HIS LIFE, OUR VICTORY

Eater 2019

Selected portions of 1 Samuel 17

1 Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah. 3 The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.
4 A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. (This is around 9 ½ feet.)
8 Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.
16 For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand.
20 Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as his father, Jesse, had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. 22 David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. 23 As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. 24 Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear.
26 David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”
33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”
34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”
Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”
40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.
45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”
48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.
50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.
51 David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.
When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran.

 

No one wanted this fight.  It was unwinnable.

That was the feeling that permeated the Israelite camp there in Sokoh.  Who could honestly stand up to this Philistine champion standing over nine and a half feet tall?  His armor weighed in at 125 pounds, not a pack and his supplies, but just his coat of armor.  The iron tip of this giant’s spear was 15 pounds.  Imagine being pierced by that.  Well, all of those Israelite soldiers were imagining it, and they didn’t want any part of Goliath.

So they just sat there, listening to his relentless taunts that came every morning and every night for forty days.  “Choose a man and have him come down to me.  If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us…I defy the armies of Israel!  Give me a man and let’s fight each other.” Hope was nowhere to be found…

What are the Goliaths in your life?  What are those giant problems that stress you out and taunt you every day and night?  What are those things that remove the smile from your face and hope from your heart?  We all have them.  Is it your career that takes all your attention so you can barely enjoy anything else?  Is it a relationship – trying to stay patient with disobedient children, trying to listen to and encourage friends, trying to avoid a bully at all costs, trying to keep a struggling marriage going when it would be a lot easier to give up?  These kinds of relationships can take all your energy, so you have nothing left to give.  Is it an illness that won’t let up?  We know these kinds of things aren’t easy.  And the fact that you cannot avoid these types of things in this world only adds more pressure.

No one in the Israelite army wanted to face Goliath…until a young shepherd was sent by his father to check on his older brothers.  You can tell from his supply list that David wasn’t supposed to fight. He had some grain, ten loaves of bread, and some cheese.  But when David heard those taunts, he couldn’t help himself.  “Who does this Philistine think he is?  I don’t care if he’s 50 feet tall, he can’t talk about us and our God that way. Let no one lose heart…[I] will go and fight him!” 

Was this youthful tenacity or arrogance?  Was this inexperienced stupidity?  Maybe, but maybe not.  I mean, David did have some skill in combat, you could say.  This shepherd had taken on and taken out a lion and a bear to protect his sheep.  That’s pretty impressive.  But every once in a while you hear a story of someone doing that, like the runner in Colorado who killed a mountain line with his bare hands.

Sometimes doesn’t that same thought come into your mind?  “I can do this.  I’ve done it before when the circumstances didn’t look great.  I have done some pretty impressive things, too.  Maybe these Goliaths don’t have to be so giant and so scary.  Maybe I can figure out a solution and handle this problem myself.”

That was not the thought of David’s older brothers, who got pretty irritated that little bro was running his mouth in the camp.  The soldiers didn’t really care what he did as long as they didn’t have to go.  When Saul, the king/commander of the Israelite army, heard about David, he wasn’t that impressed either. “You are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”

There’s a reason we call certain matchups in sports a David verses Goliath.  All the stats and all the logic make it quite clear that there’s only one outcome to expect.  But as we all know, sometimes a great team has a bad game and a marginal team has a great game to cause a huge upset.

But that’s in sports.  This was real. This was a trained, giant, killing machine, champion verses a shepherd.  This was one on one with life and death on the line.  And David was going to have to face him.  It wasn’t going to work to shout back to Goliath, “Well, oh yeah, we have a shepherd over here who has killed a lion and a bear with his own two hands.  How about that?”  That wasn’t going to do that job.  The rules were laid out.  One man represents the Philistines and one man represents the Israelites.  Winner takes all.

So, David went out to meet him, one on one with the fate of the whole nation resting on his shoulders. It wasn’t because he had that youthful arrogance or that inexperienced stupidity.  David went out to meet him not because of the combat skills that he picked up from protecting his sheep.  David went out to meet Goliath because…well, I’ll let him tell you, “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head… All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

David went out to meet Goliath with a sling and a stone knowing full well that the battle is the Lord’s. David, the shepherd went out and defeated Goliath, the trained, giant, killing machine champion because the Lord doesn’t lose.  Goliath did have one thing right.  With David’s triumph the whole Israelite army, which had been a bunch of scared losers, got to enjoy it.  One man’s work meant victory for them all.

