6th Sunday of Easter – B LSB #’s 584, 573, 750:1-3
Text – John 15:16
You did not choose me, but I chose you & appointed you…
THE HEART OF DECISION THEOLOGY
If you were forced to make a choice that could lead to the life or death of your family, how much confidence would you want to have when making that decision? Would 50/50 be good enough? How about 60/40? Even 90/10 would probably leave most of us extremely nervous.
A decision like that would be very uncomfortable because most of us recognize, at least subconsciously, how often we make mistakes or even fail completely. In most of our failures the stakes aren’t as high as the life or death of our family. The result is this – we get complacent regarding decisions that lead to spiritual life or death.
Faithful Christians get frustrated with friends, church members & family who are oblivious to the dangerous situation they commonly put themselves in. Last Sunday the sermon focused on the most important thing you can do. This week the sermon will focus on why the that is the most important thing we can do.
Abiding in the Vine is the most important thing we can do in all of life here on earth. That thought, however, is still rather abstract, especially to anyone who has not grown up around, or working in, vineyards. The vine is an OT picture of Israel. It was planted as a good & productive vine, but had gone sour & degenerate. It was producing worthless fruit.
In essence, the vine had chosen death over life. So God came to earth in Jesus, the true & good Vine, & He is all that God’s Vine was supposed to be. Since mankind has been replaced as the vine, it was left dead & useless, cut off & no longer connected to the source of life. Human beings now find life & bear fruit through being incorporated, grafted or adopted into the new Vine, the one that gives true life. That decision cannot be made by the branch. Once cut off it is dead & powerless to do anything but rot & decay. If the gardener does not graft the branch back into the vine it will remain dead, forever. The joyful news of the Gospel is that the Holy Spirit is working in the world to graft dead & useless branches back into the Vine to give them life.
As Jesus stated to His disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you & appointed you…” All human beings are born to this earth dead in sin. Sin has disfigured & marred our existence as surely as Jesus was marred & disfigured through His suffering & death in our place. Apart from Jesus you & I bear no resemblance to the fruitful branches we were intended to be.
Even after we have been grafted back into the Vine, sin has a hold on us. Our flesh is still wild & corrupt, needing constant correction & pruning so that it might produce fruit instead of simply wasting the blessing of life we have received. Christians & even pastors are tempted to measure another person’s faith, or lack of it, by the sins they see.
Then, they draw what seems to be a logical conclusion – those branches that still have a wild appearance, though grafted into the Vine, cannot truly be alive. They teach that the branch must still be dead & therefore has to make a decision to live in order to be truly alive. In effect, they’re saying that the supposedly dead branch, must re-graft itself back onto the Vine.
The danger in this misunderstanding is that a person may end up believing that their sinful flesh, & its disfigured appearance, disqualifies them from heaven. This takes us back to the opening illustration, “If you were forced to make a choice that could lead to the life or death of your family, how much confidence would you want to have when making that decision?”
50/50 is nowhere good enough. Our hearts & minds are always confronting doubts & fears. That’s a side effect of sin, yet, it is an accurate diagnosis of our condition. If we are left to relying upon our own efforts at making a decision to live, then rightly so, we should be afraid. Just look at your life history, & all the decisions that turned out poorly. Would you want to base your eternal salvation on you & your abilities? Our Creator & Savior knows the predicament you would be in. For Jesus too, 50/50 or even 90/10 is nowhere good enough. He wants you to be certain that the glories of paradise await you. So God Himself chooses you to be His own!
Now, it’s true, if you look at your life & at yourself, there are plenty of reasons to doubt that you have truly decided to follow Jesus. What you see does not conform to His words, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12 ESV) Because what we see does not conform, St. Paul taught us these words:
“So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-7 ESV) In our sinfully self-centered view of life, we easily believe that it’s what we see that counts. Paul knows that in so many cases we need to ignore what we see & walk instead by faith.
That’s not easy to do either. We rarely choose to live in that way. We want to see results. And with that independent attitude we see a perfect example of why God had to choose us in order that we might be saved. No one else chooses us as we are simply because they love us, unless they are from God.
Because God chose us for life, it is important to remain connected to Him & drawing life from Him. A branch that has been broken off the Vine cannot graft itself back in. The Gardener has to do it for the branch, the Gardener has to choose to do it for the branch. Yahweh did choose & that’s why you & I have life. Corroborating Paul’s earlier point, he wrote this as well:
“And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6 ESV) That good work which our Lord & Savior began in us is the re-creation of our heart & soul & mind & body. It is the creation of a faith that trusts in Him to save us from all that is wrong with me, myself & I, & from all that is wrong with the people & the world around us. In verse 11 of the Gospel reading Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, & that your joy may be full.” (15:11 ESV)
Jesus chose us from the foundation of the world, to be saved, so that our doubts & fears would not take away the joy we have in being saved from sin & from death & from the devil. These words of God were given to us for comfort when our sins are causing us to doubt that God loves us.
