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The Festival of the Reformation

Grace, mercy, and peace be yours in abundance from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, dear friends in Christ, In the end Cinderella got her man.  In the end Prince Charming came and broke Snow White’s spell.  In the end Prince Philip came and awoke Sleeping Beauty.  In the end the Little Mermaid got Eric.  Everything used to have a happy ending, didn’t it?  What happened?  As I’ve grown older I’ve noticed something: Things don’t always have a happy ending.  Take movies for example, maybe it’s just me but it seems like more and more movies today don’t have a happy ending, don’t tie up all the loose ends, leave you hanging.  So, if you don’t know the movie or the story has a happy ending, watching it can make you kind of uneasy, kind of antsy, kind of on edge.  Sometimes my daughter Megan will be watching a Disney movie that she’s never seen before, when something bad happens in the movie she sometimes starts to cry or get scared, why?  Because she doesn’t know that in the end everything will turn out fine.  Most people like things to work out great in the end and when they don’t its depressing.  If you know the ending and that everything works out in the end, piece of cake, (now that takes some of the fun out of it) but you can watch that movie or read that book sitting back and relaxing because no matter how bad it seems or may get, you know the end of the story.  When you don’t know the outcome it can make it very difficult to trust that things will turn out ok in the end, right?

Now a movie or a book is one thing, but when it happens in life, in your life, it’s a whole other story, right?  Sitting in a desk before the test- it’d sure be nice to know the end of that story.  Facing a job interview- it’d sure be nice if you knew the end of the story.  Sitting in a hospital bed- you sure wish you knew the end of the story.  Facing a financial crisis- you sure wish you knew the end of the story.  Now there’s all kinds of trials and hard times that we’ve been through that we can look back and see how they turned out and they don’t cause us so much consternation remembering them.  But the problem is on this side of heaven we’re never going to be completely free of trials and troubles and opposition of any kind.  How do you know if things are going to turn out ok or not?  How can you trust?  So what’s the answer?  How does one keep going in this life?

What do you suppose kept Martin Luther going?  He saw the problems and the abuses going on in the Catholic Church at the time.  But even worse than those he saw the false teaching that crept into the teachings of the church at the time.  The false teachings that all boil down to this: that there’s something YOU must do in order to earn salvation, earn heaven.  And if you believe that, there’s only two directions you can go: either you become a Pharisee thinking you’ve earned something good from God or you go into despair because it’s entirely impossible to earn or deserve anything from God.  Luther was the latter, his conscience bothered him- no matter how hard he tried there was no way he could live up to God’s demands.  It wasn’t until he rediscovered the truth of God’s Word that we are saved completely by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone revealed in the Scripture alone that he had true peace.  So he tried to proclaim the truth.  But where did that get him?  Opposition.  He was labeled a heretic, excommunicated by the church, and as he stood before Emperor Charles V, the most powerful person in Europe at that time, who demanded him to recant, he said, “Here I stand I cannot do otherwise God help me. Amen!”  He was outlawed and a death sentence was put on his head.  He didn’t know the end of the story or how things would work out.  What kept him going?

In our text for this morning Daniel didn’t know the end of the story either.  Notice what an ordeal God allowed Daniel to go through- put yourself in Daniel’s shoes, first why would God allow some pompous, self-centered big shot to make such an ego-centric decree that everyone for 30 days, if they were going to pray had to pray to him?  Why would God let such a thing happen?  And…why would God allow these self-centered glory-seekers be able to find Daniel, who is obeying God and trusting in God.  Then God allows him to be arrested and then allows Daniel to be thrown into a lions’ den and then shut up in there for a whole night, do you think he slept?  And he’s likely in his 80s!!  He has no idea how this is going to turn out!

How did Daniel do it?  How did he get through?  How did Luther get through?  How do we get through life’s battles?  What’s the answer??  As far as we know Daniel had no idea how things were going to play out, he may have figured that all of those years of dedicated service, years of faithful service to the public and service to God were coming to an end and he’d be viciously devoured by lions.  He may not of known how this was all going to work out.  But he trusted in God.  He may not have known the end of this specific story in his life, but he trusted in God and he knew the end of THE story, the real story.  He knew that his God whom he served continually, the living God, was certainly able to save him from the lions, but far greater than that he knew that his God had saved him from a far greater problem, that of his sins, by trusting in the promise that Jesus would one day come and pay for his sins he knew that the far more important life, eternal life, was his.

How did Luther do it?  He didn’t see the end of the story, but he trusted in God.  He didn’t know if he’d live or die, but it didn’t matter because he had come to know the truth: that salvation, heaven is God’s free gift to us through the merits of Jesus Christ alone.  He knew the end of the THE story.  After standing before the emperor he was given a few days and then it was open season on his life.  But when he left that meeting in front of the Emperor he was “kidnapped” and protected by a local German ruler.  He spent the rest of his life translating the Bible so everyone was able to read it, writing and explaining and teaching the truths of the Bible, he may not of seen the end of the story of his work.  Yet his work is still paying dividends today.  God’s work through him has led the truth of God’s Word to continually be proclaimed and it still is today- even right here at St. Mark’s in Bemidji!

And how do you do it?  There may be many times in our own lives when we’re left wondering why God would allow something to come into our lives, why God should allow something to happen.  When we meet obstacles in our lives our sinful nature leads us to doubt God’s care and concern, doubt God’s ability to make things work out in the end.  We also face opposition for our faith.  Now it’s probably not going to be from posting public theses like Luther, rather it’s from the simple things we do as Christians, like Daniel.  It may be being passed by for a promotion because of your dedication to spiritual matters or losing friends because of moral standards.  How do we make it through the day to day trials of life?  How do we make it through those times that lay us flat on our backs?  How do we meet challenges, oppositions, and trials in our lives?  How do we do it??

Daniel may not have known how this would work out, yet he trusted in God.  “No wound was found on him because he had trusted in his God.”  Daniel trusted in God, Daniel trusted that his life, his times and days, were all in the hands of God.  No flippant king, no wicked official, no hungry lion could do anything to disrupt God’s plans at working out all things for the good of His believers.  The same confidence that Daniel had in God is also your confidence.  We might not always know how certain stories in our lives will play out, but God promises to work out all things for the good of those who love Him.  Perhaps there’ll be times that we’ll have to wait until we get to heaven to see how God was working this or that out for our good.  Yet, all of our days, our times, our lives rest in the hands of our loving, faithful, compassionate, gracious God.  The God who can shut the mouths of hungry lions also has the power to work things out in your life for your good!  Trust in Him!!

Luther spent his whole life pointing to one person.  Our account of Daniel also points to that person.  It wasn’t Daniel but someone else who prayed to God regularly, who had a group of malicious accusers seeking to entrap him because of his faithfulness to God’s Word, a group of unruly people brought Him to the ruler accusing him of breaking the law, the ruler finding him innocent eventually appeases the crowd and condemns him to death, a rock is placed over the enclosure and sealed with the kings own ring, but at dawn it isn’t the king hurrying to the tomb, but a few ladies.  And what they find is shocking.  Who is it?  Jesus who was dead, is alive and lives!  Jesus is the living one, the one who has conquered our greatest enemies: sin, death, and hell.

And since Jesus lives and since you know the end of that true story, that of Jesus, then you also know the end of your own story as well.  So what opposes you today?  What is it that causes your faith to tremble?  What is it that causes your trust to shake?  Look to the Author of your story, who’s written not only the beginning of your story but also the ending, look to your Savior who has cleansed you in His holiness, taken your every sin away as far as the east is from the west, who has removed your guilt forever.  You know the end of your story, heaven is your home and that is where you’re headed, keep your eyes on the end of your story, the one written with the blood of Jesus, and that will make all the difference!  Now that’s a happy ending!  Amen.