LORD, OPEN OUR EYES

2 Kings 6

8 Now the king of Aram was at war with Israel. After conferring with his officers, he said, “I will set up my camp in such and such a place.”
9 The man of God sent word to the king of Israel: “Beware of passing that place, because the Arameans are going down there.” 10 So the king of Israel checked on the place indicated by the man of God. Time and again Elisha warned the king, so that he was on his guard in such places.
11 This enraged the king of Aram. He summoned his officers and demanded of them, “Tell me! Which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?”
12 “None of us, my lord the king,” said one of his officers, “but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.”
13 “Go, find out where he is,” the king ordered, “so I can send men and capture him.” The report came back: “He is in Dothan.” 14 Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city.
15 When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.
16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

 

 

How could this happen? It was going to be a great day in Dothan. Sure, there was a little squabbling going on between Israel and Aram, but that was normal.  This wasn’t the age of political propaganda and twitter posts.  Kings and nations simply went out and fought for control.  When the weather warmed up you said goodbye to the warriors and the army men as they went out to protect their families and their nation.  It was normal, especially during this time of the kings of Israel.  God’s people had the God-given obligation to protect the Promised Land.

It was also normal for a prophet to serve God’s people.  During this time period, Joram was king and Elisha was God’s man as prophet.  Even though the kings were often disobedient to God and his prophets, God still kept his promise to love his people.  So, Elisha, by the power of God, was helping Joram, the king, with his battle plans against Aram.

The king of Aram was going a little crazy because it seemed like Israel was always one step ahead.  He thought that one of his staff members was leaking information.  When he heard that God’s man, Elisha, was helping Israel, he changed his target.  Rather than draw up the next plan of attack against the army of Israel, the king of Aram wanted one man, Elisha, and he wanted him dead.  When the king found out that Dothan was the place, “he sent horses and chariots and a strong force” under the cover of night.

The faithful servant of Elisha though it was going to be a great day in Dothan.  He was up and at ‘em early.  Maybe he liked an early morning walk to spend a few minutes with the Lord in prayer and clear his head. Maybe he was going to get the latest news and a cup of coffee.  Yes, it was just another day in Dothan.  But then he experienced one of those moments that no one wants to have.

I imagine if an A-list director was making a movie for this scene the music would be soft and ominous, the lighting would be low and hazy, and the camera angle would start zoomed in at the servant’s face.  Then, the music would start to be louder the camera angle would pan out to reveal the dangerous threat of the Aramean army surrounding the city.

The only thing the terrified servant can muster is, “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?”  What is the Aramean army around you?  What causes such paralyzing fear?  We could make a long list, a really long list, I’m sure, because we all have fears.  Some can be things that cause physical pain, emotional pain, spiritual pain, things that happen to you, your kids, your parents, or others you care about, and things that have happened or could happen.  So many things cause fear.  We could have a long series of Bible studies to dissect each kind of fear that grips us and how Jesus answers each and every one of those fears with his forgiveness, his protection, his love, and his certainty of heaven, which he paid for in full.

It goes beyond fear, doesn’t it?  It’s not just that terrifying things come up in life causing a similar response to the servant in Dothan, “What do we do now?”  When fear grips you, do you know what does not have a hold of your heart? Trust.  See, God has a whole lot of promises that cover all the fears that come up in life.  And when we choose to let the fear into our hearts, that means it is pushing trust and faith out. That servant was failing to trust God’s promises.

God says, “Trust me.  Above everything else, believe what I tell you.”  It’s actually the First Commandment.  And so letting fear crowd out the faith that God has given us is not just being afraid, it’s also being disobedient.

Just think about the things we’ve been hearing in this Easter worship series.  Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection have made a lot of promises to us.  On Easter Sunday, we heard the promise that his life means we have victory over sin, death, and hell, a victory that God will not remove from his children.  Next, Jesus promised his peace will go with us as we are sent out to live for him. Then, Jesus gave us the proper kind of praise, not for ourselves, but for him because of his free gifts of life and salvation.  Just two weeks ago, we were reminded of the beautiful picture of Jesus as our Good Shepherd.  He never lets us go.  He never stops feeding us, protecting us, and directing us. And last week, Jesus promised that the kind of love he has and the kind of love that he puts into our hearts will give us the right attitude and actions towards each other forever.

That’s a lot of promises.  And Jesus keeps them all.  When for even one day, we aren’t paying attention like we should, we get a little too selfish going our own way, or we think Jesus could be doing a better job, we end being a lot like the servant of Elisha that morning in Dothan.  We fail to trust the Lord, we fail to trust his promises, we fail to obey him because of our spiritually weak eyes.

Too often we are looking at ourselves.  Too often we are looking around us at our earthly circumstances.  Too often we are looking at our life here as the first priority.  Anything that threatens to mess with my circumstances takes my attention, forcing my eyes to move from where they need to be… on Jesus and his promises.

It’s a little bit like Peter walking out on the water to meet Jesus.  When his eyes were on Jesus, he could not see the storm and the waves.  When the circumstances and surroundings started to take his eyes off of Jesus, he sank like a man who’s trying to walk on water.

Elisha’s servant felt sunk, but Elisha reacts as if nothing is the matter.  With a huge army surrounding Dothan with certain doom, Elisha says, “Don’t be afraid.”  In other words, the circumstances didn’t change where Elisha’s eyes were.  God’s promises to protect him and defend him were just as true with the Aramean army surrounding the city as they were the day before they got there.  God’s promises to love his people and save his people from every evil were just as true.  God’s promises to work all things for the good of believers were just as true.  God’s promises to be with us always to the very end of the age were just as true.  What Elisha’s physical eyes were seeing did not change God’s promises, not one bit.  And so, what Elisha’s eyes were seeing did not change his trust and obedience.

There is a way to walk through this life with those kind of eyes.  That’s what Elisha prayed for: “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.”  And what did the servant see?  He saw God’s army of fiery horses and chariots all around them. He saw that God’s promises are still true even when circumstances might look dismal.  He saw that God’s power is greater than anything in this world.  He saw that trusting the Lord and obeying him is never going to leave you alone and helpless.  He saw that obeying the Lord and having him as your number one priority is the best kind of eyesight there is.

Jesus has opened my eyes and yours so that we can see it, too. Jesus has opened our eyes to the facts that sins are forgiven, death is defeated, and hell is not an option for Jesus’ followers.  Jesus has opened our eyes to the power of God’s promises to save people not matter what is surrounding us on earth.  Jesus has opened our eyes to see the power of the Word and Sacraments to change disobedient sinners into God’s children.  Jesus has opened our eyes to see God’s law as a beautiful way to say thank you to God for his free gift of forgiveness and grace.  Jesus has opened our eyes to see obedience as a safe thing for us and not a burden.

When you see with these eyes, you are trusting Jesus, you are believing in his power, you are loving him above everything else.  You are being obedient.  See, it’s not a bad word, because God’s not trying to get something out of you or take advantage of you.  That’s not why he wants obedient children.  He wants obedient children because he wants to protect us from danger.  He wants obedient children because it makes us a light that helps others see things as clearly as we do.  He wants obedient children because we have a Father who loves us and wants what it is best for us.

This only possible because Jesus opened our eyes to a completely different kind of life when he rose from the dead.  It’s a life where our eyes don’t see any enemies.  We see the Lord in all his power saving us from any and every possible threat to our eternity in heaven.

God granted a special request to his prophet Elisha so that the servant would not be afraid, so that the servant would have trust, which is loving and obeying God.  And God grants that same request to you every time you open the pages of his book.  There you have his promises and his power.  There you have the path of life given to you through Christ.

We all been like the servant standing in Dothan saying, “Oh no, what shall we do?”  But God changed our sight through the precious blood of his Son, Jesus.  We are now happy to obey him, trust him, love him because he is the one whose power saves us.

Surveying the situation now, how are you liking your chances against any difficult decision, any evil, any enemy, any problem, any temptation to disobey?  Just like that servant in Dothan, our eyes are open. As the psalmist says, “The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

Amen.

 

PEACE BE WITH YOU

Eater 2019

John 20:19-31

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe x that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 

 

The disciples are locked up together that first Easter evening, minus Thomas who was MIA.  We probably can’t even begin to grasp the circumstances they find themselves in while they just stand there in a stupor.  God’s Son, the Messiah, the Promised One, the King of heaven and earth, the Lord Almighty, their teacher and friend is dead, but maybe not anymore.  What about the women?  What about Peter’s story of seeing Jesus?  What about God’s kingdom?  What about all of Jesus’ followers? What about…?  There is so much distracting them.

I know what that’s like, don’t you? My youngest, Jet, spiked a fever and vomited all over me twice, and then later that evening pretended it never happened, returning back to his normal antics and smiley self. That was Easter Sunday in the later afternoon. The rest of this past week was kind of a blur, busy with visits and counseling.  I also had to prepare this service, the sermon, and the congregational meeting after church today.  As the worship coordinator for our Dakota-Montana district with our annual spring pastors’ conference in Rapid City this week, I have had to plan and put together a worship service, five devotions, and a report for all the pastors.  I also should be practicing guitar more for a couple of the songs we are singing.

Now, I’m not bringing up this stuff because the sermon is a good time to report these kinds of things.  I’m not at all complaining about any of these things. I bring them up because as a sinful human being sometimes the busier you are the more distracted you become.  All those kinds of things I described can easily start to take the focus off of where it should be: on the Savior, Jesus, who conquered sin, death, and hell on Easter.

To his disciples and to all of us who have been distracted from him in various ways, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

The disciples are afraid and worried.  What is life supposed to be like without Jesus? What are the religious leaders planning for them, if they found a way to get rid of Jesus?  Why would the soldiers and guards treat them any different than Jesus?    They thought they had more time. There is so much fear and worry.

I know what that’s like, don’t you?  You have no idea what the future holds.  You have no  idea what the doctor is going to say.  You have no idea what’s going to happen at work.  You have no idea what’s in store for you kids.  You have no idea what retirement will bring.  You have no idea how to get the finances figured out.  You have no idea about much at all.

To his disciples and to all of us who have been afraid and worried, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

The disciples are burdened with guilt and shame.  The last memory most of them have is running away from Jesus, exactly what he had warned them about.  Peter remembers his demonstrative denials.  John remembers seeing him hang there, dying.  All they can think about is their sin and how it’s all inexcusable.

I know what that’s like, don’t you?  I have gone running the wrong direction into sin before, even though God makes it quite clear not to. I have had my lackluster, lazy moments.  I have been greedy.  I have been selfish.  I have been unwilling to listen and help.  I have done all of the evil.  I have no excuses.  And I have heard Satan’s taunts, “God could never love a sinner like you.”

To his disciples and to all of us who have been burdened by our guilt and crushed by our shame, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

The disciples are together in a locked room, but they have never been more alone, wayward, and lost.  Literally, Thomas is off on his own.  He can’t even be with his brothers.  Maybe he thinks he’s tough enough.  Maybe alone time is his coping mechanism.  Maybe he is giving up.

I know what that’s like, don’t you?  “I don’t need the encouragement of others.  I don’t want to bother someone else with my problems.  I don’t think anyone should know what I’m doing. I don’t want to hear that what I’m doing might not be good for me spiritually. I don’t need them; they just drag me down all the time.  I don’t need worship or Bible study, I can read the Bible on my own, if I could remember where it is.”  The “I’s” just keep coming, and you are more alone than ever.

To his disciples and to all of us who have been lost and alone, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

Thomas hears the most amazing news that you could ever give someone: CHRIST IS RISEN. HE IS RISEN, INDEED! But Thomas is not rejoicing until his conditions are met first.

I know what that’s like, don’t you?  Have you ever made a list of demands that Jesus has to meet so that you will follow him, trust him, and worship him more?  You turn him into the snack machine where you punch in some good works here, some prayers there, some time for serving here, some offerings there, and you expect God to dispense everything according to each and every one of your conditions.  Somehow we fool ourselves in to thinking that we can make Jesus into whatever fits our mold.

To his disciple Thomas and to all of us who have selfishly made conditions and demands of God, Jesus comes back again and says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are distracted, “Why are you letting those distractions take control of your life?  Stop looking at so much of that other earthly stuff.  You better get with the program. Pay attention.”

There’s none of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are afraid and worried, “Why are you so scared?  What could possible cause you to hide?  Stop worrying so much about your life.  Don’t you know that I have got everything under control?  Stop trying to figure everything out and trust me.”

None of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are guilty and ashamed, “What have you done?  How could you?  Don’t you know what I have said about that?  Or have you been too busy to care about what I say?  I think you should sit and think about what you’ve done.”

None of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are alone and wandering, “Where have you been?  Do you really think you can achieve what you want on your own?  What, you go through a little strife and a little hurt, and you just take off?  Is that really what you think will help the situation?”

None of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are attaching all sorts of clauses and conditions on God, “What is this, a contract negotiation?  You’ve got this long list of demands and if any of these things don’t go your way, you are going to walk to the next church or the next religion.  Is that how this works?  I am the one who has to change my will so that you can feel better about life?”

None of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

Do you know why Jesus showed up for his disciples that first Easter evening and again a week later to include Thomas?

CHRIST IS RISEN.  HE IS RISEN, INDEED!

It is his life, his death, his resurrection that conquers our sin, conquers death, and conquers hell.  It is his victory that won peace not for him, not for angels, but for us.  And so the Savior, who went to hell and back for us, wants us to have peace, not distraction and stress, not fear and worries, not guilt and shame, not selfish wandering, not unrealistic conditions for an easy life.  Jesus wants us to have peace, eternally with him in heaven.

A pep talk wouldn’t do that for us.  A chart of chores to organize everything for us wouldn’t make it work.  A long list of dos and don’ts could not accomplish peace.  Those things would only give us more unrest, more uncertainty, more fear, more guilt, more attempted bargains with God, more arrogance and pride or depression depending on how you look at yourself.  They would only lead us to eternal punishment in hell, not peace with God.   The only way for us to have eternal peace was for him to purchase it perfectly and completely and then provide it freely.  The only way for us to have peace, was for Jesus to just show up as the victorious, risen-from-the-dead Savior and give it.

And that’s exactly what he does.  For the cowering cowards looked in a room, he shows up and the first words out of his mouth are: “Peace be with you.”  For the condition-attaching doubter, he shows up and again the first words out of his mouth are: “Peace be with you.”

And there’s one more thing.  For people who need forgiveness, the removal of sin and guilt, the assurance  of God’s unconditional love and undeserved grace, the certainty that peace from God is ours based on what Jesus has done, Jesus shows up alive and these are the words from his mouth: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you…Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  Jesus takes these men and removes their distractions, their fears, their guilt, their loneliness, their list of demands.  He takes all that away with his victory over death.  And then, he replaces it with peace.  And because the peace of a risen Savior is not meant to help one or ten or eleven, but because it is for the entire world, Jesus gives them the power of the Spirit, the call to go, and the authority to forgive.

Jesus would not do this any of this – he wouldn’t give peace, he wouldn’t bestow the Spirit, he wouldn’t send them out, he wouldn’t give them authority to forgive – if the work he was sent to do were not already completely finished.  There would be no way that the disciples could proclaim forgiveness of sins, if Jesus had not accomplished it for us.

If I sent you out this afternoon to cure people of cancer, could you do it? No.  That’s nonsense.  But let’s say someone smarter than us had found a cure, had put that cure in a pill, had packaged it in bottles, and then gave one of those bottles to you.  Now, I say to you, “I want you to visit every cancer patient you know and every hospital in the area and I want you to cure people of cancer.”  Could you do it?  Of course you could!  And I think you’d probably do it earnestly and joyfully.  The fact that you were giving it out was proof that someone had accomplished the cure.

Jesus gave his disciples peace, because he accomplished it. Jesus gave the cure for sin to his disciples because he had accomplished it.  And Jesus gives us the very same things to us.  In doing so it proves that Jesus did it all, everything is accomplished for us.  Everything he gave the disciples; he gives to us. We have peace with God. We have forgiveness.  We have the Spirit.  We have God’s authority.

This is all proof where we stand with God.  He doesn’t let your distractions deter him.  He does not let your fears and worry stop him.  He does not allow your guilt and shame to change what he does for you.  He does not leave you alone and wandering.  He does not permit your conditions to prevent him from being your God and Savior.  Instead, the risen Savior gives you everything he has accomplished by his death and resurrection.

There’s one thing he wants you to know: Peace be with you.  Amen.

BRACE YOURSELF

6.24.18 Pentecost 5B

Pentecost B

JOB 38:1-11

Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:

2 “Who is this that obscures my plans
with words without knowledge?
3 Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.

4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
7 while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels j shouted for joy?

8 “Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
9 when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
10 when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?

 

 

“There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”  Who said it?  And about whom was it said?   This was God speaking about Job.  Now, there is only way it is possible for God to speak this way about a human being, and he tells us what it is.

“…everything that does not come from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23)

“And without faith it is impossible to please God…” (Hebrews 11:6)

Job was a man who trusted God.  The faith that was planted in him continued to guide and direct his life.  He believed God’s Word and that God would provide the promised Savior from sin.  That’s what faith does to a person.

Job was not just a man of great faith but also a man of great wealth and earthly blessings. He had 10 children, 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 donkeys, and many servants.  In other words, he was the richest of the rich for that time. There are plenty of “Christian” preachers that will use this type of Scripture to say that if you are faithful you will be blessed and prosperous.  If you have great faith in God, then you will have great blessings from him.  If you are God’s child, then you should get everything that makes you happy. However, that just doesn’t seem to fit with the main purpose for God’s Word.  God’s wants people to be saved.  On every page of his Word the point is to point people to Christ, the forgiveness of sins, the victory over the devil that he accomplished for us, and the home we have in heaven.

That’s probably why God allowed all this stuff to happen to Job.  In one day all of the earthly blessings were gone, poof! If you would lose everything, what would your reaction be?  Anger? Misery? Bitterness? Shock? Depression? Do you remember what Job said?  He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

The next day it was his health.  Boils festered on his skin to the point where he sought relief by scraping himself with broken potsherds.  You would expect most people to become more than a little upset in these circumstances.  It might not even surprise you if some would curse God, but Job said, “shall we accept good from God, but not trouble?”

This is when three of Job’s friends come into the picture. They didn’t exactly help the situation.  In times of terrible grief, you might want friends to grieve with you and comfort you.  You might need them to point you again and again to Jesus and his promise of salvation and peace and hope.  Nevertheless, when you read through chapters 3-37, you will find that Job’s friends weren’t the positive people that Job needed in his time of trial.  Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar did not point him to peace and hope through God’s promises of salvation.  They tried to give him reasons for his devastating loses.  Their idea was to say that Job was a good man who didn’t deserve such disaster.  He must have done something wrong to upset God.  In order for Job to fix his problems, they encouraged him to ask God for answers.

Job’s friends were useless. With no help from them, Job began to question God.  He didn’t lose faith or curse God, but he did get a little bit of that childish “why me” attitude.  He thought that somehow, he deserved answers to all his questions.  When Christians get that kind of attitude, it’s not going to help you.

What if God’s gives the honest answers?   What if the Creator of heaven and earth speaks to the sinful created ones?  What if the Lord of lords and King of kings comes to the lowly servants with his almighty, booming voice?  What if the one who fills all things decides to zero in on one puny, tiny little man who happens to think he has a bone to pick?  What happens then?  Well, then it’s time to brace yourself!!

In chapter 38 the Lord actually did this to Job.   He didn’t use a church or a cathedral for his message. No Old Testament prophet or priest was needed.  No, the Lord’s pulpit was a raging storm.  Ask the disciples in that boat during that torrential turbulence on the Sea of Galilee what it’s like.  Fear might be an understatement!

It is not just the storm from which God speaks that causes uncomfortable feelings, but it is the questions God asks: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” Show of hands: who wants to answer the question that God just asked?  No one!  Really!  Job didn’t answer, and neither would I.  That’s because you and I know the answer to that question. “I am.  I am the one who brings darkness to your light, Lord.  I don’t possess all knowledge like you.  I don’t know the perfect game plan for my life like you do.  It’s my fault when I don’t trust your power and plans.  I’m the one who is too often filled with fear and not faith in all your promises.”

The questions didn’t stop there. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone— while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?

With each question, Job and all of us, get smaller as God gets bigger.  Do you want to know about this world and how it’s made?  The Lord describes all the details of creation as the expert builder.  He marked off the dimensions of the globe and the universe.  It was his work, not Job’s, not ours.

Next, our God is the only one who knows at exactly what time the angels were made.  At some point during creation, God made his messengers and heralds and they were singing his praise and shouting for joy all the way.

Then, the topic changes to water.  You know, we can’t do much to contain bodies of water.  We put up the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River.  We dug a few canals.  We try to hold flooded rivers under control.  We try, but there isn’t much we can do with water.  God talks about water like it’s a little baby.

God describing his power should not make us afraid, but these verses paralyze Job and us because that’s what sin does.  It makes the perfect, holy, all-powerful God terrifying.  It is sin that makes God’s control unsettling.  It is sin that makes faith so hard and fear so easy.

Job was blameless and upright.  He shunned evil.  But he still had sin, and you can see what sin does.  Sin fights with faith.  Sin wants me to be the master.  Sin wants me to have control.  Sin wants me to have all the answers so that I won’t need that faith nonsense.  Sin makes me tell God what I want and what I don’t want.  Sin leads me down the road of fear to utter destruction.

I hope you notice that the problem is not the Lord, the problem is you and me.  When Job was demanding answers, God says, “brace yourself like a man.”  God turns it around the way it should be and tells Job, “I will question you, and you shall answer me.”

 In all the verses from the first lesson, did you hear one peep from Job?  Nope.  The Lord asks Job two full chapters of questions and in chapter 40:4 Job finally says something,   “I am unworthy – how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth.”  That was a smart thing to say.  Job didn’t have an answer, and neither do you.  Sinners can only brace themselves when God asks questions.

Thankfully and only by God’s grace, we aren’t left in our uncomfortable quandary.  God does not want us to be filled with fear but faith.  So, are you ready for this?  Brace yourself!

God did not just ask the questions. Instead God does something that no one can even understand.  He came up with something to Job, to you, to me, and to the whole world lost in fear.  God says in his Word, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”

God is done asking questions. He knows no matter who it is, Job or present-day people like you and me, we can’t give an answer.  So God prepared an answer for us.  The one who can answer all the questions that God gave to Job and that God gives to us is… Jesus Christ, the Savior.  The Bible says,  “If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

You can’t answer God, but God answers for you anyways.  Jesus stands up on our side.  He says, “I was there when the foundations of the world were laid.” Jesus tells his Father for us, “I was holding the measuring line when you stretched it out.  I was there when the footings were set.  I was there when the seas burst forth.  I was there, Father.  And if that’s not enough, I was there when the soldiers carried out Pilates orders.  I was there when the nails were pounded into the cross. I was the one who said ‘It is finished.’  I am the one who conquered sin.  I was there when this world began and I was the one who saved this world from certain destruction.  I am He.” Because of Jesus, you have the answers you need.  Don’t be afraid any longer.  Find the strength and relief that God has given you through Jesus.

God takes care of everything else.  Faith in him will always be better than fear. Job experienced that. God had allowed it all to be taken away.  Job wanted answers, but God gave him the only answer he needed.  God gave Job a living Redeemer.  He is the answer to all of God’s questions.  And above all that, in the last chapter of Job, God doubles everything – the camels, the donkeys, the servants – all of it.  Job deserved none of the blessings, but God is rich in grace and rich in love.  He did not provide those things to show us that faith equals an earthly return.  He is a kind and gracious God who will provide all your needs.  Simply trust his power and promises to do that.

The same answers that God gave Job are for you.  God gives you the inconceivable.  He gives you his Son as your Lord and Savior.  He gives you his showers of grace while you live here.  And he gives you an eternal home.  So, brace yourself, because in Jesus, God gives you more than you can ask for.  Amen.

REMOVING DOUBTS IS EASY WITH EASTER

4.23.17 Easter 2A

Easter Season A

John 20

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

CIR HIRI

11 men minus one locked in a room isn’t much of a parade.

As much as I don’t like it, the Cubs won the World Series last fall.  Now, if only ten people showed up in Chicago for the parade, would that be very victorious?  NOT!  Do you know how many fans showed up?  Estimates say 5 million, but I read up on these estimates and there’s just no way.  A closer number is probably 1.5 million.

My point is not to say that media drastically overestimate crowds or that the crowd for the Cubs World Series Championship parade wasn’t that big.   My goodness, that crowd was just about as big as North and South Dakota…combined. My point is that you need tons of people for a parade.  11 men minus one locked in room isn’t much a celebration.

That is exactly the situation on the evening of that first day of the week.  Even though the women had shocked the disciples by saying the tomb was empty and they had personally seen Jesus alive, the disciples couldn’t understand it and doubted.  Peter and John also saw the empty tomb.  Later, as both Luke and Paul record, Peter also saw Jesus alive.  And I’m sure that even though the Jewish religious leaders had paid off the guards to lie about what they experienced early that morning, the news of Jesus’ empty tomb was getting around.

Yet, it was so hard for the disciples to make sense of everything.  They were torn.  On the one side was their faith in Jesus and on the other was the very logical fact that the dead don’t come back.  Doubt and fear was pulling them away from faith in what Jesus says and what God can do.

We are familiar with this tug of war where fear and doubt have a way of ruining a celebration.  It happens in our world.  Do you remember the end of the Boston Marathon a few years ago?  A couple homemade bombs went off near the finish line, killing 3 and injuring hundreds more.  It’s sad that these types of things happen.  Finishing a marathon is one of those really happy times.  I’ve done it twice.  It’s a relief.  It’s joyous.  It’s really – we’re talking really – tiring, but also so exciting to have completed something that is so challenging.

The sad result of terrorist bombings and shootings is the fear and doubt they cause.  There are probably still runners and spectators (along with parents with kids in school, fans a big games, and world travelers) who are on alert and can’t relax, if not worse, because of the damage that fear and doubt causes.

The doubts and fears were bad for Thomas to the point where he wasn’t even with the other 10 that Sunday evening.  He did something that never helps believers going through these tough situations.  He got out of there.  He put distance between himself and his Christian friends.  They may not have been super strong influences because their doubts and fear were getting the best of them, too, but they could at least remind each other of Jesus’ words.

But this happens to us, doesn’t it?  We have fears.  We have doubts.  Sometimes we distance ourselves from the people who can help us with Jesus’ words and promises the most.  Now, it’s not going to happen when things are going great.  Remember how different the disciples felt when Jesus physically appeared to those 10 men that night.  Doubts were gone. Jesus was 100% alive. Shocking? Yes!  Amazing? Yes!  Life-changing? Yes!  Their fears vanished.

When you get into the program that you have been dreaming of, when you get the job you have been working and waiting for, when something awesome happens like winning the lottery, I’m guessing those are not the times when you doubt that God exists.  When you get married to the person you want to love for the rest of your life or when you hold your newborn child, those are not the times when you doubt God’s love for you.

Doubts and fears don’t tug and pull us so seriously when things are going great.  It is easy to have faith in Jesus when everything is sailing along smoothly.  We think God is obviously happy with us and providing for us.  The doubt and fear get to us in times of challenge and change.  When the bills are piling up, when the doctor says, “I’ve got some bad news,” when the spouse you are committed to spend the rest of your life with says “I don’t want to spend another day with you,” when kids start growing up and face the peer pressure to fit in and do what everybody else is doing – these are the times when doubts and fears grab hold and drag us down.

Faith in Jesus and his words is assaulted in times of challenge and change.  Thomas was not with the ones who could help him out.  He was an island buffeted by the waves.  His faith was bombarded from every side.  When anything is allowed to take aim at your faith like that, it doesn’t lead us in a good direction.  Doubts and fears pull us away from God.  Guilt and even our own human reason drag us toward unbelief.

Now, it is important to note that Thomas’s faith is not gone.  It’s just that everything was tipping him toward the unbelief side.  It’s a dangerous path to be on, and he’s going at it all alone, which leads to the next problem: placing an unreasonable burden of proof on God.

So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Show of hands: has anyone been to Peru, seen Machu Picchu?  Why would you believe that there is such a country in South America if you have never been there?  You believe it because others have seen it and been there, it’s on a map, all the maps, and maybe you saw the 29 athletes march at opening ceremony for the 2016 Olympic games in Rio.  I can personally attest to the fact that Peru exists.  I went there on a mission trip after my senior year at Luther Prep.

Thomas had all sorts of people telling him that Jesus was alive, but he places a burden of proof on God that he doesn’t place on any others.  That’s how Satan attacks our faith.  When there are doubts, then they have to be answered.  Satan convinces us that they have to be answered our way, which he will gladly help us dream up some crazy demands.

When you say, “For me to know how much God loves me, it is not enough for him to take away my sin, but he has to take away all my problems in life,” you are placing a burden of proof on God that you wouldn’t place on others.  For your kids to show their love to you, they don’t have to make the whole day perfect for you, just cleaning their room without being asked shows that.  When you say, “God has to show his power by giving me everything I have decided I need in life,” you are saying God has to do something you wouldn’t expect others to do for you.

This is the heart of someone who is struggling with doubts and fears.  This is the life of someone who is in the situation those 10 disciples were dealing with before Jesus appeared to them or Thomas even after the disciples were telling him they saw Jesus alive.  The doubt and fears that come during times of challenge or change pull us away from faith in Jesus and start making unreasonable demands.

Do you know what Thomas needed more than God meeting his demands?  The same thing we need when doubts and fears are steering us away from Jesus.   We don’t need God to do something that will appease us.   We need God to do what God does.  We need what only Jesus can give.

Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” … Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! … A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

We don’t need God to prove his love our way.  We need God to show his love his way, which is much better than anything we could come up with.  Jesus proved God’s love at Christmas, at his Baptism, as he made his way to Jerusalem the last time knowing what was coming, on Good Friday when he endured all the physical pain and also the pain of suffering for the sins of the world as God turned his back on him.  We don’t need God to prove his power our way.  We need his to show his power his way.  Jesus did that on Easter.  A dead Savior does us no good, so he showed us his eternal power over death.

This God who proves his love and power his way, not ours.  He says we have peace now.  Jesus is so compassionate and tender with the runaways.  That’s what the disciples were.  They had deserted him, denied him, doubted him.  Yet, Jesus was so calm and caring for them, bringing God’s peace.  That’s what grace is, my friends.

Peace that Jesus is giving here is not the way English speakers think of peace.  This isn’t freedom from tension or hostility between two groups, like a truce between two fighting brothers. Jesus never had any hostility toward his disciples. That’s not the way Hebrews heard the word, peace (Shalom).  This was wholeness and completeness of body, mind, and spirit.  It means everything in your life is just right.

In order to have that kind of peace, you don’t need the biggest house on the block, the best wardrobe or the most friends.  In order to have this kind of peace in your life, you need a God who says your sins are gone, you need a Savior who says Satan cannot touch you, you need the living One who says death cannot destroy you.

Brothers and sisters, that’s Easter. CIR HIRI  The disciples had a living Savior.  He removed the doubts and fears with his gracious presence and peace.  He proclaimed complete forgiveness.  Only a living Savior can do that.  It meant they were whole.  Everything was just right.

The same was true for Thomas.  Jesus had the same peace for him, which not only got him back from the doubts and fears, but also assured Thomas that his sins were paid for in full and eternal life in heaven was his personal possession.

Where does that leave us?  We weren’t in the room, but Jesus included us when he said, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Faith in Jesus doesn’t need to lay a huge burden of proof on God.  Faith in Jesus trusts him because he is the one who conquered death for us.  He is the one who lives now to watch over us and bless us with his word.

If we still have to deal with the doubts and fears – and we do – if we still got hung up on our guilt – and we do – I think there is something we can learn here from Thomas.  He was MIA from the group that Easter evening, but not the next week.  He was with his Christian friends, who wanted to help him with his doubts and fears.  That’s when Jesus brought him close with the joy of Easter.  Thomas had Jesus’ peace and forgiveness.  Jesus strengthened his faith.

That’s where we need to be.  We need to be with God’s people in God’s house listening to our living Savior speak.  Easter means that what we do here in this place is not something kinda, sorta important.  Easter means this Word of God is alive.  It crushes doubts and fears.  It brings us close to Jesus.  Literally, dig in as much as you need, daily and with others if need be, because in the Word Jesus gives you his peace and blessings.

That’s why John ends this section with these beautiful words, “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  Easter is all about life, not death.  It’s about victory that is ours through faith in Jesus.  Doubts and fears are crushed when Jesus speaks with peace and love to us.

And so Easter leads us to say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” 

Amen.