Sermons

An archive of the most recent sermons by Pastor Ehlers.

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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Wise Worship (January 7, 2018)

January 10, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

Wise Worship

Matthew 2:1-12

If Jesus was who he said he was, then why didn’t he make it abundantly clear? Why didn’t he clearly reveal himself as true God in the flesh? Have you heard that question before? Have you perhaps thought it yourself at times? We may wonder why the only invited guests to his birth were a few simple shepherds. We may wonder why God would call a few Magi from a distant land rather than trumpeting the announcement of the Savior’s birth from the walls of Jerusalem. We may wonder why Jesus spent most of his life and ministry as a humble prophet preaching the Word rather than constantly displaying his power as God.

Yesterday was January 6th, 12 days after Christmas. It is the day we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord Jesus. Epiphany means “revealing.” It’s during this time of the church year that for a few Sundays we will look at the glorious and powerful ways in which Jesus made it abundantly clear that he is indeed Immanuel – God with us. Today, we follow some truly wise men who picked up on what God was revealing to them by a star and by his Word. We follow them hundreds of miles, perhaps even thousands, to a little town and a little infant named Jesus. And being moved by the Holy Spirit in much the same way that the Magi were, we offer here our wise worship. Wise worship which overcomes obstacles and lives lovingly.

This is actually probably one of the more talked about accounts of the Bible. There is so much in it that captivates our wonder – so many things that we seek to have revealed. What was this star? How did it come about? Was it a special constellation caused by a specific alignment of planets and stars? Was it a meteor that slowly passed by the Earth, pointing the wise men in the right direction. We could speculate all day, but we don’t really know for sure. However, we can be fairly confident that these Magi certainly knew the difference between a constellation, a meteor, and a star.

Another question is where did they come from? It’s quite likely that they came from Babylon. This could then explain how they knew that the star was revealing the arrival of the promised Messiah. Many years ago the Babylonians captured Israel and dispersed its people throughout the Empire. One such person was Daniel, who was in fact placed in charge of all of Babylon’s wise men (Dan 2:48). Perhaps through Daniel’s witness passed down over the centuries, or through the testimony of other believing Jews, the Holy Spirit had led these magi to see this star as the fulfillment of Balaam’s Messianic prophecy in Numbers 24(:17): “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” Another, and far older opinion, is that these Magi came from present-day Yemen, South of Saudi Arabia. It would be the ancient nation of “Sheba.” This would then tie in interestingly with Isaiah 6(:6) which states that “All from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.”

These, and many other questions regarding this account are interesting to speculate about. But what does the Bible say? What details does it give? “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’” (Mt 2:1-2). Do you see that the focus is not on the star, not on where they came from, how they got there, or why they chose the gifts they did? The account focuses on what drove them to overcome all obstacles – “Where is the one born king of the Jews? We have come to worship him.” Their eagerness to worship their Savior rendered distance and time insignificant for them. They may have had to journey over 500 miles or it could have been 3 times that. They may have spent months on the road. It even seems as if the star stopped leading them for a time as they inquired about this new king in Jerusalem. But none of this stopped them. They came to worship. They came to see their King.

These Magi still present a shining example of sincere devotion for modern Christians who sometimes must overcome obstacles of travel and time to worship their Savior and King. What obstacles do you have to overcome to see your Savior revealed in God’s Word Sunday after Sunday? For some of you it is distance – although those 40 or so miles by car pale in comparison to the 500+ miles by foot or by camel. For some of you it’s time – whether that be waking up earlier on the weekend, taking precious time out of your busy schedule, or struggling to get kids ready to go in the little time that you have before leaving the house. These are all huge obstacles that could prevent you from making the journey to see your Savior. These are all obstacles that Satan can blow out of proportion every Sunday as he hopes to prevent you from having your Savior revealed to you in God’s Word. I often think to myself if Sunday morning doesn’t seem to be going so smoothly that there must be something good that Satan doesn’t want me to hear this week. That builds my motivation even more to overcome all obstacles just to see and hear my Savior in his Word.

Really, most of this overcoming obstacles all boils down to will, or motivation. Am I motivated enough by my Savior to overcome whatever obstacle arises so that I can worship him? Am I driven so much by the love of God displayed in my Savior that distance, time, or whatever other obstacles I may face become insignificant when compared to having my Savior revealed once again? You are all here today. With God’s help you all overcame the obstacles that could have prevented you from being here. Today you have wisely gathered together to offer your worship and praise! Thanks be to God!

At times, however, our motivation needs to be refreshed. At times we need to see once again, as if for the first time, what that salvation means. That’s part of the reason why we have a cycle of readings that repeats every year the life and work of Jesus. For the Magi, God taught that lesson in a little different manner. It seems the star disappeared once they were close enough to Israel, forcing them to seek out help in the capital city of Jerusalem. Surely the people there would know where the king of the Jews was born! Yet to their surprise, it seems that their question caught King Herod off guard. It seems that God had not revealed the news of the Savior to them. It seems that they were still in the dark.

I say it seems that way, because God certainly had not left Israel in the dark. For a long time he had made the Messiah known in the Scriptures. When asked, the chief priests and teachers of the law knew exactly where to look in the Scriptures – or, more likely, they knew the answer by memory – “’In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”’” (Mt 2:5-6). Help came from the Word of God. God could have led the Magi directly to Jesus in Bethlehem. But after the Magi had come so close to their goal, the star disappeared, forcing them into God’s Word. Even the Jewish leaders would not have known the answer to the Magi’s question without the Scriptures. In this way the Holy Spirit underscores the importance of God’s Word.

