This morning we walk through our first lesson on faith (the importance of faith). Unfortunately, the audio got cut off at the very end of the class. So there’s about a minute or so missing at the end.
If Only the Lord Would Come Down
What do you see? Being back in Minnesota at this time of the year reminds me of the years I went to school in New Ulm. And what I remember about this time of the year is flying back home. I didn’t fly home or anywhere very often. So when I was in that jet, both as it took off and as it descended and landed, I looked down had a good look at everything below me. And what I saw still sticks with me today. I saw snow. I saw all the multicolored lights during this time of the year. I saw the bring, busy places where people lived. And I saw the barren, open places where people did not live. All that I saw from above, flying overhead. In our psalm this evening, the psalmist asks a slightly different question, not what I see when I look down, but instead, what does God see when he looks down at the earth? In Psalm 14, we read: “1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. 2 The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.” (Psalms 14:1–2 NIV11-GKE)
When the Lord looks down, what does he see? He sees a world of fools. And in the words that follow, in a very detailed way, he shows us what a fool is. The fool says there is no god. But even worse, a fool is not just a person who says there is no god. A fool is a person who might say that there is a god, but then, by that person’s own life, he or she shows that they don’t really believe the words they say. For example, there was a pastor who did evangelism work on college campuses. And what he found out was that almost nobody would come out and say that they were atheists. Instead, they would say that they were ‘agnostics.’ They did not know if there was a god or not, but they were looking, hoping that someday they’d find god. The pastor challenged them, bluntly saying that they were lying. For if they were truly looking for God, there would be some evidence of that search in their lives. They might possibly sleep in on one Sunday. But on the next Sunday, you’d expect them to go to church to see if maybe that church have the true God in it. But their actions prove their words wrong. In short, to use the words here in Psalm 14, they are fools. They don’t just say there is no God. They also live their lives in such a way that they show they don’t believe in any God.
But notice where the Psalmist goes next. The Lord looks down and sees a world of fools. But if we ask the question, “how many fools are there,” Notice what the answer is: everybody. There is no one who does good. And if we didn’t get the point he was making in verses 1 and 2, he makes the same point in different words which follow: “3 All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. 4 Do all these evildoers know nothing? They devour my people as though eating bread; they never call on the Lord. 5 But there they are, overwhelmed with dread, for God is present in the company of the righteous. 6 You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge.” (Psalms 14:3–6 NIV11-GKE)
How many have turned away from God? All. How many do any good? No one. How many call on and call out to God? No one. Notice this huge, ever-so-important point God is making to us in his word: Every person who comes into this world is turned away from God, with no ability to call on him and no desire to follow him. This is a fact that we need to keep reminding ourselves of again and again because each of us has a sinful nature, even now as Christians alongside our new nature, that hates it when we hear these words. We want to think that we can do our part. We want to think that there’s at least a spark of goodness in us that we can make use of to know God or earn him. And so, some churches, sad to say, teach that you can make use of this spark of goodness to reach out and choose God. Other churches say that because of this spark of goodness you can prove to God that you are worthy of redeeming. But what God’s word says here is clear and condemning: how many do any good at all? No one. We lie, we lust, we cheat, we steal, we put ourselves above all other people. And if we can’t do this publicly and get away with it, we harbor and tend these thoughts deep inside of our hearts.
In those rare times I fly over Minnesota, I see ice, snow and lights. But what does the Lord see from heaven? He sees a world of fools. He sees a world of people who either says there is no God or shows by their actions that they don’t believe the words they say. These are the sort of truths that drive you ask, ‘Is there any hope for us? Is there any help for us?’ The psalmist cries out these words: “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!” (Psalms 14:7 NIV11-GKE)
If only! The psalmist cries out an impossible wish. He says, “If only Salvation would come down from heaven to us.” What right does an abusive father have to ask the abused child to spend time with him? What right does the adulterous wife have to ask the husband she cheated on to spend time with her? What right do we have to ask the holy, perfect and just God to come down to us?
We have no right at all. But, what the psalmist speaks as an impossible wish, the Lord turns into a powerful promise. It is at this time of the year when we focus on the fact that the Lord did come down. Purely out of his own grace—his undeserved love towards a world of fools, he came down. He took on our humanity so that he could not just say, “there is a true God out there”, but instead, he would be that true God for us. He would be the one who would seek God because we don’t. He would be the one who would call on God because we can’t. All this he would do, and in Christ, did, for us, to take away our sin.
If only the Lord would come down. But he did. Where does that leave us here this evening? In our final words, we read: “When the Lord restores his people, let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!” (Psalms 14:7 NIV11-GKE)
The Lord came down. Jesus took on our flesh and blood to take away our sins. He earned our salvation on the cross. And he delivered that forgiveness to us through his word. In our salvation and in our conversion we have no part. This was all God’s work. Well then, what is our role? We cannot earn our salvation or make ourselves Christians. But we can do what God invites us to do here. We can sing. We can be glad. We can rejoice. For this impossible wish, that the Lord would come down to a world of us fools came true. He came down to us to redeem us and convert us and give us true wisdom from above. So let this time of preparation, this time of Advent be a time of sober reflection on the fact that we, in so many times and ways are fools. But don’t let your thoughts stay there. Also rejoice that Jesus has taken away your sin and given to you his wisdom in his word. Amen.
Where Is Your Focus At Christmas?
Where your head goes, your body follows. Years ago I took a driver’s education class. And in that class we were taught that where your eyes go, your body follows. You could be driving down the road and see a deer way off in a field. So what do you naturally do? Naturally, you look over and see the deer. And even though you only look for a second or two, what happens when you look back? You used to be perfectly in your lane. But now you’re swaying to the right of your lane. Or even worse, you can be crossing over into the other person’s lane. Christmas is a joyous and blessed time of the year. But it’s a time of the year when it’s easy to become distracted. And so, this morning God’s word invites us to ask ourselves the question, “Where is your focus at Christmas?” And the place that teaches us the answers to this question is from the last book in the Old Testament, the book of Malachi. In Malachi 4, we read: ““For look, the day is coming, burning like a furnace, when all the arrogant and everyone who commits wickedness will become stubble. The coming day will consume them,” says the Lord of Armies, “not leaving them root or branches.” (Malachi 4:1 CSB17)
So Malachi reminds us what we’ve been talking about for the last several weeks, that Judgment Day is coming. And indeed, it could come at any time. But notice where he goes from there: “2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings, and you will go out and playfully jump like calves from the stall. 3 You will trample the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day I am preparing,” says the Lord of Armies.” (Malachi 4:2–3 CSB17)
Malachi mentions that those who do not repent will be consumed in the fires of hell. But then he speaks those ever-so-important words, “But you.” He let’s them know that Jesus’ righteousness will be their shining sun. God was what they could never be. He was perfect. And sent would send his perfect servant to do for his people what they could not do for themselves. They could not love God perfectly. But about 300 years down the line, when Jesus was born, he could. They could not love their neighbors perfectly. But this coming Savior could. His righteousness would dawn and rise and shine on them. And the healing of forgiveness would be theirs.
But there’s even more. Because Jesus’ righteousness and perfection would be their own, there were effects in their lives. They would be like calves who are let out of the barn. This is the sort of sight that is not too difficult to see at all. You take some calves that are hemmed in and enclosed in barns during the cold winter. And then the spring comes and they don’t just leave the barn. They run and jump around. And if you’ve ever seen this, it’s amazing to watch. For a young calf is not the most graceful animal. If you want to see a graceful animal, maybe a horse might be better to watch. If you want to see joy—pure joy, look at a calf.
Now, my friends in Christ, this is a picture that Malachi paints. And he paints this picture for us. But what does it mean? What is it a picture of? This is a picture of Judgment Day. Judgment Day should be a day of pure, unshaped and unrestrained joy—like calves let out of the barn. But our temptation to sin is that we can can look at the joy in front of our eyes and forget about the better joy in heaven. There is nothing wrong with opening up your Christmas ornaments to put them on the tree and looking to the past to be reminded of your Grandma or Grandpa who gave them to you. There’s nothing wrong with looking forward to the very unique worship that happens a week from now when our Children share God’s word with us or on Christmas Eve when we light candles and sing beautiful hymns. But the joy of the present or the joy of the past wipes away your joy of Judgment Day—your joy of the future, there is where the sin enters in.
But that’s how good and gracious the Lord of the Heavenly Armies is. He brings our focus back to where it needs to be. He reminds us that that shining righteousness was not just there for the sinners in Malachi’s time. Jesus’ perfection is our own. For all the times we lost focus and forgot about the joy to come, his perfection and righteousness forgives us and covers us.It is also here for us. And because of that, joy, unshaped and unrefined joy is waiting for us there in heaven, the sort of joy that you cannot wrap in a present or bake in cookies or decorate on a tree.
So, where’s your focus at Christmas? In these words here in Malachi the Lord reminds us to focus our thoughts and hearts forward to Judgment Day. But there’s more. We read: ““Remember the instruction of Moses my servant, the statutes and ordinances I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.” (Malachi 4:4 CSB17)
Where’s your focus at Christmas? First, focus on the joy of Judgment Day. But, second, focus on the joy we find in God’s word everyday. Here in these words, notice what the Lord encourages his people to do. He encourages them to remember what Moses taught them.1(Malachi 3:22 BHS-T)}} The word here, “remember” does not just mean to remind someone of something. It’s the sort of action that makes a person take action. When you say, “your hair is on fire”, that’s not just a “for your information” sort of comment. We take action if someone tells us this. Here the Lord of heavenly armies is urging his people to remember God’s word by learning, reading and growing in it. And then he follows up by letting them know why they should remember God’s word: “5 Look, I am going to send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse.”” (Malachi 4:5–6 CSB17)
The Lord of heavenly armies sends Elijah. In the New Testament Jesus tells us that this Elijah is John the Baptizer. And, as John shares God’s word with the people of Jesus’ day, what happens? The hearts of fathers turns toward their sons and the hearts of sons turn toward their fathers. That is the power of God’s word. It changes people. A guy I once knew, his dad was an unbeliever. And it shouldn’t shock us that his dad acted like an unbeliever. But this son knew his Savior. He knew Jesus great love for him. And that love wasn’t just there for him. It was also there in him. And in that light he was able to look at his dad differently than he did before. And, slowly, as he was able, he shared God’s word with his dad. And then, on his death-bed, his dad confessed his faith in Jesus. And so, through his powerful word the Lord of heavenly armies changed the son’s heart toward his father.
But this too is where we see our temptation to sin. Joy, true, life-changing joy is found here in God’s word every day. But there is such a temptation to replace that joy with different joys. If you find joy lighting candles but find no joy opening up your bibles and finding joy there in reading about Jesus, the light of the world, your focus is in the wrong place. If you study, whether it’s taking out that recipe book to study up and make the perfect Christmas meal or study as you watch Youtube to figure out how to make the perfect Christmas ornament—if you study other books, but find no joy and no time to study God’s word with you pastor, your focus is in the wrong place.
And my dear friends, there is joy, real and true joy there to be found in God’s word. And it’s not just joy that we find at this truly special time of the year at Christmas. It’s joy we find every time we open up our bibles and read them. It’s joy we find every time we sit down with our pastor and go through the details of God’s word. And as we do that, it changes us, for good. But the source of that change is not law. It’s gospel. It’s our Savior Jesus. It’s knowing the great joy he had in taking on human flesh and blood for us, to take away our sins. That is the source of our joy. And the Holy Spirit takes that joy and performs a miracle. The joy that Jesus had for us, as we see that our sins are forgiven, we reach out, forgive and serve others. That’s the only way a man with an unbelieving father could forgive his father and be there for him in his last days. And it’s the only way love will be in our hearts to show true Christian love to others.
And so, my friends in Christ, where is your focus at Christmas? Let your focus be on Christmas on Christmas. But don’t let that be the only place your focus sits and settles. Focus on the joy that will be yours on Judgment Day. And focus on the joy that is yours every day in God’s word. Amen.
1 ”זִכְר֕וּ תּוֹרַ֖ת מֹשֶׁ֣ה עַבְדִּ֑י“
Christmas Is A Collision of Kings
That isn’t going to end well. One of the interesting parts of growing up in Montana is that you have to deal with problems that people elsewhere don’t really have to deal with. When we were children in school the teachers would set aside special time to have a special talk with us as a class. What was the talk about? Evidently, when you became a teenager and got your driver’s license, every teenager had this unquenchable urge to beat the train to the intersection. And if a train and a car collide, who is going to win? Now, the trains in MT could be more than a mile long, so you could see the incentive a person might have to beat the train. But still, train always beats car when they collide. This evening, as we look at Psalm 2, we see a collision. But it’s not a collision of cars. It’s a collision of kings. What will happen when the kings of the earth collide with the king that the Lord has chosen? In Psalm 2 we read these words: “1 Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers conspire together against the Lord and his Anointed One: 3 “Let’s tear off their chains and throw their ropes off of us.”” (Psalms 2:1–3 CSB17)
What happens when the Lord’s chosen king and the kings of the earth collide? The kings of the earth plot and plan. In a few weeks down the road, on Epiphany, we’ll see this in more detail. The Magi came to Herod asking for advice. And we might make fun of Herod because he was a sad excuse for a king in a super-small territory in the far-flung nether-reaches of the Roman Empire. But Herod knew what we might not. As soon as the Magi spoke about the king prophesied from of old, there was a collision of kings. And whenever there is a collision only one walks away. And Herod wanted to be that king, who at the end of the day walk away from the wreck.
