The children can’t wait for it. The anticipation builds throughout the whole year.. It’s the night (or morning) of the year every year when children can go home and open their presents. Children get excited about the gifts that come in packages or bags. It’s a fun tradition to give gifts to those we love on Christmas. Today we remember the reason for those gifts under the Christmas tree is God’s own Christmas gift. Jesus comes, bearing gifts. As the prophet Isaiah shows us, A CHILD IS BORN TO YOU.
What’s all the hate against Midian for? Why does Isaiah talk about shattering Midian’s yoke as though this is a good thing? The king of Midian had tried to hire out a prophet to ensnare God’s people to sin as they prepared to entire the promised land. Balaam failed in cursing God’s people, but he found a way to ensnare God’s people. He led them into sin. God’s people suffered for their sin. But the LORD punished Midian and their oppression.
Their end was justified. God said it was. But why all the violence? We live in a violent world. People kill. People die. It happens every day. It seems there’s no end to it. All you have to do is turn on the news. People have not escaped this vicious cycle of violence. The world isn’t right.
I hope you aren’t worried for your life this Christmas. But maybe instead of facing violence and oppression, you feel the oppression of being overworked. Or maybe you’re worried about the family you’ll see over the holiday and how you ever will get along with them. Unless the words get overly heated, it’s not violence, but it’s a far cry from peace. Everything we see—our whole lives, like Israel—is tainted by the corruption of sin.
People give Christmas gifts as a sign of their love and care for one another at Christmas. It’s a special time to go the extra mile. For many, the content of the gift doesn’t matter nearly as much as the thought that goes behind it. After all, unless you’re a mind-reader or your 4 year-old hasn’t stopped telling you what they want for Christmas for the last six months, you probably will never find the perfect Christmas gift.
But God did. His Christmas gift wasn’t under a tree with an angel on top. It was announced by angels. Isaiah said it 700 years earlier. “To us, a child is born.” The angel announced, “Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you.” God’s gift is his own Son! More precious than all the Christmas gifts ever given combined, he didn’t concern himself with how much it left in his wallet. He gave the greatest gift, most expensive gift of all.
And Jesus brings even more gifts, too. His first gift is government. No, it’s not our president or our governor, although he can use them to bless us, too. No, this is Christ’s own government of the nations. You might think, “I don’t recall Jesus ever ruling over any nation.” That would be right. But Jesus rules over all the nations. He rules on David’s throne. He’s not king of Israel only, but Lord of nations and King of kings. He ascended to his throne where he rules on behalf of his church.
But then why is our world still so restless and evil? On Christmas, many people try to dig deep and find the goodness in people, but it’s just not there. Crime exists on Christmas as much as any other day. And we sin as much on Christmas as we do any other day. If Jesus is ruling, why aren’t things better?
Children often know they get a number of gifts on Christmas. They maybe get a gift or two from mom and dad. Grandparents often buy gifts. They can’t wait to get home on Christmas Eve or wake up on Christmas morning and find those toys and goodies so they can play with them and enjoy them.
Like children waiting to play with their new toys, are we just waiting for the rule of Jesus? He gives us more than one gift, too. It’s not just governing all nations. He promises peace in a restless world. He is the Prince of Peace, a peace that can never end. Jesus is the “Wonderful Counselor.” The wise ruler of the nations whose wise advice goes far beyond what we understand. He is able to make it happen. He rules in justice and righteousness.
Santa Claus permeates our culture. He is the man in red who gives good gifts to those who have been good. But get on his naughty list, and he gives you a lump of coal. Many use that to make their children behave, but the truth is…we don’t always. If we got what we deserve, it would be far worse than a lump of coal.
Righteousness and justice meet at the cross. God’s justice, his demand for glory and for obedience from his creation, was met by Jesus’ righteousness. Jesus always did, always does what is right, so that God could give you Jesus’ righteousness. Then God’s justice becomes, not a threat, but a promise that you will enjoy all his good gifts.
We can enjoy his peace. When we think of peace, we probably naturally think of a truce. The end of hostilities between two enemy nations. But one war ends and another begins. The peace of this child is a peace that includes that, yes. But it’s much, much bigger. The angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men, on whom his favor rests.” This peace is the knowledge that God is favorable to you. He wants to give you good gifts. And he already gave you the best one: Jesus. Along with him, you get peace—a restored relationship with God. This is the forgiveness of sins because of what Jesus would do. When that peace rules your heart, then you can start to see it in other places, too. Peace in the car. Peace at home. Peace at the office. Peace in the family. Peace with friends. This is an all-pervasive peace that goes beyond our understanding.
He is the mighty God who gets this done. Marvel a moment. The child who is born to us is none other than Mighty God from eternity. He came down to earth, why? To accomplish your salvation, by his own zeal, Jesus joined the human race. Tonight we remember him, so small and helpless! Yet there he is, the Son of God, a babe in a manger. He comes to die because we couldn’t pay the price. This priceless gift means peace and righteousness forever for you and me. That child is God, the Savior. He did not leave us to our lump of coal, but earned paradise for us! What more perfect Christmas present could you ask for?
This child rules the nations. He makes sure all things go according to his plan. No, not ours. But his. He will make sure that you end up where you need to be—now on earth, marveling at his great love, and forever in heaven, where he will rule in the fulness of his peace. At Christmas, we give each other gifts. Give them. And remember the greatest gift of all: Jesus, the Child born to us, who forgives your sins and gives you good gifts. Amen.
Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord. Amen.
Be thankful and joyful at what God has already done
Supply what is lacking
Let your love overflow
Pray God would strengthen your hearts
How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.
11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
It’s that time of year again. People are getting ready. The shopping has begun. Trees are being decorated. Lights are being put up. The world we live in is getting ready for Christmas.
At church, we have begun a new church year, and that means we’re getting ready. We are in the season of Advent—which means “coming.” As the world gets ready to celebrate Christ’s first coming, we are getting ready for Christ’s second coming. How do we get ready? It’s a matter of the heart. PREPARE YOUR HEARTS FOR ADVENT.
Paul wrote his letter to a model congregation in Thessalonica. As our text begins, Paul asks, “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?” Paul is doubling down with these words. He’s doubling down on his thankfulness. He asks how he can possibly thank God enough in return for what he’s gotten. He’s doubling down on joy. He’s doubling down on God—he thanks God for the joy he has in God’s presence. And he’s doubling down on the church in Thessalonica. He thanks God for them and the joy he has because of them. Paul’s emotions well up into joy and thanks to God for the believers in Thessalonica.
Like Paul, we have a lot to thank God for today. As your pastor, I cannot thank God enough for you and the joy you give me. But more than that, we have many reasons to rejoice in God’s presence: people are hearing God’s Word from our congregation. With God’s blessing, we have plans to bring that Word to new sites. The Verona site has become a model congregation. The Monroe site is still here and growing. Our multi-site congregation is providing an example for others throughout our church body.