Unfortunately, people try using these words to explain why some are saved & not others. That is not their purpose at all, & it is not our calling to judge the fate of others by their decisions for or against Christ. We cannot see what’s truly in their heart in order to know.
When people have been crushed by the weight of their sin, they need to know then the heart of decision theology – & that is always & only the heart of the heavenly Father who would send His only Son that whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life. Amen.
Lord, ’tis not that I did choose Thee; that, I know, could never be; for this heart would still refuse Thee had Thy grace not chosen me. Thou hast from the sin that stained me washed & cleansed & set me free & unto this end ordained me, that I ever live to Thee. It was grace in Christ that called me, taught my darkened heart & mind; else the world had yet enthralled me, to Thy heavenly glories blind. Now I worship none above Thee; for grace alone I thirst, knowing well that, if I love Thee, Thou, O Lord, didst love me first. Amen. LSB 573:1-2.
5th Sunday of Easter – B LSB #’s 577, 691, 919
Text – John 15:4b
As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN DO?
The world you & I live in is such a busy place, with so many things going on all at once, that time management is one of the most crucial abilities a person can have in order to be seen as someone who is successful. When there is more on your plate than can possibly be accomplished you have to set priorities so you can get the most important things done.
Since each of us has our own way of deciding what is valuable & what is not each of us, given the same list of things to do, will come up with a different set of priorities in order to rank the items on that list. For example, some people will rank working at the top of their list. Others will rank relationships at the top. Some would put their favorite video game as #1.
Within relationships, or within communities, there is often conflict because of the different way in which people make their list of priorities. Should writing the sermon be #1, or should hanging the new kitchen light fixture be at the top? Isn’t it your turn to walk the cat today? It was my priority yesterday.
How do you decide what is the most important thing to do? It’s a question that even God is aware of, because He knows how we struggle to make decisions in the brokenness of this world. Some of His more well-known advice on the topic comes to us from Matthew 6:33, “…seek first the kingdom of God & His righteousness, & all these things will be added to you.”
However, that advice is going to look very different from one person to the next once we get into the specific details for each of us. One thing it meant for me was leaving my home & my electrical business to go to seminary for studying to be a pastor. In my case, that was seeking first the kingdom of God, but clearly that wasn’t the case for most of you. There are literally as many different ways of seeking first the kingdom of God as there are people. And on some days there may be a hundred different ways in which you are confronted with a choice either to seek first the kingdom of God or to seek first your own kingdom.
The Gospel reading for today is much more general in nature, yet it still addresses the same issue, “What is the most important thing you can do?” Here, Jesus again is talking about priorities, but the number of variations has been greatly reduced.
Let’s think of how specifically each one of us is called to seek first the kingdom of God as the output, or in terms of the Gospel reading, think of that as the fruit. Our Lord does not call each of us to bear the exact same fruit. Some of us are pastors. Some of us are any one of a thousand other callings. I’ll bet almost none of you have ever taken a cat for a walk.
Let’s think now, of the words, from the Gospel of John, as the input, or in terms of Jesus’ teaching, as the Vine. Here, there are not as many different important things to do as there are people. Here, there is only one most important thing to do. And that is to abide in Christ; to remain connected to the Vine.
“As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (John 15:4b ESV) No matter what your calling in life may be, no matter what fruit God calls you to bear, no matter what the output of your life should be, it will be nothing unless you are connected to Jesus.
The Word of God gives us three ways, or three means to be so connected. One of those ways is Baptism. In fact, that’s how God connects you to Himself in the first place, if your parents are children of God who follow His teaching. If that’s true, then they bring you to the waters of Baptism so the Holy Spirit can give you spiritual life. But there is also the Word of God which commands Baptism & gives that water the power to create life within you. That Word also has the ability to operate on its own, without water. God’s Word tells us that faith comes by hearing, so that some people, upon hearing the voice of Jesus in God’s Word, naturally follow Him. They follow Him because the Word of God gave them life as they heard that Word.
Finally, the third means is the Lord’s Supper. There, Jesus comes to us personally & physically to strengthen our faith in Him & to provide healing from the damaging effects of sin. All three of these means keep us connected to the Vine, Jesus Christ. All three of these means keep us alive to God & dead to sin.