Just as it was in the past, still to this day God wants us to “search the Scriptures” (Jn 5:39), not look for special signs and revelations. It’s in his Word where your Savior is revealed and made known, just he has been for centuries. And so when people ask you, or if perhaps you yourself have wondered, “Why hasn’t God made it absolutely clear?” He HAS! He has in his Word. And even when we might like to think that it would be better if he gave us signs and wonders, how often has he done just that and we are still scratching our heads looking for absolute clarity. It’s all spelled out in the Word! Your Savior is made known in the Scripture. And for the next few weeks we will see that his divinity too is revealed in the Scriptures. For us too, like he did for the Magi, the Lord may sometimes increase our eagerness to seek our Savior and his answers by “removing the star,” so to speak. Then he lovingly fills the need that he himself created.

Many English translations lose the excitement of the Greek words as they describe what happens next. “Look! Behold! The star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was” (Mt 2:9). When the Magi finally arrive at the place where Jesus was, they demonstrate the wisdom that the Holy Spirit had revealed to them by their loving acts of worship. Standing was out of the question. They were immediately on their knees, bowing with reverence reserved for high-ranking persons or divine beings. What a sight that must have been to see these powerful and important men, truly wise men, bowing down and worshiping this Child. They also presented him with the gifts that they were determined to give their Savior. What power the Holy Spirit has to convince human hearts that this child, born of Mary, is not merely a human being, but Immanuel, God with us! This is Epiphany. This is the way God reveals the Savior – by the Holy Spirit working through the Word to convince hearts that this is your God and Savior.

Today, the Holy Spirit has worked in your heart to overcome all obstacles and see your Savior so clearly revealed in the Word. He has also moved you to live lovingly as you offer your songs of praise, prayers of thanksgiving, and offerings of gratitude. I see gathered before me, truly wise men, women, young adults, and children because the Holy Spirit has revealed to you that this is no mere child. This is Immanuel!

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Live as if Christ is with You (December 31, 2017)

January 1, 2018
Benjamin Ehlers

Live as if Christ is with You

Colossians 3:12-17

At times of change, sometimes we also like to recompose or remake ourselves. Along with a new home, a new job, a new age, or even a new year, we like to dig deep, identify some improvements to make, and refresh ourselves. But identifying what exactly you would want to change, or boiling it down to specific principles, can sometimes be difficult. Do you take a philosophy of life from one of your idols? Do you take on a set of characteristics from someone you look up to? Do you follow a set of tips given in a book that you recently read?

With Christmas still fresh in our minds and standing on the verge of a new year, I’m going to suggest this mentality for your new year: Live as if Christ is with you. And to get you started, I’m going to read part of Colossians 3. “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone” (Col 3:12-13).

I’m not going to talk about each of those in length, but I would like to highlight a few. Compassion. It’s what the Samaritan felt toward the man who was beaten, robbed, and left for dead by thieves on a desert road (Lk 10:33). It’s what Jesus felt as he looked out on the crowd of more than 5,000 people and saw that they were like sheep without a shepherd. Our English word comes from Latin and literally means to “suffer with” someone – share their burden. The Greek word means that your “heart goes out” to them; you are deeply moved at the core. It’s a mentality that is focused on the needs and hardships of someone else. A mentality that is then put into action as you do anything you can to help that person out of their desperate situation. For the Samaritan, it meant cleaning the man up, paying for his stay at an inn, and promising that when he returns he would pay any additional expense. For Jesus, it meant taking the time – even though he was already exhausted from a long day – taking the time to teach the people, and feed them spiritually and physically. Living in a “me first” society, how are you going to clothe yourself with compassion? How are you going to “suffer with” someone else as you put their needs before your own? How are you going to live as if Christ is with you?

Gentleness. Perhaps we don’t think of this one as a characteristic, but more of a way you would handle an object or a situation. But in speaking of it as a characteristic, it could be described as an attitude or behavior which negates harshness or anger. It’s a characteristic which Jesus ascribes to himself (Mt 11:29), which makes his followers willing to come to him and learn from him. It is a magnetic quality that attracts cautious people rather than polarizes them. We could definitely use more of that in our country, couldn’t we? Bringing people together rather than polarizing them. Especially in a day and age when it seems everything you do or say has some kind of connotation, some kind of charge to it. How can I live with such gentleness that brings people together?

And patience. Really, it’s what makes us willing to “suffer long.” I guess sometimes we have no choice in this. We are still in this world, and this world is still filled with evil and sin. I guess we just have to endure it until Jesus returns or takes me to be with him. But you know, Jesus chose to suffer in your place. He willingly chose to come to earth, take on flesh, and then suffer the pangs of hell for you. And he chooses to continue to be patient with your sinfulness so that he can craft and shape you into the person he wants you to be. Clothed with all these virtues which we learn from him.

It’s a tall order… to clothe yourself with such virtues. How many sets of clothing have I gone through as I hulked out and destroyed the virtuous clothes that Jesus gave me? As I look at this list, struggling to be renewed, I realize that I can never keep any of these virtuous clothes on for very long. Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Sure I can don these for a little while as I put up with others. But sooner or later their attitude, their sinful actions are going to grate on me until I rip apart the virtuous clothes and let the real me shine through. And do you see what I did there? Blaming my own sinfulness on others. It’s easy to do that. Because, the truth is, all my life I have been stained with sin. All my life I have had this sinfulness living in me. Yes, it can be covered. Yes, it can be drowned. Yes, it can be subdued for a time. But it always seems to come right back up. To live as if Christ is with me is a tall order. I feel like he would be judging my every move. I don’t think I can ever bear with others, forgive, and love them as Jesus would have me do.

