Here We Stand

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First Sunday of End Time
Reformation Sunday
Daniel 3:16-28


Heavenly Father, to you we commend our lives and our spirits, you have saved us, you faithful God. Amen. (A variation of Luther’s deathbed prayer.)

Fellow Christians who stand facing the flames.  In Psalm 26 King David writes, “Vindicate me, Lord, for I have led a blameless life; I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered.  Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind.”  Why did David say this?  Is he being stuck up and self-righteous?  No, the Bible says that David was a man after the Lord’s own heart.  He knew that faith is like gold, it gets refined in the hottest of fires.  Trials make you lean even more on God.  David is praying for trials so that his faith and trust in God might be stronger, more steadfast, or refined!  What a bold and almost reckless prayer.

I think this type of thing might be totally lost on us in the culture that we live in.  We always want to take the path of least resistance.  Just the thought of discomfort or shame to the ever important “I” is enough to make us cringe and hope that those unpleasant things might not happen to us.  When you stand up for Jesus at school or work, when you have the inevitable discussion about religion with a close friend the mood can get pretty heated.  You have to decide if you are going to stay and feel the burn.

I think it’s pretty obvious that if left to our own attitudes and devices we would turn tail and run from the first smell of smoke.  But we are not alone; we are not left to our own powers.  We see this morning from the account in the 3rd chapter of Daniel, three men who faced their fire with confidence.  It was God who gave them the courage in their confession and it was God who saved them. God tells us the same thing in his word today Face your fire with confidence! 1. God will give you courage 2. God will save you

Part I


Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego really had everything to lose here.  They were feeling the heat in more than one way!  They were in powerful positions.  The King liked them.  They were wealthy and intelligent. Do you remember the story from your Sunday School day?  These guys weren’t no bodies! By the hand of God they were raised up to prominent positions in the Babylonian government.    These men were chosen by Nebuchadnezzar to act as ambassadors to captive Israel.  He hoped that there would be a monkey see, monkey do thing going on.

So if Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego bowed down to this golden image of the King who would care!  Really, by bowing down they secure their position with the King, and would the people know better?  Convert today repent tomorrow!  But these three men knew that their God was not made from gold and poured out of a smelter.  They had come to know the powerful reality of their God.  They would have remembered the miraculous story of how the LORD delivered his people from the false gods of the Egyptians.  They would have known about how he showed his power over the elements by parting the Red sea, sending manna, quail and water from rocks.  Yes, they knew their loving and powerful God who is and was always with his people.  They were steadfast and determined to remain loyal to the God who had the power to rescue them, one way or the other.

What gave them the courage to confess?  It was their loving God’s power displayed in their lives and in the lives of the other Israelites.  And it was this God given faith that led them to say, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”  They would not be swayed by a powerful king, the peer pressure of seeing even some of their countrymen bow down or the threat of a fiery death.





So when is the last time someone told you to bow down and worship?  Maybe there wasn’t a huge golden statue.  I think that there are a good number of things in our society that have achieved “god-like” status.  I think we all know the obvious ones, love of money or possessions.  But what about those that are a bit more subtle.

There is a prevailing attitude these days that God is dead or never existed in the first place.  Scientists or scholars with a lot of letters after their name will flat out call you stupid because you believe in Jesus.  These men are followed by thousands of people, many of whom are our friends, family or co-workers. Their message sounds attractive, logical and reasonable.  “What does this guy who died 2000 years ago have anything to do with you or me?”  They will get pretty fired up if you start talking to them about your faith.  They will say what Nebuchadnezzar said, “Come on, you’re being ridiculous! What we have to say makes so much more sense!”  Do you stand and take the heat?  Or are you wont to flee.

The question is where do you place your trust?  Is it in your own wit or intelligence fueled by the safety of a group of friends who talk, act or even think like you?  We shelter ourselves with these things.  These things will fail.  One day (or maybe this has already happened to you) you will be called to account for your faith.  What then?

In the Gospel for today we heard Jesus say, “Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.”  Now instead of taking comfort from this, some might say, that this sounds foolish!  Let me tell you a story about a fool.

There was a young man canvassing a neighborhood for church.  He came to a lady’s house, knocked on the door, and totally dropped the ball.  “Hi, uh I’m from the church uh, over there and it’s nice, we have cool stuff for people etc.  Thanks have a nice day!”  He left and started up the street.  He didn’t get a block away when he thought how foolish that was, he got a little nervous, felt a little heat and booked it.  He turned around and went back.  When he saw her again he said, “I didn’t feel right about what I said last time and I’m sorry to bother you again but I want to tell you what I believe…”

He would never see that lady again, but he wanted to see her in heaven.  He showed her what conviction looked like.  This was gospel motivation, love that Jesus had shown him gave him a genuine concern for a soul, and a desire to boldly proclaim the love that God has for us in Christ Jesus.

On this Reformation day, consider another fool.  Against the power of the Emperor and all the princes of the church, against the power of the Pope stood one foolish monk.  Why would he face death and imprisonment? The medieval church had taken the focus off of Christ!  The Church of Luther’s day had set up idols.  The simple gospel message of sins forgiven by the blood of Jesus had been gotten lost in a wash of saint worship, relics and self-abasement.  So when he was confronted at the Diet of Worms and told to recant or take back the things he had written concerning salvation by faith alone, grace alone and scripture alone, he calmly stated, “Here I stand, I can do no other, God help me, Amen.”

Confessions like Luther’s and the other fellow I mentioned are contrary to human reason or understanding.  They put us in harms/shames way.  Our natural human instinct is to flee or conform.  But our God is a miracle worker.  It is a miracle that we believe; it is a miracle that we confess.  It is the Blood of Christ shed for us, that gives us courage to confess in the heat of the moment.  As it was with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego…


Part II



“Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual.”  This furnace was the very thing that created the golden statue.  It was probably a technological marvel of the time.  It was to be the instrument of death.  Which is really unusual since incineration was not a normal means of execution in the ancient world.  It was rather expensive and rarely was there a smelter or furnace big enough to fit 3 grown men inside.

You have to think about what the King is saying by doing this.  It’s sending both a political and religious message.  “Look at this thing I have made, I have made a god.  And now you will die in this thing that can make golden gods.”  They were to die quickly, there was no trial no chance for rebuttal, nothing.  With their clothes still on, they are bound hand and foot and tossed down into this furnace.  It was so hot, the air around it scorched the lungs of the executioners and they died almost instantly!

And probably while the guards were falling to the ground clutching their throats in death, the King leaps to his feet.  There was another person standing in the midst of the flames.  In the words of the king he looked like, “A son of the gods.”  Squinting their eyes to see through the heat waves emanating from the furnace, the king and his advisors saw the three Judeans, unbound, unharmed. And they see the angel!  It’s fitting really, a messenger from heaven sent to aid the human messengers on Earth.

This sign was not just given to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  It was done for all the assembly of people to see.  The account does not end here, obviously.  They come out, unharmed, unsinged, unburned!  But what if that was not the case?  The three Judeans mention that possibility in their confession.  They said, “but if he does not…”

They were prepared for it.  Their God was worth dying for.  While this golden statue may have been poured from a furnace smelter, their God had proven his power in the past.  They knew that one way or the other, their God would deliver them.  If that meant dying to glorify God for a reason that they did not fully understand, then they were at peace with that.  They knew that their God would save them either physically, or Save them by taking them to heaven.




What’s your furnace?  I think we are all aware that there are some brothers and sisters in Jesus around the world dying right now, for the same reason that the three Judeans faced their execution.  But in America we aren’t confronted with death, yet.  But should it come to that, and when you feel the flames from the unbelieving world around you, remember what your God has done for you!

When you get burned by family or friends, it’s easy to get down, it’s easy to doubt your faith.  The desire rises up in us to forget our God, because it’s easier, it’s the path of least resistance.  And let’s be honest, Satan knows how to make a road.  His roads are wide with nice things to look at, great distractions and a nice gradual downward slope.  And while it might be nice to walk on now, it leads to a furnace that you can’t escape.

We are really no different than Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  What they remembered was that their God has the power to save.  Isn’t this true of our lives as well? We have been taught and we have learned that we have a faithful God.  He doesn’t lead us into traps.  He calls us his own children!  In times of testing or doubt, or when you near the end of your race and your arms and legs are on fire, and you’re so tired; remember, God says to you, “I saved you!  I took the torture of hell on the cross in your place and the doors of heaven are open for you!”

The apostle Peter wrote, “In all this [Trials] you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 

Luther commented on these verses saying, we need these trials, because of our old sinful selves.  Because when faith is tested all that is dross and false must pass away and drop off.  Then is our reward in Christ Jesus revealed.  Does that remind you of something, maybe David’s psalm 26?  “Test me Lord!”   Strengthen my Faith!



At the end of his life, at the end of his trials and all the heat he took from those who sought to put rules or things in the place of Christ; Luther indeed saw his faith refined.  On his death bed surrounded by friends, Luther awoke in pain, one of his friends noticed that the end was near so he asked, “Do you wish to die in the faith that you have confessed, that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior?”  And with a simple, “Ja!” He died.


Brothers and Sisters, The same confidence that fired the confession of the three Judean men thousands of years ago, is our same confidence.  Through the ages our God is the same.  He gives courage to face the fires of this life and he has saved us from the fires of Hell.  We can face any fire with confidence because of Christ. Amen.

The Eternal King Advances Your Cause!

Christ the King Sunday
Daniel 7:13-14

To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His own blood and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father, to him be glory forever and ever amen! In the name of Jesus, who will come as King of kings and Lord of lords to judge the living and the dead, dear brothers and sisters in Christ: How do you feel about things going on in the world today? Last week there was a tragic terrorist bombing in Paris, more threats keep coming, Isis seems to be gaining in power, people are concerned about the possibility of refugees coming to America with evil intentions, political debates are heating up as enter another presidential election season, who is going to be the next leader of our country? How do you feel about the things going on in the world? Or, how do you feel about the things going on in your own life? Maybe your marriage isn’t what it should be, maybe you’re having difficulties at work, maybe you’re dealing with a health issue or someone you love is dealing with a health issue, maybe your finances aren’t quite what you want them to be. How do you feel about things going on in your life? Or, how do you feel about things going on in your church? This past week we had a 3.5 hour long voters meeting as we considered the decisions for the future of our church, some described the mood of our congregation as excited, others as tense. How do you feel about things going on in our church?

It seems like we have questions, questions, and more questions. Well, if we think that we have questions, let’s take a look at Daniel’s time for a bit. We’ll find out that our time in the history of the world isn’t unique. But more importantly, we’re going to see that God has a simple, yet wonderful answer to all those questions which are on our minds.

The prophet Daniel lived at a time when the nation of Judah had been overrun by the nation of Babylon.  God used the Babylonians to cause the people of Judah a lot of suffering. Why? Because for the most part, the people of Judah were in rebellion against God – not listening to Him, worshipping false gods, etc. Daniel was exiled to Babylon thousands of miles away probably when he was a teenager. He spent most of his life in Babylon. Now he’s probably about 60 or 65 years old. And our text is really the conclusion to a vision that Daniel had. It was a wild vision. Here’s how it started out: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea. The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle.” Ok, a lion with wings. Daniel would have recognized this. Archaeologists have discovered winged lions placed in places to symbolically guard the palace gates. Daniel would have recognized that this represented Babylonian empire.

But what happened next? “I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a man, and the heart of a man was given to it.” That’s crazy! Next, Daniel sees a bear come out of the churning sea, and it has in its mouth three ribs, and it was told, “Get up and eat your fill of flesh!” Woe! That’s not good! Next came a leopard with four wings, but in addition to it having four wings it also had four heads, and was given authority to rule, so Babylon is clearly out of the picture now. And then came this terrifying beast which Daniel couldn’t even name – it was just terrifying and frightening. It had iron teeth and it trampled on or devoured its victims. Ten horns came out of its head and then one came up and uprooted three horns and spoke great boasts. Wow!

After the dream Daniel asked about its meaning.  It was explained to him that the various beasts he had seen were different empires. So, put yourself in Daniels shoes. The first empire was the Babylonian empire. What was that one like? That wasn’t a very nice empire for Daniel. The Babylonians had conquered the Israelites, held them under domination, exacted excruciating tribute from them. They deported thousands of the Israelites, including Daniel, then when the Jews tried to rebel, the Babylonians came destroyed Jerusalem and perhaps worst of all for the Jews was that they leveled the temple. That wasn’t a very nice empire, they weren’t that nice to believers in the true God.

And now this empire is going to “have its wings torn off” and replaced by another empire? One that is told to “eat your fill of flesh”?? Wow! What’s that going to be like for believers? And then a kingdom with four wings and four heads like a leopard to have extra swiftness and extra eating power?? Then one that couldn’t even be compared to an animal, a beast with iron teeth that’s just frightening and terrifying that devours victims and tramples under foot whatever is left?? How do you think Daniel felt about things in the world? Do you think Daniel could have been more worried about the state of the world and the state of the church and the state of his life than you and I?

It was right after seeing that final beast with the boastful horn that we then read that God showed Daniel this: “As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. 10 A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.”  Wow!  It’s God the Father taking the seat of judgment, with the believers and the angels attending Him!  The beast with the boastful horn is tossed into the lake of fire, and that’s when our text takes place: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”

Who is this “son of man”? That’s Jesus! And this appearance of Jesus is very different than Jesus’ first appearance on this earth. Jesus’ first appearance on this earth was one of humility, wrapped in cloths, placed in a manger, whipped, beaten, nailed to a cross. THIS appearance, however, is amazingly powerful and glorious! He has authority and power and dominion! His kingdom can never and will never be destroyed! He is and will reign forever and ever!

And…all of a sudden, we’re just not so concerned about the world around us, are we? You know, if Jesus is in charge, it’s going to be okay! Look at His power! Look at His glory! We have an added blessing that Daniel didn’t have. We can look back at history. The Babylonian empire – so cruel to believers- it fell. The Persian empire rose fast, a bear of an empire, it fell. The Greeks with their leopard like phalanx, split into four parts and then fell to the Romans. And through it all, what happened to God’s Church? God’s Church continued! In the midst of all that crazy stuff, the Savior of the world came. It was during the Roman empire – the horrifying, terrifying beast that crushed and devoured – that God’s ultimate saving work was done- Jesus came, Jesus died for our sins, Jesus rose from the dead.

And yes, that one horn still speaks and still boasts- that’s the Anti-Christ opposed to Jesus which sprung up from the Roman empire. And that one horn will continue to bring problems to God’s people, but it can’t win. Because God’s Church continues! Yes, there are times in history when God’s Church struggles and when the Word is attacked and neglected. But no matter what the opposition to God’s Church, to God’s people might be, the opposition can never win!

Why? Because Christ is THE King and He does and will continue to reign forever and ever! So, we’re reminded on this Christ the King Sunday, no matter what’s going on in the world, in our congregation, in our own lives, we rejoice. Why? First, we rejoice that our King is a King of grace. Willingly He stood before Pontius Pilate, willingly he went to the cross to die, willingly He gave up His life, willingly He rose from the dead. He did that because He loves you that dearly, He wanted to pay for your sins, because He wants you in heaven with Him forever!

Second, we rejoice because our God and King alone knows all the details of the future. You don’t, I don’t, Satan doesn’t, the rulers of this world don’t. But God does. He knows the future so even when things might seem to be spinning out of control, He’s in complete control of history guiding it for the good of His people and to one glorious end.

And thirdly, we also rejoice because our Savior is our King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Ultimately, HE is in charge, ultimately HE is ruling all things for the good of advancing HIS kingdom. We live in a world full of dark and wicked powers, aggressive nations, wars and rumors of wars will continue to the end. We will also continue to experience attacks on our faith from anti-Christian forces. The devil will continue to play on our sinful natures, continue to try to instigate disunity and disharmony among God’s people, leading people away from God’s Word. But we look forward to that final day when our final deliverance will come. When Christ returns Satan and all his forces, all the evil people and forces of this world will be judged and finally done away with once and for all. All the dead will be raised, unbelievers will be sent to hell, but all God’s saints, his believers, will inherit eternal life, no more pain, no more sickness, no more problems, no more fighting, no more fear, no more tragedy, no more hardship. To that end our King Jesus is guiding all things.

With Him as King, there’s no room for our bickering, fighting, complaining, but just bowing to our eternal King of kings and trusting Him because no matter what is happening around us, our King, Jesus will continue to advance HIS cause, and HIS cause is YOUR cause, for YOUR eternal benefit! Come quickly Lord Jesus! Amen.

Live with an Eternal Focus!

4th Sunday after Epiphany
Daniel 3:13-27

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, friends in Christ, there’s definitely a reason why God designed it that women are the ones who give birth to children.  Women typically carry a child around inside of them for about 9 months, they seem to have a higher tolerance for physical pain, and on average women tend to live longer than men.  Kudos to all of you women!  As a man I’m not sure I could deal with the pain of giving birth to a child.  I remember when my oldest child, Megan, was born.  As young parents we had no idea what it was going to be like.  I remember being at Katie’s side as she is in intense pain and she looks at me and says, “I don’t think I can do it!”  That was scary!  I didn’t know what to say!  So, what did I say?  “Oh yes you can dear, you can do it!”  But I had no idea!  And everything did in fact work out.  Last November my son was born and as I was at my dear wife’s side as she was in pain at one point she looked at me again and said, “I don’t think I can do it!”  But this time I wasn’t really scared at all and just smiled and say, “Honey, I know you can do it, you’ve already done it 3 times.”  And she made it through.  It’s nice to know how something is going to turn out beforehand, isn’t it?

I mean, think about it, what would it be like to go into a job interview knowing already beforehand that you already had the job?  Or, what would it be like to sit down to take a major test already knowing that you were going to ace it?  Or, how would you feel about going through some sort of medical exam knowing beforehand that they’re going to discover that there’s nothing wrong and you’re quite healthy?  Or, you’re sitting down to watch your favorite team battle it out in the Super Bowl, but you already know beforehand that in the end they’re going to win?  You see, knowing the outcome of something beforehand has a way of removing the drama, the fear, the wonder, the uncertainty, the consternation out of whatever it is that you’re facing.

Now, wouldn’t it be nice to already know the outcome of the most important thing in all of life?  Sure!  And we see that in our text for this morning.

It’s around the late 500s BC.  The northern kingdom of Israel has already been incredibly unfaithful to God and so conquered and hauled off to captivity and pretty much disintegrated as a nation.  The southern kingdom of Judah, although they should have learned the lesson and remained faithful to God and His Word, they didn’t.  So now God allowed Nebuchadnezzar the powerful and ruthless king of Babylon to conquer Judah.

Now certainly Nebuchadnezzar did his fair share of killing, but he had a bit of a different approach when he took other nations over.  Once he defeated a nation he would search through the people and find the best and the brightest of them and make them part of his ruling regime.  One of whom was Daniel and in chapter 2 we’re told that at Daniel’s request Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were promoted to high positions.  So, here you have the Babylonian nation with all kinds of people from different nations, backgrounds, cultures, religions in your regime.  And so, in an effort to make sure everyone knows that his gods, the gods of Babylon, must be superior to everyone else’s god and in order to bring some sort of religious unity among all his people, Nebuchadnezzar has this huge statue of a god built.

So picture it: Rows and rows of officials, hundreds, possibly thousands, anyone who was anybody in the most powerful nation of the world at the time stood at attention before this image that Nebuchadnezzar had built waiting tensely for the orchestra to begin and bow down and pay homage to this…statue.  And anyone who failed to fall down, to prostrate themselves, and worship this image would be guilty of a double crime: disobeying the king and disloyalty to Babylon and her “great” gods.  The penalty was death by fire in a furnace already prepared for any rebels.  This was no idle threat!

But then there’s Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego probably around 20 years old.  They refused.  And in a huge crowd where everyone else is falling down and you’re the only ones standing up…you’re not going to be hard to notice.  So, furious, Nebuchadnezzar has them brought to him.  Probably appalled that these people whom HE had promoted could be so defiant he gives them another chance.  Then with a bit of arrogance and to “prove” how powerful he and his gods are said, “If you don’t worship it, you’ll be immediately thrown into this blazing fire, then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”

So here’s their choice: a. Don’t bow down and be thrown into a blazing furnace or b. bow down and live.  Now, let’s think about it.  What would you have done at this point?  What would I have done?  Those 3 men could have rationalized all sorts of different reasons to bow down, right?  “We’ll do it, just this once, hardly anyone will notice.  The king told me to do it, so I’d better.  Everyone else is doing it, so I probably can too.  We’ll just do it, but we won’t really mean it.  What about our lives?  Isn’t staying alive the most important thing in life?  Certainly God will understand!  Our lives, aren’t they worth far more alive than dead?  Think about what we can do for our fellow Jews who are in captivity just because we have positions of power!”

We all would like to say that we would have remained firm, but then again, do we not often find many ways of rationalizing our own sinful behavior to make it sound “not that bad.”  We can come up with our own rating scale of sins maybe telling a little lie or sharing a little gossip, isn’t all that bad.  It’s all right to do this sin because no one else will be affected or no one else will find out.  If I don’t go along with the crowd, I’ll be ridiculed or people might not like me, certainly God wants people to like me, right?

But these three men didn’t.  They stood firm.  In fact they told the king, “We don’t even need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.”  Nebuchadnezzar had no right to interfere with their relationship with God.  And they knew God would save them, perhaps intervening, perhaps not, but either way they would not serve Neb’s gods or bow down to his image of gold.  Talk about kicking Neb in the teeth!  He was furious ordered the furnace 7x hotter, so hot it killed his best soldiers who threw the three men in!

What were they thinking??  How’d they do it?  How’d they stand up to such a powerful and ruthless guy?  It’s so different than what we’d expect.  It’s so easy for us to think we need to cling to this life with all that we have.  It’s so easy to think that staying alive is what is most important in life.  And it’s so easy to prioritize our earthly life like this is the be all and end all of our existence.  We’re ready to let anything get in the way of our relationship with God or ready to forsake God if our hopes and dreams in life are threatened.  And if we we’re faced with death, how would we react?  With joy?  “All right! I’m going to heaven sooner than I thought!” Or with sadness and sorrow?  These men were ready to die than to compromise their faith in God!

Why?  Well, they knew God’s power, but they also knew God’s faithfulness.  They knew that God always keeps His Word and that one day God would send the Savior who would save them from their sins.  And since God is faithful, they knew eternal life was theirs.  Think about how God describes heaven to us: a place without mourning, crying or pain, a place where we’ll have a glorified and glorious body, a place where the streets are paved with gold (if gold is used for the most mundane thing as paving roads- how glorious!),  an incredible mansion, a place of total and complete peace and joy!  That’s amazing!  To cling to this life or get all caught up in this life and jeapordize that life?  That’d be crazy!!

These men were focused on God and on eternal life and so it didn’t matter if they were going to die.  And then God did something amazing.  He saved them, the fire did no harm to them, God sent an angel to protect them.  Neb couldn’t believe what he saw and humbly had to say, “Hey guys, can you come out here?”  Not a hair singed, they didn’t even smell like smoke!  In other words, you have a God who’s powerful enough to do anything!

And so I have a challenge for you and me.  This week, live your life with an eternal focus!  Live your life realizing that this life isn’t the goal, that the things of this life aren’t the things which really matter.  Live your life focusing on God, His love for you, the eternal home which He’s won for you in Jesus.  In other words, live your life like you’re one of these three men.   And you know what?  Focusing on eternal life, knowing the final outcome of your life, knowing how everything will turn out in the end, frees you from the fears, worries, uncertainties of life because you have a home in heaven and that’s what really matters!

You are Part of the Rock!

3rd Wednesday of Advent
Daniel 2:35, 44-45

Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel!  In the name of Jesus, our Savior and our Rock, dear friends in Christ,

The financial and insurance company Prudential has an interesting logo.  Their logo is based off a gigantic rock, the Rock of Gibraltar, located at the southern tip of Spain and at the beginning of the Strait of Gibraltar that connects the Mediterranean with the Atlantic ocean.  Why would a financial and insurance company choose a logo that features a gigantic and massive rock?  Among other things it wants people to know that it’s company is set off far above all others and sits on the summit of a rock-solid foundation.  And no doubt it helps.  People want security, firmness, stability.  We want to know that we stand on solid ground, that our lives are secure.

Now, if we want to make sure that our lives are secure and on solid foundation temporally, wouldn’t it make even more sense that we’d want our lives to be set on solid ground spiritually?

Jesus told us in the gospel for this evening exactly how our lives are spiritually solid.  He said that the man who hears His Word and puts it into practice is like the man who built his house on a rock.  When we hear God’s Word and do what He tells us God gives us more joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.  All the things that we need in order to have a good life God gives to us in the Word.  And through the Word God gives us a firm and solid foundation.

Yet, in our sin we make a mess of it.  We fail to get into His Word regularly.  We fail to study it.  We fail to put into practice what He tells us.  And so our lives become more messed up, we become more insecure, and most importantly, we miss out on some of the spiritual security God wants us to have!

So once again we’re reminded of our need for a Savior, our need for forgiveness, and God gives it to us.  He assures us again and again, even tonight, that Jesus lived, died, and rose for you to give you the very forgiveness that you need and further He gives us the security we need- the absolute truth that because of Jesus we KNOW eternal life is yours, is mine!  That’s real security.

And God wants us to know it and have it!  So He gives us further accounts like this one before us to assure us even more of the security that is ours in Him.  Our text this evening is from the book of Daniel.  At this time the Jews are in captivity in Babylon.  Some of them have been taken into the governing system of Babylon.  God gave Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, a troubling dream.  And so, he wanted an interpretation.  So he asked all his wise men for two things: a. That they tell him what his dream was and b. that they explain it.

Why make such a requirement?  Was it perhaps because some of the wise men claimed a connection to the gods?  And Neb was searching for some spiritual security and certainty too? And this was a test to see if any of them really did?  Perhaps.  Well, none of the wise men could interpret it and they said, “No one is able to do what the king asks!”  Fed up and furious Neb ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon.  So Daniel, one of the wise men, encouraged his fellow believers to pray that God would give him the insight into the dream.  And God did!  So they brought Daniel to the King and this is what happened: (read text starting at Daniel 2:27 – 2:45)

We have the opportunity to look through history and see how God fulfilled this dream. The statue represented 4 kingdoms: the head of gold was the Babylonian empire, grand and glorious but not very long lasting, then came silver chest and arms which was the Medo-Persian kingdom, less glorious but lasting a little longer, then came the bronze belly and thighs, which was the Greek kingdom of Alexander the Great, less glorious, then came the legs and feet of Iron or iron and clay which was the Roman kingdom.  But we want to focus on the rock.

It’s cut out – not by human hands.  It smashes that statue to smithereens, and grows and grows until it becomes a great mountain! And who is that mountain?  It’s you and me!  It’s the church, the believers in Jesus!  YOU are a piece of that rock!  Oh, it begins with Jesus.  He’s the Cornerstone.  He’s the Savior!  He’s the One upon whom the Church is built!  He went to the cross and won forgiveness for us humans!

And through all of time God has been calling people to faith in Jesus.  Through all of time God has been leading people to trust that Jesus is THE Savior, that He’s the only way to heaven.  And so as kingdoms of this earth come and go and come and go, the Church of God continues to add members to it, continues to grow in numbers, continues to grow in strength.  Oh, it may not look that way – on this side of eternity, the church often seems to be attacked and forlorn and often losing.

But the reality is, God’s Church is a mountain!  God’s Church is strong!  God’s Church endures!  God Church is firm and sure!  And YOU are that Church!  God has called you to trust that Jesus is the Savior.  That was all God’s work.  He baptized you, claiming you as His child.  He feeds you with His own body and blood in the Lord’s Supper.  He uses the Word and the Sacraments to keep building your faith.  It’s HIS work, His alone.

But you get the blessings!  You get the sure knowledge that your sins are forgiven, you get the sure knowledge that God loves you.  You get the absolutely sure knowledge that you are a child of God, that you’re on the way to eternal life!  YOUR eternal life is firm, sure, standing as firm and sure as a mountain!

And so in a world which is searching for firmness, searching for reliability, searching for security, you have it.  You are a part of this “rock”, this mountain. You are part of God’s Church, a member of God’s family.  Your eternity is certain and sure, bought by the blood of Jesus.  And knowing that, you and I will once again in one week have a very merry Christmas.  Amen.

Look Behind the Scenes!

3rd Sunday of End Times – Saints Triumphant

Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, “Get an exclusive look ‘behind the scenes’!” “Get a one-of-a-kind sneak preview!”  “Win a backstage pass to meet so-and-so in person!”  We hear things like that a lot, don’t we?  So many things in our world offer a “behind the scenes” look at something.  And it’s intriguing, isn’t it?  It whets our appetite, doesn’t it?  To get the opportunity to see the real thing, the reality, the real person behind the play acting before everyone else.  To get a perspective on something that most people don’t get the opportunity to do so.  Well, in a similar way, there’s a veil or curtain in front of every single living person today.  There are certain things about life that we simply can’t see.  We can’t see the great spiritual battle between the evil forces of the devil and God’s angelic forces that’s going on all around us.  We can’t see with our eyes the future and know exactly what’s going to take place.  We can’t see with our eyes exactly what it will be like after we die.  There is a veil; there’s a curtain that we can’t see behind.  But here in Daniel chapter 12 God gives us a glimpse behind that curtain, He gives us a look behind that veil, a look behind the scenes to the future and to the reality.  And it’s this look behind the scenes that gives us believers in Jesus a new perspective on life.

The book of Daniel is incredibly interesting.  Remember that Daniel was from a distinguished Jewish family, but in about 605 BC his nation was invaded and he, along with many others, was hauled off to captivity in Babylon and placed in the service of Nebuchadnezzar’s government.  Daniel lived to be around 90 years and went through a lot in his lifetime- a lot of which causes us to wince or have chills.  He watched as one of the most powerful people in the world at the time went utterly insane and started grazing like an animal.  Fellow believers Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were sent to be fried to a crisp in a fiery furnace for their faith in God.  He witnessed the entire nation of Babylon crumble and a new nation of the Medes and Persians take over.  Then Daniel for his faith in God was tossed into a pit to be chomped to pieces by hungry lions, but God rescued him.  Then, if that isn’t enough, God gave Daniel a series of visions in the last half of the book.  Visions about what would happen before the Messiah would come the first time and the second time.  There would be great armies battling each other, great kings- none Jewish! – would be in power, the temple would be desecrated, daily sacrifices would stop, even the anti-Christ would come set himself up in the midst of believers and lead many astray!

Can you imagine how Daniel felt?  I’m guessing he might have felt that was more of a behind-the-scenes tour than he had bargained for!  There were times in these visions he was afraid and frightened and collapsed with fear.  Well, our text for this morning is from near the end of the last vision.  And to top it all off we hear “There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then.”  Wow!

These words of our text were not just a sneak preview for Daniel, they’re also meant for us.  Here God fast forwards from a few hundred years after Daniel to either our day today or sometime yet to come.  But the fact is, before the end there will be an unparalleled and unavoidable time of distress for God’s people.  In fact, Jesus promised the same thing.  So, can you relate to Daniel?  Have you looked at the world scene and been filled with fear, doubt, uncertainty, worry, fright?  Have you been there?  Have you found yourself worrying about the future and what’s going to happen?  There’s a lot of crazy stuff going on in the world.  Are we living in this last distress?

You see there is, beyond the ability of our eyes to see, a great struggle going on.  The world by right is God’s and yet at the same time the devil and his minions have counter claimed it.  There is a struggle and battle going on between the forces of God and the forces opposed to God.   The forces against God are after God’s people, you and I, and want nothing more than to undermine our faith in Christ.

Are we in this time now?  Our world has certainly seen many distressful things, but this final distress tops them all.  Well, we might say, “At least we aren’t experiencing the atrocities that Daniel and his friends experienced.”  True, but how many of us would be ready and willing to be burned alive for confessing our faith in Christ our Savior?  Yes, today we have many modern conveniences, technology like no other generation before us, mass communication, transportation, we might think we have it pretty good and don’t live in distressful times.  But what about spiritually? The number of people who regularly attend church, at least in this country, is in a rapid decline.  And even among those who do go to church, so many churches today have wandered so far from God and His Word that you can hardly consider them a church.  We do live in distressful times.  And yet even for us we are so often distracted from what is most important.  A few generations ago when the only book people had to read was the Bible, they knew it well.  Today we have computers, internet, TV, magazines, trillions of books, and we find increasing difficulty in our own lives to open God’s book.  Leaving our souls as open targets for the devil.  We live in distressful times.  So should we worry, fear, collapse on the ground in fright?

It may seem pretty bad, but take a look as God gives you a glance behind the scenes.  He has employed His great angelic prince Michael to defend His people.  “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people will arise”; commissioned by God and at His service.  We can’t see it with our eyes but throughout history God’s angels have been actively working behind the scenes to accomplish God’s purposes.  And even today and in the final distress we have the assurance from God that He will send His angelic forces who will successfully deliver “everyone whose name is found written in the book.”  What comfort for you to know!  No matter how bad it gets, God remains in control and will deliver His people no matter what!  The huffing and puffing of God’s enemies will come to a stop when God delivers all those who are in his family registry, loved and chosen by Him from the beginning!

But what about that one enemy that each of us dreads?  That enemy that causes us such sadness and turmoil?  Death.  Death is the unwelcome guest in every household.  And, as someone once said, the death rate is amazingly consistent: one per person.  No matter what medical advances are made, no matter what diet program we go on, no matter what pills we take, one day death will catch up to each one of us.  Why? Because we are sinful and the wages of sin is death.  Death is our final enemy.  Should we fear it and dread it?  God gives us a look behind the scenes:

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”  You see, even that enemy has been conquered.  Jesus took death head on.  He died on the cross, but then he rose from the grave!  Jesus defeated death, He triumphed over death by rising from the dead!  Death couldn’t hold Him and it can’t hold you either!  The worst thing that can happen to you is death and even that Jesus has turned into a mere sleep from which He will wake you up.  On the Last Day Jesus will victoriously raise you and give you a glorious and glorified body fit to live forever in an existence that is absolutely perfect and never ending!

However, that day will be utterly horrible for those who spent their lives evading God.  On that fateful day God will say to them, “You want to be rid of me, you want to be rid of my Word, fine, be rid of me – forever!”  God isn’t some spineless being who won’t do more than slap someone on the wrist.  That’s not the way God pictures himself.  God is perfectly just, those who reject Him pay the price.  And it’s this look behind the scenes and knowing how awesome it will be for the believer but how horrible for the unbeliever that makes us want to tell them, the share the truth, the wisdom of Christ crucified by inviting a friend to church, studying Scripture with a friend, an acquaintance, a coworker, bringing our children faithfully to church and God’s promise is that, “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.”

What’s behind the scene, what awaits you in heaven?  Glory far too imaginable for your mind to comprehend here on earth, no tears, no sorrow, no pain, no hardship, eternal blessedness, eternal joy, eternal peace!  An amazing and glorified body, cleansed of sin and all its effects, life forever with Jesus, feasting at the marriage banquet of the Lamb!  Wow!  And knowing that makes all the difference.  Yea, there may be difficult times in your life, you may experience trouble or pain or suffering, life might throw some curveballs, you may wonder what in the world is going on, but that isn’t the full reality.  Through the eyes of faith God’s given you an exclusive preview of ultimate reality, of the glory that awaits you beyond the grave in heaven.  So you can deal with anything.  Why?  Because you know the reality, you’ve seen behind the scenes, you know what awaits!

And so today on Saints Triumphant Sunday we remember those who have gone before us.  We aren’t filled with sadness or melancholy, but joy.  They have WON, they have finished the race, they know joy like none other, they know what it’s like to be free of pain and sorrow, to have their tears wiped away and to see Jesus face to face.  They are saints triumphant.  And one day?  We’re going to join them!  Then behind the scenes will become the reality!  Amen.

Faith in the Face of Opposition

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.