This Is Love (Midweek Advent 2)

This Is Love

Christmas is love. As someone who has to work with words as a calling and profession, ads have always fascinated me. You only have 30 seconds (or less). And you have to artfully and concisely tell your audience what you have and why they should want to buy it. Lately, as I’ve been listening to internet radio channels, the ads let me know that Christmas is all about love. And, if were in doubt as to what love is, the ad tells me. Love is buying that product for the person in my family. If I buy that item, then I love my family. But it does bring up a good question though, doesn’t it? What is love? This Advent we have as our theme: \textsc{Lord Jesus, Come To Us…in your love.} And this evening we see what true love is. In 1 John 4, we read: 7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7–8 NIV11-GKE)

What is love? Here in these words, notice how the sort of love John is speaking about here is a different sort of love than we speak about in english today. We can say, “I love my wife; I love my dog; I love pizza” and use the same word. Here the meaning is much more specific. We are taught at our Seminary to not drag the Greek and Hebrew into our sermons and bludgeon our hearers with those words. Here, however, is a good exception. This is a word worth memorizing. The word is, “agápe”.1 It means, to bring out the best in the one you love. Now, notice how this is a bit different than how we might use the word today. Because if you show this sort of love, you might sometimes even hurt the feelings of the person you are showing love to. A mom with a two-year-old slaps the hand of the child who has just picked up a candy off of the ground. She hurts the child’s feelings. But she does this for his good. She does what is best for him.

That is what love is. But, as John continues with these words, he is very practical. He lets us know that we don’t just have this love as children of God, we also can use this love. We can use this love as a test. How do we know the difference between true preachers of the word and false ones? Do they do what is best? A televangelist asks for your money. But does he visit you in your home and give you the Lord’s Supper when you cannot get to church? It’s a test for those on the outside of these walls. And it’s a test for those on the inside of these walls. Do we love each other enough to speak the truth in love, correcting each other’s sins? Do we love each other enough to speak those precious words of forgiveness even when the hurt is real? What is love? Love has a definition. Love does what is best for that which it loves. But there’s more: 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:9–10 NIV11-GKE)

This is love. Love has a definition. But, as John travels on, we see that love also has a foundation. If you really want to see what this sort of love looks like, you need to look above to heaven and behind you in time to Christmas. True, “agápe” love is the Father sending his Son to take on human flesh and blood to give us eternal life. The foundation of this love is not us loving God. Instead, the foundation of this love is God showing this sort of love to us. God’s love for us is the foundation of true love because before we can love others we need to know that we, ourselves, are loved—and loved in a specific way. We need to know that our sins are forgiven. The times that we should have corrected our fellow Christian, but found it so much easier to say nothing. The times we should have forgiven our fellow Christian but didn’t. We need forgiveness for those sins. And true love is shown to us in this fact: Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for those sins and all the others. This is love. Love has a foundation. The foundation of love is not what we do for God or others. The foundation of love is what God has done for us in Christ. But John continues: 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:11–12 NIV11-GKE)

This is love. Love has a definition: that which does what is best for the one we love. Love has a foundation: God loved us enough to send and then sacrifice his own Son for our sins. But here in these words we see that love also has an effect. As we ponder his love shown to us, then the Holy Spirit strengthens our new person inside of us to show this Christian love to others. And then that love that we show to others ends up be a proof that we are Christians. Now here is where we need to stop for just a moment. The love that we show to others is not the first or the biggest proof that we are children of God. Proof that we are Children of God starts with our Triune God and what he has done for us. But, as the Holy Spirit changes our hearts through his word day by day, we naturally and spontaneously reach out and stretch out in love toward each other. And there’s nothing wrong with recognizing that this is love. But even this love is a gift from God and it did not start or come from us.

And so, my dear friends in Christ. Love has a definition: doing that which is best for the person we love. It has a foundation: God’s love for us. And it has an effect: the Holy Spirit providing proof that we are his children. Amen.

1 “Ⲁⲅⲁⲡⲱⲙⲉⲛ” (1 John 4:7 GNT-ALEX)

The Messenger Will Come Back (Advent 2)

The Messenger Will Come Back

The best stories are the ones you don’t know. One of the great parts about watching a new movie is that you don’t know how it’s going to turn out. Is it a sad story that ends up happy? Is it the opposite? Is it a story that you know the ending to, but you wonder how they get there? In all of these movies what glues them all together are clues and context. This morning we walk through the first part of Malachi 3. And what glues and binds this part of God’s word together is clues and context. So let’s look at them: “See, I am going to send my messenger, and he will clear the way before me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to his temple, the Messenger of the covenant you delight in—see, he is coming,” says the Lord of Armies.” (Malachi 3:1 CSB17)

