THE LORD IS WITH YOU

Bible stories

Genesis 39

2 The LORD was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did, 4 Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. 5 From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the LORD blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. 6 So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.
Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, 7 and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!”
8 But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. 9 No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” 10 And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.
11 One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. 12 She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.
13 When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, 14 she called her household servants. “Look,” she said to them, “this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. 15 When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”
16 She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. 17 Then she told him this story: “That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. 18 But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”
19 When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, “This is how your slave treated me,” he burned with anger. 20 Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined.
But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21 the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22 So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. 23 The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.

 

 

 

We heard Jesus say today, “Take up your cross and follow me.” This is not an encouragement for Christians to build a heavy, wooden object and carry it all the time or find a nice pendant to hang on a chain around our necks.  This is also not Jesus’ way of telling you that you have to participate with him in the work of salvation.  It is not possible to help Jesus save you from hell.  There is nothing for us to do in the eternal life equation.  We are saved by God’s grace alone through faith in Jesus.  But that does not change what Jesus says to us today.  Following Jesus means you and I will have to carry something in life, and I think this Bible story helps us figure out what that is.

Joseph was a man who had already been through a lot.  The family he was born into was a little dysfunctional.  Joseph’s dad, Jacob, had 12 sons and one daughter…from the 4 different wives.  If you read through Genesis 30-38 you will see that this was not a good recipe for a family unit.  On top of that, Jacob was not always a good father.  He loved Joseph more than any of his children and everyone could see it, literally because Jacob made an ornate robe just for Joseph, almost as if to parade him around the house and the fields.  The brothers took notice and hated him for it.  The Bible says that they could not speak a kind word to him.

Things only got worse to the point where the brothers plotted ways to kill Joseph.  They didn’t go through with it, because they saw a caravan of merchants heading south. One of his brothers, Judah said,  “Why kill Joseph and cover it up?  Why not sell him, he is our brother after all, and make a little money on him?  We can still make it look like he is dead.”  So that’s what they did; they sold their brother and made everyone else believe he was dead.

That’s where we pick things up in Genesis 39.  Joseph is now a slave in Egypt, sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard.  And then we read this little line, “The Lord was with Joseph…”  Doesn’t this detail seem out of place to you?  Most people tend to think that bad things happen when people turn toward evil.  There is some wiring in the human brain that see things as cause and effect, something bad happens because someone was doing something bad.  Even spiritually, we might think, “Well, Joseph had it coming because he was getting too full of himself, and God had to put him in his place.”  But that’s not the case here.  All of these things happen to Joseph while the Lord was with him, watching over him, protecting him, loving him.

It seemed to be taking a turn for the better.  Joseph was a slave, but he wasn’t brutalized.  He was put in charge of the house.  Joseph was responsible for everything Potiphar had.  But it all comes crashing down, again. Potiphar’s wife comes into the picture with an offer, “Come to bed with me.”  Joseph is an honorable man and refuses.  But the reason is not because he didn’t want to have sex with her – someone else, maybe, but just not her – or because she was another man’s wife or because he was afraid of what Potiphar would do.

No, listen to his reason.  “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”  Joseph sees this is a spiritual issue.  It is wrong because God says it is wrong.  God says certain things are sinful.  Plain and simple, we don’t get to decide what’s right and wrong.  Joseph does a good job of seeing this from a faith standpoint.   Believers listen to the Lord and follow him earnestly, faithfully, carefully.  Believers should not listen to the Lord and then grumble about following him.  Believers should not choose for themselves what to follow.  Believers should not get lazy about listening to the Lord when it seems old-fashioned or strict.  Believers should not grow careless and wander off.  That’s how believers end up falling away from Jesus.  It’s their own fault, not God’s.

Maybe the way Joseph reacts to this temptation will turn things around for him?  Maybe this is when the Lord will reward him?  But when he refuses, she doesn’t back down.  She continued to pressure him day after day.  Then, she actually got a hold of him, so Joseph had to leave his shirt behind and run out of there.  But that’s not the story that Potiphar gets.  No, he gets the version where Joseph is the immoral and abusive one.

Now, we could stop here to talk about sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace or at home, about the MeToo movement, about false allegations, about all this kind of stuff that comes up in our oversexualized society.  I don’t want to ignore this topic or lead anyone to think that this type of stuff is off limits. We have to talk about these kinds of things.  We have to listen to what God says. We have to be filled with love and compassion.  We have to be willing to listen and help whenever possible.

But for our purposes today, I want you just to consider Joseph’s reaction. He didn’t do anything wrong and is falsely accused, but when Potiphar gets a different story from his wife, what does Joseph do? It’s right there in verse…verse…verse… Actually, there is no reaction from Joseph recorded.  No press conference, no hiring of a lawyer, no plea for the other slaves, who all worked for Joseph, to speak up, nothing like that.  And I get it, he’s a slave, what can he do?  But still!  He just goes to prison.  For never complaining once about all these horrible circumstances, for being a good and honest slave, for being honorable in the face of temptation, for putting God first, Joseph’s suffering only gets worse.

And strangely enough what does verse 21 tell us?  “The Lord was with him…”  How come the all-powerful God didn’t step in?  If God is so loving and kind, why would Joseph have to endure all this?  When is enough, enough?  Aren’t those some of questions that a Bible story like this raises?  Aren’t those some of the questions you hear or ask from time to time?  I’ve been in the hospital, I’ve sat in my office, I’ve been at a cookout or a ballgame and talked to people who have these kinds of questions.

And the answer comes back to the cross Jesus is talking about.  A cross is not meant to be enjoyable.  It was a terrorizing instrument of death. The cross is pain.  The cross is persecution.  The cross is all the hardships you endure because you believe in Jesus.  Every Christian has a cross to carry.  It’s not an option.  Plain and simple, the cross has to be part of the life of Jesus’ followers.   This is not because God is unkind, but he knows there is something better for us than what this world has to offer.

The cross of suffering and persecution forces us to see that this world the way it really is. This is the place that is ravaged by sin.  This is the place where sin dooms people to eternal death in hell.  No fancy ornate robe like the one Jacob gave Joseph can cover my sin.  No job where I’m put in charge of everything can pay for my sins.  This is the place where suffering happens, not because God doesn’t care or doesn’t love you, but because sin is a destroyer.

Just think of what sin did to Jesus.  He suffered more than being sold into slavery.  He was sold for thirty pieces of silver into death.  He suffered more than imprisonment because of false accusations.  He was crucified.  That is the punishment for sin.  My sin and yours earn and deserve death.  But God stepped in for you.  Jesus paid the price so that we would not suffer what we deserve.  Jesus gave his life so that we could have life with him in heaven, where there is not suffering, no pain, no persecution.

Heaven is the home for God’s people, not this world. So, suffering the cross of persecution and hardship here forces us to keep our eyes where they need to be, on the one who saves us from suffering, on the spiritual and eternal blessings that are more profound, on the home that was purchased for us by the suffering and death of Jesus.  

If you aren’t willing to take up this cross, if you want everything in your life to be easy, if you want it my way or it’s the highway, if you want to avoid the questions, if you don’t want to deal with the pain, then how can you be a disciple of Jesus?  How can you bear the name of the one who died and rose to save you?  You are trying to save yourself from hardship and suffering, and only the Lord can do that.  You are trying to save yourself from what the Lord intends to be a spiritual and eternal benefit for you.  You are trying to save your life on earth, when the Lord wants you to be in heaven with him.  How could that possibly be what a child of God does? 

Do you know what the Lord accomplished through Joseph’s suffering?  He went to prison for more than two years, until the Pharaoh needed someone to interpret his dreams.  It just so happened there was a Hebrew slave in prison who had been given that gift from God.  God raised Joseph up from the suffering to be second in command of all Egypt.  God used Joseph to save the sons of Israel from a famine.  God used Joseph to be a beautiful example to his brothers of forgiveness and love.  God, then, went on to rescue Israel from Egypt and restore them in the Promised Land.  God kept his promise to deliver his people and save the world when he sent his own Son to take our suffering away for eternity.  That’s why this Bible story about Joseph keeps saying, “The Lord was with him…”  Despite the cross of suffering and hardships, Joseph was not alone.

When suffering is yours to endure, when persecution is the cross you must carry, the Lord is with you like he was with Joseph.  Followers of Jesus may lose things in this life, maybe it’s comfort, maybe friends or family, maybe a job, maybe health, or maybe even this life on earth is taken away, but Christ is with you.  And so your life is saved for eternity through his cross.  And that’s what matters.  That’s what we focus on.

I had the privilege keeping the focus on Jesus as I visited a couple of our members in the hospital this Friday.  I’ll conclude with the same words of God that I shared with them, words that give the encouragement we need as we carry our crosses.  From 2 Corinthians 4: 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Brothers and sisters, God bless you as you take up your cross and follow Jesus. Amen.

SPEEDBUMPS

2.25.18 Lent

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Mark 8:31-38

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

 

Last week, Jesus showed us how he never needed to turnaround from sin, because he fought off every temptation of Satan.   We do need the turnaround, the repentance, because sin does find its way into our life every day.  But that turnaround from sin does not happen by putting the focus on me and my work.  Instead, repentance flows from faith in Christ and is focused on Christ’s love and forgiveness.

That doesn’t mean that the road will get easier when you turnaround from sin.  Faith in Jesus does  not mean a nice earthly existence.  In fact, God’s Word leads us in faith to turn around from sin on a regular basis and living in that new direction means there will be more opportunities for difficulties.

It’s kind of like the difference between the interstate and county highways.  The interstate is the road that is nice.  It’s fast, it’s smooth (for the most part), it’s accessible, it provides everything you could want.  Tons and tons of people take the interstate for those reasons.  But the backroads, aren’t as nice.  You can’t go as fast.  There are not as many nice stops and amenities along the way.  The road can get twisty and turny and bumpy and lumpy.   There are even stop signs and those rumble strips along the way.

That’s the difference between the road to destruction and the road to heaven.  Ironically, the road to destruction is so nice, and it is preferred for its ease and convenience. The road to heaven is tough and ugly.  It gets bumpy, painful even.

Just listen again to what Jesus was teaching his disciples.  “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed…”  That was the road he chose for you.  Jesus was telling his disciples that he didn’t come here to make our life on earth easier.  He didn’t come here to make men and women more capable of turning this world around.  He came here to fulfill everything God has said about the Messiah. He came here to suffer and die for sins.

But the end result is far greater than anything our suffering or pain could ever produce.  Jesus finishes by saying, “and after three days rise again.”  All the suffering he would endure as he followed this road to our redemption,  all of the excruciating pain he would be forced to  undergo, and all of the heartache he would have from knowing the separation sin creates between God, it was all worth it.  His road to winning our redemption was never going to end in a grave.  This is the only way for us to have forgiveness and life in heaven.

Inevitably, when people hear about suffering and pain, we want to avoid it.  Even if there is good news at the end, it kind of depends on what the good news is.  Think of the pain and sacrifice that Olympians go through.  Depending on the sport they train for hours a day, for weeks, months, and years to get to the top level.  In order to get to that level, they give up time, they give up some relationships, they give up some enjoyment.  To a lot of people that doesn’t seem worth it.  Why would you do that to yourself?  But at the end of it you might give yourself and your team a chance to win a gold medal.  For some that is the good news that gets them through the sacrifices.

But you know what happens when you have to wait for the good news.  You know what happens when any kind of hardship, a rough patch, or some personal sacrifices come up before you reach the goal?  We get near-sighted and lazy.  The jostles and the bumps get annoying.  The pain and suffering get frustrating.  The persecutions make us lose sight of what’s at the end.

That’s where Peter got stuck.  He didn’t want to see Jesus suffer and die.  He wanted the glory and power of God.  He wanted the good life, the restored nation of Israel, the earthly peace, and all the great miracles.  He wanted life to be good.  I mean, if you are following the Son of God, shouldn’t life be great all the time?

I think we understand where Peter is coming from.  We want to avoid the suffering and pain, too.  We rebuke the idea that suffering is necessary for Jesus and for us.  We look for the nice, smooth, wide, and fast road.   How many people want the speedbumps that jostle you and slow you down?  Who wants to be twisted and turned?  Who wants to be removed from the nice amenities and easy conveniences?  Who wants to deal with sacrifices?

We get caught looking for so many blessings that any kind of suffering, or speedbump, knocks us off track.  How easy is it to think that if God is watching over me, then nothing bad should happen?  “My life on earth should be better if God is on my side,” we say.  “I shouldn’t have any speedbumps.  It should be smooth sailing now and in forever in heaven.”

But then pain comes.  Loved ones die.  Finances get tight. Things get tough.  Relationships are tested.    People question your faith.  “The bible says what about marriage?  About respecting government and leaders?  About your money?  About your priorities?  About putting others’ needs before your own?” You start to wonder what’s up.  The jostles and hardships can make us sound like Peter. “No, Lord!  This can’t happen to me.  I need my life to be easier and better for me.”

To that notion that my life needs to be easier and less bumpy, Jesus doesn’t just say, “Well, hang in there.” When we start thinking too much about how we don’t want the speedbumps, these sufferings and persecutions, Jesus  says this: “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”  Jesus says, “If you do not have the things of God in your mind, then there is only one other option.”  That easy way without pain, without persecution, without any speedbumps is the devil’s doing.  It makes people focus on “merely human concerns,” or to put in another way, the things that are not God’s.  And how well do you think the things that are not of God can help you have a life with him?

Jesus went the road of suffering and persecution and pain because that was God’s way to save us.  Jesus had to suffer for sin.  He didn’t have to suffer just to experience the frailty of the human existence.  He had to suffer because that is what sin deserves.

We try so hard to avoid the speedbumps in life, because they are jolting and annoying.  But that is what sinners will always have to deal with because that is life with sin.  God wants us to have the speedbumps.  He wants us to deny ourselves what so many people would call basic human needs. He wants us to follow Jesus even when there are difficulties and persecutions.

But that is not suffering for sin.  God’s punishment went on Jesus instead of you.  Jesus is the one who died for sins.  The Bible often refers to the kinds of crosses we carry as “light and momentary.”  Jesus carried the eternal weight of guilt on his shoulders, so that we would never know what that feels like. Instead, we have these little speedbumps.  We have the denial of serving our self with the pleasures and desires of this world.  We have the cross of suffering and persecution to sharpen our focus on what God has already done for us in Christ and what he will do for us in heaven.  We have the blessed joy of following a Savior who loved us so much that he took our punishment and death, so that we could have life with him.

That’s why these speedbumps are so great for us.  The get us to slow down.  They might jolt you.  They might isolate you. They might force you to giving up the way you want to go.  But that’s good.  Because then we realize that we need help, we need strength, we need comfort that the world cannot give, we need saving from the pain, we need a place where these difficulties don’t exist, a place where sin cannot get to us.

Jesus walked the tough, grueling road to provide redemption for us.  His suffering has produced the eternal reward that far outweighs any of the hardships we face on this earth.  His death provides the life that is never taken away, a life that is never disappointing.

Jesus says, “Whoever wants to save his life, will lose it.”  If you want to get rid of your pain and suffering in this world so that you can have a great life with all sorts of worldly conveniences, then you won’t have a life with Jesus.  But Jesus says, “Whoever loses his life for me and the gospel will save it.”  When we follow Jesus in faith the world will say we lose certain things.  Maybe the next time you can let loose and get a little rowdy will be lost.  Maybe the guy, who is so great in so many ways except for his stubborn refusal to listen about your faith in Jesus, will have to be lost.  Maybe the promotion will be lost because you are not willing to stomp on others.  Maybe friends will be lost.  Maybe the focus on all the possessions and hobbies and stuff will be lost.

It might seem like you are denying somethings that would be so nice to have.  It might seem that we miss out.  It might seem like people are looking down on you and making you feel worthless.  But there is one looking down who is not ashamed.  He is glad to call you ‘brother’ or ‘sister.’  He is glad to speak in glowing terms to the Father in heaven about you.  He is glad to prepare a place in his home for you.

These speedbumps are necessary in life.  We need them to slow us down and get our attention where it needs to be.  Jesus is the only one who can save our life.  Following him might get difficult, but he has overcome every one of our light and momentary hardships with an eternal victory that will not disappoint us.  So slow down and enjoy his road, speedbumps and all.  God grant it.  Amen.

EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED

12.3.17

Capture

Isaiah 64

1Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!
3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
4 Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
you were angry.
How then can we be saved?
6 All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
7 No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have given us over to our sins.

8 Yet you, LORD, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.

 

This past week I was flipping through Netflix as I often do when it’s getting late and I’m giving Jet his bottle, and I saw the movie based on the book, The Case for Christ.  So, over a couple nights I watched it.  It’s the story of Lee Strobel’s quest to prove Christianity false.  He read the Bible.  He read books about the Bible.  He went to presentations.  He held interviews with professionals in all sorts of fields: psychiatry, medicine, theology, linguistics, archaeology, and on.  He was a raging atheist who was expecting to prove his wife’s new-found faith wrong.  Do you know what happened to Lee?  All his investigating, his interviews, his reading, and research led him to a very surprising, unexpected conclusion: it’s all real.  Christ, his death and resurrection, the Bible, the faith, the church, all of it is real.  He went from a man on a mission to bring down Christianity, to a man with a mission to bring Christianity to all.

Now, I’m not going to say you have to queue it up on Netflix tonight.  I’m not going to say you have to look up Lee Strobel and all his books.  In fact, the doctrine he preaches and writes, isn’t always what you will read in the Bible.  But I will say this, God does not operate according to our expectations.  Lee Strobel expected to prove Jesus and the Bible wrong, but what really happened was so much different.

That is also something Isaiah noticed during his years as a prophet in Judah.  The people of Judah and Israel thought they knew what would happen.  They were God’s people, descendants of Abraham, chosen as heirs of God’s kingdom.  They took that as a license to do whatever they wanted to do, because God would always be on their side.  If you told them that God would allow the Assyrian empire to ransack the north and carry Israel away form their homeland as exiles of war, they would have laughed it off.  “Never!  We are God’s people.  He would never do something like that.”

Well, during Isaiah’s 60 years as prophet that is exactly what happened.  Israel in the north was leveled, never to return as a nation.  The people living in the south, in Judah, were supposed to get the hint that God takes his Word and his people seriously.  He loves like the gracious and all-powerful Father he is, but even a loving father has to discipline and rebuke and train his child.

Isaiah had the job of warning the people of Judah that they too would suffer God’s discipline if they did not take God’s message and his grace seriously. If Judah did not listen, the nation of Babylon would rise up and do the same things that happened in the north.  Judah would be carried off into Babylonian captivity.  But that would not last forever.  God would get his message across to the people and continue to keep his promise of the coming Savior.  In fact, the Savior would come and rescue people from sin and hell.  He would set up a kingdom that never ends.  God’s people, all true believers, would enjoy this promised deliverance for eternity in heaven.  It’s as if God was telling all the people in Judah, through the prophet Isaiah’s message, to expect the unexpected. And then, everything happened exactly the way God had said.  The people in Judah didn’t expect it at all, and yet it was the stunning reality for them.

Expectation vs. Reality is the new worship series for Advent.  As I was looking through the assigned Scriptures lessons for the next few weeks, I kept thinking of the expectations we have and how reality is often such a striking contrast.  It’s kind of like the people of Israel and Judah during Isaiah’s ministry as a prophet.  What are the expectations and then what really happens can be so far apart.

This week in our Scripture readings, the topic is Christ’s coming.  It’s not his coming as a baby in Bethlehem but his coming at the End of Time.  If you think about that is not an odd place to start our preparation for Christmas.  To enjoy why Jesus came the first time, you have to see where it leads.

Jesus came from heaven once before so that God’s promise would be fulfilled and heaven would be opened.  God did what no one expected.  He actually took on human flesh for us so that people could have heavenly bodies forever with him.  That’s the final goal.  That’s where Christmas leads.

So, is that where your focus is right now?  Is that where your eager expectations are aiming?  I don’t know if that is how we operate at this time of year.  There is so much going on, so much to get ready for the next 21 days.  (Yes!  That’s all you have.)  And look how much we do to get ready for that?  People expect so much out of Christmas every year, and the reality is it can never provide what people really need.  We can try and try and try as much as we want, but even a really great Christmas celebration this year can’t fix what’s wrong.

Isaiah writes, All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.  All our best efforts can’t change the facts of what is going on in my heart and yours.  When the focus is on the present, or all the presents, then we aren’t ready for what’s coming, for who’s coming.

And we fall into this trap all the time.  We get wrapped up with all the earthly stuff, because we expect that the End is far off.  Instead of alert, ready, and watchful for Christ to come back, we are alert, ready, and watchful for the next big deal, for the next party invitation, for the family members to arrive.

It’s like the people of Israel and the people of Judah.  We focus on ourselves. That kind of preparation leads away from our God.  And that kind of self-centered life that leaves Jesus on the back burner leads Isaiah to ask for us, Why, Lord, do you make us wander from your ways and harden our hearts so we do not revere you?  When you think that our Lord is not vital in your life every day, every hour, every breath, then is it a surprise that he seems distant?  When you put him second or third or 15 down the priority list, what do you expect the relationship will be like?  Not the best.

That should make us expect something terrible at the End of time.  For people who do not put God first, can we really expect God to come for us?  It would make a whole lot more sense for Jesus to come against us, for him to destroy us.

Brothers and sisters listen to what Isaiah says.  When you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.  God did not do what we expect.  Yes, there was trembling, but it was the enemies of God.  Satan didn’t stand a chance.  Sin, death, and hell were not a match for Christ when he came down the first time.  He is the Redeemer, the rescuer, the deliverer.  He did not crush us, but the serpent’s head.  That is the reality that exists for you.  Your sins are gone from your record.  Every time you have let the earthy stuff distract you, every time our Lord has been pushed to the back burner, every time we have not lived up to God’s holy expectations, every time has been washed away.  We are cleansed.  We are children of the Most High God.  Isaiah puts it this way. You, Lord, are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.

God’s reality for us is better than anything we could ever expect.  Heaven is our home.  Christ made the full payment for us when he came down the first time.  Now, he is preparing the places in paradise for you and me and all believers.  He’s getting ready for his return.

So, we should, too.  Getting ready for that is a little different than the all the stuff you’re seeing lately.  It’s not filling up on all sorts of treats, it’s filling up on God’s Word. It’s not putting up strings of lights, it’s putting up your light of faith.  It’s not giving presents, it’s giving the gospel of Jesus.  It’s not sending invitations for parties, it’s sending invitations to worship.  The Christmas stuff is not sinful, but it can be if it doesn’t leave you any room to prepare for Christ.

All that stuff is very easy to understand.  We see it.  We hear it.  It comes.  It goes.  We expect it every year. But the reality that God has provided for us goes way beyond expectations.  Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.

This time of year, it’s good to talk about the End.  It’s where Christmas always leads us.  Through Christ, God tells us to expect the unexpected.  Sinners are forgiven.  Heaven is open.  Our place in paradise is purchased and ready.  Christ is coming to take us there.  Be ready.  Be alert.  As Jesus says, “Watch!”  And as you prepare, use these ancient words from Isaiah as your prayer: Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down.   Amen.