Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sermon on Ephesians 6:10-20 for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, "The Whole Armor of God"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. In today’s Epistle reading, we’re shown what our real spiritual warfare is about, and how we arm ourselves to fight in this battle. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

When I was in high school and college, there was this fun video game where your character sat at the controls of a giant robotic suit. A small person at the seat of the controls was enclosed in a giant walking robot, heavily armored and loaded with powerful weapons. The robotic “suit” made it’s wearer incredibly strong and ready for battle with a host of nasty enemies. Paul describes the armor of God using the language of Roman military armor, which was lighter and more flexible than the bulky medieval armor that we often think of worn by “knights in shining armor”. But the armor Paul describes is not just inanimate armor plating that we lug around. The spiritual armor Paul describes is a powered-suit, because it’s God’s armor. This armor makes its wearer incredible strong and ready for battle with a host of nasty enemies, because God is the one who lives and moves in us. He gives the strength and power to the armor and weapons that we carry.

But this isn’t a battle with guns and missiles, with swords and spears, and it isn’t waged against flesh and blood. Sometimes we make the mistake of seeing other humans as our enemies. Maybe antagonists who’re militantly opposed to Christianity, and are doing everything in their power to silence our voice or remove our influence. Maybe political leaders who don’t hold the same high regard for human life and dignity that the Bible teaches. Maybe just people who we’ve treated as enemies because of the petty, manini conflicts that we run into in daily life. Co-workers that we don’t like or a person who just rubs us the wrong way. “Some people make enemies instead of friends because it’s less trouble.” Building friendship is hard work. From governments and nations to our personal lives, there are all sorts of people that are at enmity with each other. But we aren’t each other’s real enemy! Our battle shouldn’t be with each other. And the church’s ultimate enemy is not those people we see opposed to the church, even if they’re unknowingly acting in the service of our real enemy (and their own enemy as well!).

The real battle and the real enemy is a spiritual battle against the “rulers, authorities, the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” And it doesn’t mean earthly rulers or authorities, because again “flesh and blood” aren’t our enemies; there’re far more deadly, spiritual forces at work. So when we make flesh & blood our enemy, we’re aiming at the wrong targets. Of course the devil will use humans to accomplish his evil in the world, but they’re enslaved to his deception. Jesus calls the devil the “ruler of this world” who’s judged (John 16:11). The devil has much power in this world, but it’s limited by God. Earlier in the letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes about out condition before God made us alive in Christ. He wrote: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:1-2). The devil’s called the “prince” in this world, & he leads the sons of disobedience—all who are opposed to God’s Word.

Together with the devil, there are evil angels or demons that are at his disposal, those who together with Satan rebelled against God and were cast out of heaven (Rev. 12:4,9). These are the cosmic powers over this present darkness, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. We must acknowledge and be aware of the presence of evil in this world, and of the spiritual forces behind it. C.S. Lewis warned that there can be two opposite errors we humans can fall into concerning the devil and demons. The first error is to deny their existence or that evil exists, which allows the devil to continue his work unnoticed and unhampered. This happens easily when people deny that there’s anything supernatural in the world, that what we see with our eyes is all there is. The devil doesn’t have to convince anyone of his existence to succeed; all his work is bent toward undermining and unraveling faith in God. His job is made easier when he can deceive and mislead through subtle cunning rather than open attacks. Notice that the passage says we put on the armor of God to stand against the devil’s schemes. Schemes because he doesn’t often engage in an open and obvious fight. Trickery and falsehood are his tools.

The second error about the devil that C.S. Lewis warned of, is to believe in the existence of the devil and demons, but to become so overly focused on them, that it draws your attention away from God. This can happen in the most crude form, when people actually worship the devil or practice evil knowingly. But an excessive fascination with the demonic doesn’t only come from cults and weird religions, it can also happen in the Christian church. We’re supposed to be aware of the spiritual battle that is going on in life, but sometimes we can overreact and see a demon behind everything. We can blame all our problems or any evil words or actions around us on demons. In this way we become controlled by fear of the devil and his spiritual forces of darkness, rather than being strong in the Lord and standing against the devil’s schemes. This error works to the devil’s advantage in that the more attention he draws to himself, the less our attention is focused on God. And it can also be a way of escaping blame or responsibility for our own actions, as
in “the devil made me do it” kind of thinking.

This is also becoming an unhealthy fascination in just our media culture. All sorts of programs about ghosts and haunting, and paranormal activities are on television. Things with aliens and UFO’s and abductions, movies that focus on dark and sinister spiritual forces and possession. A renewed interest in wicca and pagan earth worship. All of these things are growing in popularity and seem to offer some connection with the supernatural, or some answers about the spiritual world. But all of these come from the devil’s deception, and are clearly not the spirituality of Christ and His Word and Spirit. But it draws our fascination.

So instead of falling into either of these two errors, we should be watchfully aware of the devil and his schemes, but not become so engrossed and fascinated by them that we’re distracted from our faith in God. So with eyes open to our enemies plots, but with our faith directed to and focused on God, we can be strong in the Lord and the strength of His might. So when we put on the armor of God for spiritual battle, we’re clothing ourselves with God’s strength. We’re told to wear the “whole armor of God” so that we can withstand [the devil] in the evil day. We wear the whole armor, because no soldier with any common sense goes into battle half-dressed, with a sword but no shield; a breastplate but no helmet. You’re only as strong as your weakest link. So we wear the whole armor so that we don’t leave ourselves vulnerable or exposed.

The language of the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation comes right out of a prophecy in Isaiah (52:17), about how God saw there was no justice on earth and no one to intercede. So He dressed Himself in righteousness as a breastplate, and put a helmet of salvation on His head, and God intervened for us. This is a prophecy about Christ coming as God’s agent to bring justice to earth. He wore the same armor of God that we’re given to wear in spiritual battle! And it’s Christ’s righteousness that we wear as a breastplate. He’s righteous or innocent because of His perfect life. There is no guilt in Christ, and God’s holiness filled all His life. And this breastplate of Jesus’ righteousness shields us against the accusations of the devil. The blood of Jesus covers our sins so that no accusation of the devil can stand against us. We’re forgiven under Jesus’ righteousness.

The belt of truth is fastened on our waist, so that we’re encircled with the truth. Because the devil is the father of lies (John 8:44), his deceptions will always threaten us. The truth is an important part of how we interact with humans around us who are enslaved by the deception of the devil. How do we set them free from that enslavement? Jesus said that if you know the truth, the truth will set you free, and if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:31-38)! If we surround ourselves with the truth of God’s Word, and speak it and read it often, then we will have the best defense against the devil’s lies, and the best offense against their spread. And Jesus, who is the Truth (John 14:6), will set us free from the sinful powers of darkness.

Why do we wear as shoes, the readiness of the gospel of peace? Because every day we spend in spiritual battle, there will be no shortage of conflict and strife. The devil is a master of stirring up petty jealousies, disagreements, and resentment. Major disagreements also. But with the readiness of the gospel of peace, we’ll anticipate division, and be ready with a quick word of kindness, patience, or peacefulness. Because Jesus is the giver of peace, we can practice that peace with each other, and speak it as His powerful word to heal.

The Roman soldiers had large shields about 4 x 2 feet, which they could use to form a continuous wall of shields, guarding against arrows. The leather cover of the shield was soaked in water before battle to extinguish flaming arrows. The shield of faith that we carry is our guard against the devil’s flaming arrows. He tries to attack us with all sorts of evil, suffering, and doubts. But by faith in Christ, and standing together in a uniform line with other Christians, we resist those flaming arrows. We’re stronger when we stand together. If our shields are down, which is to say if our faith is down or left behind, then we will be a ripe target for Satan’s flaming arrows and attacks.

Wearing the helmet of salvation we protect our head from anything that would risk or assault the promises of salvation that God has given to us. Any thoughts or doubts that the devil would use to cast fear into us or try to get us to disbelieve God’s promises. The sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God is our offensive weapon against the devil. The devil backs down from and fears God’s Word. The Word of God has the power to cut through the bonds of deception and enslavement. It has power because it’s Jesus’ Word of Gospel that sets us free, but also His Word of power that sets the devil running. With the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, we invade the realms of the devil, and can drive away the devil and conquer him (Stoeckhardt, 263). By using God’s Word in places where the devil holds sway, we can set captives free, as it is all over the mission field. The last but not least thing that we’re called to do in spiritual battle, is to pray. Pray at all times in the Spirit: always being alert to pray when there is need; praying for all the saints; and also praying for our pastors that they may open their mouths with boldness and that words would be given to us to speak. Paul prayed for the boldness he needed to speak the Gospel, even as he was imprisoned for the Gospel itself.

We often forget just how powerful prayer is! Someone once said: “Satan trembles when he sees, the weakest saint upon his knees.” Even the weakest saint, who has fears and doubts, but still trusts in the Lord, is a feared enemy of Satan when they’re on their knees in prayer. Think about the frustration of Satan every time we pray! He fears our prayer because he knows we’re calling on One who’s mightier than both us and him. When we join together in prayer, it’s like all the saints rain heavy blows and a mighty storm against evil! Satan trembles and flees at the name of Jesus, the one little word that can fell him. So let the name of Jesus be on our tongue often, so that the devil is the one in fear and the one on the run!

Dressed in all this armor of God, and with the weapons of God’s Word and prayer, we really can be strong in the Lord. Because it’s His armor we wear, and this armor is powerful in itself, and gives strength to the wearer. We don’t stand alone in our spiritual battles, but have fellow Christians at our side. Many commentators on this passage point out that it describes no back-plate or armor for our back, because we’re never to turn our back on the devil, but stand firm against him and be alert. We don’t turn our back on the enemy, leaving ourselves open to surprise, but our safety is in resisting him constantly.

In all of these things, we are to surround ourselves with God’s Word and clothe ourselves in His power. For it’s in the Lord that we have these new spiritual powers as believers. If we depended on ourselves alone, we’d be going into battle unarmed. The only reason we can stand against these powers is because Christ has sealed His victory over them by His death on the cross. We march on a battlefield where the decisive battle has already been won by Christ on the cross, and the devil is on the run. His kingdom of darkness is crumbling, though his powerful weapon is the deception that makes it seem as though this isn’t the case. But to those who are set free by the Gospel in Christ Jesus, and who are armed against the devil’s schemes, we can stand firm on the evil day. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

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Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

1. What is the source of power for the “armor of God” that we wear? How does the text tell us this?

2. Who or what is our real enemy? What kind of battle are we constantly engaged in, even though life may seem calm and peaceful? Who or what is not our real enemy? How do we sometimes mistakenly war against the wrong enemy?

3. What are the two opposite errors about the existence of the devil that we can fall into, according to C.S. Lewis?

4. How is it to the devil’s advantage when people deny his existence? Or when they’re too fascinated with demons, etc? What are examples of either thing happening?

5. Whose armor do we wear, and how does each implement of armor protect us? Why should a Christian never enter battle half-dressed? Why wear the whole armor?

6. What are some of our offensive weapons against Satan? How do we keep the devil on the run?

7. What is the sole reason that we can face down the spiritual powers of darkness at all? How do we have assurance of victory?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sermon on Ephesians 5:22-33 for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, "Marriage and True North"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The sermon is based on our reading from Ephesians 5:22-33, which describes God’s holy design for marriage and family. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

An illustration really caught my attention in the informational video we showed Thursday, for this Financial Peace University program that we’re starting. Dave Ramsey, the speaker, had the audience stand up and close their eyes, and then point in the direction they thought was North. Then they opened their eyes and started laughing as everyone was pointing different directions. He held a compass and pointed to True North. His point was that your feelings aren’t a trustworthy guide to finding truth, nor do they change what the truth is, no matter how strongly we feel. Each person thought that North was in a different direction, but he said that no matter what people thought, and whether they liked it or not, he was going to keep pointing North and telling people where true North was. He was applying it to financial wisdom, but we can apply this to a similar situation today concerning marriage and family.