Abiding in the Vine is the most important thing we can do in all of life here on earth. So we come to God’s house to abide in Jesus. Staying away from God’s house is to starve our faith & spiritual life of the nourishment it needs in a world filled with the corrupting influences of sin. And on top of that, our own sins damage our connection to the Vine.
Yet Baptism, God’s Word & Holy Communion have been given to Christians by God to repair our connection to the Vine. If we abide in Jesus then we will bear fruit. If we do not abide in Jesus, eventually we die & stop bearing fruit. God knows that, so He didn’t just bring us to faith & then leave us to fend for ourselves.
Thinking that you can “be” a Christian without going to church is thinking that fails to account for reality. As the letter of 1 John stated, the antichrist is already in the world. We do not live in a safe or healthy environment. Remembering the Sabbath day to keep it holy is in the commandments for our benefit.
Being in God’s house & being in God’s Word, remembering our Baptism & receiving the Lord’s Supper are far & away the most important thing we can do. And God’s Spirit enables us to do them. Amen.
Rooted deep in Christ our Master, Christ our pattern & our goal, teach us, as the years fly faster, goodness, faith & self-control. Fruitful trees, the Spirit’s tending, may we grow till harvests cease; till we taste, in life unending, heaven’s love & joy & peace. Amen. LSB 691:3-4.
4th Sunday of Easter – B LSB #’s 474, 480, 478
Text – Acts 4:1-2
And as they were speaking to the people, the priests & the captain of the temple & the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people & proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
PROCLAIMING IN JESUS
Were you thinking about the words? As you were singing the sermon hymn, did you give any thought to what exactly you were doing? In verse 3 you were proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead! “But short was their triumph; the Savior arose, & death, hell & Satan He vanquished, His foes….” LSB 480:3.
While singing, you were doing what Peter & John were doing thousands of years ago, although you have not been arrested – yet. It’s not a pleasant thought for us who are very accustomed to the life of luxury in which we live. In the time of Peter & John even the emperors did not have the conveniences of life that you & I enjoy & take so for granted.
This life of ease that we have makes it difficult for us to seek first the kingdom of God like Peter & John were doing. Prison time did not deter them from speaking about the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Prison time did not deter them from speaking about the hope that all mankind has in the life hereafter because Jesus did not rot in the grave.
Here is the Apostle Paul’s take on it: “How, then, might they call [on Him] on whom they did not believe? And how might they believe [on Him] of whom they did not hear? And how might they hear without one proclaiming?” (Romans 10:14)
A visitor, looking for hope in this broken world, could be watching the livestream, or be here in person. You might not greet them or say hello, but you can still proclaim the sure & certain hope that God’s children have simply through singing the hymns. “…The conquering Lord lifts His banner on high; He lives, yes, He lives, & nevermore will die. O, where is your sting, death? We fear you no more; Christ rose, & now open is fair Eden’s door. For all our transgressions His blood does atone; redeemed & forgiven, we now are His own.” LSB 480:3-4. If you are not singing, might a visitor conclude that Jesus’ resurrection has not overcome the sorrows, the struggles or the brokenness of your life?
In Philippians 4:4 we find these words, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (ESV) That is so contrary to our attitude toward life because we focus so much on the temporary things that are passing away, which moth & rust are destroying & which death is swallowing up. Rejoicing is so contrary to our attitude because we are living by sight.
The Word of God calls us instead to live by faith, & when doing so then we find a multitude of reasons to rejoice. When living by faith we find a multitude of opportunities to proclaim in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And it is not just a resurrection from the dead. It is also a resurrection from all the brokenness of this life, however long it may be!
Day by day, moment by moment, the children of God are being re-created into the new creatures that we will fully become at the resurrection of the dead. Sadly, our attitudes don’t always reflect that. Sin has broken us beyond repair, so death must come in order that eternal life may follow. The old is passing away. The new has come, but we see that by faith alone.
If you find yourself down in the mouth & unable to sing, think about this – God the almighty holds us accountable for our shortcomings & failures. That thought, by itself, will put you even further down in the mouth, but with God that thought is never alone! Do you know where He holds you accountable?
Yahweh, the supreme being of all the universe holds you & me accountable for our sins & He does so in His Son Jesus Christ. God holds us accountable on the cross at Golgotha & for that every human being ought to be eternally grateful. It is that gratitude which motivates us to love God instead of ourselves. It is that gratitude which motivates us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. It is that gratitude, & that gratitude alone, causes us to sing with joy, “He’s risen, He’s risen, Christ Jesus the Lord; He opened death’s prison, the incarnate, true Word. Break forth hosts of heaven, in jubilant song…” LSB 480:1.
And that gratitude flows out of the gift given to you by God Himself. Maybe you don’t open that gift every day. Maybe you’ve forgotten what Easter really means! Maybe you just don’t understand what salvation is all about. It’s very likely that one reason we lack gratitude is that we don’t really understand the gift that God has given.
Pastors throw around the word “salvation” so often that it’s become a cliché among those of us who follow Jesus. What is salvation? What does that word mean? Can you explain it to someone who does not follow Jesus? What do you think of when you hear the word? What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “saved by the blood of Jesus”?
I believe that most Christians think of salvation only in terms of ‘no more sin.’ That certainly is a great thing, but it is far from the only thing! It is a very incomplete picture of what salvation is & what it means for you!
In the reading from the book of Acts we heard that Peter & John were come upon by the priests & the captain of the temple & the Sadducees. These “leaders” were greatly annoyed because Peter & John were teaching the people & proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. So they arrested them & put them in prison until the next day.
On the next day their rulers & elders & scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest & Caiaphas & John & Alexander, & all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” The “this” they are referring to was covered in previous chapter of Acts.
Now Peter & John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer… And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple… to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter & John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, & said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver & gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up & walk!” And he took him by the right hand & raised him up, & immediately his feet & ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood & began to walk, & entered the temple with them, walking & leaping & praising God. (Acts 3:1-8 ESV)
Peter demonstrated the nature of salvation. Peter says this man was saved, not just healed. He received wholeness, strength & health. All who enter heaven will exist in complete wholeness, strength & health. No vitamins or medicines needed. No more health insurance will be necessary. No deductibles & co-pays. Exercise & weight training will be unneeded.
One of the effects of sin is that we can barely understand what it is to live without sin. We view salvation as “forgiveness of sins” right now & as “eternal life” after we die. We look at salvation as something that is spiritual, but not physical. We don’t really look at ourselves as being saved in the here & now.
With heaven, there certainly is a lot more to look forward to, but don’t let your eyes overcome your faith in this life. In the reading from Acts 4, we learn that “salvation” is a matter of both soul & body & heart & mind.
Having salvation means that evil can no longer harm us in the ultimate way, which is eternal death. While moth & rust destroy the temporary things of this life, evil & its results are also temporary for those who trust in Jesus as Savior from sin. Salvation is what brings health & life & peace into human beings, & on the Last Day into all of creation.
In Christ – is the realm in which there is shalom, of which resurrection from the dead is a given. Resurrection is a demonstration of the essence of shalom. The healing of the crippled man is a demonstration of the essence of shalom. Singing praises to God & singing of what Jesus has done to make you & me new, those are a demonstration of the essence of shalom. Yet, the Jewish leaders were outraged because Peter & John explained the cause of the crippled man’s healing.
Our current president, in his Easter message to the nation just weeks ago, never once mentioned the name of Jesus, but he did mention the Easter bunny. If he was worried about offending those who do not follow Jesus, he should have skipped the Easter message all together. There is no point in talking about Easter if we leave Jesus out of it.
Someday, people in this country are going to end up in prison for proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. Churches have already been discriminated against through the pandemic lockdowns of our government. We should not be surprised that these things are happening. The world hates us because it hates Jesus, & it hates the teachings of Jesus.
Increasingly, our culture is calling evil good, while it is calling good evil. Yet, we need to keep in perspective these attacks on Christians who are simply living out their faith in Christ. The evil in this universe, in this country, & in our own hearts & minds, has already been defeated. For those who trust in Jesus the effects of evil are only temporary.
The wholeness in us wants to proclaim what Jesus has done in our lives so that He can accomplish the same in the lives of others. The wholeness in us wants to proclaim the life & the blessing & the joy that we receive from our Father in heaven. Through His life, death & resurrection Jesus has returned that wholeness to His creation.
No matter what the world may do to us, this wholeness, or salvation, is ours through faith “in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Then sing your hosannas & raise your glad voice; proclaim the blest tidings that all may rejoice. Laud, honor & praise to the Lamb that was slain: with Father & Spirit He ever shall reign. Amen. LSB 480:5.
3rd Sunday of Easter – B LSB #’s 912, 553, 490
Text – 1 John 3:1b
The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.
THE REASON WHY
“It’s time to brush your teeth.”
“Because we brush our teeth after we eat.”
“Because we want to have healthy teeth.”
“So, we can keep on eating.”
“Because eating is necessary to live.”
Have you heard conversations like that? Maybe you were one of those children. Maybe you still are one of those children. Today, a lot of adults are asking “Why?” Why are so many people in our nation so angry? Why has the national conversation turned so nasty & so loud? Why has violence become so expected & so accepted as the norm?
Plenty of people are blaming Donald Trump. There are plenty of people trying to blame white supremacists. Others are blaming the radical left, who seem to hate everything that was good about America. Our politicians have become elitist members of society who hide behind their protective walls & no longer rub shoulders, on a daily basis, with the average citizen.
After many years in the driver’s seat, the Christian Church got lazy here in this country. We seem to have lost the ability to connect with a broken & hurting world in order to draw them to the love of Jesus Christ. Churches & parents have failed to form their children in the Christian faith. The younger generations of our society have been shaped far more by the culture than by Christianity. And the culture we live in is certainly no longer shaped & molded by the teachings of Jesus Christ. Our culture is drawing the broken & hurting away from the love of Jesus.
All of which has left us wondering, “Why do so many people in our country despise the teachings of Jesus? Why do our people insist upon inventing their own truth? Why don’t they long for the life that comes only from their Creator?” The apostle John gives the answer in the Epistle reading: “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.”
In recent years, people have tried making the case that unbelievers like Jesus, they just don’t like the people who follow Him. The sermon text today speaks very strongly against that lie. If you truly love Jesus, you understand why His followers sin in so many ways. Those sins have been true throughout history, yet the church has often thrived in spite of them.
To truly love Jesus means to understand how fallen, corrupt & sinful all of His followers are. To truly love Jesus means you understand that He died for us because of how fallen, corrupt & sinful we are. Christians don’t love Jesus because He’s such a nice guy. We love Him because He took the punishment that you & I deserve.
People who say they love Jesus, but not His followers, apparently think they are better than us. To truly love Jesus means you understand yourself as the apostle Paul did, when he wrote, “The saying is trustworthy & deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15 ESV)
The “cancel culture” in the U.S. wants to cancel anything they define as unacceptable behavior. It they truly loved Jesus they would realize that they need to begin with cancelling themselves, instead of others. That’s what submitting to the will of God is all about, it’s about surrendering our own will. It’s about cancelling our own will in order to accept the will of God. Cancelling my own will can also be seen as a form of repentance, because my will, apart from Christ, is always headed in the wrong direction – the direction away from the heavenly Father. To repent is to turn back to the Creator & to His will for our lives, whatever that will may be.
Jesus taught much about the will of His Father in the sermon on the mount. Hopefully, you recall these words, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, & then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5 ESV) It’s pretty clear there why the cancel culture has no use for the teachings of Jesus. He calls us to cancel ourselves first.
The apostle John explains why the cancel culture does not know, understand or love Christians, & it actually has nothing to do with our sins. The cancel culture does not know Jesus so it cannot know those who trust in & follow Jesus.
However, before we wash our hands of the cancel culture, we should remember that in the sermon on the mount, Jesus also teaches, “Love your enemies & pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44 ESV) Like St. Paul, we are the foremost of sinners, yet our calling is to love sinners as Jesus loved us.
That was demonstrated well back in the days of Martin Luther King Jr. The movement he led faced brutal opposition, yet Rev. King insisted upon non-violent protests. His followers paid a heavy price, as did Rev. King when he was murdered. In spite of that, they held to their principles & eventually won the sympathies of many across our nation.
Fighting fire with fire does nothing positive. Instead, it burns everything down, including the souls of those who practice it. That is the work of Satan. Anarchy is his goal. Might makes right is his motto. Cancelling good wherever it exists is the devil’s battle plan, & his work has become very apparent, in our day, all over this land.
The civil rights movement of the 1960s followed in the footsteps of Jesus. Christ led a non-violent movement against the false religious teachings, not just of the Jewish leaders in His day, but against the false teachings & against the false hearts of all mankind throughout history. His followers have often paid a heavy price, as did Jesus when He was executed.
It was Jesus’ mission to die for this world. It is our mission to die to this world, so that we may live in the next. To this day, Jesus longs to gather us together under His wings. He was born to peasants & spent His first night on earth in a manger. This arrival, in absolute humility, was designed to draw us to Himself in love.
Almighty God could have simply cancelled the entire human race, yet He became one of us in order to lead us back home. Now, He calls us to gather around His Word. It’s a Word that teaches – marriage is a relationship between one man & one woman for life.
It’s a Word that teaches – God designed & created everything there is out of nothing. And since God created our planet & everything in it, we should value all of it & take care of it simply because it is a gift to us from God.
Yahweh calls us to gather around a Word teaching that our battles are not against flesh & blood. Donald Trump is clearly not the enemy. Neither is the radical left. Those who are attacking God’s children are those who have rejected God’s teaching & therefore the very love & life that God offers on the cross & in the resurrection.
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is still reverberating through time. It is affecting our lives right now, this very moment. If Jesus did not rise from the dead there’d be no reason whatsoever for us to gather here this morning. Jesus’ suffering, death & resurrection have had a positive effect on our lives.
His resurrection is also reverberating through the hearts & minds of those who do not
trust in Jesus. Those who refuse to trust in the Creator find their identity in rebellion against Him & against His teachings. Because those who do trust in God are a constant reminder of the heavenly Father, those who refuse to trust in God also find their identity in rebellion against us & against the values & beliefs instilled in us by the Holy Spirit.
The world does not understand Christians, because it does not understand the nature & the love of the true & living God. Indeed, the world rejects its Maker in favor of itself & its own arrogant self-understanding. Rejecting God’s creation of the universe & substituting the theory of evolution is a classic example of mankind’s arrogance.
Until we are called to the glory of heaven, life in this sinful world is under the shadow of the cross. As Jesus taught in the Gospel of John:
“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you. They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the one who sent me.” (15:18-21 NLT)
The reality of the Cross in the Christian’s life must be taken seriously, but even under the Cross, God’s lavish love for the undeserving can still be seen. In 1900 the Boxer Rebellion erupted in China. Westerners gathered in Shanghai & other provincial capitals to seek asylum. There were daily reports of missionaries & faithful Chinese Christians brutally murdered.
Then came the blackest day of all. Up to 100 missionaries sought refuge in the courtyard of the Shansi governor, not knowing he was a leader in the uprising. All were executed. The question “Why?” trembled on the lips of more than one missionary. The need had been so great & now this waste.
In the grim stillness one missionary returned to his home 300 miles north. Soon, a stranger visited him. With his hard face & authoritarian bearing, he asked, “Do you remember the foreigners who sought protection from the governor of Shansi province?” The missionary replied, “I have heard.” The stranger sat silent a few minutes, then said, “I am captain of the bodyguard. I was in charge. To me, it was nothing. I am accustomed to killing. The governor does not like foreigners.”
“When they gathered at his door asking for protection, he replied, ‘I can protect you only by putting you in prison.’ So he put them in prison, but his hatred only grew. Then he gave me my orders. We led them out into the prison courtyard & lined them up. The governor told them they were all to be killed.” Scarcely breathing the missionary urged, “What happened next?”
The captain replied: “The strangest sight I have ever witnessed. Husbands & wives turned & kissed one another. Parents, smiling, spoke to their children of ‘Yesu,’ & pointed to heaven. There was no fear. They faced their executioners & began singing. And singing they died. When I saw how they faced death, I knew this ‘Yesu’ of whom they spoke must be God.”
“Can God forgive my so great sin? Is there nothing I might do to atone for my wrong?” The missionary thought of his close friend who’d been among those killed, & replied, “Our God, whom we serve, is a merciful God. Your sin is great, but God’s mercy is greater. This Jesus is His Son who came to earth to die for sinners like you. I too am a sinner.”
“Because Jesus died for you, God can forgive you.” The captain listened closely. Strange words these, to a mind schooled to hate, to kill: “Love… Forgive… Life.” What he understood he accepted. It was late when the captain left. The missionary sat thinking for a long time. Fresh in his mind were hundreds of new graves strewn across China.
But no more was he asking the anguished, “Why, Lord, this great waste?” The harvest had begun. God works in mysterious ways, which are often incomprehensible to us. If we truly respect Him as Lord & as God His incomprehensible ways will not be a problem for us. Yes, we may struggle. That too should be expected if we truly understand the depths of our sin. It’s not even wrong to ask, “Why?” but at some point we have to let it go & trust that God knows what He is doing & that He’s working all things together for the good of those who love Him. So John writes:
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, & what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” On the last day, once our bodies are raised or changed, sin will neither cloud our vision nor our ability to comprehend. We will most certainly recognize that day when it happens!
In this life, the unbelieving world will never understand us. The Holy Spirit has to convert them first, if they will allow Him to. And the reason why they will never understand us is that they do not know Jesus. Every day it is a blessing to thank our Lord that we do know Him & that He knows us. Amen.
O Christ, our hope, our hearts’ desire, Creation’s mighty Lord, Redeemer of the fallen world, by holy love outpoured: How vast Your mercy to accept the burden of our sin & bow Your head in cruel death to make us clean within. O let Your mighty love prevail to purge of our pride that we may stand before Your throne by mercy purified. Amen. LSB 553:1-2, 4.
2nd Sunday of Easter – B LSB # 469, TLH #207, LSB # 702
Text – John 20:24-25
Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands & put my finger where the nails were, & put my hand into His side, I will not believe it.”
UNLESS I SEE THE NAIL MARKS
March Madness just ended six days ago, & as usual, some of the games went right down to the wire, to the last second shot. Victory & defeat hung in the balance, waiting for the man with enough character to take that final shot.
During the 1990’s, Michael Jordan was the undisputed champion of the last second play. He had the nerves of steel required to put it up with confidence, in your face. Michael Jordan had no doubts about his ability to make the play. And he would do it over & over again, as often as necessary.
While playing for a championship, there are an endless number of challenges to a player’s character. They must adapt their offensive & defensive game; they must balance their ability to play aggressively or with patience. The coaches & players of the other team are always looking for new ways to attack the enemy, to unbalance their game, to drive them into defeat.
In consequence, there’re many opportunities to doubt. And whether you doubt your own ability, or that of your teammates, once you go down that road you’ve already lost the battle.
Our own daily experiences are filled with opportunities to doubt. Graduation is rapidly approaching for the high school & college seniors. Invisible in all the excitement of the last few weeks of school, are the countless number of new opportunities ahead, to succeed or to fail.
Along with those opportunities come the struggles between confidence & doubt. At one moment, you’ll be confident you made the right decision. The next moment you’ll doubt
that very same decision. The analogy that life is like a roller coaster comes from just those sorts of experiences.
Parents also struggle with confidence & doubt. Did they spend enough time with their child? Did they teach the correct values & priorities? Did they give the proper advice? Confidence & doubt – life alternates between them, no matter how much you work at smoothing out the cycles.
Psychologists believe that one the reason professional sports are so attractive is that the challenges of the game mirror the challenges of life. Yet, sporting events bring those challenges into a much sharper focus. Whether your team wins or loses, the key play of the game often becomes very obvious.
It can be discussed, argued & debated right down to the finest detail. You can watch it over & over again on instant replay. You can examine & dissect every aspect of what went right, or what went wrong; where your team succeeded or where it failed.
Unfortunately, real life is not the artificial world of professional sporting events. Real life doesn’t have referees watching every move. You can’t turn on the instant replay & run it over again to examine in detail what happened. There are no timeouts, & often no coaches to guide your decisions.
In our lives, few things are as clearly in focus as the key play of a big game. Whether you succeeded or failed commonly takes years to discover, & in our culture, where families are increasingly being separated, there are often not even teammates to lean on or to commiserate with. Confidence or doubt! PAUSE
Today’s gospel text deals with a man often referred to as “Doubting Thomas.” He struggled with confidence or doubt, & what we can learn from his struggles is not irrelevant to our lives. The struggles of Thomas are not just some dusty old story, from a gothic old book. Thomas did not have cameras, athletic trainers or agents to help him struggle with confidence & doubt. Thomas simply belonged to a rag-tag team of disciples that even Scripture records as failing more often than not. And their coach, well, He’d just been crucified.
No player had ever come back from that type of injury. Sure, they’d seen Jesus raise other people from the dead, but now He Himself had died. Who could possibly make that last second shot now? The game seemed to be over & the crowds were leaving.
This talk from His teammates about Jesus being alive certainly seemed like nothing more than wishful thinking. Doubt had won the battle in Thomas’ mind. Unless he saw the nail marks, he was not going to be duped into some fantastic story about a resurrection.
He himself had studied under God for three years. He’d lived with Him. He’d learned from Him. He’d been so confident in following Jesus, & now Jesus was dead. Three years appeared to have been totally wasted. That’ll do a number on anyone’s ability to place confidence in someone’s promises.
Have there been times when you have struggled with doubt? Do you have confidence in God’s promises to protect & save you from Covid? Do those questions play a role in your thinking, or do they seem irrelevant? Maybe you believe that you’re capable of taking care of yourself. Maybe you’ve never been admitted to the intensive care unit.
Our lives have very different stories, yet they also have much in common. Success & failure, confidence & doubt have entered each of our lives. Generally speaking, our stories are very similar to each other, & also very similar to the lives of Jesus’ disciples. We even have much in common with Adam & Eve.
How often have you seen something that looked too good to refuse? Others maybe
warned you about it, but you had all the answers. If you’ve ever been there, listen to Genesis 3:6, “…when [Eve] saw that the tree was good for food, & that it was a delight to the eye, & that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit & ate...”
Before Eve committed that sin she was holy. All of us can make mistakes, & some of them lead to severe consequences, either for us alone or for those with us. Once you’ve made a few of those, doubt can become a real problem. “Once bitten, twice shy” is a saying that comes from experience. It means that doubt has made its presence known.
And doubt easily leads to cynicism. Life in this sinful world can harden a person’s heart because this life is not fair. It’s not easy. There’re many things in this world that look good to us, but have the power to enslave or even kill. There are other things that, in spite of how delightful they look on the outside, will destroy our families.
Sin is not just some cute little problem we can wink at & laugh about off to the side. Sin has destroyed our world. It has destroyed God’s creation. The doubt we suffer with is merely a symptom of the rotting core within. Unless I see the nail marks, I will not believe!
Do you recognize that attitude? Have you experienced that cynicism in person? Faith is the opposite of doubt & cynicism, & faith is a gift from God. Eventually, Thomas does see the nail marks in Jesus’ hands, & Jesus tells him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen & yet have believed.” (John 20:29 ESV)
Is your doubt & cynicism causing you to wait until you see the nail marks in Jesus’ hands & feet? Each of us is waiting for the things that will satisfy our desires & needs. Yet, not all of those things will be good for us spiritually. Not all of those will be as harmless as we 1st think.
If things that are sinful were so obviously harmful, they would not be a temptation. They must “look good” on the outside in order to be tempting, but like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, on the inside our sinful desires will destroy us. Jesus tells us to let go of our sight, & to put our hopes in what we do not see. What we do not readily see is how God strengthens us through the miraculous power of His Word & Sacraments. It takes faith to see that. A cynical heart easily rejects them.
What we do not readily see is how God looks at the entire picture of our lives & works out all things to the good of those who love Him. It takes faith to see that. A cynical heart quickly becomes bitter & surrenders to despair.
Because God knows there will be times when things seem absolutely hopeless, He doesn’t require anything of us for our salvation. That’s why Jesus Christ did everything. He understands that no matter how good you are, no matter how often you attend church or study His Word, there will still be times when you are completely helpless.
If eternal life depended on us, in any way, we’d never get anything but eternal death.
Our promises to be faithful always fail, because we’re not capable of keeping them, not even with God’s help. The Son of God had to become man in order to keep our promises for us. He was faithful unto death, & out of His love for us, He then grants eternal life to all.
The only question remaining is, “Do you believe that?” Do you believe that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son? If you believe that it’s true, then you have eternal life, regardless of whether or not you keep any promises. PAUSE
The sort of love with no strings attached is difficult to believe. It’s a love so contrary to the kind we have for anyone; you can bet Satan will tempt you to doubt that it’s true. That’s why it’s important not to walk away from the relationship God has created with you. In that
Relationship God will shield you & protect you from doubt & unbelief.
Through the study of God’s Word, He will strengthen your faith & your will to resist
Satan’s temptations. He will remove your guilt, & the despair & cynicism that guilt brings. God will wash you to make you pure, & He will free you from the hopelessness of your sins. He’ll create in you a clean heart & renew a steadfast spirit within you, all by the grace of God in Christ Jesus, for it was in Christ that our sins were paid for.
It was in Christ that all of God’s law was perfectly kept. It is in Christ, that we are even now, perfect, holy & capable of pleasing God with our actions. Apart from Christ, we are nothing.
As Jesus came to Thomas & showed him the marks in His hands, He told Thomas to stop doubting & believe. That may sound too good to be true, but God is more powerful than all of our doubts. God is more faithful than all of our failures. Jesus was risen from the dead & Thomas declared it so with his strong confession, “My Lord & my God!”
Thomas did believe after all. Thomas did have faith in his Savior, & Scripture never mentions that Thomas put his finger in the nail marks. Merely the words of his Lord, “Stop doubting & believe,” were able to create & sustain belief even in the heart of a doubting Thomas. Amen.
Like the golden sun ascending, breaking through the gloom of night, on the earth His glory spending so that darkness takes to flight, thus my Jesus from the grave & Death’s dismal cave rose triumphant Easter morning at the early purple dawning. Though I be by sin o’ertaken, though I lie in helplessness, though I be by friends forsaken & must suffer sore distress, though I be despised, contemned & by all the world condemned, though the dark grave yawn before me, yet the light of hope shines o’er me. Amen. TLH 207:1, 3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet