Sermons

New You 1) Empowered by Baptism

Matthew 3:13-17 ● January 12, 2020 ● Epiphany Series: New Year, New You ● VideoPrint VersionAudio

 

 

A new year is a great time to kick off some new goals. New Year’s resolutions can include noble goals like, “This year I will spend more time encouraging others so they can feel better about themselves.” Or they can be resolutions with a little more selfish goals like, “This year I will spend more time on myself so that I can feel better about myself.” And such goals are big in our minds… for a few days. Then we either become selfish or lazy. And we realize that just because the calendar has advanced that doesn’t automatically mean we have advanced -at least not automatically advanced in any good fashion. For some it can get rather discouraging when Spring, or February, or even January 3rd reveals that we can’t change ourselves to be just what we might want to be. But there is one who has made us new. The Scriptures say that if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come. (2 Cor 5:17) This Epiphany season we’ll be looking at the biggest change that all Christians have -all who are in Christ through faith. We’ll be spending the next few weeks looking at what Christ has given us to make us new. And it begins for every Christian with a most empowering change, baptism. 

Baptism doesn’t seem important or life-changing on the surface. It includes just some simple water and a few short words. But it is important. Make no mistake. It deserves all the attention that surrounds it in Christianity. We need baptism as surely as we are guilty of sin. We need what baptism gives us as surely as we need the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith and turn our hearts from cold stone to living faith in the living God. One thing everyone can appreciate about baptism is that it is so simple. Washing with water through the Word of God. The simple act of applying water with the Words “I baptize you” and invoking the name of the Triune God “…in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Yes, many will wrongly try to add human rules to the simple gift of baptism. But no Christian would argue with the fact that everyone needs baptism.

Yet today we read about someone being told he doesn’t need baptism. It’s a striking picture. It was thirty years before that the angels sang on the night of his birth. Almost three decades have passed between the gifts given by the Magi in Matthew chapter 2 and what we read today in Matthew chapter 3. This is a thirty-year time in which we don’t have any recorded words of Jesus apart from one sentence at the age of twelve. Even then at such a young age Jesus showed that he was aware of his divine purpose. He never lost sight of that purpose. That’s what makes Jesus’ first appearing as an adult so striking. The first words are almost are in the context of an embarrassing argument or misunderstanding.

Behind this misunderstanding was a man named John. He had a special role to carry out: prepare the way for the coming Messiah. When John was about 30 years-old he began preaching and baptizing. Large crowds came out to him. That’s because John’s baptism was not just a human invention, but a divine gift. John preached repentance and offered people forgiveness through the water with the Word of God. But as great and important as John might have been, he knew his job was to prepare people for the coming of the greatest man that ever walked this earth: Jesus. He didn’t seem so great on the surface. Jesus grew up in the lowly small town of Nazareth; meanwhile John was the son of a priest in Jerusalem. But John had always known Jesus’ great importance. By the Spirit’s working he knew even from the womb! Everything he had learned and knew about the man now coming to him told him that Jesus was the Messiah. 

That’s where the misunderstanding and confusion came in. Imagine John’s surprise when Jesus comes to where he is baptizing. Matthew tells us that Jesus came all the way with a purpose in mind. He came for baptism. This puzzled John. If Jesus is the Messiah, he would be sinless. He had no need for baptism for the forgiveness of sins. On top of that John had spent so much time telling people how much greater than himself the Messiah was going to be. And now the Messiah wants to get baptized by John! The Greek says here that John was trying to deter Jesus. It isn’t like John just gave a puzzled look. He was in conflict. And he was repeatedly making it clear to Jesus that this was all out of order! What would the people think!? What kind of a Messiah gets baptized by his herald and forerunner? What kind of a Son of God needs to receive forgiveness? “Jesus, you don’t need to be baptized by me! If anything I need you to baptize me!” Is Jesus really the Messiah if he gets this first appearance wrong? Wouldn’t it have been bizarre if the first recorded Words of the adult Jesus were, “You’re right, John, never mind. My mistake.” 

If you feel puzzled by this account, don’t worry. You’re in good company. It has many theologians wondering. It has bible readers searching for something, somewhere by Matthew, Mark, or Luke to explain what is going on here. It has believers intently digging through the pages of prophecy and the apostles to see if they can shed light on what this all means. It has John the Baptist, who Jesus calls the greatest prophet who ever lived, puzzled, starting an argument with the Christ in total confusion. This is Jesus epiphany, his first public appearing!?

Yes, and it is an awesome epiphany. “Let it be so now.” With a word of command Jesus takes control of the situation. He tells John what to do. John might have his own ideas, but John will submit to Jesus’ plans. He won’t argue with this man. Jesus’ first recorded words as an adult show his authority even above the greatest of the prophets.

What is the significance of this baptism? Jesus’ sinless life isn’t in question. John’s reasoning had merit. “Why should the sinless need baptism for forgiveness?” Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “It is necessary.” He didn’t have to get baptized. Nor does Jesus say, “You’re wrong John, I do need it. I am a sinner.” Jesus doesn’t say that. John is right in that Jesus has no need of forgiveness. He doesn’t need baptism for that, but he decides to undergo it– to fulfill all righteousness. He says it is “proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” The time has come to complete God’s righteousness, his saving work. Jesus will later repeat the idea that he came to fulfill everything prophesied by the law and prophets. That included his baptism, his anointing by God. 

That had always been Jesus’ purpose -fulfill all righteousness, carry out God’s plan of salvation long-prophesied in Scripture. And don’t make the mistake of thinking this was the start of Jesus’ work. Jesus wasn’t idle all these years. He had been living in perfect fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation. The prophets spoke of the world’s Savior doing what he had done –growing up in Galilee and being perfect and sinless –a spotless lamb who had no deceit and no wrong.

The plan of salvation involved more than Jesus living in our place. It involved him offering himself as the perfect sacrifice for all. In order to complete all righteousness and fulfill all prophecy Jesus came to the Jordan where John was baptizing. He wasn’t about to begin his work, he was about to begin the stage that would complete it. It was time for him to step up onto the center stage as the light of the world. He was ready and willing to carry out that plan. Now it was time for the Messiah King to be revealed by his forerunner and by God. 

There was no mistaking his baptism as a fulfillment of God’s plan. As Jesus stepped up from the river’s water heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended in visible form, in what looked like a dove and remained on Jesus. This fulfilled what we read earlier from Isaiah: “I will put my Spirit on him.” A voice form heaven then spoke, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” This fulfilled the second Psalm as the Father spoke to him, “You are my Son” -words spoken to the Messiah. 

At his baptism Jesus appears with the authority and authenticity of the Triune God. By the authority of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, he is declared to be the Son of God. Here we see our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three distinct persons, all mysteriously united as one God. Not three different Gods, not three different ways that one person of the deity shows himself, but three in one. And God himself testified to the authority of Jesus as he begins the path to the cross. Later when people will question Jesus’ authority, he doesn’t speak of his own accord, but refers back to this event. As Christians throughout the centuries might wonder if John the Baptist got it right, they refer back to this event. There was no room for doubt. Jesus appeared publicly with full authority and authenticity.

At his baptism Jesus appears vindicated as sinless. He appears as the one in whom the Father declares “I love.” He has lived these past thirty years in perfect obedience to the law of God. He is our perfect substitute. That love will continue as the Father once again declares, “This is my Son”. And that love will bear the weight of the world’s sin as the Son suffers on the cross. And that love will be shown true and right as the Son is raised back to life. Proving not only did he set out with divine authority, he died with divine approval of his sacrifice –our sins are forgiven. Jesus was chosen by the Father and anointed by the Spirit to fulfill God’s plan of salvation. He appears as both the sinless and the sinner’s friend. He appears speaking for the first time in Scripture wanting to show himself taking on your place and mine. And he does so with the Father’s stamp of approval and by fulfilling prophecy by his anointing from the Spirit.

Jesus made a big trip for his baptism. He did far more than walk to the wilderness near Bethany across the Jordan. He came down from his heavenly throne of glory to walk in the flesh. And he came to be declared the Son of God, the holy Savior of all. And his baptism had great importance because of God’s plan and promises. Your baptism is no less life-changing than this most important baptism. By your baptism you were connected with Christ and washed of all sin. The Father declared you his child, adopted into the family of Christ, loved as clean and holy. By the authority of God himself you are declared loved and sinless, clothed with the righteousness of Christ. The Holy Spirit is yours as a gift, received in baptism. As the apostle Peter declares, “Be baptized, every one of you, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is for you and your children.”(Acts 2) And as he writes in his letter, “Baptism saves you.”(1 Peter 3) And as the apostle Paul writes “God saved you through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”(Titus 3) “Christ loved the church cleansing her and making her holy with washing with water through the Word, to make her holy.”(Eph 5) And Jesus declares, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mk 16) 

It’s a new you! You are baptized and forgiven as a child of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Your life is now dedicated to serving the Triune God and his name is upon you with blessing and love! All your self-improvement resolutions can and will fail in the end. But Jesus’ goal for you cannot fail. He has washed you. He has given you his Spirit. And he will forever carry out his promised plans of love for you. He has made you new! Baptism is a big deal. Because we can celebrate Christ’s baptism so also every day you can celebrate yours. And that is done with thanksgiving and new life worked by the Spirit. It is done as you live a new life of faith and a new life of love for God.

It’s a new you! You are forgiven by the Father and loved. You are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. You are empowered by the Holy Spirit in your baptism.

From Abused and Neglected to Loved and Protected

Genesis 16:1-16 ● January 5, 2020 ● Christmas 2 ● Pastor Tom Barthel • WELS Churches • Print versionAudio •  Video

 

 

There are few who can entirely escape the pressures of a crumbling family. And those who have suffered neglect or abuse in the home know how painful it can be. Today we see how the abused and neglected are not alone. We find in Genesis 16 one family that crumbled and one woman who felt abused and neglected. Her life and family were crumbling into despair. But God was there with a plan and his care.

If we wanted to search for a faithful couple in Scripture, Abram and Sarai could have been epitome of it! Their entire caravan, Abram’s nephew Lot, and all their servants had to look up to Abram and Sarai as a shining example of faithful husband and wife. Make no mistake. Abram and Sarai lived in difficult circumstances. They had left behind their homeland. That alone puts a good deal of stress on a relationship. But it held fast. They lived surrounded by a culture that put very little value on the blessings of monogamy. But Abram takes only one wife and stays with her. Their marriage relationship continues as they reached the ages of 85 and 75.

Perhaps the biggest challenge they faced was the inability to have their own children. Abram consigned himself to the fact that it was now impossible for him and Sarai to have their own children. Sarai had no doubt been in in tears for years. With the obvious before her she tells her husband in defeat, “The Lord has kept me from having children.” But at least they had each other and were still husband and wife, right? It seemed like their marriage would never crumble. Until now.

Sarai had an apparently absurd plan. “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant. Perhaps I can build a family through her.” You’d expect Abram to take it as a joke. You’d think this couldn’t happen! But Sarai was serious! And Abram listened to her! Then Sarai, the wife of Abram, gave her Egyptian maidservant to Abram for a wife! How can this be!? This all seems unthinkable to us. But it wasn’t in that ancient culture. Remember, they did not have the modern options of adoption agencies or fertility doctors. In fact, we know that this practice was common in the ancient world of Abram. We even have inscriptions of law codes from surrounding nations indicating that if a woman of high standing was unable to bear children, she can use her maidservant to bear children for her. They would be legal heirs. And before you are too quick to judge them and say, “No culture could be so backward,” consider how absurd our own is! It’s not very common but there are surrogate mothers today. Through science they literally bear someone else’s child. The only difference with Abram and Sarai is that they didn’t have access to the modern methods people do today. And consider the more common practices of family planning which we have. Would Abram and Sarai ever believe that anyone would actually practice invitro fertilization? The eggs harvested from the mother are fertilized with the father’s sperm in a laboratory setting. Several eggs are fertilized, and the excess life is culled. Then a few are planted back in the mother. The excess life that begins in her womb is killed off so that only one or two remain. It is essentially planned abortion, murder. Why is it done? For the same desperate reason Sarai used Hagar: family planning.

What’s wrong with a little family planning? Nothing, as long as it follows God’s will for marriage and honors the gift of life, and not your own ideas. Invitro fertilization, morning-after pills, and many other forms of family planning are wrong because they take a human life. In some cases they take many lives. Those practices are wrong. So was Sarai’s plan. It may have been practiced by others around her, but it was still wrong. (Yes, God later gave ancient Israel other practices to ensure a family line could continue. But those practices upheld a monogamous marriage and were properly followed on the basis of willing consent by both parties. Far different from a polygamous act by a slave for her mistress.) Sarai’s plan to imitate the world around her was rape at its worst and at its best forced adoption. Bottom line: it was wrong.

How could they comfortably carry out such sin? Sarai talks as if the Lord was supposed to understand because he had forced her into this position. She doesn’t say, “This is the Lord’s will.” But notice when the Lord’s name does finally get mentioned. “The Lord has kept me from having children.” She’s trying to make sound like God left her no choice. Does that sound familiar? When we resort to desperate measures of sin, we like to drag God into it, don’t we? Many will try to blame God for the sin they dabble in. “The Lord has kept me from having the family I want, so it is okay for me to … leave my spouse, turn to pornography, drink, abuse my children, stop going to church, sit on the couch all day and mope about it.” The sinful heart pleads, “God hasn’t given me what I want, so it is okay for me to sin.” See the foolishness of the sinful mind? Sarai doesn’t consult the Lord’s will. She has her own foolish plan for her family.

Sarai might have thought her plan worked. Hagar, her maidservant, became pregnant. It was the solution for all their problems, right? Except it wasn’t God’s solution; it was a sinful solution. It was caving it to the unbelieving culture and practices around them. Sin is never the solution. When your relationship is struggling, when your marriage is on the rocks, when your children are out of line, when you feel like you are at your wits end, don’t play the game Abram and Sarai did. They basically reasoned, “The Lord has kept me from having something, so I have to sin to get what I want.” Sin only gives birth to more sin. It is never the solution to anything. It only gives birth to more problems!

Sarai’s plan revealed the crumbling family. Hagar now despised Sarai. That expression might be misunderstood. It wasn’t that Hagar was upset about being pregnant. The Hebrew phrase means Hagar looked down on Sarai. It literally says that Sarai began to be trivial in Hagar’s eyes. Hagar began to flaunt her new position. She was now the favored wife. You can imagine Abram being a lot more tender toward Hagar, giving her a nice place at the table, making sure she didn’t have to do any menials tasks. Suddenly the maidservant from Egypt was feeling like she could be more important than her mistress. Jealousy had to already be burning in Sarai’s heart over the physical side of things. Now Hagar is attacking Sarai emotionally. Sarai can’t bear it.
Sin gives birth to more sin and Sarai’s family further crumbled. She lashed out at her husband. “This is your fault Abram!” He’s probably very frustrated. “Let me check whose idea this was in the first place.” Meanwhile Sarai is using the Lord’s name again. But it isn’t any better than the last time she used it. First it was to blame the Lord. Now the Lord is her petty judge and poison dart to throw at Abram. “The Lord judge between you and me!” Then does Abram do the loving husband thing for either of his wives? He doesn’t try to reassure Sarai of his love. Nor does he take steps to protect Hagar. He just says, “I’m not getting involved in your womanly quarrels. You handle it.” Then Sarai afflicts Hagar to make her feel miserable. One of the hardest things to face is being mistreated by someone you have to get along with because they are in a position over you. One can guess that Sarai did everything she could to put Hagar back in her place as servant. She no doubt gave Hagar all the menial tasks, made her feel worthless. She tore down Haggar not physically, but by the way she spoke to her and about her. Now Hagar is going to bed in tears and waking up with a dreadful feeling of not being able to face the day. Sin leads to more sin. One sinful notion led to several broken relationships and strife.

I’m sure you can relate to the basic pattern in Sarai’s heart and mind. She blamed the Lord for her problem and blamed her husband when her sinful solution didn’t make her happy! Sometimes I find myself looking for my own solution to a family problem, I know that I can try to reason it out. When I blame the Lord and try to blame others instead of seeking the Lord’s will, it leads to further sin. Soon my own selfish ideas come crashing down on my head. Maybe you can also relate to Abram -wanting to just step out instead of taking responsibility and helping. Maybe you’ve felt like Hagar. You went too far and taunted someone. Or maybe you feel afflicted and abused like she was. All families can crumble.

What ought God to do when he sees the sinful plans, the abuse, and neglect found in a crumbling home? He sees the mess we make for ourselves. He sees the response we have to challenges. He sees the times we fail to turn to him for help and turn to a sinful plan. What ought he do? Leave us in the pits we dug to reap our own reward. In the end sinful plans drag us away from our God into something worse than a crumbling family. It causes our relationship with our God to crumble and drives us to the pits of hell.

All this mess drove the pregnant Hagar to flee hundreds of miles. She was evidently making her way back to Egypt. She’s probably hoping to make a living somehow. She’s alone, pregnant, abused, and neglected. But there near the border of Egypt, and the brink of despair, God reveals that he has seen all that has taken place. Hagar sees the angel of the Lord who speaks to her. “Where are you going?” he asks. He already knew both her guilt and her plight -her taunting and her suffering. He knew her desperate plan to flee. But now it was time for everyone to hear God’s plan. God intervenes with his direction and his undeserved blessing. “Go back and submit to her.” Hagar gets to be the first one to listen to the Lord and follow his solution for this whole mess. God says she will bear the child. And she is promised that he will be blessed by him. Hagar marveled at this wonderful message and this amazing appearance.

This angel of the Lord appears and speaks in several places in Scripture. It is sometimes a title given to prophets and priests. Sometimes it is a title given to an ordinary angel sent for a special purpose. But here and in other places this angel speaks as one who is the very Word of God. Though in person differentiated from God the Father, he speaks as equal to God. This is the Lord himself, the Son who is one God with the Spirit and the Father. This is the first recorded visible appearance he gives in Scripture. He spoke to Noah, and to Abraham, but he appears first here to Hagar –the abandoned, the lonely, the outcast. He appears to one who is both the culprit and the victim -the one who taunted and who was mistreated. The Lord who saw her misery. He is with the abandoned. He comes to the outcast. And he loves the unloved. Hagar had to marvel that the unseen Lord had appeared to her in such a way and at such a time.

When the time had fully come, God’s son appeared in the flesh. He came to for the abused to bring them love. He came for the neglected to bring them care. He came to take all the strife in all homes. He came to take away the division between God and all people. He did this on the cross. He himself took on flesh to be the most abused and abandoned of all time as he took our place. Far from neglecting his bride or his children, he sacrificed himself for us all! We now have his assurance of great blessing. The unseen God came to be with us and give us his love and protection!

He appeared alive again in the flesh in glory to his disciples to assure them, “Peace to you. Your sins are forgiven. Your sinful plans won’t come down on your own head, because I let it all fall on mine. You are freely welcomed into the family of God.” He comes to you in his Word with the same healing love and care. Though he is now unseen, he has promised, “I am with you always.” So, you might face crumbling relationships, abuse, or neglect. But you know you are never alone. God, the unseen one does see. And he does care! His love and his protection are forever there!

