Sermons

An archive of the most recent sermons by Pastor Ehlers.

By faith we are changed (July 7, 2019)

July 11, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

By faith we are changed

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

This week I read an interesting article regarding the issue of blunt language in the Bible. I came across the article partly because of the recent release of the new EHV version of the Bible, but especially as I was considering how to treat this specific section of the Bible both in my sermon and in the printed bulletin. You’ve probably noticed, it’s quite specific and graphic. In fact, the Greek words used are even more graphic. The article posed the question, how do we translate sections of the Bible that are graphic and indelicate in the original Greek and Hebrew? How do we translate sections of the Bible that are rather harsh? Do we use euphemisms so as not to offend the reader? Or do we translate as blunt or direct as the original text would have sounded to the listener? Of course, the setting does matter. We would treat these sections of scripture differently with a Sunday School class than we would with an adult Bible study. But the article pointed out that the harsh language of the Bible is always used against idolatry and gross immorality. It is important, when studying Scripture to see both the beauty of what God designed, and the ugliness of going against God’s will. It’s a contrast that comes into clear view with this short reading.

On the one hand, we have a listing of sins written out in strong language. Some of these sins are almost embarrassing to talk about out loud. “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10). Corinthians, don’t be deceived. These people will not enter heaven. Americans, central Texans, do not be deceived, these sins are still sins in God’s eyes. No, this isn’t a complete listing. It’s a “catch-all” kind of listing. It lists general categories, yet still focuses on some of the sins that would have been more prevalent in Corinthians society. Interestingly, that focus remains much the same today.

And if people want to try to explain away or excuse certain sins on the list, Paul says it twice, “Do you not know that wrongdoers will NOT inherit the kingdom of God?” (1 Cor 6:9). Then after the list, he says it again. These people will NOT inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:10). Make no mistake about it. Do not be deceived. Because there are many among you, Corinthians, who are deceived. And there are many among us today as well who are deceived. They go on living their lives, fully expecting to reach heaven, but will be surprised on the day they find out that this list has not changed. God has not changed.

So, what about you? Are you one of those listed that will not inherit the kingdom of God? Does this listing lay a finger on the ugliness of your own heart? Look at the list. “Immorality” doesn’t just mean physical actions. It’s immoral thoughts and desires. It’s crude joking. It’s in choosing what we watch and why we watch it. “Idolatry” comes in many forms. In Bible class we discussed that in our society it isn’t so much about false deities as it is about making our money, our time, even our children our gods. “Thievery and greed” cover not only actions, but thoughts and intentions. It covers coveting and not being content with what God has blessed us with. Did any of us succumb to “drunkenness” over the holiday weekend? Do we “slander” the good names of others for our own popularity – especially when we are safe behind a screen – or “swindle” and cheat in our business practices? It’s a pretty comprehensive list. I think there isn’t a one of us who can emerge without being covered with the muck and stain of sin.

And I think what’s most surprising is the audience. Paul is writing this letter to Corinthian believers. Believers who should have known better. Believers who were backsliding. In the earlier verses of chapter 6 Paul specifically condemns believers who were going to public courts to settle disputes between one another – essentially hanging their dirty laundry and hypocrisy out for everyone else to see. They cheat and do wrong to their very own brothers and sisters in the faith. And the same goes for us. We need to consider how we treat our fellow brothers and sisters in the faith. We need to consider the example that WE show not just on Sunday, but Monday through Saturday and for all the world to see. “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God?” (1 Cor 6:9) Paul asks accusingly. Yes, all these things that you deem so indecent and improper – especially to talk about among believers – well, sit down right next to them because you are backsliding. You too are one of them. You share in their loveless and selfish acts of sinfulness.

It really is amazing though how one phrase, even just one word can turn everything around. For shepherds living out in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night, one simple statement turned the mundane into the extraordinary. “Today… a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ, the Lord” (Lk 2:11). They left their sheep, their livelihood, in the open field and went simply to sit at their Savior’s feet for a while. Because they knew what was more important. Disciples, confused and terrified that their teacher was crucified. Longing to be with him or hear his words. Now terrified of the Jews, yet one simple phrase melted that all away, “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19) Jesus said as he stood among them, clearly alive and obviously the Christ. Followers of Jesus, reluctant to see him leave – ascend into heaven – are calmed and emboldened by their Lord as he says, “Surely I am with you always” (Mt 28:20).

And here, sinners who have just been thrust into the pits of hell because of the atrocities of our own hearts – thoughts and deeds too graphic and indecent to speak in public – are rescued, relieved, restored by just one word. “That is what some of you… WERE” (2 Cor 6:11). “That is what some of you were.” All packed into that one word is the acknowledgment of the realness of your sins, but also the truth that it is all in the past – that you have been completely changed. Your sins are gone, done, taken care of, and you are restored to live your future in a completely new way.

But how did this change take place? What happened so that I was changed – that was then, this is now? Paul uses three words to describe what happened. “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11). “Washed,” “sanctified,” and “justified”. Each one of these words is complete in itself. He could have just used one of these words and the text would have meant the same thing. But Paul piles up these terms because each portrays how you were saved in a different way. Each describes the change in a different way.

The Bible often pictures sin as a stain, a filth that covers you. The best example I can think of is what I looked and felt like after doing a mud run. There wasn’t a clean patch of skin on me. I felt weighed down, stiff, and slow. That’s what sin does. But then I washed and felt clean, refreshed, and new! You have been washed, cleansed from the stain of sin.

The Bible also talks about how sins separate us from God. That’s really the opposite of sanctified. If you are holy or sanctified you are in the presence of God – that’s why this room is called the “Sanctuary.” The opposite of that is being removed from God’s presence – distant and far from him. And that is what our sins do. Because of their sinfulness, the people, even the priests of Israel had to offer a sacrifice before they even went into the holy place of the temple. That sacrifice was to atone for sin, to sanctify them and bring them close to God. Your atoning sacrifice was Christ. He was forsaken – distanced – by God for your sins so that you could be sanctified – brought close to him.

And finally, the Bible talks about guilt and innocence. The guilt of our sins. Really the word “justified” is a courtroom term used when the case has been presented and, in view of the evidence, the judge declares the defendant “not guilty,” “justified.” In this courtroom, Jesus is the judge – the one who will judge the living and the dead. Satan is the plaintiff – “Satan” actually means “accuser.” You are the defendant. Guess who your lawyer is? It’s Jesus. And what’s the evidence he brings to defend you against the charges of sin that Satan brings against you? Your lawyer, Jesus, shows the nail marks on his hands and feet, and the scar left from the spear in his side and says, “All those wrongs were mine. All those sins were laid on me. And I paid for them in full. These charges no longer stand against this child of mine.” The gavel comes down, “innocent,” “justified.”

So, brothers and sisters. When past guilt swells, when there are temptations surging within, when you are remorseful over something wrong and shameful you have just done, remember, “That is what you… WERE” (1 Cor 6:11). But now you stand washed from your baptism, leaving behind the stain of sin. You were sanctified by the sacrifice of Christ, and connected to it anew every time you partake of the body and blood in the sacrament of communion. You were justified by Christ who said, “It is finished” (Jn 19:30) and “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19). The same declaration you hear again and again whenever you read the Word of God.

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By Faith We Overcome Death (June 30, 2019)

July 1, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

By Faith We Overcome Death

Philippians 1:18-26

What would you do if I just rear ended you, and as we came out of our cars to exchange insurance info, I said, “Consider it pure joy”? What would you do to me? What if you were that Centurion, and your close and trusted friend became violently ill and was lying on their death bed, and I said, “Consider it pure joy”? What would you do if people came into your place of work, were speaking against some important point of your faith and you couldn’t stand up for your beliefs – because you were at work. Would you consider that “pure joy”?

James is writing to Christians scattered throughout the nations during a time when persecution for Christian faith was very common, and he encourages them by saying, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (Jas 1:2).

Consider it pure joy?! How is such an outrageous thought even possible? Who would consider trials and suffering joy?! Well, there’s actually something in common use today that might help put this all into perspective. In 1818 an English civil engineer devised a machine that was used to reform stubborn and idle convicts in prisons. Very quickly it popped up in penitentiaries all over Britain and the United States. It was originally called the “tread-wheel.” On this tread-wheel, prisoners would step on the 24 spokes of a large paddle wheel, climbing it like a modern StairMaster exercise machine. As the spokes turned, the gears were used to pump water or crush grain. For this reason, it eventually became known as a “treadmill.” Prisoners would walk on these “treadmills” for 8 hour shifts, leaving them too tired to get into trouble. Believe it or not, some people today actually consider what used to be a grueling prison device as pure joy! Well, I should clarify. Maybe working out on a treadmill is still grueling, but the results that people see and feel through such a grueling process leads to joy in struggling through it.

You can really think of your faith like a muscle. Your faith gets tougher and stronger when it feels resistance and overcomes. So experiencing suffering and trials – though grueling – can mature your faith. When you have to sweat, be frustrated, wait and persevere, faith grows!

But here’s where we have to pause and talk about faith itself. What is faith exactly, and why is it good when it grows? I think most people think of faith as something they have to have, something they have to work on, something that they need to take time and effort to build and grow so that they can reach a certain level and be saved by their own strength of faith. “Well, yeah, isn’t that what you just told us pastor?” Well, not exactly.

Really, to understand faith, you have to forget about faith entirely. Don’t worry how big or small it is. Don’t question whether you have it or not. Pretend it’s not even a thing. Now, imagine you are facing your biggest trial to date. Sickness in the family. Lost your job. Disaster struck your home and you haven’t been keeping up with insurance payments – maybe all of that combined. What’s going to get you through? And you can’t say “my faith”. That’s not a thing, remember? What’s going to get you through. Or maybe I should say, “Who’s going to get you through?” It’s God, right? It’s always been God who get’s you through the most difficult times and every obstacle.

Sometimes we forget that. Sometimes we are overconfident and think that our own abilities will get us through. Sometimes we think that by our own will and determination we will make it. Sometimes we look to our faith and hope it’s big enough to get us through. But faith in what? Faith in our own faith? Faith is pointless unless it holds onto something. Faith is really just trust in something. Your trust ultimately isn’t in yourself. Your trust isn’t in your faith. You trust in God! He is the one who can level a heavily fortified city while still saving those who trust in him. He is the one who heals the sick and raises the dead. He is the one who does big things. Isn’t that why God sometimes makes us face big problems? So that he can lead us to him as the big solution! So, your faith growing and becoming stronger isn’t really about your faith. It’s about God becoming a bigger part of your life. It’s about relying on God more and more, because he is the one who does big things. And when you learn to rely on him, you will not lack anything (Jas 1:4). That’s the end result of trials. That’s why we can consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds.

Unfortunately, so many flee from God when trouble strikes, thinking that he must be the one sending it. But I would ask, do you really know God? Do you know his character? Have you seen how he deals with those who trust in him? The only reason he would allow trouble into your life is if he meant it to strengthen you and better you. The problem is, sometimes we aren’t in it for the long game. We want to see immediate results and quickly become impatient with the grueling trials we face. But God is in it for the long game. He’s got the bigger picture in mind. And sometimes that big picture may span months, years, even more than a lifetime.

It’s true. Some of the things we face in life are too big for us to handle. And when that happens, don’t give up. You have a God who does big things. Turn to him in prayer and you will find relief.

But, does God really listen to me? How can I even come to him with the past I’ve had? It says right here, “God… gives generously to all without finding fault” (Jas 1:5). Because when repentant sinners are forgiven by their loving Savior, they are really forgiven! All your faults, all your history, all that guilt is dropped – forgiven because of Christ’s sacrifice. The sin that once did separate you from God has been nailed to the cross with Jesus. And when Jesus died, your sins died with him. So as God’s forgiven children you don’t have to feel unworthy or guilty when you come to your Father for help. He’s no longer interested in finding fault with you, he’s laid that on Jesus. Now, he’s only interested in helping you.

James goes on, “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt” (Jas 1:6). And this goes back to the faith thing. If you come to God in prayer, do you come believing that he can do this?

Sometimes when I go on vacation or go on a trip, I ask my neighbor to help me mow the lawn and keep an eye on the house. I ask this neighbor, because I know he has a mower and the time to do it. I also trust that he has the heart to do it. And therefore I ask fully expecting to hear a yes from him. Do you pray with the same kind of attitude? When you pray, do you come with full confidence in God’s unlimited love, unlimited power, and unlimited wisdom? Do you pray and not doubt that God can do this and will do this? If not, then why are you even praying? If you come to God in prayer but aren’t sure if he is capable of doing this, then aren’t you really saying that you do not believe or trust fully in God? Aren’t you really saying that God may not be the one who can do big things in my life? “When you ask, you must believe and not doubt” (Jas 1:6).

Of course, there is a slight caveat – but hear me out. This caveat is not on God, it’s on us. We pray trusting fully in his unlimited love and power, but also pray trusting in his unlimited wisdom. And what that means is we trust that God knows better. He knows best. We come humbly trusting that if God’s answer to my prayer is “No,” it’s not because he can’t, and it’s not because he doesn’t love me. It’s because I’ve asked for the wrong thing at this time, and he knows what’s best. He will only do what’s best. That’s why we pray, “Your will be done.”

And God’s will will be done. His will will do big things in your life – through trials of many kinds. Your whole life will be one of exercising and growing your faith – your trust in God. Making him a bigger part of your life every day. All believers need to grow in this. All believers need to grow in this kind of spiritual toughness, because you are under daily assault from Satan. He does not rest. Satan will try to distract you, trade your spiritual treasures for trash, sell your future for immediate gratification, grow tired of the Word, chase illusions, or despair of any living communication or relationship you have with God.

It’s tough when your life feels like you are under siege. But think of it in this way. When life feels like you’re in a castle that’s under siege… Missiles are coming in from different angles, striking the walls of the castle, and the castle is shuttering. Boom, boom, boom. The army is getting closer and the castle is shaking. It’s actually a terrifying place to be – in the castle. But there’s one place where it’s not so scary. And that’s in the dungeon. That’s right, in the dungeon. And not in the dungeon, because it’s like a basement and that’s the safest place to be during something like a tornado or a siege. No, it’s not so terrifying in the dungeon when you are the prisoner, and the armies surrounding the castle are not the enemy, but the armies of your Father come to rescue you. That’s what the Bible says this life is, right? Satan is the prince of this world. But God is ultimately King of kings and Lord of lords. One day God’s going to rescue you. He’s going to take you out of this world. It may be when he comes back. It may be earlier than that. No matter when it happens, his goal for you, his mission is that you remain connected to him, faithful to him, until the day he comes to rescue you.

And so, with that in mind, you rejoice – because your victory is getting closer. Get news from the doctor, “You’ve got cancer” Boom! And you feel the rafters shutter. Something happens and your retirement savings are gone. Boom! Get a call from someone you thought was your friend, and now they are your enemy. Boom! Or you just can’t sleep at night and the devil is hounding your conscience with a past sin, or something you want to do. Boom! Understand all of those shutterings as the Lord’s work to exercise your faith and bring you closer to him. Finally, one day, the whole thing is going to come down. The stones collapse, the sun is shining in your hair, and there’s your Father! “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance…. Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (Jas 1:2-3,12). So every blow that causes the rafters to shake in your life is really a blow against Satan’s kingdom – loosening his hold on your life and making God a bigger part of it.

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By Faith We Do Big Things (June 23, 2019)

July 1, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

By Faith We Do Big Things

James 1:2-12

What would you do if I just rear ended you, and as we came out of our cars to exchange insurance info, I said, “Consider it pure joy”? What would you do to me? What if you were that Centurion, and your close and trusted friend became violently ill and was lying on their death bed, and I said, “Consider it pure joy”? What would you do if people came into your place of work, were speaking against some important point of your faith and you couldn’t stand up for your beliefs – because you were at work. Would you consider that “pure joy”?

James is writing to Christians scattered throughout the nations during a time when persecution for Christian faith was very common, and he encourages them by saying, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (Jas 1:2).

Consider it pure joy?! How is such an outrageous thought even possible? Who would consider trials and suffering joy?! Well, there’s actually something in common use today that might help put this all into perspective. In 1818 an English civil engineer devised a machine that was used to reform stubborn and idle convicts in prisons. Very quickly it popped up in penitentiaries all over Britain and the United States. It was originally called the “tread-wheel.” On this tread-wheel, prisoners would step on the 24 spokes of a large paddle wheel, climbing it like a modern StairMaster exercise machine. As the spokes turned, the gears were used to pump water or crush grain. For this reason, it eventually became known as a “treadmill.” Prisoners would walk on these “treadmills” for 8 hour shifts, leaving them too tired to get into trouble. Believe it or not, some people today actually consider what used to be a grueling prison device as pure joy! Well, I should clarify. Maybe working out on a treadmill is still grueling, but the results that people see and feel through such a grueling process leads to joy in struggling through it.

You can really think of your faith like a muscle. Your faith gets tougher and stronger when it feels resistance and overcomes. So experiencing suffering and trials – though grueling – can mature your faith. When you have to sweat, be frustrated, wait and persevere, faith grows!

But here’s where we have to pause and talk about faith itself. What is faith exactly, and why is it good when it grows? I think most people think of faith as something they have to have, something they have to work on, something that they need to take time and effort to build and grow so that they can reach a certain level and be saved by their own strength of faith. “Well, yeah, isn’t that what you just told us pastor?” Well, not exactly.

Really, to understand faith, you have to forget about faith entirely. Don’t worry how big or small it is. Don’t question whether you have it or not. Pretend it’s not even a thing. Now, imagine you are facing your biggest trial to date. Sickness in the family. Lost your job. Disaster struck your home and you haven’t been keeping up with insurance payments – maybe all of that combined. What’s going to get you through? And you can’t say “my faith”. That’s not a thing, remember? What’s going to get you through. Or maybe I should say, “Who’s going to get you through?” It’s God, right? It’s always been God who get’s you through the most difficult times and every obstacle.

Sometimes we forget that. Sometimes we are overconfident and think that our own abilities will get us through. Sometimes we think that by our own will and determination we will make it. Sometimes we look to our faith and hope it’s big enough to get us through. But faith in what? Faith in our own faith? Faith is pointless unless it holds onto something. Faith is really just trust in something. Your trust ultimately isn’t in yourself. Your trust isn’t in your faith. You trust in God! He is the one who can level a heavily fortified city while still saving those who trust in him. He is the one who heals the sick and raises the dead. He is the one who does big things. Isn’t that why God sometimes makes us face big problems? So that he can lead us to him as the big solution! So, your faith growing and becoming stronger isn’t really about your faith. It’s about God becoming a bigger part of your life. It’s about relying on God more and more, because he is the one who does big things. And when you learn to rely on him, you will not lack anything (Jas 1:4). That’s the end result of trials. That’s why we can consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds.

Unfortunately, so many flee from God when trouble strikes, thinking that he must be the one sending it. But I would ask, do you really know God? Do you know his character? Have you seen how he deals with those who trust in him? The only reason he would allow trouble into your life is if he meant it to strengthen you and better you. The problem is, sometimes we aren’t in it for the long game. We want to see immediate results and quickly become impatient with the grueling trials we face. But God is in it for the long game. He’s got the bigger picture in mind. And sometimes that big picture may span months, years, even more than a lifetime.

It’s true. Some of the things we face in life are too big for us to handle. And when that happens, don’t give up. You have a God who does big things. Turn to him in prayer and you will find relief.

But, does God really listen to me? How can I even come to him with the past I’ve had? It says right here, “God… gives generously to all without finding fault” (Jas 1:5). Because when repentant sinners are forgiven by their loving Savior, they are really forgiven! All your faults, all your history, all that guilt is dropped – forgiven because of Christ’s sacrifice. The sin that once did separate you from God has been nailed to the cross with Jesus. And when Jesus died, your sins died with him. So as God’s forgiven children you don’t have to feel unworthy or guilty when you come to your Father for help. He’s no longer interested in finding fault with you, he’s laid that on Jesus. Now, he’s only interested in helping you.

James goes on, “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt” (Jas 1:6). And this goes back to the faith thing. If you come to God in prayer, do you come believing that he can do this?

Sometimes when I go on vacation or go on a trip, I ask my neighbor to help me mow the lawn and keep an eye on the house. I ask this neighbor, because I know he has a mower and the time to do it. I also trust that he has the heart to do it. And therefore I ask fully expecting to hear a yes from him. Do you pray with the same kind of attitude? When you pray, do you come with full confidence in God’s unlimited love, unlimited power, and unlimited wisdom? Do you pray and not doubt that God can do this and will do this? If not, then why are you even praying? If you come to God in prayer but aren’t sure if he is capable of doing this, then aren’t you really saying that you do not believe or trust fully in God? Aren’t you really saying that God may not be the one who can do big things in my life? “When you ask, you must believe and not doubt” (Jas 1:6).

Of course, there is a slight caveat – but hear me out. This caveat is not on God, it’s on us. We pray trusting fully in his unlimited love and power, but also pray trusting in his unlimited wisdom. And what that means is we trust that God knows better. He knows best. We come humbly trusting that if God’s answer to my prayer is “No,” it’s not because he can’t, and it’s not because he doesn’t love me. It’s because I’ve asked for the wrong thing at this time, and he knows what’s best. He will only do what’s best. That’s why we pray, “Your will be done.”

And God’s will will be done. His will will do big things in your life – through trials of many kinds. Your whole life will be one of exercising and growing your faith – your trust in God. Making him a bigger part of your life every day. All believers need to grow in this. All believers need to grow in this kind of spiritual toughness, because you are under daily assault from Satan. He does not rest. Satan will try to distract you, trade your spiritual treasures for trash, sell your future for immediate gratification, grow tired of the Word, chase illusions, or despair of any living communication or relationship you have with God.

It’s tough when your life feels like you are under siege. But think of it in this way. When life feels like you’re in a castle that’s under siege… Missiles are coming in from different angles, striking the walls of the castle, and the castle is shuttering. Boom, boom, boom. The army is getting closer and the castle is shaking. It’s actually a terrifying place to be – in the castle. But there’s one place where it’s not so scary. And that’s in the dungeon. That’s right, in the dungeon. And not in the dungeon, because it’s like a basement and that’s the safest place to be during something like a tornado or a siege. No, it’s not so terrifying in the dungeon when you are the prisoner, and the armies surrounding the castle are not the enemy, but the armies of your Father come to rescue you. That’s what the Bible says this life is, right? Satan is the prince of this world. But God is ultimately King of kings and Lord of lords. One day God’s going to rescue you. He’s going to take you out of this world. It may be when he comes back. It may be earlier than that. No matter when it happens, his goal for you, his mission is that you remain connected to him, faithful to him, until the day he comes to rescue you.

And so, with that in mind, you rejoice – because your victory is getting closer. Get news from the doctor, “You’ve got cancer” Boom! And you feel the rafters shutter. Something happens and your retirement savings are gone. Boom! Get a call from someone you thought was your friend, and now they are your enemy. Boom! Or you just can’t sleep at night and the devil is hounding your conscience with a past sin, or something you want to do. Boom! Understand all of those shutterings as the Lord’s work to exercise your faith and bring you closer to him. Finally, one day, the whole thing is going to come down. The stones collapse, the sun is shining in your hair, and there’s your Father! “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance…. Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (Jas 1:2-3,12). So every blow that causes the rafters to shake in your life is really a blow against Satan’s kingdom – loosening his hold on your life and making God a bigger part of it.

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By Faith We Overcome the World (June 16, 2019

July 1, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

By Faith We Overcome the World

1 John 5:5-12

Life can be challenging. Oh what I would give to feel like a child at the beginning of summer vacation once again. Care free! Worry free! Ready to conquer the summer! Because as you get older, life gets tough. First, it’s social pressures. Then, it’s maybe figuring out the job world to make enough money to pay for college. And as we get older there’s health challenges and physical struggles. This past week I conducted a funeral and watched as family members felt defeated and overcome by this life. Life is tough. At times it raises you up only to drop you down again. Other times it relentlessly kicks you when you are already down. Sure, we can survive, maybe even thrive in life. But can anyone really overcome?

There was one, a man who lived long ago, who overcame the world. He grew up with humble beginnings, but he didn’t let that stop him. He began working as a teacher and a preacher. He had a lot of challenging ideas. Some people loved what he had to say and traveled far and wide just to hear him. Many others hated what he had to say, and traveled far and wide to make life difficult for him. But he didn’t let that stop him or change his message. He overcame their opposition by staying the course. Eventually, he became so controversial among certain groups that they put him on trial, condemned him to death, and crucified him. But even this he didn’t let stop him. In fact, he accomplished his most important mission on that cross and then rose in 3 days because not even death could overcome him. The man I’m talking about is Jesus.

But how do we know if any of this is true? How can we take such an outrageous story as true? Well, you need only listen to the testimony. There are three that testify, “the Spirit, the water and the blood” (1 Jn 5:8). I’ll get to what those mean in a minute, but first you have to ask yourself, who are you going to believe? Are you going to believe the testimony of human reason? Or are you going to believe God’s testimony?

Human reason states that Jesus was most likely a historical figure and powerful preacher. He gained a large following during his life, expounded upon the writings of Moses and the prophets, and was a strong example of morality. Therefore, after he died, his followers held him in high regard – such high regard, in fact, that after just a couple generations the legend of Jesus was embellished to divine status stating that he even rose from the dead. But, let’s be reasonable here, no one has ever risen from the dead, so that couldn’t possibly be true.

That’s what human reason testifies about Jesus. But we have other testimony – God’s own testimony. Let’s hear what he has to say through the three that testify, the Spirit, the water, and the blood.

When Jesus began his ministry, there was water involved. Jesus was baptized. And something spectacular happened at Jesus’ baptism. When he was baptized, “At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Mt 3:16-17). There was testimony for all to hear. God’s voice boomed from heaven that Jesus is the Son of God, and that all he has done so far – the life he lived – was pleasing in God’s sight! Can any of us say the same? No, in fact, the Bible says that even the good we try to do, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Is 64:6). But with Jesus, God was well pleased. The people saw the Holy Spirit, appearing like a dove, they heard the Father voice his approval, and here was Jesus, baptized to fulfill all righteousness. This water and the manifestation of all three persons of the Trinity testify to his life and ministry.

At the end of Jesus’ ministry, we see and hear another testimony – the testimony of his blood. During his three years of ministry, Jesus had been very open and clear about what he came to do and how he would do it. He said, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Lk 19:10). He said that the “Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mt 9:6). He said that “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Lk 9:22). After accompanying his profound teachings with astonishing miracles, and after shedding his blood and giving up his life – just as he said – the sky turned dark and the earth shook. And then you hear, once again, the testimony from Jesus saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” (Mt 27:46) and “It is finished,” (Jn 19:30) to the centurion who stood there in from of Jesus and saw how he died, testifying, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mk 15:39).

The Spirit’s testimony, is a little different. Yes, the Spirit testified at the water of Baptism and the Blood of crucifixion, but I think we can see the Spirit testifying in a different way too. After Jesus rose from the dead, we see a profound change in the disciples. They go from defeated and fearful, hiding behind locked doors to confident and filled with hope, proclaiming in the open “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it… God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:32, 36). The Spirit makes his witness through the disciples and apostles. Through their testimony both in speaking and in writing – which we have to this very day. And the Spirit still testifies to the water and the blood, to the person and work of Jesus, still creating incredible change in the lives of those who believe.

So the three testify, the water, the blood, and the Spirit. And the three are in agreement that Jesus is the Son of God, chosen to save all people by his death and resurrection.

So who are you going to believe human reason or God’s testimony? Why is it so important to talk about this testimony and persuade you that it’s true? Because it directly impacts you. Because Jesus wasn’t the only one who overcame the world. If God’s testimony is true, then you did too. The Bible says it right here, “Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 Jn 5:5). So do you believe it?

Whoever believes what the Bible says about Jesus, the Son of God, accepts God’s testimony; and therefore overcomes all that the world can throw at you. Does the world convince you that you aren’t good enough, or that you will never really fit in? Does your own conscience convince you that you will never leave behind the guilt of past wrongs? Does facing the sudden reality of health issues, even death, knock you down into believing there is no hope? Well God has overcome all these things. And he testifies in your life as well. At your baptism, he made you his own child and heir of heaven. He’s given you an identity that all the name calling in the world can never take away. Every time you receive his body and blood in the Lord’s Supper there he testifies once again that none of your past wrongs or baggage of guilt can overcome you because this is the blood of the new covenant, poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins. Even when faced with serious health issues, even death, God testifies, “Whoever has the Son has life” (1 Jn 5:12). He’s overcome all these things so that you could come out on top – so that you could have eternal life in his Son.

That’s what we believe. Jesus overcame the world, so that you could too.

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What are you trying to build? (June 9, 2019)

June 10, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

What are you trying to build?

Genesis 11:1-9

Before I graduated from Seminary, we were given an assessment called “Strength Finders.” What this assessment did was analyze your personality and traits through a list of questions. After answering all the questions, it would tell you what your individual strengths are. It was really interesting seeing the results. Some were strengths that I knew I had, others were strengths that I didn’t really think of, but could see once they were brought to light.

Beyond just personality through, we are all trying to build ourselves and better ourselves in various ways. That may be by disciplining ourselves to get more work done. It may be practicing a skill or hobby that we enjoy doing to perfect our abilities. It may be any number of things. Now, as I’ve got your gears turning and you are thinking about your own strengths, skills, and personality I want you to consider this question: What are you trying to build? God has given you many good traits and skills, but what are you trying to build with them? Why do you want to build upon them and grow them? Is it to build a monument to yourself? Or is it to build a monument to God?

God had recently wiped the world clean with a devastating flood. The world had become so bad that there was no hope of turning them around. And, most importantly, the promise of the Savior first given to Adam and Eve, now believed only by Noah and his family, was about to be snuffed out by evil in the world. So, God preserved the promise of the Savior – the Gospel – by wiping out the wicked people of the world and starting fresh with Noah and his family. Yet, despite being rid of all the unbelieving and wicked people, one thing still remained: sin.

Sin continued to propagate as humanity did. And as the people moved eastward, sinful selfish thoughts went with them. They settled on a plain in Shinar and founded a city built on sinful intentions. “Come” they said, “Let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves” (Gen 11:4). Building the city and tower was not a sinful by itself. But their intentions for doing so was in direct opposition to God’s plan. By this, they showed that God was absent in their lives. God blessed them after the flood saying, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” (Gen 9:1). But instead of God’s blessing, they sought their own. Let’s make a name for ourselves and build a tower so that we won’t be scattered.

It was very clear what they were trying to build. They weren’t content with the blessings God had given them. They wanted to make themselves great. They used their skills and ingenuity to build a monument to the greatness of humanity, and in doing so they excluded the one person who would truly make their lives great. They began to build their tower which was to be a stunning monument to mankind. And if allowed to continue down this path, then what?

I see a monument being built up in our own nation as well. In fact, I think this most recent rendition of it is nearing completion. You can see it on every street corner and on every web browser. Do you know what it is? It’s sexuality. And it’s not that sexuality is a sin in and of itself – it’s a blessing from God. But when we reject God’s blueprints for it and construct our own, then it becomes sinful. June has been declared “Pride Month.” It has become a monument which praises and honors this misguided view of God’s blessing. And where did this all start? It starts as one by one people start to lay their bricks. First, it’s important to consider and validate my feelings – whatever they are. Then others add the mortar to bind these identities together saying that you can have your truth and it doesn’t have to be the same as my truth. Then others build upon it saying that you are not allowed to say anything against those whom you disagree with. Little by little the monument grows. Until one day, we see standing before us – visible from every street corner and web browser – a monument that is founded upon sinful and selfish desires which destroys God’s blessing. It’s really a monument to sin. A monument to mankind so that we can make a name for ourselves. Look at how loving, progressive and confident those people are! And it’s not even seen as sin anymore, but praised. In fact, anyone who speaks the truth against it is considered the sinful one.

But before you go and point the finger out there, have you considered pointing the finger right here first? At yourself? You may be able to say that you had no hand in this LGBT monument, but don’t you have monuments of your own founded upon the same sinful intensions? Because it’s worth noting that the sins of the LGBT community are no worse that any of the other sins that take place right here. Yes, I’m using it as an example, especially because this month it is being upheld as a monument, but you can have monuments to self even hidden in your own heart. What are you trying to build in there? Maybe that tower is sexuality, and no I don’t just mean homosexuality. Maybe that tower is my own appearance and in every window is placed a perfectly touched up picture of myself. Maybe that tower is possessions and every day I am driven by making mine a little taller than my neighbor’s. Maybe that tower is time management, or some other skill you’ve been working on. Not a bad thing in itself. It’s good to be a faithful manager of my time. But when it becomes all about how much I have accomplished through my skills, then it’s a tower to self. Maybe the tower is family. Again, a blessing from God. But when family always takes precedence even over God, then that is what your monument has become. Maybe your tower is a hobby or activity that you’ve picked up. And yes, you may be very skilled at it, but when honing those skills takes away time from other, more important things, or when the skill becomes all about what you can accomplish, then what are you really building? Whatever your tower is founded upon, whether they be blessings or sins, if the intention is bad, then the whole tower is bad. If it’s meant to be a monument to yourself, then you’re building the wrong tower. Your putting all your time in effort into something that won’t last, or something that’s corrupt.

After describing the rebellion and sin of the people, God comes down to investigate. I think it’s almost comical how God’s supremacy is emphasized here. Yes, God knows all things, he knows exactly what is going on. But as man is building this tower that reaches to the heavens, God is still so far above it that he comes down to see what mankind is trying to build.

One might expect God to come down in power bringing consuming judgment upon the people. If you are a language scholar, you might expect the name for God “Elohim” to be used. That name emphasizes God’s immense power in creating all things and his superiority over all things. Or even “Adonai” which has the emphasis of master. But instead, here the name of God, “Yahweh” is used. And you don’t have to be a language scholar for this to impact you. Yahweh is the name for God that emphasizes his “free and faithful love.” And that says something about him. It says he wants primarily to deal in mercy even with sinners.

And that’s what he does here. When he saw a group of people banding together with sinful motive – plans to go directly against his command to spread out and “fill the earth” (Gen 9:1) – he came down to intervene in love. He knew that people who shut God out of the top position in their lives would only bring trouble upon themselves. Constructing a metropolis where such unbelief would reside and intensify would only result in a downward spiral where they condemn themselves. God’s solution was a loving one. Rather than halting construction by sending down fire and brimstone and snuffing out many lives, the Lord spared people’s lives at this time. He confused their languages and dissolved their sinful abuse of God’s gifts.

Thankfully, God’s solution for you is a loving one too. Rather than snuffing out the life of a sinner and immediately condemning him to hell, he snuffed out the condemnation of sin with the sacrifice of his own Son. God has taken notice of you, loved you, and made you what he wanted you to be through Christ. Now, it’s no longer about the name that you make for yourself, it’s all about what Jesus has done for you, and what he has made you – free from sin and holy in his eyes.

So, stop building that monument to yourself that you’ve been working so hard on. Put down the heavy bricks of sin. Build a monument to Christ by letting others see the freedom you have in Christ. Free from sin and it’s desires. Free from a polluted view of God’s blessings. Free from the confusion and struggle of guilt. Let God build you up in him and make you great through his love, his forgiveness, and his righteousness. Build up God’s Church – a monument to him – so that the people scattered over the face of the earth will see Christ from every street corner and web browser.

And I know you might be thinking, “Wouldn’t it be much easier if God didn’t confuse the languages in the first place.” Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you more! And I know many missionaries who wish Babel didn’t have to happen. You know I have personal relationships where I wish there was no language barrier. But God had a solution for that too. God’s plans will not be barricaded. On Pentecost he overcame the language barrier so that “people from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5) could hear the good news of sins forgiven. That’s the actual words there. People from every nation under heaven. God’s mercy has been heard. His grace has been spread throughout the world. And although that was a one time, miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit to speed the one true message of salvation throughout the world, he continues to pour out gifts upon men and women, missionaries and Christians so that they can speak the truth with boldness and conviction. He pours out his gift of faith through the Word so that people of every language can once again be united under the cross of Christ. United this time not in sin, but in faith! In Christ!

Through the Holy Spirit, God gives us the strength to overcome sin. Through the strength of the Spirit bring your sins of weakness and desires to the cross. Bring your sins of doubt about God’s Word and what it teaches to the cross. Bring your sins of sexual desire and the appeal to abandon God’s clear teachings. At the cross we see our Savior’s great love for us. We see that the debt for every sin has been paid. And finally, we have freedom from the sins that enslave us. What a monument to God’s love the cross is!

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Your Heavenly Warrior fights for you (June 2, 2019)

June 4, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

Your Heavenly Warrior fights for you

Revelation 19:11-16

Have you ever been in a situation where you are genuinely concerned, maybe even worried, “What’s on my side?” Most recently I think about the rocket tests that North Korea was conducting. As the news came on each day, and that range was getting closer and closer to home, I began wondering, “What’s on my side?” What defenses do we have in place to either shoot down such threats, or destroy the facilities before such a threat is even launched? Rest assured, we do have defenses in place. We have both strong defensive systems and powerful offensive capabilities that make me feel quite comfortable where I’m at.

But of course, I couldn’t just stop at knowing that we have systems in place. I wanted to learn more about them. And I love watching documentaries on military tech like that. I love to see the stats and details of just what our anti-ballistic missiles can do – how high and fast they go, their range, and how they do their job of eliminating the threat. I like learning about all the armaments our boats and aircraft have that are keeping us safe. Often, these documentaries just list off the many specs and capabilities of our arsenal and compare it to what we might be coming up against.

This section of Revelation reads much like that. It’s really a listing of many of the capabilities of Jesus after his ascent into heaven. So I think what we have to do first is just explain what all this means, because it’s much more than just physical appearance. This is a description of what your Heavenly Warrior can do for you.

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war” (Rev 19:11). He is consistent and loyal. He’s always faithful to his promises and judgments. When he does make a judgment or wage war, it is always just and perfectly fair. For God to be just, he must display both his love of good and his hatred of evil. Although many think that a loving God could not really condemn people to a terrible place like hell, they do not take into account the damning nature of sin. It’s really sin that makes hell such a terrible place, and after a lifetime of holding God at arm’s length, finally God turns them over to what they want: a life without him – without his goodness or mercy, protection or care.

His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns” (Rev 19:12). Those eyes of blazing fire penetrate to the heart and soul. “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb 4:13). God is omniscient. He knows everything, even the secrets of the heart. This gives him the ability to judge with justice, and the many crowns means he has the authority to judge. He doesn’t just have one crown and is the ruler of one plot of land. He has many crowns. He rules over all things. He has all authority in heaven and on earth. He is omnipotent.

He is clothed in a garment that had been dipped in blood” (Rev 19:13). Who’s blood? Is it his own blood, or the blood of his enemies? It would make sense for this to be his own blood. Afterall, it was through his sacrifice that he was victorious over sin, death, and the devil. It was his sacrifice and resurrection by which he is crowned lord over sin, lord over death, and lord over the devil. But I think in this context, a better fit would be the blood of his enemies. We have been talking about how powerful and superior your Heavenly Warrior is. Rather than talking about a humble sacrifice, this section emphasized the enemies that he has defeated. A little later, this text says, “He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty” (Rev 19:15). Treading upon his enemies in triumph. In Isaiah, we also have a beautiful parallel. “Who is this, robed in splendor, striding forward in the greatness of his strength? ‘It is I, proclaiming victory, mighty to save.’ Why are your garments red, like those of one treading the winepress? ‘I have trodden the winepress alone… I looked, but there was not one to help… so my own arm achieved salvation for me” (Is 63:1-6). Jesus did just that! Did you battle against sin? Did you defeat the Devil? Did you take death head on and come out the other side? No, Jesus did. He did it alone. He went ahead of you and defeated your enemies.

Where were you in all of this? The text tells you with I think the most beautiful words of this section. “The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean” (Rev 19:14). I picture Jesus returning from the battlefield, breathing heavily, robes spattered, a cloud of dust settles in the distance. And there you are, still on horseback. Your robes are clean and white. You aren’t sweating or even tired at all because you didn’t have to fight. Your Heavenly Warrior went to battle for you and took down every enemy.

Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter’” (Rev 19:15). Do you know what happened when ancient kings were defeated? Their scepter, the symbol of their authority, was broken. Your Heavenly Warrior carries an iron scepter. When you hear iron in the Bible, think of steel today. That’s the impression it would have given to a person of that time. If a manufacturer wants to emphasize how strong their product is and how unbreakable, they will advertise that it’s made of steel. A truck with a steel bed. A hammer with a steel handle. Nothings going to break it. That’s what the ancient listener would have heard when they heard the word iron. So, an “iron scepter” is a symbol of Jesus’ unbreakable authority. His scepter will never be broken by another authority.

The “sharp sword” from his mouth is his Word. It’s by his Word that the hearts of his enemies will be judged. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. Whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:16).

There’s something I skipped over though. His name. Strangely, that seems to change throughout this short text. First we are told that he is called “Faithful and True” (Rev 19:11). Then we are told that he has a name that “no one knows but he himself” (Rev 19:12). Almost immediately after that we are told that his name is “the Word of God” (Rev 19:13). And finally, we are told that he has a name written on his robe and on his thigh – seems like a strange place – and that is, “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev 11:16). So what is it?

I don’t think it’s too strange to have multiple names. I think you know that he has more names even than that. “Jesus,” “Christ,” “Lamb of God,” “Lion of Judah.” A name has the emphasis of someone’s reputation. Even today we talk about a person with a good name. And we don’t mean that his actual name is good, but that they have a good reputation. So I think you understand the multiple names thing.

What is confusing though, is that part where it says he has a name that “no one knows but he himself” (Rev 19:12). First, realize that there’s a difference between “no one knows his name” and “he has a name which no one knows.” We know his name. We know many names for him. They are revealed in the Word of God – in fact, that’s one of his names. Really, everything we know about him (everything we can know about him) is revealed to us in the Word of God. But is that all there is to him? Is this it? Right here, look, we’ve contained all that God is in a one volume book! No, of course not. There is much more to him. In fact, there’s even things which God has revealed to us that we don’t fully understand even though he’s told us. The Trinity. Jesus’ two natures. What it really means to be eternal. That’s what’s meant by, “he has a name which no one knows but he himself” (Rev 19:12). There’s a lot more to your heavenly warrior than you can even comprehend. But what you need to know about him, is in the Word of God.

So, these names, what he has revealed to you about himself, his reputation, he’s made a promise and covenant about that. That’s what’s meant about the name written on his thigh. In the Old Testament, a covenant, a promise, was made not with a handshake, but by placing your hand on the other person’s thigh. God’s promise to you is that he will always bear the name, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” No power will ever break his authority.

So what does all this mean? We’ve seen all the “armaments” and “capabilities” of this heavenly warrior, Jesus. And if you can picture all that in your mind at once, it certainly is an intimidating picture – like seeing Apache helicopter rising over a hill. A rider on a white horse. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. His robe is dipped in blood and the army following him, their robes are white and clean – they didn’t even have to go to battle. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword. He rules with an iron scepter. He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. He has this name written: King of kings and Lord of lords. Heaven opens. He’s standing there, and what are you thinking?

Maybe you know the thoughts and desires that you let linger in your heart – he sees it all. Maybe you recall the times you’ve tried to break his scepter or take his crowns for yourself. Maybe you’ve tried to ruin his reputation and spoil his name by calling him unfair, overbearing, or a fake. Maybe you don’t see heaven open, but closed for good – if it even exists – because you’ve certainly never seen any evidence of heaven or it’s God. If that’s the case for you, then I would be pretty terrified of this heavenly warrior, because he’s coming for you. He’s laid it all out in his Word. He’s been patient time and time again – still is being patient with you. But one day, this Lord, this Heavenly Warrior will reveal himself. And he won’t ask you where you stand, because you’ve made your stand abundantly clear during your lifetime. He’s seen it all. Now it’s time to judge according to his Word.

Maybe you see all that about yourself, but you wish it wasn’t true. Maybe you know who you are, the sinfulness that plagues you every day, and you recognize that you need a hero to save you. The times you’ve shrugged off his authority or evaded his guidance – you lay at his feet and turn away from such things. Maybe you cling to his reputation of being Faithful and True to his promises of mercy and deliverance, and you tremble at the thought that he would get his perfect robes dirty so that you could be clean. If that’s the case, then take heart! This heavenly warrior judges by his Word – his Word of mercy and peace. He comes not to harm you, but to protect you from every harm and danger. The very reason Jesus ascended into heaven was to assure you that his work is finished, there is a place for you, and he still watches over you now in even greater power and authority. This heavenly warrior fights for you!

So those threats that are building overseas, your heavenly warrior sees it all and rules over it as King of kings and Lord of lords. Starting a new job this summer? A new school soon? Or even just a new chapter of life? Your heavenly warrior goes with you, Faithful and True. Feeling unsure as guilty feelings and unworthiness mounts up against you? The Word of God tells you of how your heavenly warrior broke their scepter and took away their power. Feeling as if the problems you face in life are too unfathomable? Remember, there’s a lot more to your heavenly warrior than you could ever know. He has a name which no one knows but he himself. This is the warrior that fights for you.

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What am I left with? (May 26, 2019)

May 30, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

What am I left with?

John 14:23-29

Brothers and sisters in Christ, and especially you three confirmands, congratulations! You have made it through 3 years of intense study on God’s Word. So, I want you to think about, what are you going to do next? I know y’all are going on to high school, perhaps getting your driver’s licenses soon. I remember that time! It was the first taste of real freedom! Even though I only had a junky old grandma car, I could finally go places on my own! Then, after high school, maybe college? And after that, then you are really on your own. It seems that from here on out, you begin to have increasing levels of freedom in your life. And I’ll tell you, it’s great! Well, usually it’s great. Jumping into new freedoms also means jumping into new unknowns. When you begin high school or even get your first job there are going to be many unknowns, many new people and new relationships. You will face many new questions and points of view. Maybe you will even take a fresh look at yourself as you figure out, who you are, what side of yourself do you really want to show? And I’ll tell you, there will be times that you won’t know what to do. There will be times when you will struggle. There will be times when those feelings of freedom and fullness turn into fears of being lost and empty. Times when you may question, “What am I left with?”

Unfortunately, what often happens in this stage of life, when trying to figure out their new self and finding the limits of their new freedom is that young adults – just like yourselves – often stray away from their Christian friends, or the church that they’ve gone to. Often the tough questions they are asked and strong points of view they encounter make them begin to question what they’ve learned about God in his Word. Some even fall away completely during their time in high school and college, often, never to return.

And then, what are you left with? What are you left with when you struggle in school? Maybe the friends that you’ve chosen for yourself. What are you left with when those relationships are strained or even changed and they leave you? Maybe wisdom which the world has taught you – wisdom you’ve learned from those not so close friends, wisdom fed to you by your teachers, wisdom which is very different from what you had learned.

You can easily see how, in exploring your new freedoms it’s easy to cut off one by one your previous relationships which have taken you so far and laid the foundation for where you are right now. And after you’ve cut of those relationships – the support, encouragement, and wisdom that they have provided – what are you left with? What do you have to stand upon? What do you have to root yourself in, who do you have to turn to when you feel helpless, lost, or abandoned?

It’s one thing to stray away from parents and friends. It’s another thing to stray away from God. Although moving away from home may make you feel lonely or lost, moving away from God will truly make you lost and alone. Moving away from God will remove the peace that you have in life. Moving away from God will remove the wisdom he gives and discernment in determining the direction of your life. Moving away from God is removing yourself from his grace, his forgiveness. Moving away from God now in life, results in God removing himself from you eternally in death. What are you left with then?

Do you see the importance of remaining with the Word? Do you see the importance of taking time to hear from God each and every day? Do you see why this isn’t a graduation from your study of God’s word, but only a foundation? From here on out, your spiritual life – your relationship with God – is placed into your own hands. You have your foundation, now don’t waste that gift. Build upon it. Hear God, study his Word, and he will be with you no matter how much in your life is falling apart. “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching… and we will come to them and make our home with them” (Jn 14:23).

Often, we hear that word obey and think, “Oh great, here’s what I have to do.” But really it doesn’t start there. I know our society has made that word “obey” refer to only actions of compliance, but really the word itself first implies a believing and cherishing. In a little bit, I will ask you if you believe that God gave you forgiveness, life, and salvation. If you believe this, you are obeying his teaching! You are acknowledging that it is true. Do you believe that while you were dead in your sins, Christ died for you? If so, you are obeying his teaching – you cherish his Word, you believe it to be true and you will guard against any falsehood that would threaten that truth that is so precious to you. That’s what “obey” really means. It’s a believing, cherishing, and holding firm to such truths. Then, and only then, can you obey in the second sense, that is, allow your actions to be guided by such truths that you hold to.

So, by believing and guarding the true Word of God by connecting with it regularly, God will come and dwell with you. And it’s not an, “if I do this then God will do this” kind of thing. It’s a natural and immediate result. Like, if you jump in a pool then you will get wet. If you jump into God’s Word, he will be with you. He dwells with you in life through his Word and sacraments, so come to them often! Renew that connection often for your own benefit. So that if you are ever asking “What am I left with?” you know, God stands with me. God lives in this house!

But let’s get real here, what does it actually mean that God dwells with me? What benefit is it for me? Maybe the best way to start thinking about it is by not getting too specific. Have you ever had someone stay with you in your house? A friend, or a relative maybe? It changes things right? It radically changes things. It changes the space you have, it changes the meals, the conversations, and the schedule. So also when God dwells with you, it radically changes things – and for the good, of course.

One specific aspect we could get into is mentioned right here. He will send the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, and he will teach you all things and remind you of everything God has said to you (Jn 14:26). Put yourself in the disciples’ shoes. They followed Jesus throughout his 3 year ministry. They took note of the many miraculous things he did and profound things he said. But they weren’t writing their gospels as they followed Jesus. Maybe some kept a simple journal, but even then, there were times when Jesus and his disciples were too busy to even eat! They weren’t writing down everything. How were they going to remember all the things that Jesus did and said? How are you going to remember all the things that you studied over the last three years?

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (Jn 14:26). The Holy Spirit will remind you of the things you’ve learned and continue to learn. I’ll tell you, ask any adult in here, they may have had this happen too. Sometimes I’m talking with someone and the perfect passage just pops in my head. Maybe not word for word, but enough of it that I can add to my point or look up the specific passage. But he won’t just remind you, he will also teach you. As you study God’s Word and review even the same sections of Scripture over and over again, the Holy Spirit will teach you and give you a fuller understanding of his Word.

This will give you peace. When you face new things that make you uneasy, when you are challenged by friends, classmates or teachers, you will have peace. Even when relationships change, you face challenges, or feel all alone and are asking, “What am I left with?” you will have peace. Because what you’ve learned and what God freely gives you is not like anything the world has to offer. The world advertises peace in family relationships, good health, and financial stability, but what it offers is often fragile and temporary – it can easily be disrupted, and then what are you left with? The peace that Jesus gives you through his Word is different. Even though you may feel unsettled in this life, the peace that Jesus gives cannot be taken or disrupted. Even when everything around you fails, even if life itself fails, you still have the peace of Jesus. Because his forgiveness is freely given, not earned. Because your salvation is already accomplished, not something you have to finish. And because heaven is a reality that cannot be taken, even by death itself.

So, Confirmands, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (Jn 14:27). You have your Almighty Savior on your side. When you remain in his Word, God stays with you, the Spirit will teach you, and this gives you peace.

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If it’s true, it drives what you do (May 19, 2019)

May 30, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

If it’s true, it drives what you do

John 13:31-35

Elizabeth Fleischmann was a pioneer in X-ray technology. After reading about Wilhelm Conrad Roetgen’s discovery of X-rays, Elizabeth Fleischmann was inspired. She began reading all she could on the subject, completed a six-month electrical science course, and opened her own X-ray lab in San Francisco. During the Spanish-American War, wounded soldiers from the Philippines were arriving in California. Fleischmann used X-ray technology to locate bullets and shrapnel among the injured. The San Francisco Chronicle stated, “She became indispensable to the Army physicians.” Sadly, however, Fleishmann’s right arm had to be amputated due to radiation-induced cancer which ultimately led to her death. But it was the service that brought about her death, that also brought her fame and honor.

I wonder, if she knew ahead of time the great service she would be and also what it would cost her before getting into X-ray technology, would she still do it? Would she be willing to sacrifice in order to help so many others?

That’s really what Jesus faced his entire life. He knew full well what he would have to face. But he also knew the many lives it would save. And here, in the days trailing Easter, we hear those beautiful words of Jesus, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified with him” (Jn 13:31). There was great glory in Jesus’ resurrection and the explosion of the gospel which happens right after. But the Easter resurrection isn’t the context in which Jesus speaks these words. They actually come on the Thursday before Easter. They came when Jesus was gathered at the table with his disciples and he said, “I tell you, one of you is going to betray me” (Jn 13:21). They come after Jesus says to Judas, “What you are about to do, do quickly” (Jn 13:27). They came when Jesus was troubled in spirit and death was knocking at his door. “When Judas was gone, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him” (Jn 13:31). As this dramatic situation unfolds – a dinner with friends, though one a betrayer – Jesus encourages his disciples to love. In contrast with his betrayal, trial, mockery and gory death, Jesus speaks of glory. Because it would be by this sacrificial act of deep love that God leads a world of sinners to himself.

Yet, Jesus says, “Where I am going you cannot come” (Jn 13:33). Jesus was going to the cross. He was going to suffer and die. Because of who he was and the message he proclaimed, he was hated and crucified. Actually, many of the disciples would meet a very similar end. They would be hated. They would be persecuted. They would be imprisoned, put on trial, and die as martyrs in very cruel ways because of who they were and the message they proclaimed. In all appearances, they did follow Jesus. They followed him in life, and they followed him in a death like his. But where Jesus went – what was going on behind the scenes – they could never do. What Jesus had to do now, he had to do alone. No one could fill his shoes or take his place. Because on the cross he not only died a martyr’s death, but he died your death. He died the death and punishment of hell for your sins. He took the place of sinful man as a sacrifice for all sin. Therein lay the glory of both the Son and the Father. A heroic act of love that saved you. By his sacrifice, you live! And in an extraordinary twist, because you do not follow him in a death like his, you can follow him into a resurrection like his!

It was love for you that lead him to such lengths. It was for you that he became obedient to death, even death on the cross. This because we deserved it? This because we were worth saving? Not a chance. The sinful mind is hostile to God – we make ourselves his enemies. Any gossip or mockery or betrayal of another person is a mockery and betrayal of God who commanded against such things. Any hatred against another person is hatred against God and crucifying Christ who said, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (1 Jn 3:15). In fact, without God’s love in our lives we would be consumed by our own sinfulness. Without God’s love, “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart [would be] only evil all the time” (Gen 6:5).

So he gives a new command. “Love one another” (Jn 13:34). A new command that ought to fill our lives and lead every action. Actually, it’s not a new command at all. The command to love is as old as the law itself. Moses told the people what the Lord required, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). But this old command now had new motivation to drive such love. This motivation was fueled by knowing what Jesus did for them. Knowing what he did for you. If it’s true – if he really did die on the cross out of love for sinners, to pay my punishment for sin… well, then that drives what I do! It means I’m not simply loving my neighbor as myself, but loving my neighbor because Jesus loved me and because Jesus loves them. A simple command cannot drive this kind of love – such a command can only be driven by a true act of love, a sacrificial act of love for you. Love because he loved you!

Think of it in this way. Have you ever had someone sacrifice for you? I mean, besides Jesus, because often we feel disconnected from his sacrifice. Have they made the hard choice, given up something dear so that you could have better? It’s contagious, isn’t it? It makes you want to do the same. It makes you want to be better and show your thanks by loving them and others. That’s why new converts often love better than veteran believers. They see with fresh eyes the sacrifice that Jesus has made for them!

And sadly, this love often fades away. Yet Jesus gives it such prominence, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13:34-35). You can tell it’s a zebra because of its stripes. You can tell it’s a giraffe because of its long neck. You can tell someone’s a Christian because of the way they love one another. Jesus is inviting a test of faith – an assessment. How true is it with you? Do you pass the test of love? It’s easy to say that we love our brothers and sisters. But what about when your life is put into a similar context as these words are spoken? What about when a long and trusted friend betrays you? That’s what Judas was, don’t forget he was a disciple, one of the 12, Jesus’ close and trusted companions and he betrayed Jesus. What about when they turn everything you’ve known about them on its head and blindside you with their betrayal? What about when you suddenly find yourselves on opposing sides of a heated argument? What about when they have so abandoned you that you feel as if they had crucified you and left you for dead? “Father, forgive them” “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

The kind of love that Jesus talks about is a very special one. In our language we have so butchered and trivialized the word that you can use it from something as simple as, “I love ice cream” to making a solemn promise to your new bride, “I love you.” The two are on complete opposite ends of the spectrum, but we use the same word. In Greek, there are several different words for love to convey different meaning. In fact, the word for “I love ice cream” wouldn’t even be translated “love” it would be “like.” There’s also a word for “brotherly love” – a love that describes close friendship. And finally there’s this word here. Agape love. It’s loving concern which does not hesitate to sacrifice.

A new command I give you: [sacrifice for] one another” (Jn 13:34). “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you [sacrifice for] one another” (Jn 13:35). That’s how love is demonstrated. And it’s motivated by Jesus’ sacrifice. Because of his sacrifice for all sin, you can make sacrifices for one another. Yes, your brother or sister, or friend, or spouse may have wronged you, even betrayed you. But you can still forgive them and sacrificially love them because that wrongdoing, that sin, was already punished in Jesus. Yes, they may have hurt you deep. You may want to settle the score. But it has already been settled at the cross with Jesus taking your place.

So next time someone wrongs you, betrays you, mocks you, slays you, look to the cross. Because if it’s true, it drives what you do in that moment. If Jesus really died on the cross, and if God really sought justice for every wrongdoing in Jesus, then that wrongdoing has already been avenged. That sin has already been forgiven. Therefore, when I am wronged I can indeed say, “That sin has been forgiven by Jesus death” so I can say, “I forgive you.” And when you are treated unfairly, you can remember that Jesus was treated unfairly, so that you wouldn’t have to be treated fairly for all your wrongs. “As I have love you, so you must love one another” (Jn 13:34). We aren’t always so good at this. Thankfully, Jesus sacrificed himself for the sin of not always loving as we ought. He loves you. It’s true. Go show that big love that identifies you as a Christian. Go show those stripes – those telling marks of Christ crucified for you. Because it is true. He died for you. He rose for you. Because it’s true, you can love too.