The Messenger of the covenant will come back. That’s the main fact the Lord tells his people. Who is this? In order to answer that question we have to put together the clue and the context. In the Old Testament the Angel of the Lord—the Messenger of the covenant appears at many important times. And it would take many hours to thoroughly lay out who this is in detail. But let’s take for as an example what we walked through on Thanksgiving Eve. In our sermon on Thanksgiving Eve we heard about a man named Jacob. And all throughout one dark night there was a messenger who wrestled with him. This messenger was from God, but also was God. This messenger was clearly God. But, in a miraculous way, he was also a man. Now, let’s put the clues together. Can you think of anyone who is both God and sent from God—someone who is both God and fully human? This is one of these beautiful parts of God’s word that shows us that Jesus is the Angel of the Lord. And that this Messenger of the Covenant would come back. But the real question for the Old Testament believers was this: were they ready for his return? We read: 2 But who can endure the day of his coming? And who will be able to stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire and like launderer’s bleach. 3 He will be like a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. Then they will present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. 4 And the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will please the Lord as in days of old and years gone by. 5 “I will come to you in judgment, and I will be ready to witness against sorcerers and adulterers; against those who swear falsely; against those who oppress the hired worker, the widow, and the fatherless; and against those who deny justice to the resident alien. They do not fear me,” says the Lord of Armies.” (Malachi 3:2–5 CSB17)

These Old Testament believers yearned for and were excited about this Messenger of the covenant coming back. But they shouldn’t have been. For they were not ready. We have these words fulfilled for us in the life of Jesus. Here in Malachi we learn that this Messenger of the covenant would go to his own house. And Jesus did exactly that. And when he went to his Father’s house, what did he do? He wove together a whip with slow-burning anger and drove out all the people from the temple courtyard. And here in these words in Malachi we see why he whipped them. They wanted to be in God’s presence. But they didn’t want to do so with repentance. They lied. They lusted. They lived for themselves—and themselves alone.

All of this I have been speaking about them at that time. But what about us? Jesus, the Messenger of the Covenant, will come back to judge the living and the dead. Are we ready for that? See, the great trap we can fall into as New Testament believers is to pine away and plan for Jesus arrival at Christmas and on Judgment Day the same way they did: without repentance. What about our lies, our lust, our living for ourselves. A friend of mine texted me, letting me know that the church he used to go to in Indonesia fell prey to a terrorist attack. And my first thought was, “I guess that’s what you get for living over there.’” I had this great opportunity to grieve with and pray for our fellow Christians. But instead, my thoughts were only of myself. How easy this is for us, isn’t it? The Messenger of the covenant will come back. But are you ready? Look at where these words go from here: “Because I, the Lord, have not changed, you descendants of Jacob have not been destroyed.” (Malachi 3:6 CSB17)

What is amazing about these words is how they don’t seem to fit at all here. In these words the Lord is getting angrier and angrier. He is listing one grievous sin after another. And we would expect the conclusion to be a promise to destroy. But, instead of punishment, we hear a promise. The reason we are not destroyed is because the Lord does not change. We change. We make promises and do not keep them. But Jesus does not. From the beginning, God made promises—promises that he would keep—promises that would save us from our sin. Think of the promise he made to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The Satanic Serpent would kill Jesus. But Jesus would then end Satan. Christmas is the beginning of that promise. Good Friday and Easter are the end of that promise. And for that reason, we are not destroyed. Jesus whipped the people he saw in the temple. But because he kept his promises, he was the one who was whipped for them on Good Friday. The Lord told them that they were not destroyed. And the only reason that was true was because Jesus’ body was the one that would be destroyed on Good Friday. He made a promise to pay for their sin and he kept it. For that reason, we have every reason to look forward to the Messenger of the covenant coming back. And in our final words, the Lord gives us a reason why: “Since the days of your fathers, you have turned from my statutes; you have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of Armies.” (Malachi 3:7 CSB17)

The Lord ends with this gracious invitation: Return to me, and I will return to you. This is a reminder to us to look behind us at Christmas, and the baby Jesus placed in a manger. But even more so, we look ahead and above. For the people yearned with such joy to have this messenger of the covenant come back. But my friends in Christ, Jesus will come back. Because of this, our yearning ahead and above should be far more than our yearning behind us. Think, for example, of the Christmas hymn, Now Sing We, Now Rejoice. In the final verse, we sing:

Oh where shall joy be found?
Where but on heav’nly ground?
Where the angels singing
With all his saints unite,
Sweetest praises bringing
In heav’nly joy and light
Oh, that we were there!
Oh, that we were there!

The hymn writer invites us to wish that we were there. And, my friends in Christ, take him up on that invitation. But don’t stay there. For the Messenger of the covenant still has more promises to keep. Look ahead and look above. For Jesus will come back to be with us forever. Amen.

You Have Conquered With The Truth (Midweek Advent 1)

St. John the Evangelist

You Have Conquered With the Truth

How do you know? Just a few short weeks ago we cast our votes and our local and state representatives were chosen. But one of the parts of that process that got to be really frustrating were the ads. You would hear one ad saying “Bob Jones hates you and all people.” And with an ominous voice the ad would tell you how bad that candidate was. And then, the opposing candidate would do the same. And at the end of the month leading up to it you end up asking the question: how do you know what the truth is? The words we find ourselves in this evening have much the same context. But the issue the Holy Spirit brings to us is not politicians, but instead, preachers. In 1 John 4, we read: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1 CSB17)

John the Evangelist tells us that just as we shouldn’t believe every ad we hear or every article we see on the internet, we also should not believe every spirit. And he makes it clear in this verse what he means by the word, spirit. The spirits here are false prophets. And here it’s important also to understand the context in which John is speaking. The false teachers aren’t those on the outside of the church. Those on the outside of the church were a real threat. But that’s not what he’s speaking about here. Here in these words he’s speaking about false teachers on the inside of the Christian Church. And so, what John says is true: We are not to believe everyone who calls himself a Christian and preaches some semblance of the truth of God’s word. Instead we are to test them. But what is the test we should use? John tells us: 2 This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming; even now it is already in the world.” (1 John 4:2–3 CSB17)

The litmus test, the knife that cuts through all the confusion is this: Does that preacher present all of who Jesus is? John places in front of us this amazing and massive truth that we celebrate this time of year. If we ask the question, “who is Jesus,” the answer is that Jesus is both fully and completely God and also fully and completely human. That’s the test. That’s the tool we can use to filter out false from true teachers. At Jesus’ conception there was one person, but there were two natures. Jesus was both fully God and fully human. And at the moment of his conception, Jesus continued to be both God and human forever.

Now all of this sounds like simple theology that we know already and can quickly pass over. But it’s not. There are two huge ways false teachers get this wrong. First, they are offended at Christ’s humanity. Long ago, Martin Luther had a long discussion and debate with a man named Ulrich Zwingli. And at the end of their long discussion, Luther and Zwingli agreed on 14 out of 15 theological points. That’s pretty good, right? But Luther refused to be in fellowship with Zwingli. He refused to commune with Zwingli because Zwingli said that, in the Lord’s Supper, Jesus’ body and blood weren’t there because Jesus body was at the right hand of God in heaven. Luther was frustrated that Zwingli couldn’t accept the clear and plain words Jesus spoke in the upper room, “This is my body,” and “This is my blood.” But what frustrated Luther even more was Zwingli’s lack of understanding of Christology. In Christ, there is one person. But there are two natures. Now think that through for a minute. Where Jesus is, both his divine and human nature are. Jesus doesn’t cease to be human in the Lord’s Supper simply because Zwingli wished it to be that way. Or to put it differently, what frustrated Luther was Zwingli’s lack of understanding of what happened on Christmas, not Maundy Thursday. And how did Luther arrive at this conclusion? He used the tool and test that John speaks about here. If a preacher is a true teacher he needs to know and teach all of the truth about Jesus, that he is fully human.

And this is a temptation we can fall into as well. Just as Zwingli was offended at Jesus’ humanity in the Lord’s Supper we can be tempted to be offended at Jesus’ humanity too. What happens so soon after Jesus is born? Our Savior has to run. And not only does he have to run, he is so frail and helpless as an infant, his parents have to carry him down to Egypt. It’s easy to be offended at how frail and human Jesus really is.

But the other part of the test is just as real. Jesus is fully human. But he is also fully divine. If Jesus isn’t God then you don’t have to be accountable to God. When Jesus says, “do this,” you don’t have to listen. When Jesus says, “stop that,” you don’t have to listen. But if he’s really God, then you have to listen.

So this test of confessing that Jesus is both one who has come in the flesh and is also from God is not just useful for seeing the false teachers out there. It’s also useful for seeing the false teacher in here, my heart. And that’s why the words which follow are so important to us as we prepare for Christmas: 4 You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They are from the world. Therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God. Anyone who knows God listens to us; anyone who is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deception.” (1 John 4:4–6 CSB17)

You have conquered. What a strange statement to make to people who had been conquered by false teachers out there and the false teaching in their own hearts. They hadn’t conquered anything. But look what John does: Christ has conquered in our place. And now he gives that victory to us. And that’s a victory that we need. We need a Savior was completely and perfectly human to pass this test that we cannot get straight. And that’s what Jesus did. The boy Jesus goes to the temple at age twelve. And in the final verse of that section we hear how he grew and became strong in wisdom.1 Jesus knew who he was and grew in that knowledge—even when we did not. And his growth covers our lack of understanding. And through that growth we can say that we have conquered.

We need a human to grow in wisdom in our place. But we also need a God to die for us. There is no human, no matter how perfect that person might be, who can take away the sins of the world. The only payment that can pay for our sins of not wanting to obey our Good and Gracious God is the payment that only God can provide. And this child that was born grew up and died. And Jesus, as fully human and fully God, died. And God said, “amen” to his payment. And so, because of that, we can say that we have conquered. Amen.

1 “ηὔξανεν καὶ ἐκραταιοῦτο πληρούμενον σοφίᾳ” (Λουκᾶν 2·40 THGNT-T)

What Does Righteousness Bring? (Advent 1)


What Does Righteousness Bring?

Some sentences seem simple, but are really scary. For example, let’s say that you get a letter from the IRS. And in that letter it says that they’d like to have a look at your records. You wouldn’t think there would be any reason to become afraid when you read those words. But all of us know there is more to those words, don’t we? Those words carry the unspoken message with them, “we’re checking your records. And if we find that your records are in error, there will be consequences.’” I mention this because, here, now, at the beginning of a new year, God’s word in our first reading from Jeremiah makes a statement that sounds fine on its own. But if you do even a little more study you realize that these words are actually quite terrifying. In Jeremiah 33, we read: 14 “Look, the days are coming”— this is the Lord’s declaration— “when I will fulfill the good promise that I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a Righteous Branch to sprout up for David, and he will administer justice and righteousness in the land.” (Jeremiah 33:14–15 CSB17)

In these words the Lord was promising to come to them with righteousness and justice. And what was terrifying about this is that the people to whom Jeremiah was writing knew what those words meant. For the Lord spoke those sorts of words in their grandparents’ time. In that time, about 722 BC, the Lord had the Assyrians come down and destroy the 10 northern tribes. And he did that in the name of his righteousness and justice. And if they missed the weight and meaning of those words in their grandparents’ time, then they could not miss the meaning of those words in their own time. For, in the name of his righteousness and justice the Lord brought the Babylonians down against the two remaining tribes. Their own armies were killed by the Babylonians. And the rest were enslaved. And thousands were forced away from their homeland to be slaves in Babylon. And all of this happened in the name of the Lord’s righteousness and justice.

Maybe we should take a step back and define this word. What is righteousness? And what does it bring with it? Righteousness is a word that means holiness and perfection. But there’s more to it than that. It’s the sort of perfection that cannot tolerate imperfection in anything it comes in contact with. It’s the sort of perfection and holiness that deals with those who have unholiness and non-perfection in the same way a bug-zapper deals with mosquitoes and moths. It consumes them. That’s why this seemingly innocent statement of the Lord establishing his righteousness and holiness would have been terrifying to those people who had been conquered and enslaved by the Babylonians. For the Lord had invited them to repent for hundreds of years. And for hundreds of years the Lord’s people turned their back on them. So he brought his righteousness against them.

But if we ask the question, what does righteousness bring, it shouldn’t just terrify them. It should also give us pause to ponder the word in our own time and in our own context. The Lord is holy. We are unholy. The Lord is sinless. We are sinful. The Lord cannot tolerate sin. We cannot get rid of our sin. When humans consider this fact, there is a distinct trap they can fall into. The trap is to conclude that the Lord tolerates, looks the other way, and is OK with our sin. For example, one of the statements you can hear churches saying is, “Come as you are.” There is some truth to this statement. God wants—really truly wants all people to come to church and hear and learn about him. But sadly, there many out there who conclude that we say “come as you are,” what we mean is the Lord tolerates my sin, looks the other way, and, at the end of the day, is OK with my sin. But the bible says, “our “God is a consuming fire.”” (Hebrews 12:29 NIV) Righteousness brings wrath. And our temptation is to fall into the trap of not seeing the true terror that is contained in that one word, righteousness, if we are not careful. For if the Lord did not hesitate to kill and enslave his people in the Old Testament twice when they did not repent, he is ever-so-willing to do the same with us today.

What does righteousness bring? It brings wrath. But, my dear friends in Christ, there is more to this word than just wrath. In the first verse we read, the Lord told us that he would fulfill the good promise he spoke. And in our final verse we learn more about this promise: “In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely, and this is what she will be named: The Lord Is Our Righteousness.” (Jeremiah 33:16 CSB17)

Righteousness brings wrath. When it comes it destroys sin and anyone who contains sin. But what if a miracle happened? What if the Lord shielded us from his wrath? What if he covered our lack of righteousness with his own righteousness? What if the Lord could remove and replace our sin with his own righteousness and perfection? What then? Then the Lord could come to us and there would be no need to destroy us. And that’s the point that the Lord is making in these final words. In an amazing promise the Lord tells desolate Jerusalem and rebellious Judah that the Lord’s righteousness is now our righteousness.1(Jeremiah 33:16 BHS-T)}} This then is another answer to the question. What does righteousness bring. Yes, it brings wrath. But it also brings redemption.

And so, my dear friends in Christ, when you look ahead several weeks down the road to that little baby placed in the manger, what should you see? See God’s righteousness. But also see that his own righteousness is now our own righteousness. See a child that will buy us back for him. See a king that will die like a slave. See a God who is now also a man.

See redemption when you look at Christmas Day. But also see redemption when you look at the last day. In our gospel for this morning, Jesus says, 27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 But when these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near.”” (Luke 21:27–28 CSB17)

So what does righteousness bring? The Lord’s righteousness brings wrath. And this moves us then to repent of our sin, not making our Lord accept and approve of our sin. No, we ask our Lord to purify us of our sin and pay for it. And that too is what Jesus’ righteousness brings: redemption. Amen.

1 ”יְהוָ֥ה ׀ צִדְקֵֽנוּ“

Be Thoughtful (The Last Sunday)

Alpha and Omega

Be Thoughtful

Think it through ahead of time. The toll booth taught me to plan ahead. When I was in PA there were many bridges. And with the bridges came the toll booths. And one one of the interesting traits about toll booths is that they either let you go through if you have an EZ pass or you need to have coins. But, in our modern age it’s almost as if you never need coins for anything anymore. I certainly thought that was true—at least until I rented a car. I didn’t have my EZ pass. And I didn’t have any coins. So there I was at the toll booth with no way to pay. So I had to just break the law and drive through. Sometimes it pays to think it through ahead of time. It’s true in our every day life. But it’s also true in the context that Jesus is speaking about in God’s word this morning. In Matthew 25, we read: 1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they didn’t take oil with them; 4 but the wise ones took oil in their flasks with their lamps. 5” (Matthew 25:1–4 CSB17)

In these words Jesus introduces us to ten virgins. And these ten women are waiting for the bridegroom to appear so they can go into the wedding banquet. Fiver were stupid.1 And five were thoughtful.2 And already in these words we see a huge hint as to how thoughtful they were. Each of the five thoughtful virgins brought extra oil. And in the words that follow we see them show their thoughtfulness: 5 When the groom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. 6 “In the middle of the night there was a shout: ‘Here’s the groom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 “Then all the virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’ 9 “The wise ones answered, ‘No, there won’t be enough for us and for you. Go instead to those who sell oil, and buy some for yourselves.’” (Matthew 25:5–9 CSB17)

The bridegroom delays in coming. This should not surprise us. Even today, one of the occasions which is most difficult to keep on time is the beginning of a wedding. The bridegroom delays in coming. And all of them become tired and fall asleep. And all of them then run out of oil in their lamps. The stupid women ask the thoughtful ones if they can share their extra oil. And here is where it gets interesting. The thoughtful women say, “no!” They say “no” because they are afraid that if they share with others they will not have enough fuel for themselves.3 This might sound somewhat strange and even rude to us. After all, we are taught to share and help those in need. But remember, these are the thoughtful women who say these words. They have thought it through ahead of time. The bridegroom could come at any time and they needed to be ready. How then do the words end? 10 “When they had gone to buy some, the groom arrived, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet, and the door was shut. 11 Later the rest of the virgins also came and said, ‘Master, master, open up for us!’ 12 “He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you!’ 13 “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.” (Matthew 25:10–13 CSB17)

The story concludes. The stupid women go away and come back with their oil and lamps. But the door is shut. And the bridegroom says, “no.” This too seems harsh. But remember that we have far more access to light today than in those days. If you were going to be in the procession that ushers the bridegroom in, you needed to be there at the right place at the right time. You needed to be ready. The people who show up later, after the doors are shut, are the party crashers. And so Jesus concludes with these words: “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.” (Matthew 25:13 CSB17)

So what’s the point of the parable? Is Jesus’ point that we should all go out and invest heavily in commodities—especially olive oil? No, he’s speaking about Judgment Day, isn’t he? Jesus is admonishing and encouraging us to be thoughtful because he could come at any time to judge the living and the dead. The problem though is that there are many temptations to not be thoughtful. There are many temptations to conclude that there are second chances when Judgment Day comes. Sadly, we find even Christian churches teaching this. Some teach that when you die, if you haven’t been good enough, you can get a second chance where your sins are slowly burned away over many years. Others believe that Jesus will not come openly and publicly, but instead, secretly. They say that he will secretly snatch his own and take them up to heaven. But the rest who are left behind will have a second chance to become Christians. The problem though is that passages like this and throughout the bible consistently say that there will be one Judgment Day. And they also say that we do not know when that day will be.

We probably know enough about the bible to steer clear of those misleading teachings. But sadly, we can end up in the same place just by living in the world we live in. You can live as if there are second chances by living for yourself in this world. What is it that brings you joy? Is it sitting down in front of the Vikings gave with that helmet with horns coming out of each side of it with a beer in one hand and a sandwich in another? Is it the perfect shot for the perfect deer on the perfect day? Is it in the summer time in the boat or on the beach? In each of these there is the temptation to forget and behave foolishly. For in each of these examples we can conclude that this is the good life here and have the worldly pleasures slowly drive out our spiritual pursuits. Time on the beach pushes out time in the bible. Time in the woods pushes out time in worship. We can say that we don’t believe in second chances after Judgment Day. But we can show sometimes in our actions that our words and actions aren’t lining up together.

And the same can be true when we live for others instead of living for ourselves. I’ve bumped into many parents over the years who wanted to spend quality time with their children. And so, for their children they sacrificed such mass amounts of time and money so that their child would be good at sports or music. And then, when Sundays came along, for years at a time, they were away from worship.

Now, here is usually where, when I’ve preached on these words in the past it is easy to fall into the ditch on either side of the road. One extreme is to find no pleasure in this life either for yourself or others. The other extreme is to only be absorbed in earthly pursuits, never looking to heaven and what is there. The thoughtful course is what we see here with the five thoughtful virgins. How many women fell asleep and even ran out of oil in their lamps? All of them did. There are going to be those times in our lives when our focus is on ourselves or on others. But then the focus has to keep coming back to this simple, thoughtful fact: We do not know the day or hour. The five virgins were thoughtful. And we know this because even though they fell asleep, they also thought ahead and brought oil with them.

So be thoughtful. Be thoughtful because you do not know the day or hour. And there are no second chances on Judgment Day. But also be thoughtful for another reason. The thoughtful life is the good life. There will be those times when you can enjoy a moment and say to yourself, “this is the good life”—and there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is when that’s the only thought. We bought our house a year ago. And it has this thing called a “gas fireplace.” Somewhere, somebody came up with the idea of having a fireplace that you don’t have to chop wood to make a fire. And I remember a year ago, about this time, firing up that Heat-n-glo staring at those flames in a comfy couch thinking, “this is the good life.” But my dear friends, whatever good times you have here should only be reminders of heaven to come. A warm fire place is a reminder of the place where there is no scorching sun by day nor cold by night. And if we settle on a fireplace in the winter instead of continually focusing on our life in heaven, it’s like sitting in the nose-bleeds when instead, you could be sitting on the grass on the fifty yard line. And only when we are able to appreciate this fact are we able to put our lives in this world in their proper place and perspective.

So be thoughtful. Live your life everyday knowing that at any time Jesus could come and judge the living and the dead. Be thoughtful because there are no second chances on Judgment Day. And be thoughtful because the thoughtful life is the good life. Amen.

1 “ⲙⲱⲣⲁⲓ” (Matthew 25:3 GNT-WAS)

2 “ⲫⲣⲟⲛⲓⲙⲟⲓ” (Matthew 25:2 GNT-WAS)

3 “ⲙⲏⲡⲟⲧⲉⲟⲩⲕⲁⲣⲕⲉⲥⲏⲏⲙⲉⲓⲛ” (Matthew 25:9 GNT-ALEX)

What Does Thankfulness Lead To? (Thanksgiving)


What Does Thankfulness Lead To?

Thankfulness begins when you see where you’ve been. Sometimes it’s good to look back and see where God has brought you. As a pastor over the years one of my favorite parts of visiting with the people of my congregation is to hear those stories. I loved hearing the story of the lady who looked forward to Christmas. For, at Christmas, she got a new pair of shoes and a new dress. And that’s all she got. And, then years later, she could say to me, “Now I got so many shoes I have no idea what to do with them.” Thankfulness begins when you see where you have been. Our words this morning reflect that same fact. In Genesis 32, we read: 9 Then Jacob said, “God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the Lord who said to me, ‘Go back to your land and to your family, and I will cause you to prosper,’ 10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. Indeed, I crossed over the Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two camps.” (Genesis 32:9–10 CSB17)

In these words we meet a man names Jacob. Jacob was the sort of guy who was smart. But his intelligence wasn’t always his friend. Throughout his life, instead of humbly trusting his Lord and placing his faith and lift in the Lord’s hands, he had to think his way out of problems. And his life was a series of disasters. In fact, his life was so bad that he had to run away from his own family because his brother, Esau, wanted to kill him. But the Lord appeared to him and told him that he would surely bring him back to this land. And now twenty years later, there he was, at the river Jordan. And he has the opportunity to look back and thank God. He says with all sincerity and simplicity, “All I had when I went away was this staff. Coming back, I have not one, but two camps.” And when Jacob sees where he was then and then was now, he thanks the Lord God saying that he is unworthy of all the kindnesses he has received. And today we pause, like Jacob, to do the same. Thankfulness begins when we see where we have been. It begins when we see how we brought nothing into this world with us, but, out of his love for us, the Lord blessed us with much. But my dear friends in Christ, that fact is not the end and conclusion of these words. No, it’s just the beginning. For the real question is not where thankfulness begins. Instead, the real question is: What does thankfulness lead to? We read: 11 Please rescue me from my brother Esau, for I am afraid of him; otherwise, he may come and attack me, the mothers, and their children. 12 You have said, ‘I will cause you to prosper, and I will make your offspring like the sand of the sea, too numerous to be counted.’” 13 He spent the night there and took part of what he had brought with him as a gift for his brother Esau: 14 two hundred female goats, twenty male goats, two hundred ewes, twenty rams, 15 thirty milk camels with their young, forty cows, ten bulls, twenty female donkeys, and ten male donkeys. 16 He entrusted them to his slaves as separate herds and said to them, “Go on ahead of me, and leave some distance between the herds.” 18 then tell him, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my Lord Esau. And look, he is behind us.’” 19 He also told the second one, the third, and everyone who was walking behind the animals, “Say the same thing to Esau when you find him.” (Genesis 32:11–16, 18–19 CSB17)

