Grace, mercy and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
We’ve been walking our way through the verses of this ancient advent hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and the Antiphons (antiphon means responsive verse) that serve as their basis. So far we looked at O Wisdom from on high, O Adonai, and this last Sunday at O Root of Jesse’s tree. Our text for tonight begins with a strange little story from Isaiah and with the O Antiphon that we begin to study – O Key of David’s house and Scepter of the house of Israel, you open and no one can close, you close and no one can open: Come. And rescue the prisoners, who are in darkness, and in the shadow of death. I used to work in the A/V Department of Concordia University where we would set up all kinds of technology in pretty much every classroom on campus, and because of that we would need we had a big old key ring that we needed to use. It took a lot of time and you had to remember which key did what, which punch-codes for which doors, until I got to the point when they trusted me enough to let me use… the A key… it was a key that could open any door on the campus. You could go into any classroom.
There were only a few of them on campus. It had a $1,000,000 (or more) insurance policy on it, because if you lost it, they would have to replace every single lock on campus. Our O Antiphon for today is talking about the keys to the kingdom of God. This is the power to unlock the riches of heaven itself. It’s the power to open every single piece of your life to your God. It’s how God opened up the kingdom of heaven to all believers. It is forgiveness. Tonight, our elders handed a little half-sheet of paper out to each of you with a little outline of the sermon and three lines. I want you during this sermon to think of the three people who have hurt you the most, or who are most difficult to forgive. I want them front and center in your mind.
Our first meditation for tonight is that forgiveness is the key to God’s house and the Scepter of God’s house. Just like Eliakim was given the keys to the house of David, and then he had every privilege and responsibility that came along with it, so we, when we recognize our Christianity, we see that our first impulse is to be quick to confess our own sins and quick to forgive others. That’s what Jesus is saying in Matthew 16. The M.O. of the Christian is to forgive. Now, let me tell you what forgiveness is not.
Forgiveness is not a feeling. It isn’t that warm, at peace feeling that you think you need to have before you can let go of what someone did. That will come and go. But you don’t have to feel forgiving to forgive. Forgiveness is not ignoring. Forgiveness is not saying “it’s ok.” Or “don’t worry about it.” Our schluffing it off under the rug. No. You don’t have to pretend like it didn’t hurt, or like it doesn’t matter. Forgiveness is when you look another person in the eyes, and you tell them, yes, you did hurt me. But I choose not to hold that hurt against you. Forgiveness is a choice, and it’s a discipline. It’s a choice when I choose to be kind and merciful even when I don’t feel like it. It’s a discipline when I choose to be merciful consistently, day after day. It’s a choice when you see others choosing to be cruel and vengeful.
It’s a discipline when you are called to do it to others who are being cruel and vengeful to you. Can you see how incredible a gift and how incredible a responsibility this is? Or, as I say to my premarital counseling couples, after forgiving your spouse of the same thing for the thousandth time, can you see why the work of being merciful is hard? It is the key to the kingdom and it is the kingdom’s power. If our first place of meditation was on the key and the Scepter, then the second is the phrase that follows: Forgiveness sets prisoners free. Physically and Spiritually. There are many physical benefits to forgiving. Studies show that those who forgive often have lower stress levels. They have healthy hearts, lower pain, lower blood pressure, and they tend to live longer lives. And those are true, and those things are good things. But. We don’t practice forgiveness because it lengthens our life or even because it keeps us from feeling our consequences. No, we forgive because we want to be doing what Jesus does. We forgive because Christ forgave us.
That is the truth that many of our members serving jailtime would know. The love of Christ set Charles Stanke free before even when he was still in jail. The love of Christ set Angie Bluhm free even as she still serves her sentence. The love of Christ set St. Paul free even as he lived out the last of his days under house arrest. The love of Christ, the forgiveness that opens the door to heaven, sets you free to eternal life whatever place you are in, whatever sins burden your back, whatever hurts you hold in your heart, whatever armor you’ve been lugging around all these years. Our Savior says, I know who you are. I know what you’ve been through. I know every struggle, every burden, every pain, and I love you with an everlasting love that will never go away.
This Advent time, I ask you, I beg you, to remember again that a forgiving heart begins by remembering how much God has forgiven you. By remembering how when we were an enemy and hostile to God, he still had sent his son to forgive us all our sins. By remembering how beautiful the love of God that he wouldn’t stop seeking us even after we wander off. By remembering how deep the love of God that he would reveal to us the most amazing, most incredible use of our humanity and then he would tell us to just go around and do it! He is a forgiving savior, and he will come again. Amen and Amen.
First in a Series of Seven Sermons on The Great “O” Antiphons
Proverbs 8:1-3, 22-26 and I Corinthians 1:25 – 30
O Wisdom, proceeding from the mouth of the Most High, pervading and permeating all creation, mightily ordering all things; Come and teach us the way of prudence.
Dear Friends in Christ,
The Advent hymn, “O Come O Come Emmanuel” has ancient roots. Since the 8th century A.D. Christians have traditionally sung these 7 great antiphons. The word antiphon means response, and they were sung to readings for the seven days before Christmas. They mine the riches of the Old Testament to portray the many facets of our Savior, as tender wisdom, as mighty Warrior, as rightful Heir, as forgiving Savior, as unparalleled Light, as Regal King, as God with us.
Perhaps you have heard the saying that Wisdom and age don’t always come together, sometimes age comes alone. Actually the exact quote from a comedian named Tom Wilson is, “Wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age. Sometimes age just shows up by itself.”
Here at Trinity it seems as if wisdom is coming with age. Now the world defines wisdom pretty much as good common sense, but the central theme of Israelite wisdom is that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” With that in mind, I would remind you that we are in the second year of a three year shared vision statement, which is simply this, “Our Shared Vision is to mature as disciples for Jesus Christ.” And the first habit of a Christian whose life is being transformed by the Gospel is “to receive gratefully God’s good gifts in Divine Service.” Recently Donita printed out for me a list of all 1778 members of this congregation according to age, starting with Ardis Erdman at age 100 all the way down to our newborn infants. I did a little analysis of a few different age groups here at Trinity, and here is what I found. 100% of members age 90 – 100, 15 of them, regularly hear the Word of God and receive Holy Communion. 100% of members age 80 – 89, all 58 of them, regularly hear the Word of God and receive Holy Communion. 95% of members in their 70’s, and there are over 100 of them, regularly hear the word of God and receive Holy Communion. When I went to those age 20-29, I found that at the most 25% of the 225 20 somethings are finding time to regularly hear God’s Word and receive their Lord’s Supper. You can spin that however you want to spin it.
Here’s my first takeaway, and it’s a positive one. At least here at Trinity, it seems as though old age isn’t just showing up by itself, wisdom in virtually all cases, is coming with it.
James reminds us that true wisdom is from above and that it is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. Our sermon for today has two parts. The first is that wisdom is the beloved daughter, and the second is that wisdom is the firstborn son.
Wisdom is the beloved (daughter). The Book of Proverbs is a result of God giving Solomon that which he asked for – wisdom and understanding with which to govern the people. Solomon frequently describes wisdom as a dear mother or beloved bride.Like most languages, the Hebrew word for wisdom is grammatically feminine. By characterizing wisdom as a woman, Solomon uses this grammar for a play onwords, which is a common feature in his writing style. In our text for today, in chapter 8, wisdom is personified as a good woman, in stark contrast to the adulterous woman of chapter 7. The good woman’s purpose is to enlighten and give life, in contrast to the harlot, who aims to deceive and destroy. The good woman encourages in the right direction, in contrast to the prostitute who leads astray. Wisdom is from on high, in contrast to the foolishness of the demons below. Three truths Solomon would teach us about this good woman – what she was, what she is, and how she spends her days.
First, She (was) before the beginning. Solomon writes, The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.” Here wisdom does more than take on godly characteristics. Here wisdom takes on the nature of God himself and plays a role in the creation of the world.
Secondly, She (is) stationed at the crossroads to be heard. Unlike the harlot who lurks at every street corner, wisdom stations herself to be heard in the midst of life. Wisdom makes an appeal for everyone. All the descendants of Adam need wisdom, for we are all part of a fallen race. It is in our sinful nature to be fools and to say that there is no God. No man can say that Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit. The only way to be in the Christian faith and to be growing in that faith is for the Holy Spirit to be working inside of us. Paul writes that faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Often Jesus would tell a parable and follow it up by raising his voice and calling out, “He who has ears let him hear.”
A third lesson we learn about wisdom in Proverbs 8 is that She spends her days calling out to the (vulnerable). In the previous chapter Solomon compared young men who were being led astray by the persuasive words of the adulterous woman to oxen going to the slaughter, to deer stepping into a noose and having an arrow pierce his liver, to a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life.
Just a couple of days ago, a young lady who has gone through drug addiction and all the nasty troubles that so often come along with it, came back to our church office for a visit. She had attended our Lutheran School for a time, and was a member of one of our Confirmation Classes years ago. She has told me on several occasions that our sanctuary and our school had been a safe place for her, a place where she found refuge and strength. She took her boyfriend into this sanctuary and wrote how she was proud of this church and the serenity she felt here. She said this for all her friends to read on Facebook, “ I always feel like home here, it's insane how some kids come back home and it's just another day, I stop by and get emotional because this place was where I was happy, surrounded by love, childhood memories and will always have a piece of me. I may have been born in Owatonna, moved around a bit, but I will have always been raised in Janesville. Pastor thank you for never turning your back on me and keeping me close with our savior and I'm proud to say, in 4 days, I will have 11 months clean. Sitting in the church with the same scribble cards and same look, I did the same thing that I used to do, just be at one and look up at the son, Christ our lord and felt safe and not alone.” Just be at one and look up at the son, Christ our lord and felt safe and not alone. It seems as though wisdom from on high is slowly but surely chasing away the demons of foolishness.
It seems as though the seeds of wisdom planted in her heart at ages 10-14 are bearing fruit some 15 years later, which would remind us to never give up on our young people as they travel through years of getting tossed to and fro by the temptations and the trials of life, especially in their 20’s. Robert Gary Lee wrote that “wisdom is nothing more than healed pain,” which would remind us that the only way to have a tested and tried Christian faith is to be tested and tried. St. Augustine wrote that “Patience is the companion of wisdom, which would remind us to stick with people through thick and thin, for better and for worse, in sickness and in good health.
James wrote that when we meet trials of various kinds, we should count it all joy, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
Asking for wisdom from on high is simply asking for Jesus to come more and more into our hearts. Asking Jesus to be Who He is and has promised to be, the best friend we’ll ever have, the faithful brother who absolutely sticks with usin every chapter of life. Which is our second and final lesson for this morning - Wisdom is the firstborn (Son) of God. Jesus Christ is wisdom incarnate, wisdom in the flesh.
Proverbs 8, verses 23 ff declares, “I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began, When there were no oceans, I was given birth, when there were no springs abounding with water, before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth….I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep….then I was the craftsman at his side The first of three points we would make about Wisdom as the first born Son is that Jesus is begotten, not (made) No one writes more eloquently that John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.
Secondly, we are reminded in this first antiphon that He holds the universe together in strong, yet (gentle) manner. Jesus is the creator of all that is invisible and visible. On the one hand, He rules the nations with omnipotence, and on the other hand He sends His Church out to preach the sweetest and kindest story ever told. At the same time He rules with power and with grace. On the one hand, His throne is in the heavens and on the other hand His kingdom comes every time a little bit of water is poured over the head of a little one, every time sorry sinners eat an unimpressive bit of bread and taste an ounce or two of ordinary wine. On the one hand, with irresistible power all things exist and move according to His will, and on the other hand, His grace moves in our tired and weary souls, drawing us closer and closer and teaching us slowly but surely to say no to ungodliness and yes to that which is excellent and worthy of praise.
I invite you to spend this season of Advent worshiping, trusting, and boasting. We would worship Christ as 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. We would trust Him as the One Who even now sits at the right hand of His Father, ruling all of heaven and earth with authority. And third, we go back into our little corners of His Kingdom and spend our days boasting in the One Who saves by way of (foolishness). Not with gold and silver did our Savior purchase us, but with holy precious blood, with divine sweat, and with innocent tears. We have been called and gathered into this sanctuary today not as people with worldly wisdom nor power nor prestige, but as hungry beggars looking for a little bit of bread, as thirsty travelers crying out for just a little bit of water, as wanderers looking for a little bit of direction, as unimpressive people in awe of a perfectly impressive God.
Come, teach us the way of (prudence) Prudence comes from a Latin word which means to look ahead, to see into the future. To be prudent is to be wise in practical affairs, and to provide for your future. The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town saved by way of foolishness, traveling their way through Advent, spending their days living with purpose. Saved by way of the cross, worshiping at a manger, and crying out for prudence. They know that without the virtue of prudence, courage becomes foolhardiness, mercy encourages laziness, and weakness turns into spinelessness. And so they cry out for that wisdom which will enable them to look beyond this life which is short and full of trouble. That wisdom which will actually increase as they attend the school of hard knocks and climax as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death. They spend their December not so much rushing around faster and faster, but being still, going slow, and rejoicing in the lover of their souls, the forgiver of their sins.
Less and less are they confused by the noisiness and the loudness of the culture, but more and more comforted by the clarity of the church. Less and less do they worry and are they anxious about what is to come, but more and more they cry out to Emmanuel to come back again, and to come quickly. Amen.
Seventh in a Series of Seven on Shared Vision
Habits of Faithful Christians
1) Lives transformed by the Gospel
• Receiving gratefully God’s gifts / drifting away from means of grace
• Searching eagerly Holy Scripture / not finding time
• Confessing humbly sins / as opposed to defending & excusing
2) Culture around us transformed
• Faithfully managing vocations
• Prayerfully enduring crosses
• Joyfully gathering / crying and laughing together
• Today confidently sharing the faith
5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. 6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, 7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
Lesson #1 is to keep on fanning into flame your Christian faith.
• Story of fanning campfires in Boundary Waters….the campfire wouldn’t do anybody any good unless campers gave it attention in a timely way.
• Timothy had a sincere faith, handed down by Grandma Lois and Mom Eunice. “Sincere” could be translated unhypocritical. Faith that is not just for show, but genuine, piety that isn’t evident just when people are looking, but when nobody is watching. Timothy would need a heart burning with strong faith when days of persecution came, when Caesar would declare Christianity unlawful, when friends and mentors began to be martyred. It wouldn’t be enough to just be a mama’s boy, or grandma’s good little boy when the days of suffering and great trial came. He would need the Holy Spirit to keep on breathing on Him, for the Scriptures to keep on speaking, to keep on confessing sins….Not a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power and love and self control
• My story of Grandma Selma and Mom Dorothy handing down faith, gentle and mild, which is good and fine, life is smooth, how strong will my faith be when bad health forces retirement, how strong will the fire of my faith be when death is approaching. In all the stages of life, I will need to have the Spirit of God breathing on me………….not a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of grace and prayer, of power and strength, of sanctification and the fear of God.
• Confirmands, your parents and pastors and teachers are handing down the faith to you these days, easy to have faith while surrounded by Christians and life is going reasonably well, but what about when tough times come, when you have to decide whether you will follow the crowd or Christ, have to decide whether to the Ten Commandments and having fun. Keep fanning the flame, letting the Holy Spirit breathe on you in means of grace….
Lesson #1 was to keep on fanning the flame of faith, to keep on staying close to Jesus Christ, and now Lesson #2 is confidently share the faith you have been handed, to let the Gospel light shine.
15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
• Words that matter and words that don’t matter so much.
• In my case, weekend sermon has 2000 words or so, and I would prepare 4-6 hours so that the words make sense and are truly words of God. In contrast to shooting the breeze with the elders tonight after service.
• In the case of young people, there are the words you text each other back and forth all day, and then there the words of the Rite of Confirmation, where you indicate that you will stand with Jesus Christ and suffer death rather than fall away from Him and His Church.
• Words of the Marriage Ceremony / Noah / Pastor Muther
• 7th habit of faithful Christian is to confidently share the faith.
• Learn tonight to live our lives in such a way that people will notice our hopefulness and ask us why. Anybody ask you lately why you are so cheerful? So patient? So contented? So at peace? If not, why not?
• If I were to lose five pounds by next week, nobody would ask me about it. No big deal. If I were to go on that diet and over the next 30 days lose 30 pounds, many of you would comment. Many of you would ask how I did it.
• So also with the fruits of the Spirit. Show them patience and gentleness only occasionally and nobody will comment. No one will notice. But make a habit of patiently enduring hardship and responding to people with a gentle spirit, and folks will wonder why.
• If you were to be cheerful only when the sun is shining and the day is smooth, no big deal. No Nobel Peace prizes for you! But find a way to be cheerful in a consistent way, rain or shine, smooth sailing or rough, and eventually, people will be interested in your story. And once people are interested in what makes you tick, you can direct them to a God who has loved you, blessed you, forgiven all kinds of sins, and is following you around with goodness and mercy.
• Story of David Hughes, Baptist Seminary, Ft. Wayne, loved to get in people’s faces and ask, “brother are you saved?”
• Lifestyle evangelism instead of confrontational evangelism
• Tips for confidently sharing the faith – Joining Jesus on His Mission
1) Getting into position – realizing Jesus is already messing with people and that wherever you go, there is opportunity
2) Seeking the kingdom – Stop seeing interruptions as interruptions and rather as God appointments (story of beautiful gal in my office today. Wherever you go, there you are, and wherever you are, there Jesus is. Habit of watching for what God is showing us every day in daily routines.
3) Hearing from Jesus – what is Jesus teaching you in His word today?
4) Talking with people – Jesus can do more with two people who are talking with each other than he can with two people successfully ignoring each other. Extroverts are better at talking and introverts at listening? What kind of conversations are you having? Welcome Center.
5) Doing good- Ephesians 2:8-10 / saved by grace, good works prepared in advance for us to do. Random acts of kindness / Donita providing me with cheese sticks, Kay and Gary in Food Shelf, Julie cleaning up Welcome Center,
6) Praying with people – Pray in morning devotions for neighbors, pray Lord’s Prayer in intentional and thoughtful way, take hand of spouse and pray out loud, take family on a prayer walk through neighborhood, may I pray for you……..Fincke says you’ll only be nervous about praying out loud once…………
The kingdom of God is like a woman who is suffering the ravages of cancer without complaining, quietly, with such strength and dignity that you just want to go up to her and say, “how can you be so calm?”
It’s like a student who is getting teased at school in a merciless kind of a way, but he just keeps on brushing the bullies off like flies and doesn’t let it bother him in the least. So much so that you just want to ask him how he can keep that smile on his face?
It’s like a family facing unemployment and all kinds of money problems and questions about their future. Yet the Spirit of God keeps on breathing on them, their flame keeps on burning, and people all around them are wondering what is their secret. In Jesus Name. Amen.
Mark 13:1-13 – As Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately. Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?
Predicting the Future
It’s in our very nature to want to know details about what will be happening tomorrow and beyond. Years ago, when I served on the Board of Directors for Camp Omega, we were constantly working on our five year plan and once in awhile a 10 or 25 year plan. My take away from that process was that I wasn’t very good at the long term planning process. In recent months, Pastor Muther and I have begun to talk about what a three year or five year plan of ministry might look like here at Trinity. My take away from those discussions is that I’m not very good at seeing into the crystal ball. This past week, Debi and I traveled to Florida on a Monday morning in preparation for our son Noah and Jenna’s wedding. That very evening, Debi wanted to know what was the plan for the next seven days. I hemmed and hawed around for awhile, and at a certain point, with a mildly stern look on her face, she suggested that I find a pen and pad and write some things down. And so we wrote down a plan for the six days in front of us, when we might go visit our one daughter staying at a resort an hour away, when we might visit Noah and Jenna, two hours away, when we needed to pick up our other daughter and family at the Orlando airport, when we needed to pick up some friends at the Tampa airport, and the list went on. All kinds of details on which to decide. Should we swim at the pool or the ocean? Should we eat breakfast with these friends or with family? What would be the plan? My take-away from that discussion is that Debi cares more about forecasting the future than I, and a second takeaway is that I need to care more!
In our Gospel lesson for today, a disciple had just remarked to Jesus how massive were the stones and how magnificently were they carved and laid into wonderful buildings in the Temple area. Jesus replied by warning them that what they were seeing with their own eyes would not only be deserted and left desolate, but destroyed. Not one stone would be left on another. To which four of the disciples asked Jesus to tell them more. When will this happen? What signs should they be looking for? What is the plan? Three answers Jesus gives them and us today about the plan for end times and His Second Coming.
First, the plan is to stay (focused) on proclaiming the Gospel, no matter who is trying to pull the wool over our eyes. The idiom “to pull the wool over someone else’s eyes” simply means to deceive, to hide from people what is true. It may well go back to the 16th and 17th centuries where both women and men would wear wigs made of wool. Already in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus forewarned, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.
Already in Jesus’ day, there were Sadducces who were leading people to believe there was no resurrection of the body. Pharisees were teaching that people could be saved by outward observance of the law. Judaizers were teaching that the laws of circumcision still applied and that Christ wasn’t quite enough. Over the years there would come the religions of Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Within the Christian churches there would arise all kinds of antichrists and in the end times The Antichrist. See to it that no one leads you astray, Jesus would say again to us today.
Stay focused on Jesus Christ the great high priest who has offered up the one sacrifice to end all sacrifices. Stay focused on Him who has in fact risen and appeared and ascended and is even now sitting at the right hand of the Father ruling all of heaven and earth. Stay focused on Him who has already accomplished the plan of salvation and who will at the appointed time come back again to judge the living and the dead.