Well, that’s because we’ve been looking at it all wrong. You can’t start with these virtues. You can’t just say I’m going to put on these virtuous clothes and live as if Christ is with me. There’s something very important that has to be done first. And actually, in this passage, it all hinges on one word. One often overlooked but very important word that I skipped. “Therefore” (Col 3:12). It’s really just a connecting word, a transition. I don’t usually make any note about my transition in the bulletin outline, but this time I did because it is so important to this text. I can remember a teacher telling me, “Whenever you see a ‘Therefore,’ ask yourself what it’s ‘there for.’” This one connects this section, verses 12-17, with the two preceding verses.

“Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Col 3:10-11). It all hinges upon Christ. It all hinges upon Christmas. Jesus is the one who does the heavy lifting for you. Living perfectly in your place. Taking away your sins. Having gone through that cleansing sacrifice, you come out changed. You come out with Christ living with you. In fact, not just living with you, but living in you and through you. He is the one who renews you. He brings about the change in you. He renews you to the image of your Creator – that image of holiness and perfection. So live as if Christ is with you because he is! Not in a judgmental sort of way, but in a redeeming and renewing sort of way. Having been renewed on the inside by Christ, then you can clothe yourself with virtues on the outside. He changes your heart. You reflect that change in how you choose to live.

If all those virtues I mentioned earlier seem too numerous, or too difficult to keep track of, the second half of this section from Colossians 3 perhaps helps whittle the list down a bit as you live, not just pretending that Christ is right there with you, but knowing that he is indeed with you and living in you. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful” (Col 3:15). Let the peace of Christ rule. Think of the peace of Christ as the umpire or referee of your heart. As one with correct judgment, let him make the call. He knows the situation. He knows the games we play. But when he makes the call, his decision stands. He calls out actions that promote peace among one another.

And notice, this is a peace that lovingly builds one another up. It’s not a peace that turns a blind eye to falsehood for the sake of keeping the peace. It doesn’t mean agreeing to disagree just to avoid an argument. It says, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom” (Col 3:16). There is going to be teaching and learning involved. There is going to be admonishing and growing involved. True peace, peace that lasts, is one that is worked hard for and continues to grow. This peace is accomplished by teaching and admonishing to build one another up in a loving way. Helping and supporting one another even bearing with each other and forgiving them in their weakness. And the only way you can live like this is to live with Christ in you. Maintain continual contact with the gospel of Christ where he teaches you to bear with one another and forgive one another by bearing with and forgiving you.

So then, also, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:17). God first displayed all these virtues in dealing with you. Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, as he worked to make you his own. God sent his Son for you! Jesus lived a life perfect in every virtue in your place. Through the Word, God enters your heart and establishes his peace within you, and then lives through you to spread that peace. Be thankful for all of this! Be grateful for all that God has done for you – in your spiritual life, in your physical life, this past year, and the many years that have gone before it. And now live as if Christ is with you because he is!

If you were looking for someone to emulate this next year, look to him. If you were looking in a book for tips on how to make this next year great, look to his book. Clothe yourself with these virtues. Bear with one another and forgive one another. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts and be thankful. It’s a tall order, yes. But it’s one that Christ has already done for you. So that now it’s done out of gratitude that God graciously lives through you. Amen.

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Let’s Go to Bethlehem (December 24, 2017)

December 27, 2017
Benjamin Ehlers

Let’s Go to Bethlehem

Luke 2:1:20

I’m happy to see many different faces gathered here this evening. For some of you, it means you have been traveling! Let’s go to grandma and grandpa’s house for Christmas. Let’s go visit this family member for Christmas. It’s something that many of us often do for special occasions. We travel. But not only have some of you traveled for this holiday, all of you also made the trip to be here tonight. Let’s go to church for Christmas Eve to hear about our Savior!

And if you haven’t traveled enough already, I’m going to invite you to go with me tonight to Bethlehem. So let’s go to Bethlehem!

A man named Joseph probably spoke those very words long ago. You see, the emperor, Caesar Augustus, wanted to make sure that everyone in the Roman Empire was paying their taxes correctly. To do that, everyone in the Empire had to be counted. In the region of Israel, however, they did things a little differently. Israelites had long kept track of their lineages. In many of their own censuses, they would list people according to their tribe and clan. So, for the Israelites, a census meant that everyone would go to the town of their ancestors. For a man named Joseph, it meant saying to his wife, “Let’s go to Bethlehem!”

I wonder if they had worried about God’s promises to them. An angel told Mary that this child was the long-promised Messiah. But didn’t the prophecies say that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem? How much thought had they put into this? Did they ever wonder if God would bend his promises a little bit? And if God would break his promise that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, what other promises might he bend or break? And how can we trust him completely?

Sometimes you wonder right. Sometimes you wonder how faithful God is going to be to his promises. God promises, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt 28:20). But I’ve had those moments when I wonder if I had slipped out of view of his watchful eye. Or what about the promise that “In all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Rm 8:28). That’s a big one right? It’s often heard when life isn’t going so well. How do I know that God keeps his promises? How do I know that God is faithful when my life seems to be taking a turn for the worst?

Let’s go to Bethlehem and see that the promises of old are fulfilled. God indeed kept his promise exactly as it had been made. On their way to Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph must have been thinking, “Oh, now it’s all coming together.” God used the pride of an unwitting Emperor to fulfill his heavenly promises down to the last detail. And even though there was no place for them to stay once they finally arrived – even though things didn’t seem to be going so smoothly – they had confidence in God’s promises! Sure enough, “while they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Lk 2:6-7).

Are we sure that this was the Messiah? Did we hear the angel’s announcement correctly? Is this baby Jesus really who we thought he was? Is he the Christ. Wouldn’t you think that God’s own Son, the Savior of all people should be born in a little better circumstances? Where’s the palace? Where’s the fanfare? Where’s the bed for that matter? Jesus was born in very lowly circumstances, and his ministry would be carried out in a very humble way. In fact, it wasn’t just at his birth. Throughout his life people were wondering the same thing. Is this really our Savior, the Messiah? Is this really Immanuel – God with us, in the flesh? It certainly doesn’t seem like it.

All of this, the humble surroundings and unassuming mother was all part of God’s plan for a very specific reason. The manner of his birth was in keeping with his mission. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28). The very reason Jesus came was not to rule over you in unapproachable power and might. He came to serve you. He came to be your Savior. He came to be approachable and welcoming. Who would be afraid to approach a little infant? Who would cower at the sight of a man who in many respects appear like any other, but who had a message of love and peace for you?

So let’s go to Bethlehem where the promises of old are fulfilled, and where the eternal Word is made flesh. Things weren’t so calm and lowly for some unsuspecting shepherds who were grazing their flocks in the fields nearby. For them, the peace and quiet of the night was broken by the frightening sight of an angel who shone with the glory of God. Needless to say, they were terrified! But there was no need for their terror. Actually, quite the opposite. “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ, the Lord” (Lk 2:10-11). Then a great host of angels join in and explain what that means. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Lk 2:14). Peace! It means peace! This was a message of hope and joy! Your Savior has come to you. He was already in the world and very soon his work as Savior would be complete! This was the first step of the promise that had been repeated throughout history. Your Savior has come. He will save you from your sins. You have peace with God because he has kept his promise!

The angel also hinted at what the shepherds should do about this great news. “You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12). Guess what they did when the angels left them? They were already in agreement as they said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about” (Lk 2:15). They hurried off and found everything just as they had been told. And naturally, as they returned home, “they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (Lk 2:17).

What do you think those who heard it were saying to one another once they heard the news? What would you have done? In fact, what do we do every Christmas Eve? Let’s Go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened! Because in Bethlehem, that night, the gate of heaven was opened for sinners. Because God didn’t sit in heaven waiting for us to work our way up to him. He came to you as a baby in Bethlehem. He lowered himself into the humblest of situations, coming to you and me and associating with sinners. And eventually he would take the lowest position of all on the cross as a sacrifice for all your sins. Why? Because he desired a relationship with you. Because he loved you. And because he wants you to live with him forever. So God came down to Bethlehem, to be born in the flesh, so that sinners could be forgiven and the gate of heaven opened for you.

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It’s All About Grace (December 24, 2017)

December 27, 2017
Benjamin Ehlers

It’s All About Grace

Luke 1:26-38

If you were to hand pick a mother for Jesus, who would you choose? Think about that in today’s society. Think about the kind of life that woman would have – her characteristics, and her place in life. If you were to put God’s Son, Jesus, into someone’s hands who would you choose?

Maybe it would be the mom who always seems to have it all together. She’s married to a good man. She perhaps already has children, so she’s experienced, and it just seems like she’s one of those fantastic soccer moms who can do it all – giving her children every opportunity! Maybe you would also say that she should be living quite comfortably, financially speaking. And, it would also be good if she had a good presence on social media – always posting those perfect family pictures for everyone to see and admire! Does that description sound like someone you would find as the ideal mother for Jesus?

Well, let’s see whom God actually chose. “God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph” (Lk 1:26-27). These are familiar words. You know them well and you know the facts. But when is the last time you really stopped to ponder the details? “God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth” (Lk 1:26). “Wait, where?” would be the response of most. Even for many living in Israel at that time, the town was probably relatively unknown. They would have had to get out their maps and start looking for where in Israel is Nazareth? “Oh, a town in Galilee!” that explains a lot. Galilee was a very different region than the rest of Judea – where the capital was. It was separated, not just geographically by Samaria, but also culturally. Judeans despised their northern neighbors as country cousins who had a lack of Jewish sophistication. And religiously, the Judean opinion was that Galileans were lax in their observance of proper ritual. Not to mention, the city of Nazareth itself was a tiny town of a couple hundred people at the most! No wonder the comment was, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?!” (Jn 1:46).

On top of all that, Mary was a virgin who wasn’t even married yet. She was only pledged to be married, or engaged. Granted, in that day and culture engagements were much more of a commitment than today’s engagements. So there were the beginnings of establishing a family life. But both Mary and Joseph were still clueless on what marriage was all about; not to mention raising kids. I still remember, perhaps you do too, all the preparation and learning that preceded our first child. Talking to my siblings who had kids, reading books about pregnancy and raising kids, and more. And yet, I was still quite nervous when we finally were able to bring Neriya home. What now? What if something happens to her? No more monitoring her vitals? And this is God’s Son – the Savior of the world – we’re talking about here! Shouldn’t he be in the hands of a more capable, more experienced mother? Or at least someone with servants and midwives to help them get established! Nope. It was Mary. A woman who had no experience with her own children, wasn’t even married yet, from a small town in a backwards region.

Why? Why would God choose her? It’s all about grace! Listen to what the angel said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28). And again, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God” (Lk 1:30). Why did God choose her? Because he wanted to. He wanted her to experience his love and favor. And this word for “favor,” did you know that is exactly the same word that we also translate as “grace”?! Mary, you are “highly favored” because God has chosen you. Not because of anything you have done, not because you earned God’s favor, but simply because he chose to make his face shine upon you! Notice, the angel says, “You have found favor with God.” Not, “You have earned favor with God.” You have found his favor, Mary! This is God’s love! Love which found you and sought you out. This is God’s doing. His choice!