In these words Jacob reminds the Lord of a promise he had spoken. He says to the Lord, “I will make your offspring like the sand of the sea.”1(Genesis 32:13 BHS-T)}} And so Jacob takes a very intersting action. He divides and subdivides his camps up and sends them on ahead of him, knowing that that last time he saw his brother, his brother wanted to kill him. In an amazing display of faith he sends them all ahead, holding God to his promise that he would prosper them. For how could his offspring be like the sand of the sea if Esau killed every man, woman and child?

And my friends in Christ, that’s where thankfulness leads: Confidence. Confidence in future days. Each of us is able to say to ourselves, “God promised to be with me. And he has been with me. Therefore I can be confident in future days.” But each of us also has to say to ourselves, “Do I have this sort of confidence?” Do I have the sort of confidence to send my family away and trust that God will work things out? Years ago, our girls reached that milestone that they got to go onto the bus by themselves for school. And I still remember this sort of crushing fear I had inside of me: Will the bus driver kidnap them? Will her classmates make fun of her? Will she be safe at school? All these fears and so many more were there. And the small task and challenge I had was to just let my little girl get on the school bus.

But, my friends in Christ, thankfulness leads to confidence. For each of us can look back at the promises that God made. And those are promises that he kept. And if he kept them in the past, he will keep them in the future. And so, Jacob sends all his family and all his flocks ahead of him. For thankfulness leads to confidence in future days. But there’s more to these words. We read: 24 Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not defeat him, he struck Jacob’s hip socket as they wrestled and dislocated his hip. 26 Then he said to Jacob, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 “What is your name?” the man asked. “Jacob,” he replied. 28 “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” he said. “It will be Israel because you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he answered, “Why do you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. 30 Jacob then named the place Peniel, “For I have seen God face to face,” he said, “yet my life has been spared.”” (Genesis 32:24–30 CSB17)

Thankfulness leads to confidence in future days. But notice the emphasis here: Thankfulness leads to confidence on our final day. Look at the context. Just before this, Jacob’s brother-in-law, Laban was trying to kill him. And Jacob had this real and perfectly logical fear that Esau was out to kill him and every man, woman, and child that he had. But what about his God? Was the Lord out to get him too? And so, in this amazing part of the bible there is a man that shows up and strives and struggles with Jacob. And Jacob asks for a blessing. But we quickly see that this is a blessing of mercy instead of a blessing of merit. But what kind of blessing was this? We find out at the end of the words. For Jacob says, “I saw God face-to-face, and yet my life was rescued.2(Genesis 32:31 BHS-T)}} Our english versions translate the phrase as “I was spared.” But there’s more going on here. The verb means to rescue from a dangerous situation. All of us, each of us, yearns to meet our Maker. And yet we fear it too. Laban was out to get Jacob. Esau looked like he was out to get Jacob. Was God out to get him too? Where would Jacob stand when he died? Would he be forgiven or put to death and put into hell? Jacob needed to know where he stood with God. And in this amazing show of care and concern for Jacob, he allows Jacob to wrestle with him to show to him and prove to him that his sins were forgiven and his soul would be saved.

And my friends in Christ, this too is where thankfulness leads. It leads to confidence in future days. But it also leads to confidence on our final day. All of us, each of us, can be confident when we meet our Maker. Why? For just as there was a God-man who wrestled with Jacob, so also, there was also a God-man who wrestled for Jacob. Jesus wrestled against Satan in the desert. He wrestled against temptation in the garden of Gethsemane. He wrestled and struggled against death itself on the cross so that Jacob and us could meet our Maker with every confidence of forgiveness.

So, as you soon wake up in the morning and gather together around the table with turkey and stuffing and pie, be thankful. Yes, that thankfulness begins with looking at where you have been. But also look at where it leads to. It leads with confidence as you look at future days and confidence as you look at your final day. Amen.

1 ”וְשַׂמְתִּ֤י אֶֽת־זַרְעֲךָ֙ כְּח֣וֹל הַיָּ֔ם“

2 ”רָאִ֤יתִי אֱלֹהִים֙ פָּנִ֣ים אֶל־פָּנִ֔ים וַתִּנָּצֵ֖ל נַפְשִֽׁי“

Who Gets To Sit With Jesus? (2nd to Last Sunday)


Who Gets To Sit With Jesus?

