Just speak from the heart what you know!

How many of you are feeling a little nervous right now? I bet you are feeling a lot like the disciples felt when Jesus did much the same thing. And notice, we are only in chapter 6 of Mark. This isn’t after 3 years of instruction by Jesus. This is shortly after Jesus called his disciples to follow him and appointed twelve of them as apostles. We aren’t told exactly how long Jesus spent with them. It could have been a few months, probably less than a year. Needless to say, the disciples were probably feeling scared, worried, and nervous.

How are you feeling? Have the nerves worn off a bit? What questions are going through your mind? Are you wondering what kind of people you are going to meet? Will they be kind? Will they be rude? Are you wondering what you are going to say to the people you meet? Where do I even begin! Are you worried about producing results? Bringing at least one person into church from your witnessing. I think I should tell you now that there is no yellow sheet. I haven’t divided you into pairs to go out two by two. I haven’t assigned you neighborhoods. But the great commission still stands! Jesus has called you to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). He has called you to “preach the gospel.” And so this ought to be on our hearts and minds every day. But I know that you may feel anxious or nervous about witnessing. Sharing the good news with other people can be a nerve-racking thought. So let’s dig into this reading and see how Jesus eases our fears and gives us peace in witnessing.

The first worry of witnessing is, who should I witness to? Where should I go? When should I bring up my faith in conversation? Who is going to direct me and give me opportunities to share? Perhaps, at times, we are so busy thinking about all of these things, wondering when we should flip into evangelism mode, that we forget that being a Christian and witnessing isn’t just something you do some of the time. Being a Christian is who you are, and sharing the Good News is what you naturally do. Remember that it is Jesus who first called you to faith, changed your heart, and made you a believer. Included in that call to faith, then, is also an invitation to all that he is and does. He is your Savior – your good news! He is your message.

Having changed your heart, by calling you to faith, he also calls you to witness to that faith. Keep in mind, witnessing isn’t some highly-technical, carefully-crafted thing you do. A witness is simply someone who tells what they have seen or know. As a witness, you are simply sharing what you already know about Jesus. Tell your story! Tell how Jesus made an impact in your life. Tell others what he means to you. That’s it! And since the message is such a personal thing, it should be something you can talk about very naturally. As God plans out your life, he will provide opportunities in which you can naturally talk about how God has shaped your life.

The second worry you probably have about witnessing is what do I say? I’m not an expert in the Bible. I don’t know that many passages by memory. In fact, I don’t even know if David is in the Old Testament or the New! What can I tell anyone that will really have an impact on them? What if they want to discuss deeper or dispute some of the things I want to say?

As you worry about all of these things, I’ll tell you to hold your horses and remember just who Jesus sent out when he sent the 12. Today, we think of them as highly trained and courageous men who stand up to opposition even in the face of martyrdom! But remember, Jesus sent the 12 out here toward the beginning of his ministry. Four of them we know were fishermen – Peter, Andrew, James and John. Thomas, Nathaniel, and Philip may have also been fishermen. Just average, blue-collar workers who had no special training in the Bible; no exceptional speaking skills. Matthew was a tax collector, who probably had some level of education and reputation to acquire this job. There is no background information on the other disciples, but you noticed that Jesus called people from all walks of life. He didn’t go into the temple or synagogues asking for the most highly trained scribes or most skillful teachers of the law. He called ordinary people to follow him and be witnesses of all that he is and does.

That’s all it takes to be a witness. Jesus comes to you, wherever you are in life, and makes you his in your own unique way. Maybe Jesus found you when your parents brought you to church regularly, or the baptismal font. Maybe Jesus found you when you were settling down and reordering your life. Maybe he found you in the midst of addictive sin and turned your life around. In all of these situations, the good news had an impact on you. In all of these different ways Jesus changed you, and you can talk about that with others! Start with what the gospel means to you. Talk about the truths that sooth your fears and release your burdens. Encourage others with the same miraculous power that God has displayed in your own life. And as you talk about how all of these things relate to you personally, you will speak with passion and fire, because this is personal!

Then, continue to grow in your faith. Jesus instructed his disciples before sending them out in Mark chapter 6. And he didn’t end there. They didn’t graduate then. After they returned from their mission trips, Jesus continued to instruct and teach them. You also can continue to learn from God’s Word. Your confirmation was not your graduation. My graduation from Seminary was not a graduation from studying God’s Word. And when we gather together to study, like during Bible Class, our learning multiplies!

Here, Jesus instructs his disciples on some practical matters. “Take nothing except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic” (Mk 6:8-9) etc. But this isn’t really a dress code for the disciples. Jesus was teaching them a very specific point. He was teaching them to rely on him for all they need. Don’t worry about what you will eat or what you will wear. In fact, Matthew records this same sending out of the twelve and even records Jesus saying, “do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Mt 10:19-20). I’ll let you in on a little secret. There are times when I stand up here and I’m not as prepared as I would like to be. Sure, I have a sermon written out, but it’s not as polished as I would like it to be, or doesn’t quite flow. In those time I especially pray, “Holy Spirit, it is your word alone that changes hearts. Speak through me that your people may be edified.” That same Spirit speaks through you and works in hearts when the Good News is proclaimed! Just as Jesus gave the disciples authority over evil spirits, you exercise the authority of the word to “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).

The final worry we have in witnessing is that when God calls us, instructs us, and sends us, we won’t be able to produce any results. I’ve spoken to people before about what I believe. I’ve offered the comfort of the gospel to someone struggling with sin. I’ve defended the faith. But I don’t see any results. No one has told me that they have become a believer. No one has come to church through my witnessing. But notice that in verse 12 of the reading it simply says, “They went out and preached that people should repent” (Mk 6:12). It doesn’t say that many people came to believe. It doesn’t give numbers. Mark simply tells us that the apostles faithfully carried out the ministry to which Jesus called them.

That’s all that Jesus asks of any of his called servants. It’s not my witnessing that does anything, it’s his gospel that is the power for anyone to believe. Moreover, I’m not the one who needs to worry about producing results. God calls you to witness. He says, “Preach the Word.” Paul talks about planting and watering, but ultimately God makes the see of faith grow. So be at peace in your witnessing. It is God who called you to faith and made you who you are – calling you to live as his disciples. It is God who grows that faith within you as he instructs you from his Word. It is he who works through the words you speak no matter how simply or how eloquently you speak. Witness the good news and share how God has worked in your life. Leave the results to him.

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Peace in Persecution (July 8, 2018)

July 16, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

Peace in Persecution

2 Timothy 3:10-4:5

The bald eagle was chosen as the emblem of the United States because of its long life, great strength and majestic looks. The fierce beauty and proud independence of this great bird symbolizes the strength and freedom of America. But bald eagles don’t start out life so strong and free. And they definitely don’t look very majestic. More like white balls of fluff with a gaping mouth wide open. Because of their helpless state, baby eaglets spend all of their time high up in a tree or on a rock face, safe in their nests. As eaglets, their lives are pretty easy. Their mother brings them food. They are safe from predators. And the lining of their nest is nice and soft with feathers and fur. But they can’t stay there forever. It’s time for them to grow up. The problem is that, with such a comfortable nest, they don’t want to grow up and leave the nest. They want to remain children in their soft and easy little world.

And so, the mother eagle does what she always does. She stirs up the nest. She uses her powerful talons to pull out all the softness, exposing all the sharp branches, thorns and rocks that lie underneath. She makes the nest uncomfortable. In this way she gets her children to stop thinking like children. They grow up and are prepared to go away from the nest. Does life ever feel like that? Does it ever feel like God is stirring up your life as comforts are ruffled, hard rocks exposed, and you feel the sharp prick of a stick that juts out too far?

Paul’s life definitely felt like that from time to time. He didn’t just feel the sharp prick of a stick, he was beaten with rods three times (2 Cor 11:25). He didn’t just feel the cold, jagged surface of a rockface, he was pelted with stones until they thought he was dead (2 Cor 11:25). And there was much more. He had been shipwrecked multiple times while trying to spread the gospel. He has known hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness. But it wasn’t just physical pains he endured either. “[Timothy], you know all about my persecutions and sufferings – what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured” (2 Tim 3:10-11). Timothy, you know because your hometown is right in that area. You’ve seen how jealous men hunted me down and made my life and ministry difficult in city after city. You’ve seen the contempt they have for the true gospel and those who share it with others.

Timothy, you’ve seen it happen to me. It will happen to you as well. “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12). I’m not the only one who is going to be persecuted in this way, Timothy. You will be too. In fact, every one of us, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. What has it been for you? In what ways have people attacked you because of the gospel? Do you feel the stone cold attitude of a world that is moving farther and farther away from the truth. In fact, they are not just moving farther from the true gospel but making it generally difficult for those who still cling to the truth. Even if you don’t feel this persecution in a direct way, it weighs heavy on you as you see society plummeting and wonder, when is this going to affect me? Maybe you have been made fun of for believing in a “fairytale” or “myth” as they might call it. And if not made fun of, I’m sure you have been challenged in your beliefs.

But why? Why does God allow this to happen? Wouldn’t it be so much easier to convince people that the Bible is true and God is real if he prevents all harm from those who believe in him and looks out for us in the way that we expect him to? Why? Does it mean that God is not in control of all things? Does it mean that he is unable to shield and protect us, or… do I even dare say it… that he doesn’t really care about our wellbeing?

Our minds would have us think that if God really cared, he would shield us from all of these things. Others might point and laugh at you and me for believing in a God who fails to rescue and protect. Satan whispers in our ears, “Did God really say that this was the kind of life that you have to live? One that comes with difficulty, hardship, and persecution?” And if we’re not careful we start to believe these things. We start to believe that a life worth living is one in which we are free from any kind of discomfort.

But then we look at Paul, who lived a pretty rough life, and amazingly we hear him say, “The Lord rescued me from all of them” (2 Tim 3:11). He wasn’t trying to lie to Timothy. Timothy knew about all these things that Paul endured. He knew that Paul was verbally attacked and harassed, beaten on multiple accounts, and even stoned. And you are thinking, God didn’t rescue him from these things! But Paul says, “Yes! He did.” Because were any of these things able to separate him from God? “Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us… [nothing] in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm 8:35, 37, 39).

These persecutions and hardships are part of life. In fact, the hardships that God allows are sometimes even a good part of life. There’s a really interesting experiment which proves this in a different kind of way. The project was called Biosphere 2. A large dome was built in the Arizona desert to create a perfect environment for human, plant, and animal life. The environment was controlled with purified air and water, healthy soil and filtered light. Everything seemed to be going well. Trees grew faster than they grew in the wild. But, once they reached a certain height, they would fall over. That’s because the creators of the biodome overlooked one important factor: wind. Trees actually need the stress caused by wind because it causes their root systems to grow deeper and stronger. In fact, the strongest trees are found in the strongest winds. In the same way baby eaglets need that discomfort of a stirred up nest to build the strength of their wings and encourage them to mature. It’s the same thing that God does for you and me.

“In this world you will have trouble” (Jn 16:33). Persecution is a part of life. But God uses it to prepare you for life. And he never leaves you empty handed.

The seasoned and weathered Paul encourages young Timothy, “Continue in what you have learned and become convinced of… from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:14-17).

There’s three important things that God does for you through the scriptures to rescue you from all persecution. The first, is that God shows you how he has been there for his people in the past. “Continue in what you have learned” (2 Tim 3:14). In the Bible, you have seen how God carried a persecuted brother named Joseph, the youngest of 12, through slavery, imprisonment, and eventually made him second in command of all Egypt so that he could save his family, his county, and all Egypt from a severe famine. You’ve learned about the promised Messiah, traced his lineage from the promise given to Adam and Eve all the way down to Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph, but also Son of God. You’ve learned about how God preserved that promise of the Savior, kept that family line secure, and placed himself into history at exactly the right time. You’ve even seen how God led a man, completely opposed to Christianity, to see the light of the gospel and become one of Christianity’s strongest proponents. You’ve learned how God sees to it that his will is done and his people are brought to faith and protected in that faith!

You have known these things, many of you, since infancy. Having known and believed these things, you have become “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15). And that’s what this is all about isn’t it? Life isn’t about having it made. It’s not about having all the creature comforts or greatest honors. It’s not about avoiding confrontation. Those things are all good, but there’s really only one thing that life is all about and that’s becoming wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. It’s all about knowing Jesus, trusting in him as your Savior so that you know that this isn’t all there is to life! Realize that things aren’t going to get better. No, God actually says here that things will go “from bad to worse” (2 Tim 4: ). And so, although a simple faith in Jesus is all it takes for salvation, God prepares you for the challenges you will face by “stirring up the nest” – introducing little discomforts to encourage you to stretch your wings, grow in your faith, and root yourself even stronger in your salvation. When your salvation comes first, when it’s the most important thing in life, then everything else is put into perspective. It won’t be the end of the world if someone challenges you for what you believe. It won’t be depressing to miss out on some of the things that you see others having. And you will have peace despite the persecutions you face, because you know that it’s better to take up your cross in this life to save your soul, than to lose your soul by trying to save your life here on earth (Mt 16:24-25).

God prepares you to meet these challenges of life. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful… so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). Don’t imagine that the Bible is just about a lot of dusty old history that doesn’t have any application in your life. Don’t assume that the Bible is all about spiritual stuff which really isn’t down to earth at all. All Scripture is useful! As you go through life and God stirs up the nest so that you begin to feel some of the pressures of life, go to Scripture and be equipped. As your faith is challenged and you are looking for answers, go to Scripture to be equipped. “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim 4: ) And things aren’t going to get better. “Evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim 3:13), and God wants you to be prepared. A childlike faith is all you need for salvation, yes, but false teachers are going to try to mislead that childlike faith – lead you to where you don’t want to go, where you will have a truly difficult life. God gives you opportunities to grow in your faith and gives you all the equipment you need in his Word.

A little discomfort from stirring up the nest is good for baby bald eaglets. It encourages them to spread their wings and see what power God has given them. Eventually the discomfort that the mother eagle knows is best helps them become the majestic, soaring, and free creatures we know them to be. Trust God when he stirs up the nest in your life. It can be stressful. It can be uncomfortable. But he knows what’s best. Little by little he’s stretching your faith so that you can see all the more what power God has to rescue. Paul knew that power through his many hardships explaining, “the Lord rescued me from all of them” (2 Tim 3:11). Find peace in your persecutions as you also see that “the Lord rescues you from all of them.”

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You Won’t be Sorry that You Paid Attention to This Book (July 1, 2018)

July 3, 2018
Timothy Ehlers

You Won’t be Sorry that You Paid Attention to This Book

Proverbs 30:4-5

Intro: Let’s talk about books this morning.  Some people are avid book readers and some only touch a book when they have to.  I was going to read off the New York Times five “best seller books” but then I realized that might not actually be safe these days as I might unwittingly read off the title of a book that perhaps shouldn’t be mentioned from the pulpit.  That’s the way books go.  Some of them you CAN read and some you probably SHOULDN’T read.  There are a lot of reasons for reading books: entertainment, academics, escape, the powers been off for 10 days and there is nothing else to do.  A lot of us primarily use books to get information about how to accomplish some task like operating our software or repairing our cars or cooking a special meal, raising children, even launching careers.  And on almost any subject there are probably a plethora of authors and a plethora of books.  I don’t know about you but when that is the case I usually read the customer reviews and almost always order the book that has the most five-star ratings.  I feel even better if multiple reviewers have written, ‘this book is a “must” read.’

Speaking of a “must read” book.  This one (the Bible) is a “must read”.  Whether its encouragement that you need, or guidance or just plain “out of this world” wisdom, the review of the Bible in Proverbs 30 tells us that there is no better place to go then the Bible.  It’s a five star must read!!

  1. It fills us with knowledge that we can’t discover

So what’s your problem in life right now?  Almost certain death at sea was the fear of the individuals in both of the other scripture lessons for today (Acts 27:13ff; Mark 4:35) .  But again, what’s your challenge in life right now?  Everything in life turning sour on you for no explainable reason?  There’s a chapter of two on that in the Bible (Joseph). Friends becoming cool to you AGAIN and you’re starting to wonder if it’s even worth investing time in relationships anymore there’s a chapter or two on that in the Bible too (Jeremiah).  Maybe this is happening in your own family (David).  Don’t like what you see in yourself – what you have become?  Maybe you realize that you are the problem there are chapters on that in the Bible (David and Judas).  Is illness sapping the strength and hope out of you?  Have the politics and the direction of your nation stressed you to the breaking point?  There are chapters on all these things in the Bible.  And even if you are riding high on the wave of life (and there is plenty of that in life, too), there is something to be learned about that in the Bible.

This book is so amazing that the heavenly wisdom in it calls out to us in Proverbs chapter 8 and says:  Listen to my instruction and be wise; do not ignore it. (Proverbs 8:33)   Now, to be sure, there are plenty of sources that are willing to offer you answers and solutions and wisdom. There are books on this and that situation in life; well-meaning friends that are full of advice, solicited or not.  You can even do your own analyzing and solution seeking.  Sometimes, especially if the problem isn’t too big, you might even get by with leaning on these resources.  But there is always a better place to go for most of the knowledge we need.  Here’s why. The knowledge that mankind has obtained and passes on is always knowledge that is developed from those things that mankind has observed.  Now, observed knowledge can be very reliable, but it can also be very unreliable (red rings on real stove vs. red rings of play stove).  

  1. The fact is, I might not have observed enough of the right things to draw proper conclusions.
  2. Some things no one has ever experienced because we will never be in that location or in that point in time or see all that is going on.
  3. Furthermore, the conclusions that scholars have come to have been proven on occasion to be a result of personal bias.
  4. And then, what do you do with things like miracles (one in the gospel lesson) where God in a given moment suspends the laws of nature that he established to intervene and help? The human mind does not know how to process that properly.

So human observation is and will continue to be limited and flawed in obtaining knowledge.  God unmasks its limitations when he says “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

The Bible is different because it is God’s wisdom.  That’s what the Bible means when it says, “All scripture is God-breathed.” (2 Timothy 3:16)   And God is different from us in two key ways.  First, He HAS observed everything, everywhere in every time.  That’s what is being explained to us in verse 4 of Proverbs 30.  Listen: Who has gone up to heaven and come down?  Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands?  Who has wrapped up the waters in his cloak?  Who has established all the ends of the earth?  What is his name, and the name of his son?  Tell me if you know!

  1. I haven’t taken a trip up to heaven and come back with all of the knowledge of what that is all about. Have you?
  2. I haven’t taken the wind, which I can’t even see and held its swirling mass in my hand, restraining it when I wish and releasing it also when I wish. Have you?
  3. I haven’t taken the waters of the planet earth and put them in their places saying “this far you may come and no farther, here is where your proud waves halt.” You, here in Texas, know the destructive power of wind and water from the storm surges and flood waters of those hurricanes you have endured.
  4. I wasn’t the one who put into place and set into motion everything in this universe. Were you?

But there is someone who has done all of this and observed all of this and has perfect recollection of all of it.  There is someone who understands perfectly everything from the biological to the spiritual. 

Second, God is different from us because, unlike us, His wisdom does not have to come from observation.  He possesses wisdom and knowledge innately – no observation or consideration needed!  “Oh the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God.  How unsearchable his ways and his paths beyond tracing out.” (Romans 11:33) 

AND, He has written a book! This God of perfect knowledge tells us something about that book.  He tells us, “Every word of God is flawless.”  The word that is important in this sentence in the original Hebrew is the word צָרַף . (pronounced “TSA-RUPH”)   This Hebrew word refers to the smelting process.  In that process all impurities are removed from a metal, like gold for example, so what remains when the smelting process is over is one hundred per cent FLAWLESS gold.  Every word of the Lord is “smelted” (צָרַף ) – it is FLAWLESS.  That is why, this book, the Bible, which contains these flawless words is a “must read.” It is a must read when you want to find help with the challenges in life.  It is a must read when you want to know the nature and essence of God.  It is a must read when it comes to any spiritual matter.    You can’t find any better wisdom!

  1. It gives you a place to go when you need it

Because of what is in this book, you have a place to go when you need flawless wisdom and its help.  That’s why verse 5 of Proverbs 30 says, He is a shield to those who take refuge in him

What a wonderful picture!  Years ago a shield was something you wanted to have with you when you went into battle.  A shield was something that you ducked behind when you were under attack.  Your shield took the blow of the sword and arrow and spear, deflected them or absorbed them, and left you unhurt by them.  That is what God will be to you when read and put into practice what is in his holy Word! He will be your shield.  Think about all the examples in the scriptures where that is what happened.  Here are just a couple.  Joseph went through hardship after hardship but he took refuge in the Lord.  What did the Lord do?  He shielded Joseph from anything that wasn’t part of God’s plan and then took all of the rest and made it work out for his good.  Moses and Aaron were two other people that faced insurmountable odds.  What was their secret to survival?  Moses and Aaron listened to and put their trust in the testimony and promises of the God who shields his people.  What did the Apostle Paul do when attacked, arrested and imprisoned?  He took refuge in his trust in the words and promises of the Lord.  It gave him a whole different perspective on his situation in life.  Instead of feeling sorry for himself or complaining about the lot in life that had been handed to him, he held to this outlook in life: I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Phil.4:8) That’s why Paul could be joyful in suffering.  What did the tax collector do when the terrible guilt of his many sins finally brought him in repentant shame to his knees before God?  He took refuge in the promises of the Lord crying out “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13) and the shed blood of his Redeemer became his shield so that he went home justified before God. (Luke 18:14)

And that is what His recorded wisdom and knowledge will do for you too. Read these words of the Lord.  Meditate on them.  TAKE GOD AT HIS WORD.  Hide behind those words and promises in trust and let them shield you.

Concl:  Fellow redeemed, you won’t be sorry if you pay attention to this book.  You really won’t!  It comes highly recommended because it gives PERFECT knowledge that you won’t find anywhere else AND it will give you a hiding place to go to, a shield and refuge, whenever you need it.  Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Amen.

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Peace in Death (June 24, 2018)

June 28, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

Peace in Death

2 Samuel 12:11-25

If you think about it, we put a lot of time into death. We give it a lot of focus and attention. If you think about it, there’s really only a few anniversaries that we remember for years to come. We celebrate birthdays every year. We celebrate wedding anniversaries every year. And we often remember the anniversary of a loved one’s death. All over the country we set up large institutions that are geared toward preventing death. There’s one just up the road called Scott & White. When someone does die there is a funeral service for them in which many of their friends and family gather. We even dedicate large plots of land for memorials of those who have passed away.

But then, you have three people whom we met in the Bible readings today, who just seem to gloss right over death like it isn’t a thing. There was Jesus, who was asked to come quickly to heal a dying girl. But when news reached him that the girl had died before he got there, he simply said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe” (Mk 5:36). Don’t be afraid? Believe what? And then he had the audacity to ask people at the house, “Why all this commotion and wailing?” (Mk 5:39). You have the apostle Paul, who is writing to a man he loved like a son. And although Paul knows he is facing his death as he waits in prison, he barely mentions it. Do not be ashamed of me, a prisoner for the Lord… He saved us and called us to a holy life (2 Tim 1:8-9). I am suffering, yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed (2 Tim 1:12). And then, perhaps the most vivid of all these examples, we have David, who won’t eat, won’t get up, won’t do anything while his child is alive, but then almost immediately goes about his life once the child is dead.

You might expect something very different from each of these men. You might expect a little more heart, a little more caring, a little more concern for those who are dealing with the loss of death. That’s what David’s servants expected. After days of trying to persuade David to eat, after trying to have him at least get up off the ground with no avail, when the child actually did die they were terrified to tell him. They thought “While the child was still living, he wouldn’t listen to us when we spoke to him. How can we now tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate” (2 Sam 12:18). He may take his own life after the child had lost his! But David didn’t take his life. He didn’t explode into a fit of rage or break down sobbing. In fact the Bible just skips over his reaction and gets to his action. “Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house… and he ate” (2 Sam 12:20).

Why? Why this seemingly backward reaction? Why this seemingly calloused attitude toward the death of his own son? It’s not a calloused attitude. David’s own words tell us that. It isn’t a shocked reaction before a later breakdown. It’s because David understood that a person’s death should not be the focus of life. It’s because David understood that there is something more important than a person going on living, and that’s how they lived. That’s the main point of this account. This account is not mainly to detail the death of David’s son. The main point of this account is confession of sin, complete forgiveness from God, and learning from the consequences of sin. Go back to the beginning of this account and see how it all started.

It all started with David taking another man’s wife and trying to cover up his sin. He did it well. He had Uriah killed seemingly by accident in battle. He took Bathsheba to be his own, and they had a son together. It seems that he got away with it. It seems that he hid it well; even, he thought, from the Lord. But it wasn’t a pleasant way for him to live. He who had poured out his heart to God in prayer on a daily basis, now allowed his prayer life to become virtually nonexistent. He cut off the support line that sustained him through being chased and hunted down by his predecessor. He cut himself off from the one he could share the burden of leading a country with. And it seems that David, who loved to fill the temple courts with the Psalms that he himself composed, was not able to pen another Psalm of praise during this time. In fact, he wrote about this dark period in his life after the fact in Psalm 32: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer” (Ps 32:3-4). It took all he had to keep this sin hidden. It separated him from the peace of God who lifts us up as on wings of an eagle. And rather than being lifted up, he was pressed down, burdened, and sapped of all but his physical life.

David’s life was not pleasant as he lived in unrepentant sin. The peace he sought by covering up his sin only led to distress and utter despair. Yet even more distressing than living in unrepentant sin would have been dying in unrepentant sin. If that were the case, David would have been sapped of his strength for all eternity. He would have been weeping and gnashing his teeth. He wouldn’t just be groaning all day long, but for all eternity.

Has there been a time in your life when you sought peace by hiding sin? When you thought that covering up was the only way you could find relief? Maybe you’ve had a period in your life when you lived under the burden of unrepentant sin. Maybe you are living in it right now. How does it feel? Are you finding the peace you were looking for, or is your conscience sounding all the alarms telling you to turn to God before something worse happens? Because keeping this sin concealed until the day you die is not your biggest concern in life. Rather, keeping your soul for eternity is the biggest concern in life. As Jesus himself says, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Mt 16:26). You will not find peace in life by living in sin. You will not find peace by concealing your sin. Taking your sins to the grave is not the most important thing in life. It is cause for even greater despair even after the grave. Rather, lay your sins on Jesus. He knows them completely already. He already took them to his grave so that you wouldn’t have to! Don’t hold on to sins, but leave them to Jesus so that you can find peace even in death.

When confronted by his good friend Nathan, David repented of his sin. And God forgave him completely! But, it’s a false notion no think that with the grace and forgiveness in Christ everything in life is immediately put back the way it should be. Sometimes there are still consequences to our sinful actions. Although David was completely forgiven, Nathan told him he would still have to bear the consequences of those sinful acts. Sometimes we can view these consequences as continued punishment even after the forgiveness, but that isn’t the case. Rather, these consequences are often meant to remind us of our sin, and that isn’t such a bad thing. It’s all part of keeping us living in repentance of that sin. I doubt David was ever able to hear a baby cry without thinking of the child he lost. Perhaps it was impossible to go out on his rooftop without being reminded of his sin. Such reminders are not designed by God to keep us in despair, but to keep us from falling into despair again – to keep us living in peace.

Despite the consequences, David was confident that when he confessed his sin, there was forgiveness. It’s even in the same verse, with barely a word between the two statements. “David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Nathan replied, ‘The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die’” (2 Sm 12:13). There was no further rebuke after his confession. There was no interim period to determine whether or not David was really repentant. There was just forgiveness – full and free forgiveness. God waits on repentance, he longs for it. He want to forgive and heal and restore the hearts of all who turn to him in repentance. In fact, he wants you to have forgiveness so much that he already entered into human history, and in a very physical way paid the price for all your sins already! So that you would know, without a doubt, that whenever you come to the Lord in repentance – seeking forgiveness, seeking peace – you already know the answer. “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die” (2 Sm 12:13). Through this cycle of repentance and forgiveness, the Lord teaches us that the one thing needed in life will never be taken away. That one thing needed, full and utterly gracious forgiveness, will be the one constant, the one source of strength to endure, the one compensation greater than every and all losses. Forgiveness of your sins is your peace in life, and the peace that sustains you in death.

David took hold of this forgiveness and penned Psalm 51. It actually says right in the heading that David himself penned for Psalm 51, “A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba” (Ps 51). David continued, “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice… Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Ps 51:7-8, 10).

You have this forgiveness as well, for every one of your sins. Just as David confessed his sin to the prophet Nathan and Nathan, as a called servant of God, announced God’s forgiveness, so also God’s forgiveness is announced to you each and every Sunday we gather! And if there is still ever a sin that just keeps bothering you no matter how often you hear that Sunday announcement of forgiveness, come see pastor during the week and you can talk about God’s forgiveness for that specific sin. Because God wants to forgive. He is more willing to forgive than we are to repent. He wants you to know the peace you have in life so that you can have peace in death.

Forgiveness in Jesus is the reason why death is not a thing anymore. It’s why Jesus could say, “Don’t be afraid; just believe” (Mk 5:36) even though a young girl had just died. It’s why he’s so calm throughout that whole situation. It’s why Paul can be positive and focus on the gospel of forgiveness even while he is in chains for that gospel and facing his own death. It’s because he has the one thing needed! He has that peace of forgiveness. And he wants everyone to have it!

