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)
How Long Will I Put Up With You?
Satan works slowly. Years ago, In World War II, the Nazis trained men to be torturers. But how they did this was fascinating. If they wanted a guy to be a torturer, the first step was to just put the guy in the same building as the torturing. The next step was to have him sit outside the room where the torturing happened. The third step was to have him hand the tools to the torturer. The final step was to have him actually do the torturing. There are more happy ways to begin a sermon—I admit. But I hope my point is clear. Satan often works slowly. But not always. Sometimes he works fast and forcefully. Sometimes he uses the shock and awe approach. And in these words he uses the second tactic. With sudden shock he tries to dominate this world and everyone on it. And so, in Mark 9 we read: “14 When they came to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and scribes disputing with them. 15 When the whole crowd saw him, they were amazed and ran to greet him. 16 He asked them, “What are you arguing with them about?” 17 Someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you. He has a spirit that makes him unable to speak. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive it out, but they couldn’t.”” (Mark 9:14–18 CSB17)
Notice the force that Satan uses here. Mark isn’t the gospel writer to throw down one paragraph after another of details. Mark’s gospel is the shortest of all the gospels. But notice here he gives one detail after another of how forcefully and horribly Satan treated this man’s son with demons. The demon seizes him.1 It throws him down.2 It makes the boy foam at the mouth.3 It makes him grind his teeth.4 Finally then, it makes him paralyzed like a dry weed.5 Mark throws down all of these details to show us the force that Satan has and uses to intimidate people.
It was true then. It is true now. But, for us it’s perhaps and even sadder story. This man saw his son tormented by this demon for years. Today Satan often comes to us with weaker force, and we are tempted to give in. It happens in the science classroom when the teacher goes out of his way to find the kids who believe that God created the universe in 6, 24 hour days. And if the children do not give in and agree to what the teacher preaches about macro-evolution, then there is punishment. It happens at work when the boss or even co-workers say, “Do this or else you will lose your job.” Sad to say, it can even happen at Seminaries across our land. There’s a man I met who was going to a Seminary that held the name, “Lutheran”, but long ago abandoned what the bible taught. And he said that his advisor at the Seminary told him that if he held to saying that the bible was all true, then they would not let him graduate from that Seminary.
This is how Satan deals with us. Yes, he can give us the slow-boil treatment, slowly wearing us down. But, from these words, realize that he can also come at us with blunt force. How then does this father deal with the force that Satan uses? “19 He replied to them, “You unbelieving generation, how long will I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring him to me.” 20 So they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, it immediately threw the boy into convulsions. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. 21 “How long has this been happening to him?” Jesus asked his father. “From childhood,” he said. 22 “And many times it has thrown him into fire or water to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’? Everything is possible for the one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the boy cried out, “I do believe; help my unbelief!”” (Mark 9:19–24 CSB17)
Notice that what followed Satan’s blunt force, was this man’s fear. And what flowed from this man’s fear was truly sinful and horrible. He spoke the word, “if” to Jesus. He said, “if you are able.” Jesus gets angry and speaks some very blunt words to him: ““‘If you can’? Everything is possible for the one who believes.”” (Mark 9:23 CSB17) Notice what this man’s fear had done to him. Just as Satan paralyzed the boy, this man’s fear paralyzed himself—even to the point that he would blame God for his own doubt. We don’t get to do that, do we? We don’t get to blame God for our own weak faith, do we? But it shows how Satan works. If we are strong in an area, all he does is shifts his attack to another area. If we are not afraid of what can happen to us, Satan makes us fear what can happen to us in the next life. If we are content about what will happen to us when we die, he plagues us with fears about this life. If we are content that God will take care of us when it comes to our role at work, then what does he do? He comes at us and after us, making us fear what happens at home while we are gone. And if we were strong and had an unfailing and unfaltering faith in all these areas today, all Satan would do is just wait till tomorrow comes. And so the father finally cries out in desperation the words of a true believer. He says: ““I do believe; help my unbelief!”” (Mark 9:24 CSB17) Each of us has a new person in us and an old person as a Christian. We believe in Jesus even though there are times we will not act like it.
