Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Hebrews 7:25-26
My wife’s sister and her husband moved to a small town in Kansas this past summer. The seven hours between us and the fact I work every weekend means our trip to visit them for Thanksgiving was our first time visiting their new home. Roughly two-thirds of the trip I could navigate from memory. Most of it is the path I have taken to visit my in-laws for the past 23 years. Despite my familiarity with much of the route, I fired up the GPS app on my phone as soon as we got into the car after the Thanksgiving church service.
I enjoy what the GPS app offers. Even when I know where I am going it provides useful information for me. A small speed limit sign informs me of how fast I can drive in that specific location. It provides a very accurate arrival time to give me a good answer when my children ask “How much longer?”. It can also route me around busy traffic if I am driving in a congested area.
All of these are great features but a GPS app has one feature central to its existence. It has to get me to my destination.
After seven hours in the car this past Thanksgiving, the GPS app failed to do that for me. We arrived in the small Kansas town our family lives in and the app informed us we were at our destination. It was on our left but the only thing on our left was a street to turn down. Like many small, rural town streets this street was not well lit. At all. While the light level of the street was above normal because of the Christmas lights that were put up early, it was still very dark. We had trouble seeing house numbers, but we discovered the street name did not match with the street address my sister-in-law had given me.
We changed course and returned to the correct street. Appropriate to the day on which we were travelling, we were thankful we had seen pictures of the home we were looking for. Through the darkness we could identify not only the home we were looking for, but also the vehicles matching the ones our family owned. The generality of the directions provided to us by the GPS was good enough to get us close but we needed specificity to get to our destination.
The seven-hour return trip home offered me the opportunity to think about what we had experienced. This caused me to reflect on the truth of who God is. We often hear people talking about God and often the description of who God is gets us close to who he is. There is an understanding of God’s nature and we see he is a good and loving God. There is also often a good understanding of God’s law and what he requires of us. These are all good things but many times these descriptions of God do not get us to our destination. They do not get us to Jesus Christ and his saving work through his perfect life, death, resurrection, and ascension on our behalf. Talk about God, if it does not lead us to the saving work of Christ, does not get us where we need to be.
This distinction is important because it is how we are saved. Salvation is delivered to us by grace alone through faith alone on account of Christ alone. It is the work of Jesus for us that informs us of God’s nature. Can we understand the law of God without the cross? It is there where we see just how serious God is about his law. Breaking it requires a price be paid. At the cross we see this price is paid for us by the wrath of God being poured out on someone who did not violate the law. Jesus did this for you.
We also truly understand the love of God at the cross. The price paid for our sin at the cross was not merely done to satisfy the anger and wrath of God. It was also to show his love for his people. We trust in this good news and we are saved. It is a sure and certain promise. We are brought to faith through our hearing of the gospel by the power of God the Holy Spirit. This faith is our destination, and it is this gospel of Jesus Christ directing us to exactly where we need to be.
The Word of God is not vague like the directions I received from my GPS app on the evening of Thanksgiving. When it speaks about who God is it does not lead you down darkly lit streets wondering which place is the correct one. All of scripture points to salvation through Jesus Christ and this is why we are faithful to proclaim Christ and him crucified. It leads us to the God who is. The God who reveals himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit does not lead us to a vague destination. His Word leads us to himself.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him? - Psalm 8:3-4
For several years of my life, I lived in areas that had quite a bit of light pollution. While there I always cherished the times where I would be at camp with students. It was then that I had the opportunity to spend five days where I had a much clearer view at the stars. Recently, while returning from a meeting in the Twin Cities area, I realized that there was not a cloud in the sky. With nothing to impede my view I found a spot on the side of a rural road away from any town or farm lights. At the end of a busy day, I took five minutes to take in the glory of God's creation.
I may have earned an astronomy merit badge when I was in the Boy Scouts but the knowledge has escaped me. Instead of trying to find constellations, I took in the vastness of creation. I returned to the driver's seat of my automobile and opened the sunroof. While driving down the road I would sneak a peek at the stars and the words of Psalm 8:3-4 echoed through my mind. Considering the stars and all the heavens I couldn't help but wonder "What is man that God is mindful of him?"
As we look up at the starry night there are stars beyond the stars and even stars beyond that. In a universe so expansive why in the world would the God who spoke it into being have any interest in me? Is it any wonder so many people see God as distant and detached? It should not surprise us that many people think that if God is out there, he really isn't all that concerned about us.
As we consider all of this we have a sure and certain way that we know that God does, in fact, care for us. The second person of the Godhead took on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ to redeem humanity from the curse. We can know that God is mindful of humanity because Jesus suffered and died for his people. We can also know that God cares for us because the Holy Spirit comes to us and through the proclamation of the Word, brings us to faith.
The size and scope of the universe can make us feel small and insignificant. For those of in Christ it should do the exact opposite. We should be humbled that God thought so much of us that he brings all things together for our salvation. A God who is powerful and creates all things loves us so much that he came near to us to save us. With all that expansive space God chose to come near to you and save you. When we consider the heavens we can be reminded of the grace and mercy of God shown to us in Christ and know that he is mindful of us.
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:22-23
Last month I shared that I had been experiencing some television nostalgia by watching the Andy Griffith show. Enjoying stepping back into the past inspired me to watch another show that I watched as a child. When I was younger there was nothing more exciting than Friday evening at 7:00 PM. This was when "The Dukes of Hazzard" would come through the airwaves to channel 11 on our TV set. The show had cars flying through the air and arrows with sticks of dynamite attached to them. What's not to love?
As I was feeling the nostalgia and laughing at how corny the show is, one scene jumped out at me. One of the more popular characters in the series was Deputy Enos Strate. He was notorious for being an all around good guy. During the episode I was viewing, the Duke boys and Enos are riding in a car. As so often happens on the show the brakes of their car fail. The car careens down a mountain road and extreme measures need to be taken. The old wreck they are driving plows through a fence and splashes into a pond. As the camera angle moves us to a view inside the car we see the virtuous Enos with his eyes closed. He tells his companions that he fears opening his eyes. He says "What do you see out there? A bunch of naked babies with harps and wings or a bunch of red fellers with horns and pitchforks?"
Obviously, this statement is to make us laugh but it exposes something in the way in which so many of us view our status before God. In the minds of a lot of people our eternal destiny is up for grabs. We teeter on the brink of either heaven or hell and where we end up is determined by the good or bad that we do in each moment. While this may serve a purpose to cause some people to behave in a more positive way,it isn't the Christian way of viewing salvation.
When we talk about whether or not we are saved we don't speak about the individual deeds that we do piling up on the scales to determine which side is more loaded. We talk about assurance of salvation and a trust in the promise of God to save his people. Our salvation is rooted in the work that Jesus did for us in his life, death, and resurrection. If we have been given the gift of repentance and faith in Christ then we are in him. We don't have to wonder what we will see when we breathe our last. We know that we shall see our Savior face to face. This is because our sin has been atoned for and we have been given the greatest gift of the righteousness of Jesus. We are not teetering between the good place and the bad place. We are right now seen as righteous in God's sight.
This has application for us not only when we think about eternity but in our daily lives too. As we saw in Hebrews 10:22 we can draw near to God in full assurance. We do not think of God in such a way that every move we make is sliding us back and forth between his favor and his wrath. Because we are in Christ we know that we can come before God and serve him in freedom. His promise of salvation is sure because he is faithful. So we have a sure confidence in this life and the next. A confidence rooted in who God is and what he has done for us.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:16-17
A few weeks ago I needed to make two visits in Sioux Falls. One visit was to someone in the hospital in the morning. I then had another visit to pray with someone before surgery. There was about a three-hour window of time that I needed to fill. I went to a coffee shop, got a little caffeine, and did a little work on my tablet. Before I went to do the afternoon visit I decided to go to the mall. I wanted to see if I could find a good price on some clothes that I wanted to get for the upcoming trip to Sandusky, OH with the youth group. I parked near the food court entrance and spent roughly 30 minutes looking for a new pair of shorts. On the way out I was observing how little activity there was at the mall compared to time past. The handful of cars in the parking lot reflected how few people were moving around the interior of the mall.
As I was nearing my car I saw a mother and I would guess a three-year-old child. The child pulled his hand out of the hand of his mother and began to run from her. There was not much of a sense of urgency from the mother. There were very few cars and she could see every area of potential danger. I got into the car and thought about how differently that mother would have acted if it was a busier day. If it was Christmas season there would be no way the mother would have let her child run through the parking lot. Her quiet and passive pleas for the child to stop would have instead been a frantic scramble to make sure her child was back in her control. She would have dropped her shopping bags and done everything she needed to do to make sure that her child was safe. In fact, she would probably not have even allowed the child to walk next to her holding her hand. She would have held the child safely in her arms from the mall until she safely placed her in the car seat.
This got me to thinking about how we view God and what he has done to save us. If we believe that sin is merely something that we can correct on our own or that sin isn't that big a deal then our view of how God saves us and holds on to us is going to reflect that. If we see God like the mother I witnessed in the parking lot then we are ultimately in control of our salvation and God is overseeing us and keeping us from doing any major harm to ourselves.
On the other hand, if we hold to a Biblical view of sin and an understanding that we are dead in our trespasses and sins, things will be different. We would see God much more like the scenario I imagined during the Christmas shopping season. God would not only take hold of us but he would not let us go until he delivered us safely.
This is so important for our understanding of who God is, how he saves us, and how he holds on to us. Our sin is a big deal. It is treason against the Most High and in order to be rescued from it the ultimate price had to be paid. God the Son took on human flesh, lived for us, died for us, and rose again for us. He is now at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. Through the proclamation of the gospel, the Holy Spirit has brought us to faith. All to rescue us from sin and death. As we know so well from John 3:16-17 God showed his love for us in Jesus Christ. He did not leave us to wander. He did all that needed to be done to bring his people to himself. If you are in Christ, God has laid hold of you and he will not let go. He will bring you safely home. Rest in that good news and trust in his great saving work in Christ for you.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. - Ephesians 2:10
Often young children have a project in their early years of schooling that can be challenging for them. The idea of this project is for them to understand the natural process of a plant growing. The children receive a Styrofoam cup, a small amount of potting soil, and a bean seed. The three items are brought together easily but the difficulty comes with the young child's impatience. They often cannot understand why it is taking so long for the seed to sprout. No amount of wishing on the part of the child is going to cause that bean to grow any faster. Of course, the lesson that is intended to be learned is about how a plant grows and how to water and care for it. Perhaps the more important lesson that is learned in this project is patience.
Children check the cup regularly and they wonder why the bean hasn't come up. It can become an obsession. They wonder if it has been watered enough or whether there is enough sunlight where the cup is sitting. Through it all, they are forced to trust the process by which God has ordained for this small seed to grow into a plant. It can be slow but there is no magic way to make this seed grow faster.
When I was in the sixth grade my science experiment project involved growing some plants. I gave five different plants different liquids each day. I can't remember what the liquids all were. I do remember there was a control plant with water and two of the other plants got to drink Coke and milk each day. The water plant was the winner but the differences between the plants were negligible. What they needed to grow was time, liquid, and light. There was no magic liquid or method to turn that plant into Jack's beanstalk overnight. The caffeine in the Coke didn't jolt the plant to grow taller and thicker than the others. The plants grew like plants are supposed to grow.
In my experience so often we forget this lesson of patience when we look at growing spiritual fruit. We want to grow into better Christians overnight with a certain study or a weekend at a retreat or conference. In the end, while we may have benefited from these things the growth usually isn't as significant as we had hoped.
Just as we have to trust in the means that God ordains for the bean to grow in the cup, we must trust in the means that God has ordained for our spiritual growth. God has given us the Word and the sacraments for our benefit. He will be good to the promise for us to grow through them by the power of the Holy Spirit. God is working in you and just as he promised, you are being conformed to the image of his Son. It isn't going to happen overnight but that is also for your benefit. Things that grow quickly are not strong, do not last, and usually have very shallow roots. A faith that grows over time and is rooted in God's Word will last and have roots that are deep. Continue to hear the Word proclaimed to you. Continue to receive God's good gift in the Lord's Supper. Continue to fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ. God is working in you. You are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. This is God's promise to you. You can trust it.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. - 1 Peter 1:3-5
Easter has quickly come and gone. For me, it seems to have sped by in a blur. The weather that we have had has given us very few signs that spring is on the way. Regardless of how it felt or the moods that the cool weather has inflicted on us, Easter came. We celebrated and rejoiced because of the good news of Christ's resurrection! It is so important that we don't let this day go by as just any other holiday because it is so much more. As Christians, we are a resurrection people. This day that was the most pivotal moment in human history is what shapes us and makes us who we are in Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, I don't think we are wired to dwell on something like Easter. We have big events and then we move on and prepare for the next big event. I don't know if this is because we live in such a busy and mobile society. Perhaps this has always been the way holidays were approached. I was listening to the podcast of a Reformed apologist recently. He was speaking about the celebration of Passover. He made a comment about Americans not understanding the idea of a multi-day celebration. This caused me to pause and think about how true this was. In my early twenties when I was a manager at Toys R Us I was always surprised at how quickly holiday moods changed. On Christmas Eve we couldn't go home until we had set up the queue lines that would corral the hordes of people making returns in a mere 36 hours. The first year I was a part of this I was surprised by the instantaneous change of mood. The canned music coming through the intercom system was still telling me it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas. It was also campaigning for chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Nothing had changed except the attitudes of people. It was more than the returns and everything related to Christmas now on discount. It more than employees getting ready for inventory in a mere two weeks. The attitudes of both customers and employees had gone through a dramatic change.
It was the same way with any holiday. The day after Easter the candy put on clearance and we were setting up to feature the next big thing. After Halloween, the costumes were marked down and Christmas became the focus. We are so busy marketing the next big thing that we have become wired to move on and never really enjoy where we are. My guess is that most of us can relate to this. We are so busy that we have to move on to the next thing immediately or we will be left behind. We seem to never take the time to soak in what we are celebrating.
As Christians, we cannot do that with Resurrection Sunday. What we celebrate each year is the story of Christ's death and resurrection for us. This is what gives us hope. We cannot move on from it because it is the gospel. It is the event that shows us that Jesus is so much more than a good teacher. Thousands upon thousands were crucified at the hands of the Romans. Only one conquered death, hell, and the devil by rising from the dead. This not just the story of Jesus, it is also our story because without the resurrection we have no hope. Jesus would just be another itinerant preacher who had roamed the remote parts of Palestine. His death would have been nothing more than an unjust execution of an innocent man. It is because of the resurrection that we have a living hope. The death of Jesus has meaning because he was victorious over it. That is why we can never move past Easter.
Each week when we gather for Lord's Day worship we are remembering this story. Our gathering with our fellow believers is a reminder that because our Lord rose on the first day of the week, we will gather and remember what he has done for us. This is so important because we will naturally rush on to the next thing after Easter. Our lives are busy and there are things we have to do. By gathering each Lord's Day and remembering his resurrection we are thrust back into the story. We are reminded of this good news of the salvation that we have in Christ. God has shown us mercy. We have been born again. It is our living hope. Kept for you by the very power of God.
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith - Philippians 3:8-9 (ESV)
So far in 2018 most of the gospel passages in the lectionary have come from the Gospel of Mark. If you were to go back and listen to the sermons I have given this year you would notice I have pointed out Mark's use of the word immediately many times. There is an urgency to what is going on in Mark. What are we going to do with this Jesus that we are hearing about in this book? He is more than an ordinary man. He is on a mission from God. The immediacy we see in Mark tells us how important this message is!
The immediacy of the message of the gospel has caused me to stop and think about our modern lives. We live in a world that believes that most everything is immediate. For example, while I have been writing this my phone has buzzed and beeped three times and this is only the second paragraph. We live in a connected world. We are programmed by our devices to check them constantly.
Nothing makes me more aware of this than when I go to the prison for worship services. Bringing a phone into a facility such as that is forbidden. Before we go in, we remind each other to leave our wallets, keys, and devices behind. While sitting there at the worship service I feel my phone vibrating in my pocket. That's right, I feel notifications that aren't even there. The effect is even more exaggerated when I am there for more than the usual 90 minutes. Occasionally, I play guitar to help lead singing. This has me making my way up to the chapel about an hour earlier. While I am there rehearsing, I will reach for my phone. I want to use the guitar tuner app or take a picture of something even though I know my phone isn't there.
These glowing rectangles that we carry with us have us convinced that everything is immediate. Text messages, phone calls, and emails come to us without delay. They give us notifications that we must deal with. It isn't limited to communication though. To-do list apps tell us everything that needs to be done. Restaurant and shopping apps make sure we don't miss any of the amazing deals they have for us. We take pictures of everything because we want to believe it is all pressing and important. Even something as frivolous as games want us to feel this sense of immediacy. Play now they tell us or you will miss out. Apparently, it is vital that you don't get behind in any of your important games.
In a world ripe with distractions is it any wonder that we so easily lose sight of the immediacy and importance of the gospel. When everything is immediate and important it dulls us to the things that should truly demand our attention. The word gospel means good news. It is an announcement of what God has done for us in Christ. It interrupts everything that we know and points us to what really matters. A blip on my phone is of no value compared to the exceeding value of knowing Christ. A notification telling me I have more lives available to me in a game is silly in comparison to the confidence we have in eternal life in Christ.
We have a vital issue before us in our time. Do we feel the immediacy and necessity of the gospel in an age where everything is immediate? Have we replaced the comfort of the gospel with the comfort of feeling like we are always busy and needed in our modern lives? All the distractions in the world do not change the fact that we were born dead in trespasses and sins and are desperately in need of the grace of God. While constant distractions can make us oblivious to the fact of our mortality, it doesn't change this state of affairs.
Regardless of when we live and what technology we possess, the gospel needs to be primary. It calls us outside of ourselves to the mercy and grace of God. We need persistent notifications that we have been forgiven and declared righteous on account of Christ. Nothing is more relevant and immediate to our daily lives than the good news of the gospel. This is the notification we need.
As Paul says "I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord." Do we feel this immediacy or are we drawn to the things of the world? May we not be distracted by the noise of the world that we may hear and believe the good news of Jesus Christ.