Despite the consequences, David had peace. He had peace knowing that his sin was forgiven by God. He had peace knowing that his son was safe at home in heaven. He even had peace in the consequences of his sin knowing that they were God’s reminders to live in repentance so that he would die in peace. In fact, God blessed David with another son whom he named Solomon. Guess what Solomon means! It’s related to the Hebrew word “Shalom” which means “peace.”

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Freedom from Falsehood to Faith (June 17, 2018)

June 20, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

Freedom from Falsehood to Faith

Colossians 1:3-8

How many of you like “Do It Yourself” projects (DIY projects)? For those of you who do, what’s the draw? Is it that you know exactly what goes into the project? Is it that you can choose the quality and design of the materials that go into it – really making it your own? Is it that sense of accomplishment when it’s all finished knowing, “Wow, look at what I can accomplish!” It’s probably all of the above. There’s a completeness to it. A sense of satisfaction and fullness! And these days you can DIY almost anything! Home furnishings, fitness plans and diets, trinkets to sell, whatever!

But there are still a list of things that you probably wouldn’t want to DIY. Could you imagine building your own daily driver and hoping it holds up at 80 mph on the toll road? Maybe some of you could! Could you imagine building the home you are going to live in board by board, nail by nail and hoping all the plumbing and electrical works in the end? Sounds like a lot of work and a lot of worry to me. But, I’m sure some of you could still do it. How about DIY heart surgery? Wouldn’t it just feel great knowing that you fixed your heart and you fixed it the right way! Nope, better leave that to the professionals. And I don’t even thing that’s possible!

There’s one other thing that you should absolutely never DIY, even if you are an expert in that field. It’s DIY salvation. You shouldn’t even attempt this if you were the greatest pastor or biblical scholar there ever was. That’s actually what was trending in the Roman city of Colosse when Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians. But they didn’t call it DIY salvation. Rather, they touted it as a more complete and fuller faith. What they did is combine Jewish and pagan ideas with the trendy Christian gospel to produce what its supporters boasted was a “more complete” gospel. There was a strong interest in the Old Testament rituals, laws, and ceremonies – things that the people could really get their hands on and be a part of – get that feeling of something accomplished! You can see the appeal. Many Old Testament rituals carried a lot of meaning. And really doing something to earn your place among the faithful certainly satisfies our human need of accomplishment. They also sprinkled in pagan superstitions and interest in the spirit world to feel connected to something bigger than themselves. Add in the gospel of Christ partially because it was spreading like wildfire, but also because it was such a positive and uplifting message, and you’ve got yourself a complete package!

And that’s exactly what they claimed to position this “gospel” over the true Christian gospel; that it was a more “complete” more “sophisticated” gospel. That gospel message that you heard from Epaphras, who preaches the same gospel as Paul, that’s “Gospel Lite” that’s a simplistic gospel. “You need to get yourself into something a little more substantial to really feel and understand the complete power of religion.” They used their claim of “fullness,” “perfection,” and “knowledge” to demean the apostles’ teachings and promote their own. And in doing so, they also diminished the role of Christ in your salvation. Any time you diminish the role of Christ in your salvation – no matter how tiny of a sliver you take away from him – completely negates what Christ came to do. Christ plus anything equals nothing

What did the new “DIY salvation” do? It promised fullness, but left them empty. It promised strength, but revealed weakness. It touted success and accomplishment, but failed those who spent all their time and energy working to supplement their salvation. And we’ve seen this before. We’ve seen how the Pharisees were so wrapped up in earning their salvation by observing the law that they completely lost the main point of the law: love. Love one another as I have loved you. But with followers of this false gospel so wrapped up in themselves, there was no time or energy left to love anyone else. It took all they had to voraciously gobble up this newfound gospel “knowledge” and put it into practice so that they could be filled, that they had nothing left of themselves to share with anyone else.

Isn’t that what we are seeing more and more of today? It may not be a “DIY gospel” that people are promoting, but I would still call it a “DIY salvation.” It’s definitely not the gospel that they are promoting, but knowledge, culture, and maybe even what they call spirituality. And it’s not just out there. It’s not just “those guys.” We are affected by this mentality as well. What’s the one thing in your life that if it was taken away you feel empty and meaningless? What’s the one thing that if it was taken from you, you would feel like you were hopelessly drowning or lost? Is it those extracurriculars that although they are called “extra,” they have become a standard to your education? A standard that if you do not participate in as many as everyone else, well, then, you just don’t measure up when it comes to getting into the schools you want or the jobs you want. Is it those hobbies which started out as enjoyment, maybe even helped you become healthier physically, mentally, or emotionally, but now this hobby has gotten out of control and is really directing every decision in your life? Before you do anything you have to check the calendar or check your schedule to see if your hobby says it’s ok. These things that were meant to give enjoyment and satisfaction sometimes leave us gasping for air. These things that were meant to round out our lives now have become our lives to the point where we have no time for anything else or anyone else. And soon, we end up just like the Colossians who were so wrapped up in their “DIY salvation” that nothing they did was out of love for God or for others. It was just a way for them to climb over everyone else as they strive for their own fulfillment. I see it. I hear it hear. I’m one of them too. Even this place of rest, where God intends to fill us with peace and joy, has become another place where I have to carve out my slice and make it my own, rather than a place where I can come broken, and be made whole by Christ and in my relationship with one another.

In this letter to the Colossians, Paul says that he always thanks God when he prays for them because he has heard of their faith and love! What an amazing reputation to have! What an amazing reputation that has been carried from Asia Minor across the Aegean Sea, through Greece, and across the Adriatic Sea to reach Paul’s ears in Rome while he was under house arrest. These people were firm in their faith – despite the false religion that was taking hold. And they really lived their faith! Could the same be said about us here at Trinity? Are we so filled by the love of Christ that that love overflows in our lives as we live and worship together in harmony? Is our love for one another noteworthy? Would our brothers and sisters at Abiding Savior in Killeen, or Cross and Crown in Georgetown give thanks to God because our fruits of faith were so abundantly evident in the way that we loved one another? Or could we use some work in this area? Do we need to go again to God’s Word and root ourselves even deeper in our completeness in Christ?

In this letter to the Colossians, Paul does not debate the false teachers. He doesn’t have to. He simply overwhelms their errors by confronting the Colossians with the full riches of the gospel of Christ. Throughout the letter there is constant emphasis on the greatness of Christ and the fulness found in Christ. He knew that the more thoroughly the Colossian believers understand the person and work of Christ, the better equipped they will be to recognize the depravity of these falsehoods.

Those false teachers tout their gospel as complete and full? If you want to know fullness, look to Christ! If you want complete salvation, find it in Christ. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. By him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him” (Col 1:15-16). “He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy” (Col 1:18). “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col 1:19-20). “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free of accusation” (Col 1:21-22).

Wow! What else is there? What else is there to add to Christ Jesus when he is the fulness of God? What better plan of salvation is there except the one God has laid out and carried out? What more do you need from your Savior than to be reconciled, presented as holy, and free from any accusation? You have all of this in Christ your Savior who loved you and made you his own! Salvation is yours! Your hope in heaven is certain!

Keep this sure hope as your number one priority. Keep it at the forefront of everything you think, say, or do. And find your fullness in Christ. Because life is hard. There are many things in life that can take chunks out of you. There are many things in life that can make you feel like you don’t measure up. There are things in this life that will always make you feel like you need to be more and do more. But Christ is your all in all. He made you complete in God’s eyes – the full package: without sin, holy and blameless! And he fills all other aspects of your life as well! You won’t find in anyone a love like the one that Christ has for you. You won’t find in anyone a friend like you have in Christ who is with you through anything. You won’t find fulfillment in anything you do in life unless you are first filled with Christ’s love!

And once you are freed from all these pressures, once you realize that Christ is the only one you need and that a perfect place of rest does exist and is already yours waiting for you in heaven, then you can look at everything in this world in a new light! Those extra-curriculars may give you a good standing as you pursue your goals, but they don’t determine who you are or how good of a person you are. God made you who you are, and he has made you worthy of a new home that kings and princes would covet! Those activities and hobbies you enjoy are gifts from God. They are ways that you can give glory to God for the gifts and talents he’s given you! Those people in your life, you don’t have to find your fulfillment in them, because God has already made you full! And you can bring them fulfillment as you bear abundant fruits of faith – loving them because your God has so loved you!

Jesus has freed you from the falsehoods of needing to be made complete or full by supplementing your life with anything and everything. Christ has shown you how valuable you are to him! He has given you a better life in heaven by making you holy. And he has given your life meaning: love one another as I have loved you.

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Freedom from Guilt to Joy (June 10, 2018)

June 20, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

Freedom from Guilt to Joy

2 Corinthians 5:1-10

We’ve all had those moments. You are on your way to an important meeting, an important event, or maybe your first day of something new; when, suddenly, you realize you aren’t wearing any pants! And for the longest time you are worried, fretting, and struggling to find ways to cover up. Of course, you realize that I am talking about those nervous dreams we all have. Dreams that come in the nights before some important occasion. Dreams that keep you tossing and turning all night as you worry about messing up, doing something wrong, or having your weaknesses exposed. For me, it often happens before a special worship service, or when I know my dad will be in the congregation. Or maybe I have to lead a devotion in front of all the pastors in the district! It’s nerve racking. I worry about which flaws and weaknesses they might see. And you might be thinking, “Well, Pastor, at least you have your robe to cover up with in those dreams.” But no! For some reason my robe is always missing in those dreams. I forgot it in the car, or it’s in the laundry, or something else.

