Illusions & Safety – Sermon on Genesis 11:1-9 for the Day of Pentecost

The audio for this sermon will be available ASAP.

Genesis 11:1–9

1 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” 5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

In the midst of fear and anxiety over a virus, when we see a man unjustly killed in the streets of Minneapolis by an officer who is supposed to serve and protect the public, when we see a police officer killed in the line of duty in our community, when we see violent riots and evil thugs destroying property and livelihoods, it is easy to be scared and afraid. It is easy to wonder what is going to happen next. All of these things constantly remind us of our frailty and mortality. Where do we go to find refuge and safety?

We need to remember that the only safety, the only refuge, the only shelter we have is found in the arms of the God who died and rose again to deliver us from sin, death, and the devil. Our safety lies only in the God whose hands still bear the scars that set us free. Only one tower of safety exists, and that is the unshakable, unwavering, impenetrable fortress of the Christian Church.

Today is Pentecost, and we have heard how God gathers those whom He had scattered in the ruins of Babel to welcome them into the tower of the Church where they will be safe forever.

Today, we rejoice that we have been gathered together as the Body of Christ after our time of exile. It has been seventy-seven days since we last gathered together as a congregation (if Siri was correct when I asked her how many days it has been since March 15th which is when we last gathered here). The account of the Tower of Babel is a very fitting reminder that our only safety is found in the Christian Church. Every other thing that we consider safe is nothing more than an illusion. To get at why the account of the Tower of Babel teaches this, we have to go back a couple chapters before this text.

Back in Genesis 9[:18-29], Noah and his family have survived the flood and are off the ark. Scripture tells us that Noah became a man of the soil, planted a vineyard, got drunk on his wine, and fell asleep naked in a cave. Noah’s son Ham saw Noah’s nakedness and joked about it with his brothers Shem and Japheth. After learning about this, Noah curses Ham’s son, Canaan. And Ham was furious about this. Now, Ham had another son named Cush, and Cush bore Noah’s great-grandson named Nimrod. He was named Nimrod before it was an insult. Scripture tells us, that Nimrod “was the first on earth to be a mighty man” (Gen. 10:8), and Nimrod’s kingdom was Babel which we hear about in this text.

Most of the time when we hear the people of Babel talk about their plan, we think their final statement about trying to avoid being spread over the face of the earth is the singular point of rebellion against God’s command for them to fill the earth. But it appears as though there was even more defiance and hatred of God going on. Scripture also tells us that the people were building this city and tower to make a name for themselves, and they wanted their tower to have its top in the heavens.

The ancient Jewish historian Josephus has an interesting theory about what the people of Babel were trying to do. He draws this theory from other commentaries on Genesis that are much more ancient than him. The theory goes like this:

Ham hated his father, Noah, for cursing him. But even more so Ham hated God because God was really the one judging him for his sin against Noah. And Ham was angry that God would judge the world for their sin through the Flood. Ham hated the idea that he and all people should be accountable to God and have to answer for their sins. Ham passed this hatred down to his son Cush who passed this hatred down to Nimrod.

So, the theory about what is going on at Babel is not that a bunch of people have decided to live together in a big tower. Instead, the mighty man, Nimrod, has gathered people together and said that together they can be greater than God. Their desire is to be stronger than and overcome the God who would judge them. In other words, they want to be their own little ‘g’ god. They figured they could build a tower so high that the true God could not drown them like the generations before them. Even though God had promised that He would never do that again. But they didn’t trust God’s promise, so they are going to try and make themselves safe from God’s wrath.

Now, the Holy Spirit didn’t inspire this theory, and Scripture doesn’t give us these details. But still, it is a very good theory. First, it clearly explains what the people were trying to accomplish. They weren’t trying to build a tower to get closer to God; instead, they were trying to protect themselves from God and His anger over their sin. It explains why God saw their plan with such hostility and put a swift end to their work. The theory is also consistent with how sinners repeatedly respond to the judgment of God.

All sinners attempt to carry on the legacy of Nimrod. Kings and leaders of every generation do the same thing. Think of Nebuchadnezzar who built his idol and demanded that everyone bow down to it. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down and worship it, Nebuchadnezzar threatened them with the burning fiery furnace and boasted, “Who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” (Dan. 3:15). Nebuchadnezzar thought that he was stronger and more fearful than any other god. Of course, the true God came down and delivered them, so they came out of the furnace without even the smell of fire and smoke on them. But this pattern of leaders setting themselves up as greater than God still continues today.

Throughout history, communist dictators have declared that that the state is god who will provide everything for their people. They try to build a tower of government to their own glory and gather everyone as one. These communists burn and destroy churches and cathedrals in a futile attempt to remove Christ from His throne and usurp His claim to have all authority in heaven and on earth (Mt. 28:18). They insist that their rule is stronger than the God who can destroy them. But the illusion of their glory always falls. Their towers crumble and their leaders are buried.

Even now, governors and heads of departments of health say they are doing things to keep people safe. But safety is not something they can offer. And we are tragically being reminded of that. Despite their executive orders and guidelines and restrictions, people contract the virus and die. People are killed in the streets by evil men who are supposed to protect them. And even the police officers aren’t safe.

Of course much of the time, our leaders have the best interest of the people they govern in mind with protocols and protections. But we see – we clearly see – that safety is not something the earthly authorities can offer. They can offer protection, but those protections have limits. Nothing in this fallen, sinful earth can offer you safety. Earthly safety is always an illusion in a fallen, broken world like ours.

Dear saints, remember that in Christ alone is your safety. I’ve been talking to many people lately who mention they have trouble sleeping. They wake up with worries and doubts about their future – physically, economically, socially, etc. The best thing to do when you are filled with fear and sense the lack of security is to go to the Scriptures. And Psalm 4:8 is the best verse I can think of in those times of uncertainty. It is a comforting reminder, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”

Every generation since Babel has seen how God scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts and brings down the mighty from their thrones (Lk. 2:51-52).

So, dear saints, even as you see God tearing down today’s towers that seem to offer safety, have no fear. The God who is to be feared, and the God who tears down our illusions of safety is the same God who has sent His own Son to deliver you. The God who would pull down the mightiest kingdoms and empires of this world has Himself established a fortress and tower that cannot be overcome. The safety He offers often doesn’t look like much, but look around you. Here is that tower. From the rubble of earthly Towers of Babel and from the scattered peoples, God has established His holy Christian Church.

Built upon the Rock of Jesus Christ, the Church is the impenetrable fortress of safety which not even the gates of hell can overcome (Mt. 16:18). Wherever the Gospel is proclaimed, the very sinners who have been scattered throughout the world are gathered together not to overcome God, but to be overcome by His love and mercy.

On this day of Pentecost, God comes to those who are standing in the ruins of the Tower of Babel and puts something taller and higher before your eyes. He sets the cross of Christ before and gathers you here, and at the cross you see the judgment of God against sin that you could not take. Looking in faith to the cross, you see that God’s anger is no more because God has poured out every last bit of His anger against your sin upon Jesus. The God who had the right to condemn you for your cruelty and foolishness condemns His Son in your place. At the cross you see God’s judgment has not been poured out on you but on Christ. At the cross, you see that all your pride is of no value because Jesus’ blood has been poured over you and has erased it. At the foot of the cross you see that God’s love has found you and taken away your sin.

As you stand in the rubble of the towers that you would build to protect yourself from God’s wrath, look to the cross of Christ and see that Jesus has finished building the only tower that can hide you from the wrath of God. And, now that there is no anger of God left to consume you, see the empty tomb. See that because Christ has walked out of the grave triumphant over death see that there is now a room in that tower reserved with your name, and know that you have a place in the fortress of God’s love.

Dear saints, don’t ever settle for any illusions of safety. Find your refuge in your Savior. For you who believe, the tower of Christ will never fall because you have permanent and eternal shelter in Jesus’ forgiveness. And, in Christ, you will be safe forever. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Parting Joys – Sermon on Luke 24:44-53 for the observation of the Ascension of our Lord

Listen here.

Luke 24:44-53

44 Then he said to them, “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.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

50 And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

I vividly remember many times as a child packing up the car to leave after a visit to my grandparents. We would say our goodbyes, wave as we pulled out of the driveway, and hit the road. I would only last about half an hour before my quivering lips would turn into total waterworks. I would burst into tears because I missed my grandparents so much. I’m sure the Steve Green album my parents would play in the car added to my volatile emotional state. Anyway… I’d cry for however long as my parents reassured me that, no matter what, we see my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins again because we all believed in Jesus and Christians can only be parted for a brief time.

In Romeo & Juliet, when Juliet says goodnight to Romeo, she has the famous line, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” The line basically means that there is sorrow that the lovely Juliet has to be parted from her beloved Romeo, but there is a sweetness to saying goodbye because it makes them think about the next time they will see each other.

Time to get to the point of all this: Thursday marked forty days after Jesus’ resurrection which means that was the anniversary of Christ’s ascension into heaven where He is seated “on (or ‘at’) the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” I’ve said it many times, but Jesus’ ascension is a big deal. Now, everything that Jesus did is significant, but the ascension is right up there in importance with His birth, death, and resurrection.

In our Gospel text, the disciples don’t seem to think that Jesus’ ascension meant they should have any sorrow because Jesus has departed. Instead, they have joy.

In our Epistle text from Acts [1:1-11], Luke tells us that the disciples stood in wonder and awe and amazement as they watched Jesus ascend and get taken from their sight by the cloud. There they are staring up into heaven – and I’ve always imagined they are so filled with wonder that at least one of them is drooling – they are gaping at the skies until the angel appears to them and says, “Why are you standing around looking into heaven? This Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.”

In this text, Luke tells us that after Jesus ascended, the disciples worshiped Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy – great joy – and were continually in the Temple blessing God. When Jesus left the disciples, they had joy because Jesus had opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. They knew what Jesus’ ascension meant. So, let’s get to it, what does Jesus ascension mean?

The disciples knew that Jesus had ascended to the Father’s right hand. The first thing to know about this is that the Father’s right hand is not a place. Instead, it is an office. We often use the phrase “right hand man.” It doesn’t mean that that person is always standing at someone’s right hand; it means that the authority of one person is given to another.

When Jesus sits down at God the Father’s right hand, it means that He takes an office and all the functions of that office. All the things that belong to God belong to Jesus – all rule, authority, and power. It means that Jesus is everywhere, all-powerful, all-knowing. Now because He is God, Jesus, the Son of God, had all of those things all along. But when Jesus took on flesh, He didn’t use those attributes until His ascension. The ascension is how Jesus can promise, “Behold I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). You see, Jesus still has His body, and if He had remained on earth, we here in East Grand Forks couldn’t know if Jesus was with us if He was down in Melbourne Australia. But because Jesus is at the Father’s right hand, we can know that He is with us.

The Bible continually mentions this. In fact, there are some pastors and theologians who say that Jesus’ ascension is mentioned more in the Epistles than Jesus’ resurrection. I haven’t counted, but it would be an interesting study.

Think back, just for a minute, how the book of Acts begins (you heard it earlier). Luke the Evangelist wrote the Gospel of Luke to a guy named Theophilus. And Luke starts the book of Acts saying, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Act. 1:1) and the whole book of Acts is the record of how Jesus continues to serve, rule, grow, and reign over His Church.

