10th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, Ira Yates lived in the first half of the last century around the time of the Great Depression. He was a sheep rancher in Texas and was struggling financially. He didn’t have enough money to pay the mortgage on his land and for a while had to live on government subsidy. Day after day Yates would tend his sheep and wonder how he was going to pay his bills. But one day, on a hunch, he had a crew of men from an oil company drill a wildcat test well on his property. What they found was a huge, huge, reserve of oil. The first well came in at 80,000 barrels a day. More and more wells were drilled and, as I understand it, some 90 years later, there are still over 300 wells drilling on Yate’s old property. In one day he took in $180,000 in oil leases. When he had first purchased the ranch he was interested in sheep grazing. There he was living in poverty but sitting on this mammoth underground reserve of incredibly valuable oil. What was his problem? He simply didn’t know the oil was there. He thought grazing sheep was the way to make money.
We look at that and think, “Wow! If only he had known what treasures he had, he wouldn’t have been living in such poverty for many years of his life.” But even all of his land and all of his wealth don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. In fact, all of that wealth that he made doesn’t even compare to the real wealth that is yours and mine right today. When Jesus returns, what will all of that land, wealth, and oil really be worth? Nothing. Zero. In fact, what will all the things of this life really be worth when Jesus returns on the Last Day? What will our homes, our cars, our bank accounts, our degrees, our collections, our stuff, really be worth on the Last Day? Nothing.
What will matter on the Last Day? What will matter and what ONLY will matter on the Last day are the spiritual things, the eternal things. It will matter that we trust in Jesus as our only Savior. It will matter that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave. It will matter that we were baptized, that we heard the Word of God regularly and received the Lord’s Supper often so that our faith was fed, that we were in worship and Bible study hearing, studying, learning and taking to heart the Word of God. That we opened God’s Word in our homes. That’s what will matter!
And yet, how much “sheep grazing” do we do? How often do focus on the short-term visible things to the neglect of the long-term valuable and often invisible things? How often have we skipped worship in God’s house for work, for pleasure, for _______, or just because we didn’t think it was that valuable? How many times have we pushed our children in homework or sports but failed to take time to have devotions with them, read the Word with them, pray with them? How often do we focus on “sheep grazing” when true wealth is right under our noses? THE treasures in life, THE important things are the eternal things which God has given to us.
And in our text this morning, God gives us just treasure after treasure after treasure. What are these treasures God has given to you and me?
Verse 28 is one of the most well-known and favorite verses in all the Bible: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” What a treasure! In all things – in the good, the bad, the blessings, and the sufferings – all of it – you have God’s promise that it will be for your good. But there’s more treasure here. Look at the word “know.” In the Greek there are several words that mean to “know.” The one used in this verse is “to know something intellectually, but not necessarily by experience.” So, everyone here knows Donald Trump. You know he is our president. You’ve heard him speak. But I’m guessing that no one here has spent time with him, spoken to him personally. You know him, but you don’t know him. On the other hand, you know each other. You’ve spent time with each other, talked with each other, laughed and cried with each other. You have experiential knowledge of each other. In verse 28, the word “to know” emphasizes intellectual knowledge, not experiential. God is saying to us that we know intellectually that all things will work together for our good. Our minds know it, because God says it.
But we might not experience it. We might not be able to figure out exactly HOW something’s working for our good. We might not FEEL like something is working out for our good. Here’s God’s treasure: not only WILL all things work for our good, but we don’t have to worry about figuring out how! You don’t have to worry about feeling like it’s for your good. We simply trust that what God says is true, whether we understand it or not, feel it or not. Some have said it’s God is weaving this beautiful tapestry or rug, all these threads are being woven into God’s great plan to bring us to heaven, but we’re looking at the bottom side of the rug, all we see is an ugly picture of strings and threads, but God sees it from the top and one day we will too.
And why does God work all things for your good? Because you “have been called according to his purpose.” What is God’s purpose? God’s purpose is to take you to heaven, to save you eternally. And that’s been God’s focus…forever!
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” God “foreknew.” Interestingly, God now switches to the word “know” that means to know by experience. Before the world was created, God knew you. He didn’t just know you intellectually or know the facts about you, but he knew you. He knew you in all your sins, weaknesses, failures, He knew how much you and I deserved to go to hell. He knew where, how, when we would live. Before you could do anything positive, good or pleasing, God already knew you. He knew us personally and individually. And yet, what did he do? He “predestined” you. Here the Greek word pictures putting a fence around in advance. God chose you to be part of his “fenced in area.”
We, like all people, deserve only eternal death in hell because of our sins. Although God created us, our rebelling against him removed us from his property. We landed ourselves on the other side of the fence. But God determined beforehand to put his protective fence around us. Before God even created the world He saw you, He saw me and said, “You are mine!” I claim you as my child! He placed His fence around us. What a treasure!
And this could only happen by conforming us to the likeness of His Son. Jesus became our brother. The eternal Son of God in time took into his person our own flesh and blood so that he could make the substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. Through faith in Jesus we are given a new birth. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice God chose you and me to be His children, to be brothers and sisters of God! Talk about an incredible status! Talk about a treasure!
Predestination – God chose you in Christ before the beginning of the world to be His forever. That means that if we’re going to heaven God gets ALL the credit, He chose us before we could even do a thing! The Bible also makes it very clear that if someone goes to hell, they carry all the blame for rejecting God’s grace in Jesus. But what if I’m worried or I’m troubled? Am I one of God’s elect? Am I going to heaven? That was Martin Luther’s struggle when he was a monk. He was greatly troubled by this doctrine of election. Until a close friend came to him and said, “Brother Martin, first find yourself in the wounds of Christ, then you can be sure of your election.” In other words, when I’m troubled or worried or concerned whether or not I’m going to heaven, I don’t go to the doctrine of election, rather, if I want to know whether God loves me, I remember that God’s Word says that God loves the world and therefore me. If I want to know whether Jesus died for me, I will go to the passages that tell me that he died for all. If I want to know whether he took my sins away, I will remember that the Bible says that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. If I want to know whether God wants me in heaven, I remember that God wants all people to be saved.
The doctrine of election is meant only to be comfort to the believer. God so fully chose us in Christ before the world began so that in time, “Those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” He called you in your baptism, wrote His name on you, claimed you as His child. Every time you hear the Word or come to the Supper, God seals the status of His child on you, reminds you that you have been justified, declared not guilty, and invited to the heavenly banquet feast. And He’s glorified you. Notice that it’s the past tense. God considers you glorious, right now! God considers you an inhabitant of heaven, right now! You are glorious to God, right now!
What a treasure! God chose you before time even began, in other words, loved you before time began, and in time rescued you by sending Jesus to be your Savior, then in your life called you to faith in Him, washed your sins away, and has already made you an heir of eternal life! That’s real treasure!
It’s so easy for us to be like Mr. Yates and only see sheep grazing in the field and miss the large treasure underneath the ground. We do that when we focus on the temporary, the fleeting, the cheap and miss the rich and eternal treasures. Dig into God’s Word! And when you do God will give you blessing far better than oil, gold, or money, rather He’ll remind you that all things are working for your eternal good, that he’s conforming you to the likeness of His Son, that you are right in the eyes of God, that you are already glorious to God. And when you have those treasures you have true, real, and rich satisfaction and joy in life. Amen.