Saints With An Attitude
June 29 and 30, 2019
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem…..Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Last week’s sermon theme was Saints Rescued. We explored the story of Jesus driving out a legion of demons out of a man who had spent years perhaps decades running around the countryside naked, unclean, doomed, and begging for mercy. We saw Jesus rescue this man from hell on earth and turn him into a believer who from that day forward wanted to follow Jesus and tell anybody who would listen all the great things Jesus had done for him.
The final question posed in last week’s sermon was this, “How can we put ourselves in a position where people will actually want to hear from us all the great things God has done for us?” Today’s sermon seeks to answer that question.
The very premise of that question is Christ has rescued us not just so that we could be rescued but that we could be on His Rescue Team. Rescued from the forces of darkness not just so that we could live happily after, but rescued so that we might spend the rest of our days letting our light shine in such a way that friends and family might actually be interested in hearing what we have to say about what Jesus Christ has done and is doing in our lives. Rescued not just so that we could have our sins forgiven, but rescued so that we could organize ourselves into a mission outpost where we want more than anything else to connect broken lives to the Triune God. Rescued not just so that we could be saints who mind our own business, but Saints With An Attitude.
Lesson #1 about saints with an attitude is that they refuse to give up on the (future). I read an article this week about a man named Dan Human who is an active member of a Search and Rescue Team. When asked about his most memorable rescue, he told a story of a 70- year old man that had gone missing while taking his morning walk. He told of a massive search which included hundreds of trained volunteers, K9 teams, law enforcement, and air support. Hours turned into days, and days turned into a week with no trace. Even the most optimistic of search and rescue team members were giving up hope.
But on the seventh day, he was out searching when they saw vultures circling. Within a couple of hours the lost man was located and rescued into safety. He was injured and hungry, but conscious, and thanks be to this rescue team, he survived. When he was asked what he learned from that mission, Dan replied that the lesson was to never give up and that a person’s will to survive will often defy statistics.
In today’s text, James and John were ready to give up on the Samaritans. Jews and Samaritans had despised each other for centuries, and in these days, Samaritans were in the process of rejecting Jesus as Messiah. This was a turning point in the ministry of Jesus. He had set his face towards Jerusalem, and he sent disciples on ahead of him into Samaria to make sure they would be received hospitably. When a village of Samaritans rejected their ministry outright, the disciples quickly concluded that it was time for the wrath of God to come raining down.
The attitude of John and James was to fight fire with fire, but the attitude of Jesus was to fight fire with the waters of Baptism. The attitude of our sinful nature is to say to people “three strikes and you’re out,” the attitude of Jesus is to practice patience and to forgive not three or seven times, but seventy times 7. The attitude easy to adopt is to give up when the going gets tough, but the attitude of Jesus was, is, and ever shall be to never give up on what the Holy Spirit might be doing in the future.
(Story of my uncle Alvin who drifted from Church for decades, but his two sisters never gave up praying for the Holy Spirit to be working on his heart. For decades Uncle Alvin had a habit of drinking that caused all kinds of troubles and even a more dangerous habit of despising the preaching of God’s Word and his Lord’s Supper, but in every one of those decades, my mom and her sister had an attitude. What I mean by that is they would not give up on what the Holy Spirit might be doing in the future. They kept on worrying, they kept on praying, they kept on trying to put themselves in a position where Uncle Alvin would listen to that old old story of Jesus and his love, a story he had learned from his mother’s knees, they refused to give up on a future where Alvin would live face to face with Jesus in heaven.)
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who sit down this very evening and write down the names of three loved ones or acquaintances who have been drifting away from the Church and possibly from Christ Himself. They resolve that if they are going to worry about anything or anybody, they are going to worry / be properly concerned about these three people. They resolve to pray for these three people by name, they resolve to have the attitude of Jesus towards these three people, they resolve to never give up on the future glory of these three people.
If Lesson #1 1 about saints with an attitude is that they refuse to give up on future glory, then Lesson #2 about saints with an attitude is that they are willing to make a clean break with the (past).
The structure of this second section of our text for today is a dialog between Jesus and three would-be disciples. The setting of this little Discipleship 101 class is that they were journeying along the way to Jerusalem, and they were traveling through enemy territory. It wasn’t going to be easy, and Jesus wanted them to know that they were going to need a certain kind of an attitude if they were going to be able to keep up.
Volunteer Saint #1 was a well- educated and highly qualified scribe, perhaps a Pharisee, and he was all in. He wanted to be a permanent pupil. He offered to go wherever Jesus went, no exceptions. Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens, and the birds of the heaven shelters, but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head.” Jesus neither accepts nor declines his offer. He doesn’t beat around the bush. He states clearly that if you’re going to follow me, you need to have your mind made up. Following me won’t be easy, you could end up homeless, you need to make a clean break with your past.
Volunteer Saint #2 absolutely wanted to go with Jesus but wanted permission to first bury his father. When Jesus responds that the dead should bury their own dead, he’s making the case that the eternal fate of his father is already decided, the matter of putting his body into the ground is merely a secular event. It sounds harsh to our Minnesota Nice ears, to be sure, but the preaching of the Gospel was to be this man’s first priority, starting not a few days from now, but today.
Volunteer Saint #3 also wanted to follow, but made what seems to us a reasonable request – I’d like to bid farewell to my family. To which Jesus said, Nobody who puts his hand to a plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. Jesus is being a bit funny here. He pictures a man who is just learning to plough. And he becomes the laughingstock of the neighborhood by attempting to make the plow go in one direction while he keeps his eyes in the opposite direction.
The danger of ploughing and not constantly looking back is one that my dad warned me about years ago. And it was a danger that existed only on the first round, if I were going to be striking out in the middle of a field. Dad was a man of few words and he liked to say things only once. He made it clear that I was to fix my eyes on a fencepost at the other end of the field and not keep looking back, lest I plough crooked.
St. Paul said it this way, “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto the things which are before, I press toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
I’ve said this before, and I will say it again today. Of all the plaques and quotes sayings in my office, my favorite is this one, “O God of second chances and new beginnings, here I am again.”
Dear friends, the attitude of that prayer is that our Father in heaven is in the business of being patient with us even when we are stumbling again and again into the same sinful habits. Oh how He yearns for us to come before him with heads bowed and tears in our eyes, words of apology, here I am again.
Dear friends, the attitude of that prayer is that our Savior Jesus Christ and His angels have this habit of celebrating every time a single sinner comes clean and cries out for mercy. Oh how the entire company of heaven years for us to come to the table with hearts that are broken and minds that are sorry, saying here I am again.
Dear friends, the attitude of that prayer is that the Holy Spirit is all about calling, gathering, enlightening, sanctifying, and keeping the whole church on earth in the one true faith. Oh how He yearns for us to hear the Word of God and treasure it. How He looks forward to us coming into the sanctuary week after week and putting ourselves in a position where faith will come and faith will grow by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who sit down this very evening and write down one bad habit they need to leave behind. They are tempted to be overwhelmed about how many times they have tried to do better, but tonight is different. They plead God to overwhelm them with his grace, they pray for him to turn them around with his mercy, they pray for him to make them individually and collectively saints with an attitude. They pray O God of second chances and new beginnings, here I am again. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
First in a Two- Part Series of Sermons
June 22 and 23, 2019
Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned. When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.
Dear Friends in Christ,
We end June with a two part sermon series – “Saints Rescued” and Saints With an Attitude.”
Three Tales of Rescue
Not too far away from here, on Hay Daze weekend – Story of Brandon and me and six grandchildren running out of gas on his speedboat, finding ourselves stranded, locating our oars, beginning to paddle, then getting rescued.
Not too far away from that lake, a story of danger far worse unfolded years ago. It’s a tale of a young lady who stumbled into a meth addiction. An vicious sort of an addiction which cost her several jobs, all kinds of opportunities, and a few teeth. It threatened to ruin her marriage, it harmed all kinds of people she loved, it seemed as though she were doomed. But one dark day, she was caught violating drug court rules, she was sentenced one more time to prison and treatment, and this time it happened. By the grace of God and with the help of all kinds of professionals who knew what they were doing and family who never stopped caring for her, she was rescued. At least so far, so good – she has returned home and will tell anybody who cares to listen how much God has done for her.
Not too far away from her is a story of distress even worse than living as captives to drugs and/or alcohol. It’s a story of a man who grew up in the Church, but these days he’s not so sure there even is a God. He was baptized, he was confirmed, but he hasn’t tasted his Lord’s Supper for years. On his good days, he believes in Jesus kind of, sort of, maybe, maybe not. On his dark days, he lives alone, he is afraid, bitterness has grown up and is ruling on his insides. He desperately one of more of his Christian friends to gently and humbly invite him back into the presence of God.
These three tales of rescue lead us into a study of our text for today, where Jesus meets up with dozens or maybe it was hundreds or maybe it was thousands of demons, and the Son of the Most High God comes out on top. Three lessons we would learn today, under the theme of “Saints Rescued”
Lesson #1 is that This man with multiple issues is the epitome of Gentiles in need of (rescue). When I say that this demon possessed Gerasene was the epitome of Gentiles in distress, I mean that he is a perfect example of how messed up life can and does get for each and every one of us, with no exceptions. The setting of today’s rescue story is outside of Galilee, which one scholar notes “could be a subtle indication of Jesus’ mission to pagans., since this was a non Jewish territory.
This man had multiple issues, which reminds me of marriages in trouble – it’s not very often one issue, but several. Issues often include finances or communication or addictions or stubbornness or selfishness or all of the above. This man with multiple issues reminds me of people with all kinds of health concerns – it’s not very often one concern, but several. Concerns often include heart disease or various forms of cancer or obesity or folks can’t see or they can’t hear or they can’t walk or they can’t swallow or you fill in the blank.
The man in our text for today had at least four issues.
Issue #1 is that He was (naked) Luke records that he was naked for a considerable period of time. He wasn’t in his right mind. No doubt he was embarrassing to his family, he was scary to the children, he was without manners or social graces. He reminds us of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, after they ate the forbidden fruit, they hid because they were naked. He reminds us of Job who cried out in the midst of losing everything that was near and dear, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leaven.”
Issue #2 is that He was (unclean). This man with an unclean spirit lived among the tombs, which, in harmony with the Old Testamnet, the Jews considered to be unclean. It is striking that this unclean spirit entered swine which were considered unclean and he lived in an unclean place. He reminds us of King David who cried out to God to create in him a clean heart. He reminds us of a leper in Matthew 8 who gets down on his knees and prays, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” He reminds us of the disciples in John 15, where Jesus promises, “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” If issue #1 was that he was naked and issue #2 was that he was unclean, then
Issue #3 is that He was (doomed) Luke paints a picture of a man doomed to being seized by violence, doomed to a life of being bound up in chains, being guarded, often driven into the deserted places. Never would he enjoy the pleasures of marriage and family, never would he know the relief of the forgiveness of sins brought by priestly sacrifices, never would he know the peace and the joy given not by the world but only the one true God.
Issue #4 is that He was begging for (mercy) The demon himself pleads with Jesus not yet to begin the eternal torment that is the final destiny of the devil and his minions. One scholar remarks that the fact that Jesus gave permission for the demons to enter the swine shows that he takes no pleasure in prematurely torturing the demons. When Luke records that the swine rushed into the lake and were drowned, the literal word is that they were choked, which is the same word used in the parable of the sower, the thorns choke the seeds beginning to grow. Dr. Art Just concludes that the fate of the swine illustrates the fate of hearers of the Gospel who let worldly cares choke their faith.
The kingdom of God is like a man who is too timid in these days to ask God for the desires of his heart, he is too tired most days to pray, too busy to be a hearer of God’s Word, and too stubborn to confess his faults. His issues are multiple, and life these days is about as messed up as it can be.
Lesson #2 is that Jesus has what it takes to rescue (people in distress). The identity of Jesus is the main point in this section of Luke. In this text, the demons know what human observers do not yet understand. In Luke 4 a demon announced that Jesus was the holy one of God, and now in Luke 8 a demon shouts with a loud voice that Jesus is the most high Son of God. Two lessons we learn from this text are that Jesus has both the DNA and the desire to save our sorry souls.
First, Scriptures make it clear that Jesus has the (DNA) DNA is defined as the fundamental and distinctive characteristics present in every living organism. We confess this DNA in the Nicene Creed when we confess that he is the only begotten Son of God, begotten of his father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, etc.
Second, Scriptures make it clear Jesus has the (Desire) We see this desire in today’s Old Testament reading, where God declares, “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me, I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am, to a nation that was not called by my name I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people…
The kingdom of God is like a man who some days is as messed up and distracted as he can be. At the same time he is apologetic and defensive, one minute he wants to fight and the next to give up, simultaneously he is sinner and saint. But at the end of the day, he rejoices that his Savior’s great desire is to show mercy, he rejoices that his Father’s business is all about forgiveness, he delights in the heavenly picture of angels rejoicing over even one sinner that repents.
Lesson #3 is that We see in this text two responses to Jesus the (Rescuer). Jesus taught it this way in the Sermon on the Mount, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. Or to say it as we say in our TLH liturgy – he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. He that believeth not shall be damned. We either receive the gifts of God or we don’t. We either receive by faith our Lord’s deliverance from the power of the devil or we say no thanks.
Response #1 in today’s text was Fear and Rejection. In last week’s Gospel responded to Jesus declaring that before Abram was I am by picking up stones and trying to kill him. In today’s Gospel the owners of the swine get really ticked off – keep in mind that Mark records there were 2000 of them – and the crowds which had gathered responded by pleading for Jesus to just leave them alone.
Response #2 was Confident (faith). Once this man was demon possessed, now he believed with all of his heart that Jesus was Lord. Once this man was naked and a menace to society, now he was clothed with a robe of righteousness. Once he was unclean, now the blood of Jesus had cleansed him from every one of his sins. Once he was doomed, now he was rescued. Once he begged for mercy, now mercy had arrived.
The kingdom of God is like a drowning man pulled to safety just in the nick of time. It’s like a recovering alcoholic ever so grateful a few friends cared enough about him to intervene. It’s about a large church in a small town full of folks asking good questions in these days. Questions like “Which of my neighbors needs me to listen carefully? Which of my family members needs me to speak truth in love? Which of my loved ones have drifted away from Christ and His Church? How can I put myself in a position where people want to hear from me all the great things God has done for me? How messed up would my life be if Jesus had not rescued me in the waters of Holy Baptism? In Jesus’ Name. Amen
The World’s Best Counselor
Pentecost Sunday 2019
First in a series of two
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is John 14, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit, remembering this question that launches us into the discussion of the Spirit, or the Helper, or (as our sermon title describes it) the Counselor. “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?”
Dear Friends in Christ,
We are on a two-week journey through Pentecost and Holy Trinity Sunday (which is also Father’s Day), as we consider the World’s Best Counselor and the World’s Best Father.
So, now, we get to this question, the question of the day today, Who is the Holy Spirit? And the answer begins with our sermon theme, that he’s the World’s Best Counselor.
I can tell you, as far as counselors go, that when I was in Seminary school, we took a pastoral counseling class, and one of the requirements was that we go through counseling ourselves, so that when we recommend that people go to a counselor we can say we’ve done it, so I did. I went to three sessions with a very good therapist.
I wasn’t having any particular crisis so speak of, nothing that kept me up all night, but I can tell you that we started talking about nothing in particular, and then about my insecurities, then about my hopes, then about my deepest fears. Would I ever get married, was I good enough to become a pastor, was I in the right place?
This therapist, she didn’t answer any of my questions, really, but she listened. She asked really good questions. She reminded me, in the middle of my doubts, that what God says about me is more important than what I think. She reminded me that what God calls important is more important than what I think is important.
Today we consider the Holy Spirit, the counselor, the comforter, or as our translation would have it, the Helper.
Two ways that we would consider the work of this Holy Spirit. First, he convicts us. Second, he comforts us.
First, he convicts us. Or, to say it in another way, he lets us see things clearly. That’s the image behind the first little sentence of verse 27 in our text. Let not your hearts be troubled. That word, troubled, that means to be muddy, to be unclear, to be full of sand and silt borne up from the bottom of a stream. Let not your hearts be troubled, Jesus is saying, let your hearts be settled and still. Let your hearts be clear and deep.
I remember being out at Lake Michigan in my days of being a chaplain at Camp Arcadia. And there was a difference between clear and troubled. When the winds would pick up, then the waves would start to roll, and you could see it in the waves coming ashore that the sand was all kicked up, the water was cloudy, you stepped into the gray of the lake and you couldn’t see your feet, much less the lake bottom. It was troubled.
But I also remember going out on a still, blue day, water as clear as crystal, kayaking out where the water was forty feet deep or more and being able to see all the way to the bottom.
How often do you find yourself with a cloudy heart? How often do you find yourself longing for clarity? How often do you find yourself to be without a compass, without a direction, without a way?
The Holy Spirit convicts us by showing the clear way, showing us the right way, and showing us every time we fall short of it.
First, the Holy Spirit convicts. Second, he comforts. He comes alongside of us with strength. That’s what it means to comfort, cum forte, with strength. It’s in the second little phrase in verse 27. Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not fear. That word for fear is different than the word the angels use when people fall on their faces. When Gabriel says that to Mary, he says, “Don't be terrified.” Here, the word means, “Don’t be cowardly.” Or to say it in a positive way, “Take courage.”
The Holy Spirit comforts. But, how does he comfort?
Let me go back to my earlier example. Oftentimes, when we find ourselves in a place of confusion, when we are longing for clarity, we end up asking for someone to give us the answer. “Tell me where to go. I don’t want to think, I just need you to tell me.” No. That’s not the answer.
The answer’s not so much a “What” but a “Who.” Let me explain. In all this discourse, you’ll notice that much of it doesn’t have anything to do with describing the Holy Spirit. Jesus is mostly talking about going to God the Father. But that’s the point.
Jesus said, “I am sent by the Father and I am going back to the Father.” He says, “I am leaving so that you can have something better, the Holy Spirit, whom I will ask the Father to give to you when I leave.” Jesus says, “You aren’t on your own, and you never were. You have always been in me and I in you, like a vine and its branches, and I have always been loved by the Father who loves you because he loves me, and I have always been sending to you the Holy Spirit, because he is with me and with the Father, and so, you are never alone. You never have been. You never will be.”
Do you see the dance? Do you see the Father and the Son and the Spirit together, drawing you into their midst?
Your God is always by your side. Let his word always be in your mouth. Let his strength matter more than your strength. Let his love overpower your love. Let his peace rule your hearts and your minds. Let his courage be your courage.
On the cross, Jesus jumped over all that would separate you from God. In the open tomb, he promises to walk with you to life eternal. In his ascension, he promises that his Holy Spirit will never leave you.
In Jesus, you are not alone, because the “Who” of Who God Is and the “Who” of Who he sent as your helper matters far, far more than the “what” of your situation.
This is the hope that I share with folks whose loved ones are slipping away, that they can hear for a lot longer than they can respond, but that whether or not they can respond, Jesus is still their Good Shepherd, and even when they are out of our grasp, no one can ever snatch them out of his hand. Even in our loneliest days, in Jesus, we are never alone.
Perhaps you have been through hopeless situations yourself. Perhaps you are feeling the inevitable decline of your body. Perhaps you are knowing the extent of how your sin leads to death.
Before any of that, let us always and ever remember that Jesus died for our sins and is raised for our life. Because of Jesus, God is our Father. Because of Jesus, we can call upon him as dear children call upon their dear Father who is in heaven. Because Jesus promises, we are given the promise of the Holy Spirit. Because of Jesus, we are never alone.
Amen and Amen.
The Tree of Life
Genesis 2:8-9 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge and good and evil.
Rev. 22:1-6,12-20 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city, also on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
Sixth in a Series of Six Sermons
June 1 and 2, 2019
Dear Friends of Christ,
This is the sixth in a series of six Easter season sermons which have focused on the Book of Revelation and the Apostle John’s vision of the end times and what it will be like for God’s people to live face to face with Jesus in eternity. Next Sunday will be the Festival of Pentecost, and we will focus on the World’s Best Counselor, and the Sunday after that, on Father’s Day / Trinity Sunday, we will focus on the World’s Best Father.
Today we focus on the Tree of Life, which we find first of all in the very middle of the Garden of Eden, then on a little hill outside of Jerusalem, and finally on both sides of the river flowing down the middle of the New Jerusalem.
FDR Great Plains Shelterbelt Program
Back in the depression years, my Grandpa Griffin lost the farm on which my dad grew up. And in 1939, when my dad was 19, Grandpa Griffin started over on the farm where I was raised. Just a little ways from our farmhouse was a shelterbelt that included several rows of trees, mainly cottonwoods, if my memory serves correctly. My dad told me at least once that the government had given them all kinds of little trees and that his dad, his brothers, and he had planted them.
I read up on this FDR program this week and found out that between 1935 and 1942, the federal government undertook a major program to plant trees in windbreaks on the Great Plains from North Dakota all the way down to Texas. It was known after 1935 as the Prairie States Forestry Project, and it had several purposes: 1) to put people to work planting trees, 2) to slow wind erosion, 3) to improve the attractiveness of farmsteads, and 4) to provide homes and winter shelter for wild animals and livestock.
One author writes that between 1935 and 1942, 200 million trees and shrubs were planted, and that the project’s success was mixed.
As Pastor Muther would say, I tell you all of that to tell you this – in today’s sermon, we want to focus on God planting the Tree of Life, we want to explore the original purpose of that tree, and most importantly, we look forward to life together in paradise where the tree of life will be yielding fruit every month and whose leaves will be for the healing of the nations, world without end.
Three lessons the Holy Spirit would teach us today about the Tree of Life.
Lesson #1 comes from the original paradise and is this: The Garden of Eden’s Tree of Life never fulfilled its (purpose). All trees have purposes, some more and some less, and the Garden of Eden was no exception. Right after God had breathed into Adam the breath of life, Moses records that He planted a garden, he put the man he had formed in that garden, and he made all kinds of trees to grow for two purposes – they would be pleasing to the eye and they would be good for food.
The purpose of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was to give Adam the opportunity of his own free will to obey God. A scholar by the name of John Jeske writes it this way, “In so doing God realized the risk involved, that Adam might choose to disobey him. When Adam came from the hand of his Creator, he was in a state of created innocence. By giving Adam the command not to eat, God was offering him the opportunity to progress from created innocence to conscious holiness. God wanted his highest creature to be holy by choice, not just by accident.”
Martin Luther said this about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, This tree was Adam’s church, his altar, his pulpit. Here he was to yield to God the obedience he owed, to give recognition to the word and will of God, to give thanks to God, and to call upon God for aid against temptation.”
The purpose of the original tree of life was not fulfilled. The scholar Jeske suggests that it would have fulfilled its purpose if Adam and Eve had resisted Satan’s temptation. That the purpose of the tree of life was to confirm Adam and Eve in the possession of physical life. Due to the fact that Adam and Eve fell, and they fell hard into sin, God found it necessary to expel them from the Garden, to place a cherubim with a flaming sword near that tree, and to guard the way to it. If they would have eaten of that tree, it seems as though they would have been confirmed in their sinfulness and lived under the curse of the law world without end.
God’s plan of salvation, of course, was in a different direction. Paul wrote it this way to the Galatians, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, “cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” Which leads us into Lesson #2.
Lesson #2 comes from Calvary’s cross and is this: The old Jerusalem’s Tree of Life means (no more curse). As you well know, it was at the cross on a little hill outside of Jerusalem that Jesus Christ undid the evil that Adam had done. It was at the cross that the Father turned every bit of his divine wrath on his only son so that our blemished records could be purged, our guilt could be gone, our debts could be cancelled, our souls could be cleansed. Christ redeemed us, as you well know, not with gold nor silver, but with holy precious blood. He paid not with a credit card or a loan at the bank, but with innocent suffering and death.
The kingdom of God is like a young lady who spent ten years plus cursed with a drinking problem. A beautiful Christian soul she was and is, but oh how her drinking in secret caused her troubles in the work place, troubles in her relationships, troubles in her body, troubles in her very soul. By the grace of God and with the help of family and treatment centers, her curse was lifted, a new heart was given, a new life rose up on the inside, and she lives in these days with the joy and the peace and the freedom only Christ can give. She knows what the preacher means when he preaches lesson #2 – “the old Jerusalem’s tree of Life means no more curse.”
Dear Friends in Christ, here and now our sins are forgiven, but in life that is to come, there is no more sin. Here and now, we must fight off the enemies of our faith, but in the life that is to come, there are no more enemies to resist. Here and now, we enjoy the shade and the fruits of trees in one or more seasons of the year, in the life that is to come, we will enjoy what the Tree of Life was intended to give in the first place.
Which brings us to Lesson #3. It comes from our text for today and is this: The New Jerusalem’s Tree of Life provides abundance (beyond imagination). In the very last chapter of the Bible, John sees not two, but only one tree, the tree of life, growing on both sides of the river. In heaven we are confirmed in holiness. We cannot sin, and therefore we cannot die. As the tree of life grows from both sides of the river, eternal life grows forever from grace. At Eden, God placed a cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life, but in heaven we will again have access to this tree.
The tree of life will produce 12 crops of fruit. The number 12 is the number of the church, and the twelve crops signify that the church in glory will be nurtured by the tree of life growing from the river of God’s grace. The tree will provide healing for the nations. All suffering caused by Adam’s fall will be ended.
Recently I read an article about health troubles and human suffering in Los Angeles. Dr. Drew Pinsky was quoted as saying that the public health situation in the nation’s second-largest city is in a complete breakdown of the basic needs of civilization.” First, he talked about tuberculosis exploding as a result of this city not having a rodent control program, and sanitation has broken down. Secondly, he noted that a police officer had contracted typhoid fever, a rare and life threatening illness that few than 350 Americans contract each year. Third, he mentioned that bubonic plague, which killed tens of millions of people during the 14th century is likely to be present in Los Angelos. Fourth he talked about homelessness, about people not wanting to leave the streets, he talked about mental illness and addiction and thousands of illegal immigrants with no health records coming their way, and finally, he declares that he feels like he is living in a Third World city and that the entire population is at risk.
One more time in this Easter season we rejoice that because Jesus Christ rose up from the grave on the third day, so also shall we be alive and well and completely healed into eternity. Together we are on our way to that place where there will be no more homelessness and no more health concerns and no more harmful habits. Together we are on our way through all the ups and downs of this life to a life where there are no more troubles, no more tribulations, and no more trials. On our way we are to a place where we shall be like Christ, we shall see him as he is, his name shall be on our foreheads, and where the Tree of Life will provide for us abundance beyond imagination.
The kingdom of God is like a little church in downtown Los Angeles where the people of God are praying this very day, Come Lord, Jesus. Come quickly. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters