Advent Midweek 1: Rahab the Harlot (Joshua 2:1-11)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Advent Midweek 1 – November 30, 2016

Text: Joshua 2:1-11

 

Rahab had the faith to recognize “God in the heavens above”

She saw which nation the Lord was with, and threw her lot in with them.

She confessed her faith by asking for protection when Israel invaded Jericho.

She looked forward to her future being with God’s people (Heb. 11)

 

Her faith was also active in what she did.

She risked her life to further Israel’s mission.

She hid the spies, hoping for a future, rather than the king’s reward.

She received the benefits of faith when she and her family were delivered from death.

 

Is ours a living faith?

In confirmation, we promise before God that, by God’s grace, we will remain true to this faith and suffer all, even death, rather than fall away.

When that faith is challenged, where is our trust?

In the immediate reward of popularity, avoiding controversy, saving our skin from lawsuits.

Or do we stake our lives on the Kingdom God has won for us, and which is ours through Christ?

 

Rahab is part of the genealogy of Christ not because she was any better than the rest of us, but through faith, her hope was in the mercy and salvation of the God of heaven.  By God’s grace, He will give you too the faith which makes you a citizen of His eternal Kingdom.  Amen.

Blessed is Our King Who Comes! (Matthew 21:1-11)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

First Sunday in Advent + November 27, 2016

Text: Matthew 21:1-11

Advent is all about the coming of our Lord.  He came in the flesh, just as was promised.  He comes again in great glory, just as was promised.

 

When He enters into Jerusalem, He shows us what sort of King He is.

He comes in lowliness: “Humble and mounted on a donkey”

Yet He has great power to save: Hosanna to the Lord of Hosts,[1] save us we pray!

He alone has the power to deliver us from our enemies:

  • He slays the ancient serpent the devil and all his hosts. He commands and they obey.[2]
  • He has the authority to overturn the power of sin and declare a person righteous before God. Blessed indeed is the man against whom the Lord does not count his iniquity (Psalm 32).
  • He has the power even over the grave to order our release and death itself must yield. Lazarus, come out!  Young man, I say to you arise!  She is not dead, but sleeping.[3]

 

So, He came to Jerusalem and there accomplished all that was necessary for our salvation.  Where does that leave us today?

We too wait for His coming, but His final arrival and the redemption of our bodies.[4]

What will happen then?

  • Sin will have no more power over us. It will no longer be, “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”[5]
  • The devil will be out of the scene forever. He will no longer prowl around like a roaring lion.  God will tear out the fangs of the lion[6] so that he can never again attack the work of God’s hands.
  • Death will be stripped of its power over us. “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”[7]

 

We live between His two comings: The first when He disarmed these powers for all who believe, the second coming when our victory will be complete.

 

Those two advents meet in the Divine Service.

 

Here, sins are forgiven on earth as they are in heaven.  The peace He won with His first coming is delivered like a preview of the Last Day Judgment.

 

Here, the saints on earth sing the praises of the heavenly choir with glory to God in the highest and extolling the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

 

In the Lord’s Supper, we take a place at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb.[8]  Even though we are a people of unclean lips, the holy, holy, holy Lord of Hosts touches our lips and cleanses us with His Body and Blood.  That’s why we also join in the song of the saints in Jerusalem and sing Hosanna to the Son of David.

 

Our Lord has come and will come again.  He is our mighty King, dressed in the splendid robes of holiness, but also in our flesh.  Hosanna to the King who comes again in power and great glory to bring us an everlasting victory in His Kingdom!  Amen.

 

[1] Psalm 118:25

[2] Mark 1:27

[3] John 11:43, Luke 7:14, Luke 8:52

[4] Romans 8:23

[5] Romans 7:14, 19

[6] 1 Peter 5:8; Psalm 58:6

[7] Revelation 1:17-18

[8] Revelation 19:9, Matthew 22:2-13

Thanking God for His Blessings in Christ (Psalm 67)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Thanksgiving Eve – November 23, 2016

Text: Psalm 67

 

“God bless you!”  “I feel truly blessed.”  “God has blessed them with children.”  You hear phrases like this all the time from people.  But think about what is being said.  We say “God bless you” when someone sneezes, wishing them health.  We say that we’re blessed or someone else is blessed when they have what they want—be it a nice house or lots of grandchildren.  We say that God blesses something when it goes our way.  But seldom do you hear God’s blessing on adversity.

