Forgiven sinners

I just wanted to share a quick thought for the day as I try to jump back into blogging a little bit.
The only people who will live in the new creation eternally with God are forgiven sinners.
The only people who will suffer forever in hell are forgiven sinners.
Prayer: Lord God, heavenly Father, Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, died for the ungodly, declaring all of humanity righteous by the shedding of his blood. Grant us the free gift of faith to receive this reality for our salvation, that by Your grace we may serve You in love and righteousness all the days of our lives; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
* Prayer is taken from The Treasury of Daily Prayer

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A Crowded Marketplace

crowded marketplaceI want you to imagine that you are in a crowded marketplace, walking among throngs of people. On every side of you are vendors selling their wares, putting their finest products out on display, and calling out to you and anyone who will listen. “Look at what I have. You won’t find anything else like it. Made with only the finest ingredients. Guaranteed fresh! You need this. You can’t live without this! Have you tried this before? This would look great on you! Well worth the money! This can satisfy you like nothing else can!” The voices blend together in a confusing symphony. Choices upon choices overwhelm you and threaten to drive you crazy. You buy one thing, and you immediately regret it because someone else is selling the same thing at another booth at a cheaper price. You’re tempted to just shove your fingers in your ears and run away.

This is the world that we live in, a huge marketplace, full of people and ideas and things which promise to satisfy your deepest longings and meet your every need.

The voices that call out to you are many. The voice of Greed is quite loud and powerful. Greed’s vendors are everywhere, telling you what you need to be fulfilled in life. Your job is what is most important! You have to keep fighting your way to the top, no matter what the cost. Once you get to the top, then you will have time to rest and enjoy the spoils of your success. First, you have to make as much money as you can. That’s the only way you can truly enjoy life. Then you can sit back, eat, drink and be merry. You’ve got to get yours! Other voices encourage you to go into debt to get what you want. It’s not that bad. A lot of people do it. Besides, you need that new toy, so you’re not the only one without it! You will figure out how you are going to pay for it later.

Suddenly, Greed is shoved aside by another vendor. Money isn’t everything, my friend. What really matters is what other people think of you! It’s the voice of Power and Status. Your reputation is what you need to build up. You have to earn enough people’s respect and admiration, and I can tell you what you need in order to get it. You need the right job, the right spouse and family, the right clothes, the right physical beauty. You won’t truly be satisfied until you have the right amount of power over your own life and over others. What’s important is being the self-made man or woman who lives life by their own rules. Don’t listen to those outdated morals of the last generation. Nobody gets to tell you what to do except you. It doesn’t matter who you run over along the way, as long as you live life the way you want to, impress the right people, and look down on the rest. That’s what I can offer you, my friend.

Please! Another voice, a soft, seductive voice, interrupts the voice of Power. You look up at the next vendor’s booth. Immediately you try to look away, but your eyes are drawn back. With possibly the most eye-catching display of all, Lust is calling your name. You begin to feel ashamed, but Lust quickly works to calm your fears. Relax! It’s normal and healthy to gratify all of your inner desires. Look all you want at what I have to offer. I won’t tell anyone. Don’t try to control your urges. Just give in. It won’t hurt anybody. Your sexual cravings are your most basic instinct. Satisfy them. Drink deeply of what I am offering you, whether you are by yourself or with a partner. I won’t ask any questions. There are no rules, no strings attached here.

These are the voices in the marketplace of life, and there are many more. They all promise you the good life. They all offer you that which you cannot live without. They all tell you that the cost of what they are offering you isn’t that high. They are all lying to you.

barbossaIn the movie Pirates of the Caribbean, the pirate leader, Captain Barbossa, is describing the curse that he and his crew are under because of treasure they took. They had heard about the curse, but they ignored the warnings as they looked for that which they thought would satisfy their every desire. But the curse was real. Captain Barbossa explains:

Find it, we did. And there be the chest… and inside, be the gold. We took them all! Spent ’em, traded ’em and fritted ’em away, for drink and food and pleasurable company. But the more we gave them away, the more we came to realize. The drink would not satisfy, food turned to ash in our mouths, and all the pleasurable company in the world could not slake our lust. We are cursed men. Compelled by greed, we were. But now, we are consumed by it. There is one way we can end our curse. All the scattered pieces of the gold must be restored and the blood repaid. Look! The moonlight shows us for what we really are. We are not among the living, and so we cannot die, but neither are we dead. For too long I’ve been parched with thirst and unable to quench it. Too long I’ve been starving to death and haven’t died. I feel nothing… not the wind on my face nor the spray of the sea, nor the warmth of a woman’s flesh.

The world’s marketplace has a similar curse attached to it. It is the curse that has existed since Adam and Eve first gave in to temptation. The curse is the price we pay when we listen to the call of the marketplace. The curse is broken relationships with each other as we seek to gratify our own desires and give in to the call of Greed, Power, and Lust. The curse is dissatisfying marriages, broken families, ruined friendships, the trampling of the weak and vulnerable. The curse is never being completely satisfied by what the world has to offer. No matter what you have, you always want more. You always need more. It is never enough.

The curse is spiritual death. We are not among the living for we are dead in our trespasses and sins. And so we are parched with thirst and unable to quench it. We are starving to death but have not died, at least not yet. The curse eventually leads to physical death and then to eternal death as well. There is only one way to end the curse. It must be paid for, not with gold or silver, but with blood.

We are dying, but the marketplace doesn’t notice or care. It just keeps calling out to you, promising you true life and happiness but leading you to despair and death. The voices blend together in confusing symphony. Choices upon choices overwhelm you and threaten to drive you crazy. You’re tempted to just shove your fingers in your ears and run away. You wish you could run away.

All of a sudden, above the clamor, amidst the chaos, you hear another voice, a strong powerful voice, calling out to you with a gracious invitation. “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come; buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live!”

You’re drawn to the voice. What fool would be giving away their goods without any price? What kind of person can offer food and drink that will not only satisfy you but give you life? The voice pulls you away from the marketplace. The other vendor’s voices fade away. All you can hear is the singular voice calling out, “Come to me and live! Come, for everything is ready!”

Come, for everything is ready!

Come, for everything is ready!

Finally, you see him. He has no form or majesty that you should look at him, and no beauty that you should desire him. In fact, his appearance is so marred; it is beyond the resemblance of any human being. This man is despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he is despised, and we esteemed him not. He seems like a man who has borne many griefs and carried many sorrows. He has wounds on his head, his hands, his side, his feet. Yet the blood which flows from these wounds is what he is offering for you to drink. Come, everyone who thirsts! Come, even though you have no money; come, buy and eat of my life-giving flesh. Drink of my blood which is poured to make satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. By my wounds, you are healed. By my death, you are given life. Come to me and be completely satisfied.

This vendor is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. It is Jesus. He offers you eternal life without price because he has paid for it already, not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. He has taken the curse of death upon himself and frees you from it. He invites you to his feast, the Lord’s Supper, to take and eat the true bread of life and to take and drink the only wine that can provide you with true joy and peace amidst your struggles. “Just like the bread Jesus feeds the 5,000 with is bread without price: not worked for or earned, but given by grace. So is the Lord’s Supper. In Jesus, the curse of Adam is ended, and we receive bread that is not worked for, earned, or merited, but given as a gift to every poor, miserable sinner hungry for salvation.” (H/T Rev. Andrew Yeager) The forgiveness and grace you receive in this meal can bring satisfaction to your marriage, heal your family, reconcile your friendships, and raise up the weak and vulnerable. This meal gives you Christ Himself, and in him, you have everything you need. The invitation to this feast is for rich and poor, young and old, male and female, for all who hunger and thirst for what only God can give. This gracious invitation is for you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, just as you satisfied the hunger of thousands of people by multiplying the loaves and fish and still had plenty left over, satisfy our longing hearts with your love and grace which never end. Forgive our sins and help us to find contentment in you and to listen to Your voice alone. Amen.

This is a sermon based on Isaiah 55:1-5 and Matthew 14:13-21 for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost

 

 

Obscure Bible Characters: Eutychus

A sermon based on Acts 20:7-12 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.

Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

I listen better with my eyes closed, I promise!

I listen better with my eyes closed, I promise!

I’m just going to take an informal poll this morning. If you have ever fallen asleep during church, please keep your hands down by your sides. That’s what I thought. Either you are being honest today, or some of you are asleep already! Just remember, we pastors can see everything you’re doing from up here. Consider that a warning. And if that is not warning enough, consider the story of poor Eutychus, our obscure Bible character for today.

How many of you have heard the story of Eutychus before? It’s just tucked away toward the end of Acts, a short account in the middle of Paul’s missionary journeys. This has always been one of my favorite Bible stories. Eutychus is the patron saint of all those who have fallen asleep in church. Thankfully, the story of Eutychus has a happy ending despite his great fall. I cannot make the same guarantee for any of you who fall asleep, especially anyone who chooses the balcony. They stopped teaching “Raising the Dead” classes at the seminary, mostly because they had a hard time getting any volunteers for demonstrations. So stay awake as we look at this story!

Once again, before we dig in to the text, I will remind you of one of the most important questions to ask in order to understand a Bible passage or story. How does this point to Jesus? All of Scripture is ultimately about Jesus and points us to his death and resurrection for us. So how do get from Eutychus to Jesus?

This vivid story is clearly an eyewitness account from the author of the book of Acts, Dr. Luke, who was with Paul on this particular journey. This is also one of the first accounts we have of what a Christian worship service was like. On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. They were worshipping on a Sunday. They were gathered together to break bread, to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Paul preached a sermon. Paul and his companions were planning on leaving the next day, so Paul got a little long-winded. He wanted to fit everything in because he did not know when he would be back. Paul preached until midnight. I don’t want any of you to ever complain about the length of a sermon again.

To be fair to Paul, it’s not like he started early in the morning. All of this happened at night. That is probably because it was only at night, when the day’s work was done, that the laborers could come to the Christian fellowship.

eutychusThis also helps explain the case of Eutychus. It was dark. In the low upper room it was hot. The many lamps made the air oppressive. Eutychus, no doubt, had done a hard day’s work before he came and his body was tired. Perhaps he was sitting on the floor and started to nod off. He got up and thought he would get some fresh air by the window. He perched himself there and tried to listen to Paul again. But the tired Eutychus, overpowered by the stuffy atmosphere and by a hard day’s work, succumbed to sleep and fell to the courtyard below.

No doubt this would have caused quite a commotion in the Upper Room. Eutychus very likely had family members in attendance. The service was interrupted as people rushed down the stairs to check on Eutychus. But there was nothing they could do. Eutychus was dead. Now I am not nearly the man St. Paul was, but at least I can say this. My preaching, as far as I know, has never killed anyone.

But of course, I have never done what Paul does next either. He shows concern for this young man as well, making his way down the stairs and toward Eutychus. But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” Ummm, ok, Paul. Are you sure you are not just avoiding sharing any guilt here. How about we get Dr. Luke over here because Paul clearly doesn’t know what he is talking about. These people knew when a person was dead. But when Paul announced that Eutychus’ life was in him, he was not contradicting his death. He was expressing the assurance that the young man would be brought back to life.

The next thing we are told, however, is that Paul is back upstairs, and this is my favorite part, he resumes his sermon. “Let’s see, where was I?” Paul conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. It’s not until the next verse that we are told the fate of Eutychus. And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.

Eutychus is alive! Paul had revived him, not in the sense of simply gaining consciousness, but in the sense of receiving his life back again. Eutychus was resurrected! It reminds me of Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Jesus walks in as people are mourning and crying and says, “She is only sleeping.” They laugh at him, but he knows something they don’t know. With the power of God, Jesus revives Jairus’ daughter. He brings her back to life with the power of His Word.

So what can we learn from this story today? Well, I would like to use Eutychus as an example of what I see happening in the church today. I see a lot of Christians, even members of our family at St. John, falling out of windows. Let me explain. (Yes, fellow pastors, I am going to allegorize this story. Please forgive me.)

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that church attendance in the United States has dropped considerably in the last number of years. Many people still claim to be Christian, but fewer and fewer are actually going to church. St. John Lutheran Church is not immune to this trend. Every quarter, Pastor Luhring and I receive an attendance report for the whole congregation, and the number of 0%ers is troubling. We have good-sized confirmation classes every year, but rarely see any of them 10-15 years later. We have faithful church members who all of a sudden just stop coming. We have church members who haven’t been in church for years.

Now for those of you who are here today- it is easy to simply look down on those people and pat yourself on the back for being here. But I believe our reaction should instead be one of concern and care. In fact, I want you to imagine every single one of your inactive fellow church members as Eutychus, the young man who fell asleep and fell to his death during a worship service. Immediately after he fell, his church family rushed down to help him and try to save him.

Do you know Eutychus?

Do you know Eutychus?

We have brothers and sisters in Christ who are falling away from the faith and are in danger of dying, not physically but spiritually. They have cut themselves off from God’s Word for some reason or another. And this should not surprise us. Satan is hard at work to distract and destroy the faith of every single Christian.

I want you to see yourself in Eutychus as well. We are all in danger of falling asleep and falling away from the faith. Jesus constantly warns his disciples to stay awake and be alert. Be ready at all times, he says, because you do not know when he will return, and you do not want him to find you asleep. 1 Peter puts it in very vivid terms. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Satan wants to cut you off from God’s Word. Think of the parable of the sower and the seed. The Word takes root in some people’s lives, but Satan sows thorns in their lives and they grow up and choke the Word. Jesus calls those the cares and distractions of this life. So how does Satan do it? He might make you incredibly busy, give you a full schedule, fill your life full of distractions, and exhaust you so that you just don’t have the time or energy to come and hear the Word of God. He might convince you that you don’t really need to gather with the body of Christ in worship and hear God’s Word and receive the Lord’s Supper. You can be a Christian without those things. Don’t even worry about it. He could tell you that you are mostly a good person. What do you need church for? Or he might fill you full of guilt so that you feel ashamed to show your face in church because you are worried about what other people might be thinking about you. He might heap all sorts of struggles and burdens on you and convince you that God doesn’t really care about you since he is allowing all of this trouble in your life. He might tempt you to hold a grudge against a church member who has sinned against you instead of forgiving them.

Before you know it, you are getting comfortable in your life away from church and don’t even realize that you are falling to your death. This has happened to countless Christians, and it can happen to you as well. Eutychus certainly did not intend to fall out of a window. It’s not like he jumped out. He was trying to stay awake. But you know how hard it is to stay awake once those eyelids get heavy. Before he knew it, Eutychus was dead on the ground.

Many members of our own family are in danger of the same fate. Are we going to stay inside our four walls and continue as is, or are we going to be like the church family in Acts who rushed down to see if they could help? Are we going to be like Paul who knew that Eutychus could live again and revived him through the power of God?

Now you might be asking, “Well, what can I do? How can I revive someone’s faith?” And you certainly cannot do that yourself. Only the Holy Spirit through the Word of God can do that. But someone needs to speak that Word to them. As Paul says in Romans 10, “Faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” And how can they hear unless someone speaks that word to them? And can how you speak unless you first care about them and recognize that God can still revive them and restore them to faith?

I have been hammering home these last few weeks how all of Scripture points to Christ and his death and resurrection for the whole world. As Christians, our whole lives should point to Christ and to his salvation as well. We carry the name “Christian” with us wherever we go. You were baptized into that name, and Christ has been united to you. The Holy Spirit dwells within you. The Word of God is your weapon in the fight against Satan. But you do not fight alone. As the family of God, we need to share the life-giving and reviving Word of God with our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the faith. They need to hear God’s words of grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ just as much as you do.

words of eternal lifeDuring Jesus’ ministry, some of his followers began to leave him because of his difficult words and way of life. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!” Jesus is the Word made flesh that the whole world needs to hear about!

Where is Jesus in this story? He is everywhere really. He is there in the gathering of his body, the Church, for worship. He is present in the words of Paul’s sermon as he proclaims Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. He is there in the breaking of the bread, his very body and blood given and shed. He is there in those who have compassion for Eutychus and his fate. He is there as Eutychus is raised from the dead, for Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life for all who believe. Jesus is the true and greater Eutychus. Jesus willingly went to his death on the cross and rose from the dead three days later to give you the gift of resurrection and eternal life.

Just as Jesus was present in Acts, he is here with us now as we gather together and hear his Word. He is here every time that His Word is proclaimed. He is here when one of your pastors proclaims that your sins are forgiven in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is here every time that we break bread together to forgive your sins and strengthen your faith. He is there every time you reach out to one of your fellow brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the faith. He has the power to raise them to new life just as he does for you day after day, week after week. And one day, he will be here on earth once again to do for you what he did for Eutychus. He will physically resurrect you from the dead and give you the gift of eternal life so that you can be in his presence and in the presence of our whole family forever.

May you stand firm in God’s Word and in the power of the Holy Spirit despite the distractions of the devil and may you show care and compassion to those who are falling asleep in their faith and give them the words of eternal life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Obscure Bible Characters: Naboth

A sermon based on 1 Kings 21

Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

What do you want your obituary to say about you? Perhaps that is not a question that you have spent much time pondering, depending on what stage of life you are in. But what would you like it to say? Your obituary is the last chance to leave your legacy, so to speak. It is a short review of your life and your accomplishments. How do you want to be remembered?

A man by the name of Val Patterson wrote his own obituary back in 2012 before he died of throat cancer, and he has achieved legendary status by using his obituary as a confessional peace. He starts out normally enough, listing his accomplishments and noting his love for his dear wife. Then he continues: Now that I have gone to my reward, I have confessions and things I should now say. As it turns out, I AM the guy who stole the safe from the Motor View Drive Inn back in June, 1971. I could have left that unsaid, but I wanted to get it off my chest. Also, I really am NOT a PhD. What happened was that the day I went to pay off my college student loan, the girl working there put my receipt into the wrong stack, and two weeks later, a PhD diploma came in the mail. I didn’t even graduate, I only had about 3 years of college credit. In fact, I never did even learn what the letters “PhD” even stood for. For all of the Electronic Engineers I have worked with, I’m sorry, but you have to admit my designs always worked very well. Now to that really mean Park Ranger; after all, it was me that rolled those rocks into your geyser and ruined it. I did notice a few years later that you did get Old Faithful working again. Val ends his obituary with a piece of advice: If you want to live forever, then don’t stop breathing, like I did.

Now that’s a memorable obituary! But not everybody gets to write their own obituary like Val did. And if someone else writes yours, you are at the mercy of whatever they thought of you. There is no objecting after your death. It is there in the annals of history, and it is not going away. Just ask King Ahab.

The books of 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles give a history lesson on the nation of Israel after the time of King David. It mentions the reign of each of the kings of both Israel and Judah after the nation split apart. And for each king, it gives a grade, so to speak. Either the king did what was right in the sight of the Lord or the king did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. These books are full of obituaries in other words. God got to decide how these kings get to be remembered, and unfortunately, there are more bad kings than good kings. And then there’s King Ahab. In 1 Kings 16, we are first introduced to King Ahab. In the 38th year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab the son of Omri began to reign over Israel and reigned for 22 years. And Ahab did more evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.

That’s not the way anyone would choose to be remembered- the most evil king in Israel’s history. And yet, as you heard in today’s Old Testament reading, Ahab’s reputation is well deserved. Let’s look at the story of King Ahab and Naboth, our obscure Bible character for today. Remember our two important questions as we look at a Biblical text. What is the original context? And how does this story point to Jesus?

ahab naboth 1Naboth had a vineyard. King Ahab wanted his vineyard. He offered to buy it from Naboth or give Naboth an even bigger vineyard. But Naboth didn’t want any other vineyard. He wanted this vineyard. He turns down King Ahab’s offer, and he does it for religious reasons. He says, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.” Why would he say that? Because the Lord did forbid it! In the law of Moses, God forbids the Israelites to sell their paternal inheritance. So even if Naboth wanted the money, he obeyed God’s law.

And what does the great and powerful King of Israel do after being told no? He acts like a child. He goes home and pouts. He lay in his bed and refused to eat because he did not get his way. Boo hoo!

Heart in a box? Please! Queen Jezebel practically invented that.

Heart in a box? Please! Queen Jezebel practically invented that.

Enter his wife, Queen Jezebel. Perhaps you’ve heard the expression “The husband might be the head of the household, but the wife is the neck and she turns the head whichever way she wants.” Well that is certainly the case with Queen Jezebel. She was a bad influence on her husband. She is the original evil queen, the prototype for all those Disney movies.

She comes to her husband and basically tells him to quit being a baby and start being a king. “Do you or do you not rule over Israel? If you aren’t going to do something about it, then I will. You will have your precious vineyard.”

Jezebel then schemes and plans to get rid of Naboth. She sent letters to the leaders of the city and called for a fast for the whole city. Why a fast? Calling for a city-wide fast would indicate that a crime of such a grave nature had been committed as to require the calling of a penitential general assembly. In other words, somebody has done something wrong, and the whole community needs to repent and figure out who did what. And Jezebel arranged for Naboth to be the fall guy. Two worthless men brought false charges against Naboth at this general assembly. “We heard Naboth curse God and the king!” They were accusing Naboth of blasphemy against God and treason against the king. Apparently, Naboth does not receive a fair trial. He is dragged outside the city and stoned to death.

And wouldn’t you know it! The property of traitors was by law forfeited to the king! Everything went according to Jezebel’s plan. She told her husband the “good news,” and he went to take possession of the vineyard.

The story does not end here however, even though that is where we stopped reading. God speaks to Elijah, the prophet, and tells him to go confront Ahab and to describe in great, gory detail how Ahab and Jezebel are going to die. Now Elijah and Ahab had already had plenty of run-ins before. Ahab had tried on numerous occasions to have Elijah killed because Elijah was always speaking against him and condemning him. When Elijah confronts Ahab, we get a little bit of sarcasm from King Ahab. “Have you found me, O my enemy?” In others words, we meet again. Or even, I’ve been expecting you.

"Jezebel is going to be eaten by dogs!" No, really.

“Jezebel is going to be eaten by dogs!” No, really.

Elijah then condemns Ahab and promises his destruction and predicts Jezebel’s death. Then we get an interesting aside. Verses 25 and 26 mention again how evil Ahab is. “There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited. He acted very abominably in going after idols.” It’s a reminder of Ahab’s wickedness. But when Ahab heard God’s law and his punishment from the mouth of Elijah, Ahab repents. He tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and fasted. And apparently it was a genuine repentance, at least for this sin, because God relents and says “Because Ahab has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days, but in his son’s days instead.”

And if Ahab, the evil king, can repent and turn from his wickedness and receive forgiveness, there is hope for you and me as well. Yes, I am afraid it is true. When it comes to application of this text today, you and I are much more like King Ahab than Naboth.

Before you get too offended from being compared to “the most evil king Israel ever had” I encourage you to learn from St. Paul. He had no problem with superlatives. This is what he writes to Timothy: The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. I am the worst of sinners, Paul says. And if he, St. Paul of all people, recognized the depths of his sin and wickedness, I think you can take a moment to consider your own.

After all, what was King Ahab’s sin? His sin was coveting. He had a sinful desire for that which was not his. He did not need the vineyard. He was the king. He had more than he could ever need. But I find it to be a rule that the more you have, the more you want. King Ahab was selfish. He threw a fit when he did not get his way. And ultimately, he didn’t care whose life he ruined in order to get what he wanted.

i want moreThere is a King Ahab in all of us. Like him, you covet. You desire that which is not yours and belongs to others. It probably isn’t a vineyard that you desire, but it could be a number of other things: the car, the money, the lifestyle, the reputation, the family, the health, the body, the job that belongs to somebody else. Like Ahab, you are greedy. You have more than what you need to support this body and life, and yet it is never enough. The more you have, the more you want. Like King Ahab, you are selfish. I find it hard myself to think back on something I have done completely self-less-ly. There always seems to be an element of selfishness. What is going to be comfortable or easy for me? What is going to make me happy? Even my good deeds and your good deeds are soiled with sin and selfishness. We can’t escape it.

And in your selfishness, you trample on the needs of others. In your coveting, you have no regard for the person who actually possesses what you want. In your effort to build yourself up, you tear other people down with gossip and slander. You try to use whatever power and influence you have to get what you want. The list could go on and on. We are the foremost of sinners.

You and I need a visit from the prophet Elijah as well. Or how about the apostle Paul who says in Colossians 3: Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. The wrath of God is promised to you just as it was promised to Ahab for his wickedness. Put it to death, Paul says. Repent. Turn away from your wickedness, and God will have mercy on you for the sake of His Son, Jesus.

How does Jesus fit into this story? If you think about it, Jesus is a lot like Naboth. Like Naboth, Jesus is the preserver of a vineyard. Think of Jesus’ parable of the wicked tenants. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. The tenants killed the servants that the master sent to collect the fruit. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

Naboth points us to Jesus who was also killed over a vineyard.

Naboth points us to Jesus who was also killed over a vineyard.

Sound familiar? Like Naboth, Jesus was killed over a vineyard. But in Jesus’ case, the vineyard represents the people of God- God’s treasured possession. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were jealous of Jesus and his popularity and resented his claims to be the Son of God. They wanted power and control over God’s people. And so like Naboth, Jesus was plotted against in secret by those who wished to destroy him and take his inheritance. Like Naboth, Jesus was an innocent man accused falsely by witnesses who were planted at his trial. Like Naboth, Jesus was accused of blasphemy against God and rebellion against the king or Caesar. Like Naboth, Jesus did not receive a fair trial. Like Naboth, Jesus was sentenced to die unjustly. Like Naboth, Jesus was taken outside the city and killed.

Jesus is the true and greater Naboth. Naboth is a type of Christ, a person who points forward to what Jesus ultimately does through his death and resurrection. How does this story of King Ahab and Naboth point to Jesus? Jesus, the innocent man, is killed unjustly, yet through his death, undeserving sinners like you and me are now heirs of God’s inheritance, the very treasures of heaven.

Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom you are the foremost. All of your sinful desires, your covetousness, your selfishness, your greed, was nailed to the cross of Jesus and was killed. Instead of God’s wrath and punishment, you are now rewarded as a child of God, and no one can take that away from you. Satan can scheme and try to take what is yours, but no one can snatch you out of the Father’s hand. You are his treasured possession, a member of his family, firmly planted in the vineyard of God.

If God was going to write your obituary, he would not list your sins and wickedness. He doesn’t remember them. He only remembers what His Son Jesus has done for you. Your obituary would probably say something like this: (Insert name here)- a beloved child of God through Jesus Christ and an heir to eternal life. Amen.

Let us pray: Chief of sinners though I be Jesus shed His blood for me,

Died that I might live on high, Lives that I might never die.

As the branch is to the vine, I am His, and He is mine. Amen.

 

 

 

Obscure Bible Characters: Korah

A sermon based on Numbers 16

Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Back in March 2013 in Florida, Jeremy Bush was awakened in the middle of the night by screams for help from his brother, Jeff, who was sleeping in the other room. Jeremy rushed to his brother’s room and discovered that a huge sinkhole had opened up right underneath his brother’s bedroom. The ground simply gave way and eventually nearly swallowed the whole house. “Everything was gone.” Jeremy reported. “My brother’s bed, my brother’s dresser, my brother’s TV. My brother was gone.”

korah 1Sinkholes are quite common in certain areas of Florida and can cause quite a lot of damage. But imagine witnessing a sinkhole on a much larger scale such as the one created by God to swallow up Korah and those involved in his rebellion. Again from Numbers 16: And as soon as Moses had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods.

This weekend and the next couple of weekends I am returning to my sermon series from last summer. We are going to look at some more obscure Bible characters. Everybody knows about Abraham and Moses and David and Paul. But what about Ehud and Mephibosheth and Gomer? Those were the obscure characters we learned about last year. This year we are looking at Korah and Naboth and Eutychus. Why? Well, because they have interesting stories to tell as well, and they can also teach us about who God is and what he is like.

But the most important question to ask as we look at these stories and really any story from the Old or New Testament is this: How does this story point to Christ? Jesus is the center of all Scripture. All of God’s Word is really about him and what he has done. We know this because Jesus himself tells us this in Luke 24 after his resurrection from the dead. “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.”

So let’s look at the story of Korah again, a rather shocking story revealing God’s wrath and punishment for sin. In addition to asking how this story points to Jesus, it is important to understand this story in its original context as well. So we are actually going to back up a little bit in the book of Numbers, just a couple chapters. In Numbers 13, the people of Israel are on the doorstep of the Promised Land. They have been rescued from Egypt. They’ve been to Mt. Sinai. They are outside the land of Caanan, the land that God promised to give them. So Moses sends 12 spies into the land to scout out the people and the cities. The report, at least from 10 of the spies, is not good. “The people of Canaan are too big. Their walls are too high. We are doomed!” Joshua and Caleb try to talk some sense into the people, knowing that God has promised to give the land of Canaan over to them.

Come on, people of Israel! Really?

Come on, people of Israel! Really?

It does no good. The people panic. They wail and cry. And they rebel. This is what they say: “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

This is no joke. We had it better in Egypt, they claim. Of all the dumb things to say… And so God is quite displeased- to put it nicely. He wants to destroy them all and just start over with Moses. Moses intervenes and begs for mercy. So God does not kill all the Israelites. But he still punishes them. The generation that came out of Egypt and who was now rebelling would never enter the Promised Land. Rather, the people of Israel were now doomed to wander 40 years in the wilderness as punishment for their rebellion.

This is the state of affairs as we head into Numbers 16. Things are quite unsettled in the Israelite camp to say the least. And now here comes Korah before Moses and Aaron to stir up some more trouble. He has a problem with their leadership. Korah is a member of the tribe of Levi which means that he and his family members had been set apart to take part in the services and sacrifices in the tabernacle. But that wasn’t enough. He and others wanted the power of the priesthood which was reserved for Aaron and his family alone. He seems to think that Aaron has made a power grab for this role himself. Korah complains, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?”

Moses immediately knows this is not good. But instead of telling Korah to back down, he proposes a test to see who God approves for the priesthood. This divine decision was connected with the offering of incense because this was the holiest function of priestly service. It brought the priest into the immediate presence of God. But Moses then gives a warning, repeating Korah’s own words back to him. “You have gone too far, sons of Levi!” Is it not enough that God has already chosen you for a special service? Now you want to make a power grab for the priesthood also? Realize this: you are not rebelling against Aaron. Aaron did not put himself in this position. You are rebelling against God. That is what Korah did not realize. His true beef was with God. God put Moses and Aaron in those places of authority. They did not seize them for themselves. Moses never wanted it in the first place.

So what was Korah’s sin? His sin was rebellion against God and against the human authorities that God had established. So the application of this for you today was easy for me to figure out. Obey your pastors! It’s clear as day! Case closed! Sermon over! Go home and figure out how you are going to accomplish this.

But in all seriousness, let’s pause here and consider how we are like Korah. Like it or not, in these Old Testament stories, you and I are much better represented by the people of Israel than the so-called heroes of the faith. You are also continually rebellious and ungrateful. The default position of the human heart is to rebel against authority, both divine and human. It does not take little children long to figure out that they don’t always have to listen or obey their parents. They rebel. We often accuse teenagers of being rebellious, and certainly during that stage of life, they are testing how far they can go in their rebellion. They want to assert their independence.

But it’s not like you ever really grow out of your rebelliousness. You just actually get to excercise it as you mature and start making more decision for yourself. Sometimes you do understand the importance of rules and of authority, especially when you become a parent yourself. But you still want to do your own thing. You put up with authority, but you don’t really like it. You come up with excuses why you don’t have to obey human authorities. Well, they aren’t doing what I think is right. They aren’t making good decisions. It’s a dumb rule anyway. It should be 45 mph on this section of road, not 35!

St. Paul does not approve, Mr. Dean

St. Paul does not approve, Mr. Dean

But listen to what Paul says about earthly authorities in Romans 13. Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment… Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.

Just as in Korah’s rebellion, your rebellion against earthly authorities is rebellion against God who has put that authority in place. This goes for national leaders, local government officials, bosses, parents, teachers, yes, even your pastors as spiritual authorities- any form of human authority. Rebellion against them is rebellion against God.

And let’s face it. You and I don’t really like God’s authority over our lives either. You would rather do your own thing. Why does God get to come up with rules for your life anyway? Deep down, in your sinful nature, you want to be the only authority in your life. Just like the people of Israel, you grumble and complain about God’s authority and choices over your life. You think that maybe you were better off as a slave to sin. At least then you got to do what you wanted to do.

Yes, you and I are much more like Korah than we would want to admit, especially after hearing about what happened to him. God punished Korah for his rebellion, and Paul promises God’s wrath for those who resist authority even today. “Those who resist will incur judgment.” The wrath of God against sin and rebellion is death. Like Korah, you too will die and the earth will swallow you up in your grave.

Rebellion against God and his authority is rejection of him. It is saying, “I don’t want you. I am god over my life, not you.” It’s the oldest sin in the book! “You can be like God. You can be your own god,” Satan told Adam and Eve. And the punishment for rebellion against God is to be cast down into the depths of Sheol. The judgment for rebels may not happen as suddenly as it did for Korah and his band of rebels, but the Day of Judgment is coming, and it will come suddenly, when no one expects it. And on that day, when the heavens part and Jesus comes down, everyone will submit to him. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord. But for those whose hearts are turned against God in rebellion, it will be too late.

But this same Jesus who will come down to this world one day in judgment has already made an appearance on earth. He has come down not in judgment but for salvation. Jesus came to this earth in search of rebels like Korah and like you and me in order to save us from God’s eternal wrath and punishment.

Jesus willingly submitted to God the Father’s authority. The Lord of the universe humbled himself and became a human being, a servant to all. While on earth, Jesus diligently obeyed not only his heavenly Father, but all earthly authority. He obeyed his parents. He learned from his teachers. He paid his taxes and instructed others to do the same. And even when he was arrested by the military authorities and accused falsely by the religious authorities and sentenced to death wrongly by the governing authority, Jesus submitted to them. He was the one who had given them their authority, and now they were using it against him. Jesus could have revealed his power and authority at any time, yet he allowed Pontius Pilate to crucify him as a common criminal, as a rebel against the state. In the meantime, get this, in Jesus’ place, a rebel named Barabbas was set free.

And while on the cross, Jesus submitted himself to the wrath of God for all rebellion ever committed against him. On the cross, Jesus became a rebel, and God punished him for it, just like he had punished Korah. Upon his death, Jesus’ body was buried in a tomb. The earth swallowed him up, and Jesus descended into the depths of Sheol.

The earth opened up again, but this time, somebody came out!

The earth opened up again, but this time, somebody came out!

But death and the grave could not keep Jesus down. The earth swallowed him up, but three days later it spat him back out. Jesus burst forth from the grave alive and well. He is now our high priest and the great mediator between God and man. Jesus is greater than Aaron and Moses. He is the one, perfect sacrifice that has taken away all your sins. Through Jesus, not only was the rebel Barabbas set free. All rebels, including you, were set free from God’s punishment. God’s promise in Jeremiah 33:8 has been fulfilled in Jesus. I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me. God no longer sees you as a rebel but as a child of God.

Jesus now rules over the universe at God’s right hand in power and glory. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. Every knee will bow when he returns, and for those who have become children of God through faith in Jesus, the ground will not swallow you up forever either. You will be resurrected by the one who has authority over death itself through his own resurrection from the dead. And he will bring you into the Promised Land to live for all eternity. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

In the closing prayer, I am going to use the words from various psalms written by the sons of Korah. You see, even though Korah himself was punished, God used his descendants to write the very words of God in Scripture including some of the most familiar to you. Let us pray:

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way (I think that line is telling), though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Lord, You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin.  You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger. Restore us again, O God of our salvation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

Free to Fail

graduationOn Friday, June 6, I had the great honor and privilege to address the 2014 graduating class of my former high school, Holt Lutheran (or St. Matthew Lutheran back in my day).

This is what I had to say…

It is good to be back! Mrs. Backus, teachers of Holt Lutheran Schools, Pastor Poellet, members of the school board, members of the congregation, families and friends of the graduates, and finally, the graduation class of 2014 from Holt Lutheran Schools, thank you for the opportunity to be here and to speak to you today. It truly is an honor and a privilege.

If Abraham Lincoln were alive today, I think he would probably say, “Help! Get me out of this coffin!” Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. That was a joke that I made in my valedictorian speech 12 years ago, and I just had to bring it back. As you can see, my judgment has not improved with age.

Yes, it was 12 years ago when I graduated from this high school which may surprise those of you who know me and can remember when I was just a little guy, and may surprise the rest of you who don’t know me but assumed I was still in high school because of how young I look! And let me get this out of the way as well. It has to be said. We all know that the only reason I was invited here to speak is because my dad is the head of the school board. So graduates, I guess that’s my first piece of advice. Sometimes it just pays to know people.

But in all seriousness, graduates, congratulations! You have achieved a great milestone in your life. Graduation is an appropriate time to look back on your past accomplishments and to take pride in them. You have worked hard to get to this point. You have turned in all of your assignments, passed all of your tests, and completed all of your projects and requirements. Teachers, if this is not true for any of them, speak now or forever hold your peace. (Whew!) Looks like you’re good to go!

You have certainly not made it to this point on your own. You have had lots of help and support and guidance along the way. Graduation is also a time to thank all those who have played an instrumental role in your foundation and education. You have your parents and other family members. Your classmates and friends have been through this journey with you. Your teachers have prepared you for this next step. Let me tell you, you will never have teachers who care about you as much as these teachers do, I promise you that. Ever since this school began, it has been blessed with wonderful, dedicated teachers who were committed to providing the students here with a quality, Christ-centered education. Thank you on behalf of myself and all past graduates and on behalf of these current graduates as well.

plansGraduation is a time to look back, but it is also a time to look forward in excitement toward the future. It is a time to dream and to make plans. What is in store for you next? Some of you have already made plans for your next step. Perhaps you are headed off to college next year and you already know what degree and career you want to pursue. Some of you are going to college and are going to figure out your career path once you get there. Some of you might be postponing any further education for now. You are going to look for a job and try to get some money saved up and get some real-world experience.

What about beyond the next 5 years? Some of you plan on getting married- you don’t know to whom yet (or maybe you do), but you would like to do that someday. Maybe you also want to start a family and become a mom or dad. Some of you have aspirations for a successful career, starting from the bottom and working your way up to the top. Maybe you plan to travel the world. Perhaps you would like to volunteer much of your time to serve the poor and needy. How many are planning on retiring by age 45 and moving to the Bahamas?

Whatever your plans are at this point… go for it! Dream big! Make plans! Work hard to achieve them! You have been given the tools to succeed in life- a great education, a strong family support system, a strong foundation in Christ. You have the freedom to shoot for the stars, to plan for great things. You have the freedom to work hard, to apply yourself diligently to any goal or task. You have the freedom to make plans and go for them!

You also have the freedom to fail. What do I mean by that? Let me tell you a story about Samuel Johnson. Samuel Johnson was a writer who lived in the 18th century, and he kept a diary in which he recorded his valiant plans and attempts fight sloth and laziness by waking up early in the morning to pray. These are just a few examples of his entries.

1738: He wrote, “Oh Lord, enable me to redeem the time which I have spent in sloth.”

1757: (19 years later) “Oh mighty God, enable me to shake off sloth and redeem the time misspent in idleness and sin by diligent application of the days yet remaining.”

1759: (2 years later) “Enable me to shake off idleness and sloth.”

1765: “I purpose to rise at 8 because, though, I shall not rise early it will be much earlier than I now rise for I often lie until 2!” (Sounds like your summer plans, doesn’t it?)

1775: “When I look back upon resolution of improvement and amendments which have, year after year, been made and broken, why do I yet try to resolve again? I try because reformation is necessary and despair is criminal.” He resolves again to rise at 8.

1781: (3 years before his death) “I will not despair, help me, help me, oh my God.” He resolves to rise at 8 or sooner to avoid idleness.

I love his never quit effort. And I know that if I kept a diary of all my plans and resolutions, it would like a lot like Samuel Johnson’s. That’s life. Try and fail. Fail then try. Try and succeed. Succeed then fail. Two steps forward. One step back. One step forward. Three steps back. You are going to accomplish your plans at times. You are going to miserably fail other times.

What I also love about Samuel Johnson is that despite his failure to defeat sloth, he knew that God’s approval of him and God’s love for him was not dependent on his efforts. His failures, or successes, in life had no effect on his standing with God. God’s approval of you has nothing to do with your successes or failures either, but has everything to do with Jesus’ success on your behalf. That’s why you have the freedom to fail.

jere 2911 1The class verse that you chose is Jeremiah 29:11 which reads, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

This is a popular verse for graduation and other milestones. You might find it on some of the cards you receive or the trinkets you receive as gifts. But this verse isn’t really talking about God’s plans for your immediate future: not your college plans, or your career, or your marriage. God certainly does know what is in store for you, although he does not promise to prosper you in this life.

This verse is really looking at the bigger picture. As with all the Old Testament, this verse is pointing us to Jesus. In Jesus, your future is secure- your eternal future. In Jesus, you do have hope. In Jesus, you will prosper, not necessarily in this life- but in the life to come. Your eternal welfare is secure.

God knows that plans He has for you, and he has already accomplished part of that plan by sending Jesus to this earth to suffer and die on the cross and to rise again from the dead. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus has defeated your enemies and set you free from your own efforts to try to please God. One day, God will send Jesus back to this earth to complete his plan. Jesus will return and resurrect the dead and give eternal life to all who believe in him. That is your future, graduates and all who are gathered here today. That is why your Christian education is so important because your teachers have not only prepared you for your future in this life but also for your eternal life by teaching you about Jesus. You can have hope for the future because God does not fail when he makes plans.

Because your eternal future is secure, you have the freedom now in this life to make plans. You have the freedom to work hard and try to achieve those plans. And you have the freedom to fail and then to try again, knowing that God’s love for you has not changed and neither have his eternal plans for you.

So dream big! Make plans! Work hard! Do all things to the best of your ability, knowing that even though you will fail, God’s love never fails. His promises never fail. He knows the plans he has for you, graduates, plans to give you hope and a future- for all eternity. I pray that you would believe this good news your whole life.

Thank you again and congratulations!

A Scornful Wonder

We sang one of my favorite hymns this past Sunday: “The Church’s One Foundation.” I believe this hymn describes so well the Church on earth. Verse 3 (Lutheran Service Book) of this hymn reflects on how the outside world views the Church.

Though with a scornful wonder

The world sees her oppressed,

By schisms rent asunder,

By heresies distressed,

What perfect words! A scornful wonder! The world simply does not get the Church. The Church(as assumed by many in the world) is supposed be the lasting legacy of Jesus, a great teacher and prophet who taught everyone how to love, right? And at times, the Church can seem like the least loving place on earth. Those in the Church can be judgmental and arrogant and rude. We are hardly able to get along with each other (by schisms rent asunder) let alone with those outside the Church. We can be greedy and uncaring. We often do a very poor job of reflecting the love that Jesus demonstrated and taught. The Church is often very deserving of the scorn that the world heaps upon it.

But the scorn that the world dishes out also has a bit of wonder mixed in with it. The world wonders how the Church could have survived for this long. Ever since it began, the world has tried to put an end to the Church. The world has oppressed the Church by threatening and sometimes actually murdering those who claim to belong to it. The world has tried to intimidate the Church into silence. The world at times has just sat back and hoped that the Church would just itself from the inside out.

Yet 2,000 years later, the Church remains. How? The Church is full of hypocritical and narcissistic people. It has been threatened, mocked, censured and attacked. Still it remains. Still it has an impact on society and on the lives of individual people. Still it marches on, sometimes limping and staggering, but on it goes.

How can this phenomenon be explained?

foundation stone

The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.

Young people are not the future of the Church. Technology and innovation are not the future of the Church. Asia and Africa (the two places where Christianity is growing exponentially) are not the future of the Church. And most certainly, death is not the future of the Church.

Jesus Christ is the future of the Church. He is the past, present, and the future- the beginning and the end. Even though the Church is full of the worst kind of people, they are forgiven people through the blood of Jesus.Despite the failings of those in the Church, despite the divisions and heresies, the survival and success of the Church is not ultimately up to us. It is up to the Lord of the Church, and He has promised that the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.

You see, if Jesus were simply a great teacher who taught people how to love, the Church would not have survived this long. If Jesus were simply a great teacher who taught people how to love, the world would have shrugged. The world has plenty of those. Good people are not scorned by the world.

But a God who comes down from heaven to save His creation by dying on a cross and rising from the dead? A bloodied and dead Savior? A miraculous resurrection? A claim to be the only Way, Truth and Life? That message is an offense, a stumbling block, foolishness to the world, and a cause for scornful wonder.

The world mocks the Church because it mocked Jesus first. It threatens the Church because it is threatened by Jesus’ claim to be the Lord of all. The world kills those in the Church just as it tried to kill the Head of the Church. And it succeeded. For a couple of days anyway.

But just as the Lord of the Church rose from the dead to live forever, so too will those in the Church rise triumphantly one day. Until that day, may we in the Church keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, and proclaim the message of the cross so that we may continue to be looked at with a scornful wonder.

’Through toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.

church triumphant