Sermons

An archive of the most recent sermons by Pastor Ehlers.

The Mystery of Marriage (Oct 10, 2021)

October 12, 2021
Benjamin Ehlers

The Mystery of Marriage

Ephesians 5:21-33

Watch our livestream: https://youtu.be/Zs9MIBa9sPk

 

Data shows that 40%-50% of marriages end in divorce. A shocking figure. And although that percentage is slowly declining, it may not mean a positive change. One reason that divorce rates are slowly declining is that marriage rates are declining altogether, with people content to just live together rather than making that big commitment. And given these statistics, given the way the people and media often portray marriage and spouses – marriage being one big struggle and a fight, your spouse being the ol’ ball and chain – it’s no wonder more and more people are shying away from marriage or abandoning it more readily. We are surrounded by this smog of sensuality and self-centeredness. We see premarital pregnancies, troubled marriages, no-fault divorces, overbearing or abusive husbands, discontent wives. We are all living in this smog of polluted marriages with families caught in the crossfire.

It’s no wonder that these verses of Scripture are so difficult to read. It’s no wonder that these verses seem so foreign and even repulsive. But today we are going to study these verses. Today we are going to see how they not only speak to marriage, but also to the beauty of Christ. We are going to come out of the smog, into the pure mountain air and have the Lord himself tell us what marriage is to be – the mysteries of marriage revealed. Afterall, he instituted it.

One thing to keep in mind as we go through these verses is that they are addressed specifically to Christians. Sure, the world is full of sin. Sure, your spouse is not perfect. And yet, here, God is addressing mature believers – those living according to the new life of faith. Here, God commands us to take ownership of your God-given role in your marriage. I know some might say, “Can we really expect this in the world we live in where even Christian husbands and wives are sinful people?” And I say yes! God sets forth the perfect relationship that every marriage should strive for. He calls us to strive for this. And sin is not an excuse to fall short. He expects us to be mature believers, living by faith. He sets forth a way to deal with sin in a marriage and start fresh every day. The mystery of marriage is revealed in Christ.

So, listen up! And, I think it’s really interesting to note that Paul, in a literary way, lays this out in a way that takes the women to one side and talks to them separately about their role in marriage. Then he takes the men aside and talks to them separately about their role in marriage. Because we all know our sinful tendencies, right? Anyone who’s been in any kind of relationship knows that we have the sinful tendency to worry about what the other person is supposed to be doing. Paul combats that by writing in a way that emphasizes not what your spouse should be doing, but what you should be doing.

So, wives, I’m figuratively taking you to the side for a moment. Listen to what your Lord says. “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord” (Eph 5:22). And right away there’s a word that hangs up a number of people. What is it? “Submit”. And I get it, because how is that word often used today? “Do what I tell you to do.” “I’m the boss, you are the employee.” “Submit to me.” And already there’s a difference. Because this text doesn’t say, “Husbands, make your wives submit to you.” No, it says, “Wives, submit yourselves” (Eph 5:22). It’s a willing and voluntary submitting. Not something that is forced upon you – nor should it be.

Second, this has nothing to do importance, or value, or capability. Though relationships in the smog of the world around us would say that the one submitting is less important, less valuable, or less capable, that’s not what God says. God says, “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26-28). God also says through the Psalmist, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps 139:14). You are all wonderfully made children of God. In fact, the Lord didn’t create Eve for Adam until he realized how valuable a companion would be! God led all the creatures to Adam so that he could name them – animals, birds – whatever Adam called them, that was its name. “But for Adam, no suitable helper was found” (Gen 2:20). A dog, man’s best friend, was not the answer. Nor was a noble steed. God knew, and brought Adam to the same conclusion, that the only valuable partner would be a wonderfully created human like him!

The word “submit” implies only that different roles have been established, not that those roles are based on quality or importance. Take for example, when a truck driver submits to the 14-year-old crossing guard by stopping his truck when the guard raises that stop sign. The truck driver is not showing himself to be weaker, less intelligent, less gifted, less important, or in any way inferior. He is, however, submitting. The driver recognizes that an authority over both of them has established different roles for the good of drivers and pedestrians alike. Submission has to do with roles, not value. Even Jesus, who is equal to God – who is God – submitted to the will of the Heavenly Father when he prayed, “My father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Mt 26:39). It is voluntary. It is not about importance or value.

In fact, it’s about unity. I like the picture you get when you break apart the word “submit” or “submission”. You know what a “sub” is – not the sandwich, the submarine. Subs go under the water. And “mit” or “mission,” well, it’s “mission.” That’s actually what the word, borrowed from Latin, means. “Under a mission.” Wives submitting themselves are demonstrating that they are under the same mission as their husbands. And a husband’s mission, a Christian husband’s mission, is God’s will be done! Since this section is addressed to God-fearing husbands and wives, it takes for granted that the husband will not undertake a mission that is contrary to God’s will or harmful to his wife.

So, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord” (Eph 5:22). This is God’s mission for you. It’s one you took on voluntarily when you stepped into God’s institution of marriage. It’s regarding roles, not importance or value. And it’s an expression of unity with your husband as you both strive to honor God in your lives and in your marriage.

Now, husbands, I’m figuratively taking you aside for a moment. Listen to what the Lord says to you, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). This word “love,” it’s a tall order. It’s the highest form of love. Higher than sensual love. Higher than friendship’s love. It’s love that is purposefully and deliberately shown. Love that is one sided, unselfish, not expecting anything in return. It continues even if not reciprocated. It’s a love that can even be shown to an enemy.

And if that weren’t a tall enough order, God adds a description to this love. “Love your wives, just as Christ loved the church” (Eph 5:25). Your love for your wife ought to be on the level of Jesus loving the church. In fact, Jesus describes the supreme test of love. He says, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). And Jesus met this test. He surrendered himself, gave up his life for the church. And God says, husbands, love your wife in this way.

What does that look like in marriage? I think another section of Scripture lays it out very clearly. It’s actually in a section that deals with all Christians, but how much more so then does it doubly apply to husbands. “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Php 2:5-8). Husbands, have the same mindset as Christ. Love your wives as Christ love the church. Even though he was equal with God – and you are not – he didn’t even use this for his own advantage. Rather, he loved the church by taking on the very nature of a servant for her and died for her.

Husbands, love your wife by serving her. Love your wife by sacrificing your own wants, needs, will for her. She is one with you. You chose her to be your wife and share a life with you. It was the conviction that this woman means more to you than anyone else that led you to want her as your wife. God goes on to say, “husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church” (Eph 5:28-29). Husbands, you are one body with your wife. Love your body by loving her. Care for your body by caring for her. Do what’s best for your body, your marriage, even if it means sacrificing yourself for her sake. In love, husbands, do all you can for your wife, even to the extreme extent of being willing to give up your own life if by doing so you can save your wife.

Now that we’ve addressed both husbands and wives, how would you rate yourself in your marriage? Not your spouse, the focus is on you. Have you been perfect in your marriage? I think it’s fair to say that none of us has. We all give into our selfish, sinful thoughts at times. We all have expected and demanded what my spouse should be doing for me, rather than focusing on what I can do for my spouse. That’s why spouses get ugly toward each other. That’s why marriages struggle. But the mystery of a Christian marriage is that it does not give up. It perseveres through the tough times. It does not break. And no, it’s not because Christian husbands are better in and of themselves. It’s not because Christian wives are better in and of themselves. Rather, it’s because both Christian husband and Christian wife turn to Christ – Christ who establishes the love in a marriage, Christ who forgives sin in a marriage, Christ who modeled a perfect marriage to his bride, the church.

Interwoven in this section about marriage is also a beautiful description of what Christ did for you, the church, his bride. Sometimes the two threads are so closely tied, that it’s hard to distinguish at times whether God is talking about marriage or Christ. And rightly so. Because just as Christ is a model for Christian marriages. Christian marriages also model Christ to the world.

The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior” (Eph 5:23). And what did Christ, the head, do for his body as its Savior? “Love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph 5:25-27). He is the Savior of the church. He sacrificed his life to save the church. He has proven his unconditional love for us and will never ask us to do anything that is not in our best interest. This gives us reason to willingly submit to him. And as we do, we don’t at all resent his headship. We appreciate it. We willingly submit to him as our perfect Lord and God-given head. And while Christ, the head, receives worship, honor, love and obedience from his body, the church, he gives his church infinitely more than we have ever given him. He saved you, the church, from sin and damnation by dying on the cross. His blood was the price he paid to make you his own. We gladly submit to him. And this submitting is not a demeaning thing – rather it brings great blessing. As a result of what Christ did for you, his church, you are so completely holy that even the all-seeing eye of God can find nothing in you to hold against you. You are radiant, without stain or wrinkle, or any other blemish. Holy and blameless. Amazing love!

Husbands, you are forgiven. Wives, you are forgiven. Let each and every day begin with the reminder that you have been cleansed by the washing with water through the word – baptism. Your spouse has been cleansed too. Forgive one another. You are united in this marriage as one body, and just as the body has different parts for different roles all working together for the good of the body, so too you as husband and wife have different, God-given roles for the good of your marriage.

So go with the mystery of what Christ has done for you – a mystery revealed by God through the scriptures. You have been made perfect! Go and live faithfully in your marriages to reveal this mystery of Christ to the world. When Christ is the model, the husband’s attitude will not be, “How can I better rule my wife?” but, “How can I better love, serve and give up myself for my wife?” It won’t always be easy. There will be times when loving your wife will be as hard as loving your enemy. And there will be times when you will not want to sacrifice for the good of your wife. But God says the perfect role for you is to love. And while no husband has ever done as much for his wife as Christ has done for the church, when Christ and the church are the model, the wife’s attitude will be, “How can I faithfully honor God by honoring and respecting my husband?” It won’t always be easy. He won’t always be perfect. He is sinful. He will make mistakes. But God says the perfect role for your is to submit yourself. Taking ownership of these God-given roles is the only way to cut through the smog of this world’s view of marriage and reveal the mysteries of a Christian marriage. A marriage that reveals the mystery of Christ and his church.

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Stockholm Sin-drome (Apr 11, 2021)

April 13, 2021
Benjamin Ehlers

Stockholm Sin-drome

Acts 3:12-20

watch our livestream: https://youtu.be/9l5XlRJf-a8

 

In 1973, two men held four people hostage during a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. The bank robbers demanded 3 million kronor, two guns, bulletproof vests, helmets, and a car. The stalemate went on for 6 days. After the hostages were finally released, one of the hostages surprisingly remarked that she felt safe with the bank robbers, but feared that the police might escalate the situation by using violent methods. The hostages also refused to testify against their captors in court. In fact, they even began raising money for their defense. And you might be thinking, who in their right mind would do such a thing?! Well, no one. The fact is, they weren’t in their right mind. After this event, psychologists and mental health experts assigned the term “Stockholm syndrome” to the condition that occurs when hostages develop an emotional or psychological connection to the people who held them in captivity.

Symptoms of Stockholm syndrome include, 1) The victim developing positive feelings toward the person holding them captive or abusing them. 2)The victim develops negative feelings toward police, authority figures, or anyone who might be trying to help them get away from their captor. 3) The victim begins to perceive their captor’s humanity and believe they have the same goals and values.

I shutter to think that I exhibit these same symptoms toward sin and Satan. When tempted I desire sin, I develop positive feelings toward it, and may even convince myself and others that this is the right thing to be doing! When captive in sin, I despise those who try to rescue me from it. It’s exactly what Peter was pointing out when he pointed out the Stockholm Syndrome of sin that his fellow Israelites were suffering from.

For our focus today, the immediate context isn’t all that important. Peter and John had just healed a man who had been lame all his life. Evidently, many recognized this man who was now “walking, jumping, and praising God” (Ac 20:8), because crowd quickly gathered to see who could do such a wonderful thing! It’s actually the wider context of this account that is more important. This takes place not long after the death and resurrection of Jesus. And it’s this recent event that Peter wants to talk about. The crowd is amazed at what Peter and John could do – giving this man the ability to walk. But this was not at all by their power. “Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?” (Ac 3:12). It was God who did this. Our God, fellow Israelites! The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God that you, so sadly, saw as an enemy and waged war against.

This perhaps confused them. “We have never fought against our God! What are you talking about?!” Then, Peter laid it all out. “God… has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go” (Ac 3:13). A pagan governor of all people, Pontius Pilate, could see that Jesus was not an enemy. He had done nothing wrong – nothing deserving of death! He wanted to let Jesus go, but you chose Barabbas! “You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead” (Ac 3:14-15).

Do you see why it’s proper to call this the Stockholm Syndrome of sin? Peter doesn’t hesitate to preach the law with all its crushing powers. “You did it!” he declares. You chose the wrong guy! You asked that the Holy One be done away with and a murderer be released to you. You killed the One who gives life. You sought to find peace from the judgments of Jesus by waging war against God. There’s no peace in that!

In fact, quite the opposite. There was panic and frustration as word of the resurrection quickly spread. Some of the guards, responsible for the tomb, went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. The chief priests then paid them off with a large sum of money and told them to say, “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep” (Mt 28:13). The disciples, too, were gathered together with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders. For even Peter himself there was unrest and disappointment for denying his Lord 3 times before he was crucified. This most shameful of all human acts is surrounded by human beings waging war against God. Yet even their greatest attempts against him have proved to be a futile flailing at the wind. A battle which leaves us no peace, only frustration and fatigue.

Look at how utterly depraved such a war, such a rebellion is – waged against the only Righteous One. Look at how utterly sinful is war waged against the only Holy One. Look at how utterly foolish is war waged against the Author of Life – against God himself. That’s always what sin is. Sin is siding with the captors and waging war against your rescuer. And yes, as Peter points out the sin of his fellow Israelites, he points out his own sin as well. He too “disowned the Holy and Righteous One” (Ac 3:14) when he denied Jesus three times. You know, he points out my sin and your sin as well. Sin is siding with your captor and waging war against your rescuer.

Yet, stunningly, in that very act which led to the crucifixion of Christ and culminated in his resurrection, lies our only hope of deliverance from our captors – sin, death, and Satan. That’s how powerful your God is when he wages war against your captors. That’s how wise he is, that he can use even evil and turn it into good! So the most shameful of all human acts is offset by an even greater divine act, which restores the hope of holiness and immortality to all!

When we wage war against God, we find no peace. But when God wages war, that’s a different story! When he wages war, he wins peace and gives it freely to you and me.

It’s the very first thing we hear him say when he appeared to the disciples after rising from the dead. “Peace be with you!” (Jn 20:19). And how is this peace achieved? Peter says, “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this” (Acts 3:15). “You acted in ignorance” (Ac 3:17) – Peter is not excusing them as though their ignorance somehow made them less guilty of sin. He already established their guilt – a guilt which deserves condemnation. But, “this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer” (Ac 3:18). Peter was revealing to them that their very act of disobedience was also God’s plan of salvation. God uses even our evil for his good purposes! Didn’t their own prophets proclaim that the Messiah would be “stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted” as a sacrifice that brought us peace! (Is 53).

The war has been waged, the battle has been won! He reigns and has put all his enemies under his feet (1 Cor 15:24-25). See how he deals with your enemies in his death and resurrection: Sin has been paid for. Satan no longer has anything to accuse you of. The last enemy to be destroyed is death – and we just witnessed that with our own eyes, Peter said! You and I witness it through the testimony of such firsthand eyewitnesses. He is risen!

Peace is not only won, it is also given to you. “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19). It’s what Jesus said after he won the war. It’s what he repeated again and again to his disciples. It’s this same phrase we say just after consecrating the elements for the Lord’s Supper – a meal remembering his death. A meal in which we commune with Jesus. “Take and eat… Drink from it, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me. The peace of the Lord be with you always.” Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we also celebrate his death and resurrection – the war waged against your enemies and won so that you may have peace! Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we are given that peace anew!

What do we do in light of such peace? Peter says, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Ac 3:19).

Repent! Turn around! Turn to God. Sin is waging war on the wrong side. Sin is disowning the Holy and Righteous One and killing the Author of life. And there’s no way you are going to win that war. There’s no reason you should be waging that war. It’s sinful and foolish – you are fighting on the wrong side. It’s Stockholm Sin-drome. So, turn around! Fight the other way. And join the Lord’s side. You will not be taken as a prisoner – rather you will be set free from the prison of sin. You will be freed to live your life, because you belong to him all along.

Turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Ac 3:19). Times of refreshing! Doesn’t that sound great. And it’s not just the “sound” of it. It’s not just empty words. Look at how it all turned out after the death and resurrection of Christ. It looks as if God was turning everything on its head when Jesus was crucified. In reality, he turned an upside-down world the right way round. He rescued and saved us from ourselves – from the prison of sin and death we were held captive in. He wiped out your sin and gives you peace, just as he promised.

So fight on the right side of the war as you go about your daily battles. The war is won – you have peace already when you remain on his side. He fights for you in your daily battles – go to him regularly for strength and direction. Go to his words and become familiar with him, not your captors. If you ever feel like you are fighting an uphill battle, you might be fighting on the wrong side. Listen to his voice. Examine your life. Turn from sinfulness and rebellion that you find. And if you are still fighting… perhaps God has placed you on the frontlines for a time and for a reason. In fact, sometimes hostage negotiators will send in a friend – send them right into the thick of it – because they might be able to break through. They might be able to reach someone trapped on the wrong side, and bring them back to their Savior. If you ever find yourself given this opportunity, speak the words of your Savior until these words – not the enemy’s – become the familiar voice that can be trusted.

The war against sin is a difficult one when we fight it alone. Satan is good at waging this war. He confuses thoughts and emotions, even the truths of God’s Word so that sometimes we are fighting on the wrong side and don’t even know it. When we wage war alone, we find no peace. Turn around, for God has already waged war on your behalf and won! Peace be with you.

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Easter: The Resurrection Gives Certain Hope (Apr 4, 2021)

April 13, 2021
Benjamin Ehlers

The Resurrection Gives Certain Hope

Easter Worship – 1 Corinthians 15:19-20

watch our livestream: https://youtu.be/hsOQ_gPzbck

 

Intro: Uncertainty is the worst

Uncertainty is the worst. It causes a lot of stress. There is the inability to make plans. Then constantly changing those plans. There is the mental burden, the mind spinning, the trying to find the solution that will bring clarity.

Uncertainty is the worst. And these are certainly uncertain times. Over the past year, things kept changing. The things I thought were certain weren’t. Things I was told were true weren’t. Nothing seemed certain. It still doesn’t.

In such uncertain times, people need hope. They need to believe there are answers—solutions to what they are experiencing. What are some things people are hoping for as we sit here this Easter Sunday morning?

“I hope this virus goes away so life can get back to normal.”

“I hope I get a job soon.”

“I hope our country can heal.”

It is important to have hope. The problem is that most of the time the hope people have is really no hope at all. It is nothing more than a wish, a dream, a “Wouldn’t it be great if…?” There is nothing certain about such hope. And so, this kind of hope isn’t much help.

That’s why it is so good we are here this morning. Here to take our minds off of all the uncertainties for a moment. We are here to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And we are going to discover that what happened outside of Jerusalem that first Easter Sunday nearly two thousand years ago gives us a different kind of hope—a sure and certain hope.

 

Part I: Easter gives us hope for uncertainty in this life

The Bible is filled with promises—promises of what Jesus is doing and will do in the lives of his people. It promises, for example:

➢ That Jesus is always with us. No matter where we are, we are never alone.

➢ That Jesus knows our every fear and worry.

➢ That Jesus has the power to protect us.

➢ That Jesus has the power to provide for us.

➢ That Jesus hears our prayers.

➢ That Jesus loves us.

But if Jesus’ bones are still buried in a cave somewhere outside of Jerusalem, then why should we believe his promises? If that were the case, then NONE of these promises can be true. And God’s promises cannot be trusted.

But Jesus’ bones are NOT buried. His bones, along with the rest of his body, were raised back to life. No one can undo the historical evidence. Some might deny it. Some might not believe it. But unbelief doesn’t change the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. Denying it doesn’t change the numerous eyewitness accounts that would hold up in a court of law today. Unbelief does not change the fact that neither the Romans nor his Jewish opponents could find his body. It is a well attested to historical event. He is alive and well this very day.

So, he is able to fulfill every promise the Bible makes about him.

➢ Jesus IS always with you. No matter where you are, you are never alone.

➢ Jesus knows your every fear and worry—whether it is about a virus or a job or the future of your country.

➢ Jesus has the power to protect you and provide for you. You never need to worry.

➢ Jesus hears your prayers. Every, single, one.

➢ Jesus loves you—loves YOU. He loves you more than you could ever imagine. He loves you enough to win forgiveness for your every sin.

You don’t need to hope he is with you, can protect you, loves you, and forgives you. These are God’s promises. This is a sure and certain hope because Jesus is alive and is perfectly capable of carrying out his promises.

 

Part II: Easter gives us hope for a certain life to come

But there will come a day when even that won’t be enough. There will come a day, for every one of us, when promises about this life won’t matter because this life will end. What then?

In the Bible reading for today, the apostle Paul put it this way: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:19). Yes, we have hope in this life because Jesus is alive. But, if that were the only hope we had, it wouldn’t matter when we leave this life.

If there is no such thing as a resurrection from the dead, then… We can enjoy God’s love now… We can appreciated God’s power and guidance for our earthly life… We can honor him now… We can focus on his mercy and majesty to cope with our present sufferings… But if that’s it, if there is no resurrection from the dead, then there is no future. There is no hope.

But Paul writes, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:20).

Well, there it is—the greatest promise you could possibly hear this morning. If you sat down this morning and were promised that COVID-19 would disappear by the end of the week, that would be great. If you were promised that you would wake up tomorrow and be given your dream job, that would be great. If you were promised a winning lottery ticket that gave you a guaranteed income for the rest of your life, that would be great. But none of these promises can compare to what the apostle Paul just said.

Listen again, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” In other words, Jesus did rise from the dead and he is just the first one who will do so. Because he won forgiveness of sins and conquered death, everyone who follows him will also be raised from the dead one day.

And this is something certain to hold on to. A certain hope that will get you through each and every day. Because you know what sin does. Some might deny it, but denial and unbelief cannot change the fact that every person will one day die. Death is a consequence of sin. Scripture plainly says, “Death came through a man” (1 Cor 15:21). You know the man. You know the place. You know the words: “In the day you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2:17). Adam and Eve ate from the tree and brought sin and death into the world. This hits home. It agrees with our conscience. It is what we all suspect and fear. Our inherited sinful nature lets in all the corruption that flows from it – puts us into a constant state of dying.

But do you know what else Scripture says? “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man” (1 Cor 15:21). Once again, you know the man! You know the place! You know how it all happened, we just read about it today! “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor 15:22). Because of Jesus’ resurrection, not only will we rise from a state of lifelessness, but we will also enjoy real life, and real living in a close relationship with God! As certain and sure death is, so certain and sure is the resurrection from the dead. Jesus’ own resurrection gives you certainty in this hope!

Talk about hope! It essentially means that this life cannot really hurt you. It can cause you pain and disappointment and frustration, sure. Yet knowing that this life is only temporary but the next life will be eternal puts things in perspective. Doesn’t it? And knowing that this life may have pain but that the next life will be painless is priceless. And knowing that this life may be filled with tears but that the next life will be tear-free dries those tears a bit. Doesn’t it?

“Sounds too good to be true, Pastor.” I agree. It does. Eternal life? In a perfect paradise? And given to me as a free gift earned by Jesus? Is this just wishful thinking? Are we being over-optimistic as Christians with our heads in the clouds – not rooted in reality?

No. No, we are not. Unlike the kind of hope this world offers, Easter offers sure and certain hope. Because Jesus did rise from the dead. Because your sins have been paid for. Because he is alive and well able to keep his promises. Because he promises eternal life to all of his people.

 

Conclusion

Uncertainty is the worst. Whether it is uncertainty about your health or your wealth, or a virus or a vaccine, or your job or your relationships, uncertainty is the worst.

In this remarkably uncertain time, aren’t you glad you don’t need to rely on wishes and dreams? You can rely on the sure and certain promises of God. You can rely on a Savior who is alive and well. He is your hope here…and hereafter.

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Hands of Praise (Mar 28, 2021)

April 13, 2021
Benjamin Ehlers

Hands of Praise

Palm Sunday Worship – Mark 11:1-10

watch our livestream: https://youtu.be/IW911vnGuME

 

Arriving at your destination is always a joyous occasion. Whether that be to your vacation destination, to grandma and grandpa’s house, or home for a holiday. It’s especially joyous when there’s what you might call a “big reveal” – turning the last corner, finally past the tree line, or coming over the top of the hill and suddenly you can see it! That’s what it was like for travelers to Jerusalem on Passover if they were coming from the east. Passover was one of those festivals, or holidays, that people would journey to Jerusalem for. The road from Jericho makes a steep ascent of over 3,500 feet in the course of 17 miles. Approaching from the east, the city is not visible because it is hidden behind the Mount of Olives. But after making that final climb after the shoulder of the mountain, Jerusalem just bursts into view! The weary travelers have “the big reveal” they’ve been anticipating. It’s not hard to imagine bands of weary travelers joining in a psalm of joyful thanksgiving at this point! “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Let Israel say: ‘His love endures forever.’ Let the house of Aaron say: ‘His love endures forever.’ Let those who fear the Lord say: ‘His love endures forever.’” (Ps 118:1-4).

This time, however, there was even more reason to rejoice. As many anticipated the festivities of the Passover – gathering with family, the meal, finding and sacrificing the Passover lamb – this time, the Passover Lamb was right there with them, walking into Jerusalem to lay down his life for the people – once and for all. By now, many knew about Jesus. And although they perhaps didn’t know exactly how he would accomplish his work, many knew he was the promised Messiah. Today we join the crowds with Jesus as they crest the top of the Mount of Olives. We lift up our hands and voices to praise Jesus. As we do, we will acknowledge who he is, give him honor fit for a king, and respond to him in a proper way.

The people acknowledged who Jesus was. He was the one to bring about “the coming kingdom of our father David” (Mk 11:10) – the promised Messiah! And although Jesus would be betrayed, beaten, and crucified in just days, he demonstrated that he was in complete control of the events of his life. In this account, Jesus shows himself as Lord. He does this in several ways. First, he gives his followers directions that he expects to be followed. “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here” (Mk 11:2). He also gives an exact description of what they would find and the conversation they would have clearly denoting that he was much more than just an earthly king. And for the first time recorded in the book of Mark, Jesus actually asks his disciples to refer to him as “Lord” – “If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’” (Mk 11:3).

There’s more, though. There is an undeniable sign to anyone who knows the Scriptures that he is indeed the Messianic King. The prophet Zechariah foretold, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you… riding… on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech 9:9). In some countries, people actually refer to their influential people by the symbols of power they bear. In Kenya, for example, they call their influential people “WaBenzi” because they often arrive in Mercedes-Benz. The Messiah, long before he walked the earth was referred to by Zechariah as “the one riding on a donkey.” As you study the Scriptures, it becomes increasingly evident who he is. Scripture acknowledges him not only as “the one riding on a donkey,” but also as “the Son of David,” “The suffering servant,” “The Passover Lamb,” “The kinsman Redeemer,” and so much more. Jesus fulfills all these titles and all these roles. And very soon, he would reveal to the world how he would fulfill the role of the Promised Messiah.

There is some debate, however, on what riding in on a donkey symbolized. Does it denote humility and lowliness? Or, is it a noble mode of transportation? To us, it definitely sounds less majestic than a noble steed. But there’s evidence that in those days, riding a donkey was not lowly at all. Rather, leaders would ride horses if they rode to war, and donkeys if they came in peace. Scripture mentions King Solomon riding a donkey (1 Kgs 1:33). Some of the leaders during the time of the judges rode donkeys (Jdg 10:4; 12:14). And, donkeys were given as gifts as well. Regardless of what the donkey itself symbolized, the important point to note is that by entering Jerusalem as the donkey-rider, Jesus was fulfilling Scripture. We also know from elsewhere in Scripture that Jesus came to earth in lowliness, yet still possessed the full power of God.

To demonstrate this, we will start with the colt. Scripture notes that this is a colt “which no one has ever ridden” (Mk 11:2). And yet, Jesus would not have to break the animal. Nor would it balk or bolt despite the crowds singing and waving branches all around. This colt knows it is carrying its Creator, its Lord. So it is calm.

Jesus also demonstrated that he was a different kind of king than was typical of those days. He veiled his glory and used his power in a different way. He comes, armed, not with legions of angels to fight for him – though he certainly could have. He comes, not to demand the obedience of all – Pharisee, scribe, and Roman alike – with a show of force, though he certainly could have. He could have come with a physical power to wipe out all disease and create a kingdom where bread was free. But if he did, man’s real problem would have remained. The spiritual battle would have been conceded to Satan. People would still be dying in their sin. You and I would still be condemned to spend the length of eternity away from God and his joy. This is not a battle that can be won in the traditional way that kings wage war.

This King is a different kind of king. He is not interested in increasing his own power, but in securing our eternal freedom. He uses none of his authority to serve himself, but puts himself at the service of his subjects. In this way he wins our hearts and inspires our joyful obedience, compelled not by force, but out of deep love for us. So, he came looking powerless, as a servant. He came “in the name of the Lord!” (Mk 11:9). He came not only to win our hearts, but to fight and conquer our real problems. He came to wage war on our behalf against the spiritual enemies which threatened us. He came armed with the only weapons that would work – relying on the spiritual strength God had promised in his word. “He comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mk 11:9). The result? Death is abolished, sin is paid for, and Satan made powerless. The victory is won!

Which side of that victory are you on? Are you numbered with the disciples who took Jesus at his word and obeyed his commands, trusting them to be true? Are you numbered with the crowds laying down their cloaks for Jesus and carpeting his way with palms, acknowledging who he is and honoring him as the promised Messiah? Or are you numbered with the Pharisees and teachers of the law who questioned everything that Jesus did, tirelessly tried to point out flaws with him, and ended up crucifying him? The ones about whom Jesus said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Mt 23:37).

There are times when I am not willing. Times when I would rather kill and stone the clear Word of God because it prevents me from doing what my sinful flesh desires or points out my sinful corruption. There are times when I waver and question what Scripture undeniably says. And when I do this, when I reject the Word and would rather trust my sinful nature, follow my sinful desires, how can I deny that I’m numbered with those who said, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!… Crucify him! Crucify him!” (Lk 23:18,21). That’s what I’m doing every time I know who Jesus is, yet blatantly go against his Word.

My brothers and sisters, this should not be. My brothers and sisters, lets change this. Thankfully, Jesus has already done something to change this. Thankfully, he’s left a clear record of everything he has done for you. This coming week, we will be going through that work in great detail – on Thursday, Friday, and Sunday. I encourage you to be here on those days as we walk the road together and praise God for his great love for us. Because “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rm 5:8). He entered Jerusalem, fully aware that he went to die. But he did so to get at the real root of the problem and free you from the sin that turns you away from him.

That being said, lets do three things. 1) Obey him. Trust his word to be true. Whether he tells you to find a donkey or he declares that your sins are completely forgiven. Whether he says endure this for a little while, or reminds you, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” (Heb 13:5). His word is always true. 2) Praise him! Join the travelers who shouted “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!… Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Mk 11:9-10). 3) Lean upon him. We do not fight against flesh and blood. We fight against Satan. We fight against the spiritual evil in ourselves and in the world around us. The only way we can achieve victory is to rely on him. It’s the same way that David achieved victory when he faced Goliath.

Unlike Palm Sunday when there were shouts of joy when they crested the Mt. of Olives, when young David surveyed the battlefield there was fear and trembling. Everybody in the army of Israel was afraid. They saw the battle only in earthly, physical terms. A battle which could only be won with earthly power and physical weapons. Who in Israel had the power to match Goliath? Who on earth has the power to match Satan and the forces of evil in this world?

David, however, knew the battle, at its core, was spiritual. Goliath defied the only true God and shouted insults at the army of God’s people. David knew victory could only be won with spiritual strength. He left behind the king’s armor and relied upon the strength the Lord has promised to supply those who put their trust in him. David defeated Goliath not merely with his sling and a stone, but with a prayer – trusting in God’s promises.

Your God goes to battle this week. He goes to the cross to conquer sin, death, and Satan. We know the outcome from his Word. We know that next Sunday brings his resurrection and ours. So we worship him with hands of praise, and eagerly anticipate the empty tomb!

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The Cross is… (Mar 21, 2021)

March 22, 2021
Benjamin Ehlers

The Cross is…

John 12:20-33

watch our livestream: https://youtu.be/AIzjmrCnz0o

 

You probably wouldn’t consider it very glorious for a runner to purposefully give up victory during a race. The whole point of a running competition is to be faster, stronger, able to push longer until you’ve bested all your competition and crossed the line first – earning the glorious title of champion. Upon doing this, you will likely receive a gold medal, a trophy, or some other award to commemorate that glory. People remember these kinds of victors for proving that they are the best! So, to purposefully throw a race and lose, doesn’t seem very glorious – at least, not without the full context.

You’ve probably witnessed a race where the two frontrunners are pushing hard to the finish and suddenly, something breaks. A torn tendon or ligament. For that runner, the race is over. They worked so hard to get to that point, to that competition, and in an instant it’s all gone. But the other runner picks them up off the ground, slings an arm around his shoulder, and carries the injured runner to the finish. As they hobble along, other runners pass them. Their positions as frontrunners quickly plummet – 3rd, 4th, 5th… But together, they cross the line and finish the race – the strong helping the weak, the healthy helping the injured. That’s a special kind of glory! A glory that would sacrifice for the sake of others.

It’s that kind of glory that we adorn our churches with. A kind of glory that we focus on during the season of Lent. You don’t see a crown adorning the steeple of our church. You don’t see a depiction of the “Kavod Adonai” (the glory of God) – the pillar of smoke and fire that attended the Israelites as they were delivered from Egypt – you don’t see it in our stained glass window. Rather, you see a cross. The cross is the symbol of Jesus’ great hour of glory. And the cross is the believer’s only hope for glory.

It’s that cross that Jesus was reminded of when some Greeks asked to get a glimpse of this Jesus that they had heard so much about. The events in this section of Scripture took place on the Tuesday of Holy Week – 3 days before Jesus would go to that cross. The time had come. Jesus must now be the seed that dies in order for it to produce many more seeds. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” Jesus said. “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (Jn 12:23-24). Jesus has come for this very moment. He came to suffer in your place. He came to die for your sin. And as horrible as that will all be, as deeply as he will feel it all, he looks ahead to the fruit of his Passion. He looks forward to having you – safe from sin, no longer accused by Satan. All of that he would achieve through the cross.

You and I were like the runner who lies there on the ground, broken, unable to finish the race. There we lie, fallen short of God’s glory, fallen short of what God has called us to be, far short of what he expects from us. We don’t measure up to God’s covenant of the law. Far from it. Scripture talks about this. We read it this morning. Scripture talks about “The covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt… they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them” (Jer 31:32). So there we are. Broken by sin. Buried in death. Rightly accused by Satan. There’s no glory for you and for me in this. There’s no hope of crossing the finish line into eternal glory. Thankfully, the frontrunner stepped in to help and save. Thankfully, he lifted you up and bore you on his shoulders to carry you across the line. The cross that was Jesus’ great hour of glory is also the believer’s only hope for glory.

But it came at a cost. Just like the runner would have to give up his victory and first place medal to help the fallen runner, so also Jesus would have to give something up – his own life. “Now my soul is troubled” (Jn 12:27) Jesus says. The reality of being the sin-bearer is closing in on Jesus. The question of the Greeks has reminded him of how close the hour of his final suffering is. And don’t just gloss over this fact thinking that because he’s Jesus the suffering was somehow minimized. No! He acknowledges the natural plea would be, “Father, save me from this hour” (Jn 12:27). In fact, he prayed just days later in Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me” (Mt 26:39). I bring this up not merely to emphasize the pain and suffering so that we feel bad for Jesus. I bring this up to show you just how much Jesus loves you. How completely and single-mindedly he was determined to save you. Make no mistake about it, there would be extreme physical pain. Make no mistake about it, there would be foreboding spiritual abandonment and condemnation. And yet, despite all of that, he was willing to go through it, to be the seed that falls to the ground and dies, because he loves you and it was his will to save you. So what shall Jesus say, “Father, save me from this hour” (Jn 12:27)? No, it was for this very reason he came to this hour. And it was in this very thing – his death on the cross – that would be his great hour of glory – the strong helping the weak, the healthy helping the injured, the Savior helping the sinner.

There’s a lot that is all tied up in the cross of Christ. It’s the moment that all of Scripture points to. It’s Passover, Day of Atonement, Baptism, Judgment Day, Resurrection all wrapped up in that moment. After the voice thundered from heaven, “I have glorified your name, and will glorify it again” (Jn 12:28), Jesus explained why the cross is his great hour of glory: “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (Jn 12:31-32). Can you think of anything more worthy of your attention in the coming weeks? The eternal destiny of mankind is about to be determined at the cross, and at that point the devil loses his power. The head of the serpent is finally crushed. And with the powerless devil looking on, what is the judgment of the world? God declares all people righteous through the glorious work of the Son. The defeat of Satan by Jesus’ word and work, and his ultimate defeat at the cross mean the redemption of the world.

The cross means glory for you too! It means you are no longer dead in your sins, no longer fatally wounded by your sinful nature, no longer hopelessly distant from the finish line of heavenly glory. Jesus said that when he is lifted up from the earth, he will draw all people to himself (Jn 12:32). When you see the cross, see it not as a symbol of death and defeat. See Jesus lifted up as the sacrifice for sin. See Jesus triumphant over Satan. See the saving love of your Savior. See Jesus’ great hour of glory, and the believer’s only hope for glory.

There is only one way to heaven. It is through Jesus. In fact, Scripture even takes it a step further and says that the only to heaven is by dying with Jesus. And you have! Listen to this from Romans chapter 6, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rm 6:4). And now, it even says that you “no longer live, but Christ lives in [you]” (Gal 2:20). Christ living in you is the guarantee of eternal life. The guarantee of the eternal glories of heaven.

For those drawn to God through the cross of Christ, their heavenly glory is already a reality. And it’s a reality that we can lean upon even now. I know we don’t get to fully enjoy that glory yet, but when something is guaranteed – like eternal glory – it can motivate you to push through while still here on earth. I’d return to the running analogy again, but it kinda falls apart pretty quickly here – because no glory is ever guaranteed when competing. No victory is for certain. But what if it was? I know, I’m reaching here, but what if you were guaranteed glory at the finish line of the race for running it as Jesus did? Remember how Jesus ran the race? He wasn’t concerned with the greatest display of power or might. His only concern was to get everyone else across that finish line. He stopped to help the weak and injured. He gave up his life to help you and me.

Jesus says this, “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (Jn 12:25). Don’t misunderstand. Jesus isn’t saying that you need to live every moment of your days loathing your life. What he’s saying here is what he says elsewhere, don’t focus on building up personal glory here in this world. You have an even better glory guaranteed in heaven. You may have to deny yourself some of the glories of this world to follow Jesus. “Whoever serves me,” he says, “must follow me; and where I am, my servant will also be” (Jn 12:26).

Where is Jesus? We find him at the cross, yes, sacrificing his life for others. We find him at the bedside of a sick little girl, or teaching with children in his arms. We find him eating with the sinful people the rest of the world rejected. We find him meeting needs. We find him teaching about salvation and opposing false teachers. We find him in his Father’s house and in solitary places for prayer. We find him genuinely concerned about people and meeting their physical needs so that he might have an opportunity to meet their far more important spiritual needs and bring many more across the finish line into heaven.

Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant will also be” (Jn 12:26). That’s you and me – his servants. Not focused on amassing great wealth. Not focused on being the greatest and the best. Not seeking honor, fame, or glory here in this world. But genuinely concerned with picking people up when they are down, slinging their arm over your shoulder, and carrying them to the one who truly meets their needs, who truly fulfills, our only hope of glory.

I recently read an article about parenting that made the point, “Parents always choose their children’s religion. It’s just that, in some cases, this religion operates under a different name.” The point was, whether your religion was Christ, materialism, or the next best thing, parents are always teaching their children. “Through tens of thousands of ordinary, daily interactions, moms and dads orient young hearts toward a vision of what James Smith calls ‘the good life.’ Parents show their children what to love, what to desire, what matters most. This usually happens unconsciously. By example, practice, habit, and speech, parents are saying to their children, ‘This is the good life. The fulfilling life. The life worth living.” Let’s make that a life focused on the cross of Christ. A life not of earthly glory, but of glory that actually lasts – eternal, heavenly glory.

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I don’t have to know you (March 14, 2021)

March 22, 2021
Benjamin Ehlers

I don’t have to know you

John 3:14-21

 

Subjective truth has become such a big deal in recent society. Subjective truth, as opposed to objective/universal truth, is to say that this is true for me, personally, even if it isn’t true for you. In some cases there’s validity to subjective truth. When I was young, I had a fear of bookshelves falling on me. Not everyone shared that fear. But it was true for me. And yet, that doesn’t change the objective truth that bookshelves are made to be stable as they hold books – even more so now that they have wall straps you can attach. There are other times when subjective truth just doesn’t hold up. You might claim that you are the world record sprinter, but unless your name is Usain Bolt and you can run 27.78 mph, that just isn’t true. Let me take it one step further and lay this truth on you: I know for a fact that you cannot fly on your own. That’s just something that the human body is incapable of. So, without even knowing you, I can say that that is universally true.

The Bible lays down some universal truths that are sometimes hard to accept – though they are indeed true. Because of that, I don’t even have to know you, and yet, I know your path and I know your Savior. That’s the theme we’re going to keep coming back to today. Yet each time we do, I’m going to slightly modify it as we work through this reading. I don’t have to know you. I know your path. I know your Savior.

This discourse from Jesus is part of a conversation with a man named Nicodemus. He was a religious man, a Pharisee, who was genuinely intrigued by Jesus. Either from a desire to satisfy religious curiosity or to fulfill some inner spiritual emptiness, Nicodemus came to Jesus. The overriding question of this conversation was whether or not Nicodemus is in the kingdom of God. If not, then he needs to know how to get there. This is addressed to Nicodemus, but it could be addressed to any and every one of us. I don’t have to know you, this is just universally true.

Jesus says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (Jn 3:18). Our path, as humans, is the same no matter who you are. You and I stand condemned on our own. And yes, someone might object, “You don’t know me! You don’t know who I am or what I’ve done.” That’s true. Maybe I don’t. But I don’t have to know you.

Let me demonstrate. Is 99% perfect? Is something with just one tiny flaw perfect? No. Perfect is perfect. 100% without any flaw or blemish. Are you perfect? Do you have any flaws? Have you ever done something wrong no matter how minute? And before you object, this isn’t my standard. It is God’s standard. He says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

No one’s perfect. We even have that as a saying. Some things are just universally true. On our own, the path of every human being is one of condemnation. It’s the only verdict possible because every single one of us is born with a sinful nature. Just as you inherit your eyes, nose, hair from your parents, so also you inherit sin – which is traced all the way back in your lineage to your very oldest relative, Adam and Eve. Though it’s not found in a DNA test, it’s there. The evidence of it is death. Everyone dies because everyone inherited sin.

So it’s there, like a poison from a venomous snake. Though it may not kill you instantly, it certainly has its effect. God actually gave a very vivid example of this in the Old Testament reading from today. The sinfulness of the people cried out against God. And to give them a very vivid depiction of what’s going on here, God sent venomous snakes to bite the people. And anyone who was bit – I don’t have to know them – they were certainly going to die. The venom would have its effect. You and I have been bitten. There is the venom, the poison, of sin running through your body. Its effect is known. Sin means death. We need help.

I’ve heard the objection, but how can a good God send people to hell? How could he condemn us? One way to answer is that he doesn’t. Your sinfulness condemns you. My sinfulness condemns me. All on our own we condemn ourselves to hell. God is the one who steps in to save. He came to rescue you! The only reason anyone goes to hell is by rejecting the life preserver that God throws to them.

So, I don’t have to know you, and yet I know your path of condemnation. But I also don’t have to know you to know who your Savior is. Because some things are just universally true. Listen to how universally true this is: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned” (Jn 3:16-18).

I don’t have to know you. Your Savior knows you. He knows your path completely. He knows that without him, you are on a path of condemnation. And he couldn’t have that. He knows your path completely – where you’ve been, what you’ve done, whatever your past – and he still loves you. He loves you so much that he came to save you from that path of condemnation. That’s the thing about God’s love. It doesn’t depend upon you or me. He doesn’t change how he feels about you depending on who you are or what you have done. There’s nothing you can do to make him love you less. His is a pure and perfect, unchangeable love. That’s something that’s so hard for us to grasp because no one loves perfectly. No one’s love is so unconditional, so unchanging. But his is. He didn’t come into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world. So, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (Jn 3:14-15).

He comes in love to save right now. Don’t put him off or push him away. Because there will be a time when he does come to judge. When your life is over, that’s it. If you die an atheist – rejecting the universal truth of the Savior – then you die rejecting his salvation. If you die trusting in your truth and your merits, then prepare face a judgment of your merits against God’s perfect holiness as the standard. Once again, you die rejecting the salvation that Jesus freely offers. I don’t have to know you, your Savior does. I’m not the one to judge you, Jesus is. He knows your sin completely. Yet, he comes now to save, not condemn.

God’s love is universal. It extends to the entire world of people. It is universally true. Yet, at the same time it is distinctly personal – received on an individual basis. Your Savior knows you. Do you know him? Do you know the one who was lifted up, yes for the sins of the whole world, but also for your sins? Every… single… one of them. Do you know that there is nothing that God would hold back in order to save you? There is no effort too great. No price too high to provide salvation for you. In love God gave his dearest and best. He gave his only Son – to live a life of humble service, to be tempted in every way, to be betrayed and mocked, to be crucified, and to face the just punishment for all your sins. Do you believe that Jesus’ resurrection proves all of this to be true? Your Savior knows you. Do you know him?

You Savior knows you. I don’t have to know you. I know that may sound a little rude and distant for me to keep saying, “I don’t have to know you”. That’s not my intention. I’m merely trying to emphasize that some things are just universally true. The condemnation of sin is true for all people. And the saving love of God is true for all people – received by those who know what their Savior has done and believe it counts for them.

Although I don’t have to know you to know that those things are true. I want to. I don’t have to know you, but I want to. I want to be there for you on the path of life – through the highs and lows. I want to know what you struggle with and what gives you joy. I want to be there for you because I want to know you much longer than just here on earth.

I want to know you, not to judge you, but to build you up – and I hope you’ll build me up too. “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed” (Jn 3:19-20). It’s a scary thing to step into the light and open up to someone. To share your past, your misdeeds, your weaknesses. It’s embarrassing. It’s shameful. We might talk about “skeletons in the closet”, but Scripture describes it a little differently. It says, “YOU were dead” – you were the skeleton – “You were dead in your transgressions and sins,” but don’t miss this next part… “in which you USED TO live when you followed the ways of this world” (Eph 2:1-2). That’s the old you. That’s in the past. In fact, it’s been nailed to the cross and done away with!

Step into the light and get to know the new you! “Because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ” (Eph 2:4-5). In Christ he’s forgiven your sin, taken away the shame. You will not perish but will have eternal life! So there’s no skeletons in your closet. Nothing to hide. Not from God, because his love covers a multitude of wrongs. And nothing to hide from fellow believers who genuinely care about you. You are alive in Christ – loved by him so that you may live a life of love!

Why do you think Jesus called a number of disciples instead of just one to carry on his work? Why do you think Jesus sent his disciples out in twos? It’s because this path we walk is hard. There’s difficulties on the road ahead. There’s weaknesses and failure that we all have. If we walk the path alone there’s a good chance we will stumble and fall – maybe even fall off the path completely. So God puts people in our lives to walk the path with us. People who will pick us up when we fall, build us up when we are low, and point the way when we get lost. A mature believer will do this without judgment, but purely out of love. Don’t be afraid to open up to believers you trust and let them know you. It’s good to walk together. Scripture says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up… Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves” (Ecc 4:9-10, 12). We all fail on our own. If someone grabs your hand as they stumble and fall, help them up with the same love that your Savior had for the world. “A cord of three strands is not easily broken” (Ecc 4:12).

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What’s going on in YOUR temple? (March 7, 2021)

March 8, 2021
Benjamin Ehlers

What’s going on in YOUR temple?

John 2:13-22

watch our livestream: https://youtu.be/xNgtO1jqY_8

 

I have a socket wrench that doesn’t ratchet anymore. The reason why it doesn’t ratchet isn’t because it’s really old and I’ve used it so many times that it wore out. The reason why it doesn’t ratchet is because I used it incorrectly. I used it too many times as a hammer instead of a socket wrench. And the thing about it is, my dad had warned me that would happen plenty of times. Ever since I was a kid learning how to wrench on things, if ever I tried to bang on something with his socket wrench, he’d give me a stern look and say, “Use the proper tool for the job.” Sometimes we don’t heed our fathers’ advice, though, and we have to learn the hard way.

The same lesson was learned in Jerusalem long ago. The temple was a physical place where God would meet with the people. It was a place where the people would go to God in faith, seeking his mercy and forgiveness and offering their sacrifices. The Passover Festival itself, which they were celebrating in the Bible reading, commemorated God’s deliverance of his people from Egypt and pointed ahead to God’s deliverance through the promised Messiah. All of the rituals were carefully prescribed by God and all served a purpose. The death of the lamb and the blood recalled how God saved believers from death in Egypt. The bitter herbs recalled the suffering of the people in Egypt and their deliverance from it. The meal eaten in haste – a call to readiness. All of these in the Passover Festival served as a tool to ready the people’s hearts and focus their worship on God’s deliverance. All of these recalled God’s work in Egypt, and all pointed ahead giving a clear picture of the Messiah and his work.