The song tells us it’s the “most wonderful time of the year.” The time of year when people are too busy to do anything. People are shopping. They’re baking. They’re decorating. And the job won’t give you a break to get it done, either. Students are studying for exams and preparing their projects. Teachers are in a mad dash to work on grades. Everything outside is cold and dead. There’s shoveling to do, salt to put down, cars to scrape. With so much to prepare, it seems like we never break! The “most wonderful time of year” often seems like “the most stressful time of year.” Yet whether you finish preparing or not, Christmas will come just as fast.
Paul was busy, too. Instead of getting ready to see the relatives for Christmas, he spent his time praying. “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.” Paul had been to Thessalonica before. As he preached there that Jesus had to suffer and die and rise again, many—both Jews and Greeks—came to believe in Jesus as their Savior. But his stay in Thessalonica was cut short. After three weeks, the jealous mob ran him out of town. He had to leave, but he hadn’t finished getting them ready. He longed to come back to them so that he could “supply what was lacking in their faith.”
The Thessalonian Christians, despite being model Christians, had a lot left to learn. Paul never stopped encouraging them to grow. They had faith, but it was uninformed. They knew very little about Christ’s second coming. They needed instruction about what it meant to live pure and holy lives. Yet they didn’t know what they were lacking.
Have you ever had that awkward moment when you realized you forgot to buy a Christmas gift for someone? And, as if to add insult to injury, it’s impossible to find the right gift for them? Even if you remember, whatever you come up with at the last minute won’t be good. With so much going on, it’s easy to forget someone at Christmas time.
Like that forgotten Christmas gift, we are unable to see our spiritual blind spots. That’s not to say that we don’t have faith. There are just certain things we are woefully unaware of. It’s really the same problem the Thessalonians faced. Their faith was lacking, but they didn’t know what it was. So our faith is lacking. Yet we have God’s Word! There he tells us everything we need to know. But there is a sinful nature inside us that takes the amazing gift of God’s Word and turns it into a terrible chore. We don’t always like reading it because it tells us just how great our shortcomings are. When we read it, it kills us. Rather than give our hearts confidence for Advent, it tells us we have fallen fall short of what God expects of us. When we do read the Bible, sometimes we don’t take the time to think about we’re reading. We read a chapter, or a page, and we move on with our day as though what we read makes no difference. Or we don’t understand it. And we’re blind to how it applies to my daily life. With a thousand things to do in the busy season, something has to get dropped. Sometimes God’s Word gets short shrift.
With so much going on, how can we possibly prepare our hearts for Advent—Christ’s second coming, when he will judge the earth? Ignorance will not be an excuse. Neither will laziness, or the long list of other things we had to do. Instead, we go to the Word of God, because there God supplies us with what we lack. There he fills in our blind spots. There we see we are sinners whose failures are worthy of damnation. But there we also learn that God himself prepares our hearts for Advent.
To get ready for Christmas and all it entails, some people make checklists to make sure they have everything ready. Christmas tree decorated? Check. Christmas lights outside? Check. And then there’s the big, long list of people you need to buy gifts for. Sometimes people even make lists of gifts they want to make finding a gift easier.
Jesus filled out God’s checklist for our Advent preparation. He studied the Scripture, not as a chore, but as his delight, because we don’t always. As the God who wrote its very contents, he still took time to learn it, even as a child. He knew how to apply it. When the devil and the people of the world tried to catch him in a trap, he always had an answer. He didn’t get blindsided by something he didn’t see coming. Jesus loved God his Father perfectly. He always did what God required. And he loved all people. Jesus gave his life as the perfect gift, to check off God’s requirements for ready hearts. Jesus did for us what we couldn’t; he checked off the list of everything we need to satisfy God. He’s checked it off for you. Because of Jesus, you are prepared for Advent.
Because he knew the gaps in knowledge the Thessalonians had, Paul couldn’t wait to get to Thessalonica. He launched into a prayer asking God to bring him back to them. And God did, briefly. But Paul wrote two letters to instruct the believers there. He continued to pray for them night and day. His prayer was that God would fill them with his love.
The picture there is God filling us so full of his love that we overflow with it to others. It’s like filling a cup so full of water that it leaks onto the table around it. But you can’t overflow with love if you don’t have any. It doesn’t matter how much scraping and shoveling you do if you don’t have any gas in the tank. Similarly, we don’t rightly love others without the love of God. We learn about God’s love for us in Jesus in the Bible. It’s where God supplies all our needs and fills us with his power for our daily struggles with sin. When we are in God’s Word, faith grows in the love of Jesus. Then our love will overflow to others. Then we can use it to show others God’s love and, like Paul, make others ready for Christ’s second coming by telling them about God’s love for them. Tell them how Christ fulfilled God’s checklist. When we live our lives in the Bible, it informs our prayers.
The goal of Christmas preparation is to be ready for the big celebration. Each year, the day comes and goes. Unlike Christmas celebrations, Christ will only come again once. It won’t be expected, either. The goal of Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians—and of our prayer for you—is that by being filled with God’s love your hearts would be strengthened, blameless, and pure when Christ comes again. On our own, we are not blameless or holy. We cannot make our own hearts strong. But God does it for us in his Word. Try it out! Read and see the difference God makes in your life. Join our Vine and Branches in the spring and encourage others. Come to Bible study and ask the teacher your questions. Continue coming to hear God’s Word. Make regular use of Word and sacrament. God makes you ready for his coming in it, because there he tells us about what Jesus does for us.
When Jesus comes again, none of our winter or Christmas decorations will matter. Until then, they have some value. They also serve to remind us of greater preparations. Prepare your hearts for Advent. Thank God for all the joy he has given us in this congregation. Thank him that he supplies what we don’t have, most importantly his Son, who meets God’s Advent requirements for us. Thank him for his love that he pours out to us. Pray that he would continue to make that love overflow in your life. He will strengthen your hearts in his Word so that he will find you holy and blameless when Jesus returns with his angels and all his holy people. Continue to study his Word. There God makes you ready. You are prepared for Christ’s Advent. Amen.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his own blood and made us a kingdom and priests to God his Father—to him be the glory and the power forever. Amen. (Revelation 1:5–6)
Then I saw another angel flying in the middle of the sky. He had the everlasting gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth, to every nation, tribe, language, and people. 7 He said with a loud voice:
Fear God and give him glory,
because the hour of his judgment has come.
Worship him who made the sky, the earth, the sea, and the springs of water.
It’s depicted as a comic battle as old as the world itself. Battle lines are drawn up. Weapons at the ready. On one side, the forces of good with their hero. On the other, the forces of evil and their champions. The fate of the universe hangs on the onslaught that ensues. Sound familiar? It could easily be the plot of any novel or movie. The conflict between heavenly forces and the devil’s army is the story of the Bible and the history of the world. That warfare forms the background of the tapestry that is the book of Revelation. The picture painted there is a conquering king—Jesus—and the rest he wins for his people.
Today we remember one small part of that cosmic battle. The Reformation 500 years ago had the same purpose as the angel in our text. THE GOSPEL IS PROCLAIMED.
As we look at the tapestry of Revelation, we see a scene change. After the book pictures heaven, a messenger comes with a message for all people of all time. A winged messenger occupies the middle of the sky so everyone can see him and hear his message. The message he proclaims was first heard in the Garden of Eden, right after the devil declared war on God and mankind. God returned the declaration of war with war on the devil to rescue mankind from his clutches. That everlasting message—the gospel—has been in the world ever since. The gospel defeats the devil and his forces. But the devil will not concede defeat.
The angel, which means messenger, proclaims this message to every people and nation and tribe and language. Because of the message he proclaims, he encourages us today, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come.” But why should we be afraid of God?
In 15th-century Germany, a monk lived in constant fear of God. His terror at God’s judgment fueled all he did. Martin Luther understood. God demands glory from us. As we say in worship, God created us to love and serve him as his dear children. God has every right to demand glory and praise from us. That’s what he created us for. The problem is, we don’t.
Martin Luther knew he couldn’t all too well. It led to terror and despair. And he was right to do so. The Lord Jesus himself tells us not to fear those who can kill the body, but the one who can kill both body and soul in hell. That’s not the devil, but God, who will judge all. Those who are lacking will suffer an eternity in hell. God’s judgment is just. Every person must face it.
In Luther’s day, the devil used one of his weapons to obscure the truth and drive people to despair. Rather than proclaiming the eternal gospel, the church was running after wealth and the things of this world.
But is our day any different? In our nation, the church is more concerned with getting people to behave than telling them what God does, as though that were boring or uninteresting. Plenty of churches run after wealth or worry about survival rather than proclaiming the everlasting gospel. Our nation views this message for all nations as something for an individual to decide. And then there are the who have turned their back on the everlasting gospel as outdated or foolish!
If you think you’ve escaped those ways of this world, think again. Are the people of the world glorifying God because of your testimony? Or do you, like the world, go after wealth, pleasure, a promotion at work—your own glory, earthly concerns? How many spiritual conversations are we really engaging in? Are people using the name of Jesus as a curse word instead of giving God glory? Do you make the most of every opportunity to tell others this message? God demands glory from all people. As his people, we ought to be leading the charge. All too often, we bring him dishonor, shame, and even blame rather than glory.
That is exactly the state of things when this messenger, the angel, comes to proclaim the everlasting gospel.
Today we remember Martin Luther, a messenger from God. Through study of the Scripture, he rediscovered the everlasting gospel. In a tower in Germany, he finally came to understand the fear of God.
Children, when they are young, often do what is right because they know mom or dad will discipline them if they don’t. As they grow older, they come to understand how much their parents love them. Over time, their motivation changes from fear of punishment to trust and love for their parents.
In the same way, Luther came to grasp true fear of God: not terror at God’s righteous judgment, but awe-filled reverence at the God who loves us. The gospel transformed his life. His fear turned to faith in God’s promises. That is the message he proclaimed: the same everlasting gospel the angel proclaims in our text. The good news about Jesus Christ is a message for all times. Luther proclaimed it 500 years ago. We are heirs of his reform.
But someone will say the world has changed a lot in 500 years. People say the gospel is outdated. The good news is old news. Even church fathers said, “The church must always be reformed.” Does that mean we, and the message we preach, have to change with times?
Now that the gospel message has gone out, the battle of good and evil has not ceased. The devil, constantly on the attack, seeks to undermine the gospel we proclaim. People in our day attack it as nonsensical. And what we believe truly defies logic. But what human reason cannot comprehend, faith grasps.
The ancient, cosmic war continues into our day. But in that war one battle needs to be highlighted, because it is the same scene the angel in the middle of the sky so urgently proclaims. In this war, no one was able to challenge the devil. You and I could do nothing. We were just as likely to give up and join his side. As Luther put it, “With might of ours could naught be done.” The devil, the world, our sinful flesh, false religion—the enemies of God’s Church, certainly looked like they had the upper hand. And then it happened. The champion of the forces of good enters the fray. “For us fights the valiant one.” An angel announced his coming to Mary. An angel choir sang to shepherds, heralding his birth. He challenged the sin, death, and the devil to combat. Because he knew we couldn’t prevail in this struggle, he fought himself. On the battlefield, he died. The Lamb of God was slain. That apparent defeat dealt a crushing blow to our enemy. There Jesus won the war. An angel announced his resurrection, his victory. This is the everlasting gospel—a timeless truth. What we could not do, Jesus died to do for us.
So do we need to change with the times? The change that must happen—the reformation that is always necessary—is not the message we proclaim. No, like the angel, like Luther, we proclaim the everlasting gospel. It is the good news of Jesus’ victory. The reform that is necessary is when that message makes contact with the human heart. Then, like Luther, our fear of God turns from terror of God’s judgment to faith in Jesus’ deliverance. He saved us from our enemies. They “can harm us none.” God’s judgment is still being poured out—but not on us. He judges his enemies. As Luther put it, “One little word can fell him.”
That word is the gospel message. The eternal gospel that has gone out since the fall. Saved by God’s underserved love, we are able to bring God glory by proclaiming the gospel. That’s why we worship. We gather today—and every Sunday—to proclaim the eternal gospel to one another. By grace alone, Jesus has brought us into God’s kingdom.
That’s the message Luther proclaimed. In a time when few were educated and even fewer could afford the Bible, Luther used the tools available to him to unsheathe God’s weapon: the gospel. With the printing press, he made God’s Word accessible to the common people. He used the language of the common people to communicate God’s Word to them. Luther continued the fight with the gospel message. That message is still going out today.
This everlasting gospel is not just a message for all time. It’s a message for all people. The gospel made its way across the sea to us in the United States. That message is still on the rise. God’s Church is growing as the devil’s attacks are thwarted with the Word of God. Tens of thousands of believers in Vietnam have joined us in the fight as we build a school to train men to proclaim the gospel there. More have joined us from Ethiopia. By God’s grace, we are poised to strike in Sudan, Kenya, Liberia, and many more countries in Africa. The Church will not rest until the gospel is proclaimed to every language of every nation.
But what does that mean for us here? The battle lines don’t stop in those countries. Christians throughout the world heed the gospel’s call. They proclaim the good news of Jesus, who gave his life to save us. But there are thousands who live in our own communities who need to hear the everlasting gospel. Satan may have lost, but he will not give up. Armed with the gospel, you can defeat any attack he has. Jesus has destroyed his power. Bring the good news beyond enemy lines while there is still time. Use every tool available to you to make the gospel clear to the people around you. If your skill is talking, use your words to bring people to Jesus. If it is serving, love others with the love the Lord has showed you. Make the most of your service so you can tell others about the love of God in Christ. Use your time, talents, treasures—every resource—to proclaim the gospel. If you don’t know how you can serve, pray and ask! Pray for opportunities and for God to open doors. God is faithful. He will do it.