Stay focused, even when good and decent people all around you have fallen for the lie that the Bible is not entirely true, have fallen for the lie that in the end pretty much everybody is going to be ok, have fallen for the lie that marriage isn’t really what God says it is, have fallen for the lie that life in all of its stages isn’t necessarily to be protected, fallen for the lie that there are many different ways to get to heaven, fallen, have fallen for the lie that there is no particular urgency to take the Gospel to the far corners of the world. Lesson #1 – the plan is for Christians and local congregations to stay focused on our Lord’s plan for the Gospel to be proclaimed to all the nations, and then the end will come.
Secondly, The plan is to stay (calm), no matter how bad the news gets. Jesus would teach us not to be alarmed when we hear of wars and rumors of war, to not be alarmed when nations rise against nation and kingdoms against kingdoms. There will be earthquakes, to be sure, and famines will be dreadful. Sin will have its consequences in every corner of our world, in nature itself, but Christian men and women need to stay calm. In the same way that Pastor and Laura (hopefully stayed) calm as birth pains began, so also are the people of God in every day of trouble to be still and know that God is God.
A good friend of mine shared this insight with me in recent days. He said that when he and his wife were going through days of uncertainty and trial, he had learned the importance of sitting down and calmly discussing what they knew and what they did not know. To focus on what was reality and what they could control and to trust God for what only He knew and could handle.
Reality these days is that this year 150,000 Christians will be martyred. Reality is that 200 million Christians are being denied basic human rights today for one reason, they believe in Jesus as Savior. Reality is that there are Christians in Afghanistan who worship together, and by doing so, they risk their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Reality is that there are teenagers in Sudan who are staking their claim for Jesus at the risk of torture, banishment, and death. Reality is that the real war on Christmas is worldwide and that what we experience at Starbucks and in our public squares barely registers on the Richter scale, in comparison to Islamic and totalitarian regimes across the seas.
And yet we stay calm no matter how bad the news gets. Rather than be shaken to our very core, there is a peace that surpasses all human understanding that is ruling on the inside. Rather than wondering what this world is coming to, we say to one another what we know to be true, that Jesus Christ has already come into our world, that He lived the perfect life we needed Him to live, that He suffered all that we needed Him to suffer, that He died the death we needed Him to die, that He rose up again on the Third Day, ascended into heaven on the 40th day, and to this very day He is ruling all of heaven and earth with authority and for the benefit of His Church.
And because all of that Good News is true and has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, lesson #2 today is this: the plan is that we stay calm. The bad news just doesn’t get to us the way it gets to those who aren’t really sure in whom they trust. Afflicted but not crushed. Perplexed but not driven to despair. Persecuted but not forsaken. Struck down but not destroyed.
Third, the plan is to (work hard), even as we rest in His promises. One of the problems with staying calm in the face of adversity is that we would be tempted to just retreat into our comfortable zones in life and give little attention to the mission of the church. Jesus made sure His early disciples were trained well, He made sure they knew the Holy Spirit would be giving them the words to say, He made sure they knew that it wasn’t going to be easy at all, but most of all He made sure they knew that they had hard work to do. They were to be highly motivated, but not worried. Energized, but not anxious. Hard working but not stressed out.
Is it even possible to be hard working but not stressed out. Energized but not anxious. Highly motivated without worrying? Yes, it is. So long as we put First Things First. Jesus put first things first when He set His face towards Jerusalem and for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, He scorned the shame, and He was crucified all the way to death and burial.
The early disciples were to put first things first by never forgetting that the Gospel must first be preached to all nations, and secondly the end would come. First their God would be perfectly faithful to them, and secondly they would faithfully preach the Word in season and out of season, whether people wanted to hear it or not. First, the signs of the end would be fierce, and secondly, Christ would come again. First there would be birth pains, and secondly, all who were appointed for salvation would be born again.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of people in all the stages of life, but more and more the Spirit of God is drawing them closer and closer to their Savior. More contented with what they have, less complacent about what they are to be doing. More likely to cherish the truths of Scripture, less likely to follow the fads and the fashions all around them. These days, by the grace of God, they are learning again the value of seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and trusting that all these other things will be added in due time.
They have heard the old saying that “those to fail to plan are planning to fail.” With that in mind, their plan is to stay focused on proclaiming the Gospel, no matter who is trying to lead them astray. Their plan is to stay calm, no matter how crazy and upside down their world gets. And although they’re not always sure how to strike the right balance, they plan on working hard on their God appointed assignments, even as they rest in His promises. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther