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.

READ v9-17

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

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

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

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

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ONLY CHRIST MAKES A CHRISTIAN HOME

Week 8 – 7.30.17

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Colossians 3:12-21

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
18 Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
21 Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

 

 

“It is so good to be home.”  Have you said it before?  I’m sure.  I said it when we got back from our trips earlier this July.  It doesn’t mean you hate vacation.  It’s just that you are happy to be done living out of a suitcase, sleeping in a hotel or tent, driving or flying from place to place, spending more money than normal, or eating too much.  You are happy to be back in your normal routine, your own bed, your own kitchen, and of course for the guys, our own couches and clickers.

Now, today we are not talking about the advantages and disadvantages of being at your house vs. being on vacation, but I think that comparison helps us get into the topic of a Christian home.  Because where does Christ need to be in a Christian home?  Should he be the visitor, the vacationer… or should he be living among your family and dwelling in you?  Should he have a continuous place in your home?

The Lord God himself makes the answer very clear in these words before us this morning: “Let the Word  of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Jesus needs a dwelling place, not a vacation spot.  He wants to be in your conversations and what you study and learn.  He wants to be the reason and the motivation for everything you do and say.  He doesn’t want to be relegated to visiting hours a couple days of the month or year.  He doesn’t want to have a quick mention before you eat.

So, let me ask you, where is Jesus in your home?  Is he the vacationer?  Or does he have a dwelling place there?  You don’t have to wonder about God’s willingness to be in your life and home.  When you were washed in baptism, he was taking up residence in your heart.  And your Lord wants nothing more than to stay there forever.  Since God loved you that much, since he has brought you into the family, what is your response?  How are you keeping the Lord present in your home? What does your side of that relationship look like?

There is a pretty easy way to tell.  Listen to what God says. “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly,” “ whatever you do, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,” and  “give thanks to God the Father through him.”  Christ is dwelling in your home – not just visiting or vacationing – when his Word is in regular use.  Christ is dwelling in your home when you carry out your responsibilities with a focus on his purpose and for his glory.  Christ is dwelling in your home when prayers are not just a bunch of requests, but also thanksgiving for all that he has done for you and all the blessings God has given to you.  Christ is dwelling in your home when you follow what he says about family life and roles.

Jesus did not die to be your guest now and then.  He paid the price to take all your sins away and to bring you back into the family of God forever.  He established a dwelling in your heart, and he doesn’t want to leave.  To show us how much he cares and does for us and our homes God has some very practical things to say for his people about family life.  There are really three groups he addresses: the married, the children, and the parents.

First, when God thinks about a family, he wants a wife and a husband.  That might sound totally obvious, but when we live in a country where more than half of the marriages end in divorce, where many couples don’t even value the bonds of marriage, and where the very definition of marriage is being rewritten, we can’t just skip over that point.

Marriage is a lifelong commitment based in love that one man and one woman make to each other before God following the laws of the land.  It is the fabric of society and the foundation of a Christian home.  When God brings a man and woman together in marriage it is beautiful, and God wants to keep it that way.

Jesus said in the Gospel, “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”   God doesn’t encourage divorce or like it, because it not only ends a marriage but it fractures his foundation for a Christian home. Only when the other spouse makes it absolutely clear that they have broken their side of the commitment does Jesus permit divorce. The only evidence Jesus gives is sexual unfaithfulness, and God adds willful abandonment as part of that.

To keep a marriage going God’s way, then, it cannot be based on earthly things.  Sure, it’s a blessing to have a spouse who is fun, smart, passionate, prosperous, genuine, trustworthy, beautiful, and hardworking.  But those are not the main reasons to get married.  What if some of those things change?  What if time, stress, children, or an accident makes it hard to keep those traits going?  Would that mean it was time to break the marriage?  No!

No, a marriage cannot be based on what someone else gives or does for you.  The primary earthly reason for marriage is your love for the spouse.  It’s about what you give and what you do.  It’s not about how your spouse makes you feel but about your commitment to them.  And the only place to learn this kind of love is from the God who showed us what love is and what love does.  A Christian home will be built on God’s Word and the love of God that is shared between a husband and a wife.

The Word of Christ tells us, “wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.   Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.”  Wives, you are not slaves submitting to an oppressive master.  You are God’s perfect and necessary complement for your man.  Your submission to your husband shows you follow his leadership and support him with care and compromise. Husbands, we are not the dictators. We are the example of Christ in the home, willing to give up everything for the glory of God and the benefit of the family.

Maintaining a Christian home will be difficult when this Word of Christ is not dwelling there.  If a relationship other than the marriage union that God established, if a marriage is based on something other than loving sacrifice and submission, then maintaining a Christian home will be difficult because you are not following the Word of Christ.  And when you don’t follow the word of Christ, then how can he be dwelling in your home?  He is being treated like a sporadic guest.

The next part of the home God mentions is children.  “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.”  You won’t find God saying that children deserve a bunch of their favorite things.  You won’t find God saying that children can complain and groan if they don’t get what they want.  You won’t find God saying that children should focus first and foremost on sports or school or hobbies.  You will hear God say that it goes well in a home if children honor and respect their parents as God’s representatives.  You will hear God say that children should look to obey their parents more than looking for their parents to provide for them.  You will hear God say the children who listen to the Word of Christ are a huge blessing for a Christian home.

And that leads to the third category, parents. “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.”  Often in a marriage, God will give the blessing of children.  It’s a privilege and responsibility.  It takes love, patience, wisdom, hard work, discipline to be a parent.  It takes a husband and a wife to give children the proper foundation for life.  It takes the word of Christ and the proper roles for the husband and wife to provide a Christian home for God’s blessing of children.

Sure, parents can give their children a nice upbringing without Jesus, but those children will be molded to think that life is about this world and my place in it.  They will grow up working hard and being good citizens to make a good life for themselves, but that’s all it will be.  And “how sad and poor and dark” is a place where Christ and the eternal joy he provides is not there.  So our primary goal is to let the Word of Christ dwell in the home. Our primary goal is to give glory to Jesus by trusting him and doing our best to live for him. If that is our primary goal, God promises that he will take care of everything else.

There are two reasons why Jesus cares so much about the home.  First, the family is the main way Jesus provides for us.  A father who is missing physically, emotionally, spiritually, a strained relationship between the father and mother, a lack of proper discipline, attraction/addiction to worldly pleasures, some kind of abuse –  when there is any kind of dysfunction in the family, it hurts.  It hurts the marriage, the parenting, and the children.

The second reason Jesus is concerned with the home is that God intended the family to be an illustration of his relationship with us. God wants a parent’s attitude and actions toward their children to be a picture of his own toward us. God wants a husband’s relationship with his wife to be a picture of his Son’s relationship with believers. If we don’t learn these examples at home, what are the odds that we will learn elsewhere? God could still make it happen, but the home was designed by God for that purpose.  If you don’t see God’s forgiveness play out at home between husband and wife, parents and child, a brother and sister, then where else can you see it? How are we going to see God’s Word in action if we have no model for it in the home?

That’s why Christ wants to dwell in your homes. But guess what, friends? Even if you grew up in or have a home that is a complete failure, it is still possible to learn and practice love and forgiveness and patience and discipline, because we will always have God’s household as a model. We will always have the relationship between God the Father and God the Son.  We will always have the relationship between Christ and his believers.

Paul doesn’t say, “Husbands, love your wives, just like your father loved your mother.” No, he says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the Word, and to present her to himself as a radiant Church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”  That is why Paul doesn’t say, “Forgive each other as your parents forgave each other and as you and your siblings forgave each other.” What an inconsistent and sinful model that would be! No, he says, “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Remember how Paul started this whole section?  You are God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved.  Christ doesn’t visit you, he dwells with you and lives in your heart through faith.  God brings you into his heavenly family so that you can live like his children here in your own family.  So be God’s children in your marriage, your parenting, your family roles, your obedience, and your life.  To God be the glory.  Amen.