Tuesday, January 31, 2023

You Are My Child; In You, I Am Well-Pleased

Text: 2 Peter 1:16-21 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

"This is my Son, whom I love; with Him, I am well-pleased."

These were the words spoken on that mountain one day long ago when sunlight poured from the face of Jesus. That day, Jesus' clothes were filled with light. And suddenly, a bright, radiant cloud came over them with a voice sound from deep in the cloud, 

"This is my Son, whom I love, the focus of my delight!"

Dear friends, that day, Jesus' glory over sin and death was on display. Furthermore, God the Father showed His complete and total approval of the person and work of Jesus. It was a grand display of divine glory and a grand announcement that God the Father was well-pleased with Jesus. 

Now, keep in mind that when the Father said that he was 'well-pleased,' this was not a mere emotional sentiment or a favorable job review, 

"Jesus, I like who you are and your personality. You've got great charisma and nice charm. It's neat what you are doing for the whole human race. Keep it up; go get 'em, Tiger."

No, this is not what is meant when the Father said that He was well-pleased. Instead, when the Father publicly announced from that bright, radiant cloud, "I am well-pleased," He was showing total and complete approval of the person and work of Jesus. To be well-pleased with Jesus meant no distance between Jesus and the Father. It also meant that nothing else was needed; Jesus was doing exactly what needed to be done, and He was exactly whom He needed to be. The Father publicly affirmed His approval of Christ, and the divine glory of Jesus was confirmed to the disciples that everything they needed hinged on the person and work of Jesus.

And so, as we consider our readings from the Gospel of Matthew and 2 Peter, we would do well to be encouraged by the words of the Father being well-pleased with Jesus. Furthermore, we should be taken aback by the appearance and glory of Jesus – Him shining like the radiant sun. 

But if this is all that we take away from today, I'm afraid we have missed the Gospel that speaks and shines forth for you and me.  

You see, dear friends, when we look into this world, we see a dark world of death and decay, as well as a long list of disapproval. I am certainly not trying to be a pessimist. Rather, I am trying to be realistic. This world that we live in is a vale of tears. In other words, this world is sunk in tribulation after tribulation, hardship after hardship, with tears that come down like rain. As a person in the hospital said to me this last week, 

 "Pastor, life is cruel, and it is tough. It isn't fair."  

Indeed, there is a daily grind in this world. Every day that we live, these bodies don't shine but deteriorate. And to make things worse, there is such a critical spirit in this world. Whether it is your school, your job, or your local neighborhood, there is not a day that goes by where you and I are not slandered behind our backs or fail somehow in our duties and responsibilities to others. The point is, when we look deeply into this world – the vale of tears – we see a world of death and decay. And when we listen to this world, what we hear is a very critical world that takes special notice of all life's failures. Though we never support or encourage suicide, part of me gets it. Back in 2008, when the American novelist, David Foster Wallace, killed himself, many people said, "I get it." 

If the only thing in this life is decay and death, and if the only thing the world does is speak disappointment and disapproval into your ears, what is worth living for? What is so important to keep on truckin'?

I suppose this is the part of the sermon that I could say, 

 "Jesus is light in the darkness. Look at Jesus. There's always a bright spot in every dark cloud."  

 I could also say, 

 "Listen to what the Father said about Jesus. In this world of disapproval, the Father approves of Jesus."  

While this is fine and dandy and refreshing to hear, what does it have to do with you and me? Dear friends, listen up! It actually has everything to do with you and me.  

In today's Collect – our opening prayer – we prayed that we would be made co-heirs with King Jesus in heaven. In other words, Jesus had a body just like yours and mine that was subject to the suffering of this world. However, with His body, Jesus lit up with glory. That is to say, when we look at the transfigured Jesus in full glory, we get a small glimpse of the future glory of our bodies when we are resurrected from the grave. Did you hear that? Seeing sunlight pouring from Jesus' face and light coming from Jesus' body gives you a sneak peek of what it will be like on the great last day when death will no longer have any dominion over your body. 

Baptized Saints, yes, this life is hard and full of decay and death. However, there is hope beyond this life. Seeing Jesus full of glory gives you a sneak peek that you, too, will have a glorified body at the great resurrection. And so, this means quite literally that we can despise death and look upon death as a tiny sleep for just a little while.  

Baptized Saints, what do you have to fear in death and suffering when Jesus shines like the sun for you and is white as light to enlighten you? Nothing! There is nothing to fear in life