Iwanna sit at the big table. When I grew up, at big holidays like Thanksgiving, there were two tables. There was the big people table and there was the kiddy-table. And it was the goal of little child at the kiddy-table to get to the big, grown-up table. But there was always a test involved. First, there had to be space. And second, you had to act like a grown up. This morning we do not have an invitation to move up to the big table for Thanksgiving. Instead, we have the invitation to sit with Jesus in heaven. But that makes us ask a very important question: Who gets to sit with Jesus? In Matthew 25 we find the answer to that question: 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’” (Matthew 25:31–36 NIV11-GKE)

It’s the end of the world. It’s Judgment Day. And Jesus takes his seat on his throne. And where we would expect a long, drawn-out trial, instead, there’s a separation. And he says to the people on his right, “come!” And again, we hear this and we ask, who—what kind of people get to sit with Jesus? And Jesus heavily hints at an answer in the words that follow. First, he speaks of an inheritance. An inheritance is not a gift you grasp for an earn. It is undeserved. Second, he says that this inheritance was prepared before God built the world.1 Before they had done anything—whether good or bad, God chose them. All of this heavily hints that this inheritance is not a gift they deserved.

But the story continues. Jesus gives a reason why they go automatically into his kingdom. He was in some bad situations here on this earth: stranger, naked, hungry, thirsty, in prison. And they were there. The sheep then react to this statement by asking Jesus a question: 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’” (Matthew 25:37–39 NIV11-GKE)

The ones who are welcomed into heaven wonder when they ever helped Jesus out in his time of need. Jesus then tells them: ““The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:40 NIV11-GKE)

In his own way, Jesus has already answered our question. Who are the ones who get to sit with Jesus? The Righteous. And notice from these words both what righteousness is and who fit that description. Righteous means to be holy and perfect. These sheep are righteous—they are holy, perfect, and blameless. But it’s not a righteousness that they earned or deserved. It was a righteousness that was prepared for them from eternity, bought for them by Jesus, and given to them by his holy word. From the beginning to the end, they had no part in this righteousness. They simply had the joy of receiving this righteousness. And the righteousness that they wear in these words is the same righteousness that you wear. It’s the righteousness that Jesus won for you on the cross and gave to you in your baptisms. And so, because of this, heaven is a place to look forward to, not a place to live in fear of. But these words continue: 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’” (Matthew 25:41–45 NIV11-GKE)

The righteous sheep enter straight into heaven. But there’s another group: the goats. Jesus sends away the goats. He sends them away because they did not help him in his time of need. And here is where we need to read these words closely and listen closely. For the goats ask the question, “when?” And that, right there, tells us pretty much everything we need to know about them. One of my professors used to say that All false teaching is a confusion of cause and effect. And here we see what that looks like. The righteous are perfect, blameless, and holy as an undeserved gift. And, since they appreciate this undeserved gift, they spontaneously and naturally show their thanks for helping those around them.

Not so with the goats. The goats ask the question, “when” because heaven was a task to earn, not a gift to receive. And here, in them we see what happens when we confuse where righteousness comes from. When we conclude that we will pass the trial of getting into heaven with our own righteousness what happens? There are two tragic consequences when we go down this road: First, our neighbor becomes a tool instead of a person. Your friend, your co-worker, your family member—you look at that person not as a real human who needs your care and love. Instead you look at them as a tool, that if you are good to them, you can build up a list of good works and climb your way into heaven. And people aren’t stupid. When they see you treating them like they are a tool instead of person, your relationship with them will be short-lived. But the second consequence is even worse: If your neighbor becomes a tool, then Jesus himself becomes a fool. Jesus says, “Here, take my righteousness. I won it for you on the cross. I gave it to you in your baptism. Wear it.” And in response, we say, “I’d like to wear my own righteousness instead.’” We’re like the two year old who stubbornly refuses to let anyone help tie his shoes. And then when he realizes that he can’t tie his own shoes, he gets angry at everyone else. All throughout our lives we will continually find this tragic attitude in our hearts. And all throughout our lives we will need to recognize it and repent of it. For the warnings that Jesus speaks here are real. But notice where these words end: ““Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”” (Matthew 25:46 NIV11-GKE)

We repent of our sins. And in joy then we receive the promise of eternal life that Jesus speaks to us here. Let us then rejoice that, when it comes to this trial that we will face when we die or when Judgment Day comes, in a very real way, it’s over before it really begins. And that’s true because there is only one group of people who will sit with Jesus. The righteous will sit with Jesus. And we are clothed with Jesus’ righteousness. Let us then thank him. This morning we have songs from our handbell and voice choirs that urge us to thank our Lord. In these words we hear why. Who gets to sit with Jesus? Only the righteous do. And purely by God’s grace, we are in that group. Amen.

1 “ⲁⲡⲟⲕⲁⲧⲁⲃⲟⲗⲏⲥⲕⲟⲥⲙⲟⲩ” (Matthew 25:34 GNT-ALEX)