An archive of the most recent sermons by Pastor Ehlers.

There is Good News for You (March 11, 2018)

March 14, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

There is Good News for You

John 3:14-21

Why do we ponder the passion? Why do we set aside time each year to meditate upon Christ’s suffering and death? Is it so that we can vent our anger on the ones who put Jesus to death – the ones who hated him then and the ones who hate him now? This only puts us in the habit of complaining about other people and really only has negative effects. Is it so that we can feel pity for Christ, lamenting and bewailing his innocence? In that case we put much into meditating on the pains that Christ went through, and maybe the anguish of his faithful followers, but if we never progress beyond that, what good is it? So why do we take the time to ponder the passion?

There was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus, who wanted to know more. He wanted to know more about Jesus, and wanted to know more about why he came. Little did he know that he was also going to learn more about himself in the process. He came to Jesus in the secrecy of night, because he was a member of the Jewish ruling council and was afraid of what they would think of him coming to Jesus. It seems that Nicodemus didn’t quite know what to ask Jesus. He only came wanting to know more. But Jesus knew the burning question in his heart, and he knew just how to address it. The overriding question of the moment was whether or not Nicodemus was in the kingdom of God. If not, then he needs to know how to get there.

The problem was, Nicodemus was looking in all the wrong places and at all the wrong things. We heard last week that the leading Jews put much attention on the physical temple in Jerusalem rather than seeing the spiritual worship which was to take place there. They carefully devoted themselves to going through the motions of the Mosaic customs while ignoring the spiritual life they were meant to influence. All along, Jesus was leading Nicodemus to see not just the physical, but the spiritual aspect behind it. “The wind blows wherever it pleases.” He said, “You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (Jn 3:8).

Then Jesus alludes to an event that Nicodemus would have known well. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up” (Jn 3:14). Long ago, when the Israelites were rebelling against God as he led them out of Egypt to the Promised Land, he sent snakes among them which would bite them. Many Israelites died. It sounds harsh, but it was a physical representation of what was happening spiritually. Spiritually, many Israelites were succumbing to the venom of sin and dying inside. So God used physical venom as an antivenom to sin. It was the only thing that the Israelites would respond to. And it drew them back to God’s promise. Nicodemus knew that it wasn’t the physical act of looking at the bronze snake that saved the Israelites in the wilderness. It was their trust in God’s promise in connection with the bronze snake that saved them.

The reality is that we too often get so tied up in the physical that we forget about the spiritual. How many of you complained or were appalled at the news this week? How many of you are disgusted at the heart of the people who commit those crimes, steal that property, harm others’ lives? But in all of this disgust and rage, have we forgotten about why all this happens? Why ask, what could possibly be going through a person’s head to lead them to this? We know it’s not just a problem with their head. It’s actually a problem with their heart. They have been infected with the venom of sin and it’s killing them inside.

Next time as you watch the news on your TV, think of that screen not as a window into another world, but as a mirror of your heart. I’m serious. Because although you may not have acted on it, those same sins are in your heart as well. The bickering and backstabbing you see in politics can also be seen in your heart regarding people you may call your friends. The stealing and robberies you see are but reflections of your own greed and selfishness. Even the heartless murders are reflected in your own hate against those who may not have been so kind to you in the past. God alerts you to this spiritual problem time and time again in his word, but sometimes it just doesn’t sink in. Sometimes it doesn’t hit home. And so here we are, just like the Israelites looking at the bronze snake, here we are looking at a physical reminder of our sinfulness. Luther said in one of his sermons, “When you see the nails piercing Christ’s hands, you can be certain that it is your work. When you behold his crown of thorns, you may rest assured that these are your evil thoughts. For every nail that pierces Christ, more than one hundred thousand should in justice pierce you.” So meditating on the passion is not at all to burn in anger against those who crucified Christ, unless the finger is only pointing at ourselves. Meditating on the passion is not to feel sorry for Christ’s suffering, but to remorse over the suffering of our sinful condition.

All this lays the ground work for the very important message that Jesus has to share with Nicodemus and with you. In the suffering of the passion, there is good news for you. For “just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:14-16). As you are reminded of your spiritual condition – that you are spiritually dead in your sinfulness – then look to God’s uplifted Son, because there is Good News for you. His physical death was the antivenom for your spiritual death of sin. Look to him believing the promise that God has spoken in connection with Jesus’ death. You know the promise well. As you look to God’s uplifted Son and meditate on the passion, hear his promise and believe his promise: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). There is new life in connection with Jesus. Life, real life with God, unending life, begins the moment one places full confidence in the Son of Man. There is Good News for you.

It’s not a natural thing for us, though. It’s not natural for us to have the sinful condition of our hearts exposed. Like Adam, we hide our sinfulness from God. Like Nicodemus, we live our lives pretending to be one thing when we know that there is something wrong – some need to be met. And it’s really all for the same reasons that a criminal might run from the law or fear the court. We know that we deserve judgment. God has every reason and every right to summon the world into court and have his Son judge each and every one of us. We know the verdict already. The verdict would have been condemnation and eternal banishment from the presence of God for everyone. But God’s love intervened. There will be a time for judgment, make no mistake about it. But now is not that time.

Jesus says, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned” (Jn 3:17-18). His mission, when he took on flesh, was exclusively one of rescuing and deliverance. This whole conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus has been geared toward bringing Nicodemus to see God’s unlimited love and salvation in Christ. The whole reason God did not wipe out humanity – when Adam first fell into sin, when the Israelites rebelled, when Jesus was crucified, or after each and every one of your sins – was because now is not God’s time for judgment. Now is his time for salvation. The believer who comes to God trusting this, despite the condition of his heart, no longer stands in the court of judgment with the verdict of condemnation. Your faith in the Savior has removed all cause for an adverse verdict. You are not and never will be condemned. There is good news for you who look to God’s uplifted Son. There is good news for sinful human beings who lean on God’s unlimited love. You will never find a limit to what he can forgive.

This fundamentally changes a believer. Having established the necessity of believing and having declared how faith in Christ averts every kind of judgment, Jesus now draws a clear distinction between the believer and the unbeliever. “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God” (Jn 3:19-21). Those words must have hit Nicodemus pretty hard as he was sneaking around at night to find Jesus. Yet they were not just words of condemnation. Primarily they were words of encouragement. Jesus wanted Nicodemus to realize his own condition and great need to follow the truth. Jesus wanted Nicodemus not to be afraid of coming into the light.

The clear difference between the believer and the unbeliever is readily recognizable in their attitude toward the Light, Jesus. Unbelievers reject the light and prefer the darkness they were born in. They love the darkness with the kind of love God has for the world. They deliberately and intelligently, although foolishly, choose to remain under the control of the prince of darkness. And when the saving light comes to them and tries to free them from their enslavement, they fight back and insist on remaining in their evil deeds. Unbelief is more than just blindness to the light. It is stubborn refusal to accept the light that can remove the blindness.

Believers are completely the opposite. They are willing to live with the reality of their own unworthiness, relying on the love of God which covers their shame. They readily seek out the light because they know he hasn’t come to judge, but to love. They seek him so that they can live in that truth of forgiveness for their sins. They are not afraid of exposure, because God is at work in their lives and is using them to his glory. Live in God’s unveiled light of Jesus, because there is Good News of forgiveness for you.

We need a regular reminder of this. We need to mediate on the passion to shed light on our spiritual condition. We need to see the lengths God was willing to go to assure us that he came to love, not to judge. We need to meditate upon God’s uplifted Son to realize the Good News it proclaims. God loved the world, including you, so much that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

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Clean Up the Clutter (March 4, 2018)

March 6, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

Clean Up the Clutter

John 2:13-22

I have a confession to make: there are a couple problem areas in my house when it comes to clutter. And no, they aren’t back corners, out of the way; they are actually a couple very important places. The first, is my nightstand area, right next to the bed. That’s where I pile up the clothes I’ve worn to be put away later before I crawl into bed. That pile has gotten pretty big and I’m still not sure when later is. The other area is on the desk in our study/guest bedroom. It’s an area I will occasionally use when I need to work from home. It is currently piled with junk mail, documents I need to file, and a few kids’ toys as well.

The problem is, both of these areas have an important function – and no, holding clutter is not that function. If I would just take the time to clean up the clutter, I’m sure I would have a more relaxing time going to bed and a more productive time working at home. But isn’t that often the way we live our lives, piling up a little clutter here and a little clutter there. Making room for this unimportant thing while carving into time and space for something much more important. With spring finally in the air, and with a timely Bible reading about cleaning up, it’s time to clean up the clutter. Why? Because we have one of the most important Christian holidays coming up very soon, and we don’t want any clutter distracting or detracting from the solemn hours of the Last Supper and Good Friday and the renewed joy and excitement of Easter!

Between the time of Jesus first couple years of life and his public ministry, we really only have one snapshot of Jesus. It’s when he was 12 years old – about 18 years before the reading we are focusing on today. It’s the same place and the same festival, but a very different picture is painted. When Jesus was 12 years old, we find him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions (Lk 2:43). Real teaching was going on! And real learning was taking place in the temple!

What happened between the time when Jesus was 12 years old and when he was 30, where now we see the temple looking more like a place to gain a profit than to gain eternal life?! I’m sure it wasn’t an overnight change. I’m sure it was already beginning to take place at the time when Jesus was 12 years old. An important detail not to miss from the account when Jesus was 12 is that this learning took place “After the festival was over,” while everyone was returning home (Lk 2:43). The high festival was over. Vendors were cleaning up their clutter. And worshippers were going home. But what did they gain from their experience? What was it like for them? Did they go home renewed and refreshed by the focus on the Passover Lamb and the foreshadowing of the Messiah? Or were they weary and burdened from a week of haggling over prices and the assault of smells and noises?

We get a picture of it all in John chapter 2. As you approached the temple in Jerusalem and climbed up the temple mount, you were likely singing some of the Psalms of Ascent: “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” (Ps 122:1). And suddenly it hits you. Not the sweet aroma of incense but the pungent stench of oxen, sheep, and doves. Not the sounds of prayer or hymns of praise, but the bombardment of bartering and the din of drachma being poured out onto the scales. There it was, the most important place in an Israelite’s life, cluttered with the contamination of corruption.

There was one who entered the temple that day who had had enough. And he had complete authority to do something about it. Jesus made a whip out of cords and cleansed the court of the filth that had accumulated from animals and people alike. He overturned tables and scattered money. He forced cages of birds into their sellers’ hands and drove them all out. “Get these out of here!” he said, “How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market” (Jn 2:16). And it’s very hard to imagine, but he did all this firmly, promptly, yet without a hint of rage or anger. The disciples recalled a prophecy that described Jesus’ action as “zeal for [God’s] house” (Jn 2:17). The only thing I can think to compare it to today is when a parent firmly prevents their child from doing something harmful all while keeping a level head.

What I find most amazing in all of this, though, is that there doesn’t seem to be much objection or pushback from those he is driving out. Yes, they demand a sign of authority by which he does all this, we will get to that in a bit. But see what’s going on here. You have one man, who successfully drives out, I don’t know 20, 50, maybe even 100 vendors along with all their animals, goods, and tools. And it says that Jesus drove all of them from the temple area. He actually did clean up all the clutter! If they wanted to push back or even just remain there defiantly, they easily could have done so. Could it be that he had actually pricked the consciences of hardened and perhaps dishonest businessmen? Was it because the episode took place so fast and with so little warning? Did they not have time to think of an excuse or a rebuttal? Or did they all still have some sliver of a conscience that knew what they were doing was wrong.

In the heat of the moment, it certainly looked as if Jesus was the one destroying the temple and causing chaos. He was the one scattering money, overturning tables, and causing a commotion as the animals scattered into the streets of Jerusalem. But in reality, the destruction of the temple had been going on for a long time. It was their buying and selling, their exchanging of currency, and their focus on human business which was all along destroying God’s business and the reason his house stood there. As Jesus cleaned up the clutter and gave back the space to the true worshippers of God, everything came back into focus. Everything had its place. Yes, worshippers needed to purchase animals to sacrifice. And yes, travelers from afar would need to exchange the coins they had so carefully counted so that they could be used in service to God and his house. But the temple was not the place for that. The time when worshippers were preparing their hearts was not the time for that.

How does your Sunday morning routine look? Thankfully it’s not potluck week, because I know we are often fretting about what to bring and when to make it the night before or even the morning of! There’s communion today though. Did you know that before you entered the sanctuary or did it come to mind only when you saw the signup sheet or the veil on the altar? Did you know there’s a page in the front of the red hymnals for “Personal Preparation for Holy Communion”? It’s on page 156. If you know about that page, do you go through it the night before so you have time to contemplate it, or did you go through it quickly as you took your seat and realized that there’s communion today? A person is properly prepared for receiving the Lord’s Supper only when they have examined themselves and believe the words of forgiveness which they proclaim.

And it’s not just communion. What other thoughts are cluttering your physical or mental worship space this morning? I’ve got to talk to so-and-so… I wonder how much money is left in my wallet for an offering… what should I have for lunch today… how long is this sermon going to be… There are many things that clutter our minds and compete for the attention of our hearts. Sometimes it takes a disruptive force to clean house and drive out the real destructive clutter which we allow to interfere with true worship. This account of Jesus cleaning his Father’s house forces us to take a hard look at ourselves and clean up the clutter in our hearts as well.

The Jews wanted to know the heart behind Jesus’ actions. Was it from his own heart and by his own authority that he did these things – keeping in mind they only considered him as a teacher or even a rebellious leader. Or, was it actually a heart for the Lord and by his authority that Jesus was doing these things? The Jewish leaders give the impression that they were willing to give Jesus a chance to prove himself. They wanted to appear to be fair in their judgement of Jesus when, likely, they had already judged him from the start. You see, from time to time, self-appointed prophets had challenged the authority of the Sanhedrin, but all of them had failed in their purpose. These Jewish leaders wanted to expose Jesus as just another false prophet, who would also be a failure.

They asked for a sign. Interesting because these people had all the Old Testament prophecies pointing to Jesus as the Messiah. If anyone, they should have known first. They should have known in their hearts that this was the promised Messiah before Jesus even openly claimed it! But instead of their hearts being filled with God’s Word, they were cluttered with all the customs and traditions handed down since the time of Moses. Not that these customs and traditions were bad. They were all meant to enhance and focus their worship of God, but they allowed these outward trappings to become their religion in and of themselves. So, since they couldn’t see through all of their own clutter, the asked for a sign. They needed Jesus to prove that he had the authority to clean up the clutter – their treasured customs – of God’s house and of their hearts.

Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (Jn 2:19). “Go ahead. Destroy this temple, if that’s what you’re determined to do.” Outwardly, Jesus looked like the one destroying the temple. The fact was that those buying and selling and the leaders who allowed, encouraged and participated in it were the destructive ones. Under their leadership the temple had gone from being a house of prayer and teaching to being a marketplace and stockyard where thieves worked. As they heartlessly destroyed the true worship of Israel, they would destroy the temple of his body by crucifixion. When they carried out that act, they would have the undeniable sign that they had been the temple-destroyers, not Jesus. And only God could rebuild it. Only God could raise Jesus to life. Only God could raise true worship from the clutter of contaminated worship.

I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen cases where certain people allowed their time for true worship to become cluttered – whether it be sports events, work deadlines, or even just laziness crowding out time for their Lord. Then it hits. God overturns the tables in their lives and drives their livelihood out into the streets. Lands them flat on their backs. And they may protest, shaking their fist, “Why would God allow this to happen to me right now?! Who does he think he is?” And as I’ve seen some of these cases develop, soon they realized that God was cleaning up the clutter in their lives so that they could rest from their own business, and be refreshed by God’s business.

Because the fact is, there is much worse clutter than a pile of clothes where you sleep. There is worse clutter than a frenzied Sunday morning routine. There is even worse clutter than distracted thoughts in worship, and God’s wants to remove all of this clutter so that he can get to the real heart of the matter: your heart. It is cluttered with sin. It is corrupted by sin. And this sin has terminal effects. It’s eternally damning. So God wants you to listen, and listen carefully. Listen to John who pointed to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Listen to Jesus’ words from the cross again in just a few weeks that, “It is finished,” all your sins have been swept away. Listen to your Savior on Easter tell you, “Peace be with you.” You have peace with God, because Jesus cleaned up the contaminating corruption of sin in your heart.

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Ashamed of Jesus? (February 25, 2018)

February 27, 2018

Ashamed of Jesus?

Romans 8:31-38

Shame is relative in our world. Feeling ashamed of something has a lot to do with your place in life. For instance, an old beat up car with high miles could be the shame of someone who was fired from their job and had to do a quick downsizing just to keep up with debt that is coming due. On the other hand, that same old, beat up car with high miles could be the pride and joy of a young adult who just got their license. Likewise, a weed infested corner of the yard could be the shame of a life-long gardener, who just hasn’t had the time to address the issue due to life’s circumstances at the time. On the other hand, that same weed infested corner of the yard could be a joy to a young couple who just purchased their first home – a bit of a fixer-upper.

But what about the cross of Christ? Is the cross of Christ something you are ashamed of? Or something you take pride in? Are you Ashamed of Jesus?

Well, we can start by taking a look at the reason Jesus died on the cross. The Bible declares that “the wages of sin is death” (Rm 6:23). Yet it wasn’t for his own sins that Jesus died. We just read last week that when Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, he did not give in. He resisted Satan at every point and conquered every one of Satan’s temptations. Elsewhere in the Bible it says that Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are – yet did not sin” (Heb 4:15). And we will hear once again in a few weeks that the Sanhedrin couldn’t pin any charge on Jesus for which he should be crucified. Even when they hired men to bring false charges against him, nothing stuck. The only charge that Jesus was convicted of, was being a king. His own actions and reputation testified to his innocence in death.

It wasn’t for his own sins that Jesus was nailed to the cross, but for mine and for yours. It should have been me. I should have been the one hanging there, and suffering an eternity in hell. In fact, one of our hymns that I came across recently caught me with a powerful line. It said that he was crucified upon my cross. The reason for Jesus being crucified, is my shame. And if that notice above Jesus listed my sins instead of his title as king, how long it would have been. A notice with my charges would have cascaded down the head of the cross, over the thorn-crowned head of Jesus, down his beaten body and who knows how far across the ground. Yet it wasn’t only my sins he died for. It was also for your sins, and the sins of every other person who ever lived or ever will live. The reason for the cross is clearly my shame.

As our Savior, then, Jesus said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again” (Mk 8:31). But what did he mean by “must”? It wasn’t at all that Jesus was taken prisoner by Satan and had to die as a trade or payment to Satan. No, Satan is under the same curse of sin we are. It wasn’t even that God the Father commanded Jesus to do this saying, “You must die for the salvation of all people.” The only thing that made it a “must” for Jesus is his own love for you. Love that is never failing. Love that is always abiding. Love that couldn’t have it any other way than for you to be reconciled to God and with him for all eternity. So because God is love, then he does what needs to be done to make you his own. Not because he has to, but because of his great mercy and grace.

It’s easy to see how off base Peter’s actions were after the fact – rebuking Jesus and saying this would never happen (Mk 8:32). By doing so, if Jesus would have been prevented from dying, Peter would also be preventing his own salvation. You see, although the things Jesus was describing – the suffering, rejection, and dying – although these things seemed like shameful things for the Savior, they are actually his glory! And not only his glory, but the glory of all believers! That cross and suffering are displays of God’s love for you. Proof that God will do whatever it takes to be with you and proudly claim you as his own! Jesus wasn’t ashamed of associating with sinners. He wasn’t ashamed to die for sinners. And on the last day, he certainly won’t be ashamed to welcome sinners-made-saints to their heavenly home!

Can we say the same? Are we bold enough or brave enough to do whatever it takes and proudly claim God as our Lord and Savior? Or are we ashamed of him? Are we ashamed of Jesus? I can still remember a day when I was on the bus coming home from middle school. Some kids were picking on my brother for being a Christian. I was trying to just keep my eyes forward and not get involved. But he must have pointed me out as another Christian as if stretching out his arm for help and support. I’m guessing he pointed me out because one of the kids came up and asked me if I was a Christian too. I must have looked like a deer in the headlights as I shook my head no. Thankfully they left me alone. I found relief in that moment… but yet, that moment still sticks with me. I had a chance to stick up, not only for my brother, but also for my Savior, and I blew it. Can you think of a time where you have done the same? Does it still stick with you? Perhaps you found relief in that moment, but it continues to stick with you and haunt you because Satan will continually bring it up in your mind. He will keep trying to shovel that guilt right back in your face to make you feel ashamed of yourself and shy away from the burden of bearing your cross.

But Jesus says deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me (Mk 8:34). At face value this looks like a threefold command that actually makes the burden of being a Christian even heavier. I have to give up the things I like. I have to endure the weight. I have to live a life of “WWJD” doing exactly what Jesus did. That’s impossible and undesirable! But take a second look at it. “Denying yourself” isn’t giving up the things you enjoy and living a miserable life. It’s giving up the Old Adam. It’s losing the sinful self and being found in Christ! What could be better than not having to struggle so much with sin day in and day out! It’s possible for those who deny themselves and wrap their lives in Jesus.

“Taking up your cross” isn’t always easy. It’s true that you will be singled out at times. It’s true that people will at times dump on you all their anger of Jesus and the guilt they would rather forget but that God’s Word keeps trying to address. Taking your cross can be hard. But do you know what the apostles did after they were thrown in prison and flogged? They “rejoiced because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for [Jesus]” (Acts 4:41). I know that sounds kind of strange, but perhaps an illustration from Jesus will help us understand.

Jesus once said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt 11:29). I’ll admit, I didn’t understand this for a long time. Taking up a yoke, that sturdy harness used when oxen pull a heavy plow, does not sound like rest to me! Not until it was explained to me how young and inexperienced oxen were trained to pull a yoke. This is how it works. A young and inexperienced ox is yoked together with a strong, steady, and experienced ox. And for the first few times, it’s really the strong experienced ox that does all the work. The young ox is basically just along for the ride, there’s the rest. As the young ox learns and gets more experienced, it gradually takes on some of the load as it works with the stronger experienced ox.

That’s the situation. Now picture yourself being yoked with Jesus. Only when you are ready does he allow you to feel some of the pressure of that yoke. And that’s what the apostles rejoiced in! They were counted worthy and ready to bear some of the weight of being Christian! So when it comes time to take up your cross in life, and you feel the pressure of the yoke against you, remember whom you are yoked with. He will never give you more than you can bear. And he is always bearing the brunt of the burden. His cross removed the eternal, unbearable burden of your cross.

The last command is “follow me.” It’s more of an encouragement really. Jesus has gone ahead and blazed the trail. Jesus went ahead and stood up against Satan as he was tempted in the wilderness. Jesus took a stand against death on the cross. And Jesus takes a stand against the sin in your heart. He asks only that you follow. Follow in the strength he has given you because he has removed the shame of following him.

It’s really a flip-flopped world we live in, isn’t it? I mean, the very fact that Jesus had to address this (and that we are still addressing it today) is a testament to how backwards our sinful world is. Sinful people find beauty in the things we should be ashamed of and find shame in the one we should rejoice in. It’s nothing new. Adam hid because he was ashamed. The disciples fled when Jesus was arrested because they were afraid and ashamed. Today people take those things that we really ought to be ashamed of, put it on display for all to see, and then come up with reasons why we shouldn’t be ashamed. Certain art galleries or movies that are much more revealing than they need to be are praised as beautiful art! Lifestyles that are opposed to God’s Word and clearly not following him are praised as forward thinking and cultural! And it hits home too. We use excuses of work to condone missing worship again and again until we are nothing but “Christmas and Easter Christians” and eventually fall away completely. Or we give our hobbies and interests precedence even when they interfere with devoting time for refreshing our souls.

But Jesus asks, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Mk 8:36-37). Thankfully, this truth still has an impact on people today. Even in a worldly sense, most people know that there are things that money can’t buy. There are more important things than just all the stuff we acquire. Perhaps a good example of this comes from people who have survived a house fire or even a flood. What is it, often, that they miss most. What item in their home carries the most value? Often, it’s the photos that were lost or damaged. Often, it’s worthless things that have memories attached to them. It’s the intangibles that are the most valuable. Well, Jesus says that even more valuable than photos, memories, or other intangibles is your soul. In fact, he says, “The ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough” (Ps 49:7).

Ever since sin entered the world, souls have been lost. Every single one of us is conceived and born sinful. And it would have stayed that way if God was ashamed of us; if Jesus was too ashamed to associate with sinners. But that wasn’t the case. Jesus walked and talked with sinners. He even stayed in their homes and ate with them! Like a shepherd goes after one lost sheep, Jesus seeks after and gathers his sinful sheep one by one. Then, to flip-flop our condition, he became our sin and gave up his life in place of ours. The ransom for a life is costly, yes. But Christ paid the price and gives you back your life free of charge when he died on the cross! Ashamed of Jesus? Not a chance. He makes the cross of persecution I bear a joy – as he allows me to bear the name “Christian.” Will I stand by with indifference as others defame my Lord and Savior? Not a chance. He took away my shame and became the one I’m most proud of.

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Separated from Sin; Inseparable from Savior (February 18, 2018)

February 20, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

Separated from Sin; Inseparable from Savior

Romans 8:31-39

How many of you feel isolated, lonely, or separated in some way? Are you a student trying to figure out who you are as an individual, yet at the same time trying to fit in with others? Are you new at your place of work, figuring out how to take up the reigns yet finding it hard to build up more than just polite “hi / bye” relationships? Are you retired, and struggling to still connect with people outside your own home and family? What’s the loneliness in your life? Where do you feel isolated or separated?

In this age of technology, sharing pictures and video chatting face to face, when reaching out to a friend is just a few keystrokes away – we try to bring people closer. We try to cut down the miles of separation and isolation, and in some cases it works very well. It’s amazing how loved ones far away can really sit with your family in your living room without ever leaving their home. But in other cases, we look at the seemingly perfect lives of others, and it gets us down. We look at how many comments this other person has, and how few we have. We send emails that gradually grow farther and farther between. Despite efforts to bring people together in our day and age, many of us still bear the weight of loneliness.

The apostle Paul lists a number of factors that can separate and isolate us. “trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword” (Rm 8:35). Many of these things too, Paul points out, are specifically because we bear the name “Christian.” “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered” (Rm 8:36) he quotes from the Psalms. And boy did they have it bad in those days. We are just 4 chapters into our study of Acts in our Sunday morning Bible class, and already Peter and John have been thrown in prison and put on trial for preaching that Jesus is the Christ. Keep in mind that this is only a very short time after the day of Pentecost when the disciples started to go out and preach publicly. Before then, they remained in hiding and waited for Jesus to send the gift of the Holy Spirit as he promised because they knew that there was a sharp separation between what they believed, and the vast majority of their fellow Jews.

Today, it’s different. Not necessarily easier, just different. In those days they were threatened with their very own lives. Today, they may not take your life for being Christians – at least not very often in our country, thankfully – but they will take other things. They will ruin your livelihood if your business upholds Christian values. They will restrict your freedoms while promoting everyone else’s freedom. They will limit what you can say and do to the best of their ability, making you feel isolated and shut out. Jesus even said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves” (Mt 10:16).

As Paul goes on, he elevates the stakes a little and lists a number of other things that threaten to separate us: Death or life, angels or demons, the present or the future, any powers, height or depth (Rm 8:38-39). These all threaten to separate us from one another, and from God. With all these threats mounting, and as we are continually faced with them day in and day out it’s a miracle if we escape them!

But so far, with all the things I listed that threaten to separate us from God, I would say that the list so far is nothing but non-issues. All these things may appear as if they can separate us from God and his love, but they can’t. Not really. What’s going on in our lives now, the present, or what could happen to us in the future can’t separate us from God. Trouble, hardship, danger or persecution – they might threaten, but they can’t do a thing. Not even death itself, which seems to be a separation from everything and everyone we have ever known, not even death can separate us from God.

There are a couple factors that can, however. There are strong warnings in the Bible against giving the devil a foothold (Eph 4:27). In one of Jesus’ parables, when he is talking about seed scattered upon different kinds of ground, he talks about people who hear the word of God, but then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved (Lk 8:12). Do not mess around with Satan. He comes with a guise of fun and games, pretending to be harmless, offering a bit of fun with little or no consequences. But behind that guise are sharp teeth!

Think of an angler fish. Do you know what that is? If you’ve seen “Finding Nemo” you’ve seen one. Angler fish live deep in the ocean – deeper than light can penetrate. If you were a fish swimming down that deep, all you would see of an angler fish is a pleasantly glowing orb that playfully bobs here and there. You may swim closer to check it out and investigate. And just when you think it’s completely harmless… SNAP! Huge jaws close around you. Angler fish use a glowing lure that protrudes from their foreheads to lure fish into their mouths. And that’s exactly what Satan does. He lures you in close, eases your guard down, and then SNAP! He’s got you. The apostle Peter even describes the devil as a prowling lion looking for someone to devour (1 Pt 5:8).

The other enemy that can separate you from God, is you. The apostle Paul warns, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Cor 10:12). By your own neglect of God and his word you isolate yourself from the one who can protect you from Satan’s schemes. And by isolating yourself from God, you suddenly turn all those “non-separators,” that I mentioned earlier, into very real threats. “Trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword” (Rm 8:35). height or depth, present or the future, powers that threaten, life and death (Rm 8:38-39) pose very real threats to you when you allow yourself to be separated from God’s love and care. Instead of these arrows harmlessly bouncing off the shield of your mighty protector, you are left exposed to all these dangers. Separate from your Savior, you will eventually feel the crushing blow of these dangers.

Satan’s tactic since the beginning has been to separate and isolate. Think about what he did with Adam and Eve. After the fall into sin, he whispered thoughts of hiding and isolation into their hearts. First from God. When God called out to Adam, “Where are you?” how did he answer? “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (Gen 3:10). And then he worked on separating Adam from Eve. God asked, “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (Gen 3:11). And once again, how did Adam respond? By separating himself from Eve and isolating her, “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (Gen 3:12).

Think of it in this way. Do you know what happens when a lion attacks a herd of antelope? The antelope all run and scatter. Then the pride of lions targets the weakest one and takes it down. One by one, they are picked off from the herd. And that’s what Satan attempts to do. He tried to isolate you from the protection of the herd by driving wedges. And they don’t even have to be good wedges. How many petty arguments have caused divisions in churches and even caused people to leave because of it? And it doesn’t matter who started the argument or whether the person isolated themselves or the rest of the congregation shut them out, what matters is that a body of believers has left one of our own isolated, defenseless, and vulnerable to any kind of attack Satan might mount against them.

Don’t be antelope. Instead, be like water buffalo. I know it might not be very appealing to be called a water buffalo, but do you know what water buffalo do when they are attacked? They form a defensive ring. On the inside of the ring, they put their young and their weak. On the outside of the ring they put their strong and healthy – ones that can take a hit and stand their ground. They rally together and protect one another, not letting any of their weak fall without a fight against their strongest. Brothers and sisters, this is how we stand firm. By rallying together and having those that are strong and firmly rooted in the Bible come alongside those who might be struggling. By protecting them from the assaults of Satan and the attacks that stem from within. Together we are a unified body. Together we are stronger. And of course, the head of the body is Christ. Or to use the water buffalo example, he is the outermost ring. Our strongest defense.

But Christ became our strength in a very unique way. You see, God says that our sins have separated us from him. And God doesn’t change, he doesn’t ever go back on his word. So, since he loves you and couldn’t bear being separated from you for all eternity, he took that sin which separates you from him and placed it on his own Son, Jesus. And, for a time on the cross, God the Father really did separate himself from Jesus. We know this because Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46). At that time, Jesus was paying the price of separation for every person for all eternity. In those excruciating hours on the cross, when Jesus bore not just physical pain but the spiritual pain of being separated from God – as he bore the torments of hell in your place – he was enduring the separation for sin so that you could be inseparable from God. God actually made Jesus, who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21). “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross,” Peter wrote, “so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’” (1 Pt 2:24).

Isn’t that just amazing! I know some have said it’s just terrible to think that God would alienate and sacrifice his own Son in such a way. And yes, it is terrible to think of it. But at the same time, it just magnifies the love that God has for you! He couldn’t bear the thought of punishing you, the crown of his creation, and living an eternity without you – without the great multitude of his created sons and daughters. And so he gave the ultimate sacrifice. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. He separated himself from Jesus for a time, so that he could gain all of you for an eternity! You are bought and paid for children of God!

Now, with all that in mind, look at the reading from Romans 8 once again. Knowing that God has separated you from sin and brought you to him, look again at all the things that threaten to separate you from your Savior, but are powerless to do so when you remain in God’s protective care:

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?… Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any power, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

You can see all those arrows of attacks coming at you, but none will be able to harm you. They all fall powerlessly to the ground. God has separated you from sin, and made you inseparable from your Savior.

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The Truth Stands (February 14, 2018)

February 20, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

The Truth Stands

John 19:19-22; Matthew 27:35-44

It’s becoming almost ridiculous, really. The lengths we have to go to now to prove that something is true. IDs and signatures, sworn statements and truthful witnesses – and even still we have to question or doubt what we hear. What happened to the days of a simple handshake and “my word is my honor”? It’s almost a battle to be taken seriously, and to have your statement recognized as truth.

In the case of Jesus, the battle between the Jewish Sanhedrin trying to accuse Jesus and Pilate trying to defend his innocence didn’t end at the verdict of crucifixion. Pilate had one last comeback against the Jews. It wasn’t uncommon for criminals sentenced to crucifixion to bear a sign indicating their crime. Often it went with them from their trial and through the streets as they made their way to the execution site. It remained with them as they sat there, waiting… watching as the soldiers prepared the cross they would hang upon in their last hours of life. And that sign would be clearly displayed on the cross as they struggled for breath and suffered. It was a powerful deterrent to anyone who might consider that same crime.

But for Jesus it was different. Pilate couldn’t find any basis for charging him. In fact, Pilate tried to release him at least 6 times! Each time stating that he couldn’t find a basis for a charge against him. Yet because of the mindless rage of the Jews, he was sentenced to crucifixion. No sign hung around his neck as he was beaten by the soldiers. No sign accompanied him on his way to Golgotha. No sign sat with him as his cross was set firmly into the ground. Because of the place these verses fall in the narrative, it seems like this inscription was an afterthought of Pilate’s. As Jesus hung there, a sign, which typically stated the person’s crime, was fastened to the cross. “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (Jn 19:19) is all it read.

Immediately the chief priests protested the sign. But Pilate responded, “Isn’t that the charge you brought against him? Didn’t you come to me in righteous anger because this man declared himself a king?!” “What I have written, I have written” (Jn 19:22). So there it hung, preaching a powerful message. And since it was written in three languages, it was a message preached to the world! Aramaic, the common language of the Jews. Latin, the language of Rome, making it official. And Greek, the universal language of the time.

It stood out in sharp contrast to all other notices. For those hung next to Jesus, the people could have read “murderer,” “thief,” or “treason.” But above Jesus, it simply said “King.” And people took notice! Many Jews were in Jerusalem for the Passover at that time. Many Jews going in and out of the city walked past the cross. And many Jews read the sign. They began to talk about this. You could just imagine over the next few hours a murmur started to wash over the city about this Jesus. And the chief priests and members of the Sanhedrin were possibly getting hot in the collar as they wondered if people would believe that sign.

They couldn’t let that notice stand. They couldn’t risk anyone taking that inscription for truth. Some, undoubtedly scoffed at the sign. And understandably so. I mean, Jesus certainly didn’t look like a king, and certainly not the Son of God. “Save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” (Mt 27:40) were the insults they heard. The chief priests, teachers of the law, and elders joined in, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him” (Mt 27:42).

Do you see what they were doing? They were taking the true statement hung above Jesus’ head and propagating doubt. It’s essentially peer pressure. If you believe that Jesus is actually the King of the Jews or the Son of God, you are a fool! No one else believes it. And in doing so, not only were they making themselves comfortable in their lie, they were also avoiding judgment from others by making others believe the lie!

And that right there, broadcasting lies and avoiding judgment is what we still do to this day. We read statements from the Bible that are meant to cut us to the heart, but instead we turn it into a rubber blade. “Love my neighbor, sure, I love those in my circles and care about them. But go out of my way to show love to a random stranger? I don’t know him from Adam! He’s not my neighbor.” “Do not bear false witness. Well, it’s not false witness, if it’s truth. And besides, I’m not really hurting them or spreading gossip if I just tell one or two people.” And we’re not just content to keep these practices to ourselves, we encourage others to do the same. We encourage others to bring up some juicy details about so and so. We casually laugh off that person in need with our friends so that they join in the practice and therefore can’t judge us for going against what God’s Word plainly says. We have created a comfort zone for ourselves where God can’t touch us with his truth, and others support us in our lies.

It’s even come to a point where people are ok with lies. You have your life, I have mine, and that’s fine. You have your way of raising kids, I have mine, and that’s fine. If you want to do that thing I know is wrong, that’s fine – as long as you don’t involve me. Do you see yourselves in these words? Even turning a blind eye to something you know is wrong is sin! Yet our society is fine with it, even applauding it and wrapping it with the nice sounding title of “tolerance.” I know that word rings negatively to you, but that doesn’t mean you and I don’t practice it. It doesn’t mean we aren’t content to propagate a society of lies.

But the truth remains, untouched, and unaltered. I find it amazing that although the chief priests tried to nullify the truth that Jesus is the King, the truth remained. “What I have written, I have written.” God proved it to be true too! Jesus was raised to life, because being true God meant that death could not hold him. He ascended into heaven and retains his place of authority over all things. And he will come back truly a king! Then every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. The truth stands unshaken.

I see a lot of truth in the words we confessed earlier. I see it ring true for myself. To forgive others as I have been forgiven – I can’t measure up to God’s forgiveness of me. I know the truth of how I have grieved the Holy Spirit because I have been deaf to my call to serve as Christ served us. Manipulation, envy, negligence… all these words can ring true for me. You could sum it all up with one of the last lines from that confession, “What we think or say or do is at variance with your will.” Despite how hard I try to twist it or take away its bite, the truth stands.

That’s good news. Because although we can twist and contort the truth, the Holy Spirit uses that truth to break through to our hard hearts. Every once in a while, he is going to strike a nerve, and our self-made comfort zone will be shattered. Suddenly we realize that we are standing in opposition of God’s truth. And when we confess the sin of our rebellion, we are met with another truth. “All your sins are forgiven.” That truth stands because Christ truly did go to battle for us. Like a true king he defended you, his people, from your enemies. He took the fall, and the responsibility for your sin. And there’s a striking picture of this in Revelation. “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him” (that’s you and me) “riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean” (Rev 19:11-14). There’s only one who bears the marks of battle. Only one whose robe is stained with blood. Jesus took on the wrath of sin, so you wouldn’t have to. Jesus shed his blood for sin, so that you could be cleansed from every sinful stain. Your Savior is truly a king who fights for you. That truth stands. Your sins are truly forgiven. That truth stands. Amen.

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See Your Savior (February 11, 2018)

February 20, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

See Your Savior

Mark 9:2-9

One of the things I’ve noticed with my early morning Sunday routine is that there are a lot of prescription medicine commercials on early in the morning. One of the commercials that sticks in my mind is for Psoriasis, a skin disease that causes raised, red, scaly patches on the skin. It’s not at all contagious, but it is immediately noticeable when someone has it. In fact, I think one of the struggles of people who have psoriasis is that those red patches are all others can focus on. Therefore, the slogan for a medicine called “Cosentyx” is “See me!” “See me for who I am – not simply for the disease I have.” “See me, and get to know me for more than just what’s on the surface.” I think during the commercial, they repeat that slogan, “See me,” about 20 times, so it’s definitely drummed into my memory.

“See me” could have been a good slogan for what Jesus was about to do on that high mountain. We heard last week that Jesus was already gaining a reputation for his authoritative teaching. People were already beginning to form opinions about who Jesus was, but were they forming the right opinions? Jesus asked his disciples how the people see him. “Who do the people say I am?” To which they replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” Ok, they were on the right track, but he had to inquire further, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” Peter answered for the group, “You are the Christ” (Mk 8:27-38). A perfect answer! Good thing that after so much time spent with the disciples, they finally understood who Jesus was! Or did they…

As Jesus began to teach them what being the Messiah meant, it became clear that they only had a surface level understanding of who the Christ was. “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed” Jesus explained (Mk 8:31). But Peter interrupted him by taking him aside. “Jesus, why are you saying this? That’s not what these people need. The Christ is a glorious ruler who will restore Israel to its rightful place!” It’s clear that they just weren’t getting it yet. They weren’t quite there. They were only seeing Jesus for what he was on the surface – only seeing him for what they imagined that title of “the Christ” meant. And so, they weren’t really seeing him. It was time to reveal who he truly was. It was time for the disciples to really see their Savior.

Jesus took three of them, Peter, James, and John, with him and led them up a high mountain. They were alone. There Jesus was transfigured before them! “Transfigured,” what does that even mean? Each of the gospel writers describes it: “His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them” (Mk 9:3). “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light” (Mt 17:2). “The appearance of his face was changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning” (Lk 9:29). They all describe something brighter and more brilliant than anything they had ever seen. On this occasion Jesus allowed his divine nature to shine through the human shell! At last, these three people could see Jesus for who he really was… but… words fail to describe the sight. Nevertheless, these three men, apostles who would be sent out as eyewitnesses of all that Jesus was and did, saw what they needed to see to convince them and help them truly see their Savior.

A voice also chimed in adding to the spectacle… because by now the sight was too terrifyingly awesome that they had to cover their eyes. But they still hear the proclamation, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mk 9:7). Their minds must have flashed back, first to the baptism of Jesus when God declared much the same thing from heaven. Then back much farther to something Moses said long ago about the Messiah, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you… You must listen to him” (Deut 18:15). Surely this Jesus is more than just a man; more than just a great prophet. Surely Jesus is also heavenly in nature – God in the flesh!

Years later, Peter and John would both insist that this was no illusion or myth. “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” Peter insisted, “We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain” (1 Pt 1:16,18). John adds, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). They saw Jesus in all his glorious power.

We think we know power. We think we understand it – can describe and portray it. That’s actually one of my favorite things about all the super hero movies that come out. Each one seems to portray an enemy stronger than the last. Each time you are wondering if your favorite hero is going to be strong enough to defeat the enemy. And each time, in some way, the cinematographers know just how to capture the hero’s superior power. Whether that be with slow motion punches, the enemy flying through 5 brick walls, or CGI displaying an explosion like you have never seen before! I think we are pretty good at capturing and depicting power! But, in reality, we can’t capture God’s power. We can’t see it with our eyes, can’t describe it on the page, can’t depict it on the screen. His power is so far beyond our understanding. We just have to trust! And up to this point, the disciples just had to trust that Jesus had all the power and authority that came with being the Messiah. But their trust would soon be tested. So Jesus revealed his power and authority, his heavenly nature, to them. Because he knew what was coming next would test them to their limits. Before this test, he wanted them to really see him. He wanted them to see his glorious power.

Peter wanted to freeze this moment in time – the transfiguration. “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Mk 9:5). He was anxious for the glorious Christ to be revealed – for him to put this indescribable majesty on display before all people. Earlier he was offended at the suggestion of a suffering Christ. But this, this was more like it. This was more in line with how Peter saw his Savior. If Jesus would only remain here on this mountain, with Moses and Elijah, then everyone would know the true majesty of Israel! Everyone would know that Jesus is the Christ. Many would believe and enemies would cower before Israel as Jesus leads them to prosperity, and superiority.

But little did Peter know, that although this was all God’s glory on display in Jesus, this would not be his most glorious act. This display of glory was meant to be seared into their minds so that even when it seemed that all glory was lost – when Jesus would be put on trial and mocked for his accurate claims of being God. When he would be beaten and spit upon. When he would be brutally nailed to a torturous device meant for an agonizing death – that even in this moment when they couldn’t bear the sight, they would still see their Savior. They would still see his glory. In fact, despite these two events – the transfiguration and the crucifixion – despite them seeming to be complete polar opposites, it’s these two events that really help us see our Savior. True God with all authority, glory, and power; yet also true man and greatest servant of all, setting aside his glory and using that power to eradicate the punishment of sin and render death inert for you!

Don’t you see? There are different kinds of glory, and different kinds of power. On the one hand, you get to see your Savior’s glory and power on display when he was transfigured; yet on the other hand, you get to see your Savior’s glory and power in action when he took onto himself the punishment for all sin and proved that death could not hold him. There’s glory and power in seeing his divine nature. And there’s glory and power in seeing him use his human nature to save all humanity. In both instances see your Savior.

And there’s one event in our Savior’s life that is probably a culmination of those two types of glory. “As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (Mk 9:9). To us, images of Easter, happiness, and joy all come to mind, but verse 10 reveals that the disciples didn’t know what to think of it. What did Jesus mean by “rising from the dead?” I think that gives us all we need to know about why Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone about what they saw. Although they had heard Jesus teach them about who the Messiah really was, and although they had now seen his glory, they still didn’t really see Jesus completely. They still didn’t completely understand what the Messiah came to do. That understanding wouldn’t fully come until after his death, resurrection, and ascent into heaven. He came to save sinner, so he had to die. He came to be the firstborn from the dead, so he rose. He came to establish a heavenly kingdom, so he ascended into heaven. But all this still seemed so foreign to the disciples who had not yet wrestled with the despair of the crucifixion. Who had not yet appreciated the sacrifice of Jesus.

Maybe that’s part of why God allows us to see dark and troubled times in our lives. There are many aspects to it – we talked about one last Sunday – but one aspect of having to bear our own cross of suffering is so that people who do not yet know Jesus can see you. They can see that you have a different way of going about life. They can see that your perspective on life is much more far reaching than just the here and now. Dark and sad times do not shake you like they do others because you have seen the one who’s on your side! You have seen his glory and power, seen how that glorious power sometimes shines brightest against the backdrop of the darkest hours. You have seen the glory that awaits you – life after death, and heaven! There’s nothing here on earth that can shake you. Nothing that can permanently rob you of your joy, because you have seen your Savior go to the lowest low and come out unscathed. Because of that permanent hope that you have, others will also see who you really as you shine against the backdrop of darkness.

It all started with Jesus inviting 3 of his disciples to “See me.” Transfiguration helps us see our Savior. It discloses his heavenly nature which made him able to what needed to be done. It anticipates his agonizing death which although hard for us to bear the thought, also means our salvation. It also foreshadows his glorious resurrection. A sign that his saving work was complete, and an anticipation of the glorious resurrection that awaits each one of you!





Yet, knowing this, we are still revolted at the thought of a suffering Savior. Have you gone through the progression of Holy Week and felt the gloom of your Savior mistreated, abused, and killed? Have you watched a depiction of these events, such as the movie “The Passion” and had to turn away in gut wrenching sadness? Have you read through and meditated upon those parts of the gospels like we will begin to do in the coming weeks? Why is the thought so revolting? Why can’t we bear the thought of what is supposed to be his most gracious act of dying on the cross?

I think there are many facets to it. First, I think it’s because we wouldn’t want anyone to have to endure such cruel injustice. Especially not our God and Savior. We, like Peter, want his glory on display, not his beaten and battered body. But yet, he had to endure it… because of our sinfulness. I think that’s the second reason we can’t bear the thought. The reason he had to suffer is because of our sinfulness. God loves you and doesn’t want you to have to suffer for your sinfulness. So he took the place that you and I deserved on the cross. We shudder to think of it, but yet, it’s all part of seeing our Savior. Just as the Savior revealed his glory to strengthen the disciples through the dark hours of his trial and crucifixion, so also the darkness of that hour ought not eclipse the brightness of his glory. Because although his agonizing death seems to be the darkest day in history, it is also one of the most glorious days for you who believe, because the immeasurable sacrifice of Jesus paid for the immense debt of your sin.

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My Savior is Bigger! (February 4, 2018)

February 5, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

My Savior is Bigger!

Mark 1:21-28

What is it that gives a word weight? When someone makes a statement, what is it that causes others to either heed that statement or disregard? A lot of weight could come from the position that the person holds. Are they a manager, or even the CEO of a company? Are they a military officer, maybe even the top authority of a nation? Or are they a nobody? Titles can carry a lot of weight. But along with that, I think, must be the reputation or proven track record. Even if someone carries a title of great weight, their less than stellar reputation can make the title meaningless. But if they have proven themselves time and time again, then their words will move people to rally behind them, even change hearts! And yet, even at that, I think they also need the ability to back up their claims. Because even if someone has a good reputation, their word means little if they are unable to back up their statement with real support.

We’ve got a bit of a power struggle going on, during a church service of all things. On one side, we have a traveling preacher who was starting to build a reputation as a wise and authoritative speaker. And on the other side, we have a silent guest who has gone unnoticed presumably for quite some time. When Jesus was invited to speak at the synagogue, the people noticed a marked difference between Jesus and the other rabbis the people were accustomed to hearing. Why was that? Why was Jesus’ message so different than the rabbis’? I guess the obvious answer would be that he’s Jesus! Of course he’s going to be a better speaker than the rabbis because he is the author behind the whole Bible! But I think it goes beyond that. The problem with the rabbis of Jesus day is that their emphasis was on teaching the people the traditions of the elders. They were so concerned about teaching their many man-made precepts, and so busy explaining things about Scripture, that many times they missed the Scripture’s message. Jesus preached the word. He stuck with the means of grace and God worked through it!

However, there’s more to it than that. You see, there was a silent visitor in the synagogue who loved the rabbis’ misdirection. In fact, he was the one pulling strings to keep it that way. And this silent visitor happily remained unnoticed until the day Jesus walked in the door and completely ruined his plans. Jesus refocused the people’s hearts on Scripture when he preached the gospel. And it’s at this time that the silent visitor makes himself known by his outburst at orthodoxy. “Just then, a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!’” (Mk 1:23-24). As soon as Jesus appears with the gospel, the devil is enraged and does all that he can to hinder the message. Here he does it by confessing what on the surface is the truth; but he does it with evil intent, to hinder the work of the glorious gospel. Who, after all, wants to be confessed by the devil? At the very least the confession of the demons would confuse people.

“’Be quiet!’ said Jesus sternly. ‘Come out of him!’ The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek” (Mk 1:25-26). In leaving, the devil demonstrated that his only power is to hurt and destroy – his only intention is for our eternal suffering. But this goes on only as long as the Lord, for reasons of his own, permits it. When God commands the devil to come out, he must obey!

It’s easy, in fact natural, for sinful human beings to question God here. Why would God allow this man, presumably a believe since we meet him in the synagogue, to be possessed by a demon? If God is indeed almighty and good, shouldn’t he prevent these kinds of things from happening in the first place? God doesn’t always reveal to us his reasons for allowing certain things. He doesn’t need to, nor would we always understand it. But here he does. It’s to demonstrate to the people that day, to demonstrate to us today and everyone in between who read this – to demonstrate that your Savior secures you with his power! He’s told us many times that he has all authority in heaven and on earth. He’s told us that everything is in his control, and that his plans are for the good of his children. But sometimes that’s hard to believe when we see what’s going on all around us. The flu, spreading and taking lives. Government officials who sometimes seem more concerned about holding more seats than why they are in those seats. Tragedies taking place all around. And here, a man completely under Satan’s power. Why God? Why?

In this case, he allowed it so that you would recognize Jesus for who he is. It’s something amazingly that all demons have in common. They all recognized Jesus for who he is. Satan realized that Jesus had come to take away his death-hold on creation. His position as the “prince of this world” was under attack. Jesus already defeated Satan’s temptations in the wilderness, and now continues to defeat Satan at every turn. There was no struggle, no fancy incantations, no begging and pleading. Just as it has been the case since the creation of the world, God simply commanded and it was so. “Be quiet! Come out of him!” And the demon had to obey.

It’s true that God doesn’t reveal his reasons for everything that he allows to happen. But he does give you strongholds of security to hold on to. He reveals his reasons and his unfailing control in some instances, so that you can remain confident in others that your Savior secures you with his power. And there isn’t any person, power, or authority that can prevent him from doing so.

The fact that the devil is in the synagogue in the first place ought to serve as a warning to us, though. There’s no doubt he’s prowling around looking for believers to take down. It’s not among unbelievers that he works his hardest – he’s already got them. No, it’s among believers that he’s working his hardest. And often in ways that we might not expect. We aren’t told what kind of previous history this demon possessed man had, so it’s purely out of speculation, but it could have been that the demon was content to be a silent source of misdirection until the day that Jesus came and ruined his plans. A word of warning that often those churches that seem most united and peaceful is where false doctrine is given the most room. But where the Word is preached in its truth and purity, there the devil is most busy stirring up strife in doctrine and in life so that people turn away from the truth.

It’s the same case in your personal life. In spite of his promises to give peace, pleasure, and security Satan always gives the exact opposite. Because his only power is to destroy and corrupt. To give pain, misery, and these ultimately in eternity. But there’s hope. Because the gospel’s power to create is still more powerful than the power of the devil to destroy. For it is God’s Word alone that created all things. It is his Word alone that revives a lost and condemned sinner – dead in their transgressions and sins. It is his Word alone that gives you new life! Your Savior strengthens you with his word! Don’t cling to the one that Jesus is driving out. Cling to Jesus and his word!

I think verse 22 captures well the power of God’s word. “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law” (Mk 1:22). They were amazed at his teaching! Or, to keep the colorful working that Mark used, “They were blown away by his teaching! That’s literally what it says! And, in keeping with the main point of this event, Mark doesn’t record the message that Jesus spoke, but the reaction of the people. Because this happened so that people would see how the Savior secures them with his power and strengthens them with his word. His word carries great weight! The people were “blown away” by his teaching!

A notable difference could be expected since he knew the whole will of God from eternity. He knew how the promises of the Old Testament would be fulfilled. So Jesus “blew them away” as he revealed the intricate wisdom of God’s plan of salvation! It’s that same wisdom which he reveals to you completely in his word. You have the “authoritative” message that Christ preached spelled out for you! And with it, you are strengthened in your faith and in your witnessing.

Now it’s time for you to “blow away” others with that message! And you can do so because when you speak these words, it’s not just you speaking. It’s not just your position, or reputation, or ability to back them up that give these words weight. The weight of your witnessing with God’s Word depend solely on him. It’s his authority as King of kings and Lord of lords. It’s his reputation of directing all things for the salvation of a great multitude. And it’s his ability to back up these words with proof after proof after proof like we see here!

And that addresses a passage that I have believed, but carefully tiptoed around for a long time. It’s when Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt… you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done” (Mt 21:21). I’ve always believed it to be true. But I’ve always been scared to try. First, because I can’t fathom the effects it would have on the environment, but more importantly, because I was afraid about what it would reveal about my faith. If I have a weak faith, or doubting faith – which I know is the case at times – this little “test” would prove it to be so. But as I got to this reading, I was thinking, it doesn’t really depend at all upon my faith, but the one in whom my faith is based. He gives his word power. He is the one who would move that mountain if my command was in accord with his will. And then I began to think, you know, I’ve already seen mountains be thrown into the heart of the sea. Isn’t that essentially what’s taking place every time Satan is uprooted from someone’s heart by the word of God? What greater opponent do believers have than Satan? Who else could be leading hearts astray in a more powerful way than Satan. And yet, even this heavy hitting opponent must submit to God’s authoritative word and throw himself into the sea when God commands him to come out!

Jesus would have many more encounters with Satan, and you will too. But each time see that Jesus is always the victor. Satan’s final desperate attack would be directed at Jesus on the cross. Yet there, Satan’s power in connection with sin and death would be put to an end. Jesus would meet death head on and defeat it. Satan still thrashes about, but he holds no real power. Your Savior secures you with his power. He strengthens you with his word.

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Me, a Missionary? (January 28, 2018)

January 29, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

Me, a Missionary?

Acts 13:1-5

Have you ever thought about being a missionary? Actually, I should back up and first ask a different question. What do you think of when you hear the word “missionary”? When I was young, I think my thoughts always turned to Africa. Probably because the African mission field, one of our church body’s oldest, was getting a lot of attention at the time! I pictured American missionaries going out to villages and living in huts proclaiming God’s Word! During my high school and college years my attention was turned to the courageous work that was being done in Asia. It all sounded much like the early Christian church in which missionaries and churches had to meet secretly in houses. Yet, despite the danger, there was such a veracious hunger for God’s Word. Is that somewhat along the lines of what you think of when you hear the word “missionary”? What are some other mission fields that come to mind? I know some of you have a particular connection or concern for one particular mission field over another. Not to downplay the other missions, but I think it’s great that you take particular interest in a certain area.

In today’s reading, we get to hear about the beginnings of a couple missionaries and the first place they set out for! It all starts at the church in Antioch. Fun fact: “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (Acts 11:26)!  Five people are mentioned: Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen, and Saul, whom we know as Paul (Acts 13:1). These men were identified as “prophets” and “teachers.” Prophets, yes, can be those through whom God reveals future events. But in New Testament times, especially after the time of Jesus, we see less and less of this kind of prophet. Mainly because prophets most often pointed to Jesus and his work of salvation. At this time, God had already revealed much of what he intended to reveal to believers. So we can also think of these prophets in the more general way, people who are able to expound upon the Word of God. They are also called “teachers.” So they knew God’s Word and they were able to communicate it clearly!

