FROM GOSPEL MISSION TO GLORIOUS VISION

B64b-large

Revelation 7:9-17

9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying:

“Amen!
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen!”

13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore,

“they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
will shelter them with his presence.
16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”

 

 

Last week was a great reminder of the power God has.  God can use the foolish things of this world.  God can use the weak things of this world.  God can use the lowly things of this world.  He can use humans to accomplish the most death-defying feat.   What I mean by that is God can use the mouths and the works of sinful humans beings to get the gospel message out into the world to save people from death and hell.

Remember how he did that with a simple German theology professor?  That kind of person should not be such a big deal, and yet some authors and historians rank Martin Luther in the top 10 (some as high as 3) of the most influential people in the entire world.  But it’s not like there was something so special about a law student turned monk.  There was nothing that significant about his upbringing or devotion to religion that would make the rest of the world take note.  There was nothing amazing about how he became a professor of little Wittenberg University and then a Doctor of Theology.  There have been tons of professors and doctorates through the centuries that have had very little impact on the world.  There wasn’t much about this man, Martin Luther, that made him special.

The single thing that made Martin Luther so influential in world history is the gospel of Jesus Christ.  See the gospel made him ask questions of the deceptive church leaders, write little pamphlets and papers about the problems he noticed, stand up to the authorities, live as an outlaw, translate the Bible into German, use the new technology of the printing press, advocate for the peasants and children, write hymns and catechisms, and leave a legacy that the world simply cannot ignore. The gospel did it all.  The gospel has that kind of power.

Do you know why the gospel can have such an impact?  Do you know why the gospel can turn lowly good-for-nothings, fishermen, tax collectors, farmers, monks, professors into names that are known throughout the world?  It’s because the gospel saves people.

That’s not a cheap advertisement.  Without the gospel the only reality in the world is death and hell.  Without the gospel every single person is doomed to be destroyed by the devil and his evil for eternity.  Without the gospel the only thing you would know is sin.  Without the gospel everyone is dark, lost, and alone forever.  Without the gospel this world is all you have – this world with its polarizing politics, its destruction and devastation, its rape and murder, its greed and lust, its selfishness and pride, its racism and hatred, the list goes on.  That’s all you have.  Sure, there are some sunny days and happy times, but it would all be for nothing.  You live.  You die.  It means nothing.  Your existence really has no value to anyone.  You are pointless.  That’s life without the gospel.  There is no reason for anything and there is no love for anything, except yourself.

Think of it.  You might say, “I could still have my spouse, my kids, my parents, my friends.”  Without the gospel those relationships would only mean something because of what they do for you.  You would enjoy having parents who didn’t leave you at the hospital.  That’s nice for you.  You would enjoy having siblings because then you’re not bored at home with mom and dad, then you can have someone to play pranks on and blame when stuff gets broken, you would have people who could help you as a kid.  It’s good for you.  You would have friends who can do things for you like help on homework, be the other kids on your team, all that kind of stuff.  And that is nice for you to have.  You would maybe have your own spouse of maybe just a live in, because who wants that kind of commitment anymore.  You could have a person satisfy your desires and appetite for a while hopefully.  They could help you with a lot of things around the house and for life.  They could even help you with kids.  And you would want kids to increase your happiness and give you someone to have control over and mold.  Oh!  It’s so sad to look at life without the gospel of Jesus.  So often that is exactly what we are guilty of because we are only looking at ourselves.  Our vision is so narrow and it’s so utterly pointless.

But in the gospel, you have life.  You have meaning.  You have a purpose.  You have a family.  You have a home.  You have it forever.  Because in the gospel you have a God who is not an overlord who rules you like measly subjects or a company owner who wants you to work for him. The second reading says you have a God who wants to love you like children.  He wants to be your Father.

God did everything to make that real for you.  The gospel says that he planned a way to make sinners into his children.  Jesus came to take your sins from you.  You didn’t give them up, he took them from you and removed them from your life when he died in your place. Jesus exchanged his perfection for our sinfulness, his righteousness for our guilt.  He took the punishment that we deserve and gives us a life that is worth more than anything this world could give.  He came back from the dead so that this life you have as a child of God would not just be for years on earth, but for eons upon eons for eternity in heaven.  That is how much God loves you.  That is how much the gospel accomplishes for you.

It turns you from sinners into saints.  Yes, that is what you are.  Like I said at the introduction to this festival day, a saint is not someone who lived a special life or made a specific sacrifice or something that we should remember.  A saint is not someone who went to heaven with the job that they would someone stand in for God every once in a while.   Why would you want a dead person to help you, when you can have the Lord of heaven, the Creator of all things, the Rock of our salvation, the Spirit who set you apart and called you by name help you and care for you?  Can a dead person even do anything after they are dead?  No, not at all.  But God lives.  Jesus lives.  And because he does when God looks at his children he does not see the sin.  He sees the holiness of his Son.  He sees his perfect, pure child.  He sees a saint.

When he looks at all of us together he sees the communion of saints.  Yeah, when we say those words in the creeds we aren’t just talking about believers who have died already.  We’re proclaiming that we believe God can turn us sinners into his holy people through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and faith in him alone.

That is the gospel.  And we want the gospel to do that for more people.  We want more and more people to know that life is not what I make of it.  Life is what Jesus has made it for me.  That gospel mission is what changed the world after Jesus ascended into heaven.  Christianity spread all over the world.  That gospel mission is what changed the world again when the pure light of the gospel was hidden by an oppressive church.  The voice of the midair angel has never stopped, and it won’t now.  That’s God’s promise.

And you would think that life for people with this gospel mission, for people who believe in Jesus, for the saints of God, you would think that life would be easier for us.  That’s just not a promise God has ever made, that your life on earth is going to be the best.  The Gospel reading is where Jesus says the opposite.  Your life on earth won’t be the best, but it will be blessed when you are poor in spirit, when you mourn, when you are meek, when you are merciful, when you are pure, and when you are persecuted for your faith in him.  All of those things are a part of life now, to point the saints of God to the home that really matters.

To so many this doesn’t seem worth it.  To so many fixing the brokenness of this life and trying to get my life on earth better is all that matters.  Is that you?  Do you yearn for better days on earth?  Then your vision is too narrow.  The devil is setting you up for failure, for eternal failure.  See, in the gospel, God promises something much better than earthly fixes and pleasures.  The gospel mission gives a vision like the one John sees.

READ v9-17

To people who have been changed by the gospel, to saints who are looking for something better than this world, God gives us a glorious vision of what victory really looks like.  There is a time and a place God has set for all his saints to enjoy this glory, peace, joy, and victory.  We don’t know when our names are going to be called, but when they are we will be taken out of this world.

I just love hearing the verse where God says the ones in white, his saints, are all those who have come out of the great tribulation.  That’s as good as this world gets for believers.  It’s a tribulation.  It’s a place where too often we complain about our homes or hungers, about the weather, about work, about failed relationships.  It’s a place where we cry and weep.  It’s a place that is broken and dark with sin.

But we have the gospel of Jesus.  We have the blood of the Lamb who makes us clean in God’s eyes.  We have the new eyes of saints who look at this world, not as home but as the journey there.  And along the way, God gives us the good news of Jesus so that can help others from every nation, tribe, people and language with their broken lives as well.

And here’s his promise for you: the gospel that we have as his saints now on earth will always lead to this glorious vision of heaven and saints who are with the Lord forever.  Amen.

Advertisements

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.