Can you see now why Jesus with such sadness and sighing asks those two questions: How long will I be with you; How long will I put up with you? And he says that question not just to the father of that boy. He says those words to us today. How long will I put up with you? For there are times our trust in Jesus breaks with far less pressure than was put on this man. How long? In these final words, look at how Jesus answers that question: “25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was quickly gathering, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you: Come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 Then it came out, shrieking and throwing him into terrible convulsions. The boy became like a corpse, so that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus, taking him by the hand, raised him, and he stood up.” (Mark 9:25–27 CSB17)
Jesus asks the question. And the logical, common sense reaction Jesus should have had was to just walk away. They were acting like unbelievers. But Jesus doesn’t walk away. Instead he stays and heals the boy. And the reason he stays is that Jesus stays as long as Satan’s force is disarmed. Every now and then I watch old country western movies. And the old gun-slinger is fearful and terrifying as long as has enough ammo. But what happens when that fifth and final bullet leaves the chamber? Nobody’s afraid of the man anymore because he’s now a target, not a terror. The same is true with Satan. Jesus was aware of Satan’s power. But Jesus never gave into fear. And especially, he never gave into fear in the very specific way that this father and we are tempted to: we give into fear, doubt, and then blame God for it. No, Jesus always trusted in his Father’s promises.
But even more than that, Jesus died for our sins. Jesus died for the times we doubted when we knew better—and even those times when we might have blamed God for our doubting.
How long? That’s the question Jesus asks. How long will Jesus put up with us? The first answer is: as long as Satan is disarmed. But there is a second answer: as long as we cry out to Jesus in faith. My dear friends, look at this man. He flat-out says that he has unbelief. But then what does he do? He cries out to Jesus in faith. Learn from this man. When there are those times we are tested and tempted by Satan’s blunt force, cry out to Jesus for strength. But should our strength fail, and we give in to fear, even more so, cry out to Jesus. For just as he forgave this man, he will do so with you. And just as he strengthened this man’s faith, so he will do with you.
How long will I put up with you? As long as Satan’s force is disarmed. And as long as we cry out to him in faith. Amen.
1 “ⲕⲁⲧⲁⲗⲁⲃⲏ” (Mark 9:18 GNT-ALEX)
4 “ⲧⲣⲓⲍⲉⲓⲧⲟⲩⲥⲟⲇⲟⲛⲧⲁⲥ” (Mark 9:18 GNT-ALEX)
5 “ⲝⲏⲣⲉⲛⲉⲧⲁⲓ” (Mark 9:18 GNT-ALEX)
Adult Instruction Class 3a
Hold Onto The First Resurrection
Stand back a little. If ever you go to New York, it would be good to go the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And, if you look in the right place, you’ll find the impressionist art collection. And there you’ll see the paintings of Degas, Renoir and others. And what is amazing about their paintings is that, when you see them you’ll realize they aren’t made with brush strokes. No, instead, every face and every flower is made with little tiny dots. That’s impressive. In fact, it’s so impressive you can get pulled in to looking at the dots. But the problem with this is that when you look so close that all you see is dots you miss the picture and the point the painter was making. Reading this last book of Revelation is much like that. By God’s Holy Spirit, John speaks in beautiful word pictures. But the key to understanding these words is by keeping these words in context. So, in Revelation 20, we read: “1 And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. 3 He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended.” (Revelation 20:1–3 NIV11-GKE)
The Holy Spirit gives John a vision. And what does he see? He sees and angel chaining Satan for a thousand years. Now, notice how John speaks. First he says that there’s this angel who chains a dragon. Then John goes out of his way to tell us that he’s speaking figuratively. This is not a literal dragon with scales and wings. No, John tells us that this angel is Satan. John goes out of his way to tell us that he is speaking figuratively, painting word pictures to fill our imaginations. This is important to know because right after he says that there is this angel that ties and binds Satan we learn that the time-frame for Satan’s imprisonment is 1000 years. This is not a literal 1000 years. In Revelation 10 is the number for completeness. 10 x 10 x 10 then is super-duper completeness. What is this complete amount of time? It is the New Testament Age. It spans from Jesus’ ascension to Jesus return on Judgment Day.
I mention this because, if you look at these words like me looking at that painting too close you see dots, but not the meaning in context. There are many who get this wrong today. There are many who conclude that these words are speaking about Jesus coming down to earth and ruling here for a thousand years. But the words here are speaking are a word picture, speaking about the complete amount of time that Satan is tied up and tied down, under Jesus’ complete control.