I think it’s really interesting that our anxiety and our worries, often reveal themselves in dreams in which we are exposed. It’s like there is some subliminal connection between anxiety or shame and being exposed. And actually, there is a connection. It goes all the way back to the first sin where Adam and Eve first felt the embarrassment of guilt after giving in to sin. And when they were faced with a very important visitor – the Lord God as he was walking in the garden – that guilt went into overdrive. Their new spiritual shame manifested itself in physical shame as Adam answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (Gen 3:10). There is truly a connection between spiritual shame and physical shame; spiritual guilt and physical hiding. We have Adam and Eve hiding from God in the garden. Moses hid from God when he came face to face with him at the burning bush. Isaiah fell down on his face when he stood in the throne room of the Almighty God. Since that time the Bible says that all people have been born spiritually naked. And it actually speaks in a language of being clothed for the judgment of the Lord. “Look, I come like a thief!” Jesus said, “Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed” (Rev 16:15).

That’s why, in this section of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he reminds and encourages them that we are awaiting a new body, which won’t be clothed with sin, and won’t be exposed. You see, while we are in this body, there is always going to be a struggle going on. It’s a struggle between the Sinful Flesh and the New Creation. While we are here on earth, the Sinful Flesh is always going to be dragging us down into sin. The sinful nature is going to find our weaknesses and exploit them. Yet, since there is a New Creation at work within us as well, we feel the guilt and the shame of our wrongdoings. It’s an endless cycle of giving into temptation, and feeling guilty for doing the wrongs that we know are wrong. In fact, the apostle Paul, who wrote this letter to the Corinthians, laid out the struggles of his heart in his letter to the Romans. “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing…. In my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rm 7:18-19, 22-24).

He cries out for rescue because he knows that there is going to be a day of judgment coming. He knows that one day he will have to stand before a holy and righteous judge and give an account. He knows that no matter what he tries to hide behind to cover up his shameful sins, the Lord Almighty knows it all. You and I know that that day is coming as well. And so just like those anxious dreams, you may live your life nervously trying to hide the guilt of sin which just doesn’t want to be covered! That’s why Paul says, “While we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling” (2 Cor 5:4). We groan and are burdened because of the Sinful Nature that we just can’t get rid of in this life. The Bible also talks about all of creation groaning because once sin entered the world, things just haven’t been the same. Sin infects every part of creation bringing out the worst and putting it on display for all to see. And to make matters worse, Satan points out our wrongdoings, draws attention to them, and just doesn’t let us forget them – exposing the guilt of our sinfulness.

What kinds of things have you done recently that have exposed your spiritual nakedness – that have revealed the spiritual shame that lies within? Was it allowing distractions to take center stage in your day when you know that there are more important things that need to get done? Was it dodging blame or pushing it onto someone else when you know that you are just as guilty? Was it speaking badly of someone else and exposing their faults because it makes you forget your own faults? All of these things expose the sin which lurks within. All of these are part of the struggle we have while in this earthly tent of a body.

Thankfully, God has freed us from the guilt of our sins. And in doing so he also covers us with his righteousness. In his death it was Christ who took on all of our sins. All of your sin and all of your guilt was taken from your shoulders and placed onto Christ. The Bible even says that he became sin for us (2 Cor 5:21). God even hid his face from Christ on the cross because he became sin. Just as Adam and Eve, Moses, Isaiah and others hid from the Lord because they knew that sinful human beings cannot look at God and live, so God hid his face from Christ. And after Christ had paid the full punishment for all sins in the flesh, he died. So we are completely freed from that guilt, and are covered with the righteousness that comes from God.

Since our sinfulness has died with Christ, we also rise with Christ and are a new creation! For the Bible says, “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor 5:17). You no longer have to hide in fear and shame because God has made you new! In this newness, God has promised that he will help you overcome what is sinful and shameful. And he has also promised that after this earthly tent is destroyed, we will have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven (2 Cor 5:1). A heavenly body which has no shameful sin in it – no spiritual nakedness! He’s guaranteed this promise by giving us his Spirit as a deposit – a down payment of what is to come! And if he gives us this deposit of the Spirit which allows us to be free from sin here in this life, we can be assured that he will completely remove all guilt and sin in heaven.

So, while we are waiting for our resurrection to a renewed and perfect body, what do we do with our “earthly tent” of a body? First of all, we have to realize, that although this body we live in now will always have sinful tendencies, we are never at a loss when we live our lives by faith in Christ. “We are confident” (2 Cor 5:8), Paul says. We are confident because our heavenly goal is certain. Although we would prefer to be away from this earthly body and at home with the Lord, we are confident and look forward to the body that we will one day have – one which is not burdened with guilt or exposed in shame. But even here and now, clothed with Christ’s righteousness and driven by his Spirit, we can live a God pleasing life! “So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it” (2 Cor 5:9). We can please God in this body. Even here and now you can serve your Lord with gladness producing fruits of faith which are pleasing in God’s sight! You have been clothed with Christ’s righteousness. And in that righteousness, you are fit to serve your God and meet him face to face!

That’s really what true joy in life is. Not just happiness; true joy. Did you know that there is a difference between happiness and joy? The English word “happiness” actually comes from the word “happenings.” Our happiness is often determined by what happens to us. So when you do well on a test, when you get married or start a family, when you are able to enjoy a great trip, you are happy because of what happened. But life is not always roses and sunshine. There are times in life when we may not feel all that happy because of what is happening in our lives. But just because your happiness is diminished, doesn’t mean your joy is taken away. No, your joy is based on your eternal home with God. And because Christ has clothed you with his righteousness, earned your place in heaven, and given you the Spirit as a guarantee, your joy is never in jeopardy! “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8). We are confident in that eternal home that we don’t enjoy yet, but it’s already ours. Your joy is founded in Christ, and no one can take that away from you.

In our lives, each one of us has been like the prodigal son at one time or another. The son in that parable already had an inheritance. It was safe in his father’s keeping. But that wasn’t good enough for him. He was impatient and wanted to indulge his senses here and now! It wasn’t long before he ended up unsatisfied, hungry, and probably almost naked. In the same was we march straight away from God at times thinking we know better. But when the son came to his senses and went home, confessing his sin, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your [child]” (Lk 15:21), how did he find his father? Angry and upset? No. The son was welcomed with open arms, no questions asked, forgiven! And he was clothed! “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet” (Lk 15:22). No matter how many times you march away from God, he will always be there waiting, searching for you. And he will welcome you home in forgiveness and love, clothing you with his righteousness.

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Freedom from Burden to Rest (June 3, 2018)

June 9, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

Freedom from Burden to Rest

Mark 2:23-28

Do you, at times, feel burdened by the Sabbath? Does having a day off from work and coming to church sometimes feel like a burden? You might be thinking, what a ridiculous question! Of course not! It would be unchristian to think in such a way. But I’ll ask you to take a moment and really just think about that honestly. Maybe you are a young mother, who knows it’s good for your children to be in church. But when Sunday comes around you are anxious, and nervously wonder, “How am I going to get the kids quietly through the service today?” Maybe you are a bit more advanced in years. Perhaps your eyesight is going, or your ears just don’t work like they used to. And once again, you know this is where you are supposed to be on Sunday morning, but honestly, it’s hard to get a lot out of church. Either you can’t see the Bible readings or hymn lyrics. Or you can’t hear much of the sermon that is preached. Maybe you are a business owner, working hard to keep up with demand. And even while you are at church, your mind is elsewhere. Either on the work that is piling up as I speak or perhaps planning family time because it’s hard to get much family time during the week.

Do you sometimes feel burdened by the Sabbath?

There’s another group of people who share in your struggle. The Sabbath law was actually put into place at Mount Sinai when God gave Moses the 10 Commandments. “The seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work… For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Ex 20:10-11). Over the years, the Jewish legal experts had gone to great lengths to define exactly which activities were permissible on the Sabbath and which were forbidden. And although their motivation in carefully defining the Sabbath rest was well intentioned, it showed their lack of understanding of what God’s law was intended to do. They saw this as a means to be honored by God and man for their piety. They wanted to earn their salvation by keeping God’s law to the letter. The Pharisees viewed the Old Testament as a book of rules and regulations to be kept in order to earn salvation. They didn’t realize that the law, with all its rules and regulations, was actually means to dramatically demonstrate that they could NOT save themselves because they were sinful human beings. Their lack of understanding and their legalistic approach are very evident in their interaction with Jesus here.

As they saw Jesus’ disciples snacking on the ripe grain as they walked along, they accused Jesus, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” (Mk 2:24). You see, according to their thinking, the disciples were “harvesting” grain when they picked a small handful to snack on. And harvesting would be considered work, which was therefore unlawful to do on the Sabbath. However, it was really the Pharisees who were in the wrong. It was they who added their own rules to God’s law. It was they who had gone beyond what God’s law required, forced it upon other people, and demonstrated that they misunderstood the purpose of the law completely. They were making the Sabbath out to be a day of burden, not a day of rest. They were burdening themselves by earning righteousness through carefully defining and obeying the law, but the Bible says that’s not the purpose of the law! “No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin” (Rm 3:20). Through the law, we realize just how great our burden of sin is. We realize that we cannot find rest by slavishly obeying the law to become righteous. Rather, we realize that there has to be another way. We realize that we need a savior if we ever want to be freed from our burden of sin.

So let’s reassess our reasons for observing a Sabbath day. Let’s reassess why you have come here; why you go to church. God intended the Sabbath as a blessing – a day of rest for his people. In fact, that’s what the word Sabbath means – “rest.” And on the Sabbath God wants to bless us with both physical and spiritual rest. By requiring the Israelites not to work on the Sabbath, his intention was to bless them with physical rest because it is beneficial for the human body. Now, if one of your livestock fell into a cistern, out of love for that animal and considering your wellbeing, God provided an exemption to get that animal back (Mt 12:11). If your neighbor was starving and needed something to eat, it would be unloving to ignore them and turn them away simply because it was the Sabbath. God intended the physical rest for blessing, not as a burden.

And the same is true for the spiritual rest that God offers on the Sabbath. Now, perhaps parents with young children don’t always feel like they are getting much spiritual rest when they can’t listen to more than two sentences of the sermon. But what about when you hear the words, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”? What about the example and routine you are setting for your children so that they are in a habit of coming to God for spiritual rest? And if you are older, and can’t see the hymns to sing them or can’t hear much of what is preached, what about the texture of the bread in your hands or on your tongue? What about the smell and taste of the wine as God reassures you – gives you tangible proof – that all your sins are forgiven in the death of Jesus? And for those whose minds might be on work, or to-do lists, what about those short Bible readings printed in the bulletin that you can go back to and reread as God sets the tone for your busy week ahead. In fact, even those who have to cut out early can still take little snippets of God’s Word with them so that they can find rest in their hectic lives. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,” Jesus says, “and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).

That leads me to my next point. What is the function of the Old Testament Sabbath in the New Testament era? Jesus gets to that when he says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27-28). As it is with many of the Old Testament laws and customs that God had established, the Sabbath served a dual purpose. First, it was meant to benefit the people of Israel by distinguishing them among all the other nations and focusing them on the one true God. And second, it was also meant to point ahead to a deeper fulfillment. I’ll use the example of the Passover Lamb. The sacrifice of the Passover Lamb was an annual reminder for the Israelites of how the one true God showed his power and authority over false gods and powerful nations. It also reminded the Israelites that the Almighty God was a gracious and saving God. That was seen in their deliverance from Egypt, but it would be seen in its fullest sense in the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb – Christ Jesus, who died to deliver God’s people everywhere from their sin. When that happened, the foreshadowing of the annual Passover Lamb would cease, because it’s fulfillment had come.

In the same way, the Sabbath day of rest was meant to benefit God’s people. There is value in taking a day off from work for the sake of physical and emotional well-being. There is also a spiritual benefit of observing the Sabbath. Not by slavish observance to the letter of the law, like the Pharisees did, but by offering the believer a special opportunity to worship, to study God’s Word, and to meditate on his plan of salvation. And in this sense, the Sabbath also served as a foreshadowing of the far greater rest that God provides for his people through their Savior Jesus. That’s exactly what the second reading today says, “Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col 2:16-17).

That is true Sabbath rest. In Christ we are freed from the burden of sin to the rest of forgiveness. That’s why we come Sunday after Sunday. Not because we have to. Not because Sunday is the God ordained New Testament Sabbath. But because here, in Word and Sacrament we find rest for our burdened souls. We are weighed down with sin and long to hear the words, “I forgive you ALL your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We are burdened with life decisions and looking for guidance from God in his Word. Or we are longing for the encouragement from brothers and sisters in the faith who get us – who know what it’s like to be a Christian in a world that is straying farther and farther from the truth. Or we are burdened even just by the guilt of one sin, that doesn’t seem to understand the words “I forgive you all your sins,” so we long to see, taste, touch, the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament. A sacrament which connects us to the death of Christ where God forsook Jesus of your sin, and then Jesus cried out that the punishment for that sin “is finished!” So that as you walk away from the altar, you are freed from that burden because it was nailed to the cross.

Brother and sisters, breath that sigh of relief. You didn’t come here today to struggle with kids. You didn’t come here today because you are obligated despite not being able to see or hear. You didn’t come here as an inconvenience to your already busy week. You came here today because over and over again God tells you that you are forgiven, shows you how you were forgiven, and even puts into your hands that rest from the burden of ALL your sins. I know. I know that because of your various circumstances you may not be able to get everything out of worship that is offered, but you get something! And in that something God assures you that you are forgiven.

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Freedom from Slavery to Sonship (May 27, 2018)

May 29, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

Freedom from Slavery to Sonship

Romans 8:14-17

Welcome to the second half of the church year! Every year the services, Bible readings, and sermons focus on two major themes. First, what has God done for you. And now, second, what does God do through you. Trinity Sunday stands at the transition between those two times. Now that you know what God has done for you, culminating in the death and resurrection of Christ, what does God do through you? The text we are looking at today perhaps makes us ask an introspective question. How do I know if I am being led by the Spirit of God? It says, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God” (Rm 8:14), but how do I know if I am being led by the Spirit of God?

Many look at their own performance in this matter. Am I acting like a child of God? Am I pursuing godly things and living according to his will? Am I actively fighting against sin in my own life and in the world around me? But the problem with all of that self-analysis is you are always left with the question, “Am I doing enough?” How do I know if I am doing enough? And the thought that perhaps really weighs on you, “What about all the times why I fail? What about when I don’t pursue godly things, or when I do give in to sin?” There seems to be so much subjectivity – so much wiggle room. How can I ever be certain?

Well, if there’s anything that God wants us to know from this Bible reading today it’s that you have certainty! And that certainty comes not from looking at ourselves, but from looking to God. That’s the very reason God gave his law – so we look away from ourselves. That’s the very reason God sent his Son – so that we look to him and the complete and perfect way he accomplished your salvation. And today you will see that you can be certain of your relationship to God because of what he has done for you. It’s all traced through the different words used for “children” here. There are three different words that give you complete certainty in your adoption to sonship.

The first of these words is just that: “sons” or “sonship”. And just a quick note on the translation. In Greek, the same word is used both in verse 14 and 15. In English it has been translated as “children of God” and “adoption to sonship.” But it is the same Greek word.

We weren’t always “sons of God.” A little bit earlier in this chapter of Romans you see a contrast between the mind controlled by the flesh and the mind controlled by the Spirit. Can you guess which mindset we were born with? We were born of flesh, with a mind enslaved by the sinful flesh. And the Bible says, “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires… The mind governed by the flesh is death… is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God” (Rm 8:5-8). Yet despite all of this, God chose you to be his child – to be his sons and daughters. “You did not choose me, but I chose you,” (Jn 15:16) Jesus said. Despite being enslaved to the sinful flesh, despite being hostile enemies of God, he chose to completely change that relationship with you. He adopted you to be his son or daughter.

Now, I said the words chosen were important right? The word used here for “children of God” and “adoption to sonship” has an emphasis on the close relationship that children share with their parents. There is a closeness. There is an intimacy. There is vulnerability and trust. And even though children may not always be at their best behavior, that love from their parents never goes away. And even if we aren’t always perfect at loving our children, God, our heavenly Father, is. Because God is love. And he’s the one who chose you for this relationship with him!

Because you are children of God, you can cry out to him, “Abba, Father” (Rm 8:15). There’s a lot packed into that small little word “Abba.” It’s actually just the Hebrew word transliterated into Greek and for us into English. It doesn’t mean “Lord” with a capital “L,” it doesn’t even mean “sir.” It means “father,” but yet, in the way that a little child would address their father. “Daddy” is really what it means here. You have been adopted into God’s family. He chose to have this kind of a relationship with you – a relationship in which you can call the Almighty God, “daddy.” Wow!

Now think of what exactly that means. God invites you to approach him as a little child approaches their own father. There’s confidence in that relationship – “I can go to daddy for anything I need and he’ll take care of it.” In fact, I remember my daughter, Neriya, saying one time, “Just give it to daddy, he’ll fix it!” There’s trust in that relationship – “Daddy is never going to do anything to hurt or harm me.” There’s even a boldness to it that says I can go to daddy any time I need, ask him anything I want, and keep asking until I get it. As parents we call that pestering, right? When your child comes up to you and says, “Daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy. Mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy.” But God, your Father, actually invites that! He said, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Php 4:6). This is your God! This is the relationship that God chose to have with you when he called you to be his own!

And the confidence doesn’t end there! He didn’t just choose you to be his own. He also saw to it that you were born into his family. And that’s what the second word for “child” emphasizes. So, we had “children of God” and “adoption to sonship.” Those are actually from the same Greek word that emphasizes your relationship with God. Now we have in verse 16, “God’s children” which comes from the Greek word “tekna.” The emphasis there is that you were born into this family. You don’t just have the relationship of being a child of God, but you were born into this family! You have the family blood, the family DNA – or, I guess in this case it would be, you have the “Spirit” that this family shares.

When did that happen? Jesus talked about it in the gospel reading from today (Jn 3:1-17). Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (Jn 3:5-6). You all were physically born – obviously, because you are all here in the flesh today. But in that physical, fleshly birth you also inherited the sinful flesh that all humankind has shared. You have also been reborn spiritually! When you were baptized with water and the word, the Holy Spirit enters your heart. In fact, there’s an image of death, burial, and new birth all attached to baptism. The Bible says you “have been buried with [Christ] in baptism, in which you were also raised with him” (Col 2:12). The mind enslaved to the sinful flesh died with Christ on the cross, and through your baptism you have been reborn in the Spirit! So not only by your relationship are you children of God, but also by your birth!

And the Holy Spirit testifies to this rebirth. It says, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Rm 8:16). So, it’s not that we are simply proving ourselves to be such. It’s not at all that I have to spend each and every day proving and testifying that I am a child of God by what I think, say, and do. No! Ever since you were born again by water and the word, ever since you were born again by the Spirit through your baptism, you have the Holy Spirit testifying with you each and every day that you are indeed “God’s children” by birth! Who can argue against two witnesses? That’s one of the reasons why God had Old Testament Israel establish matters by at least two witnesses. Who can argue with it? More than that though, who’s going to argue your birth into God’s family when God himself – the Holy Spirit – is testifying with you? No one can! You have absolute certainty! And that’s one of the reasons why we find it so important to preserve the practice of infant baptism. There is such confidence, such assurance, such certainty God himself gives that this child, born of the Spirit through baptism, is indeed a child of God!

You have the close relationship of being “children of God.” You have the Spirit’s testimony that you were born into the family as “God’s children.” And now we have one more form of the word used for “children.” “If we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Rm 8:17). This final term emphasizes that there is a binding contract upheld by the law that states that you are indeed “children of God” and “heirs” of his family. That contract was drafted up by God himself. It was his plan to legally adopt you as sons and daughters. And he jumped through all the hoops – so to speak – to make that so.

You see, it wasn’t an easy adoption process. God is holy. And in order for him to be holy and remain holy, he cannot tolerate anything that is unholy. If he did, he wouldn’t be holy anymore, and he can’t become something that he isn’t! Well, as you well know, you and I are not holy. We are not very worthy for adoption – especially not adoption by the holy and perfect God. We are corrupted by sin and that sin has such a hold on us, it locks us up in the slavery of sin. But God still loved you and wanted you to be his own. God is also love, after all. And in an act of great wisdom, great love and justice he finds a way to legally adopt you as his own.

I say legally, but understand that God is not bound by any kind of man-made laws. I use the term “legally” because it fits well with the term “heirs” and because I’m using it to show that God found a way to make you his own without changing or becoming something that he is not. Your adoption into his family, the forgiveness of your sins, is not because God gave up his holiness. He adopts you in a way in which he remains completely holy and just, and yet completely loving and merciful.

Sin had to be paid for. Since God is a holy and just God, sin had to be condemned to death. And since he didn’t want to lose you, he placed your sin and your death onto his own Son, because he knew that his Son, Jesus, could completely pay the full condemnation of all sin and truly die on the cross, yet come out alive. All your sin has been paid for already at the cross. Jesus himself attests to that and signed it in his own blood. Having been made worthy for adoption, being righteous through Christ, you are now legal heirs of God. Not because you have paid for your own sin. Not because your sin was disregarded. But because Christ paid the just punishment for sin and clothed you with his own righteousness. In baptism you shared in his suffering – you were crucified with Christ – in order that you may also share in his glory.

You are “heirs” of God and “co-heirs” with Christ. That’s a tough one to really wrap our minds around. We honor and revere Christ Jesus as our God and Lord, but yet, in the same way that we can call the Almighty God, “daddy,” so also we can truly call Christ Jesus our brother! And what that means is that everything that Christ inherits after his resurrection from the dead, you also inherit! You have the right to call God, “Abba” as Jesus did. You have “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade… kept in heaven” (1 Pt 1:4). You will be physically resurrected like Christ! You will reign in heaven with Christ. It’s true! 2 Timothy 2(:12) says so! Because God kept his covenant, “you are no longer a slave, but God’s child” (Gal 4:7). No one can refute that status.

You’ve maybe heard children – or maybe you’ve done it as a child – claim that the youngest sibling was really adopted and therefore doesn’t belong in the family. The child might run to his parents and cry out, “Mommy, Daddy, was I adopted?” “No, of course not” the parents will reply. They testify to the relationship of that child. They could also take out the birth certificate and prove that the child is a legal part of the family. And, finally, if there was still any reason to doubt, they could even get a DNA test if they wanted to. And with all that evidence, that threefold proof, you couldn’t attack that child’s place in the family from any angle.

That’s what your God does for you as well. You have the relationship of a child of God because he chose you and he adopted you. You have the DNA or the Spirit of God’s family because you were born into God’s family through baptism. You are his offspring. And finally, you are legal heirs of God by his own binding covenant. He drew up the terms, and Christ sign it in his blood. No one can refute your place in God’s family because he has sealed you in from every angle.

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Freedom from Death to Life (May 20, 2018)

May 29, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

Freedom from Death to Life

Ezekiel 37:1-14

The Israelites were longing for freedom. They were deported from their homeland, and living in captivity under the Babylonians. Yet they held on to God’s promises of deliverance and restoration. As Jeremiah ministered to the remaining inhabitants of Judah, warning them of their impending destruction, Ezekiel was God’s prophet for those who were deported and taken into captivity. In a foreign and strange land, they held on to God’s promises. They looked forward to the day that they would return to Judah and find Jerusalem still standing.

But that was not the case. You see, their physical enslavement under the Babylonians was not the enslavement that God was promising deliverance from – not primarily, at least. Jerusalem would be destroyed. Judah would be scattered. Some of the Israelites would indeed return, but not to the preserved remnant as they had imagined. That’s because there was a different kind of enslavement that God wanted them to become aware of. It was their spiritual enslavement to sin and rebellion against God.

To help them identify this enslavement, God caused Ezekiel to see a very chilling scene. “The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones” (Eze 37:1). There’s two things that God wanted Ezekiel to realize about these bones as God walked him back and forth through the valley. These bones were very dry, and there were very many. You may have seen bones lying on the ground from time to time. Bones of roadkill or bones of and animal that fell victim to a predator. And I bet that any time you’ve seen bones lying on the ground, you’ve never once thought, “Oh, I hope that critter will be ok!” It’s ridiculous. It’s impossible. There’s no way that anything would be ok, would come back to life, once it’s been reduced to a pile of bones. And these bones that Ezekiel saw weren’t even fresh bones. They were very dry bones. These people have been dead for a long, long time.

And yet, God asks the ridiculous. God asks the impossible question, “Son of man, can these bones live?” (Eze 37:3). Impossible for any man to bring about. God emphasizes that by calling Ezekiel a “son of man.” But is it impossible for God? Ezekiel gives what seems to be a cryptic answer. Actually, it doesn’t seem to be much of an answer at all. “Sovereign Lord, you alone know” (Eze 37:3). But there’s more to his response than we might at first see, and it’s all in how he addresses God. “Adonai Elohim” he calls him. It’s a piling up of divine names for God which emphasize both his grace and his power. In other words, Ezekiel knew that if God in his mercy decreed it, his power would give life to these dry bones. Yet, Ezekiel didn’t anticipate just how God would make this miracle a reality.

“Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord” that is, “Adonai Elohim” “says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life” (Eze 37:5-6). By his word, put in the mouth of this “son of man” would God bring these dry, lifeless bones to life. In his vision, Ezekiel prophesied as God commanded. And as God’s word was being spoken through the mouth of Ezekiel, something began to happen. There was a rattling noise as the dry bones began to find their places amidst all the other dry bones. And when they were all in place, tendons fastened them together, the bones were fleshed out and covered with skin! Suddenly, there was a vast army of living and breathing people… Only, they weren’t breathing. They weren’t living either. What happened? Did Ezekiel do something wrong? Was God not powerful enough to bring these dry bones back to life?

Not at all. Rather, God divided this miraculous work into two parts to emphasize how powerless these dry bones were to bring themselves back to life. And to emphasize how powerless this son of man was to bring these dry bones back to life. And to emphasize that this depends completely upon God’s power and his grace. Notice, when God is first telling Ezekiel to prophesy he says, “Hear the word of the Lord!” “I will make breath enter you” “I will attach tendons… and make flesh” “I will put breath in you” (Eze 37:5-6). He was emphasizing that this is something that only God could do. And Ezekiel showed that he understood this by calling him “Adonai Elohim.” In fact, this whole vision is quite similar to the way that God created man in the first place. There were no dry bones for him to start with, but he did his work in two parts: forming Adam’s body first, and then breathing life into it.

So, what’s the deal here? Why is God even giving Ezekiel this rather graphic image? Well, he tells him in verse 11, “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’” (Eze 37:11). What they had concluded about themselves was correct. They were dried up, hopeless, and cut off. Even though these Israelites were very much alive in the physical sense, they were spiritually dead. Their deportation and soon destruction of Jerusalem seemed to seal their lifeless fate. But the enslavement they needed to be worried about is not their enslavement under the Babylonians, but their enslavement to spiritual death which meant their separation not from a physical Promised Land, but from the Promised Land of heaven – the home of God’s true children, spiritual Israel. So the Israelites living in Babylon needed to find freedom from spiritual death to life. And God was telling his people the only way this could be done. The only way that this vast nation of dry bones could find freedom from spiritual death to life was the Sovereign Lord, Adonai Elohim, working through his word. “Therefore prophesy… to them” (Eze 37:12).

“My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live” (Eze 37:12-14). Ezekiel prophesied, yet, when Israel finally did return to the Promised Land, there was no general resurrection from the dead. Not even all those who were alive returned home to Palestine. So it’s clear that we are not dealing here with a physical resurrection from the dead, or even strictly Israel’s return from captivity. Rather, we are talking about a new Israel – a spiritual Israel. We are talking about the new spiritual life provided by the Spirit through his word. We are talking about a spiritual resurrection and a spiritual freedom.

And the important thing, not to lose sight of here is what caused this resurrection. What was it that caused the dry lifeless bones of the Israelites to survive through captivity – to live and thrive despite being cut off from their homeland? It wasn’t their physical lineage traced back to Moses and Abraham. It wasn’t their careful preservation of Israelite culture and rituals. It was God’s Word. It was the Holy Spirit who works through the word to preserve faith in God’s promise – to preserve true spiritual life.

Fast forward several hundred years. What was it that brought 3000 people to faith on that first Christian Pentecost? It wasn’t the miraculous signs of fire, wind, or speaking in other languages. It wasn’t even Peter’s charisma or persuasion as he spoke. It was the Holy Spirit working through his word that brought so many to spiritual life through faith.

Fast forward a couple thousand years. At the beginning of this service, we confessed how he have been like dry, lifeless bones, unable to do anything to free ourselves from this dead, sinful condition. But God’s Word has been spoken, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (Rm 8:1-2). You are no longer dry, lifeless bones. You are alive with Christ! The Spirit of God has breathed new life into you! You are free.

You and I are fortunate to live in a country that stands for freedom. You and I have never known the kind of slavery that the Israelites knew under the Babylonian oppression. And yet, here we are, still talking about freedom. Because, I think you realize that there is much more than just physical freedom – more than just living in a land of certain unalienable rights. We still feel the enslavement of death loom over us from time to time. We still feel the powerful weight of the spiritual death that at one time ruled over us – making us like dry bones with no hope of living. “Can these bones live?” (Eze 37:3). Is it possible for a person to find freedom from the life-sapping clutches of spiritual death? “Sovereign Lord, you alone know” (Eze 37:3). In other words, “Sovereign Lord, only you can.” It is God alone who brings freedom from death to life. He does it by the Holy Spirit working through his word. Something no less miraculous than a valley of very dry bones coming back to life. And the amazing part is, he not only works this miracle in you, he also works it through you as you share God’s word with others.