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If it’s true, it shields you (April 28, 2019)

May 30, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

If it’s true, it shields you

Genesis 15:1-6

When I was in 3rd grade, I did something really dumb. My friends and I were biking around together on a weekend, and ended up at the school we all went to so that we could play on the playground. As we were locking up our bikes and playing with our bike locks, we had a bright idea. The bike rack area was fenced in with only two gates. And we realized that we could lock ourselves in – and everyone else out – with our bike locks. It was pretty cool! But obviously we had to test how well our new fortifications would work. There was a group of 5th graders close by who were playing basketball. We decided that we would taunt them and call them names, and if they tried to scale the fence, well, we could just push them off. Needless to say… that didn’t work so well. The 5th graders quickly scaled the fence, and now the fence that we thought would shield us, suddenly became our prison.

Have you ever had that happen to you in life? Not the idiocy of trapping yourself, but have you ever had something you’ve learned to rely on suddenly get pulled out from under you, maybe even turned on you? Now, one of your strong pillars of support suddenly becomes a pain, a threat, a fear even?

I wonder if that’s how Abram felt when God simply came to him one day, told him to pack up all he had, and set out for a new land – leaving his home behind. God didn’t even tell him where exactly this land was. He just said, start travelling and I’ll tell you when to stop. Even when Abram stopped in one place for a bit, God appeared to him again and said, “Keep going because there’s a special land I want to give you. I’ll give it to you and your offspring.” Offspring? What offspring? Abram had a wife, yes. He had many servants, even a nephew traveling with him, but offspring? Uh… ok…. I guess there still is time, even though Abram is already getting up there in years. Then finally, Abram makes it to the land of Canaan, which by the way is occupied, and God says, “Yes! This is the land I’m going to give you. I’ll give it to you and your offspring.” Abram looks around and sees his wife, Sarai, and his servant Eliezer, and he’s got to be wondering, “What descendants? What offspring?… Well, he’s brought me this far.”

After a while, Abram and his nephew Lot part ways because God has so blessed them both that their herds are becoming too numerous to stay in the same place. The cities that Lot settles near are attacked and he is carried away as a prisoner. Abram, with his servants – fighting men – goes on a rescue mission and saves Lot along with many others. God richly blesses Abram. He protects him from danger, but there’s just one thing that’s still hanging over his head: offspring. Oh, and God repeated the promise once again. “Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth.” I don’t know about you, but I would be getting a little frustrated right now. Maybe a little confused, even disheartened. Because God’s gotta realize that Abram’s been trying all these years, and still no children. He’s pushing 85, and Sarai is 75 – and granted, people lived a little longer at that time, but their window of having even one child, much less a whole nation of children is closing fast. “What are you telling me, God? What good is it for me to travel back and forth through this land, blessing me with such wealth, if there are no children for me to pass it on to – children which you promised me! I had already made peace with the fact that that probably wouldn’t happen.”

Yet, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward” (Gen 15:1). But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless” (Gen 15:2). I have to highlight that phrase because the imagery of Abram’s words are so powerful. “I remain childless” sounds so harmless in English. What Abram said in Hebrew was, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I am perishing, stripped of children.” Wow! This is Abram’s fear in a nutshell. It wasn’t safety, he’s already seen how God goes with him into battle despite the odds against him. It wasn’t financial concerns, he had literally an army of shepherds and servants just to help him care for and manage his great wealth. And he was so generous with his wealth too! These things didn’t matter to him. His real fear was that he could almost feel his life ebbing away, and yet he still had no heir – no offspring to give this land and wealth to as God promised he would. “Give me a sign God! Because I’m not seeing it.”

Abram’s fears led him to taking matters into his own hands. And it doesn’t start here. Previously he had lied about his relationship with Sarai. There was a famine in the land, so Abram sought refuge with his family in Egypt. But he was worried that the Egyptians would kill him and take his wife, so he lied about their relationship and actually almost lost Sarai by trying to take matters into his own hand. Here, in this reading, we see Abram taking matters into his own hands again and following the custom of his day. “You have given me no children” he said to the Lord, “so a servant in my household will be my heir” (Gen 15:3). I will adopt Eliezer as my son. This must be the offspring that God meant. And when the Lord replied, “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir” (Gen 15:4), Abram again took matters into his own hands after still having no children with Sarai, and tried to bring about an heir through Sarai’s handmaiden – again a societal custom of his day.

Do you see a pattern emerging here? God gave Abram a series of related promises. Abram doesn’t see any way these promises could be fulfilled as stated, so, driven by the fears of his heart, he took matters into his own hands and made a mess of things again and again. Oh the messes we make trying to bring about God’s promises on our own. God says his people will prosper, and right now it seems like everyone else but God’s people are prospering. Maybe I have to adopt some societal business practices to keep up with everyone else, then God will prosper me. God promises that things will turn out for good, but right now I’m dealing with these health issues that seem to be getting worse, not better. Maybe I should just throw in the towel and let God take me home. Afterall, it will be better for me there! Look again, God doesn’t say he works things out for your good. He says that all things work together for the good of his people (Rm 8:28). Maybe he’s allowing you to struggle right now, because there is a whole line of descendants that he is bringing into his family through your perseverance. What other promises of God are there that weigh heavy on your heart because you see them going unfulfilled? What promises of God have you thought about or attempted to take into your own hands and actually made a mess of them because you went about it in a less than God pleasing manner? As worries build, as fears mount against you, where do you turn to keep your heart from failing you?

Turn to the one who gave such promises and who has the ability to see them through. Turn to the one who knows your heart even before a word is on your lips. Notice that it was God who spoke first in this reading. Abram didn’t have to bring his fears to God, he knew it already. God spoke first, “Do not be afraid Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward” (Gen 15:1). And although Abram asked for some tangible proof, “what can you give me?” (Gen 15:2). God’s words implied that his word was all that is needed. “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir. Look up at the sky and count the starts – if indeed you can count them. So shall your offspring be” (Gen 15:4-5). No special sign. No outward proof. His word was all that the Lord saw fit to give Abram. He repeated his promise, adding a little more detail. And that was enough.

I wonder though, if in that promise, the word “offspring” stuck out. It was the same word that his ancestors told him God used with Adam and Eve, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and her [offspring]; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen 3:15). It was the promise of the Savior, the special Offspring! This is in line with the many other promises that God gave Abram. That he would be a great nation. That he would be blessed and famous. That the Lord would bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him. That all nations would be blessed through him. After the promise made to Adam and Eve, and restated by Noah regarding his son Shem, this was the next clearest revelation of God’s plan of salvation. The Offspring to crush the serpent’s head would come from Abram’s line!

Abram believed the Lord” literally, he “Amen-ed” the Lord, “and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6). That gospel promise of God’s word strengthened Abram’s faith. His believing was not his own doing. We’ve already seen what happens when God’s promises, our salvation and faith, are taken into our own hands. We make a mess of things. We don’t believe by our own doing. Abram didn’t believe by his own faithful character. He simply, “Amen-ed.” Do you know what that word means? Do you know why we say it at the end of prayers? It means, “truth.” It means, “I believe this to be true because of what God tells me in his word.” It’s like a parent’s arms reaching down to support and steady a child as they walk along a rocky trail. The child believes he is supported because of the capable arms that secure him. Like a parent’s arms, the Word of the Lord reached down and caused Abram to be certain, to believe, to be able to say that this promise of God is true because of the one who makes the promise. In short, Abram’s only hope for salvation – lying, deceiving, unrighteous Abram – his only hope for salvation lay outside of himself, apart from his own strength of body or character. Abram’s future lay in the Word of the Lord. If God who created all things says that I will have a child, then he will do it, even if my body is as good as dead.

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteous” (Gen 15:6). Abram looked ahead and trusted God’s word of a future promise to be fulfilled. No sign, no proof. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn 20:29). Although we too have not seen, we actually have the easier task. Abram looked ahead to a future promise and believed God. You get to look back on a promise that God already fulfilled and trust what God says about Jesus. “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19). Jesus died and rose. He died to pay for sins, and rose to prove it so. If this is true, it shields you from any doubt or guilt, worry or fear that could ever assail you. “Peace be with you! If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven” (Jn 20:21,23). That’s Jesus’ promise to you. You heard the words earlier in this service, “God made us alive in Christ even when we were dead in our sins…. I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And do you remember what you said right after that? “Amen.” “Truth.” You believed the Lord, and he credited it to you as righteousness, all because of the Descendant or Eve, the Offspring of Abram, the Son of Mary, Jesus the Christ. He truly died on the cross. “See my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side.” He truly rose, “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19), your sins are forgiven. “These words are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (Jn 20:31). “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn 20:29). “Truth!” “Amen!”

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

April 23, 2019
Benjamin Ehlers

If it’s true, it changes you

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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