Sermons

An archive of the most recent sermons by Pastor Ehlers.

Advent means YOU! (December 3, 2017)

December 5, 2017
Benjamin Ehlers

Advent means YOU!

Mark 13:33-37

It’s coming! You know it’s coming because it comes at the same time every year. As Thanksgiving passes, we turn our attention to the coming of Christmas on December 25th. And there’s a lot to do to get ready for Christmas, right? Last week many of you stayed after church to help set up our sanctuary for Christmas. Maybe you climbed on the roof to string lights, or you busily unpacked and carefully placed your Christmas decorations around the house. Then there’s the company as well. Have you figured out travel plans? Meals? Cleaned the house? There’s so much to do to get ready for it’s coming!

There’s something else coming that we need to get ready for as well. Actually, I should say, someone else coming. Jesus promised before he ascended into heaven that he would come again, and that the day he came would be the last day. And you know, Jesus has a pretty good track record on keeping his promises. In fact, every promise of his that you read about in the Bible has come true except this one. So, are you going to be ready? Yes, I’m talking specifically to you, because advent means YOU! Be ready for his coming by being an alert Christian, being a responsible Christian, and being an expectant Christian.

We know it’s coming, we just don’t know when. Since we don’t know when, there are a couple different mindsets that someone could have. You may think, who knows when he’s coming so why worry about it? You may even go so far as to think, well, the world has kept on spinning without a sight of him for 2000 years, I don’t think he’s coming any time soon.

But what happens to someone who is not on the alert simply because they don’t know the time? If it’s your duty to guard a military installation against possible attacks, it would be foolish to think, “Well, I don’t know when to expect an attack, so why even worry?” Or it would be foolish to think that a thief would call you to schedule a home break in – they just want to make sure you are ready, right? This is foolishness, yet so often we consider the uncertainty of Christ’s return to be cause for carelessness.

Uncertainty calls for increased watchfulness, not careless indifference. In fact, the very reason for this strong warning, “Be on guard! Be alert!” (Mk 13:33) is because you do not know the specific time of his return! If we knew that he was coming back on May 4th, 2028, then we could sit back and relax going about doing whatever we want to do, until perhaps a short time before that specified date. But since we do not know, be alert! It could be any day, any time! All the prophecies concerning the End Times have already been fulfilled. Be alert and ready for his coming!

 Now, does being alert mean staring into the sky several times a day looking for Jesus? No. Think of this alertness or readiness in another way. When I was younger, my parents would at times leave us kids home on our own while they went out for the night. But before they left, they always gave us some instructions. Here’s the food you can have for supper. Wash the dishes and sweep the floor afterward. Finish your homework, and you know your bed times. So guess what we did while our parents were out? If we decided to be careless, we would slack off. Dishes would be left in the sink. The floor would be left dirty. And we would be scampering off to bed as our parents caught us unaware of their return. We would be found unprepared and there would be consequences!

In a similar way, before Jesus left, he assigned his followers certain tasks. God has given each of you special gifts and abilities to use faithfully. Each servant of God is given a special assignment. Each Christians is called to use the means of grace wisely, to live as children of the heavenly Father, and to spread the gospel at every opportunity. There is no such thing as an inactive follower of Christ – no such thing as a dead member of the body of Christ. And if you are looking at yourself thinking, “There’s nothing I can do anymore” or, “I’ve lived a long life and already used up all my gifts.” But even those who are seemingly helpless and dependent on others can by their Christian patience and forbearance set a powerful example of faith for others. Each and every servant is given a special assignment. Yes, that assignment can change as your life changes, but be a responsible Christian with the task that God has given you.

There is one servant that is singled out. The watchman is especially charged with being alert and keeping watch. Yes, all the servants are to be alert, but the watchman is to give special attention to this task and keep others ready for Christ’s return as well. And if you were to guess who the watchman in the parable corresponds to, who might you say? Probably the first person that comes to mind would be pastors, and you are definitely correct. Like watchmen it’s the pastor’s duty to keep other awake, alert, and going about their assigned task. But I think it could also be broadened out to the church leaders as well – the council members that you have elected. They are responsible for keeping the pastor on task. They are also responsible for the other servants. So leaders of the church, and I include myself in this exhortation, be responsible Christians.

If the leaders of the church do no alert their people to the Advent call of watchfulness, who will? And I know we may often think of reprimanding and warnings of doom and destruction. But what really is the watchman’s message primarily? Not doom and gloom, but joy and hope! It’s a message of promise and of final deliverance from sin and death! Think of John the Baptist, who yes preached repentance but the overarching message of his preaching was, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Remember that the Lord who is coming is your Savior! His return is a joyous occasion – one to be celebrated and eagerly expected!

Be an expectant Christian. Do not misunderstand and become lax because there is a watchman. The whole point of this reading is that all are to be alert and watching continuously. It’s a very personal charge that Jesus gives. “Keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back” (Mk 13:35). The watchman reminds you of his immanent coming, but he isn’t assigned to the specific task that you have been given. You also need to be expecting his return any day so that you joyfully carry out the task that God has given you. Expect him every day because you do not know when he will return.

The Bible reading says it could be “in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn” (Mk 13:35). Take special note of these 4 designations of time. In the parable, the master will arrive sometime during the hours of the night – at a time least expected, when people are most likely to be asleep. No doubt about it, there will be many people who will slumber in apathy. But do not let him find YOU sleeping.

It’s hard to do, because human nature likes to postpone and put things off until the next day. “Maybe tomorrow I’ll have more time to think about my Christian responsibilities.” “Perhaps next year I’ll be able to devote more thought to spiritual matters.” The advent message puts the emphasis on the “now,” and the “today!” Tomorrow or even next year, even though it is barely a month away, may be too late! The time to be ready is now. The time to make the change is now.

That’s really an interesting thought as we look ahead to New Years. How many of you are starting to make a list of resolutions that will be undertaken on January 1st? Why wait? Especially when talking about our resolve to be Advent Christians who are alert, responsible, and expectant. Why wait? Why not set the goal now – whether it be family devotions, more time for prayer, or reading the Bible on your own. Set the goal now. Start working on it now. Then, on New Year’s, renew your resolve in sticking to those spiritual goals.

Christ is indeed coming. It’s the only promise of his that he has not yet made good on. But he will. And when he comes, are you going to be ready? No, I don’t mean in just a general way. I don’t simply mean being ready by attending a church that is sharing the gospel and building up Christians. I mean you personally. Are you alert? Understanding that Christ could return at any time. Are you being responsible with the tasks that God has given you personally? And are you eagerly expecting his return? And doing all this not merely to avoid eternal doom, but because you are eagerly looking forward to eternal salvation and life with Christ! Advent means YOU because Christ is returning for you!

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God’s Invitations Rejected! (November 26, 2017)

November 27, 2017
Benjamin Ehlers

God’s Invitation Rejected!

Romans 11:1-10

There’s a movie that came out in 2008, starring Jim Carrey, called “Yes Man”. In this movie the main character, Carl, is a bank loan officer who lives a fairly dull life because he always says no to any and every invitation. That is, until he goes to a seminar where he learns to become a “yes man” – a person who says yes to new opportunities and is willing to try new things! Well, Carl soon finds out the hard way, that even being a “yes man” he is really in the same state that he was before. He was a robot. First programmed to always say “no,” then programmed to always say “yes”. In the end, he learns how to exercise free will! It’s true, being a “yes man” opened him up and made him more adventurous. But he learned the importance of being able to make decisions.

When God created us, he didn’t create us to be “yes men”. He didn’t create us to be “no men” either. He gave us a free will that was able to love and obey him because we wanted to! It is our act of love and devotion to say yes to God’s will and no to sin. After the fall into sin, although it greatly damaged his creation and made our freewill slaves to sin, God still called out to us by the gospel. He invited us to see all that he has graciously done to free us from the slavery of sin, and he gives us the ability to say, “Yes, I want to remain a part of God’s family.”

In the gospel reading for today (Mt 22:1-14), Jesus illustrates what that all looks like. “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come” (Mt 22:2-3). The date has already been set. The engagement of his son to the bride guaranteed the marriage – especially in those days, the engagement was much more of a commitment than it is today. Then the king painstakingly went about the process of preparing the wedding banquet for his son. Everything had to be perfect. He loved his son, and he loved his son’s guests. The tables were set. Food was prepared. Musicians standing at the ready. And invitations were sent out.

Then the king sent out servants to inform those invited that it was time for the wedding banquet to begin! Everything is ready. Come! “But they refused to come” (Mt 22:3). Was it that they never really intended to come? Did they secretly hate the son? Did they find their own matters more important on that day? All the king’s efforts wasted on them. All his preparations were for naught.

But this king was persistent. “He sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’” (Mt 22:4). A reminder that it wasn’t just that this king could order from a caterer and, if everything fell through, cancel his order and take not hit. No, he had already given up some of his prized possessions. His oxen had been butchered – his means of work – along with his highly valued fattened cattle. There was no way to get these things back! “But [those invited] paid no attention and went off” (Mt 22:5), even mistreating and killing the king’s servants.

I think you already see the very close parallel between the king and his son and God and his Son. The engagement has been made! Christ has already betrothed himself to the Church – the body of all believers. You became a part of that betrothal when you were baptized in his name! The date is set, the banquet is being prepared. And although we don’t know that date, we know that soon we will partake in the marriage feast of the Lamb – all the glories of heaven that God has prepared for you.

