Don’t Miss the Point

The Rich Man and Lazarus

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

A Life Changing Moment

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Transfiguration Sunday
Matthew 17:1-9

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, our transfigured Lord and Savior, dear friends in Christ, have you ever had a “life-changing moment”? Have you ever had an experience that totally changed the way you view something or the way you live? Perhaps you’re someone who never wore a seat belt, never took the time to put it on. You know all the statistics about the safety of wearing a seat belt, you’ve been told the importance over and over again. You knew the facts, the information but still just didn’t wear a seat belt.  But then you met someone or had a close friend who had what should have been a minor accident but ended up flying through the windshield, nearly dying and had to get 150 stiches in the face. All of a sudden you decided that wearing a seat belt wasn’t a bad idea after all.

I had a life-changing moment when I was 17 years old. At the time I was driving a pick up truck for a portable toilet company and was on my way back from picking up several units. I had a terrible headache at the time. I knew all the facts and dangers about driving while you were drowsy or fatigued- it wasn’t a problem with a lack of knowledge. But as I was driving tired, head really hurting, I laid back in my seat and decided to close my eyes for just a second- give them a rest. The next thing I know I was out, I crossed the center line and was headed toward the opposite ditch and into a bunch of trees when the truck mirror clipped a road sign, smashed the window right next to me, waking me up. It could have been a lot worse. It was a life changing moment. Now whenever I’m tempted to feel sleepy while driving I don’t think of statistics or information, but just have to remember that experience, that incident and I’m fully awake.

Have you ever had a life-changing moment like that? Today we’re looking at the account about Jesus’ transfiguration. This wasn’t meant to just be a life-changing moment for the disciples, but a life-changing moment for us. We’re told that this happened “after six days.” Well, it’s important for us to learn what happened about a week earlier. About a week earlier Jesus had asked his disciples who people say that he is. They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” But then Jesus asked them, “what about you? Who do you say I am?” And Peter spoke up for the others and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” He was absolutely right! But after that Jesus began to explain to his disciples for the first time that he was going to suffer many things, be killed, and be raised to life. At that Peter began to rebuke Jesus, “Never Lord! This shall never happen to you!” So what did Jesus do? Jesus rebuked Peter! You see, Peter’s problem wasn’t so much with a lack of information- he knew intellectually who Jesus is- he confessed Jesus as God Himself- but that truth hadn’t worked its way deep down into his heart. He was rebuking God Himself!

So, six days later Jesus took Peter, James and John up a high mountain. And while he was there “he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” Glory is just beaming out of Jesus. You see, in our Old Testament lesson we heard about glory reflecting from Moses’ face- that was reflected glory from being in the presence of God, what we see here with Jesus is inherent glory, glory is streaming from Jesus. God is pulling back the veil and we’re seeing a glimpse of Jesus’ incredible, blinding glory as the Son of the Living God. Then all of a sudden Moses and Elijah appear talking with Jesus, having a conversation with Jesus. Peter is so overcome with this experience that he blurts out, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters- one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Whatever it was that Peter wanted, one thing is clear, he wants to prolong this glorious experience.

But then all of a sudden there a bright cloud that enveloped them and a voice from the cloud that said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” Now there is absolutely no doubt: Jesus is God’s very own Son, Jesus is loved and pleased with what Jesus is doing, and we are to listen to him. When the disciples heard the voice their terrified and they hit the deck, but then Jesus comes to them, touches them, and says, “Get up, don’t be afraid.” They look up and all they saw was Jesus and they head back down the mountain.

I’m going to guess that the disciples were never quite the same after this incredible life-changing experience. In fact, we know that the disciple John, years later, wrote in His gospel: “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) And, as we saw in our 2nd lesson this morning, the disciple Peter wrote, “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.” (2 Peter 1:16-18)

How is this a life-changing moment for the disciples? How is it for us? Two things: the glory of Jesus’ power and the glory of Jesus’ love. First His power. Who does this? Jesus goes up this mountain with 3 of his disciples and is transfigured before them. The glory of God doesn’t reflect off of him, but shines from Him. The writer of the book of Hebrews helps us out, it says about Jesus, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” For the most part Jesus seemed fairly normal, he looked just like us humans, he walked, he talked, he taught in the streets. But there were moments like this where God pulled back the veil to reveal exactly who Jesus is- the Son of God, with all the power, majesty, and glory of God himself. That’s what the transfiguration shows us.

Now you say, “I know that, Jesus is God, I understand that, I know that as a fact.” You get an A on the doctrine class test this morning. It’s one thing to know it and it’s another to let that truth sink deep in our hearts so it becomes a life-changing moment.  If Jesus is God, if Jesus is the all-powerful Creator of the universe, if Jesus is the all-supreme ruler of all things, the radiance of God’s glory, the one who sustains all things by His powerful Word, if that’s who Jesus is, why are you so scared? Why are you so afraid about what’s going to happen tomorrow or next week? Why are you so worried about that problem that you’re facing? Why are you so anxious? Why are you so full of anxiety?

What you need is to go with Peter, James and John on this mountain. What you need is a mountain top experience. Imagine being there! Imagine seeing Jesus beaming with divine glory, He is the Son of God, He has power over all things! He has all glory. What is glory? Glory doesn’t just mean radiance and greatness, in the Hebrew, the word “glory” has the idea of weight of being heavy. You see, Jesus is God, that means all glory, greatness, weight belong to Him. But what’s going on when we’re worried? We’re giving more weight, more glory, to the circumstance instead of Jesus. What happens when you’re afraid? You’re putting more weight in whatever you’re afraid of than in Jesus. What happens when you’re anxious? You’re putting more weight in things or in the situation instead of in Jesus. But what do we see on this mountain top? Jesus has all power and all glory! Put more weight in Him! Put more weight in His Words than in your situation! He says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18) Right now in heaven the song is being sung to Jesus, “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever Amen!” (Revelation 7:12)

But there’s something else here. We could never be moved if all we knew was Jesus’ power. If God only revealed to us the power of Jesus, we would have to live in fear. We also need His love. Jesus is basking in incredible glory here and He could stay here, but He doesn’t. The power, the glory of Jesus along with the voice of God terrifies the disciples. They’re on the ground. But notice what Jesus does. He comes to them, touches them- a touch often conveys compassion and warmth- and he tells them, “Get up, don’t be afraid.” And when they look up it’s only Jesus and what happens next? Jesus goes down the mountain. What’s so significant about that? The reason He went down the mountain. Jesus knew full well what He was about to face, He knew what we’re going to look at again this Lenten season, He knew the sufferings, the crucifixion, the wrath and punishment of God that He was going endure and…He went, He faced it, He endured it all! Why so? Because He knew that there was no other way for you and me to be saved eternally, if He didn’t die. He saw you and He loved you. The Lord of the universe thought it was worth His while to come down into this world and experience infinite agony and loss just to have a relationship with you.