When it comes to understanding marriage today, we’ve got the same scenario. Everyone is pointing in a different direction, or sometimes we’re like leaves in the wind, being carried in whatever direction the winds of times blow. But whether we like it or not, there is only one direction that is true North. As Dave Ramsey also said, 98% truth is still a lie. Truth is truth, and anything less is a lie and deception. And as I’ve often said, the devil’s deceptions are always most convincing when they’re mixed with a degree of truth. When it comes to the institution of marriage, the situation today is really nothing new—there is nothing new under the sun. Though we’re coming from a period of recent history in America of relatively strong family values and a clear understanding of marriage as a lifelong union between a man and a woman—this isn’t the first time in history and the life of the church where marriage has been under attack.

I don’t need to recount statistics for you all to realize that we’re living in a time when divorce rates are around 50%, cohabitation is widely accepted and approved—many choosing not to marry at all, singles aren’t encouraged to remain celibate, fatherhood and motherhood are under attack in different ways, and strong movements toward the acceptance of homosexual marriage or civil unions are happening all across the country. Several states have already legalized same-sex marriage. Ask what marriage is, whether in the world or in the church, and you’ll often find people pointing in all different directions. But there’s only one True North. Halfway through my sermon preparations, some very discouraging news came to me, that ties into this point directly.

The largest Lutheran church body in America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, which is not our own church body, has been meeting in national assembly this week. The ELCA just voted by about a 70% margin to approve a new statement on human sexuality. In that statement, they acknowledged and endorsed as valid “conscience-bound belief,” all of the variety of directions people are pointing in their own church concerning the meaning of sexuality and marriage. They endorsed same-gender, lifelong, monogamous relationships as an acceptable way for Christians to faithfully live their lives. While they acknowledged that many disagree about this, they gave their approval to homosexual marriage. The same document also affirms committed cohabitation as an acceptable lifestyle choice. They also passed a resolution allowing the ordination of openly homosexual pastors who are in committed, monogamous relationships. All of these are sins, in clear contradiction to Scripture, and it’s deeply distressing to see this church body make such a blatant departure from the teachings of the Bible.

We in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, along with the Lutheran Church of Canada and many other Lutherans deeply disagree with this action, and affirm that the Bible teaches clearly that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that there is only one truth. So how do we as Christians respond to such an action? I call upon you all to be in fervent prayer for the Christians still within that church body, as this is only going to drive deeper divisions into an already deeply divided church, just as it has in other major denominations that reversed their stance on God’s Word. Pray that they would turn from their error and return to God’s Truth, and pray for those who’re mislead through false teaching. Pray that those who’re caught in sin’s web would turn to God and find deliverance through Jesus Christ. We must speak the truth in love, and seek to be charitable and gentle in calling all to the truth. We also must affirm that sinners of all sorts and stripes, gays included, are called and invited to our church to seek repentance for their sin and turn to God for forgiveness. We’re sinners too, and no more righteous than others, and we seek God’s mercy for our own sin also. We have the clear compass of God’s Word, and can boldly yet humbly call all those in confusion to the True North.

This is our calling, this is my calling as a pastor—to point to the Truth, whether people want to hear it or not. But this shouldn’t be a reluctant or grudging truth. In fact we have an amazing and beautiful opportunity to show forth the blessing of God’s design for marriage and family! In a world where relationships are so broken and disordered, we’ve been given the treasure of Jesus’ good news! God points us to a way out of the failed and sinful patterns that we choose when we go our own way. Let’s explore and walk on that better way!

The pattern we’re given for marriage is modeled after Christ and His church. The world scoffs too at this description of marriage, but it’s the purest example of divine love, reflected in how Christ’s loves the church as His Bride. God is the author of love, not us, and we’re wise to be instructed by His Word on the meaning and design of love and marriage. The first sentence usually strikes the greatest controversy. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church.” This verse has been decried as teaching sexism, chauvinism, or the inferiority of women. A relic of the patriarchal past with no relevance for today. But can this verse be correctly used to defend sexism? Definitely not! To think this passage endorses the image we conjure up of an inconsiderate and abusive husband bossing his slave-wife around the house while he sits on the couch doing nothing, is to turn things completely upside down. It is to impose a broken human example of relationships over God’s divine and holy human example.

But instead we need to learn from the diving example of Christ and His church, what this means. First, does submission equal inequality? No, submission recognizes an order in relationships. Jesus submits in love to His Father’s will, but He remains fully equal to the Father. When a wife submits to her own husband, she may sacrifice her own will, but it’s out of trust and love for her husband, to preserve peace in the relationship and family. If there was no order in relationships and each did whatever they pleased, the home would be constant chaos. Does this mean a wife should have no say in decisions, or that she should be a doormat and put up with abuse from her husband? Certainly not! The wife is to be highly honored and valued as the unique and complementary counterpart to her husband. She is to be loved by her husband just as he loves and cares for his own body. And not taking care of your body is no excuse, husbands, for doing the same to your wife!

The husband has a major responsibility to create the safe context of love and trust in which the wife can willingly submit to her husband. His calling to love his wife is to model Christ’s love, who gave Himself up for the church. Just as Christ died on the cross to stand between us and God’s judgment against sin, so also the husband is to be willing to even lay down his life for the protection and safety of his wife. He would never desire to do something harmful or demeaning to his wife, but loves her as himself. That is to say that the husband’s love for his wife is to be so strong that he puts her best interest and wellbeing before his own.

Having such a holy view of marriage, and seeing it as a reflection of how Christ loved the church, shows the world a better way. It can have an inspiring effect. But it also can have a despairing effect when we’ve failed or struggled to follow this example and fallen far short of the mark. But when one has acknowledged their sin to God, He’s faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. When we become despairing of our success or lack thereof, then we’re ready to see ourselves just as the church is described in this passage. Christ loved us and cleansed us from every fault, blemish, wrinkle, and stain. Christ sees our sin as no one else does and He doesn’t just let us remain in sin. His love takes action to cleanse us.

It’s like a parent who finds their baby child covered in filth and dirt. They don’t just pick up the child and start smothering them with hugs and kisses without washing them off; “loving them as they are” so to say. Neither do they take the child and leave them with the trash to be taken away because now they’re dirty. Rather the parent lovingly washes the child clean, takes away all the filth and dirt that covers them, and then embraces them with love and hugs and kisses. Christ sees us covered by the blemish and stain of sin and He actually removes it! Only God can remove sin. And what a remarkably freeing experience! To no longer be covered in our sin, to no longer see reflected in the mirror our failures, our mistakes, our faults. To no longer see the reflection of the hurt and pain that we have caused others. But instead, Christ removes the sin, He cleanses us so that we are spotless, and He dresses us in the clean robe of His innocence to cover all our sin. So when we stand and look in the mirror, it is no longer our sin that we see, but our new identity in Christ is revealed. We stand in splendor, dressed for holy service and members of the body of Christ. We stand forgiven of all guilt, shame, and failures, able to approach God through the righteousness that is not our own, but Christ’s.

It’s only through our new identity as forgiven and sanctified believers in Christ, that we can begin to embody that love of Christ in our marriages, our families, and even as singles who honor God with their bodies. In Christ we can love ourselves as members of His body the church, and we can love our spouses and show respect and honor to them. With Christ’s love living and moving in us, we will all point boldly and humbly to True North, as we bear witness to God’s beautiful definition and design for marriage. And God will bless our relationships with greater peace and harmony and love, as His love moves us to follow His plan. Living with His forgiveness each day, walking together with our spouses and children, bearing with them in difficulties and forgiving them when they do wrong, we will be blessed. For though we’re all sinners, we’ll one day stand before Christ in heaven in splendor, without any spot or wrinkle or any such thing…holy and without blemish. His righteousness covers us, and we’ve been incorporated into His body, so that we’ll be perfected in His love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.





Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

1. Why are our feelings not a reliable indicator of truth? What is, and why can we be certain? John 17:14-19; John 18:37-38.

2. What are examples of how God’s design for sexuality and marriage are being eroded around us? How have we sinned in this way, in words, actions, or in our heart?

3. A friend who isn’t aware of the differences between the ELCA or the LCMS asks you, “Hey, didn’t you Lutherans just issue a statement accepting homosexuality and gay marriage?” How would you respond? Mark 10:6-9; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Rom. 1:26-27

4. How can we gently but firmly use the compass of God’s Word to guide people back to the truth? Be in prayer!! Eph. 4:14-15

5. Why could God’s pattern and design for sexuality and marriage be appealing to our broken world? 1 Cor. 13; Eph. 5:22-33, etc

6. How does God describe the interaction between husbands and wives? How does this contrast to the way of our sinful nature?

7. How does Christ show His love for the church? How does He present her to God? How does this help us in our failures?
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Side note: Mark 7:4 is very interesting, because the word used for “washing” in the Greek original is “baptismos,” the same as the word for baptism. But here it refers to the washing of cups, pots, copper vessels, and (in some ancient manuscripts) dining couches. Why is this significant? Some have argued that the word baptism must refer to a full-body immersion, not dipping, pouring, or sprinkling. But the kind of washing described using the word “baptismos” in this verse includes large items that couldn’t be immersed or would be impractical to wash in that way. Conclusion? Baptism simply means to wash with water, and doesn’t specify how much water or the method that is used.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sermon John 6:51-69, for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, "Eat for Life"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. In the reading from Proverbs today, Wisdom calls out to those who are simple, and says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight” (Prov. 9:5-6). Gaining wisdom is pictured as eating a meal of bread and wine. In today’s Gospel reading, the basis for the sermon, Jesus also speaks of eating, but as a way of gaining eternal life. This is the end of Jesus’ great sermon on eternal life that we’ve been reading from John 6 in several portions over the last few weeks. Here we come to the most difficult part of His sermon, the part that drove many of His hearers away. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

It’s really quite amazing, when you compare Jesus’ does in today’s reading to the popular wisdom in churches today about how to grow the church. Jesus had a crowd numbering in the several thousands, to whom He was preaching, but by the end of His sermon it seems that He was left with less than 12. Popular wisdom says that we need to “soft-sell” the Gospel to people by rounding off the hard edges, make the Word of God more palatable by leaving out the more challenging portions, hiding the cross from view, not exposing sin for what it is, and the like. Jesus, however, in this sermon on John 6 presents some of the most challenging things that He ever taught. And at each point where His listeners started to waver and hesitate, He actually escalated the challenge. Far from cutting them slack when they didn’t believe, He still expects their full belief. When Jesus first said that He was the living bread from heaven, He then explained that this bread He gives for the life of the world is His flesh.

The Jews immediately ask how He can give His flesh to eat. What’s Jesus trying to promote here, cannibalism? Instead of clarifying their offense, He presents an even more difficult statement: “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” Here would’ve been the greatest shock and offense to His Jewish hearers. The OT book of Leviticus states that the Israelites were strictly forbidden to eat any blood because the life of a creature is its blood, and its blood is it’s life (Leviticus 17:10-15). The penalty for disobedience was that God would turn His face against such a person, and they would have to be cut off from the people of Israel; removed from the covenant community. And Jesus told them that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood to have eternal life and to abide in Him?! By instructing them in this way, Jesus was doing what only God could do—to supersede one of His own commands. He was showing that this Old Testament law forbidding the eating of blood was to keep them from eating the lifeblood of any animal, until they were permitted by God Himself to eat the lifeblood of the only One who can give eternal life. He was the bread that you feed on to live forever. Only by living off the life of the one who lives forever, can we also live forever.

Every meal that we eat in this life, whether as a meat-eater or as a vegetarian, is an implied lesson that we live each day from the death of something else. All the food we need to sustain us comes from the death of some plant or animal. We can’t survive off rocks or sand; we need to eat something that once was living. But inevitably even eating this food will end in death. Our life cannot be sustained eternally by this earthly food, no matter how healthy a diet we choose. But there is only one kind of eating, which Jesus speaks of here, that gives eternal life. When we eat Jesus’ flesh and drink His blood, we live because of Him. We live off of the death of another—the death of Jesus on the cross for our sins. There He gave His flesh as bread for the life of the world. But His flesh and blood are His life for us. His resurrection life dwells in those who eat and drink of Him.

So shocking were Jesus’ words in this sermon, that many of His disciples said, “This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?” In effect they were saying that now Jesus had gone too far. He had stretched the limits beyond what they were willing to believe. Do we sometimes try to persuade Jesus to come back inside our comfort zone? That some things are just too hard to listen to? Jesus knew they grumbled about this, and said, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?” If it was too hard for them to believe that He was the bread from Heaven, that God had become incarnate to give His life for the world, and that eternal life was found only in Him—what would they think when they saw Jesus rising into heaven? This would be even more difficult for them to believe. If the works of God are too amazing to believe, we haven’t seen anything yet! Jesus doesn’t give them room to soften on His astonishing teaching. He said these words are Spirit and they are life—the flesh is of no avail.

Those last words, the flesh is of no avail, or the flesh counts for nothing, require a short explanation. Some Christians have incorrectly taught that Jesus is referring to His own flesh here. But clearly that would contradict all that Jesus said before about His flesh giving eternal life and that His flesh is true food and the bread of life. So Jesus is not saying that His own human flesh avails for nothing. Rather, He is referring to our sinful human flesh and the mind of flesh that won’t receive His teaching. He’s saying that our sinful flesh is opposed to God and counts for nothing because it rejects God’s Word and Spirit. Jesus then refers to those like Judas that He knows don’t believe, and explains that one can only come to Jesus and have faith if the Father draws them to Him. So this is why the sinful flesh counts for nothing—because it cannot grasp or come to the things of God. We have no power in our sinful flesh to seek after God. Only His Spirit and Word can awaken faith in us.

These words were so scandalous to Jesus’ listeners that many of His disciples turned away and didn’t walk with Him any longer. The same may be true today. The Christian church cannot change the Gospel to keep reluctant hearers. Some may be offended by the message and go their own way. Jesus won’t water down His Word for it to be more palatable to us. When we attempt to do so ourselves we risk losing the Gospel altogether. Jesus had such a love for God’s Truth that He even asked the 12 if they too would leave Him. Peter answered Him with the words that are now part of the Alleluia verse in our liturgy, “Lord, to who shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.” Thanks be to God that they didn’t all turn away from Him. Thanks be to God that He does grant faith and draw us near to Him to believe, even in such a startling teaching that we must eat His flesh and drink His blood for eternal life.

But we’ve still left an important question unanswered. What exactly does He mean by eating and drinking His flesh and blood, and how does this happen? Does He mean, as the people of Capernaum seemed to understand Him, some kind of gross cannibalism? Clearly not. Does He mean the eating of His flesh and blood in the sacrament? Or is there yet another kind of eating that He speaks of? The verse from Proverbs I referred to before described gaining insight for the mind as eating the bread and wine that wisdom had prepared. It was talking about a different kind of eating than that which we do with our mouths and stomachs. Jesus here’s talking about a spiritual eating and drinking—that of faith. Just as our bodies need nourishment from food, so our souls also need this eternal nourishment of Jesus’ flesh and blood, the life of the world. To understand that Jesus speaks here about a spiritual eating, we simply need to read the surrounding context. He says that to eat and drink His flesh and blood is to have eternal life. In this same sermon, earlier in the chapter, Jesus says that everyone who looks on Him and believes in Him has eternal life (6:40). Again He says whoever hears and learns from the Father comes to Him and whoever believes has eternal life (6:45, 47).

So Jesus promises the same things for hearing and believing as He later in the chapter promises to those who eat and drink of Him. So to eat and drink Jesus flesh and blood is to hear and believe in Him, and to receive Him as the One that God has given for the life of the world, and to hold fast to this truth in all difficulty and temptation. We’re fed by Jesus in this spiritual way when we hear the Word of God, read, preached, or spoken to us—when we receive the Sacraments by faith. Only to those who eat and drink of Christ in this spiritual way, by faith, is eternal life given. Jesus says that ALL who eat of Him in this way have eternal life. He says, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.”

In addition to this spiritual manner of eating and drinking Christ by faith, there’s also a second way that we eat of Christ, and that’s through the Lord’s Supper. In that meal we’re given Jesus’ body and blood into our physical mouth also, so that what we take in the bread and wine is really Jesus’ body and blood. Not as a symbol, but truly there in hand and mouth in a mysterious way. We take His body and blood for our forgiveness and life. But even this second way of eating Jesus’ flesh and blood is of no benefit to us unless we spiritually eat of Him by faith. Without faith in Jesus as the Son of God in human flesh, and without believing in His saving benefits for us in His death on the cross and resurrection, it’s actually harmful for us to receive the Lord’s Supper. We’re actually taking the Lord’s Supper to our judgment and harm if we receive it without faith, or repenting of our sins. Scripture warns that if we eat it without recognizing the body, that we eat and drink judgment to ourselves, and that wrongful participation actually causes us to sin against Jesus’ body and blood (1 Cor. 11:27-32).

Therefore Jesus isn’t saying that anyone who goes through the outward action of eating the Lord’s Supper is granted eternal life, as if this action of eating was what saved, and not faith. But, when one has spiritually eaten Christ by faith, then the benefits of the Lord’s Supper are also poured out to us. First by faith in the heart, and second by oral eating of the body and blood of Christ, we truly partake of God’s saving gifts for us. Jesus’ blood poured out for the forgiveness of our sins. But those children or believers who’re still going through instruction in the faith, and haven’t yet eaten the Lord’s Supper, still have the full saving benefits of Christ as they eat and drink spiritually by faith. They don’t have to wait until they’ve received the Lord’s Supper to have the full gift of salvation.

Jesus’ teaching is hard and difficult to understand. It calls on us to believe that the gift of eternal life comes through the death of one remarkable human man, who in physical appearance seemed no different from us. A man who made astonishing claims that only God can make, and offered His own flesh and blood as the sacrifice to bring us life. Apart from eating and drinking His flesh and blood, there simply is no life for us or in us. Many of Jesus’ disciples turned away from Him at these teachings. But these are the words of eternal life. There is spirit and life in Jesus’ words, while the world can offer nothing but enjoyment and death. God grant that we’ll never turn away, but that we’ll always and continually feast on Jesus flesh and blood as the food that gives us eternal life. A daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, continual spiritual eating of Him by faith, so that we’re sustained on the path to eternal life. We’ve believed and come to know that Jesus is the Holy One of God. Amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
1. Read Proverbs 9:1-6. What is meant by eating and drinking in verse 5? What is gained by this eating and drinking?

2. What was Jesus’ concern for in John 6? For keeping the truth of God’s Word, or keeping the multitude of followers who didn’t fully accept His teachings? What benefit is there to ourselves or to our hearers, if we sacrifice the truth in order to attract listeners?

3. Read Leviticus 17:10-15. Why were the Israelites not permitted to eat/drink blood? What was in the blood, and what was the significance of the blood in sacrifice?

4. What teachings of Jesus stretch us (or you personally) beyond your comfort zone? What is the reason? Why must we bring our sinful flesh into submission to faith?

5. Read John 6:68. Where in the liturgy do we sing these words, and why?

6. There are two ways in which we eat of Christ, spiritually by faith, and the oral eating of Christ in the sacrament. Which one is in primary focus in John 6? Who benefits from this eating?

7. Why is the first kind of eating (spiritual) necessary for us to benefit from the second kind of eating (sacramental) when we eat the Lord’s Supper?

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Sermon on John 6:22-35, for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, "The End of Discontentment"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Two weeks ago we talked about the feeding of the 5,000 and the spiritual hunger that we have that is satisfied only in Christ. I read some of these same verses from our Gospel in John, but today I want to expand on the idea of discontentment, and how Jesus is the Bread of Life. Discontentment is more than just hunger. It’s dissatisfaction with what we’ve been given, and ungratefulness for the gifts we have. The Bread of Life, however, is the end of discontentment. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus told the crowds that followed after Him looking for another bread miracle, that they should “not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” They were spending their time and effort working for something that would leave them empty. They took His question and said, ok, well if we need to labor for that which endures to eternal life, “What must we do to be doing the works of God?” How do we earn that eternal food you’re talking about? Their question already assumed that what they needed to do was some kind of works. What good works are necessary to please God? What do we need to do to earn His favor and this enduring food?

Their question left Him the perfect opportunity to explain all the things that it was necessary for them to do. Which were the most important commands of God; how to do them; what things they were neglecting to do; what they were doing well. He could’ve spelled out all the works, duties, and responsibilities that God wanted them to do. But He wouldn’t have answered their question. God doesn’t give His approval by our good works. Jesus throws them a curveball. Jesus named one single thing as the work of God: “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” The one work He names, isn’t even a “work!” Instead of telling them something to do, He tells them to believe. The one work of God is to believe—in Jesus Christ, whom God sent. Paul reiterated Jesus’ point when he wrote that “To the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Rom. 4:4-5).

Jesus didn’t give them a work to do, because then whatever they did would be on the basis of “earning it.” When you work for it, it can’t be counted as a gift, but as your due—your wages. But to believe in God is not our work, it’s God’s work in us, and to believe is to have righteousness counted to us by faith—as a pure gift. No earning or doing on our part. So Jesus calls them and us to believe, but what is their reply? “What sign do you do that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” They basically said, you want us to believe in you? Do some miracle to prove who you are! Let’s see what you can do! Were they so bold as to ignore the feeding of the 5,000 that He had just done? Or were they suggesting that this was a minor miracle by comparison to the manna of the Old Testament? After all, Moses fed hundreds of thousands, not just 5,000…and every day throughout the 40 years of wandering! Apparently they weren’t satisfied with what He’d done so far. Chasing after loaves and miracles, they had the seeds of discontentment.

Jesus sets them straight that it wasn’t Moses who gave the manna, but Jesus’ own Father that did. But their reaction was nothing new…in fact, in our Old Testament reading the Israelites were discontented with the miracle God had done in bringing them out of Egypt. They grumbled and complained that it would’ve been better for them to die with full bellies as slaves in Egypt than to be free out in the wilderness, dying of hunger. Their discontentment showed that they didn’t trust God to feed and provide for them. Actually it was entirely false to think that they’d die of starvation in the desert. They made their situation worse by creating this worrisome and false possibility in their mind.

Discontentment is an ugly sin, and it’s as much our problem today as it was for ancient Israel. Moses warned the Israelites that their grumbling and complaining wasn’t against himself and Aaron, his brother, but rather they were grumbling against the Lord. It was the Lord who gave them freedom, and now they wanted to go back to slavery? It was the Lord who gave them freedom, and now they doubted He was capable of feeding them? That He’d perform an amazing miracle in the Exodus, only to have them die in the desert? But this is just what discontentment looks like. It’s never satisfied with what it’s given. And for the Jews who saw Jesus’ miracle, they were discontented with the miracle He did. Discontentment always craves more of the things that cannot fill. For Israel it was the “meat pots” and bread of Egypt.

What is it for us? What are the “meat pots” that we crave for back in slavery? How’re we discontented with what we have, and seeking something to fill us that never can? Slavery is always something comfortable and familiar. It’s so completely irrational that anyone would rather be dead in slavery than alive in freedom. But it’s so easy to see the contradiction in others, but not so easy in ourselves. Let’s consider some examples of old slaveries that we might try to return to, out of our discontentment. See which shoe fits. Is it a slavery to possessions or money? How much is enough? Greed can never be satisfied with the emptiness of riches. You find comfort and security in having lots of things, or the best things, or always to keep one step ahead of the Joneses. It can be a sign of your success, trendiness, power. Never content with what you have, there is always something more or something better that you need.

Is it a slavery to food? The Israelites longed for the “meat pots” and bread of Egypt. Food can be a weakness or something we obsess about. For some it’s a matter of resisting what we know is unhealthy, and moderating our diet. For some it’s that we’re never satisfied with what we have. A matter of perfectionism. Is your slavery to fear? Whenever new or challenging things face you, you retreat into your fears. There’s a sense of safety in not venturing out, not confronting fear. Fear can control or ruin your life. You can give power to your fears by leaving them unchecked. Last week we heard how Jesus speaks courage to our heart and calls us out of fear to follow Him. Fear and worry and doubt can immobilize us when we’re called to action.

Is it a slavery to sensual pleasures? In a day where attitudes about sex are free and loose, it seems that society has granted us open permission to treat sex as casually as shaking hands. That we should have no boundaries and that no one should tell us that we’re harming ourselves and others by treating it so superficially. This is a dangerous discontentment because we ignore the deeper emotional and spiritual side of what happens. Slavery to the ways of the world can be quite enticing and comfortable. Is your slavery an addiction? Chemical dependency to cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, or medicines can leave us with a perpetual discontentment. There’ll never be satisfaction from just one cigarette, one shot, one drink, one pill. There has to be a constant stream of more, and yet the more we indulge, the less it satisfies. It’s the law of diminishing returns. This slavery also comes with a physical price to pay in our bodies, among other things.

Is it a slavery to computers or video games or entertainment? We can spend hours and hours with amusements, and never be satisfied. Improve your score, beat someone else, get to the next level. There’s an endless variety of information and entertainment to search and find on the internet. There’s enough movies to rent to keep you occupied for the rest of your life. This can be another path to boredom and discontentment. It can even be power that we are enslaved to! Jesus contrasts the way the world lords power and authority over others, with the servanthood He displayed at the cross. The hunger and thirst for power can corrupt and twist a person morally. We can be enslaved to lying, to greed, to lust, to fear, to all sorts of things that will readily become our masters, and leave us discontented and craving.

Many of these things in themselves are not harmful, and can be used and received as good blessings from God if they are used in moderation and with self-control. If we use God’s gifts as He has intended for them to be used, then we will be the masters, and not enslaved to our pleasures or greed or whatever. Jesus says it’s a useless pursuit to chase after these things, for bread that won’t satisfy. And a great danger is for us to be discontented with what we have, so that we’re always grumbling or complaining—all which goes right up to God as a sign of our ungratefulness for the portion we have been given.

However, when we pursue the food that endures to eternal life, by believing in the One whom God sent, namely Jesus Christ, then we’ll have the Bread of Life. Jesus is the Bread of Life, and He gives life to the world. Whoever comes to Him shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Him shall never thirst. Jesus is the end of discontentment! He delivers us from our self-absorbed slaveries and discontentment and brings us freedom and life. Even if we get the things we chase after in this world, they can only be enjoyed in this life. But Jesus promises a life of contentment not only for this life, but beyond! What do we do to get this? Simply believe. God works to create faith in our hearts, so that we receive this gift of Jesus and the contentment He brings, entirely without cost or by earning it. He freely gives this Bread of Life without cost.

But how can Jesus say that we won’t hunger or thirst? Aren’t there even many Christians who face starvation and poverty in the world? Yes, and thank God that He has also blessed us with the ability to share and care for those out of our own “loaves and fishes.” But contentment isn’t about how much we have. In fact some of the poorest people can be the most contented, while the richest can often be least contented. Those are earthly hungers, but as a commentator noted, “There are other hungers which can be satisfied only by him. There is the hunger for truth—in him alone is the truth of God. There is the hunger for life—in him alone is life more abundant. There is the hunger for love—in him alone is the love that outlasts sin and death. Christ alone can satisfy the hunger of the human heart and soul.”

The contentment that Jesus brings is the freedom from finding your fulfillment or meaning or value in earthly things. In Him we have life and value. In Him we can be content in all things, for He strengthens us. We never need doubt that He has set us free from sin only to starve in a wilderness. We never need doubt that He can feed and provide for our needs. So when we travel through this earthly wilderness, don’t complain when we travel light! Know that God is not going to abandon us. Jesus as the Bread of Life is the only enduring food that will never cease to fill us and content us. Jesus paid for the sin of discontentment also at the cross, and by removing this sin from us, we can begin to know what it is to be content, and how it feels to rest in what God has given and be satisfied with that. We paid nothing for this gift, but Jesus paid the great price of His own life…the Life that brings life to the world. We gain all truth, all life, and all love from His gift of His life on the cross. Hunger and thirst no more. Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.


Sermon Talking Points:
1. Read John 6:22-35. How did the people assume they could earn the food that endures to eternal life? How did they assume they could do it, or please God?

2. What single “work of God” did Jesus name? Is it our work? Read Romans 4:4-6. What goes wrong if it’s our work?

3. Describe the sin of discontentment. How does it show itself? What slavery(ies) are you enticed to return to? Possessions & Money: Read Matt. 6:19-24. Food: Matt. 4:1-4. Fear: 1 Pet. 5:7; Matt. 5:25-34. Sensual pleasures: 1 Cor. 6:9-20. Addictions: Eph. 5:18; Rom. 13:13-14. Amusement: Eccles. 2:1-11. Power: Mark 10:35-45.

4. Why is contentment found in Jesus alone? John 6:35. What does Jesus supply that is missing? What is the price for such contentment? How do we receive it?

5. Read Matt. 11:25-30. Why is the contentment that Jesus brings incomparable? What price did Jesus pay to bring us this gift?

Psalm 8, "What is man, that you are mindful of him?"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Psalm 8 is a beautiful Psalm, because it draws our attention at the same time to the majesty of God in all His works of creation, and the amazing attention that He still gives to mankind. David marvels at the creation: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” The greatness, the expansiveness, and beauty of creation calls our attention to the pure majesty of Our Lord God. Majesty speaks of His powerful and Kingly rule over all things. His splendor and wisdom. Creation bears witness to God’s handiwork, and the infinite wisdom that ordered the laws of nature to work like a finely tuned clock, to serve life and all creation.

The most massive stars in the universe, some as much as 1,000 times the diameter of our own sun, are the work of His fingers. And equally the work of His finger is the tiniest single-celled organism, with all its infinitely tiny molecular machinery. At creation God stretched out the heavens like a tent (Ps. 104:2) and placed the stars in the canopy of the sky. All the effort this required was His spoken word. And all the work of creating untold galaxies that stretch far beyond where even telescopes have ever seen, was summed up after He made the sun and the moon, with these simple words: “and the stars.” There is an enormous universe out there with glories and beauty beyond what we’ve ever seen, and sights that we’ll never witness in this life. All standing as a great and cosmic billboard proclaiming the majesty of its creator.

Science has discovered in only the last few decades, that there are dozens of natural laws that are set just so precisely that life can be possible in our universe and on our home planet earth. Just a slight variation in the strength of gravity, the strong and weak nuclear forces, the freezing and boiling point of water, the distances of our planet from the sun and the moon, the chemistry of all the carbon compounds that make up life…just a slight variation in these features and laws, and life would not be possible. And the list goes on and on. So many features of the laws of nature are independently set at just the right degree that life is possible. Mere accident? Coincidence? No, it is the work of our wise and powerful God.

But all of this is nothing in comparison to the marvel that God gives His attention to us human beings. That infinitely smaller than all the massiveness of our universe, and all the planets and objects whirling in motion throughout the distant reaches of space—that God would give His closest and most careful attention to us. What is man that you are mindful of Him? What is our significance in this grand scheme of things? How could He esteem us so highly? But if we read the places where the New Testament quotes this Psalm, we find out that there is more to what we read than at first glance. When we first read this Psalm, we hear it speaking of ourselves.

Jesus first quotes verse 2 of this Psalm in Matthew 21:14-16, “And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, “‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?” Jesus says that God draws forth praise from the mouths of infants and babes! And that this praise is to Jesus Himself! He heard it in the children’s cry of praise, “Hosanna!” in the Temple. And what’s more, God uses the praise of infants and babes to confound His enemies. Truly God does not think like we would. But Jesus’ use of this verse gives us the first clue that the Psalm is not first of all about us.

A second place where this Psalm is quoted in the New Testament is Hebrews 2:5-9: “Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”

So it is Jesus that this Psalm is talking about! He is the son of man that has been made a little lower than the angels, but crowned with glory and honor. This took place when the Son of God became incarnate—in human flesh—when He was born in the manger and named Jesus, 2,000 years ago. The author explains what it means that the son of man was crowned with glory and honor. This was talking about His suffering of death for us on the cross. That God in human flesh endured or tasted death for everyone. God tasted the deadly poison that our sin brought upon the world. He allowed it to take His only Son into death for us. This, not the majesty and beauty of creation, is the crowning jewel of His glory. This brings honor to God’s name, because it shows us the God of compassion and love, seen at the cross.

The third place that quotes this Psalm is 1 Corinthians 15:25-28: “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.” So as part of Jesus’ rule and authority, He destroys every rule, authority and power, and brings all these into submission under His feet.

Jesus rules over all God’s enemies. Death was conquered when Jesus died on the cross, but it remains a menacing enemy until the last day of judgment. It will be the last enemy destroyed and places under Jesus’ feet. But this outcome is already guaranteed and assured, through Jesus’ resurrection. This outcome is already delivered to you in your baptism, where your mortal flesh was crucified with Christ at the cross, but also raised with Him through His resurrection. So in your baptism, God has already delivered the gift of eternal life to you. And when Jesus’ reign is fully realized, and all creation, all the powers, whether good or evil, come under His subjection and dominion, then it will be complete. Then this dying age will be brought to a close, and Jesus will usher in His eternal kingdom, of everlasting peace and life. And He and all things will be in submission to God the Father. Then God will be all in all.

So does finding out that this Psalm speaks first and foremost of Christ remove us from the picture? Perhaps God is not really mindful of us, but only of His Son? Quite the contrary! It is precisely because God entered into human flesh, that we see how much He valued us as His creation. Jesus’ incarnation as a human is the ultimate testimony that God is mindful and attentive to us lowly creatures. He prizes us above all else in creation, because we are made in His image and likeness, and He desires to restore that image destroyed by sin, and to return us to fellowship with Him. So yes! The God of the universe, the ruler of creation and the One who holds the stars like jewels in His hand—He is the same Christ the Lord who entered into our human story. God is mindful of us because through Jesus Christ He lives and knows our story. God is mindful of us because He has an unquenchable love for His creation and He delights to give us back the fellowship and life that we squandered when we sinned against Him. He delights to give us this gift through the forgiveness of our sins.

Truly such knowledge is too wonderful to describe! Such love is worthy of all praise and we cry out, “O Lord our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” God’s works of salvation first given to us, call forth our response of praise. All things begin, center, and end in Him. “O Lord, open my lips! And my mouth will declare your praise.” Amen.