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.

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HIS LIFE, OUR VICTORY

Eater 2019

Selected portions of 1 Samuel 17

1 Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah. 3 The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.
4 A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. (This is around 9 ½ feet.)
8 Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.
16 For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand.
20 Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as his father, Jesse, had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. 22 David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. 23 As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. 24 Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear.
26 David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”
33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”
34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”
Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”
40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.
45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”
48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.
50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.
51 David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.
When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran.

 

No one wanted this fight.  It was unwinnable.

That was the feeling that permeated the Israelite camp there in Sokoh.  Who could honestly stand up to this Philistine champion standing over nine and a half feet tall?  His armor weighed in at 125 pounds, not a pack and his supplies, but just his coat of armor.  The iron tip of this giant’s spear was 15 pounds.  Imagine being pierced by that.  Well, all of those Israelite soldiers were imagining it, and they didn’t want any part of Goliath.

So they just sat there, listening to his relentless taunts that came every morning and every night for forty days.  “Choose a man and have him come down to me.  If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us…I defy the armies of Israel!  Give me a man and let’s fight each other.” Hope was nowhere to be found…

What are the Goliaths in your life?  What are those giant problems that stress you out and taunt you every day and night?  What are those things that remove the smile from your face and hope from your heart?  We all have them.  Is it your career that takes all your attention so you can barely enjoy anything else?  Is it a relationship – trying to stay patient with disobedient children, trying to listen to and encourage friends, trying to avoid a bully at all costs, trying to keep a struggling marriage going when it would be a lot easier to give up?  These kinds of relationships can take all your energy, so you have nothing left to give.  Is it an illness that won’t let up?  We know these kinds of things aren’t easy.  And the fact that you cannot avoid these types of things in this world only adds more pressure.

No one in the Israelite army wanted to face Goliath…until a young shepherd was sent by his father to check on his older brothers.  You can tell from his supply list that David wasn’t supposed to fight. He had some grain, ten loaves of bread, and some cheese.  But when David heard those taunts, he couldn’t help himself.  “Who does this Philistine think he is?  I don’t care if he’s 50 feet tall, he can’t talk about us and our God that way. Let no one lose heart…[I] will go and fight him!” 

Was this youthful tenacity or arrogance?  Was this inexperienced stupidity?  Maybe, but maybe not.  I mean, David did have some skill in combat, you could say.  This shepherd had taken on and taken out a lion and a bear to protect his sheep.  That’s pretty impressive.  But every once in a while you hear a story of someone doing that, like the runner in Colorado who killed a mountain line with his bare hands.

Sometimes doesn’t that same thought come into your mind?  “I can do this.  I’ve done it before when the circumstances didn’t look great.  I have done some pretty impressive things, too.  Maybe these Goliaths don’t have to be so giant and so scary.  Maybe I can figure out a solution and handle this problem myself.”

That was not the thought of David’s older brothers, who got pretty irritated that little bro was running his mouth in the camp.  The soldiers didn’t really care what he did as long as they didn’t have to go.  When Saul, the king/commander of the Israelite army, heard about David, he wasn’t that impressed either. “You are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”

There’s a reason we call certain matchups in sports a David verses Goliath.  All the stats and all the logic make it quite clear that there’s only one outcome to expect.  But as we all know, sometimes a great team has a bad game and a marginal team has a great game to cause a huge upset.

But that’s in sports.  This was real. This was a trained, giant, killing machine, champion verses a shepherd.  This was one on one with life and death on the line.  And David was going to have to face him.  It wasn’t going to work to shout back to Goliath, “Well, oh yeah, we have a shepherd over here who has killed a lion and a bear with his own two hands.  How about that?”  That wasn’t going to do that job.  The rules were laid out.  One man represents the Philistines and one man represents the Israelites.  Winner takes all.

So, David went out to meet him, one on one with the fate of the whole nation resting on his shoulders. It wasn’t because he had that youthful arrogance or that inexperienced stupidity.  David went out to meet him not because of the combat skills that he picked up from protecting his sheep.  David went out to meet Goliath because…well, I’ll let him tell you, “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head… All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

David went out to meet Goliath with a sling and a stone knowing full well that the battle is the Lord’s. David, the shepherd went out and defeated Goliath, the trained, giant, killing machine champion because the Lord doesn’t lose.  Goliath did have one thing right.  With David’s triumph the whole Israelite army, which had been a bunch of scared losers, got to enjoy it.  One man’s work meant victory for them all.

Our fiercest enemy was calling us out and taunting us, too.  Losing a career is irritating, losing a relationship that you once cherished is more than saddening, losing days being laid up with an illness is frustrating.  Those things are troubling.  And they happen because we live in a sinful world and we have sinful lives that are not and will never be perfect.  But you can deal with them as hard as they are. That’s why none of those things are the real Goliath in your life. What the army of Israel saw in Goliath was certain death.  Anybody who went out to meet him wasn’t going to last. And whether you know it, whether you want to admit it or not, we all have that Goliath ominously and oppressively starring us down.

Sin makes this a world where nothing lasts forever.  Sin makes us people who have been separated from God and have to face death.  Sin makes us live just like the army of Israel.  We are dismayed and terrified.  We hear death calling out to us with its defiant sneer: “Bring me anyone and I will show you what happens in this fight.”

David could fight Goliath for Israel, but he couldn’t fight death for all the world.  But do you remember what he said?  The battle is the Lord’s.  The Lord God loves you so much that he came here for you.  See David had this one descendant who came to earth, born of a woman, to fight for us.  He could take on this Goliath for us because he came from heaven to do this one thing.

But he couldn’t just call out his credentials to his opponent.  “Oh yeah, well I come from eternity.  I am the Alpha and the Omega.  I am the Light that shines in the darkness.  I am the one who made everything.  I am the all-powerful.”  He had to face off with his enemy, and when the enemy, when the trained, giant, killing machine champion is death, then in order to face this enemy head on Jesus had to die.

Death and hell are the punishments for sin and so Jesus faced off with death for you.  He suffered hell for you.  He put his perfect life on the line for a world full of sinners.  He paid the price for your sins and mine.  And so the laid Jesus in a tomb.  What else do you do with someone who is dead?

It seemed like death had won the inevitable victory.  But just like Goliath didn’t know who he was dealing with, death didn’t know what hit it.  The morning when the women went out to the tomb, they were a lot like the army of Israel.  They were dismayed and terrified.  Hope was nowhere to be found… But the women forgot what David had said all those years ago: “The battle is the Lord’s.”  They forgot what Jesus had said, that he “must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raise again.” The battle was over.  Jesus had done it.  And that’s what the angels said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” The empty tomb showed them and us:

CHRIST IS RISEN!  HE IS RISEN INDEED!

One man went to battle for all of us and when the Lord is in the battle, he doesn’t lose.  It may have looked like a David verses Goliath matchup, but remember what the Lord did there in Sokoh?  With a little sling and a stone, the giant fell dead.  And the whole Israelite nation got to enjoy the victory over the Philistines. They were not dismayed or terrified anymore. His victory meant peace.  It meant joy.  It meant safety.

Jesus didn’t look like he had much.  He was rejected and taunted.  He was bloodied and brutalized.  He was crucified.  He died.  It didn’t seem like he had the right stuff for battle, not even a little bit.  But he faced all of that for you.  Sin, death, and hell didn’t stand a chance against God’s Son, our Savior.

CHRIST IS RISEN!  HE IS RISEN INDEED! And his life now means our victory.

What does that victory mean for you?  It means you still might have problems, you still might have sickness, you still might have some relationships that don’t work out.  But those things are not Goliath, and they don’t need to overcome you.  Death was the undefeated champion in this world because of sin, claiming victory after victory for generations.  But then Jesus came and changed all that.  His victory means our sins are paid for.  His victory means death has been defeated.  His victory means heaven is open.  His victory means you do not need to be dismayed or terrified anymore. His victory means peace with God.  It means joy.  It means safety in God’s arms forever.

That is what little Beckett was given this morning through baptism.  Baptism isn’t what we do for God, it’s what he does for us.  God makes a promise that the power of his Word connected to something simple like normal water gives people Jesus’ victory.  The Bible says, “Baptism…saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  See, that’s Jesus’ power.  That’s his victory.

My friends, there is new life in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It’s a life where sin no longer convicts us;  it’s a life where Satan no longer controls us;  it’s a life where death no longer contains us.  His life is our victory. CHRIST IS RISEN!  HE IS RISEN INDEED! Alleluia. Amen.

 

JESUS CHANGES THE HEADLINES

I give Up

SERIES: I GIVE UP… a false sense of safety

SERMON: Luke 13

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
8 “ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ ”

 

Blood was a very normal sight for the Jewish worshipers.  Bulls, calves, goats, sheep, even some birds were regularly and daily slaughtered for offerings at the altar.  It would not make the headlines at all that blood was being shed at the Temple.  And it would not be the most shocking headline to see that the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, had found some more lawbreakers who needed to be executed.  The government kept a firm hand on the people and would not tolerate disorder.

But this time it was different.  This was the type of thing that would make your mouth drop open in shock and your head shake in disgust if you were a Jew. The headline was “Blood mixed at the altar.”  Some people from Galilee were executed while they were at the Temple courtyard making sacrifices, so their blood was mixed with the blood of their sacrifices.  It’s the kind of headline that got everyone talking.

And that’s not the only one that Jesus brings to our attention today.  Another tragedy that rocked the area was to hear that 18 lives were lost because of a terrible accident south of the Temple at the pool of Siloam.  That headline read: “18 innocent bystanders crushed in tower collapse.”

It doesn’t take a lot to imagine those kinds of headlines.  We see these types of tragedies and killings every day.  We probably have a similar reaction, too.  Why do bad things happen?  Why all the crime?  Why the accidents?  Why the diseases and hospital stays? Why the chaos as if this world has no idea what is good and what is bad, what is up and what is down?

Do you want the answer to these types of questions?  I know you do.  It’s actually a really simple one: Sin. Now, I’ve said that before, and I’d like to have a more concrete answer that you can use when you are seeing the headlines.  I’d like to clear up all the uncertainties, but God gives us only this one simple answer: sin has ruined this world.  Its grip squeezes everyone and everything: people, politics, weather, crime.  Sin is like radiation that permeates all things and brings destruction and devastation.  I can’t get rid of it.  You can’t get rid of it.  Sin will linger like a dark cloud over the earth until the voice of God says, “ENOUGH!  This is the end.  It’s time bring our people home forever.”

So, if sin is the only answer for the terrible headlines, both way back then and now, then we have to give up a false sense of safety, because not everything is ok for us.  Sin is part of my life and yours and that makes us guilty.  You and I cannot deny that, and it won’t work anyways. When I see the headlines, however, I don’t want to be lumped into the same category as the killers, rapists, and thieves. I’m guessing you don’t either.  I don’t even want to be in the category with people who are too selfish or have any other kind of undesirable trait.

And so I try to rationalize.  We all do it.  We say things like, “I would never do anything that bad. I’m glad I’m not like that.”  When we think that way, we are making levels of sin.  We put really bad people – like those who get a death sentence as Jesus brought up– way down here.  We put the pretty bad screw-ups next.  We put the foolish and selfish next up.  Then, maybe we make a category for ourselves.  We know we’ve made some mistakes, we know that we don’t always have the right attitude, and there are some pet sins that are hard to give up, but we like to think we’re not that bad.  Finally, we might even be honest enough to make a category of really good people above us.

We are the ones who naturally rationalize like this because we are human.  We rationalize because we have to find some way to cope with the guilt of sin.  We have to find a way to be safe before God.  And so we try to rationalize sin and minimize it.  When we look in the mirror we want to see someone good staring back at us. We think if we can do that well enough then we can find our way into God’s good graces.  If we can be better than others and work hard enough, then we can be right in God’s sight.

Jesus knows that we do this.  He sensed it when he was talking to these people.  So, he asked a couple questions that get to the heart of the issue. “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?  …Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?”  We would naturally and logically answer, “Well, yeah!  Bad people get what they deserve.”  Jesus answers these two questions much differently than we would. “Do you think some are worse sinners or more guilty than you? I tell you, no! These levels of sin that we make to look good in front of God don’t work at all.  Turns out God doesn’t have any levels for sin.  You either have it or you don’t.  Period.

Brothers and sisters, in us Jesus sees sin. You and I can try to come up with a way to cope with our guilt, you and I can try to get rid of it, hide it, or explain it away.  We can try to make ourselves safe, but you and I cannot change the truth.  We don’t carry out God’s demands. We don’t have ability to be right in God’s sight. So then, we are not the kind of people that God accepts into heaven.  Sinful people are the ones who go to hell.

However, Jesus says the headlines don’t have to be doom and gloom for us.  He says, “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”  So there’s our solution!  If we repent, we can avoid the whole mess. But what if I have forgotten to repent since this morning?  There are a lot of sins that I do every day, not to mention my sinful nature makes my whole life unacceptable to God.  I would almost have to walk around every second of the day saying sorry to God. And what if my repentance is not sincere enough?  Would it still count?  And what about unbelievers, how can they repent if they don’t know God?  Why would they say sorry to Jesus if they don’t believe in him as their only Savior?  Do you see how what kind of trouble we are in? If repentance is something we have to do to avoid hell or if heaven is based on how well I repent, then I’m still going to perish.

This is the point of the sermon that is like looking at headlines.  Our mouths hang open a little bit in shock. We want to stop listening, shaking our heads in utter disbelief.  We don’t know how our situation could be this bad.  But Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He goes on to tell this little parable of a vineyard owner, who wanted his fig tree to be fruitful.  That makes total sense.  If you plant a fruit tree in your yard, I’m guessing you want to pick some fruit in the future.  Well, the owner didn’t find any fruit for THREE WHOLE YEARS!  He calls that tree a waste.  The owner wants it cut down.

Ok, so that doesn’t change anything, does it?  That news is still bad for us.  God is the owner and if he doesn’t see fruits of faith in your life, then he wants to cut you down.  But here’s where Jesus starts to change the headlines for us.  The gardener steps in at this bleak moment and says, “Leave it alone for one more year. I’ll dig around it and fertilize it.”

Jesus sees the situation very clearly.  He sees the sins in our life.  He sees how we try to rationalize them with different levels. He sees how we think maybe there’s some way I can help God fix it.  But he knows there’s nothing we can do. He knows that we can’t fix our situation by trying harder, praying more, or being sincerer in repentance. He knows we are lacking the righteousness God is looking for.  Jesus knows we deserve to be cut down and burned up forever.

And that makes him go to work to change our life.  He doesn’t want your story to end this way.  So, Jesus himself starts to work on you. He’s the only who can do this because he is the only won who is right in God’s sight.  He’s the only one who can do the job perfectly. So he picks up the shovel with his nail-pierced hands and starts digging. He digs out the excuses.  He digs out the sin.  He digs out the guilt. He digs out the rationalizing.  Making different levels for sin is not going to change anything for you.  Looking in yourself for righteousness because you aren’t that bad is not going to make you fruitful. Jesus digs all that bad soil away. That’s when he hits the roots, the stark reality is that you are not bearing fruit for God and you are dying in sin.  That leaves us feeling kind of exposed and raw, weak and helpless. That makes us realize we need some serious, life-changing help. That leads us to confess that we are not safe and we need serious, saving help.  That’s when Jesus starts shoveling on the nutrients and the fertilizer. He fills up the gaping holes around the roots where sin used to be with his forgiveness.  He loads on his love in place of the guilt.  He packs on his promises in exchange for the excuses. He replaces our rationalizing with his perfect righteousness. Then, he keeps watering with his Word and waits.

Did you notice how long the work takes? It’s not one time.  It’s not a couple days a week for a while.  It’s every day for a whole year.  If you want fruitful results tomorrow, don’t be disappointed if there isn’t any fruit yet.   Jesus is doing the work underground at your roots first.  Jesus is feeding you and strengthening you.  He’s getting you strong and healthy. And that might take some time.  But don’t give up.  Jesus isn’t. He’s not ever going to give up on you.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus is working on you.  He is working on you with his law and gospel.  He is working on you with repentance and faith. This means he changes our bad headlines.  He changes the focus from our own miserable mistakes and failing fixes.  He changes our attention, so that we see him and everything he has done and still does for us.

Do you think that it will work when Jesus does all these things to you?  Jesus doesn’t finish the story.  He doesn’t tell us what happens.  But if God planted the tree and if Jesus works on that tree to get rid of the bad and nurture and feed it with his goodness, then what do you think the headline will be?  “Sinner is saved.”  “Guilty is innocent.” “Fruit instead of fire.”  That’s you.  That’s me.  That’s our headline through the work of Jesus Christ.  To him be thanks and praise forever. Amen.

GETTING RID OF THE TROUBLE WITH GREED

SERIES: I GIVE UP…the root of all kinds of evil

I give Up

Joshua 7

2 Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel, and told them, “Go up and spy out the region.” So the men went up and spied out Ai.
3 When they returned to Joshua, they said, “Not all the army will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary the whole army, for only a few people live there.” 4 So about three thousand went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, 5 who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water.
6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the LORD, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. 7 And Joshua said, “Alas, Sovereign LORD, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! 8 Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? 9 The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?”
10 The LORD said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.
13 “Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: There are devoted things among you, Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove them.
14 “ ‘In the morning, present yourselves tribe by tribe. The tribe the LORD chooses shall come forward clan by clan; the clan the LORD chooses shall come forward family by family; and the family the LORD chooses shall come forward man by man. 15 Whoever is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the LORD and has done an outrageous thing in Israel!’ ”
16 Early the next morning Joshua had Israel come forward by tribes, and Judah was chosen. 17 The clans of Judah came forward, and the Zerahites were chosen. He had the clan of the Zerahites come forward by families, and Zimri was chosen. 18 Joshua had his family come forward man by man, and Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was chosen.
19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the LORD, the God of Israel, and honor him. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.”
20 Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: 21 When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”
22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent, and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver underneath. 23 They took the things from the tent, brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites and spread them out before the LORD.
24 Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold bar, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. 25 Joshua said, “Why have you brought this trouble on us? The LORD will bring trouble on you today.”
Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. 26 Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the LORD turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor h ever since.

 

“Oh, we got trouble, right here in River City! Trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for pool!”  That’s a lyric from Professor Harold Hill in the famous musical… anybody know?  The Music Man.  (Stick around for Bible study today and I’ll tell you the story of how I know that)  In the musical, Harold Hill goes from town to town to selling instruments and putting together a band for kids.  The catch is that he’s not a music professor.  He just wants their money and then bolts town.  What’s ironic about the song is that Harold Hill and not the townsfolk is the one who’s got the trouble.

Today, we’ve got trouble, too.  Literally, that’s what the name of this valley is; Achor means “trouble.”  And what exactly is the trouble?  It’s not that the boys of Israel were getting together at the local billiards hall to play pool.  The trouble is the same thing Harold Hill was consumed by.  It goes by many names: greed, materialism, coveting, as the Bible calls it “the root of all kinds of evil.”

If you’ve ever seen the Music Man, then you know that Professor Harold Hill was caught in his act.  For him, the punishment was being handcuffed and forced to lead the unrehearsed and untalented River City Boys’ Band in a song.  It went terribly, but it’s a fictional story where everybody always lives happily ever after.  The parents are all happy that their kids were part of something and had an exciting few weeks.  Harold is released.  He gets the girl.  And the rest is history.

I guess after hearing this section of Joshua 7, you know that the same cannot be said for Achan.  It’s a troubling history to read, but I’m happy God included it in his Word.  Troubling stories like these would not be in the Bible, if God’s Word was a collection of made up fables and feel good stories meant to teach us some moral lessons or motivate a religious following.  God doesn’t hide it, however.  God doesn’t cover up some of the dirty details of human history.  He doesn’t change things so that his Word is less offensive to study.  He gives us the honest truth, with all the troubling details, so that we will see what we need to give up and what we need him to give us.

If I were to ask you to tell me anything about Achor, Ai, or Achan, what could you come up with?  This isn’t the first lesson that we teach in Sunday School, that’s for sure.  But what if I asked you to tell me anything about Joshua and Jericho?  Maybe that’s in your wheelhouse.  The context is always crucial.

Joshua was the man appointed to lead Israel into the Promised Land after Moses died.  It was called the Promised Land because God promised to give it all to his people.  The land, the cities, the crops, the animals, the riches, all of it would be theirs.  But God also said, “The first city that you take is for me.”  That first city was Jericho, with the high walls that came a tumbaling down after the people marched around the city for 7 days and then blew their horns on the final day.  Because God said, “This first city belongs to me,” they weren’t allowed to take any plunder from it.  Instead, God told them to burn it to the ground.

 

Well, everyone listened except this man, Achan, who took a fancy robe, some silver, and gold.  He took it back with him and buried it in the ground.  It seems like the crime is not a huge deal.  No victims because it was all going to be burned anyways.  The stuff wasn’t worth a fortune, maybe about $25,000.  Why does this cause such trouble?

First of all, God told the Israelites not to do it.  And if you haven’t figured it out by now, when God says anything, he is serious about it.  God never has said something that is kinda, sorta important, take it or leave it.  Therefore, it was an offense that violated what God said.

Secondly, Achan’s sin of coveting and greed uncovers the root of a serious problem. See, God had promised the Israelites everything in Canaan.  He had demonstrated his power to keep his promise by giving them Jericho.  By asking for them not to take anything from Jericho for themselves, he was giving the Israelites the opportunity to trust him to deliver on his promise the rest of the way.  In and of itself, God says coveting and greed is wrong, but they also have deep roots that don’t just lead to sinning with possessions but also sins of priorities and trust.  Achan was not just caught wanting and taking something that God told everyone not to.  He was caught loving things more than God. Achan was caught trying to hide from God.  And Achan was caught trusting himself and worldly passions more than God.  So, it wasn’t about the robe, the silver, and the gold.  It was the hearts of his people that God cared about.

God cares deeply for your heart.  He wants you to be with him, both right now in your life and for eternity.  And so he says, “Me first!”  When it comes to your time, your energy, your relationships, and your money, God knows how easily those things can take hold in your heart.  He knows how a little bit of greed or materialism can sink deep roots into your heart and life and take up more space than they should.  God needs to be first.

Some might accuse God of being selfish or petty.  Sometimes that thought might cross our minds.  We might say, “No one is going to be hurt if I’m a little greedy, no one is going to find out if I’m too materialistic sometimes, there are no victims when it comes to coveting.”   That’s exactly how sin works; sometimes it can make so much sense.  And that’s the danger.

Here’s the thing: God does not need your money.  He owns everything already.  But God does want your heart.  God wants your trust, because trust is about more than your schedule for the week, your relationships, and your finances.  Trust ultimately impacts our eternity.  There is only room in our hearts for one object of trust.  It’s either going to be God or something else, and something else always leads to death.

The devil works hard to get us to misplace our trust.  To do that he doesn’t have to get us to denounce Jesus, stop reading the Bible, or never come back to church again.  He can use something that seems so harmless like materialism, coveting, and greed to sink deep roots into our hearts that crowd out our full and complete trust in God.  It’s no wonder, then, that God demands to be first and why he was so upset with Achan’s sin.

Did God go a little overboard, though?  Achan, his family, his animals, his possessions and all that he had were taken to this valley of Achor and stoned to death, then burned, and covered with a large pile of rocks.  But before that do you see how careful God is with Achan?  He didn’t just strike him dead in his tent. God went through this long process of identifying the tribe of Judah, the clan of Zerah, the family of Zimri, and then the guilty man, Achan.  God was being patient with a sinner, urging repentance.  And God’s patience helped Achan arrive there. “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel…” Notice that his confession is not directed to Joshua or Israel, and there’s not a word of passing blame, minimizing his mistake, or justifying himself.  Achan acknowledges what he has done against the Lord and confesses everything in detail.

The root of all kinds of evil is going to lead to evil. Sin is going to grow more sin.  When it shows up here (in this section of Joshua) and when it shows up here (my heart), it’s never a good thing.  God says the wages of sin is death.  So, Achan died because of sin.  That’s the same reason I am going to die.  That’s the same reason you are going to die.  But my death and yours is just going to be one day.  For all who are turned away from sin by God’s loving patience, for all who live in repentance and faith, for all who trust God above all, the suffering of death is just one day.

That’s what Joshua said to Achan. “Why have you brought this trouble on us? The Lord will bring trouble on you today.  There is nothing in these words about his eternity.  Now, we can’t say with certainty what was in Achan’s heart, we don’t know for sure where Achan ended up, but we know that God wants people to be with him.  We know that God was trying to accomplish that by leading him to repentance.

Trouble today is far better than trouble for eternity.  Isn’t that the way God still deals with us?  Good days, success and blessings are wonderful gifts from God.  Be thankful when you have them, but those things aren’t God’s number one priority for us.  God wants us to be happy with him forever in heaven.  Very often a dose of trouble today can go a long way in getting us to remember that.  Sadness, hardships, and the like shows us that we are in a broken world and we are broken people.  The time for God’s forgiveness, the time for us to trust him is today.  As much as it hurts God to see us suffering, he will put up with it if that means he will be with us for eternity.

But maybe you’ve noticed something about this sermon so far.  We’ve heard about sin that so often sends it’s roots out into my heart and takes hold of me turning my trust in God to trusting myself or my stuff.  We’ve heard how that caused trouble for Achan and for all of Israel.  We’ve heard about the trouble that happened on that day in the Valley of Achor for that one guilty man.  But how do we get out of trouble?  How do we give up this sin?  How do we get what we desperately need from God?

Well, there was another man who had a day of trouble.  He didn’t deserve any of it.  It wasn’t forced on him, but he willingly took it.  And he did so that we would not have an eternity of pain and trouble.  Jesus, the perfect Son of God, took our troubles on himself and suffered our punishment.  The root of all kinds of evil wrapped around him and held him in its clutches so that it wouldn’t hold us anymore.  Jesus went into the valley of trouble for us.  That is how God took care of our trouble, so that we can have joy for eternity at his side.

Do you want to give up sin?  Do you want to give up the coveting, the greed, the materialism, the root of all kinds of evil?  This is how!  This is how God did it.  Jesus fought off every temptation.  He fought off the devil.  He was the perfect One, the righteous One, the holy One.  And he gave it all to us.  His death takes away all of those sins and all of those roots that try to crowd out our faith and trust in Jesus.  His death removed all of them and replaces them with his perfection.  Your sins are gone through faith in him.  God gives you a new life through Jesus, apart from sin.

Let me say that again!  APART FROM SIN!  That’s how to give up the materialism.  It’s not fear that you might end up like Achan.  It’s not trying to earn something from God.  It’s that the material cannot give you what Jesus does.  He gives you a life apart from sin.  He gives you an eternity apart from trouble.

God cares about your heart so much that Jesus came to save you from those roots that lead to evil.  God cares about your heart so much that he patiently leads you to repentance.  God cares about your heart so much that he has an eternity free from trouble waiting for you.  Amen.

SPEAKING GOOD NEWS

Walls torn down

Luke 24:13-33

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19 “What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem.

 

 

Did you get good news on Tuesday night (midterm Elections)?  That depends, doesn’t it?  Now, we don’t need to get into politics to prove this point.  It could be anything.  It could be sports.  It could be work.  It could be family. It could be this past Friday, opening day for deer gun season.  Did you get good news?  It all depends on what you want, doesn’t it?  That’s the way good news works.  If the outcome or information is what you want or like, then it’s good.  If not, then it’s not good.

But what if that’s not the way it has to be?  What if some news was good no matter who was receiving it?  What if some information was always good because of the one who has provided it?  My brothers and sisters, that is what we have from God in the gospel.  We have the news that is always good no matter who is listening or how they react.  The gospel of Jesus is always good news.

This good news is so good that it is specifically designed by God to be not just something that makes me good, but also something that makes me want to give good news to others.  This is called evangelism, and in our worship series, Walls Torn Down, we are reviewing this beautiful doctrine of the Bible to grow in how we Use the Power of Good News, which tears down the walls of sin, death, and hell.

That all began a few weeks ago in October.  If you remember a few weeks back, we started by hearing from God that to be involved in evangelism you don’t need to have all sorts of skills or a certain personality.  You don’t need to be on the church payroll.  We heard the story Jesus told of a Good Samaritan, and there Jesus teaches us that love is all you need, the selfless, Good Samaritan love that cares for people no matter who they are.  And it just so happens that the kind of love we need is exactly what Jesus did for us and is exactly what Jesus put into our hearts through faith.  The second week we heard God’s Word from the God’s missionary to the Gentiles, Paul.  He told us that when you are a Christian you are going to find ways to be all things to all people.  In other words, we will get comfortable being uncomfortable.  The third week we heard from Paul again about how to turn conversations from common everyday things that everybody knows to the uncommon and unique grace and power of our God and Savior.  Remember how we saw him do that in Athens in the Areopagus?  He used their city and their objects of worship, one of which said “to an unknown god.”  He used their philosophers and poets.  He used those things that the people of Athens knew well to point them to the God of heaven and earth and his salvation through Jesus, who died and rose for us.

That leads us to these two men walking on the road to Emmaus.  It’s later on the day Jesus rose, Easter.  They are both followers of Jesus, so for them to be talking with each other about everything that had happened is not all the remarkable.  That would be like you discussing a sermon, a bible class, an outreach event with another member here or maybe encouraging and comforting someone close to you with an illness or a problem they are facing.  Those are the kinds of things that you would be comfortable talking about with a brother or sister in faith.

But what if the audience is different?  Would you be as comfortable talking about everything Jesus has done for us, about the power of God, or about the teachings of the Bible?  Maybe we have to admit that when it comes to God’s good news, we don’t speak up because we think it depends on the audience.  It’s similar to the way we look at elections or sports.  We treat the gospel like it is only good news for those who we see here at church, those who are on our side.

When we do that, we are setting limits on the gospel that God has not set.  We see the two men on the road to Emmaus do the same thing. When this stranger, who is really Jesus, asks them what they are discussing, they give a somber recap of what happened.  Here’s the summary: “He [Jesus] was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him;1 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.  In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

This should be a joyous, exciting explanation of how Jesus conquered sin and death for all people, but instead it’s downcast and doleful, because they had set limits on God’s promises.  Did you catch that in their response?  See, here is what they thought God’s promised good news was: “we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”  These two thought the good news was the revival of the Jewish nation, God’s people, Abraham’s descendants.  They thought God’s promise was the Israelites being delivered from the oppression of the Roman government and restored to ruling the world’s political scene.

Sure, that would be good news for Israelites, what about everyone else?  What about the Romans?  What about Samaritans?  What about Gentiles who would grow up in Europe, Africa, or America.  What about us?  We wouldn’t have any good news from God.

Sadly, sometimes we put up those limits on God’s good news just like these two men walking on the road to Emmaus.  The wonderful promises of God, his gospel of salvation for all, the Savior of the entire world is only good news for some.  In essence, that is saying God’s gospel message, his good news is not as good as God thinks it is.  Somehow we convince ourselves that the power of the gospel is not that powerful.  How foolish you and I are to think that the good news of God would ever be so small and insignificant.

But we do, we do talk and act like it is unimpressive, and maybe that’s because we don’t think the bad news is all that bad, either.  I think that happens to us like it was happening to the two men on the road.  They thought the good news was that Jesus was going to redeem Israel and get rid of the Roman rule.  So that means the bad news that was causing their sorrow was that Israel would still be stuck under the hated, oppressive government.

Brothers and sisters, that is not the bad news.  How foolish you and I are to think the bad news could ever be political, economic, financial, educational.  How foolish!  The bad news is not that your team didn’t win.  The bad news is not that you missed a big buck.  The bad news is not that your loved one has cancer, that your family is in shambles, that you lost your job.  That’s not even close too bad enough.

The bad news is sin.  Sin is something God cannot wink at or ignore.   Sin is something we cannot change the definition of.  Sin is so bad that it separates people from God.  Anyone who has ever done any one little thing wrong, even if it was just a thought to do wrong, has completely smashed God’s law to pieces.  Anyone who has smashed God’s law to pieces cannot have a life with God.  Sin is real, and it puts your name on the list of those who are going to the burning lake of sulfur where the worms that eat you do not die, and the fire is not quenched.  We’re talking eternal torture and punishment.  We’re talking the worst imaginable pain and suffering physically, emotionally, psychologically and it lasts forever.  The bad news is that anyone, who is not perfect as God requires you to be, is going to hell.  And this bad news cannot be changed by anyone.  You cannot undo what you have done wrong.  You cannot make up for these sins.  There is simply no other option but to suffer the pain of hell. Period.

That’s bad, isn’t it?  That’s so bad that it’s hard to put into words how bad sin and hell are.  It’s so bad, in fact, that the only fix that would ever work is an act of God.  He’s the only one powerful enough.  He’s the only one loving enough.  He’s the only one who could do anything about it. The only possible way to get rid of the devastating and eternal destruction sin causes to each person is that God would take that suffering and pain away from us and put it on someone else.  Someone else who is powerful enough and loving enough to see sinners in this absolutely perilous condition and step in for us, that’s what it would take to get rid of our bad news.

What would you call it if someone actually did that?  What would you call it if someone saw the entire world full of sinners and decided to step in for us?  What would you call it if someone would suffer the pain and torture our sins have earned?  What would you call it if someone would endure the physical, emotional, psychological hell that is coming for every sinner?  What would you call it if someone would die so innocently so that the guilty ones could benefit?  What would you call it if someone would take our pain and punishment and then give us the perfection God requires of us?  What would you call it if someone who died under the crushing weight of our sins actually came back from the dead?  What would you call it if someone conquered all, we’re talking every single one of our eternal enemies for us?  What would you call it if you didn’t have to be afraid of death, the devil, or hell anymore?  What would you call it if someone would provide all of this free of charge for all sinners, without conditions and without basing it on anything you did or didn’t do?  What would you call it if someone didn’t put limits on the people who can have and enjoy this gift?  What would you call that?  How about THE GOOD NEWS!!!

Yes, good news is exactly what that is.  Good news is exactly what Jesus has produced, accomplished, and provided for us.  It’s so good, in fact, that God gave it a special name called the gospel.  And God gave the gospel special power to work on hearts whenever and wherever it pleases him to change lives on earth and for eternity.

And do you notice what the gospel, what God’s good news, does to those who believe it?  Those two on the road to Emmaus heard the good news from Jesus, they saw their Savior alive, and with hearts burning from the power of the gospel, they immediately wanted to share it.  Luke writes in verse 33: They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem…

If you want to know how in the world you could ever tell someone the gospel of Jesus, I think you are looking at it all wrong.  This good news is so good, how could you not?  Amen.

SIN & GRACE

Week 2 – 6.18.17

LL pic 2

 

PART 1: SIN

 

It has been called a constant companion in life.  It’s with you when you are awake and sleeping.  It’s with you when you are feeling well and when you aren’t.  It’s with you when you are doing good things and when you aren’t.  It’s with you at work, at home, out and about, on vacation, when you are alone and when you are with a bunch of people.  It’s with you all the time.  You and I just cannot get rid of sin.  And just in case we need a little reminder of what sin is, Paul bluntly points out a couple things for us today.

First, I don’t get to decide what sin is.  God created the world perfectly.  God put the conscience in each person’s heart.  And God made the laws that people need to follow, so he gets to tell me what sin is.

Number two, we must realize that sin is not just a discussion about actions, things that people can see or talk about.  In other words, sin is not only something that describes doing things that God forbids or not doing things that God commands.  Sin is also a condition.  It is in us.  It is a part of us.  We were born with it.  And that kind of original sin makes us impure every moment of life.  Every breath is from a person that cannot be perfect.

Third, this sinful condition I have, it shows up in my life… a lot.  If it is a condition, then the condition will have symptoms.  Paul mentions quite a number of those symptoms of sin that pop up all over the place in our lives.  Idolatry is one that he mentions.  That is the sin where we put something else in the place only God can have.  It can be money.  It can be fame.  It can be a career.  It can be friends.  It can be family.  It can be a house.  It can be possessions.  It can be hobbies.  It can be abilities.  It can be sex, food, alcohol, drugs, technology, and any number of other things.  Anything that we make more important than our God and the relationship we have with him is an idol.  And you probably can recall a time when that has happened in your life.

Maybe you have one good hour on a Sunday morning, where your attention is fully placed on God.  Well, in order to be the type of person that has never broken the First Commandment, you would have to do that constantly from the moment you were conceived to the moment you die.  It’s impossible for a sinner.  People with the sinful condition cannot properly give God full, undivided attention as the first and most important priority in life.

That’s just one example with one commandment.  Through Paul’s letter to the Romans, God shows us many more.  Sin shows up everywhere.  We have old sins and new sins.  We have accidental sins and purposeful sins.  We have sins that take a long time and sins that pop up randomly.  We have sins inside and on the outside.

And what is really sad about all of this is that we know better.  Paul writes, Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”  God tells us what sin is, not only the bad actions and attitudes, but also the condition that makes my entire life unacceptable.  God tells us what sin deserves; that’s death.  But we continue to do it anyways.  Sure, sometimes it’s an accident, but sometimes it’s not.  And we even find ways to approve of others who sin.

Let’s go back to that Sunday example.  If you skip that hour of the week where God gathers his people to feed their faith, and you let your kids or parents or friends skip too, then you are approving of their sin.  Do you see how tangled this web of evil is for us?

This was Martin Luther’s struggle as a monk, priest, and professor.  Sin was constantly showing its ugliness in his life.  God demanded better, but he was unable to do better.  How could he ever have the righteousness of God with this kind of rap sheet?  And how could you?

He tried, boy did he try.  He wanted so much to earn God’s righteousness.  That was his daily mission.  But every day he failed.  You can try, too.  You can try as hard as you want to earn a right standing with God, but every day you fail.  Sin is a constant companion and it is not friendly.  There’s really only one thing we can say (like the hymn we just sang concludes): “O God, be merciful to me.”

 

PART 2: GRACE

 

With God, there is no try.  With God, there is do.  We can’t try to earn his righteousness.  We can’t try to remove our sins or cover them from his sight.  He sees all of them better than we do.  There is no trying to fix the problems sin causes.  There is no trying to cure the imperfect condition in which we were born and will die.  Sin is the terrible and deadly companion with us our entire lives.

But there is another constant companion that defeats the evil of sin.  There is another constant companion that is far greater and more powerful.  God’s grace.  And with God’s grace there is no trying.  God doesn’t try to fix your problems.  God doesn’t try to cure sin’s disease.  God doesn’t try to save people.  He just does it.

That’s grace.  It’s not earned by beating your body into submission.  It’s not deserved by being better than others.  It’s not won by special works of service.  Grace is this: when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  God’s grace gets to work saving sinners and ungodly people from their deadly companion of sin in life.  God’s grace gets to work by doing all of the necessary work for us.  God’s grace gets to work by doing the one thing that opens heaven to people like us.

Sin has to be dealt with.  It has to be paid for.  If sin brought death into the world, then God’s grace would bring life.  There was no other way.  He would have to make the payment.  At just the right time, God did exactly that.  Jesus came.  He was born with the same obligation to follow the law perfectly…and he did.  God’s Son did what we could not.  He fought off the companionship of sin.  And that perfect life, he gave up as the sacrifice for us.  Jesus carried all the sins of the world to the cross and took the punishment we deserve.  All the ungodly ugliness was unacceptable to God, so he got rid of it with the death of his Son.  All of it is gone.  In sin’s place God has given the gift of grace.  We have forgiveness and life through Christ Jesus.

If you think that is not enough, if you think you have too many sins, then listen to this: “where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”   When God takes care of something, he does it completely.  His grace is perfect at getting rid of sin.

And his grace is always with you.  Nothing changes the facts of Jesus life, death, and resurrection.  Through Christ and his sacrifice, nothing removes God’s grace from you.  He will always be the God who is there for you as your loving Father.  He will always be the God who is there for you with forgiveness.  He will always be the God who is there for you with peace that can only come through the gospel of Jesus.

That is what changed things for Luther.  God did not give righteousness based on us, but he gave it based on his love.  As Paul so beautifully puts it: God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  God just decided that he would love us in a way that we could never have by our own.  Luther was filled up with God’s righteousness because it was a free gift.  He realized God was not an angry judge trying to punish him because of sin, but that he was a God of love who had saved him by grace alone.  God worked through the simple truth of the gospel to free him from the guilt that wants to be our only and our constant companion.

Sin tried hard to ruin Luther, and it tries just as hard to ruin us.  God did not try hard to save us.  He just did it.  Free of charge because he loved us and wanted us to be with him in heaven.  It’s grace and it’s amazing.

Child of God, sin tries to weigh you down, but your gracious Lord has removed the burden forever.  Where guilt tries to sap all your strength, your gracious Lord fills you up with forgiveness.  Where natural human knowledge says you have to work for things in life, your loving Lord uses divine grace that can never fail at keeping you as his very own.

This legacy is the good news that is still heard in our Lutheran churches today.  Do you know how that’s possible?  It’s not because a man named Martin Luther was so amazing.  It’s not because Germans are great at everything.  It’s because of grace.  And as a child of God, that is your constant companion.  Amen.