But the other reason I mention this is what Jesus mentions at the end of verse three: “4 I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.)” (Revelation 20:4–5 NIV11-GKE)
At first John sees and angel chaining Satan. Next John sees souls sitting on thrones. Now here I’m going to do what I have never done before. I would like you to go home today and where is says, “Came to life”, instead, write the word, “lived.”1 You see, the point God is making here is not that Jesus is going to come down to earth and reign here and along with him disembodied souls are going to rise up like zombies in a bad Halloween movie. No, instead, John sees souls living and reigning with Jesus in heaven for 1000 years. And remember what that 1000 years is: the entire New Testament age.
What the Holy Spirit wants us to see in these words is the loved ones we had in this life who knew Jesus and died trusting in him. The Holy Spirit wants us to know that their faith was not in vain. For they live with Jesus in heaven. And even more than that, they rule with him in heaven. They are safe from all of this world’s harm and Satan’s lies.
These words are worthy especially on this day of thinking about and pondering. But as we do so we see that we face two real temptations in lives as Christians. First, There is the temptation to obsess over what we can see. Satan wants us to go to hell. And one of the ways he does this is by taking the good gifts that God gives to us and then make them into idols. You drive through the country side and you think to yourself, “it’d be nice to have a home on the lake.” The challenge and temptation though is that Satan wants us to absorb ourselves in that home on the lake so much that we forget that, at any moment, that home and the lake could go up in flames on Judgment Day. We could say the same about our bodies. God wants us to care for them. But if we spend so much time counting lbs and calories that we forget that, at any moment, like these souls that John sees, we could have our souls ripped from our bodies in death, then we are sinning by losing sight of our heavenly goal.
But the same is true on the opposite side. Just as there is the temptation to obsess over what we can see, there is the temptation to obsess over what we cannot. This happens when we lose a loved one through death. That person was a part of our life. They worshipped with us, maybe even here in our church. But then what happened? They died and they are now with the Lord. And when that happens, it can be ever so tempting to ask the question, “Why am I still here?” And if that is given room in your heart you can easily end up saying “there’s no point in me living anymore.” And so, one temptation is idolatry. but this temptation is despair. Since our loved one is not with us anymore we want to give up running our race here with perseverance.
And so, Satan that ancient dragon really exists. And he really tempts us to sin. What is the solution to this ancient enemy? In our closing words, we read: “5 This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:5–6 NIV11-GKE)
If Satan is so good at tempting us either to idolatry or to despair, then who can stand up to him? Not you. Not me. No, instead, the one who stood up to him is Jesus. Jesus was tempted in every way just as we are, but never gave into Satan’s lies. And Jesus paid for our sins of idolatry and despair on the cross. But he did still more. He gave us the promise that if you have the first resurrection then you will have the second too. What is he talking about? The first resurrection is unbelief.2 God raised you from the dead in those waters of baptism and gave you the gift of faith. And if you have this gift of faith (and you do), then the second death (physical death) will have no hold on you when you die.
And so, my dear friends in Christ, you have this first resurrection, faith in Christ. Now what should you do with it? Hold onto it. Read your bibles. Come to bible study here after our worship time. Grow in your faith. And as you do this the most wondrous change will happen. When you’re doing those sit-ups at the gym or you’re taking the dock out of the lake you can appreciate the gifts God has given you now, but yearn—yearn for the better life God has waiting for you—a life where you will see those who have gone before you in to heaven. And even more, you will see Jesus face to face. Hold onto the first resurrection. Amen.
1 “ⲉⲍⲏⲥⲁⲛ” (Revelation 20:4 GNT-ALEX)
2 cf. Ephesians 2
What If You Tested The Teacher?
Let’s test the teacher. Years ago, when I was at Martin Luther College, we had to learn our languages by memorizing them. And let’s face it, it’s not easy to make memorization fun. Sometimes memorization is just plain hard work. Our greek professor told us that the key to making it easier was to memorize all the time. He told us, “I should be able to call you on the phone at 2 AM and ask you what the principal parts of ⲃⲁⲗⲗⲱ are, and yo u should be able to rattle them off without thinking and then go back to sleep.” Well one night, one of my classmates had an idea. He thought to himself: let’s test the teacher. So he waited till ab0ut 2 or 3 in the morning on a Friday night and then called our Greek professor on the phone. The professor answered. And the student said, “Give me the principal parts of ⲃⲁⲗⲗⲱ, now!” The professor laughed and, from memory, rattled off the proper answer. Then he said, “Peter, I will find you and get you back.” (His name wasn’t Peter.) There are those times we wonder, what if I tested the teacher. That’s the context we find ourselves in this morning. These words are spoken on Holy Week. Jesus has just been tested by the Pharisees about marriage and divorce. And he told them, “Give to Cæsar what is Cæsar’s.” He is tested by the Sadducees letting them know that marriage is for this life and our resurrections are in the next life. And there’s this expert in the law who sees all of this and is amazed. And he is so amazed that he can’t help himself from testing Jesus. And so, in Mark 12, we read: “28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” 32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”” (Mark 12:28–33 NIV11-GKE)
After all the testing and trapping is done, a man, an expert in God’s word steps forward. And he asks him the simple, but extremely important question, “out of all the commandments, which one is the first, the most important?” And notice what happens. When a teacher tests the Teacher, The teacher, Jesus, answers his question. The heart and soul; the height and depth of the commandments is love—for your neighbor beside you, for you Lord above you. And the man essentially repeats what Jesus said. He tells Jesus that loving your neighbor and your God is better than piling up sacrifices to the Lord.
This man was amazing. Because as he studied and studied God’s word he avoided the traps that others fell into. He avoided the trap that says that God doesn’t care about the commandments. That’s the trap the Sadducees fell into. That’s the view of the commandments that God is nice, and God is good. So then we can do as much bad as we want. He avoided that trap. He avoided the trap of carelessness with the commandments. He also avoided the trap of being coerced by the commandments. This is the trap that says, “I’ll do it, but I won’t like it. And as soon as you’re gone, I’ll stop doing it.” He avoided the trap of carelessness and the trap of coercion. And finally, he avoided the trap of being consumed by the commandments. This is the view of the commandments that says, “You say, ‘jump’, I say, ‘how high?’” There’s a reason our church body has been against the Boy Scouts for more than 50 years now. The first reason is that it blobs all religions and all denominations into the same category and says they all go to heaven. But the second reason is found here. They teach about the commandments in such a way that a person is consumed with them. They teach a boy to be kind and nice to his neighbor not because that person is a person, but instead, as a tool to please God and earn their way into heaven.
This man avoided all these traps. He avoided carelessness with the commandments, being coerced by them and also being consumed by them. And, after all of his continual studying, what he found was that the heart of the commandments was love—first for God, then for the neighbor. And you have to look at him and realize how alone he was. He got it. He understood that the heart of the commandments was love. But, on the one side, he had the Sadducees who didn’t care about the commandments. And on the other side, he had the Pharisees, who were consumed by them. And then he heard Jesus speak the beautiful truth that the heart of the commandments was love. Oh how refreshing and amazing it was to hear this from Jesus. So he had to test Jesus. And how thankful he must have been to have Jesus answer his question. But, my friends in Christ, Jesus didn’t stop here. He didn’t just answer the question. He also then, right after that, questioned this man’s answer. We read: “When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.” (Mark 12:34 NIV11-GKE)
There’s the old saying, “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades.” There is a difference between being “close” to the kingdom of God and actually being “in” the kingdom. This expert avoided so many traps. And yet he fell into a trap that was just as bad as all the others. Yes, it’s true that the heart and soul of the commandments is love. But he never stopped to ask another important question: Can I actually keep these commandments? You see, the problem isn’t with the commandments. The problem is with us. WE cannot keep them. And so this man might have been expecting a pat on the back, a “Well done” comment from Jesus. But instead, he let the expert know that he still was not in the kingdom of God.
So what if you tested the teacher…what would happen? The teacher would answer your question. Then he would question your answer. But finally, he would give the only answer to the real question. Love is what God commands and demands in the commandments. And Jesus is the only one who not just knew what the heart and soul of the commandments was but actually did it. Jesus was not careless with the commandments. He kept them. Jesus was not coerced to do the commandments. He did them freely. Jesus was not consumed by the commandments, making his fellow humans tools to please his Father in heaven. No, he actually, really and truly loved those around him. And the hugest example of this is what happened only a few days after the expert in the law tested the teacher. Jesus died. He died to pay for all bad traps we fall into today and they did in Jesus’ day. He loved perfectly both us and his Father in our place.
And with that fact we know our sins are forgiven—even all the lies and traps we tell ourselves about the commandments. But he does so much more than that. The perfect and complete love that he had for his Father and his fellow humans he gives to us. Through his word he created faith in our hearts. And with this gift of faith he gave us another, new nature to wage war against the old one. And this new nature is actually able to love without carelessness and without being coerced and without being consumed by the law, making people into tools. In short, what John says elsewhere is so very true: “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19 NIV)
So what if…? What if you tested the teacher? What would he do? He would answer your question. Then he would question your answer. Finally, he would give you the real answer to the real question. Amen.
Adult Instruction Class—Part 2
This is the meeting we have where we walk through the lessons the Sunday School teachers will teach in the weeks to come.
What Do You Want Me To Do For You?
What do you want? There once was a teacher who had a classroom. And she cared. She cared about the topic she was teaching. She cared about her students. But, early on in the class, there was a student that whenever she would say something, he would lean over talk to the person beside him. Hour after hour, week after week this would happen. While she was teaching, he was talking. Finally she couldn’t take it anymore. And she told the young man, What do you want? He looked up at her and said, “I want to hear what you’re saying. And with this loud heating vent right beside me I can’t hear anything.” Very quickly she realized that he was not speaking out of disrespect, but instead, just the opposite, a hunger to learn and pay attention. This morning we meet a man who is talking. And he’s talking at the very same time Jesus is teaching. In Mark 10, we read: “46 They came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a large crowd, Bartimaeus (the son of Timaeus), a blind beggar, was sitting by the road. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”” (Mark 10:46–47 CSB17)
This morning, in your brains, walk with Jesus. There you are walking with Jesus and what is he doing? He is teaching and teaching and teaching. And then, off in the distance, what happens? There’s this guy on the side of the road who keeps crying out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” If you were the teacher, how long would you put up with this? There that guy is, shouting those words, and he won’t shut up. Well, since Jesus didn’t tell the man to shut up, the people took the matter into their own hands. We read: “Many warned him to keep quiet, but he was crying out all the more, “Have mercy on me, Son of David!”” (Mark 10:48 CSB17)
He is told to shut up by many people, but instead of shutting up, he shouts the same words over and over again. So what happens next? “49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man and said to him, “Have courage! Get up; he’s calling for you.” 50 He threw off his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus answered him, “What do you want me to do for you?”” (Mark 10:49–51 CSB17)
Jesus is still a little ways away. So he tells those who are near the man to summon him over. Here too, this is something to picture. Picture the blind man stand up, throw off his outer cloak and stumble toward Jesus. And when he gets close to Jesus, Jesus asks him that question, ““What do you want me to do for you?”” (Mark 10:51 CSB17) Now, my dear friends in Christ, we might ask the question, ‘why did Jesus ask such a foolish question?’ The guy has been sitting there shouting for a long time what he wanted. Everybody knows what the blind man wants. But you’re forgetting one simple fact: this man cannot see. Facial expression, body language—all of that is useless to this man. So Jesus asks him the simple, but all-important question: What do you want me to do for you? Bartimaeus answers: ““Rabboni,” the blind man said to him, “I want to see.”” (Mark 10:51 CSB17)
Now notice what happens next. Jesus does not say, “I am good and gracious, so I can’t stop myself from healing you.” Instead, this is what he says: ““Go, your faith has saved you.”” (Mark 10:52 CSB17) Now my dear friends in Christ, these are some very important and impressive words that Jesus speaks. Jesus did not have to heal this man that day. In fact, there were times when Jesus did not heal people at all. Earlier on in Mark’s Gospel Jesus preaches in his hometown. And at the end of the day, we read these words: “4 Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 And he was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6:4–6 NIV)
Jesus did not have to heal blind Bartimaeus. But he did. He tells Bartimaeus that his faith is what counted. All false teaching is a confusion of cause and effect. In other words, Jesus does not perform miracles so that people might have faith in him. Instead, he gives them faith so that they would know him and then appreciate the miracle. Jesus could have said “no.” But this man was given a living, active, powerful faith. And we see it by the names that he calls Jesus. If you’re going to play it safe, what do you call Jesus? You call him, “teacher.” Everyone else did. But this man didn’t. He cried out and shouted out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” The title, “Son of David” was a very powerful one. It was one of those parts of the Old Testament that shouted out and cried out that the savior and messiah would be both God and man.
What if, my dear friends, what if you were blind and could no longer see? What if Jesus asked you that simple question, what would you say? What would you like me to do for you? I don’t know about you, but I might say, “What took you so long?” I might pray “O Lord, heal my body, but who really cares about my soul?” But look at blind Bartimaeus. He calls Jesus who he is, both God and man. Here is a man who knows that Jesus is his Savior. So when he says, “I want to see,” there’s more going on. As one pastor once said, even though he has no eyesight, he has so very much insight.
And what Jesus says about us, we pray for ourselves. Jesus asks us, “What do you want me to do for you?” And first of all, our prayer is that, like this blind man, he would give us faith to find him in the darkness. How many long months and years did this man wait for the Son of David to arrive? And when the Son of David came he neither hurled rocks nor insults at him. My dear friends, there will be those times when the waiting will wear you down. When you get hurt, you need time to heal. And the same is true not just for our bodies, but also for our souls. And we sin when we either give up on the Son of David or even worse, blame him. But Jesus does the same for us as he does for this man. First, he does not assume anything. How thankful we are that we do not have to trust in facial expressions, hand gestures or body language when it comes to our Savior. He is just as clear with us as he was with this man. Second, he forgives us. He forgives us by being perfectly patient in our place. He forgives us by being treated like the son of hell in our place instead of the Son of David. He does all this so that, like this Bartimaeus, we would know that our sins are forgiven and then find him in the darkness.
That, my friends, is our prayer, that we too would find the Son of David in the darkness. But if Jesus asks us that question, let us also have another prayer. Let us pray that he would also give us such a strong faith as this blind man so that would follow Jesus in the light. In the final words of this part of the bible, we read: “Jesus said to him, “Go, your faith has saved you.” Immediately he could see and began to follow Jesus on the road.” (Mark 10:52 CSB17)
Do you remember what happened at a different time, when Jesus healed the ten lepers? We read those words on every Thanksgiving Eve. Jesus heals ten lepers and then how many come back to thank him? There was only one—one! This man is healed. And does he run home to his missed friends and treasured family? No, in joyous faith, he follows. That is our prayer too. There will be those times when the Lord answers our prayer—when he takes away a pain, pressure or disease. And our knee-jerk reaction will be to forget him. But the Son of David doesn’t just forgive our sins. He also gives us the Holy Spirit to follow him and live for him. And with that new person placed in us through water and word instead of forgetting Jesus, we follow him.
What do you want me to do for you? That is the question that the Son of David asked blind Bartimaeus. He still asks that same question of all of us today. And our prayer is that he would give us the same strong faith as Bartimaeus. We pray that he would give us faith to find Jesus in the darkness and follow him in the light. That is our prayer. And the Son of David will answer it. Amen.
God Made Them Male And Female
Simple truths are often the best truths. Years ago there was a new pastor. He was an intelligent man. And he had gone to school for years to become a pastor. One day, a member in his congregation had him over to his house. He told him, “You’re preaching way up here; you need to bring it way down here.” Often the simple truths are the best truths. When we go back and look at Jesus teaching and preaching, so very often he shuts down his opposition not with huge five-syllable words, but instead with simple statements. In Mark 10, we read: “2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied. 4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” 5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.” (Mark 10:2–6 NIV11-GKE)
The Pharisees came and asked Jesus a question—but not to learn from him. Instead, they asked the question to test him and tear him down. The question was about divorce. Notice Jesus’ answer. It was not a long theological lecture. It was with quick, simple statements that Jesus answered. He told them that at the beginning God made them male and female. Before anyone speaks about marriage, divorce and remarriage and all the other issues one could bring up, there is the simple, solid truth we need to understand and build on: God made them male and female. For ever since the fall into sin, every human being has been busy denying that basic truth. 50 years ago the sinful world abused that truth by overemphasizing it. On the internet now, there are massive archives of advertisements from that time. And, if you read them, you’ll see that you aren’t really a man unless you can rebuilt your car from scratch and do 100 push-ups. And you aren’t really a woman unless you can bake a cake from scratch while wearing a pretty dress and keeping it spotless at the same time. And there are worse examples of this. But today the pendulum has swung the entire opposite direction today. If there was an over-emphasis on male and female (in an often abusive way), then today, there is an under-emphasis. Consider this guideline from the Minneapolis public school website:
Gender is often used as a classification for dividing classes, prerequisites for participation, or access to facilities such as locker rooms and bathrooms. Advoid using gender as a characteristic for division whenever possible. Create an all gender option for facilities and allow student to self-select to the group they would feel most comfortable in.1
Notice the point that they are making on the site: First, there are more than two genders. There is not just male and female. There are more options out there. Second, according to them, you choose your gender. If you choose to be a boy for a while, everyone has to endorse that. If you then choose to go back to being a girl, then the world has to recognize and affirm that choice. But these words are so very clear, aren’t they? God made them male and female.
Why can’t people get this straight? Why 50 years ago did people over-emphasize male and female to the point of abuse? And why today do people under-emphasize this simple truth to the point of absurdity? The answer is simple: People often listen to what is popular.
We too face the same temptation. It is popular today to conclude that you can choose to be either male or female or even a third self-defined category. And it’s easy for us to conclude that that’s the truth for one simple reason: that conclusion is popular. But it’s not the truth. Jesus says it so simply and clearly. At the beginning, God made them male and female.
And what follows is the answer to the question, why: “7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11 He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”” (Mark 10:7–12 NIV11-GKE)
Why did God make them male and female? He made us male and female so that they would be one. The general path laid out for us is that boys and girls grow up to be men and women. And one man and one woman marries each other. They become one. Now notice what Jesus is not saying in these words. My spouse is not my soulmate. And my spouse is not my savior. Instead, my spouse is a gift to me as a treasured friend and companion for this life and for this life alone.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, look at all the traps—all the ways we can sin by not getting this straight in our own minds. We can abusively over-emphasize this truth. We can under-estimate this truth along with the rest of so many today, denying that God is the one who made us male and female. And even when we get married we can sin by making our spouse our soul-mate and even worse, our Savior.
But look what Jesus does. First, Jesus understands perfectly what male and female means. And then he treats them perfectly as they are, male and female. And he does this in our place. Second, he dies and pays for those sins on the cross. For those times I abusively over-emphasize or absurdly under-emphasize them, Jesus pays for them. For the times I forget that my spouse is a companion, not a soul-mate and savior, Jesus paid for those sins.
So Jesus made us male and female first of all, so that male and female would be one in marriage. But, as we read these words we see there is another reason he made us male and female: “13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.” (Mark 10:13–16 NIV11-GKE)
He made us male and female so that we would be one. But he also made us male and female so that in marriage we would bring many into this world. Now here is where we need to be careful. For here is where I have people usually throw down objections. So let’s deal with them right here. On the one hand, there possibly some proper objections to having children. If financially, you have severe problems supporting two people, adding more into the family might be a real reason. If you biologically cannot have children, that too is a real reason. And there might be others.
But there other improper objections. And let me speak about two this morning: Selfishness and fearfulness. It is an ever-present temptation to not have children because life would not be as comfortable as it is now. Children take away your money. Children take away your time. And so, if you look at so many cities across our nation what you will find is young married men and women who choose to have a dog instead of children. But there is another reason too: fearfullness. The idea of starting a family is terrifying. There is the real fear of messing up. What happens if the child dies, either at our hand or by others? What happens if that child grows up and leaves the Christian church? I had all of these fears and I had a good, solid example of what marriage should look like since I had a mom and dad all my life. How much worse and more fearful this is if a husband and wife were missing a mom or dad as they grew up.
Look at what our Savior does. First, he speaks a command: Let them come to me. Second, he speaks a promise: The kingdom of God belongs to such as these. If Jesus goes out of his way with both a command and promise to tell you how much he cares for children, won’t he also take care of you as you take care of them? When you mess up and sin (and you will!), won’t he forgive you? Won’t he teach you what it is to be a father and mother through his word? And won’t he remind you that, at the end of the day, these children are cared for by you but they don’t belong to you. They belong to our Lord and Savior Jesus.
And so, always remember the foundation: God made us male and female. He made us male and female to be one and to bring many. Amen.