But if you were to go to the temple on the day Jesus went, what would your heart and mind be focused on? “In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money” (Jn 2:14). This appearance of the temple could not lead anyone to think of worshiping God our deliverer. Instead of prompting the singing of the Psalms of Ascent, filled with joyful expectation of deliverance, visitors would more likely be inclined to hold their purses and their noses. The stench of so many animals gathered in one place along with bargaining and bickering over the cost of animals. The rates of exchange and everything else gave off a spiritual stench. This was not God’s intended purpose of the temple in Jerusalem. They were using it all wrong.

So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!’” (Jn 2:15-16). In other words, “You are using the temple incorrectly!” Had they forgotten about the days their ancestors saw God’s glory – the pillar of cloud and fire – fill the tabernacle and the temple of Solomon so that those called to serve there couldn’t even enter? Had they forgotten the reverence and the awe and the fear of God that accompanied worship at the temple not long ago? People may have thought this was their temple and that they could do as they please, but they were in God’s house! Jesus gave them a forceful reminder of that. A reminder to “use the tool correctly.”

Surprisingly, the people didn’t really seem to object. It seems that one man was able to clear out the crowds that filled the temple courts. Could it be that Jesus had actually pricked the consciences of these people? Could it be that deep down they really knew the intended purpose of the temple – and knew that this wasn’t it. They couldn’t argue with Jesus.

Though they didn’t really argue, some did want to see some “credentials.” “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” (Jn 2:18). They didn’t question what he did, but wanted to know who he was that gave him such authority. But they already had signs. It depends how you count them all, but one book lists over 400 prophecies, signs, pointing to Jesus as the promised Messiah. Yet they still asked for a sign! Their very request proved that they were the ones in unbelief. They were the ones not listening to the Father’s Word.

While they asked for a sign about him and his authority, Jesus gave them a sign of dual purpose. He gave them a sign that would not only prove his authority as God, but would also point out their unbelief. “Destroy this temple,” he said, “and I will raise it again in three days” (Jn 2:19). Go ahead! Destroy this temple, if that’s what you’re determined to do. And you will see who’s really doing the right thing here.  Outwardly, Jesus looked like the one destroying the temple. Afterall, the people needed these animals for their Passover celebrations. The fact was, however, that those buying and selling and the leaders who allowed, encouraged, and participated in it were really the destructive ones. Under their leadership the temple had gone from being a house of prayer and worship to being a market and stockyard where thieves worked. Jesus told these leaders what would identify them as the real opponents of God all the way through his ministry. “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days” (Jn 2:19).

But there’s more to it than that. You see, although they were indeed destroying worship at the temple in Jerusalem, there was another temple that Jesus was speaking of. Himself. His body (Jn 2:21). If the temple building is the place where God dwells with his people on earth, how much more is God in the flesh, Jesus, our Immanuel, the place where God truly dwells with us?! So, as they heartlessly destroyed the true worship of Israel at the temple, they also sought to destroy worship of the true Messiah by crucifying him. When they carried out that act, they would have the undeniable sign that they themselves were the true temple-destroyers. And when Jesus rose – “rebuilding the true temple” in three days – they would have the sign that he indeed had the authority to bring back true worship at the temple. To realign it with the Father’s intended purpose.

The 46 years that the Jews referred to was actually a rebuilding and refurbishing project of Herod’s temple that was ongoing. The irony of it, however, was that as they busily went about making the temple look nice, the worship at the temple was continuing to decline. And it would continue to decline because it had been robbed of real purpose for most of Israel. It was not being used as intended. The proof would be in its ultimate destruction in 70 A.D. The people abused the tool of the temple and broke the worship meant to happen there. So God eventually removed it.

So, where is the temple today? Where is true worship found today? Is it here in this building that we have? Yes. When this church building was dedicated in 1980, it was dedicated for worship with words similar to these, “Brothers and sisters in Christ, we have come together to set apart this church for the worship of the almighty God and for the building up of the body of Christ. Our prayers rise to the throne of God our Father through the intercession of Jesus Christ our Lord and in the power of the Holy Spirit” (CWOS p. 310). But it’s also much more than that. Listen to what Scripture says, “Do you not know that your bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, who you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Cor 6:19-20). Worship God with your bodies.

And that’s really where the Old Testament reading ties in. How do we worship God with our bodies? Just as my dad gave instructions and warnings when I learned how to use his tools, so also your heavenly Father gives instructions and warnings for how worship God with your body, his temple. It’s the 10 commandments. His instructions for your mouth: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God… You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Ex 20:7,16). It’s repeated in the New Testament, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up” (Eph 4:29). His instructions for your hands and heart: “You shall not murder” (Ex 20:13). God elaborates on that, “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him” (1 Jn 3:15). His instructions for your body and mind: “You shall not commit adultery” (Ex 20:14). Jesus explains, “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:28).

I could go on, but you see my point. So I’ll ask you this question: Are you worshiping God with your body and life? Or are you guilty of the same sin as the Jews who defiled the temple in Jerusalem? Have you used your hands, meant to serve, as a weapon? Have you used your mouth, meant to proclaim the truth of God’s deliverance, as an instrument of lies? Have you used your heart and mind, meant to love and build up, as a means to hate and tear down? I have. I’m guilty. My heart and my body are, at times, a den of robbers and corruption. And when I misuse this body that God has given me it takes a toll. It spells condemnation for me and it can often be damaging to my body, his temple. Listen to the warnings God gives in the 10 commandments, or risk destroying this temple and proper worship. We need Jesus to purify this temple and restore true worship here.

Thankfully, he did. He does. God did it, “by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us” (Rm 8:3). Jesus used his hands as his Father intended – to serve those he came to save. Jesus used his mouth as God intended – to proclaim repentance and forgiveness. Jesus used his heart as God intended – to love sinners like you and me. Then, he allowed the temple of his body to be destroyed as a sin offering for you and me. So that the righteous requirements of the law could be met in you and me. He absorbed the sin and corruption of all people into himself and purified you, his temple.

God takes away all our misuses of his temple when we confess our sins – as we did at the beginning of the service – and again when we receive from his body and blood the forgiveness of sins. He takes away sin and also gives us the strength and desire to use his temple for his glory. So go back to the law – the 10 commandments – and see them for what they are. They are instructions for making the most of this temple (my body) to worship God in all I think, say, or do. Hear what Jesus sees when you use your body, his temple, properly: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me… Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Mt 25:35-36,40).

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Serious about saving (Feb 28, 2021)

March 8, 2021
Benjamin Ehlers

Serious about saving

Romans 5:1-11

watch our livestream: https://youtu.be/r0rARVFicTM

 

When an engineer tests a machine they’ve built, they push it until it fails. They have it undergo all kinds of stress tests under extreme loads in adverse conditions. They do this to look for specific points of failure – specific weaknesses. When they find these points of failure, or weaknesses, what do they do? Do they simply shake their heads in disappointment, document the failure, and leave it at that? No. They go to that specific point of failure and strengthen it, improve it, make it better. They actually look for failure and expect it, so that they can make the best machine, device, or structure possible. Pinpointing failures, helps make it stronger.

Sometimes, however, failures are just so catastrophic or troublesome that there’s no hope of tweaking it, no way to make it better. So, they have to scrap the whole project and start all over again. Start with something completely new. That was the case with Adam and Eve when they fell into sin. They were created perfect and pure! But once sin was introduced, that nature was permanently corrupted in a deep way. Sin isn’t just like a bag of guilt that you can easily take off. It’s not like dirt on the skin you can easily wash off. It’s a corruption of your very nature. It’s like having impurities get into the metal alloy or concrete structure you are working with. It makes them brittle, weak, and certain of failure. The only thing to do is scrap the piece and start fresh. But God had already established a loving relationship with Adam and Eve – with humanity, the crown of his creation. And since God is love, there would be no scrapping humanity. He would not destroy his creation, even though it was now inherently corrupt. Instead, God came up with a different plan.

This plan involved purifying humanity from within. Completely removing the weakness, the imperfection, the corruption of sin. And restoring his creation to its original state. So Jesus came. The Bible says, he came “at just the right time” (Rm 5:6). Not according to our timetable. Not in following any human choosing or planning, but according to God’s choosing and his timetable. He sees and knows all history like a timeline in a history book. And he pinpointed the exact right time to come.

Surprisingly, that time was “while we were still powerless” and “ungodly” (Rm 5:6). Think about what those words are saying about you and me – about the human condition. We were “powerless”. Even if we wanted to help ourselves, there was no way for us to do it. Less than that, actually. Even if we just wanted him to come and save us, we were powerless to do anything to bring that about. And yet he came for us on his own. And “ungodly,” we didn’t have any of the qualities of God. God is love. God is truth. God is patient and merciful. We, corrupted by sin, were none of those things. Yes, you might say you are patient and loving. You might say you are truthful and merciful. But are you those things 100% of the time as God is? Can you do them to the degree that God does?

Paul gives the illustration: “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person – that is, a “beneficial person” – someone might possibly dare to die” (Rm 5:7). It is so rare that someone would give up their life in place of another who is “righteous” – an upstanding citizen. Even for a “good person,” a beneficial person – someone who’s life can benefit a great number of people – even then very rarely will someone dare to die! But what about for a stranger? What about for a criminal? What about for an enemy? Would you trade places with one who is fully deserving, and die in their place? “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rm 5:8). “While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” (Rm 5:10).

We don’t want to admit it. Logically it seems a bit extreme. But that’s what our sin makes us. It makes us ungodly. Even one moment of hate – of not showing love – fails to measure up to God’s pure and perfect love. Even one lie corrupts the purity of God’s truth. And I think it’s fair to assume that you and I have been unloving far more than once. I think it’s fair to assume that you and I have been untruthful far more than once. So because of the corruption of sin, we are ungodly. We are enemies of God. We are condemned. And before Christ stepped in to intervene – to bring us to faith – we are powerless and unwilling to change that.

And yet, Jesus came anyway. He came down to meet us. He didn’t expect us to rise up to meet him. We couldn’t. We wouldn’t. And he knew that. Yet, even though you and I didn’t have any kind of a relationship with him before he came, before he stepped in to save, he had a relationship with you. He created you. He knit you together in your mother’s womb. He loves you so much, and despite your sinful corruption – despite your failures and weaknesses – he would not scrap you. Instead, he stepped in to save you.