What are we confessing when we only speak of good things as blessings?  I think too often we are promoting blessing from a god who only gives health, wealth, and increase; and not death, poverty, and loss.  That god’s name is Mammon, and he doesn’t just deal in currency; he is the god of prosperity.  Mammon is hard at work around this time of year.  When we think of what we’re thankful for, he’s craftily trained us to think of material stuff and count those as our blessings.  Then, the whole world, who worships at Mammon’s altar, bombards us with the teaching that you know God’s blessing through how good your life is and what kind of stuff you have—a Pontiac or a Mercedes; Faded Glory or Ralph Lauren; Chicken of the Sea or Red Lobster.  To bless others is to buy people stuff so they too can experience Mammon’s favor.

Rather than have Mammon teach us about blessing, let’s have the true God enlighten us.  The blessings of God are a treasure beyond anything that can be bought or sold.  They cannot wear out or become obsolete.  The blessings of God cannot be stolen and they even stay with you beyond the grave.

David, in the Spirit, writes,

     May God be gracious to us and bless us

and make his face to shine upon us,

This is the Aaronic Benediction, first given in Numbers 6, but still received today by God’s people after every Divine Service.  In the Western church it’s common for the congregation to bow their head because God said, thus “you shall put my Name upon the people and I will bless them.”[1]  But what is God’s blessing?

First, that God is gracious to us.  How many of you groaned when you remembered that you had to leave the house tonight?  Or when you remembered you still had to go to work today?  How many of you had one or many mean thoughts about another person?  How many of you got more excited about upcoming sales than the extra worship services of Advent?  You do realize that God consumes sinners, don’t you?  The Scriptures say, “You are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you…You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.”[2]  Just as we confessed at the beginning of service, “we justly deserve [His] temporal and eternal punishment.”

But God is gracious to us.  He makes atonement for our sins.  He shed the blood of His sinless Son for sinners’ sake.  Therefore, the Scriptures also say, “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.”[3]  He doesn’t give us what we justly deserve; He gives “His only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life.”[4]  Every moment of our life God is gracious to us (right now, he’s even gracious to those who despise Him!).  St. John writes, Whenever[5] we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  So, yes, when we sin, God does not immediately punish us.  He is long-suffering toward us and calls us to repent and believe that He forgives us for Jesus’ sake.

Second, God blesses us.  Not only does He not punish us like we deserve, He shows His favor to us.  When the Prodigal Son returned, he confessed, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”  But the father didn’t just make him one of his hirelings.  Instead, he said to the servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.”[6]  God does the same for you.  He has not only removed your sins as far as the east is from the west, but He is pleased with you!  He is pleased to call you His own child, pleased to welcome you onto holy ground in this place, and pleased to receive you into eternal dwellings.

A blessing is God’s favor, spoken onto His people.[7]  Think of how many ways God speaks His favor to you in the Church.  When you were baptized into Christ, it is as if He said to you in the water, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.”[8]  When you heard the absolution today, and when you hear this forgiveness from a brother or sister, it is as good as Jesus speaking into your ears: “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”[9]  Shortly, when you receive His Body and Blood at this altar, you will hear Him say, “Take; eat.  This is my Body given for you. Take; drink. This is my Blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  The Lord God has adopted you in Christ to be His own child.  So, come near often, and receive your Father’s blessing.[10]