Our fiercest enemy was calling us out and taunting us, too.  Losing a career is irritating, losing a relationship that you once cherished is more than saddening, losing days being laid up with an illness is frustrating.  Those things are troubling.  And they happen because we live in a sinful world and we have sinful lives that are not and will never be perfect.  But you can deal with them as hard as they are. That’s why none of those things are the real Goliath in your life. What the army of Israel saw in Goliath was certain death.  Anybody who went out to meet him wasn’t going to last. And whether you know it, whether you want to admit it or not, we all have that Goliath ominously and oppressively starring us down.

Sin makes this a world where nothing lasts forever.  Sin makes us people who have been separated from God and have to face death.  Sin makes us live just like the army of Israel.  We are dismayed and terrified.  We hear death calling out to us with its defiant sneer: “Bring me anyone and I will show you what happens in this fight.”

David could fight Goliath for Israel, but he couldn’t fight death for all the world.  But do you remember what he said?  The battle is the Lord’s.  The Lord God loves you so much that he came here for you.  See David had this one descendant who came to earth, born of a woman, to fight for us.  He could take on this Goliath for us because he came from heaven to do this one thing.

But he couldn’t just call out his credentials to his opponent.  “Oh yeah, well I come from eternity.  I am the Alpha and the Omega.  I am the Light that shines in the darkness.  I am the one who made everything.  I am the all-powerful.”  He had to face off with his enemy, and when the enemy, when the trained, giant, killing machine champion is death, then in order to face this enemy head on Jesus had to die.

Death and hell are the punishments for sin and so Jesus faced off with death for you.  He suffered hell for you.  He put his perfect life on the line for a world full of sinners.  He paid the price for your sins and mine.  And so the laid Jesus in a tomb.  What else do you do with someone who is dead?

It seemed like death had won the inevitable victory.  But just like Goliath didn’t know who he was dealing with, death didn’t know what hit it.  The morning when the women went out to the tomb, they were a lot like the army of Israel.  They were dismayed and terrified.  Hope was nowhere to be found… But the women forgot what David had said all those years ago: “The battle is the Lord’s.”  They forgot what Jesus had said, that he “must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raise again.” The battle was over.  Jesus had done it.  And that’s what the angels said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” The empty tomb showed them and us:

CHRIST IS RISEN!  HE IS RISEN INDEED!

One man went to battle for all of us and when the Lord is in the battle, he doesn’t lose.  It may have looked like a David verses Goliath matchup, but remember what the Lord did there in Sokoh?  With a little sling and a stone, the giant fell dead.  And the whole Israelite nation got to enjoy the victory over the Philistines. They were not dismayed or terrified anymore. His victory meant peace.  It meant joy.  It meant safety.

Jesus didn’t look like he had much.  He was rejected and taunted.  He was bloodied and brutalized.  He was crucified.  He died.  It didn’t seem like he had the right stuff for battle, not even a little bit.  But he faced all of that for you.  Sin, death, and hell didn’t stand a chance against God’s Son, our Savior.

CHRIST IS RISEN!  HE IS RISEN INDEED! And his life now means our victory.

What does that victory mean for you?  It means you still might have problems, you still might have sickness, you still might have some relationships that don’t work out.  But those things are not Goliath, and they don’t need to overcome you.  Death was the undefeated champion in this world because of sin, claiming victory after victory for generations.  But then Jesus came and changed all that.  His victory means our sins are paid for.  His victory means death has been defeated.  His victory means heaven is open.  His victory means you do not need to be dismayed or terrified anymore. His victory means peace with God.  It means joy.  It means safety in God’s arms forever.

That is what little Beckett was given this morning through baptism.  Baptism isn’t what we do for God, it’s what he does for us.  God makes a promise that the power of his Word connected to something simple like normal water gives people Jesus’ victory.  The Bible says, “Baptism…saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  See, that’s Jesus’ power.  That’s his victory.

My friends, there is new life in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It’s a life where sin no longer convicts us;  it’s a life where Satan no longer controls us;  it’s a life where death no longer contains us.  His life is our victory. CHRIST IS RISEN!  HE IS RISEN INDEED! Alleluia. Amen.

 

FIRST OF MANY

6.10.18 Pentecost 3B

Pentecost B

Genesis 3:8-15

8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”
10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
14 So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all livestock
and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring a and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.

 

 

I find the beginning chapters of the Bible absolutely astounding. Here’s why.  As much as the smartest scientists and philosophers and astrophysicists tell us they know absolutely, completely, for sure that the world is most likely, probably something like 4.5 billion years old maybe, they were not present for the beginning of time and so they have no clue what they are talking about.  There is a lot of intrigue about the origins of this universe and world and a lot of uncertainty if you listen to those “smart” people.

The answer, however, is neatly packaged by the only one who was there before it all began. In the first chapters of Genesis, God tells us that everything came into being from God who made it all out of nothing simply by his almighty Word.  We are not descendants of dumb luck or absurd chances that some cells decided to be little swimmy things in water and then decided to be bigger swimmy things, then little slithery things, then walking things, then hairy and bigger walking things, then less hairy walking and talking things.  How can that possibly be the most sensible belief about the beginning?  If that is the answer then we wonder why there is a problem in our world with bullying, porn, violence, abuse, immorality, arrogance. That kind of thinking about our beginning gives life no value.  It gives us no purpose and no reason to exist.

When a lot of people see Genesis and the Bible as a bunch of nonsense, fairytales and fantasies, anything but facts, I find these first couple of chapters so very enlightening, comforting, and true.  And I think we can help people see it this way.  If Adam and Eve are the very first human beings, then we would expect to find characteristics and qualities that you and I also have.  As we hear about the devil successfully tempting the first human beings into sin – where he tells lies as if they were truth, where they don’t value God the way they should, where they don’t value each other the way they should – we would expect that to be a way that is still effective on humans today.  After they fall into sin we would expect them to handle it in a way that you and I still do today.  And as God approaches them after their sin, we would expect him to deal with them in a way that he still deals with us today.  These first chapters do not tell us things that are peculiar, mythical, or specific to a certain time or place but they tell us something universal.  These first chapters explain so much about you and me.  Like I said, I find that absolutely astounding.

The beginning of Genesis is not a story that you and I have to try and figure out.  It is not like any other book or story because this book, it has us all figured out.  Reading through these first couple chapters, we find out who we are and what makes us tick.  We find out why we treat each other poorly.  We find out why we cope with sin the way we do.  We find out how God intervenes and rescues us from all of those things the way he does.  As we look at this section of the Bible we see all of the firsts – the first days, the first people, the first temptation, the first sin, the first human reaction to sin, the first divine reaction to sin –  but this is just the first of many times that these things happen all the way up to today.

When we pick it up in Genesis 3:8 Adam and Eve have just done what God told them not to do.  The devil tempted them to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and they did.  So, now what?  What is the solution to this problem that Adam and Eve have brought into the world?

Adam and Eve have their own ideas.  They take cover.  They take cover behind fig leaves that they sewed together, because they needed to cover this new concept of shame.  God comes on his normal stroll in the garden, and Adam and Eve take cover in the trees of the garden.  They now need to cover up this new thing called guilt.  And finally, when God confronts them they take cover with excuses, blaming, and even blaspheming against God.

Notice the changes in Adam and Eve that happen because of sin.  In an instant their relationship with God was different.  God was so good to them. They were in perfect union with him.  Now God’s footsteps sound like police sirens, from which they desperately want to hide.

In an instant another relationship was different.  Up to this point the devil had been the one pointing the accusing finger at God, even blaspheming him.  He said, “You can’t trust God. Look, he’s holding out on you with this tree.”  Now, not only had Adam and Eve listened to the devil, but they became fluent in his language.  Adam points the accusing finger at God and says, “The woman you put here with me —she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”  Because of the first sin, Adam and Eve ran from God and were now speaking the same language as their enemy, the devil.  In other words, that first sin made them afraid of their Father and friends with their foe.

Like I said this was the first time that happened, and the first of many times since.  Adam and Eve’s behavior here reveals something that is true for you and me.  As human beings we have a deep-seeded desire for two very important things: to be known and to be loved.  For most of us we would like to go through life with someone, someone to share things with us and to know us.  And we want those people to love, accept, and approve of us.

But when sin comes into the picture, we can’t really have both.   If someone really knows everything about you, then some might not want to love you anymore.  So, we’ve got these two things and, given the choice, you probably would want to be loved, which means you might give up being completely known.  Just like Adam and Eve, we take cover.  We hide.

