MY DEFENSE IS JESUS’ RESURRECTION

4.30.17 Easter 3A

Easter Season A

Acts 24:10-21 (sermon also includes context from Acts 20:1 – 25:12)

10 When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: “I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense. 11 You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12 My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. 13 And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me. 14 However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, 15 and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 16 So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.

17 “After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings. 18 I was ceremonially clean when they found me in the temple courts doing this. There was no crowd with me, nor was I involved in any disturbance. 19 But there are some Jews from the province of Asia, who ought to be here before you and bring charges if they have anything against me. 20 Or these who are here should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin—21 unless it was this one thing I shouted as I stood in their presence: ‘It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.’ ”

 

‘It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.’  That’s what this is all about.  I, Paul, was on trial simply because I believed  Jesus rose from the dead, and I love to tell people.

Here’s how it happened.  I had made the long journey from my mission work in Greece to Jerusalem to visit the believers there.  They were going through some tough times and I had brought gifts from a bunch of our other Greek churches to help them out.  A couple of these faithful Gentile believers accompanied us on the journey.  After we arrived in Jerusalem, we met with the brothers and sisters there.  It is always nice to meet and greet with fellow believers carrying out God’s work in a different part of the world.

The thing is, sometimes there is confusion about my ministry.  See, the Lord called me to do mission work for Gentiles.  Jesus is the Savior for all people, so we can’t avoid a certain group or certain areas just because it might be difficult or misunderstood.  His promises work the same for everyone.  His death and resurrection give forgiveness and eternal life to all who believe, no matter where you are from.

Well, you can imagine that not everyone thought my work was a good thing.  For the Jewish believers in Jerusalem, they were overjoyed that the gospel of Jesus was bringing Gentiles to faith.  For the Jewish religious leaders, the kind of people who put Jesus to death, they were not overjoyed.  They were pretty raging angry.

While I was in Jerusalem, I went to the Temple to worship and some of these raging angry Jewish religious leaders saw me there.  They were not at all happy about this.  They started shouting at me, that I was preaching an anti-Jewish message wherever I went, that I spoke against the law and the Temple.  They even accused me defiling the Temple with Greeks, because they saw some of my travel companions with me in the city and assumed that I was so anti-Jewish that I brought them with me to the Temple, too.  They got so enraged and aroused so many people that I thought they would kill me right then and there.

News got to the Roman commander, who took some soldiers and rushed in to arrest me for causing such a disturbance.  When he asked what I had done, the crowd shouted all sorts of lies about me.  The commander just wanted me out of there so everything would calm down and he could investigate what happened.  After I told him I was a Jew, he let me speak to the crowd in my defense.

I explained everything.  I told them how I grew up in Pharisee school, studying under Gamaliel.  I told them how my passion for God’s law led me to persecute the followers of Jesus to death.  It didn’t matter, men or women, I wanted them in prison or dead.  I told them about my trip to Damascus to find more of Jesus’ followers, but on the way, Jesus found me and changed my life.  The things his followers proclaimed were all true.  Jesus died and rose from the dead to save us for eternity.  I was an eyewitness to it.  Jesus said he had a different job for me now.  Instead of passionately persecuting his followers, he wanted me to zealously preach and evangelize for more.  So, he told me to go the Gentiles with his good news of forgiveness and life.

It was at that point that the Jews started shouting again.  They said, “Rid the earth of him!  He’s not fit to live!”  The commander got me into the barracks safely.  He wanted to punish me for the chaos, but as a Roman citizen, I had the right to a trial.  The Jews didn’t really have any legal charges against me. They were just angry that I preached the good news of Jesus.  And they were especially irritated that I did this ministry to Gentiles.

The next few days were a whirlwind.  I stood before the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, to face their accusations.  The Roman commander didn’t hear any Roman laws that I broke, only that Jews really hated me.  He wanted to release me, but then my nephew found out about their plot to kill me when I was released.  So, the commander transferred me to Caesarea, because the Roman governor, Felix, lived there.

How about that for a week?  Well, five days later the Jews came to Caesarea with their lawyer, Tertullus.  He had this to say, “We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him.”  Then, all the Jews joined in the accusations against me.  They really didn’t like me much, as you can tell.

Sometimes that happens, doesn’t it?  Sometimes people don’t like followers of Jesus.  They don’t like what you stand for, even if they don’t really know or ask.  They don’t like what you say.  They don’t like what you do.  They don’t like your attitude about life and death and heaven.  At times, they will accuse you of being high and mighty.  And other times, when you make a mistake, giving in to sin, then you are a hypocrite for doing what everyone else is doing.

It feels like you can’t win.  You try to do the right thing, living your faith in Jesus no matter what the situation, but people don’t care or they get irritated.  They don’t want to know about Jesus and they certainly don’t want you talking about it all the time.  And then, when you do something wrong, they question your commitment.

It would be a whole lot easier to simply give up.  Do you know why I didn’t give up?  Even though I faced threats and dangers wherever I went, do you know why I continued to speak about Jesus?  Even though I have been beaten, flogged, stoned and left for dead, imprisoned, shipwrecked, and so much more, do you know why I will never ever stop?

Because my Savior rose from the dead. No one else can say that.  Not one of those Jewish religious leaders can comprehend how much hope that gives me every single day.  I don’t care if they take my freedom, because Jesus Christ has made me free from the slavery of sin and has given me a righteousness that makes me a part of God’s family forever.  I don’t care if they take my eyes, because Jesus Christ has changed my darkness to eternal light.  I don’t care if they take my hands and feet, because Jesus Christ will give me a glorious, perfect body in heaven.  I don’t care if they cut out my tongue, because I will be singing the praise of Jesus Christ for eternity.  It doesn’t matter what they do, I will never give up the truth that my Savior rose from the dead.  It is my defense in every situation and my hope for eternity.

When your hope is in Jesus, then what can mere mortals do to you?  Nothing.  Sure, people can inflict physical pain if they get so fed up with your faith in Jesus, but physical pain does not last like the pain and punishment of hell.  Sure, people can make you an outsider because you believe in Jesus and his eternal life, but you are never an outsider in heaven.  Sure, people can even take your life, but faith in Jesus’ resurrection means you have an eternal life.

That’s the way I looked at it.  So, there I stood on trial before the Roman governor, Felix.  The Jews hoped that they could get rid of me.  They hoped that my preaching would be gone for good.  But their hope was in the wrong thing.  They put their hope in a lawyer, in the governor, in their own passion to get rid of me.  It didn’t work, because hope in people or desires here on earth will always fail.  But when your hope is in Jesus, it is alive and always will be.

Jesus came back from the dead for us.  We have confidence in every one of his promises because he is alive.  If he says he is with you always to the very end of the age, then a living Savior keeps that promise.  If he says he will protect and guard you in all your ways, a living Savior keeps that promise.  If he says your sins are forgiven, a living Savior keeps that promise.  If he says your home is in heaven, a living Savior keeps that promise.

You know, Felix kept me in jail for two more years.  He was relieved of his duties and Festus took over as the governor.  And I had to go through the hearings all over again.  Eventually, I appealed to Caesar so that I could go to Rome, and as a Roman citizen, my appeal was granted.  The Lord did exactly what he had promised to do. Every one of those days in prison my Savior was still the conqueror of sin, death, and the devil.  Every one of those days he was keeping his promises to protect me, forgive me, and love me.  Every one of those days my hope was alive in him.  He kept his promises.  I went to Rome and testified to the truth to anyone who would listen.

That is the Savior I have and will always have.  No matter what the circumstances or the situation you experience, if people are trying to tear you apart and rid the earth of your life or if they are just making you feel like an outsider, don’t give up.  Our Savior is alive.  No one can take that hope away.

Amen.

 

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WHO IS LIKE GOD?

lutheran-id

Micah 7

18 Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. 19 You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. 20 You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago.

 

 

He was scared of God.  Night and day, he lived in fear of a God who knew every thought, heard every word, and saw every action.  God’s demands were oppressive and cruel to him.  He was hopelessly lost in a cycle of trying to earn God’s love, but his love always seemed out of reach.  That’s the way Martin Luther lived the first half of his life.  He saw God as an angry and holy Judge.

It’s not surprising that Luther had this understanding.  It was readily accepted in his day because that is how the church was portraying God.  Yes, he was the God who loved the world and sent Jesus to save it.  Yes, he was the God who died for the sins of the world.  Yes, he rose from the dead to give eternal life to all believers.  But, in order to be a believer in Jesus, you had to work for it.  You had to show God how much you loved him with your good works, and then he would respond with his love and mercy.  With that kind of view, people thought God was always looking for good works and not really doing much for his people.