It’s always been that way. It was that way in King David’s time. It was that way at Jesus’ birth. So what then is the Lord’s response to the plotting and planning that the kings of the earth take part in? “4 The one enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord ridicules them. 5 Then he speaks to them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath:” (Psalms 2:4–5 CSB17)
Notice how the Lord has two reactions. First, he laughs. This reminds us that the Lord wasn’t just in control. He was in complete, absolute control. There is nothing any king of the earth could do to overrule or over throw the king that that Lord chose. And second, after the laughter dies down, the Lord terrifies them in his wrath. These are words to pause and ponder. What happens to every earthly king that takes his stand against the king the Lord has chosen? The Lord limits their power while they are a king here, and then when they die he gives the every reason to be filled with terror as they collide with their own well-deserved judgement in hell.
It’s good for us to walk through these words this evening. For in these words we see our own temptation to sin. For when we see Christians cut down in Africa or sent away to torture chambers in China or the freedom of religion in our own nation be put in quotation marks as if it’s in the same made-up category as pink unicorns—when all of this happens, our great temptation to sin is that we forget these words. We forget that right now our Lord is laughing. Their pathetic and petty attempts to out-rule and overthrow Jesus are laughable in God’s sight because he is in complete and absolute control. And we forget that for all the evil they plot, plan and then produce, there is wrath waiting for them at the end of their time here.
These words are a reminder of our sin. But they are also a reminder of the Lord’s love for us. If the Lord is laughing at the kings of the earth and all their plots and plans, then in our own hearts, we can too. And if the Lord promises to bring them just wrath for trying to overthrow Jesus and destroy his church, we can be content and at peace with that.
Christmas is a collision of kings. And when that happens, the Lord threatens to make these kings afraid. But what happens next is surprising and shocking: “6 “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.” 7 I will declare the Lord’s decree. He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” (Psalms 2:6–7 CSB17)
What happens when kings collide? First, the Lord opens up and reveals to them mysteries that he and he alone knows. He lets the kings of the earth in on the secret that God the Father has begotten his Son…from eternity. This passage has presented translators with problems for hundreds and hundreds of years. First, the word here is usually spoken of a mom giving birth to a child.1(Psalms 2:7 BHS-T)}} But fathers don’t give birth to sons. Second, How can the Father give birth to the Son from eternity? This here is not speaking about Mary giving birth on Christmas. Instead, it’s speaking about the Father having the completely unique relationship with his Son from eternity. This is an amazing mystery that we struggle to understand. But, in these words, who is the intended target for this amazing mystery? The very kings that take their stand against Jesus are the ones who are addressed. And that makes us ask the question, “why?” God answers that question in the words which follow: “8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance and the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You will break them with an iron scepter; you will shatter them like pottery.” 10 So now, kings, be wise; receive instruction, you judges of the earth. 11 Serve the Lord with reverential awe and rejoice with trembling. 12 Pay homage to the Son or he will be angry and you will perish in your rebellion, for his anger may ignite at any moment.” (Psalms 2:8–12 CSB17)
What happens when kings collide? The Lord threatens to make them afraid. But notice what happens here: the Lord is inviting them to be afraid. No, my friends in Christ, fear isn’t always a bad quality. Fear in the bible doesn’t just mean being terrified and trembling. It is also a positive attitude. As is says here in our version, “reverential awe” (Psalms 2:11 CSB17). The Lord goes out of his way to win these unbelieving kings over not with threats of wrath, but instead with invitations of awe and wonder.
This too reminds us of our sin, doesn’t it? For, when it comes to the leaders of the land and rulers of the world that take their stand still today against Jesus, the Lord’s chosen king, what, so often, is our attitude towards them? Our temptation is that if they take their stand against Jesus, then the Lord should waste no time and just put them to death and send them to hell. But that’s not Jesus’ desire and plan. No, instead, he wants them to take their refuge in him. And how do we know this? He tells us: “All who take refuge in him are happy.” (Psalms 2:12 CSB17)
Just as he took you, as cruel and rebellious as you are and shared with you mysteries that the unbelieving world does not understand, so also, he wants to do the same with the rest of the unbelieving world. He wants them to look at not just this amazing mystery that God the Father from eternity begat his own Son, but also the amazing mystery that this Son took on our humanity for us, to save us from our sin—even the sins we commit when we forget that God is in control, laughing at the plots of kings—even the sins we commit when we forget that we too at one time were just as unbelieving and rebellious as the the godless kings of the earth. Those sins are forgiven in this mystery of the Lord’s chosen king taking on human flesh and blood for us.
What happens when kings collide? First, the Lord threatens to make them afraid. Second, he invites them to be afraid—filled with holy, joyful, reverent fear. Amen.
This is our fifth class in our adult instruction class. The title of the lesson is: Knowing Jesus As Your Creator
What Did You Expect?
Why is he reading that? It’s the beginning of a new year. It’s the first Sunday in Advent. So why is your pastor taking you back to Palm Sunday? To answer your question, I didn’t choose this reading. This Sunday we begin the One-Year or Historical lectionary series. These readings for these Sundays are close to a thousand years old. A better question to ask is not, “why did the pastor pick that reading,” but instead, “why did Christians a thousand years ago pick them?” They chose this reading from Palm Sunday to ask you a question: what did you expect? What did you expect to find last year at Christmas? And what do you expect to find this Christmas? And as we read through these words from Matthew 21 we find real answers to that question, not just about Jesus at the end of his earthly life, but also at the beginning. In Matthew 21, we read: “1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”” (Matthew 21:1–3 NIV11-GKE)
What do we expect? What do we expect of Jesus our King? What we see in these words is that every detail about this king was perfectly planned. Jesus tells two of his disciples to go to a specific place, to specific people and to get two specific animals. And, as we look to the events that will unfold in these next four weeks, realize that the same is true. Every detail about this king was planned—and planned perfectly. But what else do we expect? “4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5 “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ”” (Matthew 21:4–5 NIV11-GKE)
What did you expect in this king? Yes, he is a king that is perfectly planned. But he is also a king that is prophesied in the past. Hundreds of years before he walked up to Jerusalem to die God’s word told us that he would enter on foot only to the bottom of the hill. He would travel like the true king of Jerusalem that he was into Jerusalem. He would travel on two donkeys. That’s what the king rode on. And this teaches us what to expect at Christmas too. As we look ahead, won’t there be ancient and true promises and prophecies about what this king will be like? But these words aren’t done. We read: “6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”” (Matthew 21:6–9 NIV11-GKE)
What did you expect as you look and your coming King? Expect a king that is perfectly planned. Expect a king that was prophesied in the past. But finally, expect a king that is praised properly. The people shouted, “hosanna!”1 That’s the Aramaic for “Please save us!”2 They spoke the precise and proper words. They said it. But they didn’t get it. They said “hosanna.” But they meant, “let me take advantage of your humility.” Let us use you and abuse you, making you into what we want in a king and not listening to what you want.
That’s how it was on Palm Sunday. And it’s the same every Christmas, isn’t it? Look at the world around you. When they celebrate Jesus as the King of kings, what picture do they usually use? Do they use the picture that we saw last week as the conquering King coming down from the clouds of heaven to judge the living and the dead? No, outside of Christian churches, it’s hard to find that part of the bible spoken of? Why is that? Just like the people on Palm Sunday then, so also the people today like a humble king so that they can take advantage of him. A baby in a manger—how could that person be full of wrath against or even be aware of my sin? So whatever I’m doing that sinful and wrong, I can keep doing that.
And that is a temptation for us as Christians too, isn’t it? And what did you expect? What sort of king did you expect to find as we prepare for Christmas? Did you expect the sort of king that would not care when you sinned and would not be offended? That, for the times you gossiped and lied, for the times you hated and harmed others, Jesus was either not filled with wrath against that sin or not even aware of it.
These words move us to repent. For if we continually and constantly take advantage of Jesus’ humility, what did you expect would happen? Jesus will not come to cuddle with you, but instead, to crush you. And so we repent. And then finally, we praise him properly. Instead of ignoring Jesus’ words and taking advantage of his humility, we cling to them. For his humility is the only hope we have to pay for our sins—and it’s the only hope we need. And that’s why we don’t just read ancient words picked out long ago on this Sunday. We also sing ancient words too. For the good hymns remind us what we are tempted to forget. Take, for example, our hymn of the day. Listen to these words:
Love caused your incarnation;
Love brought you down to me.
Your thirst for my salvation
Procured my liberty.
O, love beyond all telling
That led you to embrace
In love, all love excelling,
Our lost and fallen race.3
What did you expect as you closed off one year and began another? What did you expect your king to be? These words from Palm Sunday teach us what to look forward to this Advent season. Look forward to a king that is perfectly planned for. Expect a king that was prophesied in the past. And look forward to one who is praised properly—that we repent of the times we used and abuse our king’s humility. And instead of doing so, we cling to it. For it is our only help and hope to save us from our sins. Amen.
1 “ⲱⲥⲁⲛⲛⲁ” (Matthew 21:9 GNT-WAS)
2 הוֹשַׁע נָא
3 CW 19:2
Jesus Will Arrive
Can you trust the ticket? Every couple of years I have to fly on a plane. Back in the old days you reserved your flight and then they mailed you a ticket. It looked all official with borders and edges and cardboard. But then that all changed. Some years ago, after you booked your flight, they let you print out your boarding pass at home. And I have to admit, that scared me. The first time I went to the airport with a boarding pass printed out at home, when I was waiting for the flight to be boarded, I was scared. I was scared because it seemed so fake. Somehow, without having borders and edges and cardboard it didn’t seem official. But, of course, when they called my name and I presented them with the pass and they let me board, all my fears were put to rest. This is the last day of the year. This is the day when, above all, we recognize and focus in on the fact that Jesus will arrive. At any time he could come to judge the living and the dead. And as we begin these words from Mark 13 this morning, we realize that since Jesus will arrive, we can wait securely. In Mark 13, we read: “24 “But in those days, following that distress, “ ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; 25 the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’” (Mark 13:24–25 NIV11-GKE)
On the last day, what will happen? On the last day the universe will be dismantled. The picture Jesus gives us here is what we see above us in the sky. We are used to seeing the stars above and having them as a reliable anchor for directions and for time. But, what if suddenly, the Big Dipper no longer looked like the big dipper because all those stars in the Big Dipper winked out? If people are aware of how cold it gets in the winter and how hot it gets in the summer and the levels of the oceans and seas, what will their reaction be when the stars are shattered and creation itself collapses? And then, right after that happens, what will happen next? “26 At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.” (Mark 13:26–27 NIV11-GKE)
After creation collapses, Jesus arrives. Now notice how Jesus speaks here. These are words of consolation and comfort. Jesus will send out his angels to the four corners of the world and collect the elect and carry us to heaven. That’s the “what”. But there’s another question to ask: “Now what?” “28 Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.” (Mark 13:28–29 NIV11-GKE)
Creation will collapse. Jesus will arrive. What should our attitude be? To answer that question Jesus tells us a story. He takes us to spring. When you see those green buds on the branches of the trees, what can you conclude? Winter is over and summer is so very close. And so, Jesus tells us when we see these things happening—stars shattering and creation collapsing, what should we conclude? We conclude that Jesus is at the door.