Then, during a worship service, it sounds like, “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” (Acts 13:2). It seems that the great hour has come! Up to this point, missionaries had really only been sent to Jewish regions. Now, two men were set apart by God and specifically called to the Gentile world! If you attend the Sunday morning Bible class, this is the 3rd expansion that we talked about in our brief outline of Acts. “You will be my witnesses [first] in Jerusalem, [then] in all Judea and Samaria, and [finally] to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This is the very beginning of a journey that would lead missionaries of the gospel into the Gentile world, even to stand before kings! Saul himself would stand before Caesar in Rome – arguably the most powerful person in the world at the time. Now that is mission work! What brave and courageous people it takes to start from your own homeland and make a journey across the known world, preaching the gospel along the way!

You know what? I see a very similar setting here today. I see Christians, gathered around the Word, worshiping the Lord. Except, instead of focusing on those five “pastors” I guess we would call them, I want to focus on the rest of the congregation that is gathered. Right now I see about 50 or so lay people, and I’m wondering, could I be looking at not just two, but 50 or so missionaries? Some of you are glad you chose to sit in the back today so that you can slump down and hide a bit. But in all seriousness, have you ever considered it? When you hear the word “missionary” have you ever thought of yourself? And I don’t simply mean you being a missionary in the sense of going out to the plains of Africa or the big cities of Asia. I mean just right here in Texas, right here in your own neighborhood. Have you ever considered the thought?

Me, a missionary? You might be thinking. Some things are better left to the professionals – to those who actually have the training. But I might beg to differ. You certainly have skills worth highlighting too! Can you carry on a casual conversation with ease? I think that’s a great skill for a missionary. Do you enjoy studying the Bible and have a pretty good knowledge of the gospel truths? That’s a great skill for a missionary. Are you faithful in prayer, commending every situation to God? That’s a great skill for a missionary, because certainly you wouldn’t go out without first praying that God bless your efforts.

Even if you take a look at the two skills highlighted in this section of scripture: “prophets” who know the Word of God, and “teachers” who are able to communicate it clearly. Let me tell you, you belong to a church body that probably has some of the best educated laity in regards to the Bible. I’m not trying to put other church bodies down, not at all, but think about it. Our teens go through three years of intense Bible study, just as they make the transition to adult membership in the church! Even those who have come to our church as adults have gone through 10-15 in depth studies on the Bible! And if you’ve forgotten some of what you’ve learned, go back to your catechism. Or ask me, and I’d be happy to give you the “teacher’s edition” of any study I have. You are prophets who know God’s Word! Even if you can’t quote direct passages, you know the truths. And let me tell you, it’s ok to say that you don’t know. It’s ok to say, “let me look into it and I’ll get back to you.” Or, “Let me ask my pastor.” We often feel that we will be attacked for not knowing everything, but what I’ve found is that people appreciate that you care enough to find answers for them!

I guess the only thing left is to ask, “have I been called to be a missionary?” Saul and Barnabas were set apart by God. Have I been called by God? Let me read your call to you. You can actually find it written out in Matthew 28(:18-20). “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” That passage is known as “The Great Commission.” A commission from Jesus to all believers to be missionaries! And if you object, saying that only the eleven disciples were there, so it’s only a commission for those eleven disciples, then listen to what God says through Peter as he addresses a broad audience of believers, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pt 2:9). You have indeed been called to be a proclaimer of the gospel. And that’s essentially what a missionary is.

So, as you are coming to grips with the prospect of being a missionary, listen how these first two missionaries to the gentiles were sent on their way.

“After they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:3). Now remember, it wasn’t the congregation that commissioned these missionaries. That credit goes to God! In fact, Luke makes that fact very clear with the Greek words that he used. A more literal translation would be that “they placed their hands on them and released them.” The congregation released these men from their calling to the congregation at Antioch, so that they could devote themselves to their new God-given mission work.

Then, “The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus” (Acts 13:4). Cyprus is actually the old homeland of Barnabas. Did they get to choose this location on their own? It’s possible. Did the Holy Spirit start them off where they might be a little more comfortable with this new prospect of mission work? Yeah, that could have been a factor. Either way, Barnabas knew the kind of people they would meet there, and they already knew how they were going to go about their mission work.

“When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues” (Acts 13:5). Because of their qualifications, it would have been easy for Saul and Barnabas to be invited to speak in the synagogues. Here, they were met with people who already knew their Bibles – at least the Old Testament. Their task, then, would be to make the bridge from the Old Testament messianic prophecies to their fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth. In essence, the knowledge was already there, they just had to identify Jesus as the Messiah. And in this way, they set the pattern for how their mission work would be carried out. They would target cities of the diaspora – cities to which Jews were scattered during the Babylonian captivity. In these cities, they would proclaim the gospel of Jesus at the synagogues. Then, from these strongholds, the local synagogue would be expected to proclaim the word to the Gentiles in that region.

That’s who I want you to identify with from this reading. Yes, you have to tools of the prophets and teachers mentioned earlier. You have a strong knowledge of God’s Word and you have a commission from God to be missionaries. But, you may not have the opportunity, like Saul and Barnabas, to go into new lands and proclaim the Gospel. You do, however, have your very own mission field already. Just like those Jews who learned from Saul and Barnabas at the synagogue and then shared what they learned with their Gentile friends, you can do the same thing! This church isn’t merely a refuge for believers, it’s a hub where you come to be strengthened and then leave as missionaries! Identify the bridge in your mission field. It may not be bridging Old Testament prophecies to Jesus. More likely it’s going to be filling the void with the hope and salvation found in Jesus!

Now I know what you may be thinking. You may be thinking, “Pastor, I’ve been doing that. I’ve been sharing my faith every opportunity I get, but I just don’t see any results.” That’s a struggle that I think every missionary faces at one time or another. Where are the results? Look again in Acts 13. Do you see any results mentioned? When results were immediate and dramatic, Luke usually recorded them. Perhaps in Salamis, there was no dramatic conversion to the gospel. Yet, we are sure that God was working! Because God says, “[My word] will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Is 55:11). It’s ok if you don’t see immediate results in your mission field. Trust that God is working! You are not called to produce results you are called to share the word. Let God worry about the results. Saul himself said, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow” (1 Cor 3:6).

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Come and See Jesus (January 21, 2018)

January 23, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

Come and See Jesus

Mark 1:43-51

My sister and I are working on invitations together for our upcoming family reunion this summer. At the same time, I’m offering ideas for the invitation to the upcoming Women’s Rally here at Trinity. And there’s a space on both of these invitations that I’ll just call the “Come and See” section. Yes, you are coming for the main event, but what else is going to draw you in and get you excited?! Come and see one of Temple’s newest shopping areas – The Hub! Come and see the waterparks and splashpads that we have. Come and see historic downtown, and the Santa Fe Plaza which is being renovated! Come and see!

You know, I could send a long letter along with those invitations that describe all of these attractions. But 1) how do I know what to highlight that is really going to grab your attention, and 2) reading about something is nowhere near as exciting as seeing it for yourself!

There was a lot of “Come and see,” “Go and see” going around when Jesus was just stepping into the limelight. There was the testimony of John the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:29) after the unique and identifying baptism of Jesus. Then John encouraged his disciples to “Go and see” the Lamb of God (Jn 1:36). Andrew and John were two of the disciples who went to see Jesus and wanted to be his followers. When they asked Jesus where he was staying, where he was conducting his ministry, Jesus encouraged them to “come and see” (Jn 1:38-39). Jesus was encouraging them to stay with him and continue to follow him. He was inviting them to see with their own eyes that he truly was the “Lamb of God” as John had pointed out.

What was it, exactly, about Jesus that made him such a draw? Andrew and John perhaps knew a little bit about him. Perhaps they knew that although he came from Nazareth, he was really born in Bethlehem during the census that took place. They also knew that John the Baptist was very open about his role as the forerunner of the Messiah which the prophet Malachi had prophesied about 400 years earlier. And we know that John explained to his disciples what that special baptism of Jesus was all about. “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’” (Jn 1:32-33). He was the link between God and man! All signs were pointing to this Jesus of Nazareth as the one who fulfills the Scriptures – the Messiah! And if we want to be sure, we should heed his invitation to “Come and see!”

Well, that’s great for people who actually got to see Jesus face to face! But what about us who are living here and now? Have we missed our opportunity to “Come and see Jesus” by a couple thousand years? What about the excitement of seeing him with our own eyes? What about the fascination as he performs miraculous signs and speaks profound wisdom? I think sometimes we feel like we have missed the boat when it comes to seeing Jesus. It’s true, we don’t get to see Jesus face to face like his first disciples were able to do. But you do have something that they didn’t! You have not just one, but 4 detailed accounts of Jesus’ whole life. You have it laid out in a way that highlights his work of salvation for all people. You even have a detailed history of how God continued to preserve his Church and bring about an explosion of growth in the book of Acts. You have very personal letters which, although written to congregations of that day, still apply to your life today. And you have the revelation of how God continues to work behind the scenes to guard and protect his Church throughout all history. They got to see Jesus, and how he fulfilled the Scriptures in their day and age. You have not only a history of those events, but also a behind the scenes look – a director’s cut – of all that God does for you and his followers. You can revisit that director’s cut as you “Come and see Jesus” again and again through the Word!