Now, think about it, because of what Jesus has done, God finds you to be an absolute delight. True or false? “Well true,” you say. Well, then, why are you depressed? Why are you so bothered by criticism? Why do you get irritable? Why are you so harsh? Why do you say things you know you shouldn’t say? What do you need? You need a mountain top experience. See His love- the Lord of all thought about you and went down that mountain to die for you, to forgive all your sins, because He loves you that much! Put more weight in that than anything else in life. Put more weight in what God says about you than what anyone else says about you. Put more weight, more glory in what God says: “I have loved you with an everlasting love, I have called you by name, you are mine, as far as the east is from the west so far has he removed your transgressions from you, take and eat this is my body, take and drink this is my blood.”

Where do you hear those things? You hear it in God’s Word. Where is your mountaintop experience? Where do you go to see Jesus’ glory- the glory of His power for you and the glory of His love for you? “This is my Son whom I love with him I am well pleased. Listen to him.” You go to His Word. God to His Word, Listen to your Savior, think about it, meditate on it, apply it to your life and it will be a life-changing moment. Amen.

Hold on to His Word!

6th Sunday of Easter – Confirmation
John 14:23-29

To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins in 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

Do you know what a cliff-hanger is? It’s a plot device found in books or movies or shows where the main character is involved in a very precarious or difficult situation or dilemma right at the very end of the story. Now, I’m not entirely sure of the history of the term, but I would suppose that it refers to both the show and the viewer in a way. To the viewer, you feel like you’re on the edge of the cliff wondering what’s going to happen next and you’re going to have to “hold on” until the next installment. But to the character in the show, I’m going to guess it comes from the scenario where the character is actually or figuratively on the edge of a cliff, holding on to the edge and it their holding on is literally the difference between life and death. A cliff hanger – holding on.

Your life is somewhat like a “cliff hanger.” No, probably not as dramatic and no one is probably going to want to make a film or a book about it. But the stakes are much higher than life and death, the stakes are eternal life and eternal death. Jesus told His disciples the day before he was crucified, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching…He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.” What’s interesting is what this literally says in the Greek. First, the word translated “teaching” is literally “Word”- “If anyone loves me, he will obey my Word.” Also, in Greek the word translated “obey” is the word tereo. Tereo literally means to “hold on tightly to something.” The image that comes to my mind is someone dangling off a cliff and their entire life depends on whether or not they are going to “hold on tightly” or not.

Jesus is here intimately connecting your love for Him as your Savior with your “holding on tightly” to His Word. I would guess that if I asked each of you here personally if you love Jesus, the answer would be, “Yes, I love Jesus.” The next question would then be, “Do you hold on tightly to His Word?” And, again, I would guess everyone here would nod and say, “Yes.” So, the follow up question would then be: If someone had watched your life during this past week- what you do and what you say, would they have come to the conclusion that the Word of God is not just some facet of your life, but IS your life? Would an unbiased observer have concluded – based on the way that you lived this past week, based on the amount of time you spent in the Word this past week – that you are “holding on tightly to the Word of God” and that the Word of God is the love and center of your life?

We have been blessed to live at a time and in a place where we have amazing opportunities to be into the Word.  We have several excellent translations of the Bible from which we can choose.  We have all sorts of Bibles available to us – study Bibles and One-year Bibles and children’s Bibles and illustrated Bibles, etc.  We can get the Bible on our computer and on our Nooks and Kindles and even on our smart phones.  And all that is amazing!

But does it perhaps lead us to forget just what it is which we have?  Remember, when we read the Word, that’s GOD speaking to us!  It’s the Almighty God having a conversation with us, telling us what’s on His mind and on His heart.  Wouldn’t it make sense that we would just absolutely treasure that?  That we would absolutely crave it?  That we could hardly wait to hear more from it?  After all, these words are our life, for they come from the God who gives life!

If someone watched your life this past week, would it be clear to them that you hold on tightly to God’s Word? It’s a cliff hanger. Are you holding on or are you letting go?

You know, someone did watch your life this past week. God watched. The same God who gave us His Word also paid attention to how we held on to His Word. He paid attention to how much time we spent in it, how much we treasured it, how much we put it into practice in our lives. To what conclusion did God come when He did that? Remember Jesus’ words? “If anyone loves me, he will hold on to my Word…He who does not love me will not hold on to my Word.” The way we treat God’s Word is intimately connected to our heart’s truest desires. Yes, we need to work and have a job, but did my desire for more money, more stuff, more advancement lead me to let God of time spent with God in His Word? Yes rest and relaxation are important, but did I let rest, relaxation, entertainment cause me to let go of time spent with God and His Word?

And remember, when we fail to hold on to God’s Word, who gets hurt? God doesn’t get hurt. We get hurt! For in the Word, God wants to give us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control. All the things we need for a good life, he wants to give us. When we fail to be into the Word, we lose those things, and thereby we get hurt. As Ray, an inmate in our county jail told me this past week, “If I had more self-control, I wouldn’t be in here.” We get hurt personally, and because we have less love, joy, peace, patience, our marriages get hurt, our relationship with other people gets hurt, our relationship with our children, with our parents, with our siblings gets hurt. Jesus said, “if you love me, you will hold on to my Word, if you don’t love me you won’t.” It’s a cliff hanger- the effects are eternal – are you going to hold on or let go?

For people who have over and over again let go, for people who have loved this or that more than Jesus and His Word, for people like you and me, what hasn’t God done? He hasn’t taken His Word away! Amazingly, graciously, lovingly God continues to bring His Word to us, continues to give us opportunities to hear, to read, to study, to learn His Word. That’s what we did in confirmation. Over the past 3 years Katelynn’s had a chance to study God’s Word regularly. And it’s just a starting point, a starting point of an entire lifetime of growing closer to Jesus through His Word. And every time we hear God’s Word God gives us life. Through the Word Jesus sends the Holy Spirit who reminds us that we’ve been redeemed, washed, forgiven, cleansed fully and completely from our sins by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” He reminds us in His Word that He is a God who loves to save. He’s eternal, He’s all powerful, He’s always been and will always be. He rules all things for the good of His people. He wants all to be saved and to come to know the truth. He reminds us that he will strengthen us, help us, uphold us with his righteous right hand.

And what’s the result? As we hold on to His Word Jesus tells us that He actually makes his home inside of us. He lives in us, takes up residence inside of us. And He gives us peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” He calms our hearts, settles our fears, gives us peace. That’s something you’ll never get in the world. Sins are forgiven, life eternal is ours.

So hold on. Hold on to Jesus and His Word. Amen.

Put it in Proper Perspective

19th Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 9:38-50

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, Micropsia and macropsia. Ever heard of those before? They are both visual problems that people can have with their eyes. Micropsia causes people to see things as smaller than they actually are – so like looking the opposite way through a pair of binoculars. Macropsia causes people to see things as much larger than they actually are. Similarly there’s a cognitive behavioral theory about the problem people can have called magnification and minimization. Magnification means blowing something way out of proportion or making a mountain out of a molehill.  Minimization is lessening the importance of something that is really significant.

Well, to a certain degree, each of us has problems in losing our perspective in things in life. What is normal is seeing things as they really are. That’s the reality and that’s the proper perspective. Well, the ultimate reality about life is found in God. In incredible love, God has chosen to fill us in on ultimate reality in the form of words in a book, the Bible. So, if we want to have a proper perspective on life we need to hear and take to heart the words God has given His book. Satan and every evil thing wants to distort our perspectives, to cause us to see things in wrong proportions, to make molehills into mountains and mountains into molehills.

The disciples were having this trouble. Just before our text Jesus had been transfigured and Peter, James, and John had seen it. Then the disciples were unable to drive out an evil spirit from a boy, but Jesus did. Then the disciples were traveling to Capernaum and were arguing about who was the greatest. And apparently there had been an incident where the disciples saw someone driving out demons in Jesus’ name. Let’s think about that for a bit. He was driving out demons- that’s a good thing! And he’s doing it in Jesus’ name. What does that tell us? That means he loved the name of Jesus, honored Jesus’ name, and must have been a believer. However, he wasn’t one of the 12 disciples, he didn’t have the credentials and the associations that they had. So the disciples tried to get him to stop. Had they done the right thing? They didn’t have the right perspective.

Jesus’ response was, “No, do not stop him.” Instead of trying to stop this man, they should rejoice in the success that Jesus was doing through him. And here’s a little test: even a cup of water given to someone because he or she is a follower of Jesus is a display of faith and love. Faith is made evident by actions. Driving out demons was an act of faith.

Do you see what Jesus is doing? He’s refocusing their and our perspective on true greatness. It’s so easy for us to magnify our own greatness and look down on others. The disciples here seemed to think that only they were the ones authorized to do great things for the Lord. That leads us to ask: Are we ready to rejoice at the success of others? How do we feel when another Christian church is growing? “Oh, they’re probably just watering down the Bible, they’re telling people what they want to hear and not what they need to hear.” Perhaps. Certainly we want God’s Word to be taught accurately everywhere. But can we harbor jealousy in our hearts over the success of others? Actually, we can even become jealous about the faith of others! With negative remarks, comments, gossip we can be guilty of getting in the way and trying to stop what God is doing through others. Let’s ask ourselves: Do I have a negative attitude about God’s kingdom? Does my negative or divisive attitude get in the way of God’s work? Do I have bloated idea of my importance in God’s kingdom? Do I look down on others? We all need to examine our hearts: Am I getting in the way of God’s ministry? We’re guilty.

We need God to give us a proper perspective. Jesus didn’t have a negative attitude about God’s kingdom or a bloated view of His greatness, rather, He came to serve and to die on a cross not just for the sins of the 12 disciples but for the negativity, jealousy, and bloated ideas of us all. Jesus came in order to die to win eternal life for John, for Peter, for the disciples, for you and for me. God gives us an eternal perspective. When we have that perspective the goal of encouraging the faith of others becomes more and more important and the ambition to prove our own greatness becomes less and less.

Not only are we guilty of magnifying our own greatness, but it’s just as easy to minimize the danger of our own sin. Jesus also puts sin into a proper perspective. “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.” Wow! If someone causes a “little one” -could be a child, could be some young in faith regardless of age – if anyone causes someone to sin, literally the word is for the stick in a dead-fall trap. So it is to be caught or destroyed. In other words, if anyone destroys the faith of a child or a childlike believer, it would be better for that person to die a horribly violent death than to face the wrath of Jesus. If our words or our actions harm the faith of someone else? Not good. Why not? Because eternity is at stake!

Sin is serious! Not only can we destroy the faith of others, we can also destroy our own faith! So, if your hand causes you to sin…cut it off! If your foot causes you to sin…cut it off! If your eye causes you to sin…pluck it out! I recently met a man. He’s 90 years old and had a blood clot in his leg and for whatever reason they thought they couldn’t get rid of it, so they said they might have to amputate his leg in order to save his life. That’s what surgeons will do – they will cut off limbs if necessary to spare a person’s life. Likewise, if any part of your body is causing you to sin, get rid of it! Falling away from faith must be avoided at all costs! Anything that’s leading us away from God must be dealt with before it destroys our faith- radical change is needed! Turn off the TV, get rid of the computer, throw away the book or magazine, break the friendship, pour out the alcohol. In the movie “Fireproof” which is about someone losing his marriage because of internet pornography, the one scene that I can vividly picture is him smashing his computer with a baseball bat.

But think about it a bit deeper. Does your hand move all by itself, or your leg move all by itself? Isn’t there really a heart behind those body parts that directs them? The real issue is the heart, the will. A radical change of heart is needed. And if we think it’s too radical to cut off a hand or pluck out an eye, let’s consider the alternative. God gives us a proper perspective on hell. Hell is fire that is never, never put out, worms, maggots eating the flesh of decaying corpses and never, ever finishing. We have no fire on earth that isn’t quenchable, we can’t relate to how horrible hell really is. Why do we need to know this? Because sin isn’t something to play around with. Sin’s endgame is absolutely horrible! Why would we want that? What sin is troubling you? Listen to Jesus: Cut it off!! Pluck it out!!