All of the events that were about to unfold with this birth and this child was God making good on a promise he had made long ago and repeated for generation after generation. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen 3:15). God repeated this promise again and again. He performed miraculous wonders for the nation that would carry this promise and through whom the promise would be fulfilled. He brought them into a land they could call their own and established a powerful rule all to set the stage for his promise to be kept. You can read on and on about all the amazing and powerful things that God did to preserve this promise and make good on it. The flood, which prevented the promise from being snuffed out by ungodliness early on. The exodus from Egypt to establish these slaves as a unified nation. The kings who conquered and defended the land where the Savior was to roam. God wanted to keep this promise and save all people through the Messiah.

And yet, when we take a look at the Israelites – the people who would carry the line of this promise, we might scratch our heads and wonder, “Why did God keep the promise?” No sooner had God rescued these people from the pursuing armies of Egypt – the superpower at the time – than they grumbled and complained about how “tough” it was to be God’s chosen people. No sooner had they seen the wonderful land God had promised them than they trembled at the powerful people who lived there – even after what God had just done to rescue them from the Egyptian superpower! And it wasn’t long after they took possession of the Promised Land with the mighty hand of God leading them that they grumbled and complained for a human king so that they could fit in. Why did God even bother keeping the promise of the Savior if it was going to be so much work? Shouldn’t such an important promise be placed into the hands of a more capable, more experienced people?

It’s all about God’s grace. Even in keeping his promise of love to save, he demonstrates his love. Once again, it’s not that this nation of Israel had earned God’s favor. It’s not that there was anything special about them that drew God’s attention so that he though, “Yes, that’s exactly the nation I need to carry my promise of the Savior.” No. It’s all about God’s grace. By grace he chose this people from among all the others and built them into a nation. By grace he nudged them along the path of his promises. By grace he preserved them in their land despite their rebellion and unfaithfulness to him. All of this to demonstrate just what kind of a God he is. He is not a “fair-weather God” – remaining faithful only as long as the Israelites were nice to him. He is a God who keeps his promises in good times and in bad; despite all reasons to forsake his promises, he remains faithful.

Do you know what this means? It means that for you too, it’s all about grace! Shouldn’t God have chosen to just save those who deserved it – those who proved that they were worth saving? If that were the case, who then could be saved? Instead, God chose to send his Son for all people. God chose that the sacrifice of Jesus would mean “good news of great joy for all people” (Lk 2:10). Shouldn’t God have chosen to place his love into my hands only after I had proven I was capable of taking it to heart and caring for it? If that were the case, who could be found that was capable of treasuring such a gift? Instead, God chose to place his love into your hands and heart by grace. Yes, there will be times when we neglect the gift. Yes, there will be times when we fumble and drop the gift. There will even be times when we flat out deny God’s gift of love and forgiveness through Jesus, the Savior. But praise be to God that it doesn’t depend upon you. It’s not about how capable or experienced you are of handling such a treasure. Once again, it’s all about God’s grace as he places his love back into your hands again and again.

For Mary, this gift was placed into her hands in a very concrete way. Was she worthy of being chosen? Not any more than any of us. Was she capable of caring for such a gift? Not at all. So how could she believe such good news?

How is this even possible? First of all, angel, Mary was a virgin at the time. She wasn’t even married to Joseph yet. Second, this isn’t just any child you are talking about, this is the Messiah. You know, the great king and Savior of Israel. Who would ever believe that he would come from Nazareth in Galilee. Finally, you said his kingdom will never end. That isn’t even possible! Everybody dies. Every kingdom eventually ends. That’s quite a whopper, angel. And yet, Mary believes it! “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled” (Lk 1:38). How on earth could she believe such a thing? Such faith could only come from someone who is very religious! In fact, I think that was even brought up in our Bible class last week. What kind of religious upbringing did Mary have, because certainly – we think – that must have mattered for her to believe this. But once again, the answer is grace. It’s all about God’s grace.

And it’s that same grace that leads you to believe. This whole matter of Jesus being true God and also true man, born in the flesh, is hard to believe. This whole matter of God sacrificing his own Son in your place because he loves you and wants to be with you forever is hard to believe. This whole matter of full and free forgiveness simply because God chose to consider you “highly favored” is hard to believe. And yet, that’s what he does. It’s all through the Bible, written on every page, how God graciously carried the promise of the Savior through stubborn, rebellious, and sinful people just like you and me. It’s written in the Bible, plain as day, how God graciously paid for your sins by the death of Jesus on the cross. And it’s clearly proclaimed by Jesus himself after he died for you and rose from the dead, “Peace be with you” (Lk 24:36).

I can well imagine that the Last Day, when Jesus returns, could be a terrifying day. Perhaps doubts and questions will be racing through my mind. What have I done that God would choose me? Why does God have any reason to keep his promise to me? Why should I believe the good news? I said it could be a terrifying day if the answer to any of these questions depended upon you and me. But they don’t. It’s all about God’s grace. By grace, HIS choice was you. By grace, HE kept his promise to you. And by grace, HE led you to believe and trust in him.

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What Were You Expecting? (December 17, 2017)

December 18, 2017
Benjamin Ehlers

What Were You Expecting

John 1:6-8, 19-28

What are you expecting for Christmas this year? What kinds of things are you looking forward to? For me, I always love singing well-loved Christmas carols by candlelight. Then going home and enjoying those special Christmas treats late at night. I think mostly, however, I always look forward to the family time. However, that family time has not always been the same. I still remember when that all changed. Every year as a child I eagerly looked forward to my older brothers coming home from college so we could all be together and talk about all the kinds of things that amuse Ehlers boys. But then, one Christmas, my oldest brother didn’t come home. He was married now and began to establish Christmas family time in his own way. As years went by, soon I was the one who wasn’t able to come home. And although it was a shock as this change was taking place, I now enjoy my new norm. Now my family has our own Christmas traditions and with the magic of technology, I’m still able to gather with all my siblings each Christmas. It’s a little different than I was expecting, so much better as I enjoy time with my expanding family

In the Bible reading today, we see also that sometimes our expectations are a little different from reality. John must have been thinking as the priests and Levites questioned him, “What were you expecting?” I also ask you, “What were you expecting” of John, of Jesus, and of yourself?

By now, John was getting a lot of attention out in the wilderness. So much so, that the leaders in Jerusalem felt that they needed to send an official fact-finding delegation. Their question was simple, “Who do you claim to be, and what place do you aspire to?” Interesting enough, it seems that they thought that John might possibly be the Messiah! To which John confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah” (Jn 1:20). I find that interesting because they readily asked John if he was the Messiah, but they never asked Jesus. In fact, in John’s denial of being the Messiah, he pointed people directly to the actual Messiah! Yet this fact-finding delegation wouldn’t believe it. Even when Jesus clearly claimed to be the Messiah, they accused him of blasphemy. How set in their expectations these leaders were! So boldly assuming that John must be the Messiah, yet adamantly opposing the real Messiah when he so clearly spells it out for them. What were you expecting?

So, if John wasn’t the Messiah, as they expected, who was he? They still needed an answer to bring back to the leaders of Jerusalem. Why is his preaching so moving?! “They asked him, ‘Then who are you? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’” (Jn 1:21). You see, they had a false understanding of the prophecy of Malachi (Mal 4:5). Malachi describes the forerunner of Christ as one who would possess the spirit of the Old Testament prophet Elijah – not the prophet himself resurrected for a renewed ministry. John was the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy. He indeed preached with the spirit and power of Elijah. So they asked again, “’Are you the Prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’” (Jn 1:21). “The Prophet” is from a prophecy spoken by Moses regarding Christ (Deut 18:15). Again, the Jews must have misunderstood this prophecy, considering that “prophet” to be some other special prophet yet to come.

Perhaps now the delegation was getting a little frustrated, but they still needed an answer to take back. “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” (Jn 1:22). John answers, not with what he says about himself, but with what God says about him in Isaiah. “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” (Jn 1:23). Still not connecting the dots, they press him further, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” (Jn 1:24).

John the Baptist came with a very specific, God-given purpose. John, the apostle, says it very clearly at the beginning of the section, “There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light” (Jn 1:6-8). John’s purpose and message were simple. “Don’t miss him!” “Don’t miss the Messiah!” “He may not be what you are expecting, but he is exactly what you need!”

God’s purpose for John was so important, because that’s exactly what happened. The Messiah wasn’t what people were expecting and they missed him. Well, what were you expecting? They were expecting a mighty king who would rule the decedents of Abraham with power and might. And so they traced their lineages back to Jacob, through Isaac, to Abraham himself. They expected a Messiah who would hear them because of their lengthy and complex prayers. And so they prayed long prayers with outstretched arms on the street corners. They expected a Messiah who would praise them for their tithes. And so they carefully gave a tenth of everything all the way down to their spices – mint, dill, and cumin. They expected a Messiah who would elevate, commend, and declare as righteous all those who kept God’s commandments ever since they were young…. Were they in for a rude awakening.

John says, “among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (Jn 1:26-27). Jesus was already on the scene – living in Judea. Jesus was a contemporary of John’s. So yes, living in your very land is one you do not know. He has not yet revealed that he is Immanuel, God with us! The words are fairly broad, but how amazing would it have been if Jesus was not just among them in the region, but what if he was there in the crowd that very day! “Among you stands one you do not know!” Not only do you not know the Messiah because he hasn’t revealed himself yet, but you, leaders of Jerusalem, you don’t even know what you are talking about. You seem to know a lot about this Messiah whom you are expecting… but John points out the reality, “You do not know him.”

They expected one who would elevate the self-righteous and rebuke the wretched sinners. But what does Isaiah say about the Messiah? Who should we be expecting? It is actually the Messiah speaking through the prophet Isaiah, “the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion” (Is 61:1-3). “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. [Jesus has] not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk 2:17).

He wasn’t what many were expecting, but Jesus was a far better Messiah than all we can ask or imagine. Like those leaders in Jerusalem, we might have expected a Messiah to come and validate those who are righteous in all their words and action. And realizing that we can never compare ourselves to such righteous people – realizing that we can never live up to God’s standard of righteousness – we might hope and pray that the Messiah would be one who is at least a little bit merciful. One who can bend the rules a bit and let in more than just the super righteous. We will try hard and do our best if the Messiah could just be a little lenient and merciful – meeting us half way.

But that’s not at all who your Messiah is. Your Messiah is far more merciful and far more loving than you can ever imagine! He not only forgives your little sins, he forgives your big sins, your ugly sins, your hidden sins, and your secret sins. He forgives all sin and declares you righteous without you even lifting a finger. Believe in his mercy and grace! Rejoice in the peace that he leaves you!

There’s a devotion I read this past week which I think illustrates this point very well – that God is far more gracious than we ever expected. It started out talking about Alexander the Great, who during his short 12 year reign established an empire the size of which the world had never seen. During Alexander’s reign, a respected philosopher needed money to carry out his work. Alexander told his treasurer to give the philosopher whatever he needed. The philosopher’s request, however, turned out to be a massive one. The treasurer hesitated and decided to check with Alexander before he turned the money over. When he did, this was Alexander’s reply, “The philosopher has done me a singular honor. By the largeness of his request he shows that he has understood both my wealth and generosity. Give him what he requests.”

Do you understand your Savior’s wealth and generosity? Do you understand the depth of his love and the vastness of his grace? Do not short change your Savior on the honor he deserves. Do not hesitate to lay all your sins at his feet. And rejoice because there is no end to his mercy and grace. There is no limit on his love. God knew that this is the kind of Savior you needed. Not one who would meet you half way, but one who would go all the way for you. He came all the way to you when he was born in the flesh long ago. He went all the way to the cross all while living a perfect, sinless life. He went through death and ascended all the way up to heaven where he now reigns over all things.

Anyone who truly understands this and has known the depth of God’s mercy and grace for their own sins will be fundamentally changed. Those who experience God’s compassion will then also overflow with actions of love and praise to God. They will spread this amazing news with every opportunity. They will be active in the outreach efforts of their church whether by volunteering or by praying and offering their support. And for the times when it seems like your motivation is lacking. For the times when the thought of mission work is exciting, but the effort is daunting, remember once more the story of Alexander the Great and how that relates to your God. Go to him in prayer. Ask to dip into the richness of his courage and wisdom. Because the Savior who does everything for you in regards to your salvation, also does a lot through you. He gives you the privilege of being an active part in bringing others to faith! So be bold as you pray about the person you know needs to hear about Jesus. And be bold as you pray about the work that we do here at Trinity. Be bold and dig deep because you will never find a limit to what God is capable of.

So what are you expecting of the Savior who comes? What are you expecting of your Christmas this year? A lot of people still just want the twinkling of Christmas tree lights and the glitter of tinsel. They do not want the Light of the world who will dispel the darkness of unbelief with the light of the gospel. They may want something at Christmas that looks a little religious so that they can feel good about their own righteousness. But they do not want to confess with John that they are all darkness and foolishness, all sin and perversity, until the Light comes to expel the darkness of unbelief and save by his works and not your own. Expect great things from him.

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Messengers Announce His Coming (December 10, 2017)

December 11, 2017
Benjamin Ehlers

Messengers Announce His Coming

Mark 1:1-8

I recently heard a very entertaining comedy skit comparing the differences between when the doorbell rings today vs. 20 years ago. I’ll quickly summarize a bit of the skit. 20 years ago, when the doorbell rang, that was a happy moment in your house. Everyone would jump up and rejoice, “Did you hear the doorbell?! We have company!” And the whole family went to the door. You didn’t even check to see who it was, you just opened the door and warmly greet whoever it was that stopped by. They were probably just in the neighborhood and wanted to see how the family was doing. You would invite them in, break out the nice snacks, throw a cup of coffee on, and 2 hours would fly by as you sat there and chatted face to face! Now when your doorbell rings…. You are thinking, “who on earth could that be?” No one goes to the door. You remain as still as possible, especially if your front door has a window. And you hope and pray that the person – probably a sales person – goes away quickly.

Nobody comes over unannounced anymore. Nobody rings the doorbell unless they are a stranger. What do friends and family do before they visit? They call ahead, or at least text from the driveway. In fact, face to face visits just to chat and catch up seem to be more and more a relic of the past. Now everything is done through messages. Did a package arrive? You’ll get a message. Is someone coming over? You’ll get a message. Sometimes even before someone calls, you’ll get a message. And, for the most part, we like these messages because they allow us to be in control of our own personal time and prevent unexpected intrusions upon our personal space.

This Advent season, we have been talking about the unexpected second coming of Jesus. Today we will see that although he will come at an unexpected time, his coming is not unannounced. Messages announce his coming. They are sent by God. They call you to repent. And they announce that the Savior is here.

Ever since sin first entered the world, God promised and sent messages to draw us back to him. He didn’t have to. He could have left those who drift away to wander in their own wilderness. But he loves you. Even though you may wander and stray, even though you may deliberately disobey, God loves you and wants you to be found ready for when he returns for you. So he sends messengers to announce his coming and remind you of his coming. He sends messengers so that you can be prepared for his coming. If you read some of the descriptions of that day in the Bible, you will quickly realize that for many it is going to be a heart-stopping and terrifying day. The earth will be shaken and leveled. The skies will roll up and vanish. There will be thunder and lightning, a loud trumpet call… and everyone will see Jesus. But how will you see him? Will he be the terrifying judge who just caught you unprepared? Or will he be your long-awaited Savior, who finally brings relief? Before Jesus first came to earth, God sent messengers to announce his arrival. Messengers who announced the coming of someone even greater than they. Messengers so that the people could greet the long-awaited Messiah with open arms.

One such messenger was John. In fact, even this messenger who would be the forerunner of the Messiah was announced by messages. God said long ago through his messengers, “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way – a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” (Mk 1:2-3). After centuries of messages from God, announcing the coming Messiah, this was it. Jesus was “in the driveway” so to speak. To announce his arrival, so that no one would be caught off-guard, he sent messengers who carried his powerful message, but in a far less intimidating package. God wanted the people to be ready to greet him with open arms, not running away in terror.

“And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness” (Mk 1:4), and he had God’s powerful and urgent message to proclaim: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Mt 3:2). “Repent? Just who do you think you are talking to John? These are Israelites. Many of them have been longing for the coming Messiah. Many of them have been upright in their observances of the law from little on. Many of them have been patiently waiting for the King to come and restore them to their rightful place among world powers! And you think we need to repent. Repent of what?”

Isn’t that often our response. “Just who do you think you are talking to. We are Christians! Many of us have been church going Christians from little on. And you think we need to repent. Repent of what?” We often don’t see what’s wrong until someone points it out. And boy are there some powerful messages in the Bible, pointing out our deepest, darkest sins with such accuracy, that you might think they were text messages directly from your own conscience! “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot… You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Rev 3:15,17). “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God” (Rev 3:1-2). It stings. We writhe in pain not wanting to admit our wrongs, but often in reading God’s Word we find that he knows the human condition, and he can put his finger directly on all our faults.