Despite the opportunity, there was one Israelite who had a hard time with the thought of Jesus being the Messiah. I guess that’s one potential problem of being able to see him face to face. The sight of him may not be what you were expecting, and that may put you off completely. “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (Jn 1:46) Nathanael asked. Coupled with the thought of a tiny little town was the realization that Galilee itself wasn’t really the place for religious thoroughbreds of the time. Nathanael knew this well because he himself was a Galilean. He had probably experienced religious prejudice himself as he journeyed to Jerusalem for various religious ceremonies. Add to that the fact that the Messiah was supposed to come from Bethlehem, the town of David! Now that was a far more likely hometown for the Messiah. You see, Nathanael didn’t have the account of Luke chapter 2 drummed into his memory by annual Christmas celebrations. Luke hadn’t even written his gospel yet. And Philip could have sat there arguing and reasoning with Nathanael why Jesus was the Messiah, but instead he only said three words, “Come and see” (Jn 1:46). He knew that seeing and experiencing Jesus firsthand would quickly change Nathanael’s mind.

Jesus already had it all planned out. Not only did he know and see all things, he could also read hearts and knew exactly what would change Nathanael’s heart. When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, even before a formal introduction, he called out to him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false” (Jn 1:47). Nathanael was one who carefully tested and analyzed everything he heard in regards to the Scriptures. No doubt he believed in the Messiah. No doubt he knew the details and what to expect. And from his limited perspective, not having the whole picture of Jesus yet, things were not quite adding up. And Jesus praises him for his scrutiny! Nathanael wouldn’t put up with falsehood. “How do you know me?” (Jn 1:48) Nathanael asked? We’ve never met and yet you act as if you can read my heart! “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you” (Jn 1:48) Jesus responded. In other words, I can indeed read your heart! And that’s exactly what Nathanael needed.

“Rabbi,” he said, “You are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel” (Jn 1:49). Calling Jesus the “Son of God” shows that he understood Jesus’ relation to God the Father. And calling him the “King of Israel” shows that Nathanael understood Jesus’ relationship with his people and the work he came to do. With this statement, Nathanael was confessing that he believed Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah – the bridge that links us to God.

Can you think of a time, when perhaps you have felt like Nathanael? You believe that God forgives sins. You know that he promises to be with you and stand by you. But yet, how can he really know what you’re going through? How can he really know the emotions that you face, or all the factors that make your life and your situation uniquely different than everyone else’s? Well come and see! Dig into his Word and experience his knowledge and wisdom firsthand! Because “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are” (Heb 4:15). I can’t count the number of times I have finished a morning devotion, or some other reading of Scripture and as I put the book down I marvel to myself, just like Nathanael, “How do you know me?” (Jn 1:48).

God responds to our wonder and Nathanael’s wonder with, “You will see greater things than that” (Jn 1:50). Nathanael saw God’s omniscience, but he will also see all other attributes of God in his next few years with Jesus. Nathanael confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, but he will see Jesus to be the true ladder between heaven and earth. Nathanael confessed that Jesus is the King of Israel, but he would see that Jesus is also the king of all humankind.

“You will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man” (Jn 1:51). Indeed, what the disciples shall see is heaven permanently open over Jesus. In all his miraculous works they shall see that no bar exists between Jesus and God, between him and the heavenly world. They will see him die for the sins of the whole world – something which only a human being could do. They will see him holding the door open for all who believe by declaring sins forgiven – something which only God can do. They will see him pray to the Father on behalf of all people; and they will see him be the answer to our prayers. They see him walk this earth; and they will see him ascend into heaven promising to bring them there.

Through Christ, heaven is opened to you. You can look in and go in. All things in heaven and things on earth are reconciled and gathered together in Christ. Come, believe, and you will see!

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See Your Savior Clearly (January 14, 2017)

January 15, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

See Your Savior Clearly

Mark 1:4-11

There is an ancient Indian parable about a group of blind men and an elephant. They had no idea what an elephant was, and so they had to learn about it only by their sense of touch. One of the blind men came to the side of the elephant and described an elephant like a large wall. Another found the tusk of the elephant and described it as a spear. Still another began to investigate the trunk of the elephant and described an elephant like a snake. As they all began to argue, another joined in saying that an elephant was like a tree, upon examining the elephant’s leg, and yet another argued that an elephant is like a rope, as he grabbed the elephant’s tail. The whole purpose of this parable is to say that unless you have the whole picture, you cannot see something clearly. And if you can’t see something clearly, you won’t be able to understand it’s purpose.

Today we are going to work on seeing our Savior clearly. Really, that’s what the season of Epiphany is all about. But here especially, at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, John gives our Savior a proper introduction. Your Savior demands repentance and he has come to live in your place.

“John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk 1:4). John’s environment illustrated his message well. “Your hearts are like this wilderness you see around you!” He might have said. Your hearts are parched and dry, hard and rocky. They are inhospitable for any kind of life. They are harsh to anyone who dares to venture in. No one could live out here, nor would anyone want to! Do you see how this is a reflection of your own heart? This is no place to foster any kind of new growth. This is an unforgiving place. And yet, here you are. You are out here in this harsh wilderness to hear a message that your Savior is near – to hear about your Savior and to learn how to meet him rightly.

The bad news is, you are not ready to meet him. If your perception of the Savior is that he will come, meet you in the depths of despair and in your agony and just make everything alright, you are not ready to meet him. Please, understand me correctly, indeed, he does do that, but that’s not the whole picture. He doesn’t simply lay sod over the desert wilderness of your heart and call it good without addressing the underlying problem. In no time at all that sod would die and the desert wilderness would take over again. Rather, your Savior has come to bring about a full transformation. Not just addressing the symptoms of sin, but getting to the root problems, starting with your sinful nature.

So repent! And make it a full repentance, a full transformation. That’s what the word means after all. True repentance means not only sorrow over sin and dread of God’s punishment. It means turning your heart and mind away from the sin that expresses itself in outward ways whenever possible. True repentance will not allow the penitent soul to continue to live in sin. Rather, it will come up with a strategy for turning down sinful desires whenever they arise. You know those sins which plague you again and again. The next time you begin to feel that sin lurking, what are you going to do to shut it down before you are caught in Satan’s snare? Know that repentance isn’t just a way to clean up in the aftermath of sin. Repentance means a whole new attack strategy, a whole new way of life, a way of life that encounters sin and shuts it down.

Live a life of repentance and be baptized! In baptism there is forgiveness of all your sins! That’s exactly what it says here. John preached “a baptism of repentance FOR the forgiveness of sins” (Mk 1:4). Just as God commanded the baptism we use today, God also commanded John’s baptism. And for both of these baptisms he attached the blessing of the forgiveness of sins. It’s amazing that God has given us a tool which really addresses the underlying problem in such a vivid way. Baptism also serves as a physical reminder that it is God who makes the change within. I’m sure you’ve taken many showers and baths in your lifetime. And no matter how hard you scrub, this is only going to remove surface dirt. But when you are washed by God’s command, when the water falls upon your head in connection with God’s Word, he makes something special happen. He removes your sin and guilt. He cleans your heart and washes sins away. And he works in you a transformation so that you are no longer a parched wilderness, but a spring welling up to eternal life!

To see your Savior clearly, you must first understand the problem that he has come to address. He hasn’t come primarily to address the symptoms – things like the bad days that you experience, the natural disasters that affect people’s lives, or the general presence of evil in the world. Primarily, your Savior has come to address the root cause of all these things. He has come to deal with Satan – we will get to that later in the year. And he has come to deal with your sinful nature. After understanding what problems your Savior has come to address, then you can also understand what kind of Savior you need.

See your Savior clearly. See what kind of Savior is revealed. “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie” (Mk 1:7). Jesus, your Savior, is God Almighty! There is not one who is worthy to approach him. John explains that he isn’t even worthy to bow down on his hands and knees to untie his dusty sandals. This is God in the flesh. This is the only one who has been sinless even since birth. And now we see him approach John and ask him, not to untie his sandals, but to baptize him. What?! Mark doesn’t mention it in his gospel, he’s kind of the action oriented, matter of fact kind of guy. But from the other gospels we know that John protested. “Why do you need to be baptized Jesus? You are sinless! This baptism is for the forgiveness of sins. You don’t have any sins to forgive!” Jesus’ response was short. “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt 3:15). In allowing himself to be baptized, Jesus was showing his solidarity with sinners. He was giving himself completely to the work of bearing your sins. He was joining you, and every sinner, in baptism to take your place.

His work as “Christ” now begins. “Christ” and “Messiah” are both words that mean the “anointed one”. Kings were anointed when they were inaugurated into their offices. They were anointed to show God’s blessing upon the work that they were about to undertake. In the same way, this baptism was the anointing which inaugurated Jesus into his office of Savior. It visibly showed God’s blessing upon the work that he was undertaking. And “as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” (Mk 1:11). In this way the one true God, the holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is now launching the climax to his great plan of salvation. And in the same way, at your baptism, the true God, the holy Trinity, launches the climax to his great plan of salvation for you! In your baptism, the Spirit covers and comes to dwell in you. The Son presents you to his Father as one for whom he did all of his work. And the Father is well pleased with you because of what his Son has done for you and in your place.

For the people of John’s time, the period of waiting was over. The most momentous days the world will ever know were beginning. And as Jesus carried out his peculiar ministry as Savior, the world would begin to see their Savior clearly. Satan’s power and dominion are doomed. The world’s redemption by our substitute Savior is at hand. For us too, the period of waiting is soon over. Who knows which generation will be heralding the coming of the Savior for the last time! It could be this one! Your salvation is won, and by binding yourself to your Savior through baptism and faith, that salvation is yours!

I don’t think it was merely the spectacle of John’s preaching that attracted so many people to go out and hear his message. I think it’s because his was an authentic message. He didn’t focus on just one aspect of the Savior to the exclusion of all others. He gave the full picture – both the demand for life changing repentance and the relief that comes from a Savior who lives in your place. He helped the people see their Savior clearly in the moments before they could finally see him with their own eyes. In the same way, the message that we proclaim today, the message of the Bible, gives you the whole picture and allows you to see your Savior clearly. He is the one who brings about life changing repentance because he came to take your place.

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