That’s pretty easy to do, isn’t it?  We hide from people at work, at school, in the neighborhood, at church, with friends, and even in extended families.  We hide stuff and put only the best version of ourselves out there.  Is there a more terrifying thought than if all of our acquaintances, our casual connections, would suddenly know everything that only our close friends know?  What if suddenly all of our close friends knew everything that your family knows?  What if your family knew everything that only you know?  And what if everyone knew everything?

That is true for one person; he knows it all.  When we are confronted with that truth, then we can become very good at speaking the language of our enemy.   We point the finger at God and blame him.  “God, your plan for my life, the way you want me to live, your guidance for the so-called good life about how I should think, speak and act, well it just is not right.  It’s not exciting.  It’s not fun.  It’s not fair.”  It’s like the irrational hope of a someone caught red-handed in sin, thinking that hiding behind the lies and finger-pointing will somehow help them escape their guilt.

That’s what happened for the first time here in Genesis 3 to Adam and Eve, but it was just the first of many.  This is what sin does to us.  It makes us afraid of our Father and friends with our foe.

There they were, Adam, Eve, and the devil newly allied with each other against God.   The three of them should have been placed like bottles on fence posts.  Boom, boom, boom.  1,2,3.  Blown to bits.  But God stepped up in a different way.  God says, “I’m going to rearrange things here. I’m going to bring Adam and Eve back to my side.”  He looks right at the devil and says this: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

This is a big verse in the Old Testament.  This is God’s declaration of war against the devil, and it’s the first indication of how God is going to win that war.  One of Eve’s own descendants, one born of a woman, would crush the devil even though it would come at a great cost to himself.  This verse is the first promise of our Savior, Jesus.

You might look at those words and say, “I don’t know if I see that!”  Why would God be so cryptic and vague?  Why didn’t he just come out with it: “Jesus Christ will die on the cross to forgive your sins?”  This promise was exactly what Adam and Eve needed in that moment, nothing more and nothing less.  God basically gave them an empty bowl of a promise that, over time, would be filled with more and more and more details.

When God said that one of Eve’s descendants, one born of a woman, would crush the head of the devil, it happened.  The fulfillment of that promise was a male born of a woman, just a woman with no human father, so that he was both true man and true God.  When God promised that he would crush the head of the devil, and the devil would strike his heal, it happened.  Jesus defeated the devil not with brute force but hidden behind weakness and suffering when he died on the cross.

God went on to describe what life would be like for Adam and Eve in a sinful world, how everything that had been perfectly good would now be bad, how their work would be frustrating and hard, how childbearing would be painful, how their marriage and relationships would now have strife.  That would be too tough to hear, if it had not been for the promise that God had spoken.

And this promise worked for Adam and Eve.  A little while later Adam and Eve had a child, and sure enough it was a boy.  Adam and Eve looked at their son and thought, “Here is the one. This is the answer to God’s promise, the Savior.”  They were a little soon.  Jesus would not come for a couple thousand years, but it shows that God’s promise worked.  Two people who had been afraid of their Father had been given faith in their Father instead.

In contrast, think about what God’s promise did to the foe, the devil.  God says to the devil, “One of Eve’s descendants is going to crush your head.”  Can you image the thoughts that filled the devils head after that promise was made?  “Who!?! When!?! Where!?!?”  But God didn’t give those details.  I can only image the devil wanting to be present for every birth after that, waiting to see if it was a boy and wondering, “Is he the one?”  How that promise taunted and tormented the devil from that point forward.

Look what our good and gracious Father is doing.  He finds people who are afraid of their Father and friends with the foe, and he gives them faith in their Father while putting all the fear on the foe. In the garden was the first time God did this, but again it’s just the first of many times after that.

You and I are so good at being the person who irrationally hopes that they can hide behind lies and finger-pointing and escape our guilt.  Part of the reason we do it is because we often forget that there’s a better solution.

God steps in with his promise to us.  He says “I am not charging you with any sin.  I declare you innocent of all guilt because I have already charged it to my Son.  The punishment you should pay, I have already given to him.  Not only are you fully forgiven and free, but, because that sin is paid for, no one can ever bring it against you again.  No one can every charge you with it because the penalty has already been paid.”

God has spoken that word to you, and every time we see a little bit of water connected to that powerful Word of God he speaks it again.  “You don’t need to be afraid of your Father anymore.  I have given you faith.  I have made you a part of the family forever.  The foe is the fearful one.”

For all who have this faith in Jesus we have undeniable and unending comfort and peace.  And that means we have no reason to hide behind excuses, lies, and finger-pointing.  God has provided the real solution to sin’s problem.

In fact, with God’s word of promise we find out that we have those two things that we desire deep down, the desire to be known and the desire to be loved.  With our Father in heaven we have someone who knows us, better than anyone, better than we even know ourselves.  And yet he still accepts us, approves of us, and loves us more than we could ever imagine.

All of this is ours from our Father through his Son, our brother.  That’s why family is most definitely and always will be better than the foe.  To God be the glory.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE GREATEST PLACE ON EARTH

4.2.17 5th in Lent A

fields-of-battle-lent-a

John 11

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

 

 

What’s the greatest place on earth?  There are tons of options and tons of opinions on that one.  If I ask the kids here today, they might say a water park or Disney World.  If I ask some of the parents of those kids, they might disagree, saying a tranquil beach or cabin by a lake, as long as it was peaceful and quiet. If I ask you Vikings fans, you might say the greatest place on earth is where the Vikings win the Super Bowl.  (This next season it’s at US Bank Stadium!)  Today and tomorrow is Opening Day for MLB, I’d sure put Miller Park on that list.  Or maybe some of you would say home with all your family around is the greatest place on earth.

Obviously, there are a lot of ways to answer that question depending on who you ask.  But reading John 11, I think there is one place that is universally the best.  As we watch and listen to Jesus today on this next field of battle, I think he’ll show us, beyond a doubt, what the greatest place on earth really is.

When we first see him today, he’s arriving in a little village outside of Jerusalem, called Bethany. The reason for his appearance is death.  Lazarus, Jesus’s good friend and the brother of Mary and Martha had died.  Many had come to comfort the sisters in their loss.  We know that process well.  Because we live on the same earth that they did we are familiar with these gatherings at a funeral.  So, people still gather to give comfort and tell stories.  You try to help everyone cope the best you can.  Death is part of our existence that we have to deal with.

And it’s not just death that we deal with here.  We endure pain and suffering from illnesses and insults.  We put up with letdowns from work, from relationships, and from our own mistakes.  We even have the kind of messes on our hands that we ourselves cause.  When you react poorly to stress, sometimes you can create even more.  When you look for escapes in a bottle or on a screen, you don’t really find what you’re looking for.  When you try to get rid of the hardships by fitting in and putting your faith on the back burner that just does more damage.

You know even those great places on earth have their issues.  Depending on what time of year, the beach might not be so great if there’s a hurricane.  You might not love the mountains when there’s a blizzard.  Disney World might be terrible… honestly, when is there a good time to go to Disney World?  When is it cheap and not busy?  Vikings fans might be disappointed if there isn’t a victory, which there never has been in a Super Bowl.

As much as we search for the greatest places and the most enjoyment we can find, we’ll always keep searching without finding a perfect place.  As much as we desire fulfilling relationships, when there’s two sinful people involved it will NEVER be perfect.  Sin has done and will continue to do a lot of damage to your life and mine. And we can’t fix that problem.

That was also the case for the sisters. Mary and Martha had watched their brother’s health decline.  They knew Jesus could help.  They had seen him heal the sick many times before. That’s why they sent him the message that his dear friend Lazarus was sick. But Jesus waited…he waited for them to put their brother’s cold dead body in a tomb.  He waited for the many people to gather to comfort Mary and Martha.

Even though this had happened, Martha has an amazing and uplifting reaction.  She says to Jesus, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”  With her brother dead in a tomb, her faith does not waver.  She knows who Jesus is.  She knows what he can do.

Then, Jesus says something that you don’t hear at most funerals. And this is the part that piques our interest.  Jesus says, “Your brother will rise.”   And she believed it was true.  She didn’t doubt him for a second, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”   That is what faith in Jesus looks like.  That is what faith in Jesus talks like.  Your faith in him has no reason to doubt the same way Martha’s faith didn’t waver.  Jesus never lies.  He never breaks a promise.  He never does anything that isn’t ultimately for the spiritual and eternal good of his people.

Jesus told Martha and he tells us, that a grave is not sad or lonely or tragic or cruel.  He changes our mind, but Jesus has a way of doing that all the time, doesn’t he?  He changed the way Mary and Martha thought about their brother’s death.  They were sad, but they knew that Jesus would raise him up again and that there would be a reunion in heaven.

They believed Jesus as we believe Jesus.  He changes the way we think about pain or illness.  Instead of being unfair or harsh, they are ways that God keeps us from wandering off.  Jesus changes the way we handle stress.  Instead of annoying or debilitating, we have opportunities to cherish God’s comfort and help others do the same when their own difficulties drag them down.

Jesus even changes the way we think of the life and death.  Listen to what he says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”  Have you ever heard anyone else talk that way?  Jesus is telling the world something that changes the way we think.  He says “Martha, I am not just here to give resurrection to a little daughter here, an older son there, and your brother.  Martha, I am the resurrection and I am the life. I am the solution to all those problems that plague your life.  Where death has brought tragedy and sadness, I am the life that never ends.  I am the one who fulfills God’s promises to you.  I am the answer to your questions.”  Jesus tells you that you don’t need to be afraid anymore, and he is the only one who can say that.

But he doesn’t just say it!  Jesus doesn’t go to Bethany only to commiserate and speak words of comfort.  He is sad at the toll death takes on this world, but he doesn’t show up in Bethany to show sympathy.  And he didn’t come into this world to say great things.  Jesus showed up in Bethany and he came to our world to show us what kind of Savior we have.  Watch what The Resurrection and The Life does to prove who he is and what he says.

 “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”  Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone… Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

All the problems in Mary and Martha’s life and all the tragedy and trauma of their brother’s death came face to face with The Resurrection and The Life, and it wasn’t even a close fight.  Jesus sent them all away with his all-powerful Word.  He proved his power over death.

My brothers and sisters, Jesus has done the same for you. That’s why you are here right now.  The Resurrection and The Life, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, has changed our minds, our hearts, and our whole lives.  Through faith in him, we have that same power over death.

That’s why Ethan and Courtney brought Gunner here today.  We all know this cute little guy isn’t going to live on this earth forever.  But with Jesus, he has an eternal home in heaven.  Today, that’s the gift God gave Gunner.  He has been changed from death to life.  He’s been clothed with The Resurrection and The Life.  He has the same victory that Jesus has.

That’s why we come here and keep coming back.   That’s why we’ll be back on Wednesday for our last midweek Lent service and a week from now when we wave palm branches around and sing Hosanna.  And that’s why you read your bible to listen to your Resurrection and Life speak his all-powerful Word to you building your faith.  That’s why we stand on Jesus’ foundation, because we know it cannot be broken, not even by death.  That’s why you spend a lot of time and energy and money to support his work and his ministry.  You do all of this for one reason, because you believe everything Jesus said and everything he did.  You believe that Jesus is your resurrection and he is your life!  And he always, ALWAYS, will be!

Now, can we get back to that question that I asked at the beginning for a moment?  What is the greatest place on earth? I’m thinking Jesus has changed your mind a little bit today.  We see where all our passions and desire get us.  We see where all our problems lead.  We see where things like greed, immorality, selfishness – where all sin gets us.  We end up like Lazarus, dead and laid in a grave.  But Jesus has shown you that the problems and tragedies sin has caused in your life don’t have to bother you anymore.  He has displayed his dominance over death.  When a dead man comes out of his tomb alive, that changes things.  In a couple weeks, it won’t be Lazarus that we are talking about.  He eventually had to die all over again.  Instead, we will talk about the one who came back from his own tomb never to die again.  Jesus has the complete and total victory over death.  In two weeks, we will be talking about The Resurrection and The Life who has the eternal triumph so that you and I have a home with him in heaven.  Only Jesus can do that.

So, let’s answer the question: what’s the greatest place on earth? Today, Jesus shows us …

… it’s an empty tomb! Amen.

THE PERFECT CHOICE

the-lords-anointed

Matthew 3:13-17

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

A man had a horn full of oil, but he wasn’t heading home to make a meal. Instead, the oil was to be poured over the head of the new king or priest in Israel.  It was a signal that God had chosen to set apart that man as one of his representatives. Looking back, it seems like an odd practice – anointing a guy’s head and face with oil – but when you think of the promise that God connected to the oil, it becomes a beautiful picture of God’s power and blessings.  That new king or priest was the Lord’s anointed one. He wasn’t just the best candidate for the job after rounds of rigorous interviews and an in depth background check.  He wasn’t just the next available in the family line.  He didn’t get the most votes.  He wasn’t the best looking or the strongest.  He was the Lord’s decision, the Lord’s choice, simply because the Lord chose him.

Today, God is showing us his choice on the banks of the Jordan River.  You could call it an inauguration in a way, because Jesus had already been chosen by God long before this.  He had already claimed the title of God’s Anointed One.  Do you remember what the angels said to the shepherds on the day of his birth?  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”  That name, Christ, is the title Jesus was given.  It’s Greek for “anointed, chosen one.”

But is the Jordan River really the place where this type of introduction should happen? Is that what we would expect for Donald Trump’s inauguration this week?  They’re going to take him to a river to be baptized. Maybe that’s not the place we would expect for Jesus.  If God wanted to show people his choice for the job of Savior, wouldn’t it be in a palace or at the Temple?  That would make sense.  After all, Jesus had already gone through the humble stuff.  He was born so inconspicuously in Bethlehem.  There was a good reason for that, to fulfill God’s promise.  Magi had seen his star and came from afar to fulfill God’s promise that Jesus is for all people of all nations.  And they brought treasures to worship Jesus, but then Joseph had to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt for safety from Herod.  That also kept a different promise God had made in the Old Testament. When it was time for him to be introduced and revealed to people as the Messiah, the Christ, as God’s Anointed One you’d think that would be the time to make it a big deal.

However, Jesus’ job was not to be a big deal.  He didn’t need the pomp and circumstance of a royal inauguration.  He didn’t need the accolades and attention as the Chosen One.  God proves to us time and time again in his Word that he doesn’t do things with human wisdom. He uses simple things so that we won’t look for eye-popping wonders but simply trust the eye-popping love and forgiveness of God’s Anointed One, Jesus Christ.

So Jesus the Christ shows up at the Jordan River to be baptized by John.  While it doesn’t make sense to John, it makes perfect sense to God’s Anointed One.  No, Jesus doesn’t need to be baptized to wash sins away.  He’s God’s perfect Son.  There is no evil in him.  There is no drowning of Jesus’ sinful nature, because he doesn’t have a sinful nature.  But God’s Chosen One needed baptism to fulfill all righteousness.  See, Jesus’ job was to come and fulfill all things for us.  To make us right before God, he needed to do everything right, according to God’s perfect specifications.  Only then would Jesus fulfill his role as the right choice for us.  His whole life, Jesus Christ needed to be our substitute. Living for us and in our place, Jesus walks into the Jordan River to be baptized.  He is anointed with power by God in his role as the Anointed One, God’s Chosen One.

And at this point God cannot stay quiet.  He booms from heaven, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.”  And God the Spirit descends in the form of a dove over Jesus.  This powerful display confirms what has been true ever since he was conceived in the womb of a virgin: God’s choice was a good one.  Jesus’ baptism points us to the one who was set apart as our Savior and substitute.  It shows us the one who rightfully had the title “Anointed One,” or the Christ.  Jesus’ baptism displays for us the power that God gives in baptism, power that Jesus had as the Christ and power that he would use to fight for us and carry out this job of salvation.  Jesus is God’s perfect choice for you and me.

But you know, God has used baptism for people other than Jesus.  People like you and me.  God has made the choice to set us apart as his children.  God has made the choice to give you the title of his chosen one.  God made that choice to make your heart his home.  God did that with something so simple, like water and his almighty Word.

And I don’t know about you, but that’s when I start to wonder, did God make a good choice on me?  I mean, what have I done to deserve it?  Why would God want someone like me?  Why would he choose you?  Because spending a little time examining my life I don’t really find the kind of life that a chosen child of God should have.  Maybe you know what I am talking about?

You’re driving around town on a weekday just after 5pm.  You need to make a left turn onto Divide Ave from 18th and it’s not going well.  Maybe those are the times when your attitude stinks.  Then you get onto State only to find it backed up more than three blocks.  You didn’t know it was possible but your poor attitude just got worse.  Or you get home from a busy day where your no-good boss had it out for you again and the kids weren’t smiley and welcoming, but they were just whining about this and crying about that.  And all of the sudden you didn’t see them as the blessing that God has given you to love and nurture.  Were there times this week when you measured your satisfaction in life by what you have or what you have done?  Were there times when you didn’t care much about anyone but yourself?

Maybe you have no clue what I’m talking about.  Maybe your week was exactly what God wants.  Your heart was pure.  Your attitude was selfless.  You had nothing in mind this whole week except loving God and loving people.  You never wavered for a moment.  You lived for Christ with every ounce of energy you have.  Every decision, every act was in perfect harmony with God’s will.  Was that your week or was it more like mine?

Why would God chose someone like me or someone like you to be his children?  Why would he want us when our hearts didn’t spend every moment wanting him?  Why would God call us his chosen people?  It doesn’t make sense.  I have not, cannot, and will not ever deserve that from God.  I have not, cannot, and will not ever please God with my life to earn his choice.  But do you remember why God chose the men to be anointed as kings and priests in the Old Testament?  It wasn’t because they had the popular vote.  It wasn’t because their past was squeaky-clean.  It wasn’t because they were the smartest or strongest.  God anointed them because he chose to do it.  It was his choice not based on any qualifications or human conditions.  He simply made the choice with his amazing grace.

Brothers and sisters, God doesn’t find people who are pleasing to him and select them as his people.  God makes people pleasing to him.  That’s so important to remember.  God doesn’t find people who are pleasing to him; he makes them pleasing.

Do you know how God does that?  Baptism!  In baptism God chose you to be in his family.  He replaced your cold, dead, sinful heart with a new heart that filled with faith and hope and love.  In your baptism God made you his own.  See, baptism is not me doing something for God.  Baptism is God doing something for me.  And that’s the way it has to be, because I could never do enough for God.  A sinner can’t make a perfect God change his mind about you.  But a God who loves you and choses you can change the way you live.  That’s what God did in baptism.  He chose you to live a new life as his own child.

Do you remember what happened when Jesus was baptized?  The heavens opened and God’s voice thundered, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” God was stating the facts that the Savior Jesus was his Anointed One, his own dear Son, who was in the world to do his Father’s will and bring salvation for us.  Jesus didn’t need baptism to be chosen as God’s Son and our Savior.  He needed baptism to show us who he is.  He needed baptism to fulfill all of God’s righteousness for us.

For us, we need baptism to give life to our cold, dead hearts.  We need baptism to change our identity.  We need baptism to empower us with God’s grace.  And that’s what God has done. At your baptism heaven wasn’t ripped open but God was saying.  “You are now my child. I love you.  And I make your life pleasing to me.”

That’s not all.  Because the Spirit was there, too.  At your baptism, the Holy Spirit found a new home.  He entered your heart and planted the seed of faith there.  And he’s been there ever since, using the Word and using the sacrament as the food that feeds your faith and makes it grow.  This is happening whether you notice it or not.  The Holy Spirit is in your heart and life.  And he is giving you the power to say no to the pleasures and treasures of this world.  He is giving you the confidence to follow your faith wherever it leads, even if people think you are weird for it.  He is continually there, using God’s Word when you read or hear it, to keep you set apart as a holy child of your Father.  He is making you the perfect choice.

You are God’s chosen child.  But for what?  I mean, the men that were anointed in the Old Testament were set apart and chosen to serve as kings or priests.  Jesus was anointed at his baptism, because he was God’s Anointed One, the Christ, and he was fulfilling his role for us.  But what are you chosen for?  If God chose you at your baptism, then what does he have in mind for your life?

Well, I can tell you some things that you don’t have to do.  You don’t have to leave here today with this heavy weight of expectation on your back, as if it is your job to save the world.  See, we already have a Savior.  His name is Jesus Christ.  And he was the perfect choice.  You don’t have to leave here today thinking that you have to find ways to make God happy with you so that he won’t punish you.  He has already punished Jesus in our place.  He has already made you his own child.  He is the one who makes you pleasing, not the other way around.  You don’t have to leave here today and look for eye-catching feats of faith.

What you can do is live as a chosen child of God.  If that means you try a little harder so that your attitude won’t stink, then your baptism and the power of the Spirit empowers you.  If that means you stop thinking about all that you have or all that you want out of this life, so that you can spend more time thanking God for his eternal life, then your baptism and the power of the Spirit enables you.  If that means you spend just a few extra minutes each day with your Lord in his Word and prayer, then your baptism and the power of the Spirit helps you.

Remember, just as Jesus is God’s Son, God has made you his child.  Just as Jesus was set apart as the Christ, to be our Savior and substitute, he has set you apart to live in faith and hope.  He has chosen you to thank and serve him and live with him forever.  It’s his perfect choice.  And thank God it is.

Amen.