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Where’s Jesus? (May 13, 2018)

May 14, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

Where’s Jesus?

Luke 24:44-53

A couple weeks ago I was playing a quick round of Where’s Waldo with the catechism students as others were finishing up their tests. After searching for several minutes, they began asking if Waldo was even in the picture. There was visible frustration as they carefully searched with no sight of Waldo. I’ll admit, I wasn’t able to find Waldo either. But when we were about to give up, one of the students spotted him! And even though they wouldn’t give up his location, just knowing that he was somewhere in the picture spurned on the other students and gave them renewed zeal to find Waldo for themselves.

Does your life ever feel like a game of Where’s Waldo? Ever since Jesus ascended into heaven, we no longer have the comfort and assurance of his visible presence with us, and yet he promised, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt 28:20). Despite that promise, sometimes it just feels like Jesus isn’t in the picture. Sometimes we search and search for him, and only become even more frustrated and hopeless when we can’t seem to find him. So where is he? Where’s Jesus?

As Jesus and his disciples stood upon the Mount of Olives, he reminded them, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Lk 24:44). A lot has been written about Jesus and his work as the Messiah. A lot has happened to Jesus too. In fact, a lot of his work as the Messiah took place within sight of where he now stood with his disciples! The disciples could clearly see Jerusalem from where they stood, the city that scorned and rejected Jesus. In fact, it was from this very hill that Jesus mourned, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem… how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Mt 23:37). At the base of this hill was the Garden of Gethsemane, where one of his friends betrayed him and the rest abandoned him in his time of need. From this hill you could also see Golgotha where stubborn sinners crucified the one who came to save them. But from that hill, you could also see the empty tomb of the victorious Messiah. And from this very hill where the disciples stood, from a hill which still stands tall next to Jerusalem, our risen Savior also ascended to heaven as a triumphant and victorious king. Despite all that happened to him, despite all the terrible things that the Word said would happen to him, he ascended as King of kings and Lord of lords.

Sometimes, the problem is not that Jesus is nowhere to be found in the picture of our lives, but rather, that we look at the picture in the wrong way. One place where we can find Jesus is in his Word, in promises like, “Surely I am with you always” (Mt 28:20), and “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Rm 8:28). But then we look for these promises in our lives and there seems to be such a disconnect. Where was God when my car was stolen, money was already tight, and now I have no way to get to school or work? Where was God when I’m working all the hours I can just to keep my head above water and then he lands me flat on my back in the hospital for an unplanned, extended stay? What about the recurring struggles in this marriage? What about the severe illness or death of my loved one? How are these things working for my good?! Or am I just not included among the ones who love God?

Did you know that Jesus foretold his torment and his death a number of times to his disciples before it happened? Not only did the Scriptures say that the Messiah would suffer and die, but Jesus directly told his disciples that it was all going to happen. And yet, he didn’t leave them hanging. Each time he also told them that “On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Mt 20:19). The disciples, however, were still surprised at the fact that Jesus suffered, died, and was buried. And the saddest part is that they didn’t even remember the words of hope he gave to see them through. “On the third day he will be raised to life!”

It’s like they were suffering from the Mandela Effect. The Mandela Effect is the unexplained phenomenon where a whole group of people share a memory that is actually incorrect. This phenomenon got its name from an example where people were certain that Nelson Mandela died in prison back in the 80s, when really he died in 2013 after being released from prison. Other examples would be whether or not the Monopoly man has a monocle; whether Oscar Mayer is spelled “M-A-Y…” or “M-E-Y…”; and even whether the Mona Lisa is smiling or emotionless. It seems that the disciples all forgot completely that Jesus said he would rise again.

This same Mandela Effect takes a toll on us as well when we forget the context in which Jesus spoke some of these uplifting promises. “Surely I am with you always” (Mt 28:20) is spoken just before Jesus ascended into heaven, so we know that his presence with us is going to be very different than it was for the disciples. And he speaks those words when giving his disciples the Great Commission – when he commissions them to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). So what he’s saying is primarily that he goes with you as you proclaim the Gospel. He goes with you to bring hearts to faith. He goes with you despite the rejections that you will face. And that passage that says, “in all things God works for good” (Rm 8:28), that promise from God’s word is spoken in the midst of a section regarding present suffering and future glory. The author is writing about our weaknesses, and the challenges that we will face in life, but then gives that anchor of hope: God is working through even these difficult things. God will bring about his plan and ultimately, your future hope rests securely and certainly in heaven.

How eye-opening that must have been for the disciples who stood on that Mount of Olives, perhaps looking at and remembering all the things that happened to Jesus just a stone’s throw away. And yet, now they stand here with their risen and victorious Savior. God certainly does work out all things for good. And Jesus “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Lk 24:45). Literally, he opened their minds so they could “piece together” or “bring together” the Scriptures. God’s Word is always to be taken as a whole. And so are our lives. Because there will be times when you are crying out “Where’s Jesus?” It may seem at times like he’s nowhere on the page of your life, but he is! He’s right there in his Word. Remember that his Word says you will face challenges from time to time. But it also gives you anchors of hope to keep you rooted in those challenging times. Bring it all together, in his Word and in your life, so that you can find traces of Jesus on every page.

There’s something else that Jesus gives you as well to keep you going even when it seems like Jesus is not in the picture. He gives you his witnesses. It’s like when you are playing Where’s Waldo, and when you are about to give up someone finds Waldo! Suddenly everyone else playing is encouraged. Their vigor is renewed. And often, the anticipation of finding him is also heightened.

Jesus has given you his witnesses in a number of different ways. First, there’s everything that has been written in the Scriptures; all the narratives of individuals struggling through the difficult times (just like you!) and ending up victorious with Christ. The biggest example, and our primary source of comfort, of course, comes through Jesus. He’s the one who dealt with the only struggle we should really be worrying about, and that is the struggle against sin and Satan. Sadly, I think this struggle often takes a back seat to many of the other, more tangible struggles we face in life. In an attempt to make your struggle with sin more tangible, I’m going to flip the narrative a little bit. And by doing this, I’m not trying to allegorize; that is, I’m not turning the account of Jesus into a mere story that we are to learn from. But I think we can perhaps better our grasp on sin when we see it in this sense.

So, picture Jerusalem at the time of Jesus, as your heart. Jesus himself said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem… how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Mt 23:37). That’s true of you and I as well. Jesus longs to bring you to him, but in your sinfulness, you were not willing. And yet, he went in anyway. He went into your sinful heart just like he went into sinful Jerusalem. And just as Jerusalem wasn’t too happy about that – persecuting, rebelling against, and even attempting to silence Jesus – so also your sinful heart and my sinful heart was not too happy about Jesus entering in. My sin fought against him. My sin tried to silence him. My sin even crucified him. But Jesus would not give up. As he shattered the grave and rose victorious so also he has shattered my hard heart and rose victorious over my sin. Paying for it completely and earning a spot for me with him in heaven. Jesus does not give up on you in the struggle against sin – not when he paid so dearly just to share his life with you. Jesus is there with you. Jesus will win.

And he’s there with you in the other struggles as well. Take a look at how he has always been with his people. Sometimes it’s hard to picture, because we know the narratives of the people in the Bible. We already know that they triumphed through their earthly struggles because God saw them through it. But place yourself right in the middle of the narrative for a moment. How would it feel to be Noah, building an ark for years without any sign of God’s declared judgment? How would it feel as literally the whole rest of the world was against you and against God at this time? How would it feel to be Daniel, living in a God-less land, threatened with death if you continued your regular routine of prayer? How does it feel to be Mary or Martha the day that their brother died? Yes, they had hope in the resurrection on the last day, but that loss was still tearing them up inside.

Do you ever feel like some of these people you read about in the Bible? If so, good! Keep reading, because that isn’t the end of their story. Read on to hear how God did indeed bring judgment upon the world, but spared the lives of every believer – Noah, and his family. Read on to hear how Daniel continued to pray, met the punishment that was threatened, and yet God brought him through. In fact, hear the words of Daniel’s friends who faced very similar circumstances in the fiery furnace. They said, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it… but even if he does not… we will not serve your gods” (Dan 3:16-18). They didn’t know the outcome of their story yet! And yet they remained firm because God anchored them in his Word and in his witnesses. And although the story ended very well for these people, including Mary and Martha whose brother, Lazarus, was raised from the dead, they also had their fair share of struggles that God did not immediately rescue them from. Even Lazarus died again, the same fate that every one of us will eventually face. Yet because of Jesus’ victory in his life, it’s not the end of your story. Today, as you face the difficulties you are currently enduring, it’s not the end of your story. And down the road, even as you face death, it’s not the end of your story. Because of Jesus’ victory in his life, you already know the end of your story. It’s eternal life with Jesus in heaven. All the details in between will bring you on a series of ups and downs, twists and turns, but your ending will never change. His Word and his witnesses attest to that!

Then there’s also the witnesses he’s placed in your life, to write their story right alongside you. And even though you may be asking “Where’s Jesus” on your page, they may be able to point him out on their own page. This isn’t to make you sad or jealous. It’s to encourage you and remind you that Jesus is still here in this world. He’s still working and bringing about his plan. So share your experiences with others. Share the times when Jesus has shown up on your page to remind others that Jesus is still very much present in this world, and very much at work for every one of his children. His presence, though, is just different. Since he visibly ascended into heaven we are reminded that we won’t always see him in the ways we might want to see him. Yet, at the same time, since he sits in a place of power in heaven, we are also reminded that he rules over everything in this world so that it all goes according to his plan. Yes, even the challenging things.

Where’s Jesus? He’s there. Keep looking. Find him in his Word where he shows you how all things are coming together for your good. Find him in his witnesses who’s stories you have already seen the ending to. And find him in his world by pointing him out to others for their encouragement.

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