However, sadly, some reject that invitation. In fact, in a very vivid way, God chose an entire nation to be his own. To be a living, breathing example of what he does for all those, Jews and Gentiles, who are invited to be his own. Yet even though this nation of Israel had their bridegroom in front of their very eyes… Although they saw his mighty deeds, witnessed his working for them, and had many prophets who spoke directly from him, many of them still rejected his invitation. Many of God’s own Old Testament people preferred their own activities, rejected God’s invitation, and even killed God’s prophets. By grace God persisted, though, till he had gathered a remnant chosen by grace. The others, who continued to reject him, were hardened, given a lethargic spirit, trapped and enslaved in their attempts to obtain God’s favor by their own works.

You see, it’s not that they didn’t like what was being offered. They just didn’t like the way that it was being offered. A free gift just seemed too cheap in their eyes. They would rather have to earn this gift by hard work and paying in. They earnestly sought the righteousness that God freely offered, but they tried to acquire it in the wrong way and therefore did not obtain it. This righteousness is offered freely by grace! “It cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace” (Rm 11:6).

Now it’s easy to stand in line for the wedding banquet and shake your finger at those who rejected the invitation. But before you do that, perhaps we should also do some digging. How often have I been a “No man,” rejecting invitations from God? How many times have I been weary and burdened trying to solve problems on my own, work through difficulties, and squeeze every hour out of the day trying to lighten the burden? Yet God invites you saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). How many times have I wrestled with my own guilt, trying to keep a sin hidden or struggling to cover it up? Yet God invites you saying, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9). Listen to his invitation! Trust the promises connected to his invitations. Stop rejecting and believe him!

Thankfully, we have a persistent king. One who rings out his invitation again and again. One who goes out to where you are and brings you in! “Go to the street corners,” the king said, “and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests” (Mt 22:9-10).

Now some might judgingly retort, “Did God reject his people?” (Rm 11:1). They hear the parable that Jesus told and focus on the fact that the king destroyed those he originally invited so that he can bring others in. Or they look at the nation of Israel and focus on some of God’s punishments in the Old Testament. Or they see how Jesus spoke harshly against some Israelites, and some of the apostles focused specifically on the gentiles. “Did God reject his people?” (Rm 11:1). It’s not at all that the king rejected them. Sometimes we focus on the wrong details and fail to see that this king persistently and repeatedly called on those who were first invited. Or we fail to see the longing heart of Jesus which caused him to groan, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and YOU were not willing” (Mt 23:37). It’s not that God was not willing. He invited many to his wedding banquet and will continue to do so until the wedding hall is filled with guests – until all those who will heed his invitation have been gathered.

That still doesn’t quite answer the question. “Did God reject his people?” (Rm 11:1). That nation that he graciously chose to bring up out of Egypt and carefully groomed for centuries, did he reject them? That’s perhaps what Elijah thought. Even after he had displayed God’s stunning power over the false god, Baal, he was still hunted down and mistreated. He fled for his life to Horeb, and when God asked him, “What are you doing here” (1 Kgs 19:9), Elijah responded “The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (1 Kgs 19:10). It’s in these depths of despair, when all seemed to be darkness around him, that God lets shine a glimmer of his grace. “I reserve seven thousand in Israel – all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal” (1 Kgs 19:18).

Sometimes it feels like that, doesn’t it? Maybe at school, maybe at your place of employment, maybe just as you turn on the nightly news. “Everyone has rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and persecuted your people. I am the only one left, and now they are persecuting me too.” Yet remember what we have learned these past few weeks. Your God is King of kings and Lord of lords! Nothing happens in this world without his allowing it. Nothing happens to you that is out of his control. Your God will also come one day as supreme judge of all. You don’t have to personally avenge injustice because your God promises you that he will set the record straight. Yet your God is also gracious, preserving a remnant throughout history. A remnant who, although just as guilty as anyone else, clings to the cross of Christ for the forgiveness and redemption found in him.

It makes me think of the times when I should be asking myself, “Have I rejected God’s invitation?” Yes, I have. Time and time again I still do. And it makes me wonder, when we stubbornly reject God’s invitation to come to him to lighten our load or confess our sinfulness, will God reject us? Is there a limit to God’s forgiveness and love for his lost sheep? Paul offers himself as an example. “By no means! I am an Israelite myself” (Rm 11:1). In fact, he was not just an Israelite, but an Israelite who stubbornly rejected God’s invitation again and again. He was like one of those in Jesus’ parable from the gospel reading who “seized [the king’s] servants, mistreated them and killed them” (Mt 22:6). He witnessed the stoning of Stephen. He obtained letters of commission to hunt down and eradicate Christians. And yet God persisted with Paul until he finally saw the light of God’s invitation, confessed his sin, was forgiven, and readily given a seat at the marriage feast of the Lamb! God persists with you as well. He always calls you back to the cross where you can leave your sin before entering the banquet where he has prepared a place just for you! There’s a seat with your name on the name card! And he will do anything to make sure you are in that seat at the marriage feast of the Lamb.

God’s invitations rejected! Yes, sadly they are, again and again. And for those who persist in this rejection, there will be a day when they will have to answer for it. But thanks be to God that he is stubbornly persistent. He continues to call and invite. And he makes sure that his remnant, chosen by grace, will be with him in heaven – at the marriage feast of the Lamb.

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Christ Is King Over All (November 19, 2017)

November 22, 2017
Benjamin Ehlers

Christ Is King Over All

1 Corinthians 15:20-28

On Sunday, November 5th, 2017 I had the privilege of baptizing my newest nephew, Jared Wong. This small action of applying water in connection with God’s Word has huge implications for that tiny infant barely a couple weeks old. You could call it an adoption into God’s family. You could call it the beginning of his new life in Christ. It is an occasion more important than even his birthday! And let me tell you, the whole family and whole congregation rejoiced, praised God, and celebrated!

So what impact did that have on you? Did the ground shake or were you suddenly filled with joy on that Saturday night at around 10:30pm? (Saturday night because of the time change). Did you even know it was going on? Probably not until I told you just now or maybe you saw some pictures on facebook. My point is very rarely, if ever, does the action of one person have an effect on all people of all time and in every place.

That is with one exception. On a Friday afternoon a governor sentenced a man to death. His soldiers took him into the Praetorium, stripped him, put a scarlet robe on him, and mocked him. Then they spit on him, beat him, and eventually took him away to be crucified. Of course I’m talking about Jesus and his crucifixion which was mentioned in the Gospel reading for today (Mt 27:27-31). It might seem strange that this is the reading appointed for this Sunday of the church year: Christ the King Sunday. He certainly appears to be anything but a king in the way that they treated him and the events that unfolded. But if you continue to read, and as the other Bible readings for today show us, this act of self-sacrifice would prove to be the most kingly action of all. A kingly act that has very real implications for all people of all time. Today we see that Christ IS King over all. He conquered sin. He will vanquish our enemies. And he will destroy death.

There was a problem in the Corinthian congregation. It appears that some did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. Maybe they believed that Jesus was raised from the dead, and in fact Paul mentions many witnesses to this fact – some of whom are still alive as he writes this letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15:3-8)! But that all people, human beings, would be raised from the dead just didn’t make sense. So the apostle Paul reasons with them a little in the verses preceding this section. He says, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised” (1 Cor 15:13). If it’s impossible for human beings to be raised from the dead, then it would have to be impossible for Jesus to be raised from the dead as well. He goes on, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:17). If Christ never finished the job, if he only died and did not rise, then you are still in your sins. That’s what you are implying if you think that there is no resurrection from the dead – because if God cannot raise human beings, then how could Christ be raised?

After this reasoning Paul makes his point, it’s the first verse of the section we read today, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:20). He states it as fact, and indeed there are many witnesses to this fact as he mentioned earlier. What more conclusive word can be spoken than that Christ has been raised from the dead? He doesn’t go into reasoning again, but you understand the implications! Since Christ has been raised from the dead then he has conquered sin, making full atonement for sin on the cross. And since he has been raised, then your faith is something and you are no longer in your sin! Since you are no longer in your sin, then you too will be raised just like Jesus!

Jesus was the firstfruit, the resurrection of all people is the full harvest. Firstfruits had deep meaning for the Israelites, but perhaps the meaning is lost on us today. It was the first part of the harvest that was taken in and presented to God as an offering – a trust that if he provided a good firstfruit then the whole harvest will be good as well! What better firstfruit can you have than Jesus? What better reason to trust? Perhaps you can think of it as the first deposit of your retirement plan. You’ve saved for years and years. You’ve watched that nest egg grow on paper. But when that first deposit is made then it becomes real. Although you haven’t received the full amount of your retirement savings, you trust that it will be distributed in due time. Christ is that first deposit. He conquered sin and proved it by rising from the death. Your sins are no more. You too will be raised!

I think sometimes we have trouble connecting to the death and resurrection of Christ. One, because it is contrary to nature, and two, because it seems to be an isolated occurrence which has no visible consequences for anyone else. Like the baptism of baby Jared, yes it had a huge impact on him and the family and friends who were there, but did it really impact you? Not most of you, except that you will see him in heaven one day. But the death and resurrection of Jesus is completely different. It was not an isolated occurrence. It has eternal consequences for every believer! Though we haven’t experienced it yet, the resurrection is coming. And think about this, you know and have yourself already experienced how the actions of one man can have an effect on all people in all places of all time. The sin of Adam has an effect on you, and very real implications for your life. Really this is no different than the actions of the other man, Jesus. “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor 15:21-22). Because of the good firstfruit, there will be a good harvest!

“Then the end will come” (1 Cor 15:24) the Bible says. Christ has been raised – the firstfruits of all the dead – and when he returns, those who belong to him will also be raised. Then the end will come. What does that mean? What is the end? The end of what? “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power” (1 Cor 15:24). It will be the end of all the enemies that threaten you or have sought to dominate you. The end of Satan’s power over you. The end of being dominated by your sins. Then end of sin’s threat of death. Then end because Christ your King has vanquished all your enemies. This is the reason Jesus came. John says it in his first letter, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 Jn 3:8). That victory was sealed when he died on the cross and rose from the dead. Yet he waits for a time to completely vanquish your enemies because he is waiting for all those who are his to be saved. Once all his own are safely in his care, he will completely vanquish all your enemies.

This “end” marks the end of your enemies, but it means something completely different for you! It is also a new beginning. The beginning of a life without sin, without tragedy and misery, without death and Satan. It marks the beginning of your eternal joy and the beginning of your perfect life! I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced something like that – the end of one thing and the beginning of another. Maybe the end of your student life and the beginning of your career. Maybe the end of one job and the beginning of a new. Maybe the end of a battle with a draining disease and the beginning of health. Whatever it was, it probably felt great! A fresh start! Something new and exciting. Something you had been waiting for for a long time! But how long did that feeling last? How long until some of the same disappointments or problems arose again? It’s simply a fact of life that we have perhaps just gotten used to. Make the best of every situation because there are always going to be disappointments. And that’s perhaps why it is so difficult to imagine this kind of new beginning. It’s not just a new beginning but it’s also a complete end to every struggle, disappointment, or letdown. The grass is greener on the other side of this new beginning and it will stay green forever because Christ the King has vanquished all your enemies. There is nothing left to disappoint you or hurt you ever again.

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:26). Again, it’s hard to believe, hard to fathom. Death has become such a natural and expected part of life. In fact, there are some who say that death IS natural, or a logical counterpart to life. But what does the Bible say? What does God teach us about death? The Bible says that death is unnatural, something which entered as a result of sin. In fact, it says here that death is an enemy! And what an enemy death is. Death is greedy. Death is never satisfied, consuming one after another without end. Yet even death, this enemy that no one has been able to escape has been destroyed by Christ. He destroyed death from within, destroying the power and fear it has over people. And notice the difference. For those who believe that Jesus has destroyed death by his resurrection, death has become something else. In verse 20 it is called “sleep.” That’s what Jesus called it during his ministry (Mt 9:24; Jn 11:13). That’s what the ancient Israelites called it (Gn 47:30; Dt 31:16). And that’s what the apostles called it on numerous occasions. No longer is death the end of life but simply the transition to a new beginning. Christ has already defeated your enemy, death, when he rose from the dead, and he will free you from the sleep of death when he returns to take you home.

So what kind of a king is Christ Jesus? If you were to remove the gospel reading from its context and the rest of the Bible, you might say that he was merely a fraud or a failure. But when Scripture is read as a whole, you can see that what Matthew captures in chapter 27 is the first part of the climax of the story. Christ’s death was his most kingly action because in death he conquered sin, and vanquished our enemies. Then in his resurrection he destroyed the power of death. This is no isolated event in history. It has huge implications for you. If Christ died for your sins, then you are no longer held accountable. If he rose from the dead then it has no power over you. Since he has proven that he is King over all, then you can be certain that he will bring about the end of all your enemies, and bring you into the beginning of a new and perfect life with him.

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The Hope of Life Together as Saints Triumphant (November 12, 2017)

November 22, 2017
Jeff Smith

The Hope of Life Together as Saints Triumphant

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Years ago, there was a great physician.  He was known for his healing skills.  Back then, many people could tell you how this man had saved their lives. Needless to say, the sick and the suffering kept him very busy.  So busy that he and his coworkers were exhausted by the end of the day.

            One day a man came to him and begged for his help.  This man loved his daughter very much and she was sick, very sick.  The father pleaded that he come to his home.  And to his great relief, the busy man agreed to make a house call.

            But as they made their way, someone came to him with dreadful news.  It seemed that all was lost. The girl had died. Yet the physician continued on. He went on. He even told the father something that seemed too good to be true.

            Picture the scene.  They arrive at the house where people are wailing with grief,  They are about to enter the room where the lifeless body of a young girl lay. But before they go in the man says to the people outside, Stop wailing. She is not dead, but asleep.

            The Bible tells us the people laughed. We can understand why.  After all, the girl was dead. And no one could change that-except this man who came to this house that day.  Only he could make these words so true.  She is not dead, but asleep. For the One who spoke them is not just a man. He is the very Son of God, our Savior. And with God, nothing is impossible.

            Have you ever been inside such a room?  Have you ever looked upon the lifeless body of a loved one who died believing in Christ?  If you have, you know what grief is all about. If you haven’t, you know a fellow Christian who has.  And of course we think of those families down in Sutherland Springs.  Their little boy or girl.  Their beloved husband or wife, father or mother who have died in the Lord.   To each one of us who knows such grief, to each of us who will know it someday, Jesus says something that sees too good to be true. He says something that we can hold tightly as we commit that lifeless body to the ground. He [or she] is not dead, but asleep.

            And here is where this Word of God comes in. For here our Lord come to us with words that can temper our grief.  He comes with words that can fill that painful void in our hearts with something this world cannot give — hope. Not a wish, not a maybe, but a hope that you and I and every grieving Christian heart can look forward to:

The Hope of Life Together as the Saints Triumphant

            13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.  Every person grieves the loss of a loved one. There would be something wrong if not. There would be something wrong if we did not ache inside. But when that loved one has died trusting his or her Savior our grief need not be the grief of a dead end with nothing more to follow. Think about it. What did Jesus call that young girl’s death? What did he make it?  A sleep.

            Well here Jesus’ apostle calls the Christians death the very same thing.  Sleep. Not once but three times. Go with that.  When someone goes to sleep, what do we expect? We expect that person to wake up, maybe sooner, maybe later.  So yes, we grieve but we grieve with this hope. It’s only for a time.

            You see, our Christian faith does not leave us stranded in the pain of the moment. No, the Holy Spirit dresses our wounded hearts with the hope that is ours in Christ. Listen again:  We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.    

            Think about it. We know and believe that the very Son of God suffered and laid down his life for us and all people.  He suffered the wages of our sin.  He suffered what we deserve so we could be spared on the Day of Judgment. But death did not have the last word with Jesus, did it?  That’s why we are here on Sunday mornings instead of say another day.  For on a Sunday morning long ago, the body of Mary’s son, given in death, became alive once more. He came out of the grave.  So death did not have the last word with Jesus, life did.

            And here’s the joy for our tears.  You are united with Jesus.  In your baptism, the Holy Spirit united you with your Savior. His death to take away sin became yours. But not just his death. Also his victory over death. That victory belongs to every Christian. So that obituary that says he died or she passed away is not the last word for that body in the grave. No, life is. The Hope of Life Together as the Saints Triumphant. 

            According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.  It seems that some of these Christians were worried about their fellow believers who had died. They worried that their loved ones would somehow miss out when the Lord Jesus comes on the Last Day.  For more than once God’s Word pictures that day like a joyful wedding celebration.  Would their loved ones miss out?  Would they go on without them?

            And you know, we can feel that way when we leave the gravesite. For we go on in this life without those we leave there. 

            But no, the apostle tells us. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  Now please don’t misunderstand. We know that when a Christian dies, angels carry his soul to be with Jesus in the paradise of heaven. But that is only until that great day to come. The Day of Resurrection.  The day when those bodies fallen in weakness, pain and death will rise.  They will awake to live and not as they did before. Not afflicted with disease. Not afflicted by a world that can break our hearts. But to live in glory, a glory that we can’t possibly imagine.

            And here Paul reminds us.  This is not some kind of wish., some pious sentiment to keep us going. This is the hope that Jesus gives us as we stand at that gravesite. This is the hope he gives us as we leave the cemetery empty and alone.  For this is God’s promise and he does not lie. 

            So let’s complete the picture.  17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. There are many things we can look forward to in that day.  We will be swept up from this perishing world like Noah’s family in the ark. We will be changed in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye.      

            But there is something very special in these words I’d like you to think of today.  For right now there is a great divide that stands between us and those who have left this life.  It’s a divide that keeps us from those we love.  But the Day is coming when that deadly divide will be no more. For what are we told? Together with them…we will be with the Lord forever. 

            Every now and then you see it on television. Maybe at a school gym or a sports stadium.  A parent and children are there.  They do not suspect what is about to happen. Then they turn around and  he or she  is coming their way with a big smile. Still in uniform, back from deployment in a far away place. They run to each other and hug for the longest time.  And the words we hear.  Let me look at you. I love you. I’ve missed you daddy.   

            But what is too often the case. Dad or mom has to go back not once or twice.  But like my son, again and again. That happy reunion is often followed by another tearful goodbye.

            Dear friends.  There comes a time when we all have to say goodbye in this life.  And when it’s the goodbye that death demands, it can seem so empty, so hopeless. 

            But our faith in Jesus speaks to us in that darkness.  It consoles us in our grief. For his Word promises a different kind of reunion. A blessed reunion from which there will be no more sad goodbyes. That is the hope that Jesus gives. That is our hope for the day of his coming. The Hope of Life Together as the Saints Triumphant.     Amen, Come Lord Jesus.

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Be Looking… Be Waiting (November 5, 2017)

November 22, 2017
Jeff Smith

Be Looking… Be Waiting

Daniel 7:9-10

            We were driving north.  We knew the exit we needed to take.  We got to talking, distracted.  The exit came.  The exit went.  Oops.  No big deal, we turned back. 

            But some things are a big deal.  On the bridge of a ship in the dark of the night.  As the officer of the Deck, you have to watch out for other ships coming your way.  You and the other watchstanders can’t let yourselves slump into inattention.  Too much is at stake.  The safety of your ship and the lives of those sleeping below.  You need to keep watch.   

            Well God’s Word teaches us about a Day to come.  Our readings today speak of it.  Sometimes it is called the Day of the Lord.  God’s Word tells us to be waiting, expecting that day.  But how easy it is for every day life to swallow up that expectation.  How easy it is to forget about a Day the Lord has written on his calendar.  We call it the Last Judgment.  So we say: 

BE LOOKING…BE WAITING

  1. The Day is surely approaching
  2. God himself will sit in judgment
  3. Then his own will be revealed

            What we have here is part of a vision given to the prophet Daniel.  It speaks of a succession of kingdoms yet to come.  In the vision, they are pictured as a lion, then a bear then a leopard and finally a terrifying beast.  They represent Babylon which had taken Daniel into exile with his people.  Then Persia.  Then Greece.  Then finally the powerful Roman empire.  These kingdoms would conquer and be conquered over hundreds of years.  Kings like Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Alexander the great and the Caesars would rule these powerful empires.

            History tells us those kings and their empires have come and gone.  But the prophecy does not end there way back when.  It points us to another scene yet to come.  Thrones are brought into a room and set in place.  An awesome mysterious figure takes his seat.  He is called the Ancient of Days, a name not seen anywhere else in the Bible.  He is called the the Ancient of Days because this King has always been.  Then the court comes to order.  The Ancient of Days is ready.  He is ready to carry out his judgment. 

            This is a vision of a Day sure to come.  The prophets speak of it.  Our Lord Jesus speaks of it. The apostles speak of it. The Day of the Lord, an unmistakable day when the Lord comes in all his power and glory. 

            Many things will happen on that day.  The dead will be raised.  Every person who lives or who has ever lived will be assembled before God’s throne.  This world as we know it will be destroyed by fire.  And God will create a new heavens and a new earth.

            And notice I said nothing about a millennium, nothing about a thousand year reign of Christ on the earth.  That’s because the so called millennium is a false understanding of God’s Word.  No, the next thing we await is the Day of the Lord. 

            The Day of the Lord will be a day of dramatic contrasts.  Unspeakable joy and terrible despair.  People invited into the blessed presence of God and those rejected to spend an eternity in hell. And the defining moment will be the one pictured here.  Judgment.

            That Day is surely approaching.  When it will come, we cannot say.  But we do know how it will come.  Jesus tells us it will come like a thief in the night.  Suddenly, Unannounced, without warning.  

            But that doesn’t mean it should catch us unaware.  For as Paul wrote in our second lesson, you brothers are not in darkness. God has brought you into the light of knowing.  That Day is coming.

            So be looking…be waiting. For this is a Day that could come at any moment.  That’s why your Lord Jesus who loves you more than his own life says to you:  34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”  (Luke 21: 34-36) For the Day is surely approaching. 

            If you’ve worked around the courtroom you get an impression of the judges who serve there. Some bend over backwards to help the defendant.  Some seem a bit more even.  In the Coast Guard, I investigated wrongdoing by people licensed to operate the kind of ships that can carry massive amounts of cargo and passengers. Part of my job was to bring charges before a judge.  In the federal building in New Orleans, there were two judges you could have.  When I turned in the charge sheet, I would ask the secretary.  Which judge is up? 

            Which judge is up?  Read Daniel’s words and the answer is very clear.  So be looking..Be waiting.  God himself will sit in judgment.

            “thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. The one who will sit in judgment will not be someone young and inexperienced.  He will be full of years, older than the mountains. For he made them.

            And look closer at how he’s described.  His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. (9) If you look at Revelation chapter you see that our Lord Jesus is pictured in the same way.  For God our Father has entrusted judgment to his Son.  And remember we are dealing with a vision.  The details teach us.  For in the Bible, white is the color of purity, holiness.  So we see that this judge is holy.  He sits on the throne with absolute moral authority to judge those who come before him.  And every sinful failure, every ugly word, every godless attitude will stand out like an ugly ink stain on a white shirt. 

            His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. 10A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. When God appeared to Moses, how did he show his glory?  With fire in a burning bush.  When the Lord led his people out of Egypt he led them with a tall pillar of __________.  When God the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, he made his presence known by the sound of a win and tongues of  ___________. Well here we see the glory of him who will sit in Judgment.  We see the Kabod Adonai, the glory of the Lord. 

            And follow the picture.  Right now in Hawaii there is an active volcano that oozes molten lava. What would happen to anything in its way?  Houses, fields, vegetation, would all be consumed by fire.

            Well so too that judgment that is to come.  It will be unrelenting, all consuming.  What does the Scripture say?  Our God is a consuming fire.  And so we dare not take this Day lightly. Instead we need to be watching.  Waiting.  For the Day is surely coming when God himself will sit in judgment over you and me and all people. 

            The court was seated, and the books were opened.  What books?  The Bible describes a book in which every aspect of our life is recorded.  A lot of gigabytes of the good, the bad and the ugly.  The acts of kindness and the selfish failures to care and love. And there is another book the Bible speaks of.  It’s called the Book of Life.  In it are written the names of those that are God’s own, those who will hear Jesus say:  Come you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you…For on that day, that book will be opened and then God’s own will be revealed. 

            Now I don’t know if those books are real or also a part of a vision.    What matters is the truth they teach us.  What matters is that God knows my life, all that I have done and failed to do.  He knows yours too.  So when we look at ourselves, we might wonder.  Will my name be found in that Book of Life…or not? 

            I remember a man struggling with that question. He was dying.  And he was afraid.  He knew he was a sinner.  And he knew that when he died, he would stand before God as all of us will.  So he was afraid. 

            But he and we have a Savior who says to us, don’t be afraid.  By the grace of God, we don’t have to wonder.  We don’t have to face that Day with a big question mark.  For yes, we know what we deserve. Chief of sinners though I be.  But that’s why the Son of God came to be our brother.  To take our guilt that would have cried out from the pages of God’s book and condemned us.  Jesus took that guilt upon himself, then went to the cross to suffer our judgment.  And how do we know?  He rose from the grave.  There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 

            That’s why God had this Book written.  So that you could know Jesus, your Savior, So that you could know your sins are forgiven.  So that you could know, not wonder, not wish, not worry, not doubt but know what God’s book will say when it’s opened.  Jesus came, lived, died and rose again so you and I can look forward to that day. 

            So the court will be seated and the books will be opened.  But you will not stand there filled with fear.  For what does God promise you?  Whoever trusts in Jesus, His Son, will not perish but have everlasting life.   

            And in the meantime?  Think about it.  What kind of people should we be as we wait for that Day?  God’s word is clear.  Live a life worthy of your calling.  Live a life that Jesus will hold up on that day as evidence of your faith.  Live a life of caring regard for the needs of others. Remember his words. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  Then watch.  Then wait.  Amen. 

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Keep His Teachings Pure (October 29, 2017)

November 22, 2017
Benjamin Ehlers

Keep His Teachings Pure

2 Timothy 4:2-5

It happens all the time. I’m in the office browsing YouTube for some peaceful study music and I run into it. Clickbait. Or as I’m setting up for a project at home and looking for either some good country music or maybe even an interesting documentary, I run into it. Clickbait. I guess one way of describing clickbait is simply the old bait and switch. You see a title or image of something that looks really interesting, so you click on it, and it turns out that what you really wanted to watch was barely even mentioned in the video – if at all.

Clickbait essentially has two principle characteristics. The first, is appealing to the masses. What do people want to see? What do people want to hear? Let’s use that in our title or in our thumbnail image. But then, the second principle, is that it doesn’t stay true to its word. It offers one thing, while giving another. It promises something, but does not fulfill.

Unfortunately, I think clickbait would be one accurate way of describing some churches of our day. They claim to be Christian churches or churches that remain true to the Bible, but in fact do not focus on Christ, and subject the Bible to human reason and emotion. They also, often, offer all kinds of programs and series which appeal to the masses, but sadly fail to use these opportunities to show Christ.

So how do we keep the teachings of God’s Word pure in an age when many would agree it’s up to one’s own personal interpretation? Preach the Word and keep your head.

The Greek words “khruxate to euaggelion” are printed above the doors of the chapel of the Seminary I attended in Wisconsin. I must have walked under those words over 500 times. “Preach the Gospel” is what they mean. Almost the exact same words as Paul uses here as an exhortation to young Timothy. “Preach the Word!” It’s a very good reminder for every preacher as he stands in the pulpit to minister to God’s people. A preacher is a herald. This isn’t my church. You aren’t my disciples. Therefore, it’s not my message you came to hear. It’s God’s message you came to hear and by his grace I get to be the one to share that with you. A preacher is a herald. A herald is vested with authority to proclaim publicly the official message of a king or high official. The office of herald precludes permission to devise a message of his own. You are God’s people, and God has a message for you. I’m simply the mouthpiece. Therefore, every preacher and every church must be focused on preaching God’s Word purely!

God’s Word was not often preached in Luther’s day. And if it was, it certainly wasn’t the focus of the service. Yes, they had some of the same reading patterns that we do today – something from the Old Testament and something from the New. But the service didn’t really have a place to dig into God’s Word like we do in our sermons. If they did have a time for something like a speech, it could focus on anything from God’s Word – often the law – a papal decree, or anything else on the church’s agenda. But to focus on preaching God’s Word and to make it a highlight of the service is something that Luther pushed. And, of course, he found it important that the reading and preaching be done in the native language of the people so that they could actually understand it. God’s Word is the highest source of truth, therefore it ought to take a prominent place in every worship service.

Now, there’s a lot in God’s Word. There’s easy parts and there’s difficult parts. There’s parts that we love to read and hear, but there’s also parts that we don’t like to hear. We love to hear the gospel about how God is forgiving and loves us. But we don’t like to hear the words of the law that we are sinful, even at birth. Or that even the good deeds that we try to do are like filthy rags. But these two, law and gospel, go hand in hand. If we only focus on the law, well everyone would despair because of their sinfulness which would probably lead to rage, anger, and hate. Similarly, if we only focused on the gospel, our own sinfulness would be minimized and we may even forget how much we really need a Savior. We need to hear the Law so that we know the depth of our sin and look for a Savior besides ourselves. Then we need to hear the gospel which shows that Savior who redeemed us by God’s love and mercy. Law and Gospel go together. They are two sides of the same coin. Where one is not properly taught, the other suffers. Together they make up God’s Word. So when you preach, preach the whole word!

I suppose I should explain that although this is directed to a young pastor and it talks about preaching the word, this really applies to all Christians! Yes, Pastors preach the Word publicly, but every one of you has been called to also preach the word in your own setting. Speak the Word at the office, when the opportunity presents itself. Speak the Word with friends when they need to hear it. Speak the Word with your family, letting it fill your house. Preach the Word when you have opportunities to “correct, rebuke and encourage” (2 Tim 4:2). But there’s a very important conditional added to this: “with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Tim 4:2).

Be ready to preach the Word at any time. That’s what he means by “be prepared in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2). We are often ready to answer tough questions in Bible class or at church. That would be considered “in season.” But what about when you are just spending time with someone you care about, and they lay on you a heavy question. You know the answer is in God’s Word, but are you prepared? Are you ready to answer? Are you ready to preach the word? And I understand that you can’t be expected to be a biblical scholar, but we should always be learning and growing. I understand that you can’t have an answer to every single question, but you can perhaps take some time to think about what you might say in a few common circumstances. What will I say when someone is looking for comfort after a death. What will I say when someone asks about a lifestyle that I know is against God’s Will? What will I say when someone asks me to give a reason for the hope that I have? Be prepared in season and out of season. Be prepared by filling up on God’s Word often and making it a part of your life.

“The time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine” (2 Tim 4:3). That time had already begun to dawn in Paul and Timothy’s day. Already in their day a movement called Gnosticism had begun to grow from within the Christian church. Gnostics would seek a hidden knowledge from the New Testament writings which would deliver them from the material world when they had gained enough of this secret knowledge. You can see another instance in Luther’s day of people not putting up with sound doctrine. October 31st this year marks the 500th anniversary of the posting of the 95 theses. His purpose in posting these theses was to have a debate on these points based on scriptures. In the events that followed, Luther sought again and again to point out from Scripture how the church in his day had erred, yet his opponents would not put up with the sound doctrine that he presented – instead relying on tradition and simply refusing a debate. You can see that still today there are people who will not put up with sound doctrine. And one thing to remember is that it never starts with simply introducing a terrible and blatant error. Think of the many who are in error today. Trace their errors back to the beginning and you will see a series of very small steps. I often think of a ship that deviates from its course by just a fraction of a degree. That deviance can go unnoticed for quite some time until 500 miles later they realize that they are miles off course.

Not only do people veer off course, they compound the problem by “gathering around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim 4:3). So they veer of course and then build confidence in that incorrect course by rallying support from others. It’s easy to see why. People don’t want to think about sin or condemnation. It does not flatter those who elevate good deeds and human potential. They want to be able to say they had some part in it. They want some credit for their salvation. Oh how our ears love to hear that “Good job.” How they long to hear that appreciation. Their ears “itch to hear what flatters their ego, what gives credit to man, what satisfies natural desires and lusts, what makes sense to human reason or doesn’t make any sense at all but delights man because he has dreamed it up! Yet, at the same time, they take pride in great scientific accomplishments but will not put up with the “foolishness” of “sound doctrine.”

So, they “turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Tim 4:4). Really any false religion is essentially a myth. Any false doctrine, even among Christians, is a myth. In Luther’s day it was thy myth of salvation by works, the myth that a piece of paper could get one out of hell, and the myth that when the pope speaks, his word is on the same level as God’s Word. Often today it’s the myth that God’s Word is subject to being interpreted by human reason, explaining away what the words so clearly say. There’s also the myth of “evolutionism,” the myth of “humanism,” the list goes on and on. If it’s not in agreement with God’s Word as it is plainly read, then it’s a myth.

As you live amid this sea of shifting and changing tides, people chasing here and there searching for a message that will tickle their ears, keep your head. Paul draws a strong distinction. A time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. They will gather around themselves people who agree. They will turn their ears away from the truth. “But YOU, keep your head in all situations” (2 Tim 4:5). Remain “level-headed” or “keep and even keel.” That’s one picture that really sticks in my mind. As the turbulent waves are thrashing about, and the surf is rising and falling, keep an even keel by keeping your ship pointed in the right direction. Focus on the Word which focuses on Christ. Do not become confused or carried away by those who tout the keys to unlock scripture or the arguments that debunk scripture. Always look to God’s Word for your answer. Always look to God’s Word to keep you from being carried away by those who want to push and pull you away from the pure scriptures. Learn to recognize and expose myths for what they are. The brunt of this burden ought to fall on pastors and teachers who are trained in recognizing and exposing error. But you too! Learn how to identify errors and stay away from them. And if you are uncertain, always return to scripture to give you a level-head. Yes, this will bring about hardship for being “intolerant” at times. Yes, people will call you foolish. But endure! Endure and pray! “Lord grant while worlds endure we keep its teachings pure throughout all generations.”

Clickbait is dangerous for two reasons. 1) It entices you with whatever you want to see and hear. Like many false doctrines that enter the church, it appeals to human beings. It may not be what you need, but it has a level of appeal. 2) Clickbait does not focus on what it says it will offer. Essentially any Christian church that does not focus on Christ for full salvation is offering “clickbait.” If it were works, it should be called “good works church.” If it were reason, it should be called “the church of reason.” If their teaching was that sin doesn’t matter let’s just focus on the good, it should be called “Be the best you church.” In a religiously confused world that will not put up with sound doctrine and is often searching for “features” rather than “core beliefs”, it is vitally important that the church and its pastors remain sober, level-headed, and not succumb to the temptation to adapt their teaching to what people want to hear.

Yes, on this day we celebrate what God did through Martin Luther, but we do not worship Martin Luther. We give thanks for a man who was bold enough to proclaim the message of the Bible during spiritually dark times. The message that we are saved by God’s grace along, this is ours through faith alone, and we can be certain of it by turning to the Scriptures alone.

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In Death God’s Word Is Our Stay (October 22, 2017)

October 23, 2017
Benjamin Ehlers

In Death God’s Word Is Our Stay

Revelation 7:9-17

How are you doing? “Good” is probably the most common response. In general I think it’s a fitting answer, but it is also one which often avoids further questioning. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. You don’t have to get into your whole life story with the server at the restaurant, or the postman as you buy stamps. But I hope there are at least a few with whom you are comfortable to dig deeper when they ask again, “No, really, how are you?”

Life can be tough. It can be hectic. It can be messy. It can be tiring. How often has your life felt like the old Alabama song, “I’m in a hurry to get things done oh I rush and rush until life’s no fun. All I really gotta do is live and die, but I’m in a hurry and don’t know why.” Much of this is our own doing. We want to hang out with friends. We involve our kids in extra-curriculars. We want to build our career. We want to visit our children and grandchildren in faraway states. There are so many good things for us to do in life.

But sometimes it takes a different perspective on things to really get a handle on what’s really important. I had the privilege of seeing Pastor Radloff at conference this past week. Many of you know that he has been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. What do you do when death is knocking at your door? What do you do with your life when the vast majority of it is in the rearview mirror. Pastor Radloff has one thing on his mind – saving souls. I think since the diagnosis he’s become even more passionate and urgent as he organizes a program for spreading the gospel overseas. He’s not sure when his time will come, but he’s certain where he’s going. He’s not sure how much time he has left, but he knows how he wants to spend it – making others certain of where they will go when they die.

In the book of Revelation, the apostle John receives a number of different perspectives on life and the world through a series of visions from God. And he shares them with us so that we too might not be caught up with all the things that simply fill our lives. In chapter 6 of Revelation, John records a perspective of earth. There are wars, there is economic struggles, there is disease and death, and there are believers crying out “How long.” Then God turns John’s attention to what is happening in heaven during all of this. “I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands” (Rev 7:9). Two very different pictures. Turmoil and tragedy versus peace and glory!

“Then one of the elders asked [him], ‘These in white robes – who are they, and where did they come from?’” (Rev 7:13). Perhaps John could have given the answer on his own. Or perhaps he was still overwhelmed by the sight of it all. Maybe tears flowed as he recognized a few faces of those in white robes. Keep in mind what’s going on during John’s life. Christians were being fiercely persecuted under the rule of Domitian. They were hunted down, asked to denounce their faith in Christ or face a terrible death – often in the arena as a public spectacle. What made these martyrs so bold, so confident as death stared them in the face? What could really be worth dying for that they cling ferociously to God’s Word as their great heritage? Perhaps John could have answered who these people were, but like Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones, John too was willing to listen to a wiser and higher authority. Who are these in white robes? “Sir, you know” (Rev 7:14).

“These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14). While the effects of the gospel may not always be visible to us, as it wasn’t to John’s readers during persecution, Jesus’ revelation assures us that it is still God’s power to save. No matter what kinds of persecutions are going on or what kind of threats are heard, God’s Word is your stay even in death. Have you ever heard that you are foolish for believing that a man who died 2000 years ago is your Savior? Have you ever heard that you are wasting your time with church on Sunday – that you could be spending that time on other things? Think of those very early Christians who not only heard such persecutions but even faced death for them. Why do we put up with all of this? Why not just give it up or at least just become closet Christians? Because although you hear all these accusations from peers and fellow human beings, you also hear another story from a much higher authority. Whether you see thousands flocking to Christ or not, the gospel is what God says it is. “It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes… for in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last” (Ro 1:16-17). And here John sees the end result of that faith – believers coming out of the tribulation into eternal life!

God’s Word is our stay even in death because it comes from the highest source. No matter what others tell you about life, what God says about your life stands true. He has an eternal perspective which is not distorted by all the hectic things happening in life. He helps you focus on what you really need in life.

Don’t we often run into that sort of thing? I always have to laugh at the infomercials that advertise a product saying, “This is the only kitchen knife you will ever need… but we are going to give you two!” And it’s not just trivial things. Every year there’s a new work out that is supposed to burn fat, build muscle, and improve your cardio-vascular system. Every year there’s a new healthy diet. Every year there is some new method of learning. All of these things claiming to be the best of their kind and to be exactly what you need in your life. But what do you really need in life? What is really important. From an eternal perspective, what is really going to last?

John sees two things that the believers have in heaven. “White robes” and “palm branches.” And now you are thinking, “Great, so you really think that a white robe and a palm branch is going to get me into heaven?” No. Of course not. The book of Revelation, since it is a vision, is filled with symbols and meanings. Essentially, the robes are an illustration of their record in life. Notice, these believers didn’t start out with white robes. The Bible says, “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14). They had to wash their robes and make them clean. Yet there is no special launderers soap which makes them clean. There is no special method to follow whereby people can wash away the evil in their lives by their own work. It is only the blood of the Lamb which makes them clean. The Lamb refers to Jesus who was sacrificed in our place like the Passover lamb of the Old Testament. We know that because of what these believers in heaven were crying out at the beginning of the reading, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Rev 7:10). The Lamb is God. And the blood of the Lamb, which Christ shed on the cross, washes away your sin to make you pure!

The second thing John noticed was that these believers in heaven were holding palm branches. Did you know that an old custom was to put a little palm branch into the hands of a departed Christian at his burial? No, it wasn’t because they were superstitious. Rather it was a symbol of that Christian’s faith and hope. Faith in salvation from God and the certain hope of a resurrection to new life. Palm branches, in ancient times, were used for festive occasions and as symbols of victory and royalty. You know what victory we are talking about. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O grave, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15:55-56). Yes, Christ rode into death before you – the eternal death of God’s wrath. As Jesus hung on the cross, he was forsaken by God – the punishment which we deserved. As God’s wrath was poured out, so was his love. Jesus died in your place, but then also rose to life again because the punishment had been paid in full. He goes before you into death and comes out alive! So you have nothing to fear in death because Christ makes you heirs of life! “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Rev 7:10).

You have all you need! Not the latest diet and workout. Not the most robust investment plan. But salvation from God! He washes your robe and makes it white. He earned for you the victor’s palm branch. You already have been given everything you need. And you hear this from the highest authority.

It kind of gets you excited right?! Kind of puts life into a completely different perspective. Life isn’t about the here and now it’s about eternity. “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all [other things] will be given to you as well” (Mt 6:33). Unfortunately, there is still a lot we have to endure in the here and now. Actually, I shouldn’t say unfortunately. Yes, life can be difficult. There will be days when someone will ask “How are you?” and you just want to dump on them all your burdens and how life has been a downhill tumble recently. But in these times, remember your eternal perspective on life. This is just part one. Part two is going to be far better and far longer – in fact, it will be perfect bliss forever! I’ll get to that in a second. But you have that! You have eternity in heaven waiting for you. It’s a done deal because you have heard it from a higher authority and you have been given what you need to enter! So although this life can be tough, it’s also your time to bring as many people with you as you can! Tell them about the gift of salvation which is sitting, unopened, right in front of them. Tell them about the white robe that they have been given by God and the palm branch of the victory already won! Show them the only book on life they ever need to read. It’s all right there, laid out by the highest authority!

Finally, tell them about the relief that is waiting for them in heaven. “They are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence” (Rev 7:15). Part of a believer’s joy is simply being in God’s presence. Like that joy you feel simply being with a close friend or family member after a long time away. Yet mixed in with that is the sheltering embrace of the almighty arms which rein in the wind, push back the seas – the mighty arms which created all things and rule all history. “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat” (Rev 7:16). These middle 4 lines describe the freedom that God’s people will enjoy from the effects of sin. It’s a small list here, but it’s meant to capture every single harsh effect of sin that overwhelms us again and again here on earth. It’s all gone! “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” (Rev 7:17). The end of this section again points to the source of the believer’s salvation and joy. It is that “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Rev 7:10). You have nothing to fear in life. And even in death, God’s Word, your great heritage, will be your stay!

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Through Life God’s Word Guides Your Way (October 15, 2017)

October 16, 2017
Benjamin Ehlers

Through Life God’s Word Guides Your Way

Psalm 119:105

There are two ways to successfully navigate through a dark house. The first, and most obvious way, would be to turn on the lights and simply get where you need to go. But sometimes at home, that isn’t always an option. At night, when everyone else is sleeping, you probably want to avoid turning on the bedroom light and the hall light as you make your way to the bathroom or down to the kitchen to prepare a bottle. But I’m going to guess that even without the lights on, you are not completely blind in your own home. You remember how your home is laid out. You have an imprint in your mind and even spatial memory of where almost everything is at. And so, without too much difficulty, you can navigate through the darkness.

Now, what if your entire world went dark. What if the sun stopped shining, all power went out, and you were suddenly caught in deep darkness. And I’m talking about the kind of darkness where you can’t see your hand an inch away from your face. How well would your fare? Could you manage daily tasks? Could you get around? Maybe you could throw some clothes on, but who knows if they match. Maybe you could brush your teeth, but you might accidentally put Neosporin on your toothbrush instead of toothpaste. Maybe you could manage to fumble your way down the street to a corner store, but you would have no clue what kinds of things you were buying and taking home to eat.

I know that’s kind of an absurd, “what if” situation. But according to God’s Word, this is how we were living – at least spiritually. Isaiah, the prophet, says, “See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples” (Isa 60:2). God says that we are living in a situation that is disorienting and makes it so we can’t even function – at least spiritually. But God did not leave us wandering aimlessly in that darkness. He sent his Son, to be the light of the world! Isaiah prophesies again, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isa 9:2). In fact, even before Jesus entered human flesh to be the light of the world, God’s light was already in the world through his Word. “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light for my path” (Ps 119:105). This light of God’s Word allows you to see your Savior and guides your way throughout life to serve your Savior.

Psalm 119 is a very interesting psalm to look at and read – especially in Hebrew. I say that because what is not really reflected in the English is that this is an acrostic poem. That is, every verse begins with a specific letter. The first 8 verses each begin with the Hebrew letter aleph – the first letter of their alphabet. The next 8 verses each begin with the Hebrew letter Beth – the second letter of their alphabet; and so on through the whole alphabet. What remains in the English translation is simply each Hebrew letter as a heading for every 8 verses.

The psalm itself is the longest psalm, by far, with 176 verses. The whole psalm talks about the Word of God; and in fact, almost every verse contains a synonym for God’s Word. There is an irony in all this that is undoubtedly intentional. A psalm talking about God’s Word, also emphasizing every letter of the alphabet illustrates what Jesus said about the importance of God’s Word. “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Mt 5:18). Each and every letter of the Word has its unique and God-ordained place. And each and every promise has been or will be fulfilled in its unique and God-ordained way.

God gave the first glimmer of light to mankind when he promised to send a Savior from sin: the Messiah. And throughout history he added to that glimmer of light. The Savior would come from Abraham’s family (Gen 12:3). He would be a prophet to speak God’s Word (Deut 18:15-19). He would be the Son of God (Ps 2:7). Though the Savior would die, he would not stay in the grave. He would rise (Ps 16:9-11). He would be betrayed by one of his close friends (Ps 41:9). He would be born of a virgin (Isa 7:14) in Bethlehem in Judea (Mic 5:2). He would be a king, but humble and riding on a donkey (Zech 9:9). All of these – and there are many more – turn that glimmering ember of hope into a blazing light of confidence that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah – the one who has come to bring troubled people out of utter darkness and break away their chains (Ps 107:13-14)!

Brothers and sisters in Christ, see your Savior! Jesus is your Savior as promised by God’s Word. And Jesus is your Savior in a way that no other savior could be. As we were groping around in spiritual darkness, we have to come to grips with the reason for that darkness. It’s sin. It’s sin which separates us from God, and it’s sin which spiritually debilitates us so that we cannot do anything pleasing in God’s sight.

So how do I escape this darkness of sin? Do I work hard at being a better person and slowly climb the ladder out of this darkness? No. The problem with that is I can never do all that God asks of me. I can never make it to the top rung of holiness as God demands. Ok, but what if I make up for the wrongs I’ve done by balancing them out with good? You know, like if I come home from work irritated and impatient with my spouse, then I’ll just buy her flowers or take her out to dinner. The problem with that is, sure, I can balance out my wrongs with rights in the world’s view, but the problem of sin still remains. I haven’t really done anything with the sinfulness that darkens my world. Even if I go the comparison route, reasoning that if God is going to save some, like maybe the top 50%, then I just have to make sure I am a better person than half of the people I meet. The truth is, God does want us to do some comparing, but it’s him he wants us to compare ourselves to. “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Lev 19:2) he says. If I’m honest with myself, there is no way that I can make myself holy. I am already sinful. I have already failed. I am already living in darkness.

So we need a Savior who is Holy like God is, and yet under the same law of God that we are under. We need a Savior who could take a sinner’s place in condemnation, yet be a great enough substitute to count for every person who ever lived. Do you see where the Word points us to? We need Jesus. Only he was perfect as God demanded, yet a human being under the same law that you and I are under. Only he was able to die and face the condemnation that we humans deserved, yet make that sacrifice more than enough to pay for everyone who ever lived. Jesus is the Savior like none other. And God’s Word reveals this! God’s Word is the light that allows you to see your Savior.

God’s Word indeed shows the Savior. But its light doesn’t end there. The light of God’s Word focuses on Jesus, our Savior, but it also sheds light on all other aspects of life. Through life it guides your way to serve your Savior. God warned the Israelites against straying from his Word. “Be careful,” he said, “or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them” (Deut 11:16). “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deut 11:18-19). Make God’s Word such an important part of your life that it is imprinted on your mind and on your heart!

Because the sad truth is, you are still living in a world that is filled with darkness. You will often be surrounded by it. In fact, there will be times when the light of the gospel will grow dim in your life and the darkness will threaten to overtake you. You will be enticed to turn away from God and put your trust in other things. It’s in those moments that you will be glad you have made God’s Word your great heritage. It’s in those moments when you don’t see any light in the world around you that you will be glad that the light of God’s Word has been imprinted on your heart and mind. You never need to worry about fumbling around in the dark because God’s Word is always with you and will guide you through the darkness and troubling times in this life.

This light of God’s Word is a guide, and it is also a tool. It’s a tool that 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 3:16-17). Perhaps when we think of the law part of God’s Word, we think of it as rules that must be followed. Inconveniences in our lives and dampening the fun we could be having. But that’s not at all how God sees it. God sees it as equipping you; preparing you and equipping you so that you may have peace of mind. Isn’t that what you do at every stage of life? You equip your very young children for school. As you get into your teen years you equip yourself for college or for a career. In the middle of your life you equip your future by investing and saving. And as you are nearing a full life, you equip yourself and your family for what will come next. God’s Word is there every step of the way. Not to lock you down and restrict you, but to illuminate your path and prepare you. To help you see how God is with you in every stage of life. And to see every day as a unique opportunity to serve and praise God. By grace he condemned his Son in your place. By grace God brought you out of the hopeless darkness of condemnation, to see his light! Then also illumined the rest of your life so that you could have a true perspective on life. A perspective which is aware of all the wonderful things God has done for you. An uplifting perspective which joyously serves God, recognizing that he knows how to give his children peace in life.

Now that you have seen this light, share it! You wouldn’t leave your friends or family in the dark in a power outage. You wouldn’t leave your kids out in the dark when you have found the light and safety of God’s Word. Share the light! Teach about the light! Help others build their homes upon the solid foundation of God’s Word so that they too can see their Savior and serve their Savior. And realize that the light of God’s Word is for every stage of life. You don’t have to graduate up into it. It doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it is for this reason that Martin Luther compiled his small catechism. It consists of only 6 chief parts all focused on God’s light for your life. And at the very beginning of the catechism, he wrote, “As the head of the family should teach in the simplest way to those in his household.” The light of God’s Word is simple: Jesus takes your sins away. Yet it is also filled with such a depth that it can be your guiding light in every stage of life. For this reason, God’s Word is our great heritage.

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Spread His Light from Age to Age (October 8, 2017)

October 14, 2017
Benjamin Ehlers

Spread His Light from Age to Age

Acts 4:23-31

As we gather here today on Mission Fest Sunday, it’s often a time of excitement as we see what God is doing in mission fields throughout the world and in our own backyard! Some of you attended the Women’s LWMS (Lutheran Women’s Mission Society) Rally yesterday where you had the opportunity to hear about the work that Pastor Naumann is doing among the Apaches. A few weeks ago, our congregation sent a mission offering to Peace in Liberty Hill for a school they are gathering funds to build. Some of you gather and donate your empty pill bottles for the medical missions in Africa. All around there are mission fields and missionaries. All around there are ways we can offer help and support. There are so many missionaries that we can pray for – that God would give them boldness and send his Holy Spirit to build the Church! These are all great and wonderful things to be doing. But on Mission Fest Sunday, how often do you think of your own mission field? How often do you think of the people you have already established a relationship with, yet have not shared Christ? Or maybe, you have shared Christ, but have been turned down again and again. Yes, there are Home Missions to pray for and World Missions to pray for, but there is also YOUR Mission to pray for!

Since God’s Word is Our Great Heritage, then to spread its light from age to age shall be our chief endeavor!

Now, spreading the light of God’s Word is not always easy. I know you have experience that fact and realized it. The disciples have also experienced it on numerous occasions. And I think there is a lot we can learn from them in these tense situations.

It all began when Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer. On their way, they met a man, crippled from birth, who was being brought to the temple gate called Beautiful. When he asked them for money, Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:6). The man jumped to his feet and began to walk. And he went into the temple walking, jumping, and praising God! Everyone who saw him was filled with wonder and amazement! Yet Peter went on to say, “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?” (Acts 3:12). Then Peter went on to proclaim that although Israel had rejected and crucified Jesus, the author of life, it was all part of God’s plan for salvation. And proof lies in the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead! Peter connected all of this to passages in the Old Testament which those listening would have known and believed. However, because Peter and John were teaching the people and proclaiming the resurrection of the dead in Jesus, the Sadducees arrested Peter and John and put them in prison to be tried the following day.

On trial, before the rulers, elders, teachers of the law and even the high priest, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, spoke boldly to them about Jesus, the Christ, our salvation and our sure hope in the resurrection of the dead. Although the officials gathered would have loved to do away with Peter and John, they could not deny the miracle which everyone in Jerusalem had already heard about. So they told Peter and John to speak no more about Jesus and threatened them. Peter and John replied right then and there, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). So they threatened them again before releasing them. What boldness! What audacity! That they clung firmly to God’s Word and vowed to continue spreading its light despite such threats.

And this is where the reading for today picks up. “On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God” (Acts 4:23-24). If you look at their prayer, you realize that it was a prayer of thanksgiving for all that God had done. In their prayer, they address God as the “Sovereign Lord” – a title which recognizes God’s absolute power and authority. He made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. He planned and foretold that his Anointed One, the Christ, would be rejected. He carried out his plan of salvation despite wicked men using their God-given authority for evil to kill the Lord Jesus. Although even now the rulers, elders, and teachers of the law thought they were supreme in their judgments, the disciples gave thanks and praised God that his power and will decided beforehand everything that should happen.

What kind of threats have you received in regards to spreading God’s light from age to age? Have you been urged or ordered to speak of Jesus no more by a friend or family member? Have you been threatened either personally or felt under attack when your privilege of speaking God’s Word is diminished? I’m sure you all have. I’m sure you all can think of someone whom you have tried to share the gospel with but they were not willing to listen and may have even asked you to stop. In such cases, what do you do? The disciples turned to God to renew their confidence.

And notice how they did that. They prayed. And in their prayer they reminded themselves of some related passages from Scripture. Yes, God foretold that believers would be rejected and ordered to stop speaking the truth. But God is far superior to all of these and urges you to keep speaking! In fact, God knows and has plans for even the rejection that you face again and again in life. You are in his plans, and you have always been in his hands. Like the disciples did, turn to God’s Word to see what your God does for you, so that you do not fear any opposition but continue to spread his light! Also, notice what the disciples prayed for. They didn’t pray for protection, and peace while they lay low. No, they prayed that God would enable them to continue to speak and give them even more boldness as they spoke!

This is the confidence that you have also! Your God is the Sovereign Lord. He reigns supreme. All things are in his hands. There isn’t a threat, barrier or disaster that he has not planned for. And he commissions each of us to proclaim the saving light of the Gospel! It’s going to be tough at times. There will be difficulties when it seems like all powers are against you. In these times, turn to God and renew your confidence! He gave you the commission to spread his light and so he will also go with you and give you great boldness!

It wasn’t protection that they prayed for, nor was it the destruction of their enemies, but boldness! Boldness that they could be servants of God and boldness to speak his Word with all the more passion! And although this dire threat from the Israelite leaders was given to just Peter and John, the rest of the believers knew that these threats loomed over all of them. They would be tempted to cave in and remain silent, or to be ashamed of the gospel. They knew these temptations would threaten to overcome their courage. So they asked the Lord to help them overcome their flesh and speak out instead.

God answers prayer. God always answers prayer. It’s true, sometimes his answer is no – when we are praying for things that aren’t quite in line with God’s plans. But sometimes his answer is “just wait,” and sometimes his answer is “yes.” And you can never go wrong praying God’s promises and commissions back to him. In fact, I think this is sometimes God’s plan in answering “no” or “just wait.” I think sometimes he wants us to dig into his Word, seek out his promises, and bring them back to him in prayer all while renewing our confidence and increasing our boldness! Abraham knew that God was loving and merciful – especially to his children by faith. So Abraham kept approaching God boldly in prayer and did not give up! Martin Luther called it, “Throwing the sack at the door and rubbing God’s ear with all the promises from his Word.”

Peter, John, and the other disciples gathered rubbed God’s ear with his own promises. Promises to help them spread the light of the gospel with great boldness. And God answered this prayer by shaking the place where they were meeting and filling them with the Holy Spirit so that they could speak the word of God boldly (v. 31). Now, God could have just kindled a passionate boldness in their hearts and sent them on their way. But during these trying times, while the news about Jesus was still taking root, God decided to give them a huge boost. God showed that he heard and answered their prayer by shaking their meeting place and filling them with the Holy Spirit. They hadn’t asked for this, but God knew they needed it. After this happened, they went and spoke with great boldness!

So, I’ll ask you, on this Mission Fest Sunday, what should we pray for? Should we pray that God would be with our missionaries both in foreign fields and local fields? Yes, definitely. Should we pray for mission and outreach programs at our churches and for those involved to speak with boldness? Yes, definitely. But how are you going to pray concerning yourself? Is your prayer, “I am here. Don’t notice me, don’t notice me”? Or is it, “Here am I. Send me, send me!” I know it can be hard to pray the second one. I know we often think of mission work as going out and talking to strangers in great number, eloquently preaching the gospel. But it isn’t always. Often, mission work is a word of comfort to a hurting friend. Often it’s simply living out your Christian life without minding persecution from time to time. In fact, it’s even moving tables and chairs, preparing activities, and providing food for outreach events at church – even if you are not on the “front lines” so to speak.

You have a gift greater than any in the world. You have the saving light of the gospel! And you might be thinking, “Well, I can’t recite passages or find the right places in Scripture to speak.” That’s not an issue. Moses objected that he was not an eloquent speaker, but with God at his side look at the things God enabled him to do! In fact, God even enabled him to write the first 5 books of the Bible. And when Peter and John were on trial, the rulers were astonished at the courage of Peter and John when they realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men (Acts 4:13). See what God accomplished through them?! God goes with you too. And I’m sure you know God’s Word better than you think. Even if you can’t quote a passage, or open to the exact page, you know the truths of God’s Word in your own words because God’s Word has been your great heritage. So spread it’s light from age to age turning to God to renew your confidence and going with God to speak with boldness.

 

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God’s Word is Our Great Heritage: And shall be ours forever (October 1, 2017)

October 2, 2017
Benjamin Ehlers

God’s Word is Our Great Heritage: And shall be ours forever

Matthew 16:13-18

I had my first encounter with a door to door sales person a few weeks ago. It was a lady selling Kirby vacuum cleaners. I was upfront with her and told her that I just bought a vacuum not too long ago and likely wouldn’t purchase another at this time. She said that’s fine, but if I at least listen to her pitch she would give us a little gift. I said sure and she gave her presentation.

She did several things during her presentation. Of course she demonstrated the vacuum and showed how well it cleaned compared to our current vacuum. But then she also referred to the longstanding heritage of Kirby vacuum cleaners and their tendency to be indestructible. In this regard, she asked if I had ever heard of Kirby vacuums and I mentioned that I lugged one around as a kid to clean my room and vacuum the stairs. She asked if my parents still had it and I said that I was pretty sure they did – a fact that I confirmed just a few days later. In fact, I think the model my parents have is from the mid 80’s and is even called the Heritage II. The plain and simple truth is – and I’m not trying to sell you on a vacuum cleaner – but for anything, if you have a quality product that does its job well, it is going to last a long time.

In all the world, there is nothing that has been or will be able to stand the test of time like God’s Word. Not great and powerful nations, not mighty and towering oak trees, not even a Kirby vacuum – only God’s Word. That’s why God’s Word is Our Great Heritage. And today we will see that it shall be ours forever because it teaches us what to confess, it comes from God, and it will not be overcome.

As Jesus entered into the strongly Gentile region of Caesarea Philippi – a region known for its wealth and power – Jesus asked his disciples a question concerning the hopes of the people for the Messiah. So he asked them, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Mt 16:13). “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Mt 16:14).

Each of the names that the disciples responded with contained unique aspects of Jesus’ work. And, in fact, two of the names, Elijah and John the Baptist, had messianic connection. Jesus’ disciples did indeed baptize as John had. And Jesus himself often called people to repentance. Jesus was also a man of prayer and a great miracle worker like Elijah. He took issue with the false religions of his day, and like Jeremiah, the authorities of his day had already turned against him so that he had no place to lay his head. He was a suffering prophet, like Jeremiah.

I wonder, if Jesus asked that same question today, “Who do people say I am?” what response might we give? There’s actually a number of videos you can watch online where people have done just that – asked what people think about Jesus and hear them out. And of course there are a whole range of answers. People respond with everything from “he’s a made up story” to “he’s the Son of God.” But there were a few responses which I think capture our time pretty well. Many would agree that he was a real historical person and a major influencer of his time, though stories about him got blown out of proportion. I think many others would also agree that he is an example of good morals and a personal Savior who encourages you in your life without being judgmental.

“But what about you? Who do you say I am?” (Mt 16:15) Jesus asked. Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16). Although short and simple, this confession of faith went far beyond the prevailing views of his day – and the prevailing views of our day. You see, although many in Peter’s day and many still in our day have many complimentary ideas about who Jesus is, they all fall short of the mark. Still to this day, few people have anything bad to say about Jesus. But sadly, they never want to say quite enough. Yes, he was a great miracle worker, not simply to heal and feed people, but primarily to point to himself as the very Son of God. Yes, he took issue with the false religions of his day, not simply to be a religious influencer, but primarily to bring people into the light of the gospel. Yes, he called people to repentance and lived a perfect life himself, not simply to be an example, but primarily to be the one who forgives your sins and the one who gives you his own righteousness! God’s Word teaches us all of this. It explains who Jesus is so that you can confess him in a complete way!

Jesus responded to Peter’s confession – and he responds to your confession as well – saying, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven” (Mt 16:17). Simon has been blessed by God’s opening up the Scriptures to him and revealing who Jesus really was. Flesh and blood did not reveal this identity to Peter. The prevailing view of the Messiah was that he would be a political influencer who would establish a powerful earthly reign. But now Peter understood this title with all the more clarity. Yes, the Messiah, the Christ, would be powerful and influential, but ultimately, he was going to be the great hero of redemption. One who would establish his kingdom in the hearts of people and bring them to heavenly glory. And Peter didn’t reason this out for himself. God revealed it to him. Peter confessed that Jesus was God. Not only the “Son of Man” but also the “Son of the living God.” And Jesus was also the “Christ,” the promised Messiah.

This is no small step forward in understanding. The disciples had now learned to look past what their eyes saw and what their reason determined. In all appearances, Jesus was just a local guy although from the backwards town of Nazareth. He was a great thinker of his time, maybe even a prophet from God – but nothing in his birth, appearance, or demeanor really would draw us to him like the Messiah would! And in his work, yes, he gained a following of his own, but for the most part there weren’t any major players from the Pharisees or Sadducees who would join his cause. He didn’t have the kind of following that would gain him a political foothold. And if we fast forward beyond all this, he would die a terrible death. What kind of Messiah would allow himself to be killed? In all appearances, by all reasoning, Jesus did not look like the Messiah ought. But he was just the kind of Messiah we need. One who would take our place in death and condemnation so that we could live! Now Peter and the disciples were starting to realize this! Now God was opening up that great heritage of Scripture to their minds so that they could see the Christ, the Son of the living God for what he really was. A Savior who would substitute his life for ours.

Jesus went on in his response to Peter. “I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Mt 16:18). Here is a ringing promise to Peter and the Church! Peter, on this rock of a confession I will build my church! And on this rock of a confession, the gates of Hades will not overpower my Church. Once again, we see that the church is not built by flesh and blood, nor is it based on flesh and blood. God does not build his church upon a nationality or a local gathering of Christians. God builds his church upon a true confession of who he is. God, you are my Lord and Savior. God, I only live because you have been merciful to me. God, I trust that by your forgiveness I will enter into your kingdom. There, in a confession such as that, Christ builds his church!

What’s more, the gates of Hades will not overpower the Church founded upon such a rock of a confession. And please note, I’m not talking about a physical church building or denomination. I am talking about the capital “C” Church. It’s also been called the “Invisible Church.” This is the group of people whom the Lord knows are truly his. This Church, this body of true believers, will never be overcome by the gates of Hades.

God works powerfully to establish his church, and he works powerfully to preserve his church. It’s true, Peter wasn’t always the sturdy rock that we see here. In fact, the Gospels often reveal that he was anything but rock-like. His emotions often overwhelmed him – the sight of the waves rolling under his feet struck fear into his heart; the accusations of a few people around a fire caused him to call curses down upon himself; and the thought of losing his dear friend and teacher caused him to speak against God’s plan of salvation. In fact, Simon’s actions often belied his nickname of “Peter” “the rock.”

And what a portrait that often is of us as well. Maybe you don’t have the nickname of “Rock,” but God gives you every reason to be confident in his promises. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9). Yet how often do we run and hide from God in our sinfulness. How often do we try to cover it up hoping that God will not notice? Confess, and he promises in his Word that he will forgive! “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven” (Mt 10:32). Yet how often do we shrink back from confrontation and remain silent when the opportunity to acknowledge God before others arises? Stand firm and speak out! God promises in his Word that he has your back! “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Pt 5:7), but oh what needless pain we bear all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer. God promises in his Word that he is never too big for your smallest problems, yet never to small from your biggest problems either. It’s true, we are not always rock-like. We doubt and worry and drift. And so we rely all the more onto the one thing that does not drift, the one thing that stands the test of all time – unchanging and unbreakable. God’s Word is our great heritage and shall be ours forever.

Through God’s Word, HE creates the rock of faith which Satan cannot overcome. When the disciples and early believers were persecuted and martyred after Jesus was gone, what’s the rock that anchored them firmly in their faith? God’s Word. When the church of Luther’s time was drifting and becoming increasingly more corrupt, what’s the one thing upon which Luther stood? God’s Word. And when you are challenged and buffeted by the terrors of your mind or the tide of the changing times, what’s the one thing that will carry you through? God’s Word. God’s Word is our great heritage and shall be ours forever because it stands the test of time. Not because it is well-crafted like a Kirby vacuum, but because it comes from God and has all the power of God behind it! God’s Word is our great heritage because it teaches us what to confess, it comes from God, and it will never be overcome.

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