Hell isn’t for you and me. You see, Jesus already suffered a world’s eternity of hells. He did so on the cross as God the Father forsook Him. He suffered hell for you and for me. Why? So that we never would, so that we would never know what unquenchable fire is. Hell isn’t for you. Jesus won you heaven! He did so with His death and His resurrection. Your sins are forgiven, your slate has been wiped free, sins shackles have been removed from your wrists, Jesus has set you free, free from sin’s slavery. Free to cut sin out and leave it behind.

And how do you know that? You know that from one place: God’s Word. “Everyone will be salted with fire.” That’s a strange statement. But think about it: what was salt used for back then? Salt was a preservative. What is it that preserves our souls? Really it’s God’s Word. When God’s powerful Word is working in our hearts and minds we’re full of salt. But there’s no salt for salt. If we lose our saltiness how can we make it salty again? If we stop using God’s Word to preserve us in faith and guide us in life, we become saltless salt, we can become worldly and unbelieving.

Have salt in yourselves.” Keep the Word dear to you. Be full of the salt of God’s Word. Let it burn away the germs of sin, of pride, of jealousy, of bitterness, of envy. Be full of the salt of God’s Word because by it God puts your life in proper perspective. Eternity is what matters most of all – remember that as you deal with fellow believers and God blesses their efforts or their faith. Eternity is what matters most of all – remember that as you watch your words and actions so they don’t lead someone into sin and destroy their faith. Eternity is what matters most of all – remember that when you’re tempted to commit sin- any sin. Eternity is what matters most of all so keep the salt of God’s Word close to your hearing, your heart, and your home and you will put your life– all of it- in a proper, eternal perspective.

God’s Law is Beautiful!

7th Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 7:1-3, 8:3-4

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, “No pain, no gain.” Ever heard that before? It seems like most good things in life come only through some kind of hurt and pain, don’t they? For example, I try to exercise at least 4 times a week. There will be days when I’ll just absolutely dread it, put it off if I can, come up with every reason in the book why I should skip it for the day, claim that I’m just too busy, I think about running and the work involved, the sweat, the fatigue, the tiring, the heavy breathing, and I just don’t want to do it. It’s a struggle. In fact, sometimes I think the only reason why I exercise is because I’m part of a coaching group and I have a personal coach who holds me accountable for a number of different things including taking care of my body physically and if I don’t exercise I know he’s going to call me out and get on my case, so…I do it. But interestingly there hasn’t been one time when I get done exercising that I regret it. The hard work, the sweat, the pain was worth it. No pain, no gain. Right? The same is true with different medical things. I’ve visited quite a few people in the hospital who have had some kind of joint replacement. There’s a ton of pain involved and usually the therapists have them up and walking or using the joint the very next day, it’s not easy, it’s painful, but the reward? Hopefully eventually a working joint without the pain.

No pain, no gain. That’s true for a lot of things in life. In a way that’s also true about God’s law. Throughout the Bible there are two main teachings, they’re found in the OT and in the NT. It’s the law and the gospel. The law is everything in the Bible where God makes a demand of us and tells us to do something. The law also tells us that God hates sin and God hates those who sin. It also says that those who sin deserve punishment and eternal death. The gospel, on the other hand, is totally different. The word “gospel” literally means “good news.” The gospel never says anything about “doing” rather the gospel says, “Done! It’s all been done!” Instead of making demands the gospel GIVES. The gospel says, “God loves the world so that He gave His one and only Son so that we might have eternal life.” And if God loves the world then God also loves me.

But both the law and the gospel are good and both serve a proper function. The law hurts. The law causes pain. It hurts us because it shows us clearly just how sinful we really are. Notice what verse 7 and following says, “What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet.’ But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intend to bring life actually brought death.” Do you catch the logic? I can look at one of God’s commands like the 5th commandment, “You shall not murder.” And think, “I’ve kept that one. I’ve never murdered anyone.” But then God comes along and says, “Do not covet.” That forces me to take things deeper. That forces me to see that God isn’t just interested in my outward activity or my outward appearance. God looks right at my heart and right into my mind. God judges my thoughts, my motives, my intentions, my desires. And now I have to rethink that 5th commandment. Maybe I haven’t actually murdered anyone…but…have I wanted to, even for just a quick moment? Have I always thought kindly about others? Have I ever wished ill on anyone? Have I always shown perfect love to…everyone?

And now, if I’m honest with myself, I’m spiritually spinning out of control, for I haven’t come close to keeping the true nature of the 5th commandment! I AM a murderer in God’s sight and God says very clearly that no murderer will inherit eternal life! (1 John 3:15) And every aspect of the law does that to us. Think about the first and greatest commandment: We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. If you really kept that commandment, you would always be thinking about God, you would never have one doubting thought, God would always be your number one priority, your decisions would be always based on what would God want me to do, you would never let money, stuff, job, things, people, family come before your relationship with God, you would always be thinking about God and His love for you. What about the 4th commandment? Always honoring and respecting those in authority over you. Never once bad mouthing someone in government, always praying for those in positions of leadership, always paying taxes with a joyful heart. What about the sixth commandment? Never once having a lustful thought, perfectly helping others with their marriage, perfectly caring and love your spouse, never being selfish. Ouch! God’s law deals not just with our outward actions, but with our thoughts, our attitudes, our desires, our motives, our intentions. God’s demand is perfection and we’ve failed and it hurts.

From time to time you hear something like, “I sure hope I don’t die while I’m sinning.” If you think that, you really don’t know what sin really is. Of course you’re going to die while you’re sinning. All of us fall far short of what we ought to be all the time. You see, the law doesn’t just tell us what NOT to do or be, it also tells us what we SHOULD do and be. Not being and not doing what we ought to is also a sin. The law demands perfection. If you’re not perfect, you’re living in sin. The reality is, we’re sinning all the time because we’re failing to be what God demands all the time. And that’s what Paul says, “I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.” It brings death because each of us fails to keep God’s commands all the time, in other words, each of us deserves nothing but death and hell forever.

And that’s what makes the law so important. It forces you and me to see my complete and desperate need for a cure. In other words, the law drives me to Jesus, to Jesus’ cross, where I see the full horror of the law’s curse – there in the body of Christ sin is being punished fully and completely. But there is the gospel! There is the beauty of God’s love. At the cross, God is NOT punishing me! God is taking MY punishment upon HIMSELF! Salvation has nothing to do with ME coming to GOD, but God comes to me in wonderful love, mercy, grace. He GIVES me forgiveness. He tells me everything has been DONE for my salvation. My sins have been paid in full. So, I’m constantly sinning because I’m failing to be perfect all the time, but at the same time I’m constantly forgiven because of Jesus. “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” But if the law hadn’t struck me first, I would never be ready to hear about a cure, never be ready for that wonderful good news of the gospel. So, the law is beautiful for it leads me to Jesus!

I think sometimes we get the wrong idea of what repentance means. Sometimes people will say, “I hope that I have a chance to repent before I die.” That’s not right. Really, the whole life of a believer is to be one of repentance. That doesn’t mean that you feel bad all the time and believing doesn’t mean that you feel good all the time. Repenting simply means knowing that you’re a sinner who deserves to go to hell and believing that Jesus forgives you all the time, every minute of every day you’re forgiven. Sometimes people think that we have to enumerate all of our sins in order to be truly repentant. But the truth is, repentance simply means knowing you’re a sinner and trusting Jesus died to pay for your sins.  And living in repentance it changes our whole attitude about the law.

Here is where the first part of our text is so important. Paul uses the example of a marriage. The law of marriage ends at death. If a man is still living and his wife goes to be with another man, that’s adultery. However, if the man dies, then his wife is free to marry another man. Death brings about the end of the law. Similarly, “you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.” In other words, we’ve been set free from the law. You don’t HAVE to obey any law. Keeping God’s laws or not keeping God’s laws isn’t going to get you one inch closer to heaven. God has set us free from slavery to the law. “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” God has set us free. You see, you don’t HAVE to follow God’s laws. Christ followed them for you. But here’s what happens: when we see how desperate we were in our sins and how God graciously rescued us, we want to serve God in a new way, out of thanks for His grace and love to us.

And so, God’s law becomes beautiful to us. Because as I live according to God’s law, God brings blessings to me.  Let’s think about the 7th Commandment, you shall not steal.  Can you imagine how different life would be if everyone obeyed the 7th Commandment?  You would never need to lock your house, or your car, or your locker, or anything else, because no one would ever steal.  In fact, you wouldn’t even need locks on anything! If you wouldn’t need locks, you also wouldn’t need keys.  Can you imagine how nice it would be to never have to wonder where you put your keys?!? J   And you’d be able to lay down your wallet anywhere, and you could give access to your accounts to anyone, and you wouldn’t have to have encryption technology on the internet, etc, etc, etc.  Wow!  Life would be really great if everyone obeyed just the 7th commandment!

And that’s true for all the rest of God’s laws.  When I fear, love and trust in God above all things, my life gets better, for I’m focused on God and the eternal blessings He’s won for me!  That will allow me to keep the things of this life in perspective, will allow me to make it through good times and bad times with an even keel, etc.  When I love my fellow man as I love myself, my life gets better, for my relationships will be stronger, and I’ll be putting the best construction on all things and therefore will have more contentment, etc., etc.  And so the law is beautiful!  For it guides me to have a real life, a life which works!

No pain, no gain. Sometimes I feel like just quitting exercising. It hurts! But when I’m done I see it was all worth it. We might like to quit hearing the law, to quit hearing that God is holy, that He demands holiness, and that we’re sinners.  It hurts.  But, it’s sure worth it!  For the law leads me back to Jesus and His forgiving love; it guides me in living in a way which actually works.  So we agree – God’s law – it’s a beautiful thing!  Amen.

What Kind of People Ought You to be?

2nd Sunday of Advent
2 Peter 3:8-14

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus dear friends in Christ, (tape cassette, floppy disc, portable tape player, encyclopedia, phonebook, camera film, VHS etc) (Show things) I think each one of these things is headed to be described by the same word, the same category. What is it? Obsolete. In fact, my children will grow up not even knowing what many of these things are or what they were used for.  The old things go away and are replaced by the new. I doubt that anyone is putting investment money in VHS or VCR’s or floppy discs or cassette tapes. That would be a waste of time, money, and effort.

Well, there is something else that is headed for obsolescence. In fact, it’s something that each of us is guilty of putting “investment” in or treasuring as if it will last forever. Why did so many people invest in floppy discs or VHS’s or cassette tapes? Certainly they served a purpose, but today very, very few actually use those things. Why did so many people use them at one time? It’s because those things were all they saw and those things were all they knew about. When something better came along people forgot about the old and treasure the new. But in the end, everything in our world, all the things of this world will be old- it doesn’t matter how new it is or how revolutionary it is or how much it makes our lives easier – everything in this world is “old.” So, investing in the stuff of this world will only finally end up as a bad investment.

But it’s so easy for us to be enamored by the stuff of this world because to a degree it’s all we see and it’s all we know. We also live in a world and society that for the most part denies that the end is coming. Many people live life as if they are going to live forever and don’t consider much that either the end is going to come or their end is going to come at death. Our lives and the entire world is headed for one outcome: the end. God is guiding all of world history to one final destination and that’s the day of Christ’s return to judge the living and the dead. Your life and my life is headed for one outcome: death. The ship is going down. And when the ship is going down you cling with all your might to the life raft and you do all you can to bring as many people as possible on to that life raft. Living life as if it were going to go on forever makes about as much sense as if someone spent the 2 ½ hours while the Titanic was sinking cleaning rooms, washing dishes, or straightening out the deck chairs.

Well, why is it so easy for us to live life like it will go on forever or why is it so easy to cling to things that will one day be obsolete? Well, perhaps part of the reason is because the End hasn’t come yet. Right after Jesus ascended into heaven the disciples and many early Christians were ready for Jesus’ return at any moment and God even tells us that the time of his return is short, close at hand. Now, we look at that and think: “It’s been two thousand years, isn’t it well over due for the end to come?” But God – who himself exists in infinity – does not view what we think is long as long and what we think is short as short “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” God doesn’t view time the same way as we do. There is one reason why God hasn’t come; that He’s to our viewpoint “postponed” Judgment Day: “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

Why has the end not come yet? The one reason is God’s patience. People’s lives on earth – yours and mine included – is a time of grace, a time to come to know Jesus as our Savior. Every single day that you wake up is another day of God’s grace and another day of God’s patience. Why hasn’t the end come yet? Because one day it will be too late to repent, too late to come to faith, too late to cling to the only life raft there is.  It hasn’t come yet because God is patiently waiting for more people to be brought to a knowledge of their sinfulness, to come to realize that this earth – this ship- is going down, that we desperately need to be rescued, and that God has provided the only rescue in the baby born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger.

One day the end will come. It come like a thief in the night. The problem with the thief or the robber is that they come when you’re not expecting it. And notice what will happen when Jesus returns on the Last Day: the heavens (sky) will disappear with a roar; the elements of the earth will be destroyed; the earth and everything in it laid bare; everything will be destroyed by fire and melt away. Gone will be all the magnificent buildings and sky scrapers, gone all the beautiful works of art, gone all enormous mountains and scenery, gone all the latest techno gizmos, gone all the TVs, laptops, tablets, iphones, your house – gone, your car – gone, your collections of stuff – gone, all the stuff people just bought on Black Friday – gone.  In other words, everything in life is headed for obsolescence, to be obsolete, nothing.

I’m going to guess that no one here is going to wipe out their life savings to stock up on floppy discs, cassettes, or VHS tapes. They’re about to be obsolete. Yet, how much of our time, our effort, our life do we spend on the other things of life that will become obsolete? Now, it’s certainly not wrong to use and enjoy the things of life, in fact, everything that we have is a gift from God and He wants us to use it and find enjoyment in it. But here’s the problem: when what is obsolete becomes more important to us than what will last forever, when what is obsolete distracts and gets in the way of our being strengthened in our faith through God’s Word, when what is obsolete becomes more important to us than God, when what is obsolete becomes our treasure, when envisioning any of the “stuff” of our life burning up hurts us or causes us pain. How much do you cling to what is obsolete? How much do I?

And we can see it in how we view Christmas.  What’s most important about Christmas for us? Making sure all the decorations are just right, the tree is up on time, the favorite Christmas shows are watched, the family is all together, the right gifts are bought, favorite Christmas cookies are made? What is it that makes Christmas Christmas? No matter what Christmas is Christmas when you’re ready to receive the greatest gift of all no matter what: Christ the Savior.

And that’s exactly what it is that makes us ready for the end too. How are you ready for Christ’s 2nd coming? You’re ready when you’re ready to receive Christ. And the only way that you can be ready to receive Jesus when He comes in glory is if you are blameless, spotless, holy, godly, and at peace with him. “But wait! I’m a sinner! I’ve often made a mess of my life with my selfish thoughts, my warped priorities, my treasuring the obsolete things of this world, my neglect of God’s Word! I’m not spotless and blameless!” That’s true, but that’s not what God sees. You see, to God you are spotless and blameless, holy and at peace with Him. Why? Because God’s Son was born in a stable and laid in a manger, because God’s Son was holy and blameless, because God’s Son was laid upon a cross, dying to forgive your every sin and rising from the dead to declare you innocent. Because of that baby born in Bethlehem you are holy, blameless, and at peace with God!

And that’s why you are ready for Jesus’ return. One day all the things you see in the world will be destroyed, they will be utterly obsolete. And we are looking forward to this day because God will make a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. Someway somehow everything will be made new – heaven and earth will be combined and you and I will live in perfect peace, joy, gladness forever and ever!

You know, it’s funny at times to watch my 1 year old son David. Now you all know he does cry J, but there are times when all 3 of our other children are balling but if mom is smiling at him and holding him, he’s as happy as a lark. I’m convinced our house could be burning down and if mom or dad is smiling at him- everything is just great.  And isn’t that how it is with you and me? With God’s love, his care, his grace, his peace who cares what’s going on in the world or what happens to the obsolete things of life. We have God’s love and His grace for he kept his promise to send a baby wrapped in cloths and placed in a manger, we have a Savior who died to rescue us and win a new heavens and a new earth for us!  Let us live as His people and cling to the true treasures of His Word and Sacraments!  And let us prepare for Christmas with the same excitement we have for when He comes again to take us to our real home in heaven! Amen.

Be Ready! He Comes in Grace; He Comes in Judgment!

1st Sunday of Advent
Genesis 6

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, Are you ready? Most parents can probably relate to this. When my wife Katie helps out with the Moms & tots Bible study here at church often I’ll bring my work home and work out of the study in the parsonage. At times my wife would put some of our kids down for a nap at that time and I would check on them once in a while to make sure they were sleeping. I would usually wait a little while and then sneak up stairs and look in on my daughter Jenna and sure enough, not a whole lot of napping going on in that room, Barbies or dolls or horses or you name it were far too much fun and far too distracting than what she was supposed to be doing. Sometimes I’d watch for a while and see if she would notice me, but then there would come a time when I would say, “Jenna!” And immediately she would sheepishly jump in her bed and bury herself under her covers and refuse to look at me. Guilty? Yep. But what I saw in my daughter is just a small illustration of a problem inherent with each of us. It’s far too easy for us people living in this world to become distracted from what we’re supposed to be doing and to do what we’re not supposed to do. But just like I was standing around the corner watching my daughter, so God is standing around the corner, in fact, he’s never left, He’s watching it all. So, are you ready for him to call your name? Are you doing what you’re supposed to be doing?

Almost all the people in our text this morning were not ready. As you know in the book of Genesis God records for us some early world history. And what we notice is that the descendants of our first parents divided into two groups. The descendants of Cain followed their ancestor in despising God’s mercy and living apart from God. We also notice that they try to compensate for the emptiness of their hearts and lives by filling their lives with things: technical skills, wealth, even pursing fine arts – one of them composed the first recorded poem, they also introduce polygamy into the world defying God’s established order for marriage to be between one man and one woman. But we’re also introduced to Adam and Eve’s other descendants who took a different direction. The descendants of Seth we’re told began to call on the name of the Lord, they began to publicly worship God, proclaimed the truth about God, and trusted in God’s promise to Adam and Eve to send a Savior to crush Satan’s head.

But then we hear something quite sad. “The sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful and they married any of them they chose.” The term “sons of God” is used in the Bible to refer to God’s believing children. They were the men, women, and children who had learned by faith to call God their Father and whom God saw as His own children. These were the true descendants of Seth who trusted in God and their lives showed it. But then, in one of life’s most important decisions- that of choosing a life mate – they began to ask the wrong questions. No longer was the question: “Will my spouse live all life to the glory of God?” “Will my spouse be a Godly spouse fit for a life mate and parent of my children?” Rather, they asked, “Is she beautiful? Is he handsome? Does she look good? Does he make me feel good inside?” And what often happens? When the believing spouse is not very serious about his/ her faith they don’t have a whole lot of resistance against the spouse who is an unbeliever. And so, quite sadly, the distinction between believers and unbelievers gets obliterated as the believing children of God abandoned their faith and became absorbed in the ungodly culture in which they lived.

And so the LORD said, “My Spirit will not remain with man indefinitely, for he is corrupt; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.” God was standing around the corner and he would not struggle against his human beings’ indifference to Him and His Word forever. There comes a time when God’s patience runs out. But notice, 120 years! 120 years of God standing around the corner in grace watching and waiting for a change of heart before He would bring judgment on the human race. But what did God see as He stood there? “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness had become, how every shape and form of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time, and God was grieved that he had made man.”  God saw it all, God had all the facts and evidence present that His creatures didn’t want anything to do with Him anymore. The whole earth had become full of violence, the whole earth had become corrupt, all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.

God takes a look at a situation, the Kind Creator is saddened by how His creatures had rebelled against him and wanted nothing to do with him, and it pained God- the creation He once labeled as “very good” because of sin and rebellion against Him was now full of corruption, so God embarks on a new course of action. God’s plan will be accomplished one way or another, but that doesn’t mean that God will continue in the same course of action. Because of human sin and rebellion against Him God may change His course of action to accomplish His promises. God’s whole plan of salvation was really hanging by a very small thread here. The whole earth had become corrupt. If this continued there would be no believers left and no one through whom God could send a Savior into the world to save the human race. You see, God doesn’t exist for our sakes; we exist for His. And when any creature rebels against God’s design for his life, that person has actually forfeited his right to live. It’s not only cars that can be recalled by their maker, people can be too.

Really, it ought to make each of us sick to hear this. God is essentially telling this corrupt human race, “Very well, have it your way. You wanted to be without me; now be without me- forever!” God’s white-hot holiness does not permit God to remain indifferent when his rebellious creatures tell him to leave them alone.  Can you imagine hearing such words from the Ruler of all? Really, though, we don’t live in a world that’s much different from the world just before the flood, do we? We live in a world where the leading cause of death among infants is child abuse, about 1 out of 5 women choose to exterminate their baby through abortion, rioting, murder, drug trafficking, corruption among political leaders all are the norm and hardly raise our eyebrows anymore. God is standing around the corner watching it all. What about us? Are we affected by the world we live in? Are we headed down a path like those believing descendants of Seth, a path to conform with the unbelieving and sinful world? It was a world full of violence- but who of us can say that we’ve never lost our temper, let our anger flare up,  said or did things that were out place as God’s children? It was a world full of people abusing God’s gifts of sex and marriage- but who of us here can say that we’ve perfectly loved our spouses, perfectly regarded God’s gifts of sex, haven’t filled our head with the filth the world offers? It was a world full of corruption – but who of us here can say we’ve always kept our thoughts, words, and actions clean and pure? It ought to make each of us sick to see God say to such rebellious people, “Be without me- forever!” Because there are times in your life and mine when we’ve told God with our actions: “I don’t want you, I don’t need you God, I have better things to do than listen to you, I have better things to do than to be concerned with what you want for me.” God stands around the corner, how long until he comes? Are you ready? Am I ready?

120 years of God’s patience and grace were up. God came in judgment to destroy the some estimated 3 billion people who were living at the time with a catastrophic flood. God will come again in judgment on the Last Day. It will be a day of horror and terror for everyone who rebels against God and wants to live their way instead of God’s way. God stands around the corner. Are you ready?

God’s entire plan of salvation was hanging by a thread. The human race as a whole had proved to be an unworthy instrument for God to carry out His plan of salvation. But there was one individual and family who found “favor” with God. Literally, the word is “grace.” Noah was also a sinner, Noah also had a heart inclined toward evil, but in Noah’s heart God’s grace had won a victory. It was God’s undeserved love that brought Noah to faith in Him as the God of grace who would one day send a Savior from sin. He believed the promise God had made to Eve that God would send the Savior to crush the serpent’s head. He was “righteous” because through faith God declared Him to be righteous, he was “blameless” – perhaps a better word would be “full of integrity” – he was spiritually mature and his faith showed itself in every phase of life, and he walked with God – his faith was not just private but a public thing as he lived his faith.

And in incredible love God obligated Himself to a covenant with Noah, that he would preserve this one believing family in the midst of a hostile and corrupt world. He had Noah build a massive floating box to preserve his family and two of every kind of land creature and bird. For everything else – human and animal- would be destroyed in a massive flood over all the earth.

The point is: Just like in the days of Noah God came in grace and God came in judgment, so, too, God will come again both in grace and in judgment. What will it be for you? Will he come to you in grace or in judgment? Are you ready?

The only way we can understand this account is if as we are scanning over it we get our bearings and line it up with the place to which all Scripture points: three crosses on a hill. Only by doing so can we see that in the midst of judgment God showed incredible mercy. He came in judgment, but he also came in grace and mercy. He preserved His promise through one family, a promise he carried out many centuries later when He sent His own Son to die for all the wickedness and rebellion of this world. There on the cross of Christ God came to forgive every time that you’ve rebelled against Him. Then God came to you with further mercy working faith in your heart, using the waters of your baptism to save you from ungodliness much the same way that God used the flood to save Noah’s family from the ungodliness of the world. By grace through faith God has made you ready for His return.

How should we prepare this Advent season? We prepare for Jesus’ first coming by making sure we’re ready for His second coming. God is standing around the corner; yes, He comes in judgment for many, but for you washed by His own blood shed on the cross, He comes in incredible grace to save you from the ungodliness of this world and bring you home. This Advent season don’t become distracted by the glitter and frills of this world, focus on your Savior God who is standing around the corner. Amen.

What’s on your mind?

15th Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 16:21-26

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, So, what’s on your mind?  I find myself asking that question more and more when I observe my children.  What’s on your mind?  I once found teeth marks all along the head board of our bed because one of our children decided to gnaw on it.  What’s on your mind?  Another time I watched as a few of my children decided to get down on their hands and knees and lap up muddy water from a puddle in our drive way.  What’s on your mind?  Another time some of my kids decided to wash our cars…not with soap and water but dirt and mud instead.  What’s on your mind?  What’s going through your head that would make you do things like that?  What were you thinking?