But that’s not the primary reason he came. He doesn’t simply point out our faults to watch us squirm and writhe and make us feel like worthless, hopeless sinners. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (Jn 3:17). Realize that the very reason God took on flesh and walked among us, was not to point out sin, condemn us, and leave us hopeless. No! God sent his Son to take every sin onto himself. God sent his Son to die and rise so that you and I would not be eternally condemned for sin. But to realize our need for his first coming, he had to point out sin. He had to make us aware of our need for him so that we could trust in and rely upon his work for our salvation.

That’s why, along with John’s powerful message of repentance immediately comes a powerful message of forgiveness! “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29). And now, in this mindset, people are finally ready to meet Jesus. Yes, he comes in power, but not to destroy the sinner. He comes in power to destroy sin and save the sinner! His messages, carried by his messengers, prepared the people to meet him in a right way.

God still comes to you. Through his word and the working of the Holy Spirit, he still comes through his messages and messengers to assure you of your forgiveness. He comes, not to terrify you of your own sin, but to help you realize your need for him. He comes into your crushed heart to build you back up the right way – teaching you to trust in forgiveness and the salvation which can only come from God! And just like the sin, which is too bad to admit, so the forgiveness is too good to be true! So God sends that message to you again and again through his Word, through his messengers today, and through repeated reminders in life and in worship.

It’s hard to believe. Even when repeated again and again. How could a God who requires perfection before we approach him, instead approach us, wretched sinners, with the free gift of forgiveness? It’s because God loves you. God knew this would be hard to believe so he connects a physical action with the message that’s “too good to be true.” God commanded John to reinforce his message with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That same baptism, reaffirmed by Jesus, that we still use today. Yes, we are wretched sinners, but God has forgiven you. He washes your sins away, completely cleansing you from all unrighteousness. Now, since God approached you first with the unbelievable message of forgiveness, you can approach him, holy and blameless through Christ.

So God has sent you messages and messengers which come directly from him. It’s his word to you. His messages help you realize your need for him. And as he works in your heart through his messages, he brings you to repentance. Finally, the stage is set. He has gotten you ready. Now you are prepared to meet your Savior.

One thing that I really got a kick out of from that comedy skit I mentioned was that today people will often text you from the driveway before they even approach the door. It’s like they forgot that doorbells even exist! It’s especially funny because its true! I’m sure I’ve done it a number of times too. But as I think about it, there would be one situation in which I would really appreciate a text from the driveway or even from a few blocks away. I would want that text if someone really important was coming to my house. Someone like, the president of the United States, or some other powerful person. I’d appreciate that text because it’s much less terrifying to be warned by a message first rather than the unannounced shock of opening up your door to such a person. Then, I’d have at least a few minutes to throw toys into cupboards, fluff the pillows, and throw nicer clothes onto as many kids as I can catch. I’d want that small amount of time to prepare. Well, if that’s the kind of shock we might get from the arrival of a fellow human being, imagine how much more startling it would be to suddenly have the Almighty God show up on your doorstep. That’s exactly why God sends messengers and forerunners; so that you can be prepared and composed to meet your God.

I think John points out this role quite well when he says, “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). “Get ready!” he says, “because you are going to meet someone even greater!” And yet, in this very special role of John’s, being a messenger sent by God with a message of repentance, he did not think of himself more highly than he ought. If you look at the accounts surrounding John’s ministry, he had it all! He had a large following of very loyal followers. People even asked him if he was the promised Messiah. He could have took that and run with it! But he realized his role. Even though Jesus at one time called John “the greatest in the kingdom of God” (Mt 11:11), John knew that his role was not to draw attention to himself. He was only a witness to the greater one to come. He was to point people to Savior and explain to the people what kind of Savior this was to be. “He must become greater; I must become less” (Jn 3:30) John said. Because it would be foolish for people to focus so much on the messenger, that they forget all about the one being announced: the real Savior.

Just as John’s role was different than Jesus’ role, so also his work was different. John was merely God’s instrument. John merely preached a message from God and applied the waters of Baptism. He didn’t craft the message himself, nor did he give baptism it’s power. Rather, it was the work of the Savior to fulfill the message preached by John. It was Jesus who would bring the forgiveness of sins to all who believe in him. It was the work of Jesus that allows any messenger of God to announce the forgiveness of sins. And it was God who gave John’s baptism its power. “I baptize you with water,” he said, “but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mk 1:8). And that’s exactly what God does to this day. Though you see me standing up here Sunday after Sunday, my prayer is that you hear Jesus. I’m but another messenger. And although you have called me to announce the forgiveness of sins, administer the Lord’s Supper, and apply the waters of Baptism, know that it is God alone who gives them power – who makes these action meaningful.

John had the joy and privilege of pointing people directly to Jesus, who gave his work power, and who was the one everyone was waiting for! Today we eagerly await Jesus’ arrival once more. This time not to conquer sin, but to rescue you from its enduring effects. And as we wait, Jesus doesn’t leave you with nothing. Just as messages from loved ones light up your phone – and it’s a joy to receive them – so also God lights up your world with messages from his Word. He has something to say about every situation in life. And he reminds you that he’s coming soon!

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Advent means YOU! (December 3, 2017)

December 5, 2017
Benjamin Ehlers

Advent means YOU!

Mark 13:33-37

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 27, 2017
Benjamin Ehlers

God’s Invitation Rejected!

Romans 11:1-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Christ Is King Over All (November 19, 2017)

November 22, 2017
Benjamin Ehlers

Christ Is King Over All

1 Corinthians 15:20-28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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