Hagar went back. But she didn’t go back alone. Like Hagar, you and I may at times face a life that is hard. It may have strife, may have its own personal challenges, even families which can crumble. But we leave today having seen the Lord who sees us. We leave here today having heard from him who loves us and brought us into a new family. In Christ we see the unseen God who cares for us. He takes the abused and neglected to be loved by him and protected.

 

See the Father’s Long-Suffering Love for His Sons

Hosea 11:1-7 ● December 29, 2019 ● Christmas 1 ● Pastor Tom Barthel ● Print VersionAudio VersionVideo

 

Imagine that you worked really hard on the perfect Christmas gift. You put extra care and thought into it. You picked out or created it just to meet the need. Then you put a loving note or card on it and hand it to someone you deeply love. Then you watch as they open it. At first it gives them great joy and excitement. But then later you see that they have tossed your gift into the trash. Instead of thanking you for the gift they completely forgot about it. Instead of reciprocating your love they made you feel rejected and treated your love as worthless. How would God respond if this was the way someone treated his love? Today we are going to see that this is just what happened to the Lord when he showed his love to Israel. How does he respond? We see the answer in our reading from Hosea 11 this morning and we see the Father’s long-suffering love for his sons.

How could anyone ever fail to appreciate someone wanting to show them love? Open up the book of Hosea and take a look. It is there that you will see the most painful feeling that one can experience: a loving kindness and faithfulness that is completely rejected. Hosea lived about 750 years before the first Christmas. He was a prophet to the people of Israel, the northern kingdom of the Jews in ancient Palestine. This kingdom, called here Ephraim after one of the northern tribes of Israel, needed a reality check. So, Hosea was called by God to deliver a message centered around their betrayal and rejection. And he presented his message in a dramatic way. As a husband Hosea himself experienced the painful rejection of his faithful love. His wife spurned him. He sought her, brought her out of a poor condition, took her as his bride, enriched her with his life and his possessions, and displayed great care and love. He had not failed to show love to her. But she left him with total rejection. She chased after other men and in the end was found prostituting herself to them in slavery. She didn’t care a thing for her husband anymore, and it showed!  These skeletons in Hosea’s closet are recorded for us because Hosea and his wife were symbolic of the relationship between God and his people. God mentions how he showered Israel with love like a faithful husband, but she was unfaithful to him.

Chapter 11 brings in another picture of love repaid with a shocking betrayal. God loved Israel as a Father loves his son.. His son was a slave, but God called his son, Israel, out of Egypt. The people were slaves in Egypt, but through Moses God displayed his great love and said, “Come out.” And with his powerful hand he led his son out of the bondage of slavery in Egypt. Through the waters they passed and were freed from slavery! A new nation was born free! God pictures his actions like that of a caring father for a son. “I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.” Parents and others who care for little children, you know what it is like to help a little toddler. When they are learning to walk lovingly grab their hand and lead them to take their first few steps. And when they are older you help them past the difficult parts. This is the love God had and showed to the nation of Israel as he guided them on their way. He lovingly stooped down to lead them day after day. God also says that he bent down to feed young Israel. Once again, if you have ever seen or dealt with a toddler, you know the amount of love this action takes. You love them, so you take that meshed up food and you put it on that tiny spoon. You lean toward the infant and feed them by hand. Sometimes you have to put up with a spitting of the food. Why do fathers and mothers put up with it? Love takes on the struggle, the effort, and does the work.

God loved his son, Israel and he fed Israel. He sent manna from heaven. He spoon-fed them his bread from heaven and made water gush out in the desert for them like a father holding a bottle for his baby. And this toddler nation didn’t always respond so well. They at one point spat it out and complained. At another point they hoarded and demanded more. And when they thirsted, they complained in spoiled impatience, “I’m thirsty!” But still, God Most High lowered himself to provide their every need. Not just for a few months of childhood, but for 40 years he fed them this way. He also fought for them and blessed them in their new land for hundreds of years afterward. The people were prosperous in Hosea’s time. They were cared for and loved so much by their Father!

But the book of Hosea is about more than God’s great display of love for Israel. It is also about Israel rejecting that love. God says, “They did not realize it was I who healed them.” Now like a rebellious teenager Israel didn’t care for or love the Lord. They burned incense to Baal. They worshiped the false gods of the people around them. In fact, instead of turning away from sin, they turned away from the Lord. They rejected his love and threw it in the trash because they thought they found a better one in Baal, the pagan God with its worship of sex and perversions. It’s not that God gave up on them. He called on them and sent prophet after prophet.

Yet he expresses here his frustration with them, “But the more they were called, the more they went away from me.” Wow! Rather than recalling the love of God shown over and over, they chose to live apart from God’s love. They had more than forgotten God’s love.  They had spurned it! They had hearts which refused his love and deliberately turned away from it!

Ancient Israel’s terrible rejection of God’s love was rooted in their cold, ungrateful hearts. They did not realize all that their Lord had done for them or treasure his gracious love for them. It was easier for the people to treasure the prosperity God had blessed them with and to love prosperity itself. It was easy to find temporary pleasure for the sinful heart and to thank Baal for that temporary sexual gratification. The God who had stooped down from heaven for them received far less attention than the honey and wine right under their noses.

We may not be turning to worship the false gods of the land we live in. We may not be turning our TV’s to the “god of Baal” channel. But idolatry begins with the heart that turns away from the Lord and toward sin. We have hearts by nature that respond the same way to God’s calling us. Many of us were infants and toddlers when he showed his love in our baptism. Through the waters we passed and were freed from slavery! We were made to be his own children through faith. Do we daily recall this great love given to us in our baptism or has it at times disappeared as a distant and unimportant event? And God has led each and every one of us in love by calling us with his Word. He has fed us like a loving Father with the bread of life from heaven. Is that Word something we daily listen to? Or is it sometimes easier to live in the moment, rather than to live constantly recalling God’s love? Our sinful flesh would rather complain about God’s Word and how it interferes with our lives than live in that Word. A Bible sits on the shelf and God’s love calls us to listen. But the sinful flesh only has time for other matters. God reminds us each Christmas how he loves us. But does that mean we love to hear his Word as he calls us Christmas, and the next day, and the next day, and the next day, over and over again to worship him alone? When you are reminded by a Christian friend, spouse, or pastor that you need to listen to God’s Word more, do you respond by distancing yourself from them and from your God? It’s a terrible truth we inherit from Adam: the more God calls us the more our hearts by nature desire to turn away!

Have we been attentive as we ought to be in recognizing all the love God has shown us, listening to him calling through his Word, and responding accordingly? Sometimes we are quicker to offer incense to the gods of this world than the God who loved us as his children. Our sinful nature would rather play its love song to entertainment, worldly comfort and joys, godless movies and music, rather than to God’s rich display of love. Even if you feel you have been grateful to God, have you honored him as much as he deserves for all the love he has shown? What is missing when a measure of love is absent between us and our God? God’s love isn’t absent from the picture. It’s all on our end. By turning to so many other things with our love we sometimes are like the teenager who has forgotten just how much love we were shown and spurn our God’s love for lesser things.

Israel had gone too far. Their choice was clear, and their fate was just. They loved sin, not God. “They refuse(d) to repent.” Tell a stubborn son or daughter of God of their sin, and that Christian will sometimes refuse to repent. And if they persist that meant something awful! When the day of reckoning comes at last, they might cry out, “Lord, Lord!” But the answer will be, “I don’t know you.” God’s warning is clear to his children. “One day you’ll call out and the loving Father you rejected will not be there anymore.” Continual rejection of God’s love ends in just that: God’s love is no longer yours. With a terrible irony God’s son, Israel, exchanged the loving Father’s hand for the hand of their enemies. They would not guide them with a loving hand but slash them with a sword.  They would not feed them by the hand but would destroy and devour them. With a terrible twist of fate those who reject God’s loving hand will receive the devil’s hand of destruction. They will be left outside and will be dragged down with the devil to the pits of hell. They will call but the Most High God will not lift them up.

But here is where God’s love far exceeds our own love. It is a love which is purely given in grace. The Most High God still loved his son, Israel and called him back. It is always this way. It was by the grace of God that Israel still bore the title “my son.” God in grace chose the nation of Israel to be his own. It was in grace that he brought them out of Egypt. And though this son complained, it was by grace that he led them by the hand. That’s the love Hosea came to preach. Recall how Hosea’s wife treated him? Hosea took back his wife. He found her and bought her back from her miserable condition. He still forgave and loved her as his wife. This relationship also shows the relationship between God and his people. God remains loving, even when we fail to reciprocate his love. This is why we read that God called Israel, his son, over and over. This is why we read that God didn’t abandon or give up Israel his son at the first sign of rejection of his love. He is gracious, and his patience is great, long-suffering. God has long displayed his love. Despite the rejection of it, he wants all to recall it and have it. He calls us to be his own, to leave slavery, to be his dear children!

The whole world has been shown this love from God. He sent his Son, Jesus, into the world. In love the Most High God took on flesh to become the lowliest of men. Jesus, God’s Son, lowered himself so that he needed to be carried by Joseph and Mary to Egypt. In lowliness, Jesus needed Joseph to grab his arm as he learned to walk. He needed his parents to give him food. In a rage Herod wanted to spurn God’s gift and kill him. But even then, God’s love would not be pulled away. The Son of God remained in the world. He needed Joseph and Mary to carry him from Bethlehem to Egypt and back to Israel. (This action pointed back to his gracious love of God for his son, Israel, in Egypt.) Jesus continued to face rejection. He came to his own, but his own rejected him and killed him by hanging him on a cross! Talk about rejected love! But Jesus did this out of love for the world. He did it for you before you were even born. He is the perfect and only Son of God, our substitute. And because the Son of God lived and died in your place you are called sons and daughters of God.

Yes, one can reject God’s love. Yes, one can refuse to repent and can turn away from God. But what does God do when his love is spurned? God still calls his children back. God still has displayed great love for you and all this world. See the Father’s long-suffering love for us all! Can I, will I forget how Love as born, and burned Its way into my heart unasked, unforced, unearned? (CW 54)

Stories of the Promise 4) Isaiah ” Promises Foretold”

Stories of the Promise series • Isaiah 7:1-15 • December 22, 2019 • AudioPrint versionVideo

 

My youngest is just starting to get the hang of walking. She’s at that stage where she will walk but only if she knows it will be safe. If you set her off walking after something, she will take a few steps, but then plop back down to the floor for a nice safe crawl. But if she sees that there is someone to catch her at the end, she will walk the whole way across the floor. She sees mom or dad and she knows that her walk will go just fine or that they will be ready to catch her. This assures her that all is well and she’s safe. I guess you could say she trusts us. Isn’t that what our walk of faith is often like? Don’t we need to have assurance from God, constant reminders of his love, his presence, and his plan to keep us from harm? And when we don’t have that before our eyes we plop down from our walk of faith and attempt what we deem to be a safer mode of existence. Instead of standing in faith and looking at God we end up crawling around with a crippling fear. God once spoke to a king of Jerusalem words which still ring true today. After putting many promises right before king Ahaz’s eyes he said to him, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, then you will not stand at all.” Today we see just how true that is.

Ahaz sort of stands out in the line of the house of David. His father and grandfather both served the Lord, but Ahaz didn’t. Maybe you know someone like him. He totally turned aside from his godly family which had long worshipped the Lord into complete disregard for the Lord. And it wasn’t enough for him to worship false gods. He closed the temple doors in Jerusalem and put up a copy of the altar for the false gods of Damascus. He offered up child sacrifice. He bribed other nations with the temple treasures collected by his father and grandfather. He is listed as one of the worst kings to sit on the throne in Jerusalem.

When Ahaz opened his eyes to the world around him, he was ready to fall down to the ground and crawl. The King of Israel to the north and the King of Aram had made an alliance against Ahaz. They plotted to completely destroy the southern kingdom of Judah. They killed 120,000 of Judah’s best soldiers and carted off 200,000 men, women, and children as prisoners and plunder. Their next step would be to decimate Jerusalem and divvy up the land between the two nations. They were saying things like, “We will rip them open!” So, naturally, King Ahaz and the people were all terribly afraid. It says their hearts were trembling like trees in a forest shaking in the wind. Ahaz was crawling around in fear, desperately trying to secure an ally, desperately trying to prepare the water supply of Jerusalem for a terrible siege. Instead of standing in faith he was staggering in fear.

You might say to yourself, “Yeah, wars happen. Terrible things take place. Anyone would be afraid and crawling on their knees if that was happening to them.” But this was no ordinary city with no ordinary throne. Ahaz was on the throne of David. His kingdom is called “the house of David.” He had promises from God that David’s line would never end. God had said a king would sit on David’s throne and bring a rule of peace to the ends of the earth. Ahaz had taken his eyes off the promise and off his God. He should have been standing in faith instead of crawling in fear.

Has your world ever been so shaken? Like Ahaz, you have promises from God. You are part of his promised kingdom of peace; it extends over all the earth. Like Ahaz you have been told that you can stand on the Lord’s promises. He has promised for each of us peace, protection from danger, prayers answered, and an eternal place in his kingdom. Like Ahaz many of us have been blessed to hear that promise and have Christian family. But how much does it take to make us crawl in fear instead of standing firm in that faith and holding to those promises? There may not be 120,000 dying around you. But what if one or two people very close to you die a tragic and unexpected death. Doesn’t your heart begin to shake like the trees in the wind? And where do you find yourself when the security is sucked out of your life by a threatening disease, illness, or financial loss? Ahaz found himself turning to everything but the one place he should turn. He tried to bribe the king of Assyria to fight on his side. He tried to imitate the false worship of the people around him. Christians can end up turning to alcohol, sinful addictions, and turning away from the one thing they really need when crisis hits. The Word of God can be left untouched because they are too busy fighting off a major crisis. You and I can find ourselves with hearts that tremble and hands that grope around the floor because we’re afraid of falling and hurting more.

But the Lord does not desire that anyone who bears his name tremble with fear. The Lord sent the prophet Isaiah and his son to king Ahaz. And he gave him several reassuring words. “Calm down. Be Quiet. Do not be afraid or let your hearts be afraid because of the fierce anger of your enemies.” He then goes on to describe the things that cause Ahab and the house of Judah fear as merely smoldering stumps. With a really neat picture of Hebrew idioms which most translations don’t capture he says, “Don’t be afraid of their burning nostrils (their fierce anger) because they are like smoking burnt stumps… stand firm in faith.” God was basically saying to Ahaz and the house of David, “Look at me. Keep your eyes on me and my promises and you can stand firm. Don’t fall down onto your knees to crawl in fear. Those things that threaten you will not succeed. They are nothing. I am your everything. Trust me. Stand in faith and trust me. Anything else will fail you.”

The writer to the Hebrews tells us to do the same when he says, “fix your eyes on Jesus.” We may face many things that will drive us to fear and cause us to drift away from the faith. We will see our own weaknesses and sometimes panic into fear. Our hearts tremble at times like trees swaying in the wind. But Jesus says to us, “Trust in me. In this world you will have many troubles but take heart because I have overcome the world.”

Ahaz, sadly, didn’t take to heart these words. But God is gracious. Even though Ahaz did not deserve anything good, God still gave him a promise to hold onto. He still called him part of the “house of David,” namely, the household that held God’s promises! Ahaz had God’s gospel to stand on. And the Lord spoke again and gave an incredible offer to assure Ahaz of his promise. “Ask for a sign (something to show you my word is true), whether in the deepest depths or the highest heights.” Very seldom does God ever invite someone to ask for a sign. He often refuses signs to those who demand one. But here he graciously offers Ahaz to pick one and be assured of the Lord’s Word. Ahaz is so confident he’ll be better crawling to the king of Assyria that he completely dismisses the offer. In fact he insults Isaiah and the Lord. “I won’t ask for a sign or test the Lord.” He’d rather keep crawling on his own than receive something to assure him the gospel promises he holds are good!

Wouldn’t you love it if God would comfort you with so many words and such signs when fear strikes you? He has and he does! Every time someone has shared the gospel with you the Lord has assured you that you need not fear anything! Every opportunity you have to read his word, study it, hear it, listen to it preached, gather together is another invitation from your God to “Calm down, remain quiet, do not be afraid, do not let your heart tremble like the tottering trees in the wind.” And every time we decide that his Word isn’t what we need in time of crisis we turn aside like Ahaz did from the goodness of our God. Every time we think, “I first have to fix this myself” before we even mediate on God’s promises and turn to him in prayer, we insult to the God of grace and his Word. Isaiah says to Ahaz “Isn’t enough that you try the patience of people that you now are trying the patience of your God by dismissing his promises!” God graciously gives us his Word and sacraments to keep us standing strong. He graciously sends these things into our life even when we don’t deserve them or heed them as we ought. When distress and fear come, so does his comforting gospel. Dare we ever to dismiss it or disregard it in even the slightest way?

Though Ahaz refused to look to the Lord, God himself would give a sign. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and he will be called Immanuel – in Hebrew that name means “God with us.” “You want me to show you that my promise is good?” God asks. “Aram and Israel will not happen. They will not defeat you. But this will happen. A miraculous and unexplainable birth will take place. A woman will conceive though she has not ever been with any man. And she will bear son. That son will not be an ordinary child. He will be God himself in human flesh with his people.” Matthew writes in his gospel account of a man who discovers that the woman he is betrothed to is pregnant. He immediately has to assume that she was unfaithful to him and that’s how she got pregnant. His life no doubt was toppling down as he decided he’d have to call off the marriage with her. But an angel of the Lord comes to him in a dream and tells him, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.”

The rest of this prophecy in Isaiah 7 speaks of the promised child being born into a time of poverty. He’d eat curdled milk instead of fresh milk and instead of cultivated crops have scavenged food like honey. And the land of Israel would suffer defeat and remain defeated long past Ahaz’s lifetime. It would remain that Israel would be dominated by foreign powers right up through the birth of this child. But the promised child would be the long-foretold offspring of David, a shoot coming up from a small stump. His heart would never waver in the wind but would faithfully stand as he fulfilled all prophecies for the kingdom of David. At this sign fulfilled we can stand in faith knowing that God keeps his promises. The virgin gave birth and the Messiah was born to bring us the promised peace. God himself with us to save us!

Jesus, the virgin’s son, true man, and Immanuel, true God, continues to fulfill everything prophesied. He lived in poverty and lowliness. He spoke good news for the poor and of the forgiveness of sins. He conquered sin by dying on the cross for us and he conquered death by rising to life again. He is now ruling over all the ends of the earth and peace is proclaimed in his name. And he promises peace to all who stand in faith looking to him. There is nothing you face that his Word cannot calm. “Peace be with you. Do not be afraid. Trust in God. Trust in me.”

And he tells us that if you do not stand in faith in him you will not stand at all. You can turn to all other sources of hope, but only Jesus will carry out what we really need. Sadly, Ahaz disregarded the promises and the sign. He did not stand in faith. He instead sent a bribe to the king of Assyria and came crawling on his knees looking for help. Ironically that became his very downfall. “If you do not stand in faith, you will not stand at all.”

You and I are standing in faith with our eyes on Jesus and the promises foretold and promises fulfilled. We don’t stand by our own strength or wit. Like a child we stand by faith, confident in his love and his good plan for us. Over and over again he graciously reminds us that we are part of his household, and by grace we are in the story of the promise.

Stories of the Promise 3) Job “Persevere”

Stories of the Promise 3) Job – “Persevere” ● Job 1:6-22 ● December 15, 2019 ● WELS ministry Pastor Tom Barthel Sermon Series for Advent PrintAudioVideo

 

We live in a one-minute, quick-fix, instant-oatmeal society. What do I mean by that? If people don’t get what they want right away, they get upset. If it takes too long for an order someone today might leave a bad review online. And if internet or cell phone service drops for a few seconds –we consider it the worst of evils. Really it isn’t just today’s society. It has always been this way. All people of all ages have always been intolerant of the slightest hassles. The child throws a temper when denied a toy. A spouse refuses to talk or show affection when denied some personal whim. Aren’t we all born with one-minute, quick-fix, instant-oatmeal hearts? When something is taken away, love grows cold. It ebbs at just the slightest sign of hardship. That type of love is, of course, only based on a shallow, superficial thing. What about shallow love for God? Or closely related, shallow faith? Do we ever seek an immediate response from God in order to believe he truly loves us? Do we ever pull away praise when he fails to immediately pull away our pains and fill us with pleasures? Today we read of a man who by all appearances lost most of his reasons to love and praise God. The book of Job opens with a striking picture for us. It’s the opposite of a shallow faith or shallow love for God. We see what it really means to live in the story of the promise, what it means to persevere.

I don’t think most people realize just how wealthy Job was. With thousands of sheep, large cattle, and camels he was close to the ancient equivalent of today’s multi-millionaire. Along with huge herds and flocks he had many servants. And though today a large family is not always viewed as a blessing, in nearly every Biblical record large families are considered a great blessing from God. That was the case for Job with his ten children. Job was blessed in every way! In his day he was called greatest man in all of the East. But we read that Job was about to have all his prosperity come crashing down into a heap of rubble. He was going to face the crisis of a lifetime.

We get to read the dialogue between God and Satan, the one called the accuser. Though Satan doesn’t have access to God’s counsel or presence, God has something to say to Satan. With all of Satan’s wandering about the earth, he couldn’t have missed Job. And Satan would have been most frustrated by him. Job was a rich man who honored God. Satan couldn’t get him to turn aside from the Lord. Job even confessed sins and offered sacrifice on behalf of his children just in case they had done any wrong. So, God boasts of his servant Job, “Consider him! How much he loves me, honors me!”

But Satan, in all his wickedness will not acknowledge Job’s faith as genuine. Satan knows the quick-fix, instant-gratification hearts which we all have. And he was determined to prove that Job had shallow love for God. “Does Job love God for nothing?” Satan questions. “Look at the life you’ve given him! Look at the blessings he holds! Of course he is going to praise you.” Then the return challenge comes: “But take away all these things, and I know Job’s love for you will grow cold, and he will curse you to your face.” Give him a setback, Satan says, and his love for God will drop back!

What if Satan would challenge your faith and love for God in this same manner? We certainly can relate to Job in comparative wealth. Many of us have received numerous blessings from God. We can pray to God saying, “Thank you for my job, thank you for my house, thank you for my food, my family.” But what about when these things are no longer there? This is what Satan was allowed to reveal in Job. God was still in control, but he allowed Satan to follow up on his accusation against Job. He allowed him to take away Job’s blessings.

And it came upon Job hard! And in a single day a wave of losses came piling over Job. His oxen, donkeys– gone. Raided and taken. His sheep: struck dead, servants also killed suddenly. And through these first reports of loss Job remained silent and took the blows. You can picture the stunned face of a millionaire who just lost everything in a stock-market crash. Shock left him speechless. But the next wave of loss had to have been something that would drive any man or woman to the deepest pits of despair. Children are a blessing from God. Job knew this. Job showed that he deeply cared for his ten children. Don’t think he loved them any less than you love those close to you in your family. He loved each one I’m sure as much as you love those dearest to you. All ten died at once as the house they were in collapsed. When calamity comes, doesn’t it sometimes feel like it hits in cruel wave after wave? When you face one trail and think, “Okay. I can manage this. It’s just one more straw.” It just then that not only does a last straw come to break your back but a whole brick-load of pain. Job now had nothing. Nothing left but a wife, who we later see had turned from the Lord and scolded her husband for not joining her in cursing God.

Satan went to great lengths to remove many of reasons Job had for praising God. But does he always have to go to such great lengths to reveal a shallow faith? Sometimes he can topple someone’s faith simply by toppling the unstable pedestal it is set upon. If our love and trust in God is based on our day-by-day prosperity, our love and faith is on shaky ground. Satan knows that for some hearts if you take away their prosperity you take away their religion.

The believer might say, “God took away my wealth for a good reason; he still loves me.” But along will come Satan to try and finish the job with his lies. “How can you say God loves you? It doesn’t look like it now?!” The believer might say, “I lost everything and had to file for bankruptcy, but God is still working all things for my God.” But Satan will be constantly reminding that Christian “Why? How do you know? Hasn’t God given up on you? Why should you still praise him?” And with agonizing heartache you and I may cry in faith, “I will miss my loved one who has died, but God has delivered them, for that I am thankful.” But Satan will have you hearing the words of unbelievers around you, “Are you still praising God? Even after he has taken someone from you?”

It might be easy to say, “My faith and my love for God will persevere.” I’m sure John the Baptist probably thought that too, until he was taken and tossed in prison. Then he didn’t see all the things which he had foretold about the coming of the Christ. Things were bad, and his faith faced a hard road. Who can say that they will never doubt the goodness of the Lord? Don’t we really walk around with one-minute, quick-fix, instant-oatmeal hearts? If we aren’t happy and satisfied, it doesn’t take us to long to show it towards other people. Can’t our love and trust in God also be shaken? And when it is what ought God to say about such a shallow and empty faith?

Surprisingly, Job wasn’t shaken. Job’s response was not a stoic and forced show of “nothing is wrong.” He didn’t hide the tears or crawl into a corner to mourn. He was in pain. He had reason to grieve. The customary signs of grieving were a torn garment and a shaven head. He showed his grief. But what no doubt smacked Satan in the face was what followed and accompanied Job’s grieving: an act of worship!

How was Job able to praise the Lord for his goodness even as all those blessings were taken from him? Before we rush to put Job on a pedestal of ‘perfect example’ we need to ask why he even stands in the posture of worship amidst calamity. It is not because of his own inert goodness, but because he so well understood the goodness of God, despite all appearances to the contrary. He didn’t live by day-to-day prosperity which is so fickle. He lived by the unshakable promises of God. Job had faith in the Lord who was good –and who carried out his good plans no matter what the appearances may seem at the time. Not only had he been materially rich, he was rich in faith and love for the Lord.

In faith Job knew God is a God of grace. He gives us all we have, and we deserve none of it. In Job’s own life that all he ever had was a gift of God’s grace. “I was born naked.” Job says. He knew that he would hold nothing in his hand, have no clothes, no cattle, no home, not even a spouse or children if the Lord hadn’t in his grace provided them for Job. Job knew the Lord’s goodness. His lack of possessions was not an indicator of God’s lack of goodness toward him. Nor did it mean that God was punishing him.

That’s because he knew that the Lord is a God of mercy. Job knew that the Lord would forgive sins. That is why he had a heart of faith that would come to the Lord often seeking forgiveness. And Job knew that if the Lord who forgives sins wanted him to go without his other blessings, God still loved him. Job took his own sin seriously, knew God’s love, and thanked God with praise. This is what foiled Satan’s attack: a heart which knew the Lord as the God of mercy and love –despite the lack of lesser blessings.

This is the way that our God works. He doesn’t work according to our fickle perspective of time and blessing. His way is beyond ours. Instead of focusing on when those blessings are not there, we can focus on what blessings were there in grace, and what blessings will continue to come by God’s grace. And we can remember always his mercy for sinners.

At times our trust and love in him will be tested.  And it won’t stand unless it is based on his mercy and grace. Picture what it was like for the people at the first coming of the Christ. Did it look like things were going their way when the Romans ruled over the people of Israel? Was there going to be a King of Peace for Israel when the Romans now controlled the land? And what did it look like for Mary and Joseph? Was that God’s plan? That the Christ be born in such a humble way? And John the Baptist, the great prophet himself doubted for a time if this was how God was supposed to be showing his kingdom -in lowliness and humility while his chief herald was tossed in prison. Things weren’t going as expected.

But it was in all this lack of prosperity and abundance of trials that God worked out his plan of goodness. It wasn’t a cheap quick fix that we could pay him for. It was a priceless and everlasting fix he earned his own blood. Jesus came as the Christ in such a way that many were offended and said, “This can’t be what we were expecting.” He came in poorness, from a broken line of kings, in a broken kingdom, for broken people. He came to suffer loss and pain beyond all even Job ever faced. But despite all appearances God is always working his good plan. In Christ he worked that plan to display his mercy and love. You want to see someone persevere under pressure? Look to Jesus. He did to the very end for us. Jesus the Christ, against all expectations died on the cross. It was in that suffering that our forgiveness of sins was won. And it is through his unexpected but long foretold rising to life that we rejoice in possessing eternal life.

Satan went to great lengths to remove many of reasons Job had for praising God. But he couldn’t remove them all. He couldn’t take away the greatest reason for praise. God knew all along that Job’s faith was not shallow, but real, and centered on trust in his mercy and grace. It’s a story of the promise of God centered on Jesus. Your love for God and faith in him don’t rest on the immediate situation. They rest on his promises and his faithfulness. This is how it was at the first coming of Christ and this is how it still is for us now until Christ returns.

Don’t let Satan’s accusation of a shallow love and shallow faith stand. Persevere with the promises of God. By God’s working, we know the depth of the love that God –no matter what. His love for us is never shallow or fickle for us. It doesn’t waver but is based on grace; it is everlasting and beyond our understanding. This Advent remember the story of Job. It’s a story of the promises of God which led him and leads us all to trust in the goodness of God and to persevere.

Stories of the Promise 2) Daniel – “Repent”

Daniel 4:19-37 ● December 8, 2019 ● Sermon Series for Advent ●  Pastor Tom Barthel ●  WELS ministry ●  Audio Version ●  Print Version ●  Video

 

Don’t you get tired of the so-called public apologies offered by some high-profile people? You might be hoping to hear the person say something like, “I was acting like a complete fool. I’m sorry.” But instead you only get something more on the lines of “I regret that my behavior was less than exemplary.” Or “I’m sorry if my actions were not understood like I meant them to be understood.” What kind of apologies are those? “I am sorry” is one of the hardest things to say. Yet those words can be some of the sweetest spoken by anyone. Today we consider how God brought one proud man down to his knees. His story leads us to see the importance of repentance.

The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II began his reign in 604 BC. It started on a high note: a military success. He had just conquered Egypt. On his return to Babylon he ransacked Judah. He took the throne in Babylon and ruled over 40 years. His empire stretched from Egypt, across Palestine, over the entire Arabian Peninsula, and even on beyond the Persian Gulf. Over the course of 20 years he carried out military campaigns against Judah and Jerusalem. Finally he saw to it that the last ruling King of the line of David was dethroned, taken captive, and tortured for resisting his rule. And the centuries-old dynasty of David came to a sudden halt. Jerusalem fell. Nebuchadnezzar brought tens of thousands of Israelite people off to his home country in Babylon to be his servants. One of those people was the young man Daniel.

Nebuchadnezzar’s success included more than military endeavors. He was a great builder and administrator of his empire. Picture the very proud king. He took the Neo-Babylonian kingdom to a new height. He built up the city of Babylon to be one of the wonders of the ancient world. Its famous hanging gardens were described by those who witnessed it hundreds of years later as magnificent, as if it were carved out of the side of the mountain. With its water works and terraced gardens, it must have been quite an impressive sight. The walls of the city were said to cover miles and miles with an imposing height which none could ever scale. He had established a reign over much of his world; today’s Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Turkey. Few before were anywhere near to his accomplishments. The little kingdom of Judah was nothing to him except another conquered land. What should he care for the God of the people of Judah?

But something happened which brought him great fear. He had a dream. It is described with a great tree which grew up in the middle of the land. The top of the tree reached all the way up into the sky. Its branches could be seen from kingdoms around the earth. Its leaves and fruit were beautiful, and all the creatures of the world came to it to eat its food. But in his dream a messenger from heaven comes and says, “Cut down the tree; scatter its leaves and its fruit. Let nothing remain but a stump, bound with iron and bronze. And let it be drenched with the dew from heaven. And let him remain among the wild animals and eat grass, let his mind be like that of an animal, until seven times pass by for him. This is decreed so that all the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over all the kingdoms of the earth, and he gives them to whomever he wishes, (and sets over them the lowliest of men).”

You can see why this dream would have terrified Nebuchadnezzar. He called on his magicians and sorcerers to give him the meaning. None of them could. The meaning is clear enough. I almost wonder if they rightly guessed it but were too afraid to actually say it to the king. When all the other magicians could not tell the king his dream, Daniel steps out of nowhere and does, by God’s working, what they could not. “You, O king, are that tree. God has given you a kingdom that is great and has placed you in authority. And that messenger decreed that you will be cut down. You will be given the mind of an animal and driven from civilization. This will happen until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.

It isn’t too hard to imagine what should logically follow. The King knew Daniel to be wise and capable of telling him the truth. Daniel even offered prudent advice: “Repent… Please accept my advice: renounce your sins.” Like John the Baptist crying out to the people, “The ax is already at the root of the trees,” Daniel tells King Nebuchadnezzar, “The ax is already at the root of your tree.”

But twelve months later nothing has changed. No repentance. No renouncing of his wrongs. No acknowledgment of the Most High God who is above all kings and all kingdoms. Nebuchadnezzar refuses to follow Daniel’s advice. So stubborn the wicked are! But God’s people also have a sinful heart. And when it is allowed to rule our lives, we might put off repentance too. Sometimes we think that if enough time lapses, we won’t even have to repent, and our sin won’t matter.

Repentance is not an easy thing! The Christian who struggles with lust and pornography says he’ll repent later. Later never comes. Repentance is absent and sin takes over the heart. The unmarried Christian knows full well that cohabitating with his girlfriend dishonors God’s gift of marriage. But he decides that he doesn’t need to repent, he’ll do that in 12 months, or not at all. He’d rather not change or bend to honor God. He clings to his sin instead. At least that is his first response. He reasons that he can put off repentance. How long before God must humble him? A Christian who has decided in his heart he doesn’t want to be a loving husband anymore to his wife, who has given up on his marriage doesn’t think he has to repent. At least not yet. So twelve minutes go by, twelve hours, days, twelve months go by. Not a word of apology is spoken. His wife only hears loveless silence and the refusal to repent. God hears the same.

The substance abuser begins with justifying why they abuse that drug. So the person who refuses to repent of wrong tries to justify their actions. Anything to avoid changing, turning aside from what they want, and turning to God in humility and seeking forgiveness from him. “Repent? Turn from what I’m doing? Maybe next year.” It’s an annually broken resolution.

How about you? When someone tells you that you have done or are doing something wrong, is it always your first reaction to repent? Or is it sometimes to stubbornly resist renouncing your sin and turning aside from it? Who likes to admit they are wrong? Even more difficult is to change your actions and turn aside from the wrong. What things do you find you have trouble repenting over? People are hoping to hear you say something like, “I was acting like a complete fool. I’m sorry. Please forgive.” But instead you might do thing and only go so far to say, “I regret that my behavior was less than exemplary.” That’s not repentance; it’s putting it off. Repentance is turning aside from what is evil and hating it.

What prevents us from repenting? Pride in ourselves. Pride in self always leads to scorn towards God. Pride in our own greatness leads to the proud and stubborn heart that refuses to repent. Instead of “I was wrong” it is “I’m never wrong. I might make mistakes. I might be unaware and unintentionally cause a few mishaps. But I’m the greatest thing that ever walked before mankind.” Nebuchadnezzar swelled in pride, “How can Daniel, this servant from Judah, tell me what I should do? I’m the king.” So the temptation comes up for God’s people. “How can my dad tell me that it’s sinful for me to dishonor marriage and live with someone outside of marriage! I need to repent? I’m the greatest thing that has ever happened to this family. How dare he tell me what to do!” Or “My wife says I’m wrong? She ought to be grateful an awesome guy like me is still with her!” “My pastor says I have to love my wife and tell her I’m sorry? How can he tell me that! He’s only been married 14 years! What does he know anyways?” “I don’t’ have a tempter problem, I’m surrounded by people who do dumb things. I’m a successful doctor who has a high paying job. Repent!? I’ve done nothing wrong.” Pride also comes between neighbors. “I’ve been in this community for 20 years. Now this guy comes along and says I can’t burn leaves today! Who does he think he is! This is my neighborhood!” It’s a foolish heart that refuses repentance because of personal pride.

But dare we stand proud when the call to repentance comes rightly and is based on the will of God? Are we above his will? Dare we ever think that God will just make an exception for our stubborn unyielding refusals to repent? Should he overlook my sin as if I’m too important to repent? Should he overlook any of yours when you refuse to repent of any sin?

God is gracious. But he won’t tolerate stubborn refusal and rejection of his grace. For Nebuchadnezzar that time was now up. Nebuchadnezzar has not even finished relishing the thought that he got away with everything, when the voice from heaven spoke. “This is what was decreed for you… your authority will be taken from you now.” Everything was fulfilled in his dream. The mighty tree was cut. His mind was taken from him, and he wandered among the wild beast, driven from civilizations like one who has gone insane. He literally lost his mind and all he was so proud of.

The Most High God wanted Daniel and all his people to know that he was still in control over all kingdoms. He is able to bring down the proud. But as he also showed Nebuchadnezzar that he is also the God of mercy and grace. The vision included a stump which was bound with bronze and iron. It would be restored. Nebuchadnezzar did finally after a time acknowledge that the Most High is God over all. It is unfortunately not a lasting confession. But he did acknowledge God. And he was restored to power once again. His mind became sane again. God is able to humble the proud. But he is also able to lift up the lowly.

That’s the real story of Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar. The king was proud, but “the Most High gives kingdoms to whomever he wishes, and places over them even the lowliest of men.” Nebuchadnezzar may have thought he cut down the line of Judah till nothing was left but a stump. The line of David was like a stump. But a shoot would come from the line of David. A branch was prophesied to come out of that broken and fallen line. The branch would be the lowliest of all men. Born in a manger he would not appear a king. But the Son of God was prophesied to come in human flesh in lowliness to save us all. He would come preaching a message of repentance and forgiveness of sins. He himself would be a king free from wrong. Yet in greatest humility he would lay down his life and die in place of us all. And his kingdom would never end. He would be lifted up from the depths of the grave and restored to the highest throne. He has been lifted up to glory! He has promised to bring into his kingdom all who look to him with repentance and faith. That includes every proud sinner -even you and me. Jesus our King! He is the lowliest who was lifted up to be Lord of all! Repentance means turning away from our pride and sin to look at him who made himself nothing to take away our sin and give us all.

Nebuchadnezzar had torn down God’s temple, had insulted his people, and had been an instrument of destruction. God warned him to repent. He gave him twelve months to do so. God is mercifully patient. He restores those who look to him.

The worst thing that can happen to you if you are an unbeliever is that God has to humble you. But for the believer the best thing that can happen is that God humbles you. There is no greater joy than being down on your knees in godly sorrow over your own sin. Why? God lifts up the lowly. The Spirit convicts us of our sin, the new self is grieved by it. And the heart of faith rejoices in the fact that though we are deserving to have our mind, our wealth, and our health taken away from us the Lord will not. But God, in mercy takes away our sin. And then he lifts us up. The story of Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar is one of the promise for all who repent. So, your Lord tells you today: remember the story of Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, “Repent.” The Lord brings down the proud but lifts up the lowly.

Stories of the Promise 1) Noah – “Watch”

Genesis 6:9-22, 7:11-23 ● December 1, 2019 ● “Stories of the Promise” Sermon Series for Advent ● Pastor Tom Barthel ●  WELS ●  Print Version ●  Audio Version ●  Video

 

Christmas manger scenes are often depicted as overly cute. And I get it. For the sake of creating children’s books and marketable shelf decorations artist create a comfy and clean maternity ward in Bethlehem, staffed by neatly dressed shepherds and angels. What is perhaps worse is when this same technique is applied to the great flood. Noah is depicted as smiling with his puffy white beard and the animals peeking out of little windows. The ark looks like a toy boat that you could just plop into the toddler’s bathtub or stick on the shelf as a cute decoration. But the scene was nothing like that. It was devastating and frightening. That’s why Jesus refers to the event of the flood as a warning to watch and be ready for his coming. It won’t be cute, cheery, or clean. The judgment to come will be shocking, swift, and surreal. This morning we turn to Genesis 6 and 7 and consider how the story of Noah teaches us to be watchful for the coming judgment.

First of all, the story of Noah is no myth. Some might try to push aside this account as just a cute story for children. Even Christian scholars will try to dismiss this part of the Bible to simply a story passed on by Hebrews like some fairy tale. But this story doesn’t belong to the Hebrews, nor the fairy tale books. It is recorded in the sacred text of Scripture and presented as real history. To deny that the flood is a real event is as bad as denying the fact that God created this world and his Son walked on water and rose from the dead. You cannot just wash the account of the flood off the pages of Scripture. Moses testifies to it. The Psalm writers testify to it. The apostle Peter testifies to it. And as if that wasn’t enough Jesus refers to it as real. And as real history it’s meant for more than the nursery or a play set. It is recorded for all people, adults, young, old, all humanity. So, brothers and sisters, let’s take a look at how this real history still has real meaning for us.

Noah’s story takes place a few centuries after the world was created. It didn’t take long for everything to succumb to sin’s curse. Genesis accounts for us the line of Adam, fallen from holiness into sin. Things after his fall into steadily worsened. From Adam and the very beginning of time to Noah spans at least 1600 years. We read about some godly men who from ancient times called on the name of the Lord. These people were like their father, grandfather, and great grandfather Seth, son of Adam. They had faith in the Lord. But even though the world was not far from creation it was for the most part far from its creator. We read in early history of men who boasted in their own strength. They avenged their pride with great boasts of violence. The world had split into two types of people: the children of Cain and the children of Seth, generally speaking. They are given the titles: sons of God and daughters of men, that is, believers and unbelievers.

What happened? The “sons of God” plummeted their families into corruption. They began to intermarry with the unbelievers. They didn’t look for wives who had a heart of faith. That didn’t matter to them. They only sought outward beauty. And it wasn’t long before the outward attraction became the world’s downfall. In the all-important choice of who they married, believing men carelessly tossed aside the most important thing in life: The Word of God. Their children were renowned –not as heroes of faith but as warriors and tyrants. God was very aware of what had happened to his creation. The crown of creation, mankind, had turned altogether to wickedness. It doesn’t say, “The people around Noah were corrupt.” It says, “all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.” In great contrast to Noah who walked with God, the rest of the world walked away from God. They weren’t watchful for God’s plans, only their own.

But someone was watchful for God’s plans. Genesis 6 is not “the account of the flood” or “the story of how the world changed.” It is titled by the Holy Spirit as “the account of Noah.” Listed as a great-grandson of Enoch, who walked with God, Noah also walked with God, meaning he lived a God-fearing life. He is called a righteous man because he trusted in the promise of the Savior to come. The writer to the Hebrews calls Noah righteous through faith: belief in the promised coming Savior of the world. By faith Noah, along with his wife and children were watching for God’s plans.

God did make his plans known to Noah. Only 120 years remained for the people of the earth. Suddenly Noah’s life became full of watchfulness and preparations. All of Noah’s acquaintances had to run through his mind; his neighbors and those who lived in his country, his wife’s family, his family. He knew the end was coming!

God’s directions to Noah were generally quite simple. Build an ark. It was essentially to be a large box, like a barge. It wasn’t a boat with mast or sail. It wouldn’t have a rudder to steer or a hull to direct its path. It was a box that spanned the length of over one and a half football fields and stood four stories high. God made his plan clear for Noah: “I’m going to bring flood waters on the earth to destroy all life.” God also chose to spare the creatures of the earth. Some have estimated that each creature “according to its kind” meant between 1500 and 2400 different species or pairs of animals altogether. God’s plan: they would be spared the flood in a floating barge, which he would guide and protect through all the destruction.

Scripture doesn’t record Noah’s words with God. It doesn’t have to. It only records, “Noah did everything the Lord had commanded him.” In complete silence throughout these chapters Noah is the obedient and faithful servant of the Lord. And don’t think it was easy for him to remain watchful and faithful. The apostle Peter and Jesus mentions the reaction he received from the world. Might some ridicule you for believing in the account of Noah? How much did they laugh at Noah for actually building the ark?! He had up to 120 years to build it. It is during this time that he preached to the world around him. To “walk with God.” Means not only to live a godly life but to live a life that speaks about God. Peter says that he was preaching to the world around him.

God is very patient. The story of Noah show’s that. God gave the world 120 more years to repent. He was grieved, the scriptures state in human terms, over the corruption of mankind. But he desired that every single soul heed his Word and walk with him. But every single soul, save eight, turned to darkness instead. And God said to the world the worst thing that he can say to any unbeliever, “Have it your way.” He left them alone under his wrath over sin.

On the very same day that the flood waters began, Noah and seven others entered the ark, along with all the creatures which God had chosen to accompany him. It says that the waters of the deep opened up. This wasn’t a monsoon flood. The earth itself was convulsing and exploding the great reservoirs which God had on the third day of creation pushed back and contained in the deep. Picture the crust splitting, gushing steam, volcanoes and massive pressure from fissures. On the second day of creation God separated the waters above from the waters below. Now the waters above began a 40 day pour down back upon the land –until there was no land. This wasn’t just some regional flood like some will speculate. It was a universal deluge. The world used for it in Scripture only occurs here and in one Psalm which describes God’s control over it. “All the face of the earth was covered.” Even what was then the highest peak, was covered by over 20 feet. It is clear: everything that breaths, died. All the life outside the ark was destroyed and drowned.

But remember. This isn’t the account of the flood. It is the account of Noah. The first thing that is described is that the waters lifted up the ark. God sealed them in, and they floated above the waters. He and all with him in the ark were safe.

The waters rose and the rains continued. After forty days the rains stopped and the fountains of the deep were sealed. For 150 days the flood held. Then they began to quickly recede. Five months of flooding were followed by several months receding waters. Then the ark’s inhabitants stopped feeling the swaying of the seas. The ark came rest in the middle of three continents on the mountains in eastern Turkey. Eventually they stopped hearing the water pounding on the sides. Soon after a raven was sent out and find land. It returned empty. When a dove returns with signs of life Noah realizes the time to leave the ark will eventually come. After one year and ten days, they step out onto the ground. God had carried out his judgment. But more importantly, he had carried out his mercy and spared Noah, his family, and the creatures with him.

The implications for us? Our world is not only perfectly capable of turning aside from God but has altogether done it. This is the history of mankind. And the Sons of God, who walk with him in faith, can lose faith. And God is truly serious about his wrath over evil hearts. He is patient. But an end comes, and it comes unexpectedly for many. Jesus points out that just as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days leading up to his return. People will not in the least be expecting the terrible fate that awaits this world. They will act like nothing is going to happen. They will eat and drink and celebrate as if the world will just go on and on and there is no God whom they are accountable to. But just we recall and destroy corrupted meat, or products, the creator is going to make another recall of his creation. The stagnant waters of everyone’s sin will be up for judgment. With a suddenness that is altogether unexpected Jesus will come in the glory of heaven with his angels and will destroy this world of sin. The manger scene shows a lowly child, but the returning Christ will be judge of all.

Could God’s people today unite with the unbelievers and cease to live as if the end is near? Would the generation of believers today dwindle until nearly all the world could care less about the one true God? Is the promised Savior of little consequence to a growing number of people? Is the watchfulness in your life becoming stagnant? Look at the world today and you see many parallels to Noah’s world. How would you answer Jesus when he asks, “When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the earth?” So, he says to us “watch!” It is only by faith that any will escape the judgment of God.

In mercy there are still those who will be spared. They are those who trust in his Word, walk with their Lord, and who have the promise that he will never leave them. Sadly some of them chase after the daughters of men and the things of this world and they and their offspring forget that the end is coming. But by his grace God spared Noah.

The Bible says that with the same grace he has spared all who are baptized and believe. In the waters of baptism you were spared as God drowned and washed out all sin. Peter says those waters save you by the power of Jesus’ resurrection. Through baptism and faith in Jesus you are saved from the coming judgment. And like Noah you are righteous in God’s sight through faith in the promised Savior. It wasn’t a pretty picture, but the Christmas manger is a pretty sight. It is God himself coming to bring rescue to a world doomed to destruction. Jesus is our Savior from the coming destruction. He came to build more than an ark; he built his church. And it didn’t take him 120 years. He did it in a single day as he took the price of our sin and faced the wrath of God in our place. We are secure. By the washing of water and the Word the Spirit has given us a place of refuge in Jesus’ church. Trust in him. As part of his holy church you are in a refuge that will never fail. All who are found safely in his holy church will be spared the fire of hell and the fire which will destroy this world.

It’s not a pretty picture for those who lose watchfulness. In unbelief, the whole world was taken by surprise and perished. Many more than eight were told that the flood was coming. But only eight believed and were spared in the judgment. For those who kept watch the story did end with a pretty picture. It ended with a bright rainbow and the promise of a gracious God. He is your Savior God. And the God of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, will take us all to a new heaven and earth, the home of the righteous. That will be a sight!  So, he tells you today to remember the story of Noah: watch.

I Met My King On His Glorious Throne

Luke 23:35-43 ● November 24, 2019 ● Christ the King Sunday ● Pastor Tom Barthel ●  Audio VersionPrint Version ●  Video

 

My name is Dismas. At least that’s what most people call me. Since my name isn’t recorded in the Bible someone gave me that name and it just stuck. But my name doesn’t matter. Most of my life people just referred to me as simply “scumbag.” I was born over 2000 years ago. I suppose by your calendar it would be something like the year 10AD. For me, life was difficult. And you might say it ended in the worst kind of way. But I say it ended in the most amazing way. I remember the last day of my life so clearly because on that day I met my King. I met him on his glorious throne. Let me tell you how it all happened.

The day began with me in my cell. I had been caught during my latest skirmish against the authorities. A word of advice: don’t ever plot and commit a crime against the Roman authorities. If they catch you, you’re lucky if you can just get run through with a sword. I’m ashamed to mention my crime. Let’s just leave it at this: the price I had to pay was a clever bit of torture designed by the Romans. They were going to put me on display hanging from a beam of wood. My two prison mates and I were to be strung up for torture. The three of us were going to have nails driven through our hands. They would then fasten us to a cross beam of wood. We were to be lifted up on those beams and left to hang. Usually a person would just hang in agony for days until they finally couldn’t find the strength to lift themselves up and grasp for air. I knew that day wasn’t going to end well.

I was surprised when the soldiers came and grabbed my one of my cellmates, Barabbas. He was guilty of murder and insurrection. The governor wanted the crowed to select which prisoner to release according to the yearly custom at this time. You can imagine my shock when the governor picked Barabbas as one of those who might be released by the crowd. Why would they ever want to release that man? I had no idea what was going on outside the prison. I heard lots of shouting. I could faintly make the crowd crying out “crucify him.” They were loud and determined. At that moment I thought Barabbas was doomed. But I was even more surprised when Barabbas didn’t come back. They had let him go. Another man was going to die instead. I was thinking, “Who did they nab last night that the crowd hates more than Barabbas?”

Soon afterwards they came for me and my remaining prison mate and led us outside. There we saw the third man who was supposed to be worse than Barabbas. The soldiers had already whipped him good. He was so disfigured with bruises and whip lashes it was pitiful. The soldiers treated all three of us brutally. They gave us beams of wood to carry and told us to start marching. We were to carry the very instruments of our torture. They were heavy, but not as heavy as my heart at the thought of what they were going to do to us.
It was after they started to lead us along that I started to gather that this other man wasn’t like Barabbas at all. I heard a few voices, women, who followed saying things like, “He hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then I realized some of them started referring to him as Jesus. He was that man I had heard about before. He was that Nazarene who was claiming to be the Messiah and the promised king. I laughed to myself then at the sight of him thinking only, “Good luck fulfilling that prophecy.” My cellmate started chiding him. “Hey, I heard once that you could do miracles. Can you do me a favor and get this thing off my back.” I’m ashamed to admit it now but I started laughing too.

The new guy clearly had a rough morning. He collapsed under the weight of the cross beam. When the soldiers realized it didn’t matter how much they whipped him, they finally grabbed someone else to carry it. They led us all out the city and up a small hill near the road. A crowd was following us. I didn’t expect that, but they were there for the new guy, Jesus.

Some it seemed really wanted to see him suffer. They mocked him and taunted him. There were so many doing it that it just seemed best to join in with the soldiers and crowd. You know how it is, right? Even when you are in pain you join in mocking others in the hope that at least you won’t stand out or be mocked. It was easier to direct all the shame at him then let the crowd dwell on mine. So my former prison mate and I joined in the mockery. It was some pitiful parade.

I think I started thinking differently about the man from Nazareth when I noticed how he took it all. My cellmate and I were raging against the death that awaited us. He just walked on silently like a lamb to the slaughter. And when he did speak, it caused everyone to listen in amazement. He told his mourners not to weep, but spoke something of a prophecy of the pending destruction that would hit Jerusalem. My cellmate mocked, “Oh, so you can’t do miracles today, but you can prophesy? That helps a lot!”
But when we came to a stop his words struck me the most. They placed his cross in the center and my former prison mate and I were on each side of him. As they drove the nails in, I let out such a yell of agony and words that aren’t fit to repeat here. But Luke recorded for you the words that I heard that day. When they drove the nails into his hands and lifted him up, he did let out a gasp of agony. But when he spoke, he simply prayed in front of all his tormentors and all the mockers around him taunting him, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Was he praying for me too?

Then the rulers of the Jews, the spiritual teachers, came and sneered at him. “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” They mocked him for claiming to be the Son of God. The messiah was supposed to save Israel. He was just hanging there helpless. The soldiers joined in the mockery, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” They said that because the governor had a sign placed over that man’s head which read, “This is Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” My former prison mate looked up at the sign and just laughed the way you laugh when there is nothing else to do because you are exhausted and in pain. But he managed to join the game and he started tossing insults at him.

It was in that moment that I realized who he really was. His behavior was unlike any other. He was so humble, and lowly. Why did the crowds praise him before this day? He had done wonders. When they mocked that he had “saved others” it had to have been true. That’s why there were those who wept and followed him. That’s why so many people loved him too. And there was nothing like this: someone who seemed willing to die a death he didn’t deserve. I could easily believe the claim he had done nothing wrong. Why did the rulers hate him? It had to have been jealousy. They clearly were filled with a jealous hatred against this dying man. I thought about what I had once learned about the Messiah. It was prophesied that the Messiah would be a king. It was foretold that as a king he would come to save us all. Yet the prophecy foretold of him coming as a humble king. And what about the prophecy of a suffering servant who would die for us all? Jesus fit it all. Finally, every word he spoke built up a conviction in my heart: this man has done nothing wrong, but he dies for a greater reason. He spoke of forgiveness. He said that those around him didn’t know what they were doing. What if behind the sign, the mockery, the prophecy, behind all of it was the truth? I suddenly realized it was all true. It was the most amazing turnaround. Like scales had fallen off my eyes and I saw him for the first time. I no longer wanted to mock him or dismiss him. At that moment I started to hang on every word he spoke with eagerness. I knew that on that cross, hanging next to me, was my king. And that cross was the most glorious throne as he hung there. “This is no ordinary man,” I thought “this is my king!”

When the other criminal started the mockery I couldn’t take anymore. I had to speak. I turned towards my former prison mate and rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” I said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then I looked towards the man in the middle of us and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Then Jesus lifted himself up to speak and shared Words which comforted me beyond all my imagination. “I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” This promise, this assurance, was all I needed. Believe it or not even as I hung there and faced that torture a smile came over my face and I wept tears of joy. My king, my Savior, had promised me, one who only deserves to be punished for my sin, a place in his kingdom, a place in paradise!

If I could leave anything with you today it would be this: Jesus is a glorious king. He is glorious because although he had done nothing wrong, he came to die for us all. And I do mean all of us. I had spent my entire life ignoring all the messages I had heard about Jesus. If ever there was someone who dismissed God, it was me. I knew of the reports of the miracle worker from Nazareth, but I never ran off to learn more. I just laughed at those who did follow Jesus as dream chasers. And I did a lot of things I regret. My life was anything but good. I was dying for what I deserved. But Jesus told me, a condemned criminal, that I would be with him forever in paradise! If he wants me and wants to forgive me, he forgives you too! His promise of paradise is good for even the worst criminal. Trust him! He is a glorious king because he came for all!

And even if the whole world seems to reject and mock him, don’t be ashamed of him. It might seem like it is easier at times to just join the crowds. It is far better to join me! And there might be times when you are thinking “I don’t know if I should speak up for Jesus. I will end up being mocked along with him. It is better to just stay silent.” I can tell you it is far better to join me and speak up! He is your king! With him you will find words of promise and comfort that outweigh everything else!

And finally, if you are looking for a king to come and save you, look no further than this man who died on a cross. It might seem glorious to have a king who removes all your troubles immediately. You might want a king who can show his glory by taking away your suffering right away. But it is far better to have a king who takes your place to remove sin’s curse. He promises you that your present time of suffering will end. He promises that the curse of sin is gone. He promises that you will be with him in glory. With his promises you can face anything. His promises of forgiveness and eternal life will get you through the hardest of days. Because at the end of the day -even the worst day of your life- you belong to him. Look no further than Jesus if you are looking for a king. He left his glorious throne in heaven to hang on a cross. He left the praises of angels to receive the mockery of the devil and wicked men. He gave it all up for you. He promises all who trust in him that they will be with him. And when he was hanging on his cross it was the most glorious sight I have ever seen!

The rest of that day was full of unusual events. The sun stopped shinning for about three hours. Then Jesus cried out that all was accomplished. He called out in a loud voice and gave up his spirit. After that the whole earth shook and the rocks split. When the centurion and those watching Jesus saw this they said, “Surely this man is the Son of God!” “Amen,” I thought. The man who died next to me was the very Son of God in the flesh, prophesied to come into the world to give his life for sinners. God my Savior.

Just before sundown orders were given for the soldiers to break my legs. With that I suffocated, unable to lift myself up to breath. My body was tossed aside to return to dust until God would resurrect it at the last day. But my spirit was carried up to God. And just as promised, I met my king in paradise. That day I met my king on his glorious throne.