Bring people to the God who created and redeemed them. God’s judgment will come soon. But the devil is already judged. Jesus has handed down our verdict, too. Jesus has conquered our sins. Tell others about him. Bring them to a right fear of God—not fear of punishment, but loving trust in his forgiveness.
The battle rages on, and it will until the end of the world. The end will come when every last soul who will believe comes to faith in Jesus. Hasten his coming. Take up your weapon. The everlasting gospel will not be silenced. Because of God’s love for us, we will continue to proclaim it in heaven with him. Bring that message to every person, every nation. God will be with you because the gospel is his power to save the world. Proclaim it. Amen.
Now to him who is able to strengthen you—according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, . . . to God, who alone is wise, be glory forever through Jesus Christ. Amen. (Romans 16:25a, 27)
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3, EHV)
Therefore, to keep me from becoming arrogant due to the extraordinary nature of these revelations, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me, so that I would not become arrogant. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that he would take it away from me 9 And he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, because my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will be glad to boast all the more in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may shelter me. 10 That is why I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties, for the sake of Christ. For whenever I am weak, then am I strong. (EHV)
Now that Pastor Strutz has announced his decision to stay, you may be asking yourself, “Now what?” now? How do we move forward while using the gifts of this congregation as best we can? The world is asking similar questions. No, not about Pastor Strutz’s call decision or the gifts of our congregation. They’re asking how we as people can maximize our strengths. As people study teamwork, different teams try to play to the strengths of individual members. They also try to minimize their weaknesses to eliminate the negative impact they have on the group.
Our text today also treats strengths and weaknesses, but not in the way you might expect. The question remains, how can we maximize our strengths and minimize our weaknesses? Or can we do even better, MAXIMIZE OUR WEAKNESSES? God’s Word has the answer for us.
The apostle Paul had been given an extraordinary gift. In the verses leading up to our text, Paul spoke of visions that took a man up to heaven. As an apostle, Paul had visions much like that. He saw the risen Christ. He received his pastoral training from Jesus in these visions. Jesus called him to be an apostle in these visions. It very easily could have gone to his head. Don’t we think that way, after all?
Who is the most important person in a business? I would imagine that many of us would think of the CEO or the owner, the person who comes up with the plan. They have the power; they make the decisions. They’re the heroes we all aspire to be like.
Don’t we, in the same way, put Paul up on a pedestal? He models our Christian faith, so we think of him as someone truly great? The greatest missionary ever, an incredible scholar of the Scriptures, a lover of people and God’s Word, a prominent teacher in the early church, the apostle of the Lord who wrote nearly half the books of our New Testament? He has an impressive résumé! But then we idolize a hero and forget the rest of Paul: idolater, persecutor of Christ and his Church, murderer, worst of sinners. Have we whitewashed Paul to make him larger than life?
That’s what we see everywhere these days. You see it in movies. You see it in politics, depending on which side of the aisle you sympathize with. Everyone is either a hero or a villain. Just like the superheroes people see on the screens, they expect their own lives will be…larger than life. We all have a deep-seated desire to be special, to be needed, to be important. Don’t we love our heroes and hate our villains because then there’s some hope we can turn things around make our lives better? Can we truly MAXIMIZE OUR WEAKNESSES?
God’s answer came to Paul in an unexpected way. Paul, whose life had been turned from sinner to saint, was given a gift. He calls it a “thorn” or a “messenger of Satan.” It was given “to torment” him. It’s painful. Just think of when you get a splinter in your finger: every time you move that finger, you have a sharp reminder that splinter has embedded itself under your skin. It hurts. So also Paul’s thorn hurt. It tormented him.
Naturally, we all want to know what Paul’s thorn was. Throughout the years, hundreds of people have made dozens of guesses about what impairment might have affected Paul. But Scripture never gives us a direct answer. Any guess we make is only a guess. So instead of going beyond what Scripture says, content yourself with what Scripture says: not what Paul’s thorn was,but why Paul’s thorn was. “So that I would not become arrogant,” Paul says.
That may seem like a harsh lesson. Sure, Paul was still a sinner after he came to faith. His writings demonstrate that. But Paul trusted in Jesus as his Savior. Why would a loving God allow Paul to suffer such constant pain that even Paul calls it “torment?” Why would God willingly afflict one of his own, one of the greatest missionaries of all time? Surely Paul knew this already!
Or did he? And perhaps we don’t like it because of what it says about you and me. We are at least as weak as Paul. If Paul had to be kept from arrogance, what does that mean for me? Like Paul or any other Christian, we are susceptible to the attacks of Satan. All too often he convinces us that we are strong enough. And then he maximizes our weaknesses to take advantage of us. At this point, you may be too familiar with the devil’s tactics. He tells us what God wants for us is not good. This thorn God has put in my life—whether it’s cancer or abuse of alcohol or a struggle with same-sex attraction or a giant ego—it’s not good. There’s a grain of truth to that. Wouldn’t life be so much better without that struggle? If God were really good, would he want me to suffer? And the devil exploits our weaknesses. His attacks and wins. Sometimes he may even trick you into thinking he was right. It often seems to us that what God wants isn’t good. What I want is good. And then our own sinful nature agrees with the devil and joins in this attack against God. We are hopelessly and helplessly weak in this struggle.
Paul recognized his own weakness. He turned to the Lord in prayer. Three times he asked the Lord Jesus to take away his thorn. It’s only natural. What do you do when you get a splinter? You remove it. Then the pain goes away. Paul asked for his pain, his thorn, to be removed. He asked for a good thing, and God promises always to give good gifts to his children.
Isn’t that what you would do? If your son had a thorn under his skin, wouldn’t you remove it? Or if your daughter breaks her leg, don’t you take her to the doctor to fix it? Our suffering is bad. So why doesn’t our God remove our suffering? Sometimes his love seems distant and cold. What do you do when you ask God for a good thing and he says, “No”? How do you MAXIMIZE YOUR WEAKNESS?
The Lord came back to Paul with an answer. It’s also an answer for us. He didn’t just say, “No.” He said you have enough. “My grace is sufficient for you.” God’s grace, his undeserved love that takes action to save mankind, is enough. That’s all we need to get through our present struggles. Why? Because Christ’s power is made perfect in weakness. That’s where our weaknesses find their completion. In Christ’s power.
God’s grace is sufficient. That’s the beating heart of this section of God’s Word. God’s grace is enough. God’s grace didn’t remain cold and distant with him in heaven. Instead, our Lord was born in weakness. He took on the frailness of human flesh. He set aside full and frequent use of his divine power and instead came to be one of us, a man. Jesus preached, not to the strong and powerful, but to the hopeless and helpless. Instead of maximizing his strength and minimizing his weakness, he showed weakness all the way through. Jesus suffered at the hands of people who rightly belonged under his authority. And like Paul, he too pleaded with his Father three times that his suffering be taken away. Yet he insisted on doing the will of his Father. In his weakness, he never succumbed to the attacks of Satan. Instead, his friend betrayed him, and he answered with love. His friend denied him, and Jesus forgave. Our weaknesses, the sins we commit, led him to the cross. He suffered death to MAXIMIZE YOUR WEAKNESS and give you his own strength. And when he was at his weakest, when he poured out his life into death, his strength reached completion. His power was “made perfect.” On the cross he cried, “It is finished.” That’s where his strength and weakness worked together to accomplish his goal.
And that’s what it means when it says, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” This word, “made perfect” means to reach a goal or fulfill a duty. It means to pay the full price. It means to bring something to completion. Your salvation was brought to completion in the weakness of human flesh. God’s power was on display in the weakness of the cross. There he defeated the devil. There sin’s accusation lost its power, was nailed and buried with Jesus. All so you would know God’s all-sufficient grace is enough in your time of need.
God also called Paul to suffer with Christ. Paul’s weakness, his thorn, found its goal in the weakness of Christ. Christ, who gave his life for Paul, never stopped giving his grace to him. Just like Jesus suffered for Paul, Jesus suffered for you. He gave his life in weakness so that you would be joined to his strength.
Paul was able to delight in his suffering. No, Paul didn’t take pleasure in pain. We don’t have to like punishment. Suffering is still unpleasant. But the new man in Paul, who trusted in Christ’s grace, now saw new purpose in this thorn. God had taught him through this. Paul was able to boast in his weaknesses because he understood Christ’s strength—his grace—dwelled in him and sheltered him from the future attacks of Satan. Christ was with him throughout his life. That’s how Paul could say, “Whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” It’s not like Paul thought weakness was good. He learned to MAXIMIZE HIS WEAKNESS. When Paul was weak, he learned to rely all he more on Jesus. And Jesus, even at his weakest, is stronger than you and I could ever dream of being.
You may wonder why God would allow you to undergo the evils you go through in your life. Learn from Paul. You don’t have to think your “thorns” are pleasant. But learn to rely on God’s grace which is the strongest force in the universe. When he created faith to trust him, he began to rule in your heart. Learn from your weaknesses, because they teach you to go to God. True strength is found in him.
If you knew that all the evil that happened to you was serving for the good of another, would that fact help you cope with it better? Paul understood that. His thorn has provided comfort to believers for centuries. Who knows you may be able to touch through your own weaknesses as Christ works powerfully in you? You can point others to the comfort Christ provides with his grace. Take delight in your weaknesses. They are opportunities to reach out to others with the Lord’s own strength, his grace.
How do we MAXIMIZE OUR STRENGTHS AND MINIMIZE OUR WEAKNESSES in this congregation? That may require more work and careful planning, but God’s grace is enough. How will we continue to utilize our gifts in service to Jesus? By keeping ourselves in the strength of God’s grace, as you go back to it in Word and sacrament. As long as the Lord Jesus remains with us, his strength will work powerfully in us. His strength MAXIMIZES YOUR WEAKNESS. Amen.
“Now to him who is able to strengthen you— according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, . . . to God, who alone is wise, be glory forever through Jesus Christ. Amen.” (Romans 16:25a, 27, EHV)
When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. 11Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.
What is your Thanksgiving routine? Whether you travel “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house” or you live at grandmother’s house, there are certain key ingredients to a traditional Thanksgiving. It just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without them. With family, food, and football, fun and festivities, the holiday has a lot to offer. God’s Word adds one key ingredient to the mix today: DO NOT FORGET THE LORD.
We traditionally celebrate Thanksgiving Day with a feast. For some, it’s not Thanksgiving without turkey and mashed potatoes, pie and all the other dishes. And it is certainly appropriate to enjoy the blessings of the country we live in. That’s similar to the situation the Israelites found themselves in when they entered the Promised Land. The LORD gave a fruitful land to his chosen people. He wanted the nations to know that this was his people. They would have more crops than they needed, so Moses reminded the people to remember why.
On Thanksgiving Day, we celebrate the plenty God has given us. As Moses reminded Israel, when we eat and are satisfied, we need to be careful. The blessings God has given us are just that--blessings. But if we don’t take care, they can become a snare for you.
Can that be right? Sure, there’s such a thing as overdoing it on Thanksgiving, but who has ever complained about having too much money? Everyone has a little too much on Thanksgiving. But we’ve worked for it! Haven’t we earned a little break?
Israel quickly fell into spiritual apathy. They began dispossessing the peoples who lived in the land. But they never finished. They became too caught up in their work and the produce that came from it. God gave them vines, and they became more concerned with their grapes and wine than him. God gave them bountiful harvests, and they worried themselves with amassing more wealth. The people quickly forgot the LORD. Instead, they worried themselves with the day-to-day living of their own lives.
Tomorrow our nation celebrates a national day of Thanksgiving. While that is appropriate, why do we have only one day of Thanksgiving to the Creator? Doesn’t our society concern itself more with daily life than with returning thanks to God? And what about you and me? Even the poor in our country have tremendous wealth compared to the poor of the world! Like in Israel, money, work, success, and pleasure--blessings from God--quickly take over our lives. The human condition is so evil that we can take blessings from our Creator and make them into a curse!
Moses warned the people against doing so, but their children’s hearts were turned away. Moses’ warning served not just as a reminder of what to do, but who God is. He told the people not to forget the LORD who brought them out of slavery in Egypt and led them through the wilderness. The LORD brought them into the Promised Land. God gave them every good thing.
That’s because that’s at the heart of God. He gives to his children. On Thanksgiving, we remember the many blessings God has given us. DON’T FORGET THE LORD , and what he gives, but also don’t forget what he does.
Thanksgiving is a holiday typically celebrated with family. God had adopted Israel as his family. They didn’t listen to him, so he sent what was dearest to him--his own Son--to take the curse his people had earned for themselves, the curse we have earned for ourselves. Jesus died to take you out of the slavery of sin and ensure you have a home in heaven. In love, God still provides for you as his dear children.
Jesus took the curse so that we would receive every blessing from God. As long as you remain in Jesus, the blessings of God remain blessings. Listen to Moses’ warning. Don’t forget the LORD. That is the key ingredient in giving thanks to the God who gave us his Son.
Whatever your routine on Thanksgiving is, remember what God has done for you. Celebrate family! Family is a great blessing when placed where it belongs. DON’T FORGET THE LORD, who brought you into his family. That’s the key ingredient for Thanksgiving.
Yes, you can celebrate with food, too. No, pastor isn’t giving you permission to overdo it. But celebrate the tremendous blessing the LORD has given to you, to your family, to our country. Make sure your celebration doesn’t exclude him. He is the key ingredient. Amen.
God Meets All Our Needs
Pastor Andrew Ewings
Pastor Andrew Ewings
Theme: GOD MEETS ALL OUR NEEDS
I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. 17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Count your blessings. It’s a Thanksgiving tradition. Given the holiday’s history, it makes sense that people of our nation would count their blessings every year. That’s because Thanksgiving is a holiday about giving back to the God who gives us everything. As Paul reminds us, GOD MEETS ALL OUR NEEDS.
Paul was writing to the Philippians from prison. Hardly a place most people would thank God to be. Yet Paul continually expresses his joy in this letter. He finds joy in every situation. To put it in our terms, whether he spent Thanksgiving warm and well-fed or hungry and helpless, he knew how to find something to thank God for.
That might not be too different from the first Thanksgiving. The settlers had survived a long voyage to the New World and an even harsher winter. Between sickness and starvation, many of their number lost their lives. With help from the natives, the following year they stored up enough food to survive the coming winter. It wasn’t just the plenty that caused them to celebrate, but the lack they had experienced before.
What about you? Are you experiencing more than you need this Thanksgiving? Or are you just scraping by? What blessings will you count tomorrow? I expect most of us would include common blessings like family and friends, work and rest, would you give thanks for hardship? We might not thank the LORD so much with a burned turkey, a busted refrigerator, or a power outage. Can you, like Paul, thank God from prison for all his goodness to you?
But was Paul really thankful for prison, or was he thankful from prison? After all, what led Paul to give thanks in the text was a gift he received from the Philippians. That’s something we could all give thanks for, isn’t it? But Paul was also thankful for prison. Why? He had learned the secret to being content with whatever he had. He was enduring it all for Christ, who promised to meet all his needs.
On Thanksgiving we often count our blessings. We remember the God who gives far beyond what we have earned our deserved. He puts people in our lives. Many thank God for family and friends. But be honest: if you tried to count all your blessings, you wouldn’t be able to get past the blessings God has given you today. Did you wake up in a bed? With a pillow? And a roof over your head? Four walls to protect you from the cold? If you’re like me, an alarm clock woke you up. Another blessing. And the list goes on from there. God has given us tremendous blessings--far more than we deserve. We often fail to thank him for it. Instead, we complain about the things that go wrong.
The first Thanksgiving set a precedent for the ones that followed. The surviving settlers came together with the natives to enjoy the fruit of the earth. The harvest they had and the game they hunted, while not wealth like we have in the 21st century, were more than they needed. The settlers wanted to celebrate the goodness of the God who provides.
On Thanksgiving, we thank God for everything he has given us. We are all still here. He has met all our needs so far. God meets all our needs according to his glorious riches in Christ. Jesus suffered want to supply our need. Jesus gave thanks to God in every situation, even death on a cross. He endured the cross for our sake. In Jesus, we see just how much God is willing to give to us. He gave us his Son. He gives us all good things with him. If we ever need anything else, we can be confident he will give it to us. He promises to. If it seems like he isn’t, pray! Because of Jesus, God looks on you in love! Demand that he does what he promised. God will not fail you.
Paul was joyful because of what God had given him and the Philippians. He was joyful, too, to see that the Philippians wanted to give to Paul. He gave thanks, not because they gave something so great, but because this fruit of their faith showed Christ’s love was active in them.
Thanksgiving is a day to return our thanks to God who gives us so much. Confident of his promise to provide for you, give back to the God who gives you everything. Make God’s love complete by living the love he has shown you. Use every gift God has given you--your work, your hobbies, your passions, your resources--to live a lifetime of thanksgiving. It’s only right, after all God has given us, to give all we have back to him. He is the one who gave it to us in the first place. Thanks to his love for us in Jesus, we will give thanks to him forever in heaven. But don’t just thank him there. Let your whole life give thanks to the God who supplies all our needs.
Some people count their blessings at Thanksgiving time. It’s a good tradition. But if you count all your blessings, you’d never finish. God has given us that much. He has blessed us, even when it doesn’t seem like blessing to us. He gives us many things to thank him for. Most of all, he has given us Jesus. May your lives bring thanks and glory to the God who supplies all our needs forever. Amen.
It’s dark outside. It has been for quite some time. That’s winter in Wisconsin, or Illinois, or anywhere up here in the upper Midwest. The darkness comes early. It adds some difficulty to our routine, too. Driving in the dark can be dangerous, especially in the cold, dead winter where the sheer ice covers the road. Maybe the darkness leaves you feeling tired, or depressed, or both. Everything outside is dark, yet today we celebrate the light. In the darkness of this world, the light has dawned. On Christmas we remember that light has come into the world. The light’s name is Jesus. He is our LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS today and all the year.
Israel was living in darkness, too. No, not the darkness of Wisconsin winter, but the darkness of sin. Their king, Ahaz, had rejected the word of the Lord. Like the king, so the people. The people sought truth from any other means—psychics and mediums. They searched for their answers in anything other than God’s Word. They were walking in darkness of stubborn unbelief.
If you’ve ever tried to walk in darkness, you know it’s hard.Worse than the darkness of leaving your lights off while you stumble to find the bed at night is utter and complete darkness. Have you ever walked in the darkness in a cave, where no light shines through? You can’t see your hand in front of your face, much less how to get where you need to go!
God said that was Israel’s spiritual condition. They had no idea where they were going. They thought they could find the way on their own, but they were getting nowhere.
That’s the world we live in today, too. Yes, people consult psychics and mediums and think they’re harmless. But even worse, people will turn to anything—common sense, the government, any and every religion—rather than hearing the truth, the Word of the Lord. The people of our world live in spiritual darkness.
And it gets deeper. The text we read said “the land of deep darkness,” yet that deep darkness is even clearer in the original language. This darkness is the shadow of death. Those who are in this darkness know death will come, yes. Death looms over them like a shadow, yes. But everyone dies. You and I also have not escaped this deep darkness. The darkness of sin blinds us, so we think we can find our way on our own. Or we think our reading of God’s Word is something that makes us good with God, or our coming to church to hear him once or twice a year is good enough! Humans by their nature are so lost to the darkness that they can’t even see the results of their own actions. The only end to sin is death.
Has anyone ever told you why the church celebrates Christmas on December 25? The Bible never tells us the date of Jesus’ birth. He easily could have been born on any of the other 364 days in our calendar year. But since as early as the 200s, the Church has been celebrating Christmas on December 25. One reason is the winter solstice that took place just a couple days ago. In case you missed it, the sun gives the least light to the north of the equator as late as December 22. This year it was the 21. The light is least in the world on that day. But the solstice comes to an end at midnight (tonight/this morning), and the light returns to the world.
Similarly, the light has come into the world. The light is Jesus. Although the people of the world walk in darkness, he is the light. He exposes the darkness of sin. No sin can be found in his light. He also brings to light God’s wonderful plan of salvation. Jesus himself saves us from death and gives us his own gift: eternal life. He has “enlarged the nation.” He has included not just Israel, God’s chosen people, but all who believe in Jesus as the light who takes away the sin of the world. This light that shines in the darkness and brings us to God is God’s own Christmas gift to us.
That gives us joy. A reason to celebrate in the cold, dead winter. We have more joy than those who bring in the harvest, more joy than those who win the war and bring home the spoils. Our joy is the light, that gives us eternal life. Our joy is that at Christmas we don’t celebrate the goodness of the dark world, but the goodness of a great God, who gave us the greatest gift of all: his own Son. Amen.
Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. 2 Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you. 6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” 7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? 9 Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.
It’s that time of year again. If children haven’t already gone back to school, they will be back in school shortly. And why? Why do we send children off to school? They have lots to learn—life skills, life lessons. The ability to read and do simple math problems are important in our fast-paced culture. History and social studies provide much-needed perspective on the world we live in. And there are many more lessons to learn. Whether we prepare students for further studies, for the work force, or just to be responsible citizens, a good education can go a long way in shaping the youth of our nation. But our learning is never done.
It’s the same here. We never finish learning this side of heaven. We’re gearing up at Resurrection for the school year, too. Sunday school and confirmation class seek to give children the necessary backdrop from which to continue to learn the important truths of God’s Word. Bible study puts us in contact with the Word of God as we grow closer to him. In God’s Word today, we see Moses encourage God’s people to learn God’s Word and take it to heart. He also impresses on them the importance of passing it on. Like Moses urged the people, REMEMBER WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED. Keep learning what God has done for you, and teach others about the LORD.
Moses lead Israel for about 40 years. He taught them the things God told him. God called them away from Mt. Sinai after Moses received the Law from God. After the LORD delivered them from slavery in Egypt and miraculously provided for them in the desert, the people cowered in fear when they saw the giants living in the promised land. They rebelled against the LORD; the people were forced to wander 40 years in the desert. Even Moses sinned and was not be permitted to enter the land. Still, the LORD was good to his people. He delivered their enemies into their hands. He brought them to the other side of the Jordan. Now Moses gave his last great lesson to Israel.
Educators know, “Repetition is the mother of learning.” Moses knew that, too. He repeated the law of the LORD before the people. He begins in our text with an urgent plea to listen. “Hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you.” Moses made it clear why the Israelites were receiving the land. It wasn’t because they were the best theology students, or because their nation was better than any other. The LORD gave it to them. That was to be their motivation for following the laws Moses taught them—the promise the LORD had made to their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The best teachers don’t just know the material they teach. They know how to ignite a passion for learning, to motivate students to learn. So what is our motivation to learn from the LORD? Like Israel, our motivation is the promise given to Abraham. Not the promise of the promised land, but that all nations would be blessed through him. That is God’s promise to us.
People forget a lot of what they learn in school. Students retain a fraction of what they learn from year to year. But even that is enough to remember addition and subtraction. But Moses told Israel they didn’t need to perform such simple operations with God’s Word.. “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.” The people weren’t to add to the commands of the LORD. Or take away from them. Why? Because God was the one who gave them. They were good, like everything that comes from the LORD. He knows how to make good things. What’s more, the people would show their wisdom by obeying the LORD. Their job was to make God look good by living his law to the world—a law that was itself flawless and good. God was making them look good by giving them this law.
God’s law is so good that if everyone kept it all the time, the world would be a perfect place. If everyone loved God and their neighbor the way God intended, there would be no need for any other laws. So why don’t we see that?
A good teacher sets up the student to succeed. The LORD set Israel up for success. He gave them the proper motivation. He gave them a perfect law. But REMEMBER WHAT YOU LEARNED in Sunday school. The people crossed the Jordan River and defeated their enemies. Except when they failed to listen to God. The people turned away from the LORD. When it got bad, they cried out for help again. The LORD delivered them, but they went right back to doing the terrible things the law forbade. Sure, they had moments of greatness, in days of kings like David and Solomon, Hezekiah and Josiah. Faithful men like Elijah and Elisha still pointed people back to God. Humble women like Ruth and Esther still quietly trusted in the LORD. But the nation abandoned the LORD. They forgot his law. Didn’t care what God said. Ignored the prophets who pleaded with them. Ignored the Word of God. Even in Jesus’ day, they added their own customs to God’s Word. But they subtracted the love—the motivation behind it all.
So is there a problem with the law? NO! So what’s the problem? Human nature adds what I feel to the Word of God. Human nature adds science because it’s reasonable. It adds the tradition of the Church, because how else can we know for sure that we’ve got it right? Human nature adds my experience, because that’s my truth. But it doesn’t just add. It subtracts. Human nature subtracts all the little parts that point out what I’ve done wrong. All the things I don’t like. Sure, we’re okay when others hear the good law of God. But don’t let it point at me! The law always accuses us, because we omit— intentionally or by forgetting—what we don’t like.
People strive to make the world a better place without the Word of God. They inevitably fail. That’s human history. Since the beginning, people have been taking the Word of God and wrecking it. Ever since Adam botched the world we live in, his descendants have followed. And the Church, instead of bringing glory to God as his beautiful bride who keeps his commandments, has tarnished his reputation in the world. If God gave us a grade, it would have to be a complete failure.
The best teachers aren’t the ones who take the job because the hours are good or because they get a long summer holiday. The best teachers love their students. They want to see their students do well. They do all they can to help the student learn.
God knows that we can’t learn how to follow his law perfectly. He knows that on our own, we will never do anything more than fail. So did something no one else could. He came near. As Moses reminded Israel, “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?” There is no God who came near his people like the LORD did for us. Far more than any love of a teacher, he sent his Son to earth to be the Teacher. The one who taught he is the way to eternal life. He fulfilled the law we could never keep. He never added or subtracted from the Word. He brought God glory by always doing his will. He never once forgot a Word God spoke. He didn’t leave anything undone. Fulfilled God’s promises. Never broke a law. Always loved God and neighbor. For you. He earned the perfect grade for you. What the law was unable to do because human nature opposes it, he did. Because he is God. He took what people wrecked and made it good again. And he did it for you! His perfect score is yours!
When students finish a year or a semester in school, they move on to other classes and other teachers. Eventually, they graduate and don’t have to take classes anymore. But we don’t graduate from learning God’s Word. As Moses warned the people so long ago, this Word of God is spiritual life. It’s your eternal security. It’s your free pass to life with him. That’s what you’ve learned. Remember it.
But also use it! When students enter the work force, they struggle to apply equations and arts and sciences in an everyday setting. God’s Word still applies to our lives. It still has lots to say to us—not just for eternity, but also for our lives right now. But if it remains on the shelf until next Sunday, it remains a cold and lifeless book. Open it up! Watch God’s power work in your life.
And then also teach it. Moses exhorted the people, "Be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”
Teachers go to school for years to learn their trade. But you already have the knowledge you need to teach others about Jesus. It’s the same message you learned in Sunday school. It’s the God who came down to earth to save his creation. Remember what you’ve learned. It’s really as simple as telling your children the things you’ve seen—observing what God has done for you in your life. Teach his love. Tell others all our God has done for us! That’s our motivation for keeping his Word, and for observing his law. That’s why we want to do what God says—because he is good. He is near in Jesus.
School starts soon. Some students love it. Others may dislike it. But we have something far more important than the lessons we learned in math, science, and social studies. REMEMBER WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED. It’s not how we can make the world better through education. It’s how Jesus came to the world to give us his perfect record. Learn about him. Learn the Word of God. And then teach it to others. Amen.
Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.
Picture this: Christians live in a perfect world. They have everything they ever need or want. Those who confess faith in Christ never go hungry. Instead, they all have their dream jobs making more money than they need. Everyone who believes in Jesus as Savior owns a big house, drives a brand new car, and enough free time on their hands to enjoy them with their loved ones. Believers have the best health care coverage in the world for the best price. In fact, they never die.
Can you envision a world where everything goes right for God’s people? Most of us probably could, even if only in our wildest daydreams. We might even imagine the whole world would convert to faith in Jesus rather rapidly in a world like that. But the reality we face is a world filled with suffering. We see heartbreaking divorces. Parents burying their children. Cancer in remission. The list goes on. We might wish to see a distinction between believers and unbelievers, but the truth is Christians suffer just as much as others. With so much suffering, especially when believing in God seemingly makes no difference, WHY FOLLOW CHRIST? That’s what we consider as we hear God’s word today.
In the last year of Jesus’ ministry, as the end approaches, he wants to make sure his followers understand who he is. So he springs a pop quiz on them. Just two questions. One: who do the masses say I am? Their answer: John the Baptist or Elijah or a prophet. Some thought Jesus was John brought back from the dead. Others thought he was Elijah returned as the prophet Malachi had predicted. Still others thought him a good man in the tradition of the prophets.
People still think that today. No, they don’t say Jesus is John or Elijah. But they still think he was a good man, maybe even a man who spoke from God. Every year someone covers a “search for the historical Jesus.” To save you the time of looking into all of them, they always find the “real Jesus” is at odds with what we read in the Bible. They interview scholars. Some say Jesus was merely myth. Others say he was a political figure. Others say a teacher of good things. With the experts split on who Jesus was, WHY FOLLOW CHRIST?
That’s where Jesus’ second question to the disciples comes in. “What about you?” he turns to them. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answers for them all. “You are the Messiah.” “You are the Christ.” “You are God’s anointed, fully God, fully man. You are the one God promised would come.”
There’s an answer. WHY FOLLOW CHRIST? Because of who he is. Along with Peter, we confess Jesus is the Messiah. He is God and man. He rules the universe as our compassionate brother who took on flesh and blood. He is the one the Scripture points to. All the hopes and dreams of God’s people ride on him. But what does the Christ do?
Jesus warned his disciples not to tell others until the time was right, so that he could complete his mission. The mission was this: the Son of Man must suffer. He must be rejected. He must be killed. And he must rise again. But if even God has to suffer, has to die—WHY FOLLOW CHRIST?
Peter didn’t like Jesus’ news one bit. Here before him was the one who was going to deliver God’s people from their oppression. He was staring at the end of human suffering. In all his dreams, Jesus restored God’s kingdom—paradise on earth. So how can Jesus say hemust suffer? Peter rebuked Jesus for talking such nonsense.
Which of us hasn’t dreamed of a better world where our problems are gone? When you see an alternative to pain or misery or loneliness, don’t you take it? I don’t hear many people praying for 10 years of dementia when they could be praying for 10 healthy years instead. That just opens the bag to all sorts of questions. Where is God when I’m struggling to make ends meet? Where is God when all my friends have left me alone? Where is God when I struggle to do what’s right and end up jobless while the godless advance? He’s got to fix it! Like Peter, we are quick to tell God that we have a better plan. It’s a lot easier to follow our own advice than the teachings of Christ!
Of course, those are the devil’s plans. It comes through in Peter’s voice: “Oh, Jesus, just stay on earth a little longer. Set up a kingdom! Think how glorious it would be! All the people would acknowledge you,” he says. But Jesus rebukes him. “Get behind me, Satan.” Those aren’t God’s plans. They’re human. And they’re wrong.
Instead, God’s plan was what the Scripture said all along. Christ came to suffer and die. He didn’t come to rid the world of suffering, but to take its suffering on himself. He knew the schemes of the devil that make us look for glory. He resisted temptation. Instead, he did what was necessary. “The Son of Man must.” Why? Because God determined in eternity that this was the way he would save his world. A world filled with suffering that results from sin. He was, is, the promised Messiah who delivered all people. As he revealed to his disciples, he would die on a cross.
So WHY FOLLOW CHRIST? Why follow a man who died the cruelest of deaths? The most painful, the most humiliating? Because of what he does. He bore the cross for you. He suffered for our sins. Took our punishment. Died our death. He experienced our hell on the cross, not so we would feel sorry for him, but because he loves you. He’s God. He bore it as only he could. And irony of ironies, that day he was too bruised and bloody to even carry the cross. Someone had to carry it for him. So he could die for you and me and Simon. And also rise again. His resurrection guarantees this story—and our story—does not end in death.
But that’s not the reality we’re faced with. If Jesus suffered to take away all suffering, to save the world from death, why do we still have to deal with such terrible offenses as child abuse? Why do we still bury grandma and grandpa, mom and dad? If Christ didn’t resolve it, WHY FOLLOW HIM?
To that Jesus answers, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself.” That’s tough. Give up my plans when they fly in the face of God. End my efforts to do what seems best to me but is contrary to what God says. If Jesus stopped with this, it would already be too hard. But he goes on. “Let him take up his cross,” Christ says. And we groan, “Great, even more suffering! Suffering because of Jesus and his gospel? Why, God, why?”
Friend, when your cross seems monumental, when you’re ready to drop it and run—for the times when you can’t pick up your cross, consider what Christ does for you. He followed God’s plan of greatest suffering, dying on a cross. He faced rejection by God and all people so that God would never reject you. Jesus knows your suffering. He won’t ignore it. Instead, he comes to you. He comes to us in the waters of baptism, promising that we share in his death and will certainly share in his resurrection. He comes to us in bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins. He comes to us on the pages of his book.
In light of what he’s done for you, is it too much to ask you to share, for this short life, in his sufferings? Shouldn’t we rather rejoice that God allows us to suffer because we bear his name—Christian, a follower of Christ? Thank God when others call you a fool for believing in Christ! Praise God when the world hates your outdated views on an ancient book! Give thanks that you suffer. WHY FOLLOW HIM? Because he has made you his follower. He knows your troubles. He won’t leave you alone in them. He promises he will make it right.
In a world so filled with problems, WHY FOLLOW CHRIST when we could think of so many better options? He is the only way to eternal life, and he won’t abandon us in this one. Follow Christ because of who he is, what he has done, and who he has made you to be. Take up your cross, and follow him!