A lot of people still have that kind of viewpoint today.  They think of God this way for a couple reasons.  Number 1, if people don’t read the Bible, they won’t know who God is and what he is like. Instead, they will listen to others talk about him or they’ll watch shows and movies about him to see what he is like.  Because that is how so many people are hearing about God, they don’t have the right view.  And the second reason people think about God like a judge who is always watching is that it makes human sense.  It makes sense to us that people are watching us and that when we do good they reward us and when we mess up they do not reward us.  We see this kind of thing happening all around us.  If you get good grades, then your teacher likes you and your parents give you more privileges or games (or whatever kids are asking for nowadays).  If you do your job well, then your boss likes you, your coworkers can depend on you, you might get a raise, and if you are really good, you might get that promotion.  If you are kind, honest, humble and giving, then you won’t go to jail.  Instead, your neighbors will like you, do nice things for you, and you will be a respected member of the community.  This is how people naturally think.  It’s what we see every day.  And so why wouldn’t people think about God this way?

Micah poses this question for us today: Who is a God like you?  If someone answers that question by thinking in human terms, then they are making God way too much like all of us.  And when people think God is like us, when people think he decides things based on what we do, then do you know where that leads?  Sinful people are left in despair trying to earn a relationship with a holy God.  It turns into high school dating where there is no certainty, just a frenzy of worried people who try to grab attention and get what they want, sometimes by any means necessary.

A relationship with God does not exist when you look at God like that, because you cannot earn God’s love.  We don’t have enough perfection to earn it.  In fact, we have a big fat ZERO in the perfection column.  And because of that, we don’t deserve anything from God.  There is no reward for trying hard, for sheer determination, or for not getting caught.  Are you starting to realize why Martin Luther was so afraid?  He knew and believed that Jesus had died for his sins and risen from the grave for his eternal life, but he wasn’t able to make God happy enough with him to get those blessings.  All he could do was continue to try to work for them.  A sinful person was trying to live without sin in order to get forgiveness of sins.  How’s that going to work?

But, your identity as a Lutheran is not based on human reasoning, viewpoints or terms.    That’s what freed Luther from his fear of a holy, judge-God.  As we studied last week, you and I stand on the solid foundation of God’s Holy Scriptures. We have a God who reveals himself in the Bible.  And so when Micah poses the question today – who is a God like you? – the answer is so clear.  There is no other God, because no god that originates in human minds could be one:

who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance.  You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago.

Who does that?  Who is like that?  Who gives and gives and gives?  When you think about it, this makes no sense whatsoever. God pardons sin.  Why would he do that?  What’s in it for him?  Why would God just take all your sins and all your guilt off your shoulders? Why would he carry them away from you, removing them from your past and future? There’s no good human logic here, unless it’s because he loves you so much that he doesn’t want to see your eternity ruined.  Unless he has so much compassion that he cannot bear to see you struggle or see you lost and alone.  That and only that is the reason.

Micah says we have a God who forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance.  Let’s unpack that a little bit.  The Hebrew word used for “forgive” is a word that means to pass over.  Think of the Passover in Egypt.  Those doors that were painted with the blood of a lamb were passed over by God.  He was killing every first born from every house that night but he passed over the ones that were marked with blood.  God marked you with the blood of Jesus so that he passes over you instead of giving you death.

But what about that remnant?  What’s that all about?  That’s another good history lesson.  During Micah’s ministry as a prophet the people of Israel, God’s chosen nation, his inheritance, were exiled by the Assyrian army because God had to discipline his rebellious, unrepentant people.  He was trying to wake them up from spiritual slumber.  Micah prophesied that it would happen and it did.  Well, out of the 12 tribes, 10 were now gone, but there was still hope for the southern 2.  They could learn the lesson.  They could wake up.  And Micah gave them the warning to turn away from sinful rebellion, to get rid of the false gods who were really nothing at all.  He warned them that there would be another exile if they did not listen to God.  Well, you know what happened, don’t you?  The southern part of Judah tried for a while, but they kind of reverted back to bad behavior.  God sent more warnings from more prophets, but it didn’t help them.  And so the Babylonians exiled Judah.  But that’s where this section comes in.  God’s undeserved love and compassion are so great that he says he forgives the remnant.  Micah says, “You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us…” God is telling his people, “I know how much you messed up.  I know how much this discipline hurts you.  I know how bad this must be for you, but I still love you.  I will always love you.  I will watch over you in exile.  I will protect you.  I will bring you back to the Promised Land to start over. I will keep my promises.  I will pass over your wickedness and rebellion because that is how much I love you.”

Brothers and sisters, you are a part of that remnant.  No matter what has happened in your life.  No matter how much guilt you carry, God carries away your sins and passes over you with the punishment.  Instead, Jesus takes the full wrath of God in our place.  Jesus is handed all of our sins.  Jesus carries them all to Calvary.  Jesus is not passed over but given the death penalty in our place.  Jesus suffers what we should suffer.

This next part is where Kix come into the mix.  Do you know that cereal, “kid tested, mother approved?”  I loved those as a kid.  Well, we have lots of those at our house.  Lute loves them.  Issy loves them.  And sometimes with an 21-month old and a 3 ½ year-old, they don’t always successfully get all the Kix into their mouth.  So when I wake up and it’s still dark or when I come home for lunch or dinner, sometimes these delightful puffs end up under my foot.  Do you know what happens to a Kix when it is under my foot?  It is crushed to powder!  It becomes nothing.  It is unusable.  It must be swept up and thrown out.  Here’s how Micah describes what God does to our sins, “You will tread our sins underfoot.”  God makes our sins like those Kix in my kitchen.  He crushes them.  He makes them unusable.  Doesn’t that bring a smile to your face?  God loves you so he crushes sin out of your life.  He treats our sins like the dirt.  He tramples on them.  He sweeps them up.

And then he, “hurls all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”  God not only makes our sins unusable, but he also makes them nonvisible.  See, he doesn’t just take them away from us.  He puts them out of sight where we can’t find them again.  When God says he forgives you, he means it.  He means that his people do not need to get up with pet sins anymore.  “But I like that one, and it’s harmless, and I repent of it a bunch.”  God says, “Those sins are no good for you.  So I am getting rid of them.  You don’t need them to be happy.  You don’t need them to be secure.  You need me.  You need my love.  You need my peace.”

Micah finishes by saying, “you will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago.”  God keeps his promises.  It’s not an optional thing that depends on how good you are.  It’s not a logical thing that we have to understand.  God keeps his promises.  When he promised to Abraham and Jacob that he would make their descendants a great nation, he kept his promise.  When he promised to Abraham and Jacob that he would take care of them and protect them, he kept his promise.  When he promised to Abraham and Jacob that he would bless the whole world with one of their descendants, God kept his promise and sent Jesus.   Jesus kept his promise to forgive us and save us.

I don’t care what happens this upcoming Tuesday,  I don’t care about a 108 year-old wait for a championship that just ended this past week, I don’t care about anything like that, it cannot compare to joy and comfort that God’s love gives.  We have an eternity with God because he loves us and forgives us.

Brothers and sisters, does any of this sound like something we could think up?  Does it sound like something we could do?  No.  That’s why Luther treasured this so much, because it changed his view of God.  No longer was God angry all the time.  No longer was God a Judge looking to punish.  When Luther read passages like these, the Spirit brought peace and joy because he had a God who loved him.  He had a Savior who forgave him completely 100% without any added works.

That’s what gives us our identity still to this day.  That we have a God and Savior who loves us with no conditions or fine print.  He loves us even though we do not deserve it and have not earned any of these spiritual and eternal rewards.  God gives us this gift not because it’s a birthday, graduation, or anniversary and not because you did something great but simply because he really wants you to know what he is like and how much he cares.  Do you know what this is?  It’s called grace.

Micah and Martin Luther loved it, and so do we, because it gives us the answer to this question: Who is like God?  The easy answer is NO ONE, NOTHING, not now, not ever.  Because our God gives us… grace.

Amen.

A PROMISE TO BELIEVE IN

Following Jesus series

HEBREWS 11:1-3, 8-16

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
11 By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
“Jump!  I’ll catch you.  I promise.”  I can make that promise to my kids,  Issy and Lute, and they believe me because I can keep that promise.  They can jump off a couch, table, counter, or bed and I will catch them.  But if I make that promise 10 years, or even 5 years from now, I’m not so sure.  And full disclosure, I have dropped them before, but little kids are tough.

Four years ago we heard this: “London is my last Olympics. I promise.  This is my last ever gold medal,” said Michael Phelps, the world’s greatest swimmer ever. Well, then he hit a rough patch in 2014.  He was arrested for a second DUI.  He checked into rehab. He reconnected with his estranged father.  He met a woman.  He got back into the pool.  And now, in Rio, the guy who promised he was retired is swimming for Olympic gold again.  And let’s not get started on the most recent inductee to Pro Football’s Hall of Fame, Brett Favre. Somehow he ended up playing for the Jets and some other team.

Promises are easy to make, but some are harder to keep than others. I can promise my children to catch them, and with almost perfect regularity I can keep that promise.  And so, my kids still trust me now, but in the future, I’m not so sure.  An athlete can promise that they are retiring, but then sometimes they realize that the skill and the competitive drive hasn’t dried up yet.  And because we have seen this saga play out so often, it makes it harder to believe retiring athletes.

But what about a bigger promise?  This Following Jesus series has been teaching and reminding us what Jesus encourages and empowers his followers to do.  And so on this final Sunday, it’s time to talk about promises, like the promises we should make and keep.  “I promise to be a follower of Jesus.  And as I follow him I promise to support the ministry, I promise to love my neighbors as I love myself, I promise to listen to God first and foremost, I promise to pray boldly and persistently, I promise to have the proper priorities in life always looking forward to the eternal paradise and not trying to make this world paradise.”  These are promises that we have been talking about and these are the promises that followers of Jesus make.

And d’you know what? These are promises every follower of Jesus breaks. There are the Sundays where sleep, sports, or social activities are more important.  Broken promise.  There are wallets and check books that stay at home because “it’s been a tough month.” Broken promise. There are days when the Bible stays closed.  Sometimes days become weeks and weeks become months.  Broken promise.  There are days we are not humble, not loving, and not selfless.  Broken promise. Broken promise. Broken promise.  There are days when I am afraid and worried.  Broken promise. There are days when we trust the Lord a whole lot less than we need to.  Broken promise.

Does this happen because you get older and when you get older you can’t always keep a promise to your growing children?  Does this happen because we didn’t realize what we were promising at the time?  Do we break these promises because we weren’t sincere enough at the time we made them?  Do we break these promises because God isn’t holding up his end of the deal?  Nope!  It happens because of who we are.  We aren’t perfect.  We are the type who can’t always protect our children.  We get too old or weak or the kids grow and get bigger and smarter.  We are the type who don’t always know the right time and the wrong time.  We are the ones who try the best we can, but our best is not good enough.  Sometimes we might not have the right skills, sometimes we might accidentally make a mistake,  or sometimes we might just lie to try and cover up our own inadequacies.   But no matter what it is one thing is certain:  we leave a boat-load of broken promises in our wake. It’s who we are.  We aren’t perfect.  We want to be there for our families and friends.  We want to be trustworthy and honorable.  But we can’t make that happen.  Instead, we get ourselves into all kinds of trouble, trouble that is not just going to irritate those we care about around us, but trouble that is also unacceptable to God.

So then, how can people like us ever keep our promise to follow Jesus? I think Hebrews 11 helps us figure that out.  Hebrews is a book written to Jewish people, or Hebrews.  They knew about the Old Testament.  They knew about all God’s civil, ceremonial, and moral laws.  They knew all about the history of Israel and everything God did for them.  But they also were Christians, who believed in Jesus.  They were trusting in Jesus even though there was hatred against Christians going on in the world.  But the strong temptation was to avoid all the persecutions against Christians by reverting back into old Jewish habits.  They were being pulled back to their laws and traditions rather than the gospel of Jesus. The temptation was to break their promises.  So God put the spotlight on some powerful examples in Hebrews 11 from the Old Testament, from Jewish history, to help these Jewish Christians persevere. Abraham was the top notch example that we hear about.  Well, and his wife, Sarah, and their son,  Isaac, and his son, Jacob.  These were the who’s who of Jewish history.  And they never gave up on the Lord.

You know, that the book of Hebrews was also written for us, too.  We might not be Jewish, but we are experiencing what it is like to live in a world that is more and more open about being anti-Bible, anti-Christian, and anti-church.  So, these examples can really help us to understand how we can keep following Jesus.

How could those Old Testament patriarchs do it? How could they continue to follow the Lord even when it was tough?  What made them so good?  How could they have such great faith that never wilted?  How could Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob continue to follow the Lord like they did? Was it because they had some special gift that we do not?  Was it because they didn’t have as many distractions as we do?  Was it because God was speaking directly to them in visions, dreams and through angels?  No, none of that!

Here’s a clue: they considered him faithful who had made the promise.  God is the one that made a promise…first.  And that’s what matters most. God knew what was wrong with Abraham and Sarah and their son and grandsons.  God knew that people could not be trusted to follow him perfectly.  We can try as hard as we can but we break promises.  So what does God do?  He doesn’t make us promise to be good and follow as best we can.  He doesn’t make us blaze our own path.  Instead, he makes a promise to us. God promises that he doesn’t hold our broken promises against us.  He loves us too much to do that. God promises that he is not going to send us to hell.  God promises, “I will take care of you.  I will watch over you.  I will bring you to my city, where I am the architecht and the builder.”  I love that description.  For anyone doing a building project, this is a great find, that the designer, the blue-print drawer, and the builder, the constrctor, the finisher is the same guy.  God says, “I promise that I will take care of it all for you.”

And that’s a promise that God keeps.  He patiently continued the line of the Savior from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, from David and Solomon, and all the way through Israel’s tumultuous, promise-breaking history until the time had fully come.  Then, God kept the promise to come here so that our Savior would sit and stand and walk in your place and mine. God’s promise made sure that every one of our sins would be covered by the blood of Jesus.  God’s promise was proved true when the Savior came out of the tomb on Easter alive.  And God’s promise found you through his Word, at the baptismal font, and at the altar.

You see, what matters is the one who is making the promise.  If it’s me, Michael Phelps, Brett Favre, a president, or anyone else then it doesn’t have the same effect.  But when it’s God, then you know he can keep it.  Because everything he has ever said is true.  God keeps his promises.  He gave Abraham a place to call his own.  He gave Abraham and Sarah a son even though they were too old.  He made them into a huge nation.  And most importantly, he gave Abraham a home not made of tents, but designed and built on the promises of God with a permanent foundation.  That was a huge deal for men who lived in tents.  You see, the tent is not permanent.  The tent is not home.  The tent means you don’t have a country of your own.  But Abraham lived his life with the promises of God.  And so he lived his life trusting that his home was still coming.  He lived longing for that home and trusting that God would keep his promise to make heaven his own country, his permanent home.

We can trust God, just like Abraham and Sarah.  We can trust God just like Isaac and Jacob.  Not because they were so good at keeping their promises, but because God was so perfect at keeping his promises.  Yes, even to people like us, who break our promises.  He kept all those promises in the Old Testament and that led to a manger, a cross, and an empty tomb.  You see, with God there are no broken promises.

The good thing about trusting a God like that, is you never have to worry.  Faith in a God like is not uncertain.  Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  Sure, you might not see Jesus right now.  Sure you might not know what heaven looks like.  Sure, life can be hard and there are so many uncertainties. But when God makes you a promise it’s sure and certain.

And the interesting thing is this faith makes us strangers in this world kind of like Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.  Do you ever notice that?  Do you ever notice how odd you are? As we follow Jesus, we give our time and our energy and our money to thank someone who is not here.  Because God never breaks his promises, because our faith in Jesus will certainly lead us to heaven, we can spend time genuinely caring for other people not wondering if it’s worth it or not.  It is worth it because God promises that it’s worth it to love others. That’s the way he loves us. And that looks weird to people in this world sometimes.  And you look odd when you spend time reading a book.  Everyone else is consumed with technology and screens, but you read a book because God gave it to you and because his words and his promises are not just inspiring lives, his Word is life for us, spiritual and eternal life.  And you are strange because you spend time talking to someone who you’ve never seen, who doesn’t live here on earth.  And you’ll look like a foreigner when you aren’t consumed by a relentless pursuit of more stuff, because you know this is just a tent.  The home that has a permanent foundation, the paradise city is coming.  You’ll be the stranger.  You’ll be the odd one.  People might make fun of you.  They might question your faith.  Some might even be ashamed to know you.

But there’s one person who won’t be.  For followers of Jesus, who have faith in him and who live in his promises, God is not ashamed to be called your God, for he has prepared a city for you.  How’s that for a promise?  God says he is not ashamed of you.  You might wonder why in the world you do some of the things you do.  You might question yourselves.  You might feel shame.  But God never will.  He takes your shame away.  He forgives you.  He is proud to be the God who loves you and saves you.  And he promises that there is a place for you with him.  It’s a place that he designed and built to last for eternity.  It’s a place that Jesus paid for with his life, death, and resurrection.  It’s a place that is yours through faith.  God says, “I promise.”

Amen.