The same Jesus who right now sits on the throne of the universe is the One who suffered, bled, died, and rose again for you. The Jesus who loves you in this way is the One who governs and rules over all things.

Dear Christians, while it appears that this world is full of chaos, sickness, pandemic, death, discord, and strife, the Scriptures continually testify to you that Jesus is still on the throne. He is in charge, and He promises that He works all things together for good for you who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Ro. 8:28) because He is at the Father’s right hand.

But again, we have a problem recognizing this because the devil is always trying to make us by forget that Jesus has ascended and is in charge. For example, we look around and see the world falling apart. Those who have been elected to rule are foolish, wicked, confused, dangerous, or incompetent. We see the church being persecuted and threatened all over the world. We see how people are hardly able to even speak to each other because of differing views on certain topics. We see all of this and try to wrap our heads around it and make sense of it all. We see things falling apart in our state and community with unemployment and businesses having to close their doors for the final time. We see people getting sick and dying. We see hurt, accidents, terrorism. We see people leaving the church and abandoning their faith.

Then, the devil comes and sticks our nose in all of that and says, “How can you think that Jesus is on the throne and in charge?” And we start to think that Jesus has abandoned us, that He has left us as orphans, and that we have to fend for ourselves. You see this happen in the church when people think that it is our job to spread the Gospel and grow the church because Jesus isn’t doing anything about it. That is wrong! God has not called us to be the ones to figure out how to grow the church. God has reserved that work for Himself. Yes, we are to be lights in this dark world. Yes, we are to be witnesses. Yes, we are to proclaim the Gospel by our words and actions. But we are partners with God in that. God has reserved the work of the growth of His Church to Himself. Jesus says that upon the rock of our confession that He is the Christ He will build His church and the gates of hell will never overcome it (Mt. 16:18).

With all of that in mind, I would encourage you over the next couple of days to read the book of Revelation. Do it in one sitting (it should take you less than an hour). And as you read Revelation, remember that Jesus is ascended, read it through that lens.

In a lot of ways, the book of Revelation is a commentary on Jesus’ ascension. John will write about seals and trumpets and bowls. He will see the frightful spiritual realities of this world. He will see famines, war, pestilence, and all sorts of terrible things happening. And as all of these things unfold, you start to think that the devil is in charge and running the show. But then, John gives us a glimpse of what is going on in heaven. And there, we see that Jesus, the Lamb of God who was sacrificed for our sins, is the One who is still sitting on the throne. The church is there with the all angels singing His praises. And just as you begin to get your fill of encouragement, it’s back down to the earth and it looks like things are getting worse. There’s dragons and beasts and rivers turning to blood. And just when it seems like Jesus has been dethroned, it’s back up to heaven and there is the Lamb of God still ruling, still reigning, still in control, still forgiving sins, still serving His Church. And this cycle keeps going until at last, Christ returns and heaven and earth are combined into one with Jesus still on the throne.

Finally, remember how Jesus ascended. He raised His hands in blessing. And Christ’s hands which bear the wounds He endured for your salvation are still lifted up in blessing over you today.

Dear saints, Jesus hasn’t left you because He is angry with you. Jesus is ascended to bless you and hear your prayers and present them before the Father. So, may you have joy that Jesus has ascended to rule and reign. Take heart. Have hope. Be of good courage. Your Jesus who was on the cross for you is now at the right hand of God for you, and He will stay there until He comes back for you.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Ask in Jesus’ Name – Sermon on John 16:23-33 for the 6th Sunday of Easter

Listen here.

John 16:23-33

23 “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. 26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”

29 His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

The name for this sixth Sunday of Easter is “Pray.” The name comes from the wonderful promise of Jesus in this text that gets translated, “Whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He will give it to you.”

Prayer is not an optional part of the Christian life. God commands us to pray in the 2nd Commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who taketh His name in vain.” When God forbids us from misusing His name, He is also commanding that we do rightly use His name to call upon Him in every time of need and worship Him with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. In other words, God wants His people to pray.

Constantly, the Scriptures tell us to pray. The Biblical design is that Christians should pray regularly and an ordered way. In the Old Testament there were specific times for prayer – both morning and evening. Even after the day of Pentecost, the apostles were going to the Temple to pray at the appointed times (Act. 3:1). Even though specific hours or times of prayer aren’t prescribed in the New Testament, every single book in the New Testament directs God’s people to pray. And Paul will go so far as to say in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.” God wants His people to be people of prayer.

With all of that in mind, why is it that we – please note that I am including myself in this – why is it that we have find it difficult to make prayer a regular part of our lives?

Now, there are no passages of Scripture that expressly say, “Here is why you struggle to pray.” So, this isn’t a “Thus sayeth the Lord” thing. But I think all our hesitations to pray can be boiled down to one of two reasons. First, we find it hard to pray when we have a guilty conscience, and second, we don’t actually believe God when He promises to hear and answer our prayers. And the answer to both of those hesitations – the answer to our guilt and our doubt – is when Jesus tells us to pray in His name. So, let’s address both of those objections.

If you have a guilty conscience, you are reluctant to pray. When you know the guilt and depth of your sin, you don’t have the boldness to ask the holy God for something. I know I often go back to Isaiah’s call to be a prophet in Isaiah 6, but it is familiar and such a powerful scene. Isaiah sees God surrounded by the cloud and smoke. He sees the seraphim with their six wings. He hears them calling out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lordof hosts.” Isaiah doesn’t interrupt their song to say, “Hey God, would You mind helping me out? I’ve got something here that needs Your attention.” Instead, Isaiah is overwhelmed with his guilt and says, “I am undone. I’m a man of unclean lips,” which isn’t a prayer. Isaiah isn’t addressing in prayer there because he doesn’t know how to pray as he ought because of his guilty conscience. Yet, the Holy Spirit intercedes for Isaiah with groanings too deep for words (Ro. 8:26). And God treats Isaiah’s statement like a prayer and answers it by sending one of the seraphs with a coal and a word to absolve Isaiah.

When we have a guilty conscience, we don’t want to pray because we think it would be a waste of God’s time. You see, a guilty conscience makes all our requests seem petty. Even though we might be praying for a truly important thing – like an end to the physical and economic suffering and that the virus is inflicting upon the world – a guilty conscience makes us feel insignificant and distant from a holy God. But listen, if you aren’t going to pray until you feel you are worthy, you will never and should never ask God for anything. Ever!

So, the solution to a guilty conscience is found in Jesus’ words here: “Whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He will give it to you.”

Now, simply throwing a quick “in Jesus’ name” to the end of your prayers isn’t the magical “abracadabra” that gets God’s attention. You are a child of God, and you always have God’s attention.

Instead, praying in Jesus’ name means that you are praying for the sake of Jesus’ death and atonement of you. If you were to approach God without Jesus’ blood and cleansing, your prayers are not pleasing to God. But with Jesus and in His name, you have Jesus’ clear promise that the Father Himself loves you (Jn. 16:27). You have Jesus’ promise that when you ask in His name the Father will give what you ask so that your joy will be full (Jn. 16:24). When you pray in Jesus’ name, you come before God with the perfection of Jesus.

Many Christians have the wrong idea that when they are forgiven by God for the sake of Jesus that they have entered into some sort of neutral state. They think of their sin sort of like credit card debt that they have racked up. Then, when Jesus comes along to forgive them, He pays off their debt so that it is gone, and they can start again with a zero-debt balance. That kind of thinking, that kind of theology, that view of sin and forgiveness is actually very Roman Catholic.

Dear saints, when Scripture teaches that Jesus forgives you for the sake of His death and resurrection, and He also gives you His complete righteousness and perfect obedience (Ro. 3:21-22; 5:17-19; 2 Cor. 5:21; Php. 3:9; Gen. 15:6). God hears your prayers and does not take your sins into account. When God hears your prayers, it is as though He is hearing Jesus Himself pray.

When you pray in Jesus’ name, there are no trivial or unimportant prayers. Whatever you pray for is important to God because it is important to you, and God is interested in you.

I remember in 8th grade, I was going to a Christian school, and our first period was always Bible. Our teacher would take prayer requests. The other boys and I would raise our hands and ask that we pray for the Twins or Vikings to win. There was a kid who was a fan of the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Bears, so when the Twins were playing the Indians or the Vikings playing the Bears there would be competing prayer requests. So, we would make sure to get enough prayer requests to outnumber his requests for the enemy teams. I think we’d even giggle when the person praying (it might have been me) made sure to mention in the prayer, “Four of us want the Twins to win, and only one of us wants the Indians to win.”

For many years (and still today) I find myself getting embarrassed about praying to God for trivial and simple things. But you know what? God didn’t, and God doesn’t. If you want something, it doesn’t matter how silly it is, go ahead and pray for it. At least you’re going to the right Source! You are asking your loving, generous, and kind heavenly Father for what you want. And He doesn’t look down on you for it.

Now, this doesn’t mean that our prayers are perfect. In fact, sometimes we pray for sinful things. But remember that the blood of Jesus has covered you, and God does not remember or regard those sins (Is. 43:25). He always loves to hear your prayers, so go to God in prayer with boldness.

So, when you have a guilty conscience, remember that you pray in Jesus’ name.

And regarding the second hesitation or reason we find it difficult to pray is that we don’t believe God when He promises to hear and answer our prayers.

Too often, we have a philosophical and fatalistic approach to our prayer. Here’s what I mean by that. We know that God is omniscient – He knows everything. This means that He knows everything that will happen in the future. And we know that God is omnipotent, or all-powerful, and He governs everything. He has His loving hand in everything that happens in the world which is why Scripture can say that God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Ro. 8:28).

If we take that Scriptural truth with us into prayer, we can come to the wrong conclusion that our prayer isn’t going to do any good or change anything because God has already determined He will do and will do it. Ultimately, that line of thinking makes prayer pointless with regard to changing anything. But that view is wrong. It is just plain wrong.

The Bible teaches the opposite. When you pray, you pray as a child of God, and God reacts to your council on matters in the world.

Picture it this way. When a president or king or general is fighting a war, he has advisors. They sit around a table and strategize and consult and plan together. Those advisors are important, and their input is valued and sways and changes the strategy and actions of the leader.

As a child of God, you are at that table. When Scripture tells you to pray, it means that you are invited into God’s war room to give your input as to how things should be handled on the battlefield. God is going to ask your thoughts on how a situation should be handled. God turns to you and says, “Ok child. Here’s the situation. What do you think we should do?” And your prayers are your response. And God says, “Ok. That’s what we’ll do.”

Think back to the people of Nineveh when Jonah preached to them. They prayed in repentance and faith to God, and Jonah 3:10 says, “God relented of the disaster that He had said He would do to them, and He did not do it.” Their repentance was faith in God’s Word. They repented because they believed the Word of God’s Law. And because they were united to Jesus’ name through that repentance, God listened to their prayers and acted accordingly. And this view of prayer, the view that prayer is effective and influences how God acts in the world, in no way limits God’s power or authority.

Now, let me be very clear on this. God always knows what is best to do, and He won’t let His counselor’s input ruin what is best. Remember that even Jesus had one of His prayers denied. When Jesus prayed, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me” (Mt. 26:39), it was the most futile and impossible prayer that has ever been prayed or will be prayed. Jesus’ death was the only answer for our sin. But God absolutely listened to Jesus prayer, and He loved to hear it. Jesus prayed it without sinning, and God still answered Jesus’ prayer because He also prayed, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Again, God will not let His counselor’s input thwart what is best.

But God does respond to what you, as His children and counselors, want to do. So, when God invites and commands you to pray, He is asking you for your input. So, if you fumble around and look at the ground saying, “Well, I’m not sure. You’re God. You should decide what to do,” do you think that God is pleased with that? Of course not. Pray. Ask. Be at God’s table.

Listen to these Scripture texts and tell me if it seems like your prayer does anything. From James 5[:15], “The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” Yes, your prayer does something!

Listen to the next verses (Jam. 5:16b-18), “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.” Does that make it sound like God just does whatever He is going to do and your prayer doesn’t matter? Nope!

God invites you, His children, into the war room and wants your input regarding His action. And, in no way does this limit God’s power. God retains His total sovereignty and still is able to bring our opinions into His consideration. This is beyond our ability to make sense of. We cannot philosophize how this is possible. But it is what Scripture teaches, and it is beautiful.

If we don’t believe that our prayers make a difference, we have the false idea that God is like a lazy father on television shows who is disinterested in his children. We wrongly think that He just wants to be left alone and read His newspaper.

Dear children of God, your loving heavenly Father always puts the newspaper down, always puts His cell phone back in His pocket, always turns off the game. Your heavenly Father always has time for you, always wants to hear from you, and always wants to speak with you.

Before I conclude here, I want to give you three quick and easy prayers to put in your back pocket. I think one of the best ways to be more regular and faithful in prayer is to do it more often, and these three little prayers are can help with that. They might not feel like prayers, but they are. Again, the more regularly you pray these simple prayers, the more easily you will find it to be more consistent in praying.

The first little prayer is for whenever you see something good happen. Pray, “God be praised.” It is good and right for you to verbally acknowledge and recognize that that good thing, whatever it is, has come from God.

The second little prayer is for whenever you see something bad or evil. Pray, “Lord, have mercy.” This is a perfect prayer in the face of any evil or disaster because God always desires to give you His mercy.

The third and final little prayer is for whenever you are making plans or looking to the future. Pray, “Lord willing,” or “If the Lord wills” (see James 4:13-15). Especially in these days of pandemic with constant change in rules and guidelines, etc. this little prayer reminds you that everything is in God’s merciful hands.

Hear again what Jesus says, “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf, for the Father Himself loves you” (Jn. 16:26-27). So, pray. Be regular in your prayers because God does not regard your sins, and He desires and acts upon your input. Pray in Jesus’ name, and watch how God acts for your good and for the good of others.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Good & Perfect Gifts – Sermon on James 1:12-21 for the 5th Sunday of Easter

Listen here.

James 1:12–21

12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

As Christians, we know the Source of all good things. “Every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” So, for example, when you have a perfectly cooked steak (which, by the way, means rare – not well-done not medium, rare), you know that it has come from God. When you are protected from the cold or snow or heat or rain in your house; when you are surrounded by your loving family; when you are awed at the sight of a majestic mountain, a serene sunset, a perfect prairie; when your body works as it is supposed to; you know all of that comes to you as a good gift from God. And because you know it comes from God, you don’t have to ask, “Is this good?”

You don’t have any problem recognizing those good things as coming from God. But you do have the opposite problem.

We sinners are all deceived when we see something that God has not given but think it is good and God is holding out on us. Whenever we do that, we sin.

A lot of people say, “Love is good and can’t be bad.” But if you love someone who is not your spouse and think that is ok to indulge that love, you are wrong. You are deceiving yourself. It is forbidden. It is sin. It is going to hurt you and others.

Same thing goes for the truth. If you realize that the truth is going to harm you or your reputation, you try to be God. You use your words to try to create a different reality or a different truth – in other words, you lie. Again, you have been deceived by your own false desires. You have sinned. You are fostering and nurturing sin which grows up into death. Repent.

Those false desires are like an infomercial or used car salesman. Sin likes to promise of pleasure and ease and peace, but it never delivers.

Dear saints, put those false desires away. Instead of dwelling on and being enticed by those false desires (show James 1:19-21), be slow to speak, slow to anger. Your false desires only bring about anger and sin and death. And most importantly, be quick to hear. Be quick to hear especially the Word of God because it is that very Word of God that the Holy Spirit uses to bring you forth, to give you the new birth which is a perfect gift from above.

God does not play in the false promises that sin and false desire does. Sin is always ready to make a deal with us, and we love making deals because we can negotiate the terms. We want to calculate the cost of the time, effort, and resources we put in and evaluate the payout. Since we like to bargain and deal, sin has us square in its crosshairs.

But God doesn’t operate that way. God does not make dazzling, enticing, or fake promises. God isn’t a swindler, and He doesn’t make trades. God is a giver. With a giver, you can receive or reject, but you can’t make a deal (Nagel). The giving-God doesn’t play around with negotiations, and we cannot make a deal with Him no matter how hard we try because we have nothing to offer that isn’t His already. Instead, God gives us every good and every perfect gift.

We have all sorts of good gifts here in this life. That steak, the beauty of creation, the relationships that God has given us in this life are all good gifts that we have not earned or deserved. Even your life is a good gift from God. Life is always a gift. No one can give themselves physical life. God used your mother to give you life, and for that we are grateful today. Again, all of these are good gifts, and they are good (but not perfect) gifts because they do not and cannot last.

But the giver-God who is pleased to give you good gifts is also pleased to give you perfect gifts which will never fade and will last for all eternity.

Through Christ’s death and resurrection, God gives you eternal life as His children. He brings you forth by His Word of truth. For most of you, God gave you eternal life when He connected His Words and promises to the waters of your Baptism.

When you heard the Absolution earlier, God actually did what His Word said. The same thing is true when you receive Holy Communion. God gives and delivers exactly and precisely what He says – forgiveness, life, and salvation.

When you hear the Benediction in a few minutes, you will actually receive God’s blessing which is why I encourage you to open your hands to receive the Benediction. It helps to remind you that God is actually doing, delivering, and giving to you exactly what those words say (Num. 6:27).

With all the good gifts and all the perfect gifts we receive from God, we can begin to get uneasy. We think it’s too much. We think we are going to be punished by God if we abuse or misuse these good and perfect gifts. But God doesn’t tire of giving. He just gives more. He would have us open our hands wider to keep receiving good and perfect gifts from Him. And if you are worried that His gifts will get too big and overwhelm you, there is a simple solution: Join God in His giving game.

Because God continues to pour out His gifts and blessings us, we know that we are free to bless others and join God in giving His gifts away.

The giver-God pours out His good and perfect gifts on you because He has made you His child. With each gift, He nudges you to open your hands wider to both to receive and to give.

With hands held wide open to receive and give His gifts, we move forward from being the firstfruits toward the joy of the final harvest.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Amen.[1]

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] I am thankful for a sermon by Dr. Normal Nagel for the outline and theme of this sermon.

The Exiled Life – Sermon on 1 Peter 2:11-20 for the 4th Sunday of Easter

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1 Peter 2:11-20

11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

In this text, God is calling you to something that is difficult. You are called to be a citizen of heaven while living here on earth. And the difficulty lies in the fact that you are a sojourner and exile. Christian, you are not at home here even though this world, this planet, this existence, this country, and (for some of you) this town is the only place you have called ever called “home.” And yet, because you are a Christian, this world full of sin and vice and virus and pandemic is just the place you are passing through.

Hebrews 13:[14] puts it about as plainly as possible, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” As a Christian, you are a citizen of the eternal, lasting city of heaven, but for now, you are a citizen of East Grand Forks (or Grand Forks or Fisher or Crookston or Thompson or Olso or Warren or Drayton or any other town you dear saints live in that I forgot to mention). Seriously, I never figured that I would serve a congregation in a decent-sized city that would draw people from as far away as many of you live. But that’s beside the point.

Christian, you are a citizen of heaven, and yet, here you are. Minnesotans, North Dakotans, Americans, and yet citizens of the kingdom of heaven. The fact that you are a citizen of the kingdom of God means you have great hope and expectation. But God has seen it fit for you to be a sojourner and exile – for now.

So, how are you to live right now as an exiled citizen of an eternal city and kingdom while you are in this world that is very much proving itself to be extremely temporary?

Well, this text has the answer, but again it isn’t an easy answer. As God’s people, you occupy a middle ground, and you are called to stand in that middle ground. You are not to be like the people of this world; you are not to be like unbelievers who think that the only good is to enjoy earthly delights. But neither are you to be such sublime, euphoric citizens of heaven that you are of no earthly good.

As a Christian, you live in a suspended state. You are heading toward your eternal habitation, your lasting city that is to come. But you are not to live separated from your neighbor who isn’t a citizen of heaven. Instead, you are to live a life of service, honor, and love because what is good for your neighbor and your land is good for you.

When God sent His people into exile in Babylon, God had Jeremiah write against false prophets who were telling God’s people that they would return home soon. Because of these false prophets, God’s people weren’t working or trying to earn a livelihood. So God sent this word through Jeremiah, “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer. 29:5-7).

God wanted His people to pray for the welfare and well-being of the city and empire that had destroyed their home and held them captive. So how much more for you, Christian, should you pray for and seek the well-being of the nation where God has blessed you? No, we don’t live in a perfect country – Lord knows we don’t live in a perfect country. But the welfare of our country, our state, our city means our own welfare. But at the same time, we long and yearn for our eternal city and habitation. So we live this exiled life.

Christian, you are to live as free citizens of the kingdom of heaven. You have been bought and freed from sin, death, and the devil. Christians are, as Luther once said, “perfectly free and lord of all, subject to none.” Yet at the same time you are, “perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”

Instead of indulging in your self-centered, fleshly lusts you are to consider what will help and benefit your neighbor. This starts with your family, your brothers and sisters in Christ, the people on your block, your coworkers, and it keeps extending from there. And how you love your neighbor is informed and directed by the Commandments and also by the laws and rules of the community you live in.

Because we are sinful and self-centered, these laws and rules often feel like they constrain our freedom, but most of the time they don’t. Law and order is the road to freedom. If there are no laws to protect you and keep you safe, if you cannot buy something and reasonably expect that it will be yours until you sell it or give it away, if you cannot know that people will be punished when they wrong you, you cannot live free. And this is why God has given us the gift – yes, the gift – of rulers, government, and police.

Here, in our text, and in Romans 13, Scripture tells us that God has given us a good gift in government to keep order in this world where are sojourners and exiles through the rules and laws of the land. Romans 13:1–4, “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. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

Don’t forget when these verses of Scripture were written (both that passage from Romans and this text from 1 Peter), the ruler of the day was the evil, wicked, godless emperor Nero. The apostles Peter and Paul would be put to death by his order. The very guy who brutally persecuted Christians and would burn them alive to light his evening garden parties is called God’s servant for your good.

Too often, we see the resident in the White House or governor’s mansion as our enemy. And the only excuse we have for our despising of the rulers is our selfish pride – which is no excuse at all. It doesn’t matter if that leader’s party is represented by an elephant or a donkey, we Christians are to willingly submit to their authority because that authority has been given to them by God. Trying to assert our freedom from earthly rulers simply points to the fact that we are hypocrites who think we can pick and choose which verses of God’s Word are relevant or not. Repent.

Jesus said (Lk. 14:11), “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Christian freedom does not come from self-assertion. Christian freedom comes only from what Christ has done for you on the cross.

Now, of course, none of this guarantees that the rulers that God places over us will rule and govern fairly according to the law – either God’s or man’s. And when and if that is the case, we write, we petition, we vote. But their bad behavior as rulers is never an excuse to get out of our God-given duty to honor those authorities. Instead, we remember that God has established the authorities above us. And God will hold those authorities that He has put in place accountable for their actions. And we remember and trust what the Scripture says, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Pro. 21:1).

By submitting to the rulers and authorities – whether they are just or unjust – we are living lives that show our love for God. And living that way is going to attract the attention of children of the world, of unbelievers, so that when they look at us they say, “Boy, those Christians live as they believe. They have conviction. Maybe there is something about them that is honorable and worthy of praise.”

Dear saints, we live a life that shows that we do not need to earn our salvation because Jesus has won it for us. Instead, we live as sojourners and exiles for the glory of Christ. We can live this way because we know that it doesn’t matter if the world continues to grow worse. We know that it doesn’t matter if we are mocked and reviled as holding to ideas that the world finds “old-fashioned” and “backwards.” We know that it doesn’t matter if our candidate loses or if the world ends tomorrow. We are sojourners and exiles who have and are waiting for a city that endures for all eternity.

So, live as a servant of all. Pay your taxes. Pray for your leaders. Social distance. Wear your mask. Give to Caesar and Trump and Pelosi what is Caesar’s, Trump’s, and Pelosi’s. And give to God what is God’s (Mt. 22:21).

And when you fail – not if – but when you fail, remember that Jesus picks you up. He forgives you of your sins. And He calls you to walk with Him through this pilgrim land living the exiled life and waiting for the life of the world to come. And whenever you grow weary, don’t forget to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.”

Alleluia, Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

I’ll invite you to stand for our closing hymn Lord, as a Pilgrim.

I Have Other Sheep – Sermon on John 10:11-16 for the 3rd Sunday of Easter

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John 10:11-16

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

Alleluia, Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Many Christians live in fear. They fear that, even though they are Christians today, they won’t ultimately make it to heaven. They have fears that somehow they are fooling themselves, that the demons will get to them, that they will fall away if persecuted, or that they’re simply going to blow it. One of the saddest things is that the source of these fears often comes from pastors, evangelists, and Christian books and radio with pious-sounding questions like, “Sure, Jesus is your Savior, but is He your Lord?” or “How is your commitment to or relationship with Jesus?” I remember several times wondering if I was really a Christian based on questions and statements like those.

I want you to notice that all those fears and doubts come when the focus is moved from Jesus to the individual. Luther once said, “When I look at myself, I don’t see how I can be saved. But when I look at Christ, I don’t see how I can be lost.”

In this Gospel text, Jesus would have us look away from ourselves and fix our eyes on Him, and in Christ we find our Good Shepherd. Listen carefully to Jesus again, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.”

Did you catch it? Jesus says that He has – present tense – He has these sheep even before He brings them. Jesus has these sheep, and then He brings them. Just in case you think Jesus misspoke, simply go back a few verses to John 10:3-4 where Jesus, again talking about Himself as the Good Shepherd says, “The sheep hear [their Shepherd’s] voice and He calls them out. When He has brought out all His own, He goes before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice.” In other words, the sheep of the Shepherd know His voice when He calls because He is their Shepherd. They are not true sheep because they first hear His voice and then follow. Instead, they hear and follow because they are already His sheep. When Jesus calls through the voice of the Scriptures, He is calling to those who are His own. They know His voice because He already has them as His sheep.

Jesus has His sheep because the Father has given them to Jesus. Listen to how Jesus prays in John 17:6, “I have manifested Your name to the people whom you gave Me out of the world. Yours they were, and You gave them to me, and they have kept Your word.”

Or listen to what Jesus says in John 6:37a, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me.” The Father has these sheep, gives them to Jesus, and they follow Him and keep His word. But back to our text here, Jesus says, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.”

Remember from last week’s sermon text after Thomas’ doubts are quieted, Jesus says, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn. 20:29)? Dear Christian, Jesus was speaking of you there. You have not seen Him, and yet through the Holy Spirit working through the Word, you have heard Jesus’ voice and have believed. Well, when Jesus speaks of bringing in other sheep here, He again is speaking of you. You – each of you, individually – were on His mind when He spoke those words nearly two-thousand years ago. Before you heard His voice and believed, He already had you as His sheep.

Before you ever committed a single sin, before you ever did a good work, before you came to church, before any of that, Jesus had you. Your sins weren’t an obstacle, and your good works weren’t the reason He chose you. He already had you as His sheep. He says – present tense – “I have other sheep.”

As God promised in our Old Testament text (Ezk. 34:11-16) which you just heard, “As a shepherd seeks out his flock … so will I seek out My sheep. I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered…. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries…. I will feed them with good pasture…. I Myself will be the shepherd of My sheep, and I Myself will make them lie down…. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.”

Now, of course, it is important that we remember that we are sheep who are prone to wander. We need to know the Good Shepherd. We need to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd. And we need to follow the Good Shepherd. All of those things are part of this text – they are. The sheep don’t go off and listen to the voice of the false shepherds, and they don’t follow in the footsteps of the wolves or play in their dens. They follow Jesus.

But remember what comes previous to all of those things: Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has the sheep. “I have other sheep,” says Jesus.

So, with all of that, does it sound like it is your commitment that will get you to heaven, or is it Jesus’ commitment to you? Jesus’. Who is in control; who is driving, you or Jesus? Jesus is. Who is more interested in your eternal life, you or Jesus? Jesus is. And that is good. He is the Shepherd who goes and seeks after His sheep. In fact, He is the Shepherd who lays down His life for you, His sheep. You have been redeemed and rescued from death.

The 23rd Psalm is, of course, a very fitting text to consider in light of all this, but instead today consider for just a minute these verses Psalm 49[:14-15], “Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol,” (think of Sheol as the grave), “Like sheep they are appointed for [the grave]. Like sheep death shall be their shepherd…. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell. But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for He will receive me.”

Because Jesus has you as His sheep, He came to shepherd you, to seek you out, to find you, and to bring you safely to be with Him. He knows where to find you. He knows how to comfort and quiet you. He knows how to bring you into His fold.

Jesus, your Good Shepherd, became a sheep just like you. He is the Lamb who was slain and went to the grave. But He is risen and victorious. Because He became like you, He knows how to shepherd you. He knows your fears, your struggles, your temptations, and your foes. He has defeated them all. He has gone to the cross for you and died for you. Jesus has come through death to be with you, He will always abide with you, and He will not leave you. He has you as His sheep. And He will bring you safely to your eternal glory with Him.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Reunion – Sermon on John 20:19-31 for the 2nd Sunday of Easter

Listen here.

John 20:19-31

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Easter evening found ten of Jesus’ disciples huddled together behind locked doors. Earlier that morning, Peter and John had seen the empty tomb (Jn. 20:3-8). Mary Magdalene and some of the other women saw Jesus (Mt. 28:9-10). Two other disciples, who are not part of the Twelve, see Jesus on the road to Emmaus and have dinner with Him. At some point, Jesus appears to Peter privately (Lk. 24:34). Jesus is popping up all over the place, but the disciples are scared. They figure they are toast. Since Jesus had been killed, they must be next. At the direction of the religious leaders, Pilate had set a guard at the tomb to make sure they didn’t steal Jesus’ body. Now that He isn’t in the tomb anymore, the disciples expect soldiers can appear at any moment to drag them off to be executed.

And the interesting thing is that when Jesus appears and is reunited with them, He doesn’t promise that they won’t be killed for being His disciples. As it turns out, they will all eventually be executed for their faith in Jesus (all of them except for John). Jesus doesn’t take away the end that they are all afraid of, but Jesus does give them the courage to leave the room.

Jesus does not promise them that He won’t let them be harmed for being His disciples. He does not promise that He has taken care of the threats. Jesus does not give them superpowers to keep them safe from their enemies. Christ does not promise to protect them from dying a martyr’s death.

No, Jesus has this reunion with His disciples to give them courage to simply leave the room. And because of that courage Jesus gives them, you are saved today. How does Jesus deliver this courage? He does it through the peace and the purpose the only Jesus can give.

First, peace. When Jesus is reunited with His disciples, He says, “Peace be with you.” He says it again after He shows them His hands and side, “Peace be with you.” He’ll even say it a third time when He appears the next week when they are still in the same room with the same locked doors and Thomas is with them, “Peace be with you.”

Jesus speaks that peace to them and shows them His wounds. The reason Jesus shows them His hands and side is not only to prove that it really is Him – the one who was crucified and rose again. He shows them His wounds because it was from those very wounds that He shed His holy and precious blood which delivers peace.

Whatever you are afraid of, the answer to your fear is found in the wounds of Jesus. Christ says to you in the face of all your fears, “I died for you. Your sins are forgiven. I have overcome death and the grave for you.” Whenever your courage falters, whenever you cower in fear, Jesus gives you a glimpse of His wounds in the preaching of the Gospel. Those wounds preach to you that God is not mad at you because of your sin. Those wounds preach to you that there is no judgment, no condemnation for you who are in Christ (Ro. 8:1). And this preaching of peace gives you courage. Because of the wounds of Jesus, you can face anything that threatens you now because God is on your side. The worst thing that could ever happen to you is that you die and go to be with Jesus your Savior who conquered and defeated death for you. And in that knowledge, you have peace – peace that surpasses all understanding.

So, first, Jesus gives His disciples peace, then, second, He gives them and you purpose.

A lot of people look for purpose in life. People have always been asking, “Why am I here? What am I to do? What is the meaning of it all?” I would guess that these types of questions are running through your mind even more in these days when our community, our society, our country, and our whole world is threatened by something so small as a virus. What’s the reason to keep going?

Well, dear saints, Jesus has a reason and a purpose for you to keep on. Jesus says, “As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.” Then, Jesus breaths on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Jesus gives you the peace you need, and the purpose you need. Christian, you have a specific purpose. Your purpose is to go and give out the forgiveness of sins. As a Christian, your life is set apart to be forgiven by Christ and to share that forgiveness with others for the sake of Christ. You are to know and make known the death and resurrection of Jesus.

And in this time of pandemic full of anxiety and fear – when you can’t go to work or school or sporting tournaments or visit relatives and friends – God is giving you the perfect opportunity to share that forgiveness and peace with the people that God has put closest to you, your immediate family. I would encourage you to spend this time rejoicing as a family in the forgiveness of Jesus. Being cooped up together in your house is the perfect time to learn and practice loving and forgiving one another. It will make you better at loving and forgiving others when God sees fit for that to happen again.

This is why you are still here. This is why God is keeping you in this world. Jesus has you here so that He can love you and forgive all your sins. And Jesus keeps you here, in this life, so you can love Him and the people He puts into your life.

Dear saints, Jesus is out of the tomb. The One who defeated death is alive and reunited with you so that you can have a reunion with God. And until the day that you are reunited with God, be reunited with one another. Share the peace and purpose that only comes through Jesus’ forgiveness.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.