Again, notice how these words are words of comfort and consolation. When we see the stars shatter and creation collapse, instead of being filled with fear, we should be filled with joy. For that is the time when Christ’s angels will collected the elect and take us to heaven. But here is where we see our temptation to sin, don’t we? When creation collapses, our knee-jerk temptation might be to see our sin and conclude that we aren’t ready. Who can stand in God’s presence? What sinner doesn’t deserve to be crushed along with all the rest of God’s creation on Judgment Day? If that is our temptation—and it’s a very natural one to have, then listen to Jesus says to you: “30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Mark 13:30–31 NIV11-GKE)
Everything above your head will fall away and everything below your feet will pass away. But what will not? Jesus’ words will never pass away. Those sure and secure promises will not fall away. Jesus has promised to us that because we are sinners, he died for our sins—because we have no holiness in us, he bathed us in his own holiness so that when he arrives we can stand in God’s presence. So until that day comes, wait securely. For Christ has paid for your ticket with his own blood and life. But these words continue: “32 But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.” (Mark 13:32–33 NIV11-GKE)
Jesus will arrive. So wait securely. But notice what Jesus teaches us in these words. We not only wait securely. We also wait soberly. No one knows when Jesus will arrive. Since this is true that no one knows when Jesus will arrive, what should our lives look like? Jesus again tells us a story to teach us: “34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. 35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.” (Mark 13:34–36 NIV11-GKE)
So, in the story there’s a master of a household. He goes away for a long journey. So he tells his servants to be sober always. For the servant does not know when the master will return. And this too shows us that we have the temptation to sin, but in the opposite way as Jesus spoke before. Our first temptation is to not be secure in the fact that Jesus paid the price and now we are ready. But here the temptation is to not be sober as we wait. It’s a powerful picture, isn’t it? What happens after you eat your Thanksgiving turkey and have a couple glasses of wine? First, we can’t focus. Then, we fall asleep.
There is this real temptation to become sleepy spiritually. What does this look like? It’s worrying about work—the people there, the projects there, whether you will have your job in a week or a year if you don’t work hard enough. But what does Jesus tell us here? What good is it to make the world revolve around your work when the world can go up in flames at any time? It’s worrying about the politics between nations when at any moment there could be no nations because all of creation is collapsing in on itself. The list could go on an on, right? But the point is clear: we sin when we show by our attitudes and actions that we care more about the pursuits in this world and forget that at any time this world could end.
So, if that’s the problem and our great temptation to sin, what then is the answer from God’s word: “What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ ”” (Mark 13:37 NIV11-GKE) Jesus says, “watch!” More accurately, it simply means, “be sober.”1 What good is it to have your plane ticket paid for, but then miss your flight? How then do we wait soberly? Cling to what will not collapse when Jesus arrives. What then is the only thing that will remain? Jesus’ words. Why do you think Jesus and his apostles spend so much time encouraging us to read God’s word and study it with your pastor? It’s the only thing that will remain on Judgment Day. Through God’s word he forgives our sins—Even the sins we commit when we are not sober and instead quite sleepy. So we read it and dwell in it.
So Jesus encourages us to wait soberly by clinging to what will remain forever—his words. But there is one last final way we wait soberly: We pray. In verse 33, there’s a little footnote which lets us know that there are a bunch of manuscripts which add the words,
“And pray.”2 This too is how we can wait soberly. Every day we can, on the one hand, thank our Good and Gracious Lord for giving us food and family, shelter and clothing. But at the same time, we can pray that he would keep us sober so that the creation around us would not distract us from the salvation waiting for us.
So my dear friends in Christ, Jesus will arrive. Since this is true, wait securely, and wait soberly. Amen.
1 “ⲅⲣⲏⲅⲟⲣⲉⲓⲧⲉ” (Mark 13:37 GNT-ALEX)
2 “ⲕⲁⲓⲡⲣⲟⲥⲉⲩⲭⲉⲥⲑⲁⲓ” (Mark 13:33 GNT-ALEX)
We conclude lesson 4 in our Adult Instruction class: Know Jesus As Your King.
The Hour Has Come
Imiss the bells. Through all of my years of school we had bells. When a class ended, there were bells to let us know. Then, after I graduated from the Seminary and went back to summer school, there were no bells. And I found that unsettling. I relied on those bells to tell me that the time had come. The hour had come for me to pack up my books and move onto the next class. That’s what Jesus is doing in these words. In his own way he is ringing a bell. He is letting us know that we need to be ready for something far more important than getting our books packed for the next class. In John 5 we read: “25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.” (John 5:25–27 NIV11-GKE)
The hour has come. That’s what Jesus tells us. The hour has come for the dead to be clothed with flesh and blood. Any day now, indeed, any moment now, Jesus could come for Judgment Day. And on that day Jesus will give the dead life. And they will rise with brand new, perfect bodies. Most likely, this is not the first time you have heard this. But it is easy for us to fall into temptation when it comes to this fact. First, we can fall into temptation by forgetting this fact. When a person dies—whoever it is, there is this huge push and impulse to make everything better. And so, it is very easy for us to fall into the same pattern the world does when it comes to speaking about those who have died. It is easy to say, “They have gone to a better place.” But my dear friends in Christ, we know what that better place is. That better place is heaven. But maybe what is even easier to forget is that when that loved one who believes in Jesus dies they are with Jesus, but as Jesus reminds us here, that isn’t the end of the journey. On Judgment Day every believer will live. Each believer will get their bodies back. Yes, it’s true that when we die, as Christians, our souls return to our Creator. But our great temptation to sin is to forget what will happen to our bodies. At every committal service we say those words, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. We commit these earthly remains to the ground in the sure and certain hope of eternal life.” Notice the point: We get our bodies back.
What follows after this is the proof. How do we know that we will get our bodies back? What Jesus says here is a little shocking, if you think about it. We would have expected him to say that you can be sure that we will get our bodies back because the Son of God is in charge and in control. But that’s not what Jesus says. He says that God gave life to the Son. The Son gives life to whomever he wants. And the reason he can do this is that he is the Son of Man. In other words, every part of you and every particle in you Jesus will keep track of. And the reason he can keep track of humans so very well is that he is one. When you lay your loved one to rest in the ground there are those doubts and fears. But these words fill us with such comfort and hope. For that loved one who believed in Jesus will not only be with Jesus when he or she dies. That person will also be clothed with a brand new version of their body. And this is true and you can count on it because Jesus isn’t just the Son of God. He is also the son of Man.
The hour has come for us to recognize that the dead will live. We will live in heaven clothed with brand new bodies. But there’s more: “28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” (John 5:28–29 NIV11-GKE)
Every year on Holy Trinity Sunday we all say these words together: Those who have done good will enter eternal life, but those who have done evil will go into eternal fire. I remember a lady in a congregation I was in who flat out told me that she refused to say that part of the creed. All the rest of the creed was fine. But that part obviously was wrong. And she asked me how that error was allowed to stand there in the creed. I told her that if she had a problem with those words in the Athanasian Creed, then she would really have a problem with John 5. For here in these words Jesus says that those who do good will rise and live; and those who do evil will rise and be judged. How do we make sense of this, since we know that we cannot do good works to earn our way into heaven. First of all, we take scripture in context. Jesus says that those who do good will be in heaven. But notice what he doesn’t say. He does not say, how. How is it that a sinful person who comes into the world as an enemy of God can do good works? The answer is that each of us cannot. But what happens? Jesus comes to us through his word and creates faith in our hearts. And with this gift of faith there is a new person inside of us alongside the old. And this new person does good works, not to get heaven, but instead, out of thankfulness because he already has heaven. As Jesus tells us in John 14, a good tree produces good fruit.
So, first, Christians are able to do good works. For Jesus has promised that we will be able to. But these good works don’t get us to heaven or any closer to heaven. That is Jesus’ work, not ours. But the second key to understanding these words is what Jesus says about unbelievers. Unbelievers too will rise on the last day. But they will rise to be judged, not to live in heaven. Why is this the case? They will rise to be judged because they practiced evil.1 Notice, a different word is used. It’s not “do” evil. Instead, it’s “practice” evil. They planned to sin. They wanted to sin. When they were given the opportunity to repent, they refused. Their sin had become their god, not the Son of Man.
By contrast then, this invites us to repent. This invites us to repent of the times we have forgotten that at any time Jesus could come to judge the living and the dead. This invites us to repent of the times we forgot that it’s not just our souls that will be with Jesus, but on Judgment Day, our bodies too will be reunited with our bodies forever.
The hour has come when the dead will live. We will live clothed with perfect flesh and blood. And we have proof of this because Jesus, who was and is flesh and blood, will put every part and every particle back together on Judgment Day. And not only will we live clothed with perfect bodies. We will also live clothed with perfect works. What an amazing truth, that on Judgment Day Jesus will list and itemize all of the good works we have done. He was the one who died for our sins. He was the one who gave us faith to be able to do good works. He was the one who gave us so many choices in our lives to pick between one good work and another. And on the last day he will highlight them for the world to see. For all our sins will not only be forgiven. They will also be forgotten. The hour has come when the dead will live. We will live clothed with perfect bodies. And we will live clothed with perfect works. Amen.
1 “ⲡⲣⲁⲝⲁⲛⲧⲉⲥ” (John 5:29 GNT-ALEX)
We conclude lesson 3 and move into lesson 4 in this class (Know Jesus as your King)