So how do you save something that is inherently corrupt? You purify it from within. That’s why Christ left his throne in heaven and took on human flesh. That’s why he willingly “suffered many things.” That’s why he allowed himself to be “rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law” and allowed himself to be killed (Mk 8:31). That’s why he suffered under the full wrath of God for every sin, for every human being, for all time. If you want to know that God loves you, don’t simply look for it in the good that he gives you. Don’t measure his love by how he blesses you. Do you want to know if God loves you? How much he loves you? Then look at what he was willing to do for you. Look at the impurity and ungodliness he absorbed for you. He took your sins to the cross. He suffered hell in your place. He purified humanity by becoming human for us. All this, because he loves you, because he wants a relationship with you, because he would not scrap you despite your flaws and failures. And since we couldn’t come to him, he came to us. He came for you. See how serious God is. Jesus suffered for your salvation! “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Is 53:4-5). We are healed. We are purified. You are at peace with God.

So, if God purified us from within and removed sin – the reason for our suffering – why do we still suffer? Why does Jesus ask us to “take up our cross and follow him” (Mk 8:34)? What does Paul mean, how can we “glory in our sufferings” (Rm 5:3)?

There’s really two reasons why we still suffer, even though Jesus has already come and brought about salvation. Well, three really. The first, and the one I won’t spend too much time on, is that when humanity fell into sin, we weren’t the only ones corrupted by sin entering the world. All of creation has been affected, corrupted, by sin. God said to Eve, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe” (Gen 3:16). God said to Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you… It will produce thorns and thistles for you” (Gen 3:17-18). Romans 8 elaborates on that saying creation was subject to bondage and decay. Simply put, this world is not what it was meant to be when God created it. It too is corrupted by sin. So we look forward to the Last Day when God will destroy this corrupted creation and create a new heavens and a new earth.

The second reason why we still suffer is that Satan constantly works to tear you away from your loving Savior – to make you doubt your status as God’s sons and daughters in which you now stand. And there’s only one way to get him to let up on the pressure. Do you know what that one way is? Don’t care about your status before God. Don’t care about your faith. Don’t worship God. Don’t follow Jesus. Don’t pray to him. Don’t carve out any time for him. Do this, and Satan will leave you alone. Because Satan works hardest on those who belong to Jesus. All the rest, he doesn’t care, he’s already got them under the same condemnation as him. But he works tirelessly, relentlessly, trying to tear away God’s children. And so you will suffer. But that’s why we can “glory in our sufferings” (Rm 5:3). We can boast in them! Because if we suffer attacks from Satan, that means we are not his! That means we belong to Jesus.

The third and final reason why we still suffer is because God is testing us. And I know we often think of tests as these cruel things given by those in authority over us simply to make us writhe and squirm with discomfort. But that’s not what a test is. That’s not at all why God tests you. God tests you to make you stronger. More accurately, so that you can see how strong you are when you rely on him. Think of the tests we talked about at the beginning. Think of the tests that engineers use to strengthen and perfect their machines, their devices, their structures. They are looking for weaknesses so that they can strengthen them. They are looking for failures so that they can perfect them. They do this, because they have not scrapped their project.

God has not scrapped you. I have failures. I have weaknesses. And these weaknesses and failures often reveal themselves when I am put under load, when I am stressed, when I am tested. And when the testing finally subsides, if I break and nothing is changed, I will fail again. I will fall into sin. I will be unloving. I will be harsh. But if I break under load and I learn to go to Jesus with my weaknesses and go to him when I fail, then he will make me stronger. God often uses suffering so that we turn to him for strength. So, “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Rm 5:3-5).

So do not fear testing. Do not think that God has abandoned you. Our sufferings cause us to grow in faith and grow in hope when they cause us to turn to God for help. Because God’s Word says loud and clear how he feels about you. God is serious about you. Jesus suffered for your salvation. And although your salvation means you will suffer on earth, it also confirms your status as God’s children. In Christ, your salvation is an accomplished fact. That being true, you can view suffering as your Savior meticulously, lovingly, pinpointing weaknesses so that we can go to him to be strengthened. So that he can build you up. As you are tested this next week or month, whatever the test, ask the question, “What weaknesses is this revealing? How can God strengthen me through this?” Then go to God for that strength. This is why God says, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Is 41:10).

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Jesus, Plain and Simple (Feb 21, 2021)

February 25, 2021
Benjamin Ehlers

Jesus, Plain and Simple

Mark 1:12-15

watch our livestream: https://youtu.be/4JWdgF5eFg0

 

It was heartwarming to see neighbors banding together this past week to help those in need. If someone needed help with an HVAC system frozen over, there were people with the knowhow ready to help. If someone needed help with burst pipes, there was someone able to help. I also realized, as all this was going on, that if you aren’t in the business things can get confusing pretty quickly. Talk of shut-off valves and pressure relief valves – how do I know the difference? Where are they? Explaining the defrost cycle on an HVAC unit which reverses the compressor and makes a different sound – How do I know if that sound is the defrost cycle or a motor burning out. If you aren’t in the business, it can all get really confusing. There’s a need to simplify the terms and the process. Someone to explain it in a simple, understandable way.

Sometimes we do that, right? We overcomplicate things. Or we get down into the details of something when really just a simple explanation is all we need. We can do that at church, too, I think. We can get wrapped up in the details of the ritual, or give overcomplicated explanations of how God “justified you by the propitiation of his Son so that you can live a life of sanctification until the second Advent of our Lord.” Sometimes we overcomplicate it. And it’s not that these things are wrong. Ritual has its place, and the details of salvation in all its intricacies is stunningly beautiful and comforting. But sometimes it’s good to just peel that all back and get down to the simple truth. So that’s what we are going to do today on this first Sunday of Lent. We are going to talk about Jesus, plain and simple. And there’s just 2 points I want you to go home knowing today. Satan defeated, and Salvation completed.

Mark is the gospel writer that often gets straight to the point, plain and simple. So whereas the other Gospel writers, Matthew and Luke, detail some of the temptations that Jesus faced as he went head-to-head with Satan in the wilderness, Mark’s account is rather bare bones. He simply says, “At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan” (Mk 1:12-13). And yet, this conciseness conveys a mood for the deadly one-on-one struggle between the King of light, and the Prince of darkness. There’s a sense of isolation, a sense of focus, a stripping down of all that’s going on to just spell it out plainly – Jesus fought against the temptations of Satan. In concise writing, Mark spells out the essence of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert – really a snapshot of what’s taking place throughout Jesus’ 33 years on earth: a fierce fight with the devil. A one-man war only he could wage and win.

The temptations were continuous and ongoing during the 40 days. And although Jesus is fully God, he was also fully man. These temptations were real, and they were a struggle – just as you and I struggle against temptation. The most powerful of the evil angels attacked Jesus in full strength. He had to. Because certainly Satan, who no doubt knew the Scriptures and prophecies, also remembered when God promised his defeat. “Cursed are you… I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head [Satan], and you will strike his heel” (Gen 3:15). Satan knew what these words promised. Satan knew that God always makes good on his promises. And so he fought with the frenzied fierceness of a cornered animal. If he could get Jesus to sin just once, Satan would have won for all time!

The plain and simple story would end very differently if it was you or me out in that wilderness going head-to-head with Satan. In fact, it does end very differently for you or me whenever we separate ourselves from our Savior and try to do battle on our own. Satan still uses the same twisting of Scripture that he tried to use on Jesus – only sometimes we believe his lies and justify his deceptions and we are the ones defeated. He shows us the splendor of the world – the money, the power, the lusts – and says, “All this I will give you” (Mt 4:9), and we actually believe that he has the authority to give us such things. We actually believe that what he promises to give will be good for us. He still tries to isolate us from others who would support us and care for our spiritual wellbeing, by isolating us from Christian friends, and isolating us from our church family, and keeping us distant from God’s Word. And when he’s got us all alone, tempting us with our deepest, sinful desires, then he’s got us. We fall. He is victorious over us, and you and I are the ones defeated.

That’s not how the battle went down though. Do you remember the simple truths? Jesus, plain and simple. Satan defeated. Salvation completed. Yes, Satan was defeated! His victory is implied in Mark’s account by the angels ministering to him. Of course, it’s spelled out in greater detail in the other accounts. But plain and simple, Jesus won! The angels were a reminder of the Father’s love for him. A display of his concern for Jesus’ mission. This victory, however, did not mean the end of Satan’s effort to trip up or trap the Savior. Luke says, “[Satan] left him until an opportune time” (Lk 4:13). No doubt Satan was constantly trying to prevent his defeat and the Savior’s victory. Although there was never again a graphic head-to-head encounter such as this, Satan put Jesus to the test in subtler ways. Crowds tried to kill him (Lk 4:29). They tried to crown him with earthly glory (Jn 6:23). Satan used Peter to try to distract the Savior from going to the cross (Mt 16:23). He was in Pilate’s sneers (Jn 18:38) and the Jewish hierarchy’s taunts (Mt 27:42). Yet through it all Jesus remained sinless and perfect though “tempted in every way, just as we are” (Heb 4:15). He remained victorious, and Satan remained defeated. Jesus had remained perfect and sinless, just as God required.

Picture it like this. This is a little oversimplified, but hey, that’s what we are going for today. Picture all the blessings that Jesus won for us when he defeated Satan and completed salvation as a big water tower. In this water tower there is forgiveness of sins, there’s perfect obedience, there’s salvation, and eternal life. And all of this flows to you through pipes – the pipes being God’s Word, Baptism, and Holy Communion. Right? All of these things give you what they say – body and blood for the forgiveness of sins! Be baptized and wash your sins away. These words are written that you may believe, and have life in his name. It’s all there! But what happens if you cut yourself off from God’s Word? What happens when you shut off the pipeline of Communion? What happens when you empty baptism of its meaning? The gifts are still all there, in the water tower. Satan is still defeated. Salvation is still completed. But you have cut yourself off from it all. Satan has separated you from all of this and gives you instead sin, guilt, and condemnation. And what then? Can you ever turn the spigot back on? Can you ever reconnect to Jesus?

Yes, of course! The Good News still rings out. The kingdom of God is still near. God still works through the Gospel. “Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15). Repentance always has to do with “turning.” Turning away from sin and Satan. Turning to God and his gift of salvation that still stands completed.

Thankfully, Jesus didn’t just defeat Satan for himself. He defeated him in the wilderness and defeated him on the cross for you and for me! Yes, it’s true, we have at times elected to do battle alone. We have been defeated and fallen into sin. That sin and guilt now lingers over us and clings to us. But Jesus, plain and simple means that Satan is still defeated and your salvation is still completed! Jesus welcomes you back. In fact, he goes out seeking to bring you back. He doesn’t leave you alone in your daily battles against Satan, but keeps you connected to him. He fights for you, so that you never have to battle Satan alone. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rm 8:31). And if God is for us, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, not anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm 8:35-39).

Sorry, I plunged into the details there a little bit. It’s just so exciting! Connected to Christ through his words and his sacraments, you cannot be defeated. Satan is defeated and your salvation is completed.

What Jesus speaks of here is near and close at hand in God’s gracious rule of love – his kingdom – in the hearts and lives of his believing children. Standing before those Galileans was the King of that kingdom, speaking the Words of salvation. And now he stands here, through his Word and later in his Sacrament, proclaiming his message of Salvation: Satan is defeated. Salvation has been completed.

As we go through the season of Lent, and toward the end have a number of special services with all their intricate and impactful details, if it ever becomes too much just remember to back up and remember Jesus, plain and simple. If ever you find yourself doing battle with Satan, falling into temptation, or burdened with guilt just back up and remember, Satan is defeated. If ever life becomes too hectic or stressful and there are so many things to worry about – like a natural disaster – just back up and remember salvation is completed.

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Mission Minded: Focus on the Future (Feb 14, 2021)

February 25, 2021
Benjamin Ehlers

Mission Minded: Focus on the Future

Mark 9:2-9

watch our livestream: https://youtu.be/DoEezKUA4hA

 

Faith isn’t about what you can do. Big faith does big things, and little faith carries you through little things, but it’s not because of you. It’s all about God. God doesn’t accomplish great things because you have great faith. He accomplishes great things because he is great – and faith trusts that. Your faith isn’t in yourself. You don’t have faith in faith. You have faith in God. So faith just clings to God trusting that no matter the ups and downs he takes you through, he will accomplish his purposes. If your eyes are focused on your own faith, then they are focused on the wrong thing. They need to be focused on God – focused on the future that he promises.

As a Mission Minded congregation, we focus on the future that God promises. A future where he accomplishes his Mission. To help us do this, we get to Glimpse the Savior’s glory which will help us remain confident through challenges.

Jesus knew there were challenging times ahead – times where it would look like he was utterly defeated. But Jesus also knew the future. He knew about the resurrection to life and the hope of salvation. He knew he would make it through death – that he was strong to save. But he needed his disciples to know this too – to trust him. So he began by forewarning them. At first, it was a little subtle – “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (Jn 2:19). But as the day quickly approached, he was more direct, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again” (Mk 8:31). Notice that when he predicted his suffering and death, he also promised future glory – his resurrection. He always gave them something to hold on to – something to keep them going through dark days – anchors of confidence for their faith.

And then he did something spectacular. He led three of his disciples up a high mountain and gave them a glimpse of who he really was – who he has been all along and will continue to be. “He was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them” (Mk 9:2-3). That’s how Mark recorded it. The other Gospel writers used phrases like “His face shone like the sun” (Mt 17:2). And, “His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning” (Lk 9:29). How it looked is not as important as what was happening. This is God’s own glory! Jesus’ divine nature was allowed to shine through his humble humanity for a moment… for the disciples to glimpse.

This is the same Glory that God had revealed throughout history. And every time he did, it marked important events in salvation history. When the Lord appeared to Abram to establish his promise of a son, an heir, through whom the Savior would come, God appeared “in a smoking fire pot with a blazing torch” (Gen 15:17). When the Lord called Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt, into the Promised Land, “the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush” (Ex 3:2). The Lord led Israel through the wilderness “in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light” (Ex 13:21). At Sinai the Lord confirmed his covenant with Israel. “To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain” (Ex 24:15-17). When the Lord’s Temple that Solomon built was dedicated in the Promised Land – their permanent home – this same glory filled the temple so that “the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple” (1 Kings 8:11). When Jesus was born and the angel announced his birth to the shepherds, “the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified” (Lk 2:9). All of these events mark another important step towards the promise that God gave all the way back when humanity first fell into sin. “He will crush your head [Satan], and you will strike his heel” (Gen 3:15). And now, for one last time before that promise was fulfilled, Jesus revealed his glory to his disciples. And when God reveals his glory, be ready to be stunned by what he’s about to do!

Along with Jesus’ glory, “There appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus” (Mk 9:4). Luke adds the detail that “They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem” (Lk 9:31). These two stood as testimony that the Law and the Prophets pointed ahead to this future moment. The plan had been all along that Jesus would go to his death at Jerusalem. Both Moses and Elijah had lived faithfully under Sinai Law, yet both gave evidence that they and the world needed someone who would make the exodus to the cross to pay for the sins of the world. Jesus was that Savior. He would die and rise for their sins because they could not keep the law. He died and rose for your sins because we could not keep the law. And before he did, he revealed very clearly who he was. He gave his disciples a glimpse of his glory.

I wish we could see it. For the difficult days we face in life, for the times of doubt, I wish we could glimpse his glory. Well, sort of. Because there is a very similar reaction whenever the Lord appears in such a way – whenever God reveals his Glory. There is terror and trembling. Moses fell down and hid his face. The Israelites dare not approach the mountain. The priests could not perform their duties. The shepherds were terrified! Yet, with this terror is also mixed awe and wonder. There’s a juxtaposition of contrasting emotions seen even in the disciples here. They hid their faces in terror, yet wanted to stay and set up tents.

I still would love to see this glory – the Glory of the Lord. But I’m content to wait until heaven. In the meantime, I’m satisfied with the glimpses of glory God still gives! In Bible class, I always ask for prayer requests before we start. And often, after we’ve prayed one week about something, we get news a few weeks later that our prayers have been answered – sometimes, even, against seemingly unbeatable odds. And so we go back in prayer with thanksgiving for the glimpse of glory that God has given us! Remember to look for the answers to your own prayers as well, and go back in prayer with thanksgiving.

Another Glimpse of glory that I’ve noticed and talked about to fellow pastors and members is the fact that we’ve added 7 new members to our church since last March – since COVID began. That, in and of itself, is worthy of praise and thanks. But I find it all the more striking that that’s exactly the number of people that make up our Mission Core Group – the ones from our congregation that we are sending to “a nearby village” as Jesus put it last week. It’s as if God wanted to say, “Don’t worry, I will provide for you. Focus on the ministry, and I’ll take care of the results.”

After holding that number of 7 before our eyes for a while, we continue to grow. Last week we had 48 people attend worship in person – along with those who attend online. That’s approaching our pre-COVID levels! We also had 10 in Bible Class. And, we began a new Sunday School program with 9 children and 3 teachers willing to help! God is good! It seems he might be giving us glimpses of his glory so that we can be confident during the challenges ahead.

There are always going to be challenges ahead. Life is full of highs and lows. For someone who doesn’t believe that God is behind it all accomplishing his purposes, these are completely random. But for the believer, the highs and lows go hand in hand. The highs prepare us for the lows, and the lows cause us to trust in God to bring us to new highs once again.

It’s often a temptation for us to want to “freeze the glory.” Like Peter when he said, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Mk 9:5), we often are tempted to preserve the glory when we have it. Our church attendance was high last week. We have many members. Our finances are stable. “It is good for us to be here!” Why should we “divide” our church to plant a mission? Why should we risk this glory and security when it likely means challenging times ahead? This is a strong and very real temptation. But understand what the temptation is. It’s a temptation to abandon or at least minimize Christ’s Mission of reaching the lost for the sake of preserving what we have now. It’s not taking into account the urgency of spreading the gospel. It’s true, we are healthy now. God is even blessing us by adding to our numbers! But why just add when God is giving us an opportunity to multiply? Why have just one outpost of the gospel, when we have an opportunity to start another? On top of that, it’s easy to be satisfied and grow complacent when things are going well. But, when faced with challenges, that’s often when people rise to meet the challenges. God builds us up through challenging times.

This temptation to “freeze the glory” was the same one that faced the disciples. But did Peter realize the implications of what he was saying? If they set up tents and remained on the mountaintop that day, sure, they would have a glorious life on earth. People would know that Jesus was indeed God. People would flock to see him, hear from him, and receive miracles from him. And the disciples would be honored as his closest friends – the King’s own right-hand men. But what then? They are so focused on the present glory that they lose focus on the future. What happens when they die, and sin has not been paid for? We would all be lost eternally. By focusing on the present glory, they’ve given up the greater future glory.

Yes, it would mean challenging times ahead. Yes, it would mean their dear friend Jesus would be betrayed, unfairly tried, beaten, mocked, crucified. It would mean, he would die. And don’t underestimate how great of a challenge it would be to go through that as a disciple. We know the end of the story, we have the eyewitness testimony of his resurrection. They should know about his resurrection. They were told it would happen. But how confusing it sounded. How well did they understand? And when they saw the blood stream down Jesus’ brow, and heard the labored breaths as he hung on the cross, where was the glory? What confidence did they have?

Before Jesus went down into the valley of the shadow of death, he went up on a mountaintop to prepare his disciples for this very moment. He gave them a glimpse of their Savior’s Glory so that they could be confident through challenging times. He was reminding them that he never changes. Though he took on mortal human flesh, he remains the Ancient of Days. Though he would soon die for sin, he remains the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Just as the sun remains even on a cloudy day, so Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

So, when dark clouds fill the sky – remember to poke your head up above the clouds and see the Light of the World. Remember that even when we are challenged, he remains the Lord of the Church. Forgive us, Lord, when we forget or doubt what you can do. When we are feeling hesitant to step into the unknown of being a Mission Minded congregation, remind us that it is by your mercy that we have this ministry. “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord… For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:5-6). And although we are but jars of clay – mortal beings with flaws and weaknesses – “we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor 4:7-9).

Remember the mountaintops. Glimpse his glory. So that when you step into the valleys, you remain confident through the challenges with eyes focused on the future glory for you and for those you will reach as a Mission Minded congregation.

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