Well, I wonder how often God could look at you and me and ask that same question: What’s on your mind?  What were you thinking?  What’s going through your head that would make you do something like that?  Typically, the things that we do, or the things that we say, begin in our hearts and in our minds.  Our thinking affects our behavior.  What’s in our minds affects what we do or say.  So, what’s on your mind?

In our text we find out what was on Peter’s mind and likely on the minds of many of Jesus’ disciples as well.  Immediately before this incident in our text we’re told about the disciple Peter’s excellent confession of faith in Christ.  Jesus had just asked his disciples who people say that he is and then he asked them, “Who do you say I am?”  And Peter, the often-spokesman for the group, boldly confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  He was exactly right and Jesus promised to build his church on that rock-solid confession.  The disciple had finally got it, they finally understood who Jesus really is, who His person is.  But then Jesus said something strange.  Just before our text Jesus told them not to tell anyone that He is the Christ.  We might think, “Why not?  Shouldn’t that be exactly what they are to do?”  But Jesus had a reason.  They might have understood who Jesus is, but as we see, they hadn’t quite understood why Jesus had come, what his purpose was.  And that’s what Jesus was teaching them next.  That’s where we pick up our text. (read text)

Jesus began very clearly to explain to his disciples the nature of his work in the world.  He had specifically come for this sole purpose of going to Jerusalem and suffering and dying, offering himself as the sacrifice for the sins of every human being, then rising from the dead to announce his triumphant victory over sin, death, and the devil.

But to our sinful human minds this idea that victory would come through suffering and death makes no sense.  That something good could come out of pain, suffering, defeat, and death is incomprehensible.  And Peter wanted nothing to do with that.  So he took Jesus aside and literally said, “Mercy to you Lord!” And then using the strongest form of negation possible he said, “This shall never happen to you!”  And likely the last words Peter would have expected to come out of the Savior’s mouth came next: “Get behind me, Satan!  You do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men.”  Wow!  Ouch!  I’m fairly confident to say that none of us would like Jesus to say those words to us!

But are there times when we need to hear that?  Are there times when we need to hear from God, “You do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men”?  What’s on your mind?  What’s on my mind?  Peter didn’t deny himself, he wasn’t denying his own opinions, his own interests, rather he was denying Jesus.

You know, we have all kinds of things that can be on our minds too, don’t we?  We have time-consuming projects and difficult tasks at work that fills our minds.  We have family obligations, children’s sports or recreational schedules to keep in mind, anniversaries, birthdays, parties, get-togethers, that fill our thoughts and minds.  Sometimes we can get up early and going here, going there, doing this, doing that, so by the end of the day we’re exhausted and haven’t focused one minute on God by reading his Word or going to him in prayer.  What’s on our minds?  The things of God or the things of men?  Are there times we need to say, “Get behind me Satan!  You’re a stumbling block to me!”

Everyday there’s so much information coming at us from every direction – the newspaper, the internet, the TV, the radio – that can fill our minds with all kinds of different things.  We can readily hear about how the whole earth is groaning under the curse of sin and perhaps it can lead us to wonder or question God’s power or question God’s love.  What’s on our minds?  The things of God or the things of men?  Are there times when we need to say, “Get behind me Satan!”

The world offers so many things that seem so appealing, so alluring, so pleasurable.  The latest technological gizmo, the latest home improvement, the newest iphone, the latest and greatest toy.  There’s so many things that Satan uses to sneak up on us and convince us that life isn’t worth living until you have this thing or that thing.  And all of a sudden our attention, our energy, our time, our money is directed toward the things of this world, the things of men and less and less of our focus is directed toward the eternal riches that are ours in Christ.  What’s on our minds?  The things of God or the things of men?  Do we need to say, “Get behind me Satan!”

The things of God are so different than the things of men.  Saying “yes” to the things of men means saying “no” to the things of God.  Saying “yes” to self means saying “no” to Jesus.  Peter wanted a Jesus who would rule with power and might and glory, not a Jesus who would suffer and die.  Jesus said, “Whoever wants to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”  That means submitting my wants, my desires, my hopes, my dreams, my will to what God wants for me.  That means being ready to endure whatever difficulties, hardships, struggles, or persecutions I must face because of my faith in Jesus.  Being ready to struggle against sin to do what my Savior wants, being ready to face ridicule for believing in a Savior who died on a cross, being ready to follow my Savior no matter what the cost might be.  So what’s on your mind?  The things of God or the things of men?

For even if we were to gain the whole world, yet forfeit our soul, what good would that be?  In other words, what’s more important this life or eternal life, which makes this life look like hardly a speck of dust?  What’s on your mind?  What’s on mine?  If we’re honest with ourselves, we each have to admit that all too often our minds have been focused on the things of men and not the things of God.  Jesus warns that anyone who wants to save his life in this world, have a sinful, worldly, pleasurable life in this world, will lose it, will face eternity in the hell prepared for the devil and his evil angels where there is only weeping and gnashing of teeth.  What’s at stake is nothing to yawn at!

So what can a man give in exchange for his soul?  We can’t give anything.  We can only thank God there actually was one thing that was given in exchange for our souls. There was one payment that was made to buy our souls. That one thing was Jesus’ holy, precious blood given through his innocent suffering and death. He gave those up for you and for me to cover over our worldliness, our sinfulness, our selfishness. He forfeited his own life so that we would not have to forfeit ours to eternity in hell.

Someone once said, “Becoming a Christian costs you nothing, living as a disciple costs you everything.”  As Christians Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, deny sinful pleasures, deny selfish attitudes, leave behind sinful habits and pet sins, to give up our pride and our desire to be first, to let go of our pursuit after the latest and the greatest that the world offers.  As Christians our Savior calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him.  But he doesn’t leave us on our own.  He gives you the strength to carry your cross through the gospel, which builds your faith as you hear again your forgiveness in Christ.  He gives you strength through his body and blood given to you in His supper to assure you of forgiveness.  He gives you strength as you remember the waters of your baptism and how they washed you clean from your sins and it gives you a shield against Satan’s attacks.  It’s that gospel that is the bridge between the cross you carry in this life and the crown you will receive in the next.  At the end you will trade the cross of this life for the crown of glory won for you by Christ, the crown of victory, the crown that means you are safe at home with your Savior.

So this week, what’s going to be on your mind?  By God’s grace, may you have in mind the things of God, not men.  Amen.