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.

PRAISE FOREVER AND EVER

Eater 2019

Revelation 5:11-14
11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”

13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”

14 The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

 

(This was a day of confirmation, as you will note throughout the sermon)

Not all of you here today know Jordan, but you should because she is the best.  Isn’t that right, Jordan? You’re so great at everything.  You did such a good job on Thursday night at Examination.  Even though you were nervous, you answered questions about the Bible and Jesus very well.  Even though a lot of people might consider what you said to be foolishness and nonsense, even though some people would make fun of you for studying the Bible and being here today, and even though God says being a Christian is not and never will be easy, you are here.  And that’s awesome.  And do you know what else is awesome? You’ve been here a lot at church.  You have been a part of the Children’s Christmas service a bunch of times, reciting, reading, and singing.  You’ve been at Sunday School, sometimes even when you were tired or under the weather, but you still came.  Jordan, you’ve made it this far, and we are all so happy for you.  We can’t wait for the service to be over so we can all get pictures with you and eat cupcakes and celebrate because, Jordan, you deserve it.  Is this getting awkward for you, yet?

These are the types of things we should be thinking and saying, if Confirmation is your graduation from the Bible.  These are the types of things we should be thinking and saying, if Confirmation is all about what you have done to get here.  Jordan, these are the types of things we should be thinking and saying, if you are just that amazing.  Then, the theme for today should really be Jordan’s life is our praise.

But that’s not the theme for worship today.  You and I and all of us are not here because this is all about Jordan.  This is not your graduation.  And quite frankly, Jordan, you don’t deserve all sorts of praise today.  Over the past three years of Catechism class, you didn’t get every answer right and you didn’t learn all of your memory passages perfectly.  Over the past three years of Catechism class, there was some daydreaming, there were sometimes when I caught you not paying attention because you were finishing up some French fries from Wendy’s, drinking some Dr. Pepper, or talking with your neighbor.  Over the past three years of Catechism class, you didn’t have 100% attendance.  You weren’t at every Sunday School class.  You missed church every once in a while.  You weren’t always excited and happy about being up front for the Children’s Christmas services.

But, Jordan, you are not alone in that.  If we brought up every person here today and put them in the front row and started talking about them, we could say a lot of nice things.  But, Jordan, you know what else we would have to say about each and every person here?  Just like you, they have not been perfect.  In fact, all of you have been a whole lot less than perfect.  Each and every one of you have failed to live up to God’s standard.  You have failed to love God fully and completely.  You have failed to use his name properly.  You have failed to read and study God’s Word and worship like he wants you to. You have failed to love others in the same way that you are willing to take care of yourself. You have failed to respect and honor your parents and all those in authority.  You have failed to keep hatred, lust, gossip, jealousy, out of your heart and mind.  You have failed to carry out the actions that are pleasing to God and refrain from those that are displeasing to him.

That means the theme today cannot be Bill’s life or Val’s life, our praise.  Not Scott, not Carol, not Linda, not Aaron, not Alice, not Courtney,  not Jerry, not Amy, not Jim, not Tim, not Lynn, not Gary, not Perry, not Sherry, not Terry, not Barry.  Not one of you can put your name in that spot on the front of the worship folder and think that praise should be yours.

I forgot another name.  The theme today is not Tom’s life, our praise.  Yes, the pastor is not above God’s law.  Yes, this pastor is not above anyone here, because I have failed too many times to count.  Every single thing that God points his finger at you about, he points his finger at me.  Therefore, this church is not about me.  This worship service, this sermon, is not about me.  If that were the case, we would be in deep trouble.  Because then this church, this worship service, this sermon would be about a sinful man, and I cannot save a single person, not even myself.

But Jordan, you know all about that, don’t you?  You know what’s wrong with you, and with me, and the whole world. God’s Word has taught you the law that shows your sins.  And God has taught you that you can’t change your position.  You can’t change your sins. God has taught you that you cannot by your own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ or come to his side.  God has taught you that there is no way that you can earn God’s love and buy your way into heaven.

So, there has to be someone else who does is perfectly for you.  There has to be someone who can rescues you and me and the world.  There has to be someone who can remove our sins from our record.  There has to be someone who loves us enough to take our punishment for sin, because that’s the only way that you and I can be saved.  There has to be someone who we can praise for giving us the indescribable gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  There has to be someone who receives louds songs of joy and gladness from people all over the world and even from the holy angels because of what he did.

Jordan, by God’s grace with the power of his Word, he has taught you that there is:  “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise… To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”

You know, it’s often a sad thing when someone close to you dies.  One way people try to cope with loss is to talk about the good times, right? You remember and talk about all the fun and all the positives.  But you can’t do that forever and ever.  You talk about them for a few days before and after the funeral.  You have fond memories for a while but not forever and ever.  Because eventually your memories fade.

My first grandparent died when I was a senior in high school.  Grandpa Tessmer was a dairy farmer.  I still have some memories, but I can’t remember everything.  And it will only get less and less as time passes and I get older.  Then, I will die and so will all the other people who knew him.  And so in less than 100 years no one will remember Glenard Tessmer.  No more fun stories, no more praise, no more honor.  Nothing.  The same thing will happen to me and to you, Jordan.

But for people who make huge sacrifices, for people who win huge victories, for people who do things that are so amazing, they do get remembered in history books, in museums, in schools, online, and stuff like that.  But those people do not get to personally receive the praise and honor and glory.  They are dead.

This Lamb we are talking about is completely different.  This Lamb who was slain can actually still receive and thanks and praise and honor and glory, because even after he was killed for us, even after he died in our place, even after he took the punishment that we deserve, even after he sacrificed himself to save us, he did not stay dead.  No, the tomb could not hold Jesus.

Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!

The Lamb of God who died for your sins and mine and the sins of the whole world, he came back for us.  Jesus came back from the dead to save us not just from sins, but also to save us from death and hell.  He came back from the dead so that we could live with him forever.

And guess what we will be doing for the one who saved us from sin, death, and hell?  Guess what we will be doing for the one who destroyed the power of the devil for us?  Guess what we will be doing in the perfect paradise that was purchased for us by Jesus and freely given to us in the gospel?  Guess what we will be doing for the one who sits on the throne of heaven and loves us from all eternity?  Guess what we will be doing for the one who made us and everything in this world and then made us his very own children through baptism?  Guess what we will be doing?

That’s right!  We will be giving him all the praise and honor and glory.  We will be worshipping him for all the things he has done to save us.

But we don’t have to wait to do that, do we?  Jordan, that’s why you are here.  Because God has changed your life.  He has given you a place in his family.  He has promised to love you and take care of you and protect you and uphold you and guide you and bless you.  And so, we get to say thanks right now.  Sinners that we are, through faith in Jesus, we get to live as God’s children right now.  We get to worship him right now.  We get to give him praise right now.  We get to live for him right now.

Jordan, that isn’t going to stop after today, is it?  Jesus is still going to be worthy of our thanks and praise, because he conquered death for us and purchased heaven for us.  It isn’t going to stop when you get to high school, is it?  It isn’t going to stop when you go off to college somewhere, is it?  It isn’t going to stop when you get married, is it?  It isn’t going to stop when you have kids of your own, is it?  I know you think that’s crazy, but I was in your seat just 20 years ago.  Life goes by pretty quickly!  But it doesn’t matter what happens to us, because Jesus will always be the one who loves us, saves us from our sins, removes the sting of death, and brings us home to heaven.  Jesus is the one who does everything for us.

And so, today on your confirmation day, Jordan, it’s a good day to praise the Lord.  And it will be a good day tomorrow, and next Sunday, and a year from now, and 10 years from now, and 100 years from now, and forever and ever in heaven.

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”

Amen.

 

 

FROM GOSPEL MISSION TO GLORIOUS VISION

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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.

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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.

GOD’S GOT THIS

Week 7 – 7.23.17

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John 11:23-27

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

 

Our church body has a publisher called, Northwestern Publishing House.  There are so many resources that it produces for people who want help studying God’s Word and growing in faith.  One of the great resources is a series of books known as the People’s Bible Teachings. Each book in the series addresses a doctrine of the Bible and talks about it in terms that everyone can understand. They’re great books – we have a few in the church library for anyone to check out. All the books are short and simple, except the one titled End Times. This one is twice as long.

When you think about the questions people have about the end of the world, it isn’t really that surprising. When? Where? How? What happens next? There’s a mystery to the end of the world that captures interest. Because of that, many people, even churchgoers and theologians, make their own guesses and interpretations of just what The End will bring. But we’re Lutherans, and if you have picked up on anything during the last 7 weeks, I pray it has been that we stand on this really solid, unshakable ground called, The Holy Scriptures.

Today we want to hear what God says about the Last Day. Now, there’s no way we’ll cover every angle or answer every question. That’s the reason we have Bible study and I encourage you all to follow a Bible reading plan at home. But while we might not be able to get to all the details, there’s one overarching truth that binds them all together: God’s Got This!

Part 1. God’s Got Rescue Waiting for His People

The Bible calls the time of the world from Christ’s Ascension until the end as the “End Times” and “Last Days.” We’re living in them. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul described these days. “Mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:1-5a).

In Matthew 24 Jesus describes the End Times as being filled with wars and rumors of war. Famines, earthquakes, persecution of believers and false prophets. A time when the love of most will grow cold.  But Jesus also says that this time of rampant sin and persecution will come to an end. He said, “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.”

This is the first thing we need to remember about the End Times and the Last Day. Even as our world gets dimmer and darker in sin, God is patiently waiting for his elect. We wonder sometimes why God allows the world to continue, but here is our answer. Imagine a bridge under attack from an advancing army in World War II. The bridge is wired to explode and you have the detonator but there you still have fellow soldiers coming across. Don’t you wait as long as you can until those soldiers are safe before you blow the bridge and cut off the enemy? That’s what God is doing now. He’s waiting, patiently, so that more souls might hear the gospel of Jesus and be rescued for eternity. We have to get it out of our minds that the Last Day is all about judgment. For believers in Jesus Christ, that day is about rescue.

Jesus assures us that the gospel will be preached and spread throughout the whole world to all nations. Satan can rage all he wants, but he cannot be stop God’s plan because he is defeated. Christ crushed Satan’s head on Good Friday and remains in absolute control at God’s right hand. He is using and guiding even all of the evil in the world in such a way that it serves for the good of those who believe in him. As just one evidence of that, look at how many people are here to listen to God’s Word today. In a world where love grows cold, God’s people still gather around his Word.  God’s Got This!

Part 2. God’s Got the End of Our Lives in His Hands

The Bible says that some Christians will still be around to see and experience the End, and it tells us to be ready for it at any time. However, if it works out for us like it has for the vast majority of Christians, we will experience our own personal end before The End. The Bible describes the end of our lives as a temporary separation of body and soul, two things God designed to be united forever. When we die our sinful bodies return to the ground from which mankind first came. Whether we’re embalmed and buried, cremated, or lost at sea our bodies eventually return to dust. But don’t think this is your end. At the moment of death our souls stand before God. The soul who knows Christ as Savior and Lord enters heaven forever. The soul who doesn’t, faces eternal fire in hell. Remember the thief on the cross next to Christ? Jesus told him, “I tell you, TODAY you will be with me in paradise.” One moment we suffer in this world. The next we are with Christ forevermore in paradise. When a believer dies, the Bible helps us understand that God’s Got it all under his control.  It is proper to say they are with him right now, and you can look forward to the same.

That’s really the focus of Jesus’ words here in John 11. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” As believers we don’t fear death because we will never actually experience it. Yes, our bodies will, but we are more than our bodies. By his victory over death on Easter, Jesus made death serve his purpose. It is the tool that God uses to bring his children home. The time between our lives on earth and our lives in heaven will be so seamless that each of us can honestly say, “In Christ, I will never die.”

Part 3. God’s Got Judgment Day All Sorted Out

So if our souls are already in heaven, then what is the Last Day all about? There are many Christians today that have turned the Bible’s teaching about Judgment Day into something very complex and confusing. They look for a rapture when believers will be taken away bodily into heaven. Or they expect a special time of tribulation or multiple returns of Jesus from heaven. Some expect a thousand years of peace on earth with the true church ruling in glorious power. Trying to make sense of all the different ideas  that are out there is enough to make a person dizzy.

But what the Bible actually says is much more straightforward. The Bible says that the Day is coming soon, though we don’t know specifically, when Jesus will appear in the clouds with the trumpet blasts of angels in a manner so powerful and glorious that he will be seen all around the world. The Bible says the angels will gather all the believers and separate them from the unbelievers. On the Last Day the dead will rise, both believers and unbelievers. Bodies will be reunited with souls. Believers who are still alive will be reunited with believers from the past and we will all be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord. The bodies of all believers will be transformed in an instant into glorious bodies that are ready for the perfection of heaven.

The unbelievers raised on the Last Day will stand with unbelievers living at the time and there will be a final judgment of all people, the living and the dead. Remarkably, the Bible says that believers, in addition to being judged themselves, will also participate with God in the judgment in some way.

And on the Last Day there will be a literal falling apart of the universe. See, this place has been marred by sin, so at the Last Day God will rid all creation of sin.  And these events will terrify and horrify the unbelievers. They will burst into tears and attempt to flee, but there will be no escape. But believers will stand up and lift up their heads because they know their redemption is drawing near. The world will be remade, a new heavens and a new earth.  God’s Got This!

Part 4. God’s Got Eternity

And then after the end comes eternity, a concept so foreign to us bound by time that the very thought of it makes my head spin. Not just a long time, but a never-ending time.

There are two sides to eternity, and no matter how you might break it up, it is not pleasant to think about one of those sides.  Eternity for unbelievers will be spent in banishment from the grace and blessing of God. The Bible describes hell as being “in torment” and “in agony in…fire” (Luke 16:23-24), a place “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48), and where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12). All of this is meant to give us a taste of what eternal banishment from God is like. Whatever you imagine hell might be, it is far, far worse.

As unpleasant as it is to think about, we must think about it, because it is going to happen to so many. And God doesn’t want anyone to endure it.  That’s why he has placed his Word in our hearts and on our lips – to tell of his wonderful works, to proclaim his rescue through Christ, to give good news to those who are lost on the road to destruction.

There is another side to eternity, of course, and whatever you imagine heaven might be it is far, far better.  The Bible describes it in two main ways: We will be with God and we will see him face to face, as he really is. Please note this, brothers and sisters. The essence of heaven is not being reunited with your loved ones on earth.  The only thing that matters is being in the presence of the one who gave up everything to save your from hell.  Special relationships that you share on earth cannot compare to the relationship you have with Christ.  In heaven, you will enjoy that completely, perfectly, and fully forever

This paradise will never perish, spoil, or fade.  It is full of everything good and it has zero bad parts.  There will not be one person in heaven who says, “Well, I could think of something better.”  This treasure in heaven has been purchased for you by the blood of Jesus and it is yours by God’s grace alone, through faith in Christ alone.

If God’s Got this, then what is left for us?  That’s simple! Be ready.  Keep your faith active.  Make use of the grace God has given you in his Word and Sacraments so that you are ready for these Last Days, ready for the end of your life, ready for Judgment Day, and ready for eternity with him in heaven.  And whatever happens in life, patiently endure what the Lord allows, knowing that what awaits you on the other side is worth it.

When we talk about the End, God’s got this, and that takes all the fear away.  Amen.

 

NARROWING POPULAR BELIEFS DOWN WITH THE TRUTH.

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22 Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”
He said to them, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’
“But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’
26 “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’
27 “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’
28 “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”

 

 

I have to do it; I have to start the sermon with the Olympics again.  This past week as I was considering this section from Luke 13 it was volleyball that caught my attention.  Now, you might know that I’m not really a fan of volleyball at all, but it’s the Olympics.  On Tuesday night it was beach volleyball. Americans, Kerri Walsh Jennings, who was the 3-time defending Olympic champion, and her new partner, April Ross, were the world number one.  They were up against a Brazilian duo in the semifinals.  The winner would go onto the gold medal match.  Anybody who knows anything about sports would say the defending champion and world number one would win.  I don’t know much about anything when it comes to volleyball but Walsh Jennings and Ross had not lost at all during the entire Olympics going into that match.  They were unbeatable.  They were going to dominate.  But by the end of the game the Brazilians, not the Americans, were celebrating their victory and the chance to go for the gold.  Then…then, it was indoor volleyball this past Thursday.  Surprise, surprise we were ranked number one.  We were the defending world champs, undefeated and the shoo-in for gold.  We were up against Serbia in the semifinals.  And you can probably guess what happened.  We lost.  The team that couldn’t be stopped was beaten.  Sometimes what everybody thinks will happen, doesn’t.  Sometimes what everyone believes to be true, isn’t.

Now, sports fans from all over the world are familiar with this.  This kind of thing has happened before and it will happen again.  The number one team or athlete doesn’t always win.  That’s why they play the game. That’s why these games can be so thrilling. Sometimes the hail Mary pass is caught.  Sometimes the underdog pulls off a stunning upset.  Sometimes the result that everyone is expecting just doesn’t happen.

Sports are one thing, but what if it was something bigger and more important?  What about when heaven is at stake?   Nobody wants to miss out on that.  Go ahead and ask your family, friends, and neighbors.  None of them want to go to hell.  Even if people aren’t sure about religion or God or what happens after death, not many people that I have talked to are ready and willing to face hell.  Everybody wants to go to heaven.  And for the most part, people think that’s what is going to happen, right?  Pretty much everyone goes to heaven, except for maybe the real scum of the earth.  Is that true or not?  For that answer we don’t have to square off against another nation in the Olympics, but we have to check with the one who has the truth.  After all, this is not a game where the loser misses out on a gold medal, but this is life where the loser misses out on heaven.

So, that’s what this man is doing in Luke 13.  He doesn’t want to watch the game where you think and you believe that there is only one possible result, but then it doesn’t happen and throws everything upside down.  He doesn’t want the popular beliefs of the day.  He doesn’t want various religious answers.  He wants the truth.  So, he asks Jesus, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”  This guy was hearing Jesus along the way and so he asks, “So you’re telling us, Jesus, that our number one ranked team isn’t a sure thing?  Jesus, you are saying that all the popular teachings about getting into heaven might not be right?”

And Jesus has a way of answering that shocks people back then and still shocks us now.  He kind of goes against the grain a little bit.  He says, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.”  Jesus tells the man that he’s right.  He says the number one ranked team isn’t invincible. He says that popular ideas that go around aren’t true just because so many believe it.  If you know there is a heaven and you want to be there, it doesn’t mean you’ll make it in.  Because many try to enter and will not be able to.   A lot of people think they have it right.  But thinking you have it right, doesn’t always mean you have it right.  All you have to do is ask American volleyball fans about that one.

For the Jews around Jesus time, they thought they had it right.  They thought they were shoo-ins to heaven because they were descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (the founding patriarchs of the Jewish nation).  They thought they were God’s people just because they were born into the right family.  They thought that memorizing and following their Torah and man-made traditions was the right way.  But Jesus tells them they have it all wrong.  He says, “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.”  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob made it into God’s kingdom, the prophets of the Old Testament made it into heaven not because of who they were related to or what laws they learned but because they believed in God’s promised Savior and trusted his forgiveness through faith.  For the most part the Jews that surrounded Jesus rejected God’s promised Savior and were trying to gain entrance with their family genealogy or their good life.  Jesus says there’s a problem with that; it’s not the door into heaven.  It won’t work.  That’s kind of like thinking that having your name on a church directory database means that you’re in heaven’s directory – as if just showing up in a certain book or church building or throwing some loose change in an offering plate is all that it takes to enter God’s eternal home.  That’s like saying you get into the Olympic 100m final because you once ran a school record 100m in high school.  Sorry, that’s just not going to cut it.  The doorway is a lot smaller than that.

Jesus does such a great job of telling us the truth when everybody else is focused on popular beliefs.  He rejects all of ways that are not God’s way.  Another one of these popular ideas that we hear all the time and maybe even we get caught thinking it sometimes, that there are many paths that lead to heaven.  It’s this common misconception that says all religions have some truth to them. Let’s celebrate the similarities instead of sweating the small stuff.  All these different religions are finding ways to worship the same God.  We’ve heard it before, we’ve maybe hoped that it’s true for some family members and friends. It feels like it should be true.  I mean, the number one ranked team should win the gold.  But it doesn’t always happen that way.  Popular beliefs should be true because so many believe it, right? However, Jesus doesn’t want us to get caught following the crowd the wrong way.  There are so many walking the wide, easy road that leads to this great big inviting and deadly door.

Jesus once said, “Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” For our inclusive and accepting world, that is a very exclusive and limited message.   And it has to be this one way.  Imagine the confusing uproar if everyone got a gold medal at the Olympics. Imagine how this subjective and selfish culture would react if everyone could have their own way.  Imagine if there were all these paths to heaven.  There would be no order.  There would be no purpose.  No one would think about God.  No would care about heaven.

But people do wonder and speculate about God.  How many different religions are there?  Too many to count! (4200 if you ask Google!) The fact that people do still think about it and talk about it, means people are looking for the right answer.   If millions of people know there is a god and a heaven and if so many think they will be there, then that next question is pretty important: “Why?  Why will you be in heaven?”  That’s where popular beliefs fail so many.  I’ve heard so many people answer, “I’m not sure.  I hope I will.  I’ve been good enough.  I think that should count.  I’m not as bad as some, I guess.”

I want you to think about this:  If your neighbor told you this week that they want to compete in the next Olympics in Tokyo, you might ask them, “Well, how are you going to get there?  What event?  How will you train?”   If their answer is “I’m not sure.  I hope it will work out,”  you might want to encourage them that the “how” is really important.

It’s not just about knowing God.  Many of the people in Jesus’ day were not too worried about the “how.”  They thought knowing about God would be good enough.  Here’s what Jesus says, “Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ “But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ Those would be people who were following the popular beliefs that all you have to do is know about God and be good enough.  That’s like thinking the number one ranked team or athlete always wins.  It seems to make sense, but it just isn’t true.  The “how” of getting into heaven is not about knowing God.

Sinners can’t get into heaven because of their knowledge.  That’s the difference between Biblical Christianity and those other 4199 religions.  All those other religions and so many church-going people think religion is about knowing God and making peace with him.  But before that, sinners need their sins to be paid for, there needs to be forgiveness.  First, Jesus needs to know you.  Did you catch that in the story Jesus tells?  All those people said, “Jesus, we know you. We saw you in the streets.  We shared some laughs.  We ate and drank with you.”  But Jesus says, “No, that’s not it.  The point is I don’t know you.”

I heard this great way to illustrate Jesus point and I’m going to change it just a little bit.  I know the Brewers.  I watched them as a kid.  I collected their baseball cards.  I went to their games.  I worked as a Miller Park usher for 11 years.  I know their Minor League teams.  I know the stats.  I know the ownership and management and coaches.  I know the Brewers.  Do you think that will help me get free tickets whenever I want?  Do you think my knowledge will get me the President of Baseball Operations job?  No, not at all.  But what if the Brewers knew me?  What if Mark Attanasio (the owner) and David Stearns (the general manager) and all the players knew me?  What if one of them would call me up and say, “A position just opened and we think you would be perfect”?  That would be different, wouldn’t it?

Salvation is not about knowing about the owner, it’s about the owner knowing you.  Salvation is not about you knowing that God is out there and heaven exits, salvation is about the God of heaven and earth putting his name on you forever.  Salvation is Jesus knowing you so completely that he could pay for the forgiveness of all your sins.  Salvation is God coming down to you in Word and sacrament.  This message of Jesus is so exclusive when it says Jesus is the narrow door.  But Jesus narrows it down for us into one way through one narrow door because he knows the one solution to all of our sins. He says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He knows the way because he is the only way. He has the truth for us because he is the truth. And has life for us because he is the life.

It may be narrow, it may be exclusive, but this message is the most inclusive message in the whole world, because Jesus came for every person that has ever lived.  When you watch the Olympics and think of all the people, the 7.4 billion in the world, Jesus came for every last one of them.  He came to be their door to heaven by shedding his blood on the cross.  There is no one excluded from God’s grace and from his saving plan. There is no one left out.  God wants all people to be saved.

But it’s only through Jesus.  Only Jesus could fight off the devil perfectly.  Only Jesus could give his life in place of ours.  Only Jesus could destroy the power of death and hell.  Only Jesus can clothe you with his righteousness in Baptism.  Only Jesus can feed you his forgiveness in the supper.  No other prophet, no crazy-eyed cult leader, no motivational speaker, no Buddha or Vishnu, no piece of technology can do that.  But the Son of God does.  And that’s why he is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  No one goes to heaven except through him.  No amount of prayers or good works could take away my sin.  No amount of gifts or service could get rid of my guilt.  No amount of gold medals could give me spiritual peace forever.  But the Son of God did… by dying for my sins, rising from death, and opening the narrow door to heaven for me.  He says it’s not about me, but it’s about him.

And that’s why you can be so absolutely sure that this very exclusive message is for everybody.  Jesus has made a promise about it.  Did you hear about it? People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Jesus paid for that spot so that people from all over could come, not for some games that conclude after a couple weeks but for an eternal banquet at God’s table. And he did that because he knows you and loves you.

There’s a lot of glory that goes along with winning a gold medal.  Most will never experience that kind of glory.  But there is something better.  Popular beliefs won’t get you there.  But Jesus’ narrow door does.  He gets you to the glory God forever.

And now this God, who has put you on the narrow path and is walking you through the narrow door, is calling you.  He narrows it down for you to make it simple and yet so powerful. He calls you to take this message out to people who are lost on a wide and easy road heading in the wrong direction.  He gives you the message to point them to this one open door that leads to the feast of heaven.

Amen.