Thirdly, this Psalm teaches us that God makes His face to shine upon us.  In Psalm 4, David writes, “There are many who say, ‘Who will show us some good?’”  Apart from the Lord, we look for good in our circumstances.  If our appetites are sated, then we’re content to say we love the Lord and He’s good to us.  But as soon as we lose possessions and health, we become downcast as if God had forsaken us.  Who will show us some good?  Is it to be found in this fleeting life of labor, evil, and loss?  Of course not!  Psalm 4 continues, “Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord! You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.”[11]

The Lord makes His face to shine upon you, so that you can be sure that you have God as Father in every joy just as much as in every sorrow.  What’s come before has led up to this: God blesses you and forgives all your sins, He blesses you and crowns you as His own royal sons and daughters.  But here, He also promises to hear your prayers, support you, and defend you in every need.  He will never leave you, nor forsake you.  Therefore, we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”[12]

If this is how we see God’s blessing, it changes not only our Christmas season, but every day of our life throughout the year.  Psalm 67 tells the result of God’s blessing:

            that your way may be known on earth,

your saving power among all nations.

                    Let the peoples praise you, O God;

let all the peoples praise you!

                    Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,

for you judge the peoples with equity

and guide the nations upon earth. Selah

                    Let the peoples praise you, O God;

let all the peoples praise you!

The blessing that God gives to sinners—forgiveness and adoption as children—is how the nations know Him.  It’s not in wealth or prosperity.  On the contrary, God often shows Himself most clearly in weakness and poverty.  He shows His blessing when faith isn’t strong and when we really can’t handle what’s laid on our shoulders.  God chooses those moments to make known His “saving power among all nations.”

The Lord said through the Psalmist Asaph, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”  God’s blessing is our strength in weakness, our healing in sickness, and our life in death.  If everything went well all the time, who would be moved to praise the Lord?  But when God shows Himself as the Helper of the helpless, praise pours forth from the lips of all the redeemed!

The Psalm concludes,

            The earth has yielded its increase;

God, our God, shall bless us.

                    God shall bless us;

let all the ends of the earth fear him!

The earthly increase does come, but it’s not the way we know God.  Christ has taught us, “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  In due season, God does satisfy the desires of every living thing[13]—how much more for His children!  But first come the true blessings: forgiveness of sins, adoption as God’s children, and a divine promise to be our Helper in every need.

So when the Psalm confidently ends, “God shall bless us,” we know that He does with riches that cannot be found from anywhere on earth.  Peace be with you in Christ Jesus both now and forever! Amen.

[1] Numbers 6:27

[2] Psalm 5:4-6

[3] Psalm 103:10

[4] John 3:16

[5] 1 John 1:9, emphasizing the ongoing conditional sentence in Greek

[6] Luke 15:11-24

[7] Tyndale Bible Dictionary, “Bless”

[8] Matthew 3:17

[9] Matthew 9:2

[10] cf. Genesis 27:26-29

[11] Psalm 4:6-7

[12] Hebrews 13:6

[13] Psalm 145:16

Do Not Despair, the Lord Returns! (Malachi 3:13-18)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Last Sunday of the Church Year – November 20, 2016

Text: Malachi 3:13-18

 

At first, there’s righteous anger: How could this world be so godless?  Look at what’s on TV!  Look at what’s accepted as normal now!  Don’t you hear the filthy lyrics in popular music?  Don’t you see what unchaste lives our celebrities live, and how they’re supposed to be role models for our kids?

1 Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,

that the mountains might quake at your presence—

                           as when fire kindles brushwood

and the fire causes water to boil—

                              to make your name known to your adversaries,

and that the nations might tremble at your presence![1]

 

Then, there’s righteous disgust: I don’t want to have anything to do with this horrid world!  I’m not going to watch TV at all.  I’ll put myself on a moral island in this sea of filth.  I’m only going to listen to classic music and KLOVE.

113  I hate the double-minded,

but I love your law.

        114         You are my hiding place and my shield;

I hope in your word.

        115         Depart from me, you evildoers,

that I may keep the commandments of my God.[2]

 

But occasionally for the saints, it gets to the point of what we hear in Malachi:

14 It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? 15 And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’

We’ve gotten mad and fought against ungodliness.  We’ve withdrawn ourselves from every appearance of evil.[3]  But now we fear it’s all for naught.  The ungodly are doing fine while the righteous are miserable.  This is a case of righteous despair.

 

Lord, we know that You knit together every person and that you create them in Your image.  We know that You love our corrupt race because you gave your Son to be the way of peace.[4]  But who has believed the call to repentance and the promise of eternal life?

Instead of living in God’s ways for His creatures, we see those very same people celebrating their evil.  God is the giver of life, but we hear people callously refer to living human beings as an inconvenience and burden.  God made marriage to be a life-long union between a man and woman, but we see spouses celebrating divorce as personal freedom and even going to the point of throwing a party about it.[5]  He made women’s bodies to bear and feed their children, but we see the world turn a woman’s body into a plaything for selfish pleasure. “Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape” (v. 15).

From a heavenly point of view, we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,[6] but on earth, we weather against a storm of people moving away from God.  We have every practical reason in the world to give up on the Lord and go with the rest.  We don’t see the Lord judging all these so-called ungodly people around us.  Maybe He doesn’t really care who’s righteous or wicked.  Maybe the whole good and evil thing was just something that people came up with!  If we were truly enlightened, why not burst these old, superstitious bonds[7] of misogyny, homophobia, and prohibition?  “What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts?” (v. 14)  Maybe if we forgot about God, we’d find “true satisfaction” in our lives!

But is there really hope in that?  We may grumble, “What is the profit” of staying faithful to God and His Word, but if we abandoned Him, what would we actually gain?  Before we even think to speak this way against God, we’ve already been deceived by the cunning of Satan.

Think about what God has promised to His children.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.” (Psalm 91:14-15)

“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)

From today’s Gospel: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

 

But those aren’t the blessings we’re wanting.  We want what the wicked have: peace in our families, government leaders we can be proud of, acceptance in the eyes of friends and strangers, and a lifestyle that celebrated far and wide.  We want our church to be popular (and rich wouldn’t hurt), bringing people through the doors in droves.  We long for, even lust, after the fleeting sun and passing rain that “God sends on the just and the unjust.[8]  And when it seems that the unjust, unrighteous people of this world have it better off, we grumble that God doesn’t care one way or the other.

But think of this, true children of heaven, what sort of blessings do they receive?  All of them, without exception, are of this world.  All of the rain that God sends on the righteous and wicked tapers off and dries up.  God gives earthly blessings regardless of faith, but every last one of them has an expiration date!  Sure, they’re available immediately, and that makes them appealing.  But they don’t last.  God has appointed a Day when He will judge “between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.” (v. 18)

In that Great Day, it will be infinitely better to be the righteous, to be those who have “feared the Lord and esteemed His Name.”  The wicked will see all their comfort melt away.  All the good they enjoyed from God will be snatched away from them in a moment.    “Then,” in true despair, “they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’[9]  If only they had feared and trusted in the God who called to them in His Word!  But, by then, there will be a great chasm fixed[10] between the righteous and the unrighteous, between those who believed in God’s only-begotten Son and those who rejected Him.[11]

But as for the sons of God whose hearts have faith in the cleansing blood of the Lamb, they will receive all the blessings promised to them.  Their names will be found in the Lord’s “book of remembrance.”  And to His beloved, enrolled in heaven, the Chief Shepherd will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”[12]  And His Kingdom shall have no end.

Do not despair, beloved in the Lord!  The Lord of Hosts will, without fail, distinguish between the righteous and the wicked and He will gather you to be His treasured possession forever and ever.  The Apostle John writes, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”[13]  Your God who made these promises to you is also able to keep you safely in the true faith.  You have received His Holy Spirit, the Comforter, Who “brings to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”[14]  When Satan and the voices around you tempt you with the idea, “It is vain to serve God.  What is the profit?”, you will be reassured of the profit that was gained by the death and resurrection of God’s own Son, and that such a treasure was made yours in Baptism.  Because of this, you are an heir of God’s eternal kingdom. Amen.

