New Year’s Eve – 2016 LSB #919
Text – Deuteronomy 33:27a NLT
The eternal God is your refuge, & His everlasting arms are under you.
HIS EVERLASTING ARMS
Try to picture yourself in this scene: Moses is about to ascend Mt. Nebo. From the top of the mountain Yahweh will show him the land that was promised to Israel. However, because of earlier disobedience on the part of Moses, God will not permit him to set foot in that land. After Moses is given a glimpse of the promise he will die.
Knowing what awaits him, & his people, the 120 year old leader of the Israelites lifts his hands over them & pronounces a farewell blessing. Tonight’s sermon text is the climax of that benediction, “The eternal God is your refuge, & His everlasting arms are under you.”
That was good news for the Israelites 3400 years ago. It still is good news for us every single day of our lives, but especially this evening as we bid farewell to an old year & welcome the new one that is dawning upon us. Let these words, which God spoke through Moses, be the heart & center of our New Year’s Eve meditation.
We look ahead at 2017 & it’s clear that vast changes are taking place in our country, whether on the surface or behind the scenes. Donald Trump is so confident that he believes we are about to enter the Promised Land now that he’s going to be president. Hillary Clinton thought that we were already there.
Regarding last year’s presidential candidates, millions of people across our nation did not agree with one or the other, or both. There seem to be fewer & fewer important issues that any majority of our citizens can agree on – whether that’s immigration, policing, national security, education or environmental regulations, just to name a few.
It may well be that the only thing most of our people are like-minded on is that we now
have become a very divided nation. Patrick Henry was one of the founding fathers of our country & he’s famous for saying, “Give me liberty, or give me death.” In the last public speech he gave he said this, “Let us trust God, & our better judgment to set us right hereafter. United we stand, divided we fall.”
History reports that Patrick Henry was a Christian so maybe he borrowed the idea. The Gospel of Matthew says: “Knowing their thoughts, [Jesus] said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, & no city or house divided against itself will stand.’” The message for our country is quite clear &, from an earthly perspective, the prognosis is not good.
It’s for that reason that Jesus was constantly teaching His disciples to look at things on earth from a heavenly perspective. God took the same approach with Moses as they ascended Mt. Nebo. Yahweh is blessing Moses with the opportunity to see the Promised Land on earth from a heavenly perspective.
On this eve of the year 2017, guess what our heavenly Father wants us to do, as we consider the problems of our nation, the problems of our congregation, & the problems in our own lives? It’s not a simple thing to do for sinful human beings like us. Beyond that, we have lived in a corrupt & sinful world for our entire existence.
There is no amount of “doing” on our part that can deliver us from either predicament. It is extremely difficult for us but we do need to look at all the moments of our lives, good or bad, from a heavenly perspective. That is, after all, the essence of faith in Jesus as Savior. Here’s how the book of Hebrews describes the outlook Jesus had on His suffering & death:
“…Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, & is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (12:2 ESV) Now there’s an example of looking at life in this sinful & broken world from a heavenly perspective. While Jesus was suffering & dying in the most brutal way possible, He thought about all the people of earth’s history who would join Him in heaven because He was paying for their sins. If that is how Jesus endured the crucifixion how shameful that we choose not to use the same technique in our sufferings & trials. What a tremendous source of comfort & blessing we forfeit!
Yet Jesus came to suffer & die because He knew how desperate is our need to have our sins washed away in order that we might truly live. There is no amount of “doing” on our part that can erase our guilt & our shame, so Jesus did that for us. That is where the joy of Christmas really lies. It’s the only reason the day of His crucifixion can be called “Good” Friday.
Thus Moses spoke the benediction of tonight’s sermon text, “The eternal God is your refuge, & His everlasting arms are under you.” With faith in Jesus as Savior, we cannot fall through the cracks. Yahweh’s everlasting arms are beneath us. No matter how divided our families, or congregations, or country may be, the eternal God is our refuge.
We may look at the division in our lives & recognize that things are moving in the wrong direction, but in the 12th chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel, we see that is not such an abnormal thing:
“They will be divided, father against son & son against father, mother against daughter & daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law & daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (12:53 ESV) Just verses earlier Jesus explained why that would be: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (12:51 ESV)
Jesus brings division because the darkness hates the light & will not submit to it. Jesus is the same yesterday & today & forever. (Hebrews 13:8 ESV) It’s the darkness that brings change, & not for the better. It isn’t Jesus who is causing the division. It’s the darkness rebelling against God’s eternal love. If Jesus did not bring division He would not be bringing His love.
After The Fall, all human beings are naturally born in darkness. That is the normal state
of the world. There is no division. The division occurs when God’s Son rescues us from the darkness. Christ pulls us away, & delivers us from, the darkness of sin & death. Thus, darkness & light are divided. The Son of God brings life out of death & that is seen as division. Looking at it from the heavenly perspective we see that division as a good thing.
Going back to the 12th chapter of Luke, Jesus is explaining that His Apostles would be serving during a time of division. But the patient perseverance required of them, & the anguish they may endure, are put into proper perspective by the immeasurably greater anguish & perseverance that will be required of their Lord Himself.
Those baptized into Christ undergo death & resurrection with Him, in that order. The hostility & division we encounter are a result of being incorporated into Christ through baptism. Being saved by the everlasting arms does not mean life in a rose garden… until heaven.
For the Israelites, God’s everlasting arms would mean no enemy could rob them of the blessings their Father had in store for them. They were the instrument of His choosing to bring salvation to a sin-cursed world. The danger is that Yahweh will not force us to trust Him. He will allow the darkness to remain if we reject the light.
Looking only from an earthly perspective, many people see the division that the light brings, & in the ignorance of sin they blame the light. They reject the everlasting arms of God which would divide, or separate, them from the darkness, from sin & from eternal death. Those are what we deserve from the Lord because of our sinful heart.
No question about it, we deserve God’s clenched fist! What does He offer – His open, everlasting arms of grace! As we look ahead to the year 2017, as we contemplate the division in the hearts of our nation’s people, let us not be afraid of the division. It is God’s sign to us that there are two ways, one of life & one of death, & there is a great difference between the two. We see that, yet do not fear, as we view life in the manner which our Savior taught us – from a heavenly perspective. St. Paul commented on that in 2 Corinthians 5:
“While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan & sigh, but it’s not that we want to die & get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God Himself has prepared us for this, & as a guarantee He has given us His Holy Spirit. So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing & not by seeing.” (5:4-7 NLT)
In tonight’s Gospel reading from Luke 2, Simeon demonstrates that for us when he holds the Child in his arms &, in spite of the helpless looking nature of the Child, he believes that the promise of a Messiah has been fulfilled:
“Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, & He is the glory of your people Israel!” (2:29-32 NLT) Simeon was blessed with seeing the baby Jesus from a heavenly perspective & he gets to hold the Everlasting Arms in his arms.
But notice, St. Luke also records a word of division, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose Him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” (2:34b-35 NLT)
As long as sin remains in this world, darkness will reject the light. Yet, the Light has won. Even the Promised Land, that Moses saw a glimpse of, was only a foreshadowing of the true Promised Land which is heaven. Knowing that paradise is our eternal home helps you to see all things in this life, even the division, from a heavenly perspective. Amen.
Abide, O dearest Jesus, among us with Your grace that Satan may not harm us nor we to sin give place. Abide with heavenly brightness among us, precious Light; Your truth direct & keep us from error’s gloomy night. Abide, O faithful Savior, among us with Your love; grant steadfastness & help us to reach our home above. Amen. LSB 919:1, 3, 6
 Matthew 12:25 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet