Monday, April 30, 2018

Sermon on James 1:16-21, for the 5th Sunday of Easter (1 YR lectionary), "The Implanted Word"



Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father of lights, Jesus, His Word of Truth, and the Holy Spirit whom He makes to dwell in us. Amen. We’ll take today’s reading from James 1:16-21 verse by verse. James writes pithy, punchy statements that pack a lot of weight without rambling. To get the full depth of his letter, like any other book of the Bible, let the Bible be its own interpreter—connect the dots between James and the rest of the Bible—his rich theology draws heavily on the words of Jesus and other scripture. Some call his letter the Proverbs of the NT, or see parallels between James and the Sermon on the Mount.
Our reading begins abruptly “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” The “do not be deceived” part comes right after explaining that temptation is not from God, but originates in our own sinful nature. So do not be deceived—God is not the author of temptation—but on the other hand, He is the Giver of every good and perfect gift. At first glance, this simply reminds us of God’s goodness and generosity. All things in creation that are good, come from Him.
But probing deeper, what is the “good and perfect gift from above?” Yes, we count every blessing as from the hand of God—from our daily bread to His spiritual gifts. But the gift par excellence that comes down from above, is Jesus Christ, His Son, whom He gave for us. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” Jesus came down from above. He also once reminded a man that “no one is good, but God alone”. Check the box that Jesus is a “good gift”—and not only good, but perfect. Double check. His life was perfected with a closing word (one word in Greek) tetelesthai—in English: “it is finished” or “it is perfected” or “it is fulfilled.” His goal had been reached in the perfect finish of His suffering and death on the cross. And Jesus is the gift that illuminates all other gifts. In Jesus we see all the other gifts of God  in their richest expression. We gain new appreciation for life. We join the Psalmist (73:25) “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”
“Coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” This line fascinates. Nowhere else in the Bible is God called the “Father of lights.” Light, in singular, is used of Jesus, of salvation, of the truth and God’s revelation. But “lights” plural seems to suggest something different. One proposal is the stars, the seemingly fixed, immovable heavenly bodies that show no variation or shadow due to change. When I hear the description that there is no shadow due to change—I think of the light of a fire or a candle, that makes shifting, dancing shadows. Those lights are flickering and inconstant. But this passage says God is unchanging, and eternally constant.
What comfort to know that God is unchanging? All the world around us is in constant change. Life can exhaust us with how quickly things move and change. But God is our Rock and our constant. He is eternal and unchanging. Also, His constancy means that we are not left guessing who God is, or about our relationship to Him. God is not fickle and constantly changing His mind; He is not capricious—changing His promises randomly and unsuspectingly. Rather, God commits Himself to His written Word. We hear it twice in this reading, about His Word of Truth, and the implanted Word. Earlier in Bible class on the book of Habakkuk, we heard how God commanded the prophet to “write down the vision, make it plain on tablets. God does not renege on His Word, but keeps His promises, and wants us to study and trust them.
Our reading continues: Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” This is saying we are God’s children. How? By His own will and by the word of truth. These words are echoed in John 1:12–13 “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,  who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” James and John agree that you don’t become a child of God naturally, by human birth, or by a man’s will or desire, but God wills and makes it happen by His word of truth. Romans 10:17 says much the same: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” God’s Word goes from His mouth to your ears, to your heart. His Spirit makes His way into our soul, making you a child of God by faith. Born from above—the place where every good and perfect gift comes from.
Born, as the verse says, to be a “kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” Firstfruits in the Old Testament means bringing the best of your harvest or animals, or possessions to the Lord, as an offering. Firstfruits expresses the idea that we don’t give to God from our leftovers or our second best—but that giving back to God is from our first and best, as Abel did when he offered his best in faith. But firstfruits is also the idea that what is given to God is dedicated to His service, as in the book of Revelation 14, those who are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb (Jesus) are firstfruits for God, and they follow the Lamb wherever He goes. As one author puts it, we are the firstfruits of God’s creatures as we’re signs and agents of His restoration working itself out in the world. He birthed us by His Word of Truth to be lights in the darkness, reflecting the light and the salvation of Christ to all of creation—proof of God’s redeeming work.
The reading continues: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” You’ve probably heard the expression that God gave us two ears and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we speak. That advice fits well with this verse, and also several Proverbs and the book of Ecclesiastes, which warns: “To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools…be not rash with your mouth…therefore let your words be few...” etc (5:1-2). Often our mouth runs against this advice, and we run our mouths off, completely failing to listen. And what does this produce? Anger. Slow to speak, slow to anger. Why are those two so connected? When we speak without thinking or without listening, we often jump to conclusions, jump to accuse and stir up anger unnecessarily as a result. Listening is an art that takes a lifetime of practice. I’ve not mastered it; have you? But if you know the frustration of no one listening to you, then you know how essential and worthwhile it is to practice this skill, of being quick to hear. You know the value of being listened to—so return the favor.
“The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” First, we might ask what does produce the righteousness of God, if not anger? Paul says several times in Romans, that it’s the power of the Gospel, and not the Law that brings about and reveals the righteousness of God. Anger is the wrong tool—it doesn’t do the job. Actually it’s counterproductive. Man’s anger does not produce the righteousness of God. Maybe you’ve heard the expression—“When the only tool you’ve got is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail?” How often have we let our anger get the best of us, and every time we’re frustrated with someone or something, we just want to “club them” with our anger—whether physically or verbally? In countless situations we impulsively grab for that “tool” of anger, but it doesn’t fix the problem. And, just like swinging a hammer indiscriminately, it actually makes things worse.
 James returns to the topic of anger several times in his short letter, about how anger is a deadly thing, and it’s an evil within us that needs restraining. The opposite of anger is self-control, patience, and kindness. These are some of the productive tools. Also note that Jesus brings a resolution to God’s anger against sin at the cross. Jesus did not allow anger to boil over and consume His enemies at the cross. Rather, the just anger against sin was subsumed in His self-sacrifice, His propitiation for our sin. Likewise, we need to find the resolution of our anger through the Gospel of Jesus’ forgiveness. Our anger needs to be subsumed in the overwhelming flood of God’s mercy, pouring out from the cross, extinguishing the flames of anger and resentment. The Gospel is the right and effective tool to accomplish the righteousness of God.
Closing the passage, James writes: 1:21 “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” Setting aside all evil, like we are stripping away sin-dirty clothes, we are to receive with meekness the implanted word. Meekness is the humility and receptivity to God’s Word and Spirit. It’s the opposite of pride and arrogance. Meekness is openness God’s Word, which is already implanted in us! We read earlier that we were brought forth by the word of truth. Whether God’s Word spoken first over you in baptism as a baby, or God’s Word received in your ears and heart—we’re reminded here that we are to pay closer attention to the Word that we already have received. For this Implanted Word is able to save our souls.
God’s Word is like a seed stuck in our ears and in our heart. If we do not hinder it, if we will receive it, that implanted word will blossom forth and bear fruit and growth in us like we never thought possible. Like those who know us, never thought possible! God’s implanted word is able to do a mighty work in us, because God’s Word operates by His power. The implanted word is never an empty or powerless thing. Powerful, life-changing. This seed sprouts, sending down roots so that we are rooted in Christ and sends up growth, so that we are blessed and nurtured by the Light that comes down from the Father of lights. The Word, that saves our souls, is none other than Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. To receive the implanted word is really to receive Jesus Christ. Hearing and believing Him, we become children of God. He is the perfect gift sent down from the Father of lights to save our souls. Rooted and growing in Him, we rejoice in His life and salvation, day by day. In Him, we are His beloved brothers, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read sermons at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen: search your podcast app for “The Joshua Victor Theory” or
listen online at http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

  1. Our reading is James 1:16-21, which begins abruptly in v. 16 with “Do not be deceived…”. What “deception” is he referring to? James 1:13ff.
  2. What is the ultimate “good and perfect gift” that God has given to us? James 1:14; cf. John 3:16; Matthew 19:17; John 19:30; 3:31. What does the title “Father of lights” tell us about God? 1 John 1:5; John 1:4-9. What does it mean that God never changes, and how is that a reassurance for us? Malachi 3:6; Psalm 102:26-27; Numbers 23:19; Lamentations 3:22-23.
  3. What does it mean that we are “brought forth” or born of God’s will? James 1:18; John 1:12-13. What does it mean that we were brought forth “by the word of truth?” Romans 10:17.
  4. What does it mean that we are the “firstfruits” of God’s creatures? 1:18. Jeremiah 2:3; Revelation 14:4. We are redeemed for what purpose?
  5. Read 1:19. How are our relationships and daily activities filled with conflict when we fail to listen, or rush to speak? Why is anger such a trouble, and fails to produce the righteousness of God? (1:20). What attitude(s) should replace hasty anger? Proverbs 14:29; 16:32; 19:11. 1 Corinthians 9:25-27. How is the righteousness of God revealed? Romans 1:16-17; 3:21-22; 10:3.
  6. James 1:21 ends by exhorting us to “receive with meekness the implanted word.” We can find meaningful relationships to this phrase in passages like Romans 10:17, Luke 8:8, but also in Luke 1:31, 35, 48. How did Mary “humbly receive” the Word implanted in her? Who is the Word that is able to save our souls? Ephesians 1:13; 1 Corinthians 15:2.
  7. Receiving the Word of Christ, receiving the good gifts from our Father of lights, what kind of children does this cause us to become? Whose work will this be?

Monday, April 23, 2018

Sermon on 1 Peter 2:11-20, for the 4th Sunday of Easter (1 Yr lectionary), "Honor Those in Authority"



·         Special focus of our reading on the 4th (& also 8th) commandment(s). Subject to every human institution—emperor, governors…honor everyone…honor the emperor.
·         Honor your father and your mother. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.
·         You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.
·         Our reading takes the intersection of these two commandments to describe our Christian conduct with the outside world of society, government, and politics. Note: Other passages deal with the responsibility of those who are in authority and their deep accountability toward God. This is not today’s focus, but rather for us under authority.
·         Challenge today—controversy and distrust in government seems “baked in” to our nation. How far back can you recall the presidents that you lived through? 4(6). Every new controversy seems worse than the last. People freely insult and criticize every president in living memory (and plenty of other politicians as well). People love or hate this or that president, politician, or human institution. But notice the reading doesn’t ask our “feelings” or command us to “trust the emperor” or “trust every human institution.” The motto “In God we trust” still holds. The reading doesn’t ask if we agree or disagree with policies. Instead, it says, “be subject to”  and “honor”. The shape of our Christian duty in this regard is not whether you liked or disliked President Trump or Obama, or any of those before them—or whether you voted or didn’t vote for them. The shape of our duty is whether we honor the office and those who are put in a position of authority; whether we pray for them, as God commands, whether we pay our taxes and live peaceably with others, as far as it is up to us.
·         Think back to several examples in the Bible, of people honoring authority, and being subject to the authorities they were under. Joseph honored Potiphar and his wife, even though Joseph was unjustly made a slave, and falsely accused and thrown into prison. Later he honored and served the Pharaoh, and was raised to the position of 2nd in authority. David honored and served King Saul without any treachery, even though Saul sought to kill him. And eventually David became king. Daniel and three friends honored and served the wicked King Nebuchadnezzar, but drew the line where loyalty and obedience to God was threatened, because they, and all the other heroes of the faith bowed down to God alone. Queen Esther honored and served the arrogant and temperamental King Xerxes, and so doing, rescued her people. Jesus subjected Himself to and obeyed the governor Pontius Pilate, and the other authorities, even though He reminded them of the higher authority of God, and as His innocence was obvious to Pilate, Herod, and many others. Paul also honored and submitted himself to many Roman authorities during his many trials and hearings. The wicked emperor Nero was probably the one in power when Peter wrote these words: “Honor the emperor”.
·         I think it’s safe to say that in almost all of those situations, the saints and believers had numerous objections to the actions, character, and policies of the human leaders in authority over them. Sometimes they suffered directly at the hands of those rulers. Often they  were virtually powerless—but in all situations they spoke the truth with humility, they advocated for what was good and right, they resisted doing what was evil, and they obeyed the earthly authorities as far as they could do so, without disobeying God or harming others. They even suffered unjustly, rather than trying to get revenge—as the last verses of our reading say, and leading into the reading we heard last week.
·         And in every situation, God worked it out to good. God actually has a remarkable track record, going back thousands of years, of accomplishing the deliverance of His people, the raising up of the lowly and afflicted, and the fall of the proud and mighty. All with good and bad kings, emperors, statesmen, presidents, governors, congressman, and the like. It’s almost as if God has a plan, that even their human plans cannot derail, defeat, or circumvent! Wait! It’s not “as if”…it really is so! God does have a plan, and they factor into it, even despite themselves! Even, in almost all the examples, despite the fact that the earthly leaders did not believe in God. Psalm 146 reminds us that a man’s plans, especially a ruler’s—end with their death. But God is the one who gives justice, who feeds the hungry, who sets free the prisoners and lifts up those who are bowed down. God has appointed governing authorities. Romans 13:1 says, “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Why has God put them in power? Our reading says it’s to punish those who do evil, and to praise those who do good. And what’s our part in that? To keep our words and conduct pure and clean so that unbelievers will have no grounds to accuse us for any evil.
·         God has put governing authorities and human institutions into authority to maintain peace and justice. How do they do on that score? They wander closer to and further from God’s mandate. God deals with them according to His own wisdom—no doubt also punishing those who do evil, and rewarding those who do good. Partly we need to surrender our doubts that God is really in control, and will achieve justice, despite our frustrations and the success or failure of our leaders. And we need to hear that call to honor not just emperors and governors, presidents and mayors, police or judges or whomever is in authority—but the call actually is to: Honor everyone, love the brotherhood. Fear God.
·         We have privileges (as Americans) that Peter, Daniel, Esther, and Joseph never had. We can vote, we can run for office, we have unprecedented access to communicate and express our ideas and opinions to all our leaders, and we can petition the government. Under our constitution, we are even free to say whatever we like about our rulers. But as Christians, we have a higher calling and higher standard about how we use our speech. It must be under the framework of honor. For leaders, as for everyone else. Our respect and honor for others is an expression of the knowledge that we are made by God, humans of equal value, worth, and dignity—and that we do not have the right to strip away a person’s dignity by insults, hatred, dishonor, slander, or otherwise damaging their reputation. That is where the 8th commandment comes in. We are to treat our neighbors (and leaders!) in this way: We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.
·         Again, this never requires that we sacrifice the truth or integrity, or obedience to God. It is not about blind obedience to authority. The heroes of faith I mentioned before, all stood against injustice, against dishonor to God, and against the harm of their own people. They kept their integrity in the face of lies. But they did it all with honor—respecting authorities that God had placed over them. We are called to do no less. Even if we need to take a vigorous stand against an evil that is being done by a government, we must do it with honor.
·         It’s actually an exciting prospect to face the same challenges as saints of old, but to be given the new responsibility in this day and age, to live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. All authority is under God—from our parents, teachers, principals, pastors, police, council members, all the way up to our president. And God will hold each accountable to their duty—us included. But the way we honor God is by honoring everyone, and doing our duty in our place. And God can work His plan and purpose in that, even when people actively are striving against Him. Psalm 33:10–11 “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.” God’s plans endure—the plans of the wicked are frustrated and come to nothing. That is the inevitable outcome—do we intend to align ourselves with God’s plans, or against them? The choice seems obvious.
·         But all of this ultimately goes back to the most surprising of all the examples I gave you before—the example of Jesus. Who came from the position of highest authority, as the Son of God in heaven, the creator of the universe, and became a helpless baby, traveling to and fro at the leading of Mary and Joseph—submitting to the authority of God, of Caesar Augustus, fleeing from King Herod, and again being led by God. Then Jesus grew to an adult, and publicly taught, a prophet teaching of God’s Kingdom, God’s authority, and how it was entering the world in Jesus’ own ministry. And of course that mission was misunderstood and it was opposed. But Jesus managed to both “speak truth to power” and also to humbly bow His head and quiet His voice at the worst mistreatment, received at the hands of wicked tyrants and religious hypocrites. Even when He could have escaped the horrors of the cross, He endured it steadfastly, suffering unjustly, which was a gracious thing in the sight of God. He left us this example of how to suffer graciously, that we might follow in His steps, as we heard last week.
·         And what did He accomplish, by refusing to speak with evil or malice against those in authority? What did He accomplish by honoring them, and submitting to their authority? He accomplished the counsel of the Lord, the plans of God’s heart. He won our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus defeated the power of injustice, by rising above it—rising above the violent return of evil for evil, or hate for hate. Jesus buried the power of sin in His grave, and rose from the dead with authority over life and death. He proved the truth of those Psalms quoted above, that man’s evil plans are finished at death, and that they are frustrated and reversed by God. He proved that justice, life, and goodness will prevail, even against the plans of those who plot evil against the innocent, or the powerless or the oppressed. Because the Lord reigns forever, and He is the hope of all who trust in Him (Psalm 146). Injustice will meet its final end one day, at God’s final judgment—but until then we live as free servants of God—honoring everyone, loving the brotherhood, fearing God, and honoring our leaders. Rejoice that God has set you His servants free by the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read sermons at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen: search your podcast app for “The Joshua Victor Theory” or
listen online at http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

  1. Read 1 Peter 2:11-20. The 4th & 8th Commandments, and their explanations, from the Small Catechism, are as follows:
            Honor your father and your mother. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.
            You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.
How do these two commands relate to the 1 Peter reading, and our duty?
  1. What does it mean for our Christian conduct to be honorable? In word? In deed? What effect does this have? 1 Peter 2:12, 15-16; Matthew 5:16.
  2. Why is respect for authority, whether it is good or unjust, God’s command to us? What does it create when citizens obey the government and authority that God has established, vs. what it creates when we disobey and dishonor it?
  3. God has His own separate demands and accountability for leaders and those in authority, that is explained elsewhere in the Bible. But what are the specific challenges we face, in our responsibility to honor everyone, even our leaders? What is one of God’s purposes in establishing government? 1 Peter 2:14.
  4. What would be a misuse or abuse of our God-given freedom? 1 Peter 2:16; Galatians 5:1, 13.
  5. How did Christ use His freedom? How did He subject Himself to “earthly powers”, and what did He accomplish for us by it?

Monday, April 16, 2018

Sermon on 1 Peter 1:21-25, for the 3rd Sunday of Easter (1 YR lectionary), "Our Shepherd's Example"



In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Discipleship is the word we use to describe following Jesus and all that means for our life. To be a disciple is to be a follower of Jesus. Our reading from 1 Peter 2:21 begins: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” We follow in the example of Christ’s suffering for us? A good Lutheran question to ask is, “What does this mean?” First of all, clearly only Christ can redeem us from our sins by His suffering. Following Christ’s example does not include redeeming ourselves by suffering for our own sins. Jesus has already finished that for us! That chapter of salvation is already completed, the ink is dried, and it’s done! A chapter earlier, Peter tells how Christ ransomed us from our old sinful ways by the price of His precious, innocent blood.
So following Christ’s example in suffering, is not about paying for our sins or anybody else’s. Thank God He’s done that for us already! But what it does mean, is that God is doing something both incredible and challenging in our lives. He is modeling us after Jesus in the way in which He suffered. He suffered unjustly, for doing what is good. Jesus didn’t let His suffering become an opportunity for bitterness, hatred, or revenge—but responded with grace and forgiveness. This is how we “follow in His steps.” We learn from His example, and the Holy Spirit molds us and transforms us into His image.
Peter explains several times that there’s a difference between suffering for doing good, and suffering for doing evil. Obviously, he warns, there’s no credit for suffering for evil things we have done. If we suffer for something criminal, immoral or unethical that we have done,  that’s really our own fault, and we reap what we sow. But even in suffering for bad choices we may still learn “life lessons,” or may learn by the consequences of our actions why obedience to God is indeed the right path. Honestly much of our suffering falls into this category. And of course God forgives the repentant, and gives us strength to bear through this kind of suffering also—but it’s no credit or glory to us to suffer for doing what is wrong.
But to suffer unjustly for doing good—Peter tells us—this is “a gracious thing in the sight of God.” God shows His favor on those who endure such suffering. This is the category of most everything else. The suffering Jesus endured, where He was insulted, reviled, spat upon, and crucified—even though He had done nothing wrong. Or the suffering that a person endures for standing up and doing the right thing—even when it is unpopular. Or the suffering of Job, who experienced intense loss and grief, without ever knowing why. And the suffering of many Christians who have trouble or hardship in their lives—not by their own fault, and not with any attached “explanation tag.” And the suffering of our many Christian brothers and sisters around the world who are persecuted for their faith.
Perhaps you are cast into suffering like this. Recall what Christ endured, and know that we share in His sufferings. We need His strength to endure it. We need His Spirit to mold us, so that we don’t react in the predictable, sinful ways that are so easy and natural to us. The reading says “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly”. It’s amazing that Jesus never cursed or grew angry with those who tormented Him. His mouth remained pure and without sin.
In similar situations, how easy and tempting it can be for us to fly off the handle and give someone a piece of our mind! The level of insult that Jesus faced was simply extraordinary. Chances are good that what we may experience is usually much lower. But in any case, how we respond is what is important. Responding to evil with more evil is never productive. Romans 12:21 says: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Good is the right weapon against evil. Good brings the true defeat of evil. Not evil defeating evil. If evil defeats evil—what’s left in its place? Just a new form of evil! So the “good” that overcomes evil is to follow Christ’s example. Kindness and forgiveness in the face of cruelness and sin. Truth and humility in the face of lies and pride. Patience in the face of impatience. Love in the face of hate. These are the tools and the gifts of the Spirit, to overcome evil with good.
To follow after Christ’s example, walking in His steps, is an incredible call and challenge. But it’s no good to throw our hands up and say, “well good luck imitating that! He’s God, after all, and I’m just a lousy human!” That would be to treat God’s calling for us as an absurdity, as though God were unaware that we are frail humans. Rather, as Luther would say, we should give the Holy Spirit credit for being more learned than we are, and trust in His Word. And have faith that God knows our weakness, as one of my favorite verses from Psalm 103:13–14 says: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” And because we are dust, God baptizes us into His Son Christ Jesus, so that He lives in us, and we live in Him. And so that His Holy Spirit dwells in us, sanctifying us and pouring His gifts into our lives. Our concern is not to obsess about the progress we are making, but to continually have our eyes turned up to Him, knowing that grace and every blessing comes from His hand. Far from an absurdity, God does really and truly begin to shape and mold us after the pattern of Christ’s own suffering, using our sufferings to refine us like gold tested by fire. It’s His work in us.
The reading continues: “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” Our sin is dealt with already at the cross. Now we daily die to that sin, and live to righteousness. We “detoxify” from our sins by confession and absolution—getting the bad stuff out of our system—and we are sanctified and made new as we rise and walk with Christ. “By His wounds you have been healed” is part of the amazing Isaiah 53 prophecy, that described Jesus’ death in astonishing predictive detail, 7 centuries before it happened. That simple fact, that God endured wounded-ness on our behalf, because of our sins, is too great to fathom, and we could ponder that mystery for all time. God, who is the Highest and Most Holy, incarnated or took on human flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ, and He let us wound Him with our sins. He endured our slander, insults, and mockery, carried the weight of sins aimed at Him, and not aimed at Him—but He bore them all anyways. And in His wounds, we find healing.
Interestingly, after Jesus rose from the dead, we heard last week how His scars from the nails, were the sign to His disciples, that He was the same Jesus, alive, and in the flesh. And what is a scar, but a wound that has healed! Jesus turns our wounds into scars also, as He heals the wounds that sin has left on us. In Jesus, we find the hope that all the injustices that we have endured will be made right and taken care of by God, who judges justly. Remember how the verse says that Jesus endured His suffering, by trusting that God judges justly? So also we trust, when we don’t see the solution or resolution of our suffering. God gives us strength, and all things are in His hand, to judge according to His justice, in His own time.
“For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” How do sheep come home to their Shepherd? They’re not known for their “homing devices” like homing pigeons, or salmon, who have an uncanny knack for finding their way home. But sheep wander away and get stuck, and are helpless—endangering their own lives, away from the tender care of their Shepherd. No, sheep don’t find their own way home—but as Jesus’ parables teach us, He, the Good Shepherd, goes and retrieves His lost sheep. He finds the lost sheep and carries it home on His shoulders, rejoicing. We have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for us. He is an Overseer, a faithful watchman, who steers us away from harm, and leads us in the right path. And ever rescuing us from our foolish wandering.
We began by reflecting on the walk of discipleship—following in Jesus’ footsteps, walking after His path. It’s an awesome challenge and an incredible work that Jesus is doing in our lives. Viewed from God’s perspective, we see the grace and the glory of what He is doing in our lives, shaping us to be like Christ. Yet viewed from our human perspective, we often see the hardship and suffering that God uses to refine us like gold in this life. With only the human perspective, we can let suffering and trouble grind us down in this life. But with eyes opened by faith, to see God’s perspective, and to know that He’s at work, even in our sufferings—we can be encouraged to follow in His steps, and die to our sin, and live to righteousness. We can know that God has a greater purpose for us, even in our sufferings. By His wounds you have been healed! All glory be to Christ. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read sermons at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen: search your podcast app for “The Joshua Victor Theory” or
listen online at http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

  1. Read 1 Peter 2:19-25. Why is a Christian called to endure suffering while doing good? What is our natural instinct about how to react against unfair bad treatment? Contrast our instinct to vs. 23. What example did Jesus set, by how He responded?
  2. 1 Peter 2:22 is one of several passages that affirm Jesus’ sinlessness. Cf. Hebrews 4:16; 7:26; John 8:46; 2 Corinthians 5:21. Why is it necessary that Jesus would live a perfectly sinless life? 1 Peter 1:18-19; Galatians 4:4-6.
  3. Jesus endured His suffering by “entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” How do we learn to do the same? What does that free us from? Romans 12:17-21. What does it free us to do for others?
  4. 1 Peter 2:24 speaks of the death and life that we experience in Christ. How does this reality come to us? Romans 6:1-14. How does Jesus’ resurrection from the dead assure us that sin can be defeated?
  5. By His wounds you are healed” is a powerful verse from Isaiah 53:5, that prophesies in amazing detail Jesus’ crucifixion. How does it affect your perception of God, knowing that He endured wounded-ness and death for you? Jesus’ wounds turned into scars (i.e., “healed” wounds). He heals our “wounds” also. What hope does that give us?
  6. 1 Peter 2:25. How has Jesus returned us “sheep” to His fold and His care? John 10; Luke 15:1-7. What is the watchfulness and the care of our Good Shepherd like?
  7. Read through 1 Peter 2, the whole chapter, and identify all the statements that speak to God’s purpose for your life. How does knowing this encourage or challenge you? How does it make you depend all the more completely upon God and His grace?

Monday, April 09, 2018

Sermon on Ezekiel 37:1-14, for the 2nd Sunday of Easter (1 Yr lectionary), "God of the Living"


Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia! Amen. The beloved old Lenten hymn, “Go to Dark Gethsemane” shifts from the darkness of the crucifixion of Jesus, to His Easter resurrection in the final verse: “Early hasten to the tomb where they lay His breathless clay; all is solitude and gloom. Who has taken Him away? Christ is ris’n! He meets our eyes. Savior teach us so to rise.” That poetic phrase, “His breathless clay” refers to the dead, lifeless body of Jesus, buried in the tomb. But it also reminds us of God creating Adam from the “breathless clay” of the earth, when God created the body of Adam from the dust of the earth, and then breathed into Adam the “breath” or spirit of life (Genesis 2:7). Adam, the valley of dry bones, and Jesus’ resurrection all in turn show who is the God of the Living. Who has power to make breathless clay breathe life again. Death could not hold Jesus any more. The breath or spirit of life returned to Him, and He rose, never to die again!
Ezekiel’s sees a grim sight: a great valley filled with scattered dry bones. Probably a dead army, after some horrible battle—as he calls them “these slain,” and later a great army after they are raised. In this scene of defilement and uncleanness God asks Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” Ezekiel wisely answers, “O Lord God, you know.” In a few verses, we learn that these bones represent the “whole house of Israel” in their hopelessness and discouragement. Discouraged about what? The whole book of Ezekiel is about the exile of Judah. In the first chapter, Ezekiel is already 5 years into life as an exile in Babylon. By chapter 33, Jerusalem had fallen to the relentless assault of the Babylonian armies—now 12 years into Ezekiel’s time in exile. Like a sickening free-fall into darkness, and the sudden “thud” of hitting rock bottom, God asks Israel in Ezekiel 33, “Thus you have said, ‘Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?’” Sounds a bit like our reading from ch. 37. Dried up and without hope. In ch. 33 God answers, “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?”
Chapters 33 and 37 share the heart of God. God does not want our despair and death. He does not want us rotting away in our sins, thinking that there is no way to live. He does not delight in wicked people dying in their evil ways or for His people to live in hopelessness and despair. No! God wants life! “He is not God of the dead, but of the Living!” (Matthew 22:32b). So God calls the wicked to turn back to Him, to repent.
So according to Ezekiel 37:11, these bones “are the whole house of Israel. Behold they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.” The enormous scene of physical death in the valley of dry bones is a picture of their spiritual death and despair. As exiles in a foreign land, under foreign gods and under rulers who had devastated and destroyed your homeland such despair is no surprise. But God shows by this picture of physical resurrection from the dead, that He commands power over life and death—and if raising dry bones to living people is no problem for Him, then those defeated exiles can still hope in the Lord for life and restoration. In a little more than a generation or so, they would be returning home to Israel, as God promised.
It’s curious, that Ezekiel first prophesies to ‘dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones’ and they come rattling together, and flesh and skin grows back on them, and they transform into lifeless bodies. All because these bones “hear the word of the Lord.” But they are still lifeless, there is no breath in them. Then a second time, God tells Ezekiel again to prophesy, but this time, instead of addressing the bones, he addresses, in Hebrew, the ruach. Ruach is used 10 different times in this passage, just like “bones” is used 10 times. Ruach can mean spirit, wind, or breath. So Ezekiel prophesies to the ruach and the four winds of the earth blow on these bodies, and the breath of life comes into them, and they stand up alive—an exceedingly great army! Amazing! It’s like the creation of Adam times 10,000! Adam’s breathless clay, the shape of his body with all the bones, tendons, ligaments, flesh and skin, lay on the earth after God had created him—and then God breathed His ruach into Adam, and he stood up and became a living being! The parallel is obvious, but what does it all tell us?
It tells us again, that He is not God of the dead, but of the Living! Only God can raise the dead. Only God can breathe His spirit and life into those whose bones are dried up and their hope is gone. And God did it again on Easter morning, when all hope had gone, just as He did it 5 or 6 hundred years before, in Ezekiel’s generation, when the downtrodden exiles came home to the land of Israel. Their homecoming taught them what God said: “I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord. (Ezek. 37:12-14) God is in charge, and when He speaks, He does what He says.
God’s Word draws the bones together, and God’s Word sends the “breath” or ruach to stir and awaken life, where none seemed possible. Whether what Ezekiel saw was a literal raising of an army of dead people, who reentered biological life on this planet, or whether it was simply a visionary experience, we are not clearly told. But the clear point of the vision is that God does indeed have the power to make this happen. It’s God’s Spirit that breathes in the Word of God, and calls people up out of their graves. God’s Word and Spirit are intimately bound together and when God’s Word goes out today, His Spirit moves in and with it. Can these bones live? O Lord God, you know. And now we know too—never doubt that with God, all things are possible. Jesus walked out of His open grave, and He has opened our graves also! We may go into our graves, at the end of our biological life—but He has opened them, so there is a way out of them! And the life that God gives us, out of our graves, will be no different than the physical, fleshly resurrection of Jesus. As 1 Corinthians 15:49 tells us—we will bear the image of the man of heaven—Jesus. Our mortal body will put on immortality (15:54).
Of course we don’t face an “exile” quite like the house of Israel, in captivity with a shattered homeland. But we are away from our true homeland.  Our citizenship is not on earth, but in heaven. So we are in a “foreign land” in a spiritual sense. This week I read an article that pointed out an obvious truth that many Christians don’t like to accept—that in today’s society and culture, to be a Christian is a mark of “low-status.” Even while Christians may theoretically be in the majority, to hold to the beliefs of the Bible is something that will get you ridiculed and mocked. One student at an Ivy League school reflected that many people look down on those who are religious as “peculiarly bad, dangerous, or silly.” Of course, those attitudes toward people of faith are as old as the Old Testament, and the invading kings who mocked the Israelites’ trust in God, or Goliath mocking David for the same, or at the death of Jesus, those who mocked Him on the cross, saying “He trusts in God! Let God deliver Him now, if He desires Him. For He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” (Matt. 27:43).
Mockery of faith in God is ancient and modern. It’s nothing new or unique to our times. But it’s common in “spiritual exile” where we lack earthly power, size, authority, or impressiveness. Jesus responded to mockery with silence and forgiveness. But then the biggest “comeback” to that mockery, was when He rose from death, and walked out of the empty tomb. God delivered Him after all! But not before Jesus had delivered us from our sins. Not before Jesus had dragged down the whole towering fortress of sin, death, and fear to the grave. Not before Jesus had breached the gates of hell and thrown down the power of Satan, and showed that He is the “stronger man.”
The same Lord who called Israel out of their graves and brought Ezekiel’s exiles home, is the same Lord who calls us today. Same as then—when the Lord speaks, He will do it. Pastors preach so that God’s Word—His speech, gets out to the lowly, the despised, the down-trodden, and the fallen. And where God’s Word goes out, so also goes the Spirit of God, His ruach, to call us to repentance, to life, and to hope. For all who say “we are rotting away in our sins”—the call is to repentance and turn to the Lord. For all who say “our bones are dried up and our hope is lost, we are indeed cut off”—the Lord calls us to rise up from our graves and He pours out His Spirit into us today. God is no less generous with His Spirit today. Jesus said we can be certain that God the Father will “give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” (Luke 11:13).
Whether we are in spiritual despair and hopeless in life, or literally lying dead and moldering in our graves, only God is able to “make these bones live.” We should never look at ourselves, as a church, or as individuals, and fear that we cannot live. For the power is not ours, but God’s. For we worship the God, not of the dead, but of the Living! Only His Spirit can breathe life back into us, and show that He is in control of everything. It takes faith to trust in God, and not know when He will give relief—whether in this life, or only in the next. But we can be sure that we are not forgotten, and that God does not desire death or despair, but life and hope. And God is not limited by physical death, from keeping our hope alive. So let those dry bones hear again this Word of the Lord: Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Amen.


Sermon Talking Points
Read sermons at:   http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen: search your podcast app for “The Joshua Victor Theory” or
listen online at http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

  1. The hymn Go to Dark Gethsemane (LSB 436) talks about the “breathless clay” of Jesus. What does this mean, and how does this image relate to Ezekiel 37, and Genesis 2:7?
  2. What was going on with Israel, during the time Ezekiel prophesied? Ezekiel 1:1; 33:21. How does that relate to the way that the Israelites felt? Ezekiel 37:11; cf. 33:10.
  3. In two stages—what power 1) stirs the bones to connect together, and cover with flesh; and then 2) causes life to return to these bodies? 37:4, 9
  4. How do passages like Ezekiel 33:11 and 37:12-14 show the heart of God? What kind of God is He? Matthew 22:32. Over which type of problem does God have control—physical death, or spiritual discouragement?
  5. The Hebrew word ruach, like the Greek word pneuma, both can mean “spirit”, “breath”, or “wind.” When Ezekiel prophesies to the “breath” or “wind” and it fills the bodies, how is this again parallel to Genesis 2:7, and also suggestive of Jesus’ own rising from His grave?
  6. What kind of resurrection do we look forward to? 1 Corinthians 15:49, 54. Whose body and resurrection is a “template” for ours?
  7. What sort of mockery and ridicule “goes with the territory” of being a Christian? How did Jesus respond to mockery? What do “exiles” remember when they are mocked, and have little or no earthly power?
  8. Why can we be confident that God still sends His Ruach or Spirit out to make us alive and viable today? Luke 11:13

Monday, April 02, 2018

Sermon on Job 19:23-27, for the Resurrection of our Lord, Easter Sunday (1 Yr lectionary), "I Know that my Redeemer Lives!"


Note: this sermon is revised and expanded by myself, from an original sermon by Rev. Dr. Reed Lessing, part of a purchased series of Lent and Easter sermons titled "Job: Blessed Be the Name of the Lord." The entire series is available for purchase through the Concordia Seminary Store as an inexpensive download. Our congregation has greatly appreciated the study of Job in both Sunday Bible class and midweek services, concluding with this message. 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
For a child, the dark can be frightening—even and especially the dark bedroom, dark hallway, or dark bathroom at night. And that’s all on “familiar ground” inside the home! Not to mention plenty of other dark and scary places outside the home on unfamiliar ground! No, a child doesn’t want to go alone. Even reassuring words from a tired parent: “There’s nothing to be afraid of. No, there are no monsters. Just go! You’ll be fine!” often aren’t enough to convince a child to go alone into the darkness. Some particularly demanding youngsters won’t budge until you come with them, in the flesh. They’ll tug and pull on your hand until you relent. They don’t want just your words or the vague nearness of your presence; they want a hand they can hold, and someone in front of them in the dark. The child wants a strong hand guiding him and a tender heart loving him. They want you there in the flesh!
Job is a familiar friend on Easter Sundays. His famous confession of faith in the Bible reading: “I know that My Redeemer Lives” gives the title to one all-time favorite Easter hymn. These past weeks in Lent, in Bible class and midweek services, we’ve been learning the backstory of this famous example of faith and endurance in the midst of suffering.
Just a moment to review: Job knows all about long, dark hallways. Come with me, to a God-forsaken, ash heap. There sits Job with a shaved head and sores all over his body. His ten children have all died when a tornado destroyed their home. Raiding bands from neighboring lands and lightning from the sky have taken all his animals and killed all his servants. It has all reduced Job from his former position as the greatest man in the east to being a pitiful, ghastly sight, scraping himself with a piece of broken pottery. Any number of giants had jumped out and chewed Job up for a late-night snack. This wasn’t just a bad dream or fright—fear had already been realized in the most horrible ways for Job.
There are a couple of startling passages of brilliant faith where Job appeals to God to give him a mediator, an umpire, a referee. Someone to stand between Job and God and settle their differences justly. He longs for eternal life and trusts it’s coming. He’s confident he’ll be vindicated, and that his fate will not be with the wicked. Job cries out to God for a witness in heaven who will argue Job’s case before God. Each of these passages are mountain peaks that rise above the sunken valleys of Job’s despair; and each of them yearns for the very hope we find realized in Jesus Christ.
On this day of days, Resurrection Day, we wrap up our sermon series on the book of Job, on the mountaintop of Job 19:25, spoken right in the midst of Job’s fervent wrestling with God. “I know that my Redeemer lives,” Job affirms. What’s it mean? It means we aren’t insulated from life’s tragedies, but neither are we intimidated by them. It means we aren’t captive to fear, of the real or imagined; and neither do we face the dark alone. It means we have someone to walk with us through life’s long, dark, winding hallways. And he’s in the flesh! This verse is the Mt. Everest of Job! Let’s take in the view.
As we climb the mountain, we begin at the first base camp. “I know.” Job is living his worst nightmare. Job 3:25: “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.” And yet Job doesn’t say, “I kind of think . . .” or, “I sure would like it if . . .” or, “Wouldn’t it be nice if . . .” No way! Although Job has been severely assaulted, he is not defeated. Although he has lost much that was valuable to him, he still has what was most precious. Job could have sung these words sincerely against the devil’s assaults: And take they our life, goods fame, child, and wife. Though these all be gone, our vict’ry has been won; the kingdom ours remaineth.” He would not abandon faith in God, because he knew that God is his deliverance. Although he is down, he is not out!
Job dares to confess, “I know.” Even with the enormous uncertainty around him, this was one thing he knew for sure. There are plenty of things we don’t know. We don’t know why we had to bury the love of our life. We don’t know why that child turned against us. We don’t know why we lost that job. We don’t know why our parents emotionally abandoned us. We don’t know why we got that inexplicable illness. Often we just don’t know what God is doing in our lives. But instead of living in whimpering sadness, and letting the giants consume us, with Job, we dare to say, “I know!” “I know” . . what? “I know that my Redeemer.” We are getting higher! Job doesn’t say, “His Redeemer. Her Redeemer. A Redeemer. Their Redeemer. Or your Redeemer.” No. It’s personal and particular. It’s intimate and individual. It’s, “my Redeemer.” Job will not let go of God and His mercy.
In the Old Testament a redeemer was a close relative—someone in the flesh!—who would rescue, ransom, recover, or redeem anyone who had been, or was in danger of being removed from the family by poverty, war, death, or a poor economy. So, for instance, if someone had fallen into debt and had sold himself into slavery in order to pay back debts, the redeemer bought him back and set him free. If a piece of property had to be sold, the redeemer made sure that the title to the property remained in the family. And if a member of the family was hurt or killed, the redeemer pursued the legal options and collected the damages assessed against the offender.
Whatever goes bad your redeemer will make good. Let me repeat that. Whatever goes bad your redeemer will make good. What is broken will be mended, what is sick will be healed, whatever is lost will be restored and what is dead will be made alive! When sin has broken us and left us for dead, and our situation seems beyond hope—we still have a Redeemer, when no other hands can rescue us. Really? That’s what Job 19:26 says, “And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.” “I know my Redeemer.” His name is Jesus. Jesus is not a mystical, abstract, impersonal vague idea. He does not send us into the dark alone. Jesus is the strong hand guiding us and a tender heart loving us when we are faced with a long, dark hallway. But He is not just the Redeemer of “last resort”—but He is my Redeemer, day in and day out, giving me His strength and mercy.
As our Redeemer, Jesus comes not simply to see that justice is done, but that mercy is given. Jesus bears whatever needs to be borne and carries whatever needs to be carried in order to see that our wrongs are righted. If a sentence needs to be served, he will serve it. If a fine needs to be paid, he will pay it. He does whatever it takes to set us free, even if it means giving his life for ours. Jesus forgives my guilt and Jesus destroys my grave. And he did it all in the flesh. Flesh that felt the Roman whip at a place called Gabbatha—the Stone Pavement. Flesh that felt the blazing Palestinian sun while He carried his cross-piece on the Via Dolorosa. Flesh that felt the thorns on his head and the hammering of the nails into his hands and feet. Flesh and muscles and nerves that, for six hours, bled on a cross all alone in a long, dark, God-forsaken hallway called Golgotha. And you can bet that there were giants who jumped out and chewed Jesus up like a late-night snack. Romans. Scribes. Pharisees. And there was Satan who stalked our Savior, took aim, shot straight, and killed. Jesus walked alone into the darkness—deep down into the throat of death.
Three days later this cry rocked the world, “I know that my Redeemer . . . lives!” Now we stand on the top of the world. We can see everything! The angels announced, “He is alive!” John outran Peter to the tomb. Mary cried out “Raboni!” The Emmaus disciples recognized the risen Christ in the breaking of the bread. And when he saw the scars on the living Redeemer Thomas climactically said, “My Lord and my God!” Death is dead. The grave is defeated. The free gift of eternal life is absolutely all yours forever and ever and ever!
People saw Jesus, literally. They didn’t see a phantom or experience a feeling. They didn’t experience a “figurative” resurrection like the blooming of springtime as a reminder of renewal, and make up some story about Jesus. Eulogies often include such phrases as, “She’ll live on in my heart.” Christ’s followers didn’t say this. That’s because they saw him in the flesh. He wasn’t still dead, but now cherished in their hearts—He was literally alive! Physically and factually resurrected from the dead—in the flesh. Heart and blood pumping, lungs breathing, brain and neurons firing, scarred hands extending greeting to the disciples—in the flesh.
And interestingly, that’s just how Job describes his confidence—that after his skin has been destroyed—i.e. long after his body has returned to the earth in the grave—“in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” Just as fleshy and real as Jesus was at his resurrection—just as fleshy and real does Job understand he will be, when on that future day, long after death, he is alive again in the flesh to see God with his own eyes. Job gives us the most marvelous confession of the resurrection of the body, long ago in the Old Testament. Even though Jesus was generations away from being revealed—Job knew that His Redeemer would not fail him.
And the disciples and women that morning walked to a dark tomb, expecting to see death—but were surprised to discover life! Surprised to be the witnesses of Job’s Redeemer, who at the last stood upon the earth, and greeted them ALIVE! Job, them, you and I together can call Him—my Redeemer, and confess that He truly LIVES!
There’s a word for all of this. Grace. Grace is the amazing gift God gives us that says even when it’s all wrong around us, at the very core of our lives, where we really are the most wrong, God has worked to make it right by the forgiveness of all our sins. Our Redeemer “rights” what has been wrong because of sin. He turns us in repentance back to Him, and away from the death of sin. Grace frees us to be the person God wants us to be—unchained from sin and the power of death, and free to walk after Him in newness of life. Grace sustains us on the days when we can barely cope with life, because we have faith that God’s promises and mercy have not come to an end, but His faithfulness endures. Grace is the love poured out for us so that all our debts are paid, we are released from slavery, and our brokenness is repaired.
What’s it all mean? It means that whatever your dark hallway looks like and whatever your giants are saying, you do not walk alone. You can say adios! to the irrational fears of darkness, worry, and anxiety—and for the real fears that have already been realized—the diagnosis, the layoff, the foreclosure, whatever—you can firmly grab the hand of Christ and follow Him through the valley of the Shadow of Death and know that He won’t leave you, that He’s gone ahead of you, even to death, and that He lives, Yes He Lives! “He lives, all glory to his name! He lives, my Jesus, still the same. Oh, the sweet joy this sentence gives: ‘I know that my Redeemer lives!’” Alleluia! Amen!