[1] Isaiah 64:1-2

[2] Psalm 119:113-115

[3] 1 Thessalonians 5:22

[4] Luke 1:79

[5] http://www.pinterest.com/explore/divorce-party/

[6] Hebrews 12:1

[7] Psalm 2:3

[8] Matthew 5:45

[9] Luke 23:30, Gospel reading

[10] Luke 16:26

[11] Matthew 10:33

[12] Matthew 25:34

[13] 1 John 4:4

[14] John 14:26

Watching and Waiting for the Lord (Luke 21:29-36)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

26th Sunday after Pentecost + November 13, 2016

Text: Luke 21:29-36

 

Trying to stay awake is hard sometimes.  Parents of newborns know what it’s like to have to run on fumes, not getting the sleep they need but still needing to press on with daily life.  Sometimes they’re caught falling asleep at work or worse on the road.  But it’s all they can do to stay awake.

 

But many of us can relate to burning the candle at both ends.  Sometimes it’s self-inflicted, other times it’s dropped in our lap.  Either way, there are many times that it’s a battle to stay conscious.

 

Jesus says here in the Gospel that we should “stay awake at all times.”  Visions of toothpicks propping open our eyes come to mind.  What could He possibly mean?

 

Our Lord is talking about staying awake spiritually.  What does it mean to stay spiritually awake?

  • Spiritually awake is what we are when we see today as the end times.
  • All the things that Jesus predicted about the destruction of Jerusalem foreshadow the end of the world. “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”
  • Many recognize that the world is falling apart, but those who are spiritually awake are looking to the end that Jesus will return with the comfort, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (v. 28)
  • So, to be spiritually awake is to have a living, active faith.

 

What’s the opposite of this?

  • “Hearts weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of life.”
  • That’s when we live in denial that Jesus is going to return. Things have been going along the same way forever, so what could possibly change?  If he hasn’t come by now, He must not be coming, so I’ll just fall in line with those around me.[1]
  • The material, day-to-day living becomes greater than the spiritual. You get up one day and decide that it’s too much work to get to church, and during the week you’re just too busy to read the Bible.  Before you know it, what’s right in front of you has become as important as your faith once was.  These words of Jesus become a faded memory of a season in your life.
  • Yet as awake as you might be to the cares of life, you have fallen asleep to your spiritual condition, your need to live by every Word that comes from the mouth of the Lord, your need for His grace and forgiveness, and that His return will spring upon us suddenly.

 

So, how do we “stay awake at all times, praying that [we] may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man”?

 

Our Lord uses the very troubles and trials of life to jolt us awake and keep us watchful for His return.  What we might think is an out-of-control mess is actually the very instrument God uses to strengthen and confirm our faith.

 

So often, we want things to be easy and smooth.  It’s just one thing after another, and all we want is to have some time of rest when things aren’t crazy.  Sorry to say, but it’s not God’s will for things to be carefree.  That’s because He knows when things are carefree, we become complacent.  We dream of a time free from crisis and tribulation, but that’s actually dreaming of a time without dependence on God, taking care of things for ourselves.

 

It’s in those very times of struggle that we are watchful and reliant on Him.

 

But Lord! Let me catch a snooze!  I’m tired!  I’m worn out from all that you’ve put me through!  This is not yet a faithful approach, because it’s relying on our own strength.  This is the spiritual equivalent to energy drinks, doing all we can to survive.  But just like energy drinks run your body ragged, so does trying to face the trials of life without relying on your God.

 

If you want to “stay awake at all times” through struggles in your life and upset in the world, you really do need a rest, but not in the form of a nap.  You need a Sabbath rest.  “Come to Me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”[2]  You need the renewal that only God can give.  You can’t find it in a vacation or out in the woods.  A Sabbath rest only comes through the Word of God.

 

So, come and confess your sins and have them taken off your shoulders and laid on Jesus’.  Come and have your spirit refreshed by the One who created you and supports you through your whole life.  Come in prayer and give your burdens and your praises to the God who works all things for good for the sake of His elect.[3]  Come and take the Body and Blood of the God who strengthens you in body and soul in the one true faith unto life everlasting.

 

Instead of missing church because life is crazy, run here all the more because you need to stop all that you’re doing and let God do what He does.  That is where you will find the energy to face every trial, to endure every sign of the end times.

 

Then, when the Lord comes suddenly, it won’t be like a trap or a terrible surprise.  It will be a joy because this is what we have been longing, hoping, praying for.  Amen.

[1] 2 Peter 3:3-10

[2] Matthew 11:28

[3] Romans 8:28-30

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

26th Sunday after Pentecost + November 13, 2016

Text: Luke 21:29-36

 

Trying to stay awake is hard sometimes.  Parents of newborns know what it’s like to have to run on fumes, not getting the sleep they need but still needing to press on with daily life.  Sometimes they’re caught falling asleep at work or worse on the road.  But it’s all they can do to stay awake.

 

But many of us can relate to burning the candle at both ends.  Sometimes it’s self-inflicted, other times it’s dropped in our lap.  Either way, there are many times that it’s a battle to stay conscious.

 

Jesus says here in the Gospel that we should “stay awake at all times.”  Visions of toothpicks propping open our eyes come to mind.  What could He possibly mean?

 

Our Lord is talking about staying awake spiritually.  What does it mean to stay spiritually awake?

  • Spiritually awake is what we are when we see today as the end times.
  • All the things that Jesus predicted about the destruction of Jerusalem foreshadow the end of the world. “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”
  • Many recognize that the world is falling apart, but those who are spiritually awake are looking to the end that Jesus will return with the comfort, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (v. 28)
  • So, to be spiritually awake is to have a living, active faith.

 

What’s the opposite of this?

  • “Hearts weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of life.”
  • That’s when we live in denial that Jesus is going to return. Things have been going along the same way forever, so what could possibly change?  If he hasn’t come by now, He must not be coming, so I’ll just fall in line with those around me.[1]
  • The material, day-to-day living becomes greater than the spiritual. You get up one day and decide that it’s too much work to get to church, and during the week you’re just too busy to read the Bible.  Before you know it, what’s right in front of you has become as important as your faith once was.  These words of Jesus become a faded memory of a season in your life.
  • Yet as awake as you might be to the cares of life, you have fallen asleep to your spiritual condition, your need to live by every Word that comes from the mouth of the Lord, your need for His grace and forgiveness, and that His return will spring upon us suddenly.

 

So, how do we “stay awake at all times, praying that [we] may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man”?

 

Our Lord uses the very troubles and trials of life to jolt us awake and keep us watchful for His return.  What we might think is an out-of-control mess is actually the very instrument God uses to strengthen and confirm our faith.

 

So often, we want things to be easy and smooth.  It’s just one thing after another, and all we want is to have some time of rest when things aren’t crazy.  Sorry to say, but it’s not God’s will for things to be carefree.  That’s because He knows when things are carefree, we become complacent.  We dream of a time free from crisis and tribulation, but that’s actually dreaming of a time without dependence on God, taking care of things for ourselves.

 

It’s in those very times of struggle that we are watchful and reliant on Him.

 

But Lord! Let me catch a snooze!  I’m tired!  I’m worn out from all that you’ve put me through!  This is not yet a faithful approach, because it’s relying on our own strength.  This is the spiritual equivalent to energy drinks, doing all we can to survive.  But just like energy drinks run your body ragged, so does trying to face the trials of life without relying on your God.

 

If you want to “stay awake at all times” through struggles in your life and upset in the world, you really do need a rest, but not in the form of a nap.  You need a Sabbath rest.  “Come to Me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”[2]  You need the renewal that only God can give.  You can’t find it in a vacation or out in the woods.  A Sabbath rest only comes through the Word of God.

 

So, come and confess your sins and have them taken off your shoulders and laid on Jesus’.  Come and have your spirit refreshed by the One who created you and supports you through your whole life.  Come in prayer and give your burdens and your praises to the God who works all things for good for the sake of His elect.[3]  Come and take the Body and Blood of the God who strengthens you in body and soul in the one true faith unto life everlasting.

 

Instead of missing church because life is crazy, run here all the more because you need to stop all that you’re doing and let God do what He does.  That is where you will find the energy to face every trial, to endure every sign of the end times.

 

Then, when the Lord comes suddenly, it won’t be like a trap or a terrible surprise.  It will be a joy because this is what we have been longing, hoping, praying for.  Amen.

[1] 2 Peter 3:3-10

[2] Matthew 11:28

[3] Romans 8:28-30

God’s Every Promise Does Not Fail (Matt. 5:1-12)

All Saints Day (observed) + November 6, 2016

Text: Matthew 5:1-12

 

We live in a world that disappoints because it can never truly satisfy—no matter how much it might promise.

 

Infomercials are notorious for making great promises about products, only to be told later “results may vary.”

 

“Read my lips: No new taxes.”  No matter how Tuesday turns out, our elected officials will not fulfill all their campaign promises.

 

Drug commercials depict the idyllic lives of people who have been freed from the burden of arthritis, depression, and other life-altering conditions.  But as you watch the actor-portrayals, they say the drug can lower the ability of your immune system to fight infections, cause rashes, bleeding, and in some cases even death.

 

Men and women know the pain when vows are broken: “I take you, to have and to hold from this day forward…till death us do part.”

 

But in this world of disappointments and broken promises, there is One who never breaks His Word.  Hear His Words:

 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 

These are the words of the living and true God, who has redeemed us from sin and death by His holy precious blood, and who fills us with the hope of eternal life!

 

Yet even in our faith, we can become disillusioned.  The Apostle John tells us that “we are children of God; and so we are!”[1]  But we see in our lives a different story—lives marked by lying, gossiping, hating one another, and indifference toward our family and neighbors.  We look at the Church and see a real mess—divisions, infighting, and false teaching.  Jesus prayed that we might all be one,[2] but it looks like we’re failing.

 

But the Lord knows all the pains of our heart and how we see how things are and long for His deliverance.  He knows how it is for us now, and describes it in all the first half of each Beatitude.  No one would envy the situation we find ourselves in, being children of God in a world dominated by the devil and wicked men.

 

“What we will be has not yet appeared,” John tells us.[3]  It’s sometimes said that Christians on earth belong to the Church militant, shielded by faith and armed with the Word of God.[4]  The Church militant presses on, longing and striving to join that great throng pictured in Revelation 7, whose weapons of warfare have been replaced by palm branches of eternal peace.

 

So often, like wearied soldiers in an extended battle, our sin wants to doubt if this is all even true.  Experience from this world tells us that if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.  But against that diabolical lie, we must remember that He who speaks these promises is not another man setting us up for disappointment.  It is God who speaks, and He never lies nor do any of His Words fall to the ground.

 

Take heart!  That snapshot from Revelation 7:9-14 is a future picture of us who believe in Christ.  After all that we know in this life has passed away, we will be part of the countless multitude who have been preserved in this true faith.

 

Even now we enjoy glimpses of that heavenly vision.  Have we not heard the voice of God who speaks to us from heaven in His holy Word?  Doesn’t He speak from heaven in Baptism and say in Christ, “You are my beloved son, with you I am well-pleased.”[5]?  On this altar, doesn’t the Lord, victorious over death and the grave, give us His very Body and blood to eat and drink?  These are windows into heaven, opened by God with promises delivered to you.  Though they may be partial, they are by no means imperfect.  As the Apostle says, “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.”[6]

 

When the Lord comes again in glory,  every single promise will be manifest.  1 John 3 said that we are children of God even now.  What we believe now by faith, we will see come to pass in sight. Amen.

[1] 1 John 3:1

[2] John 17:21

[3] 1 John 3:2

[4] 2 Corinthians 10:4

[5] Matthew 3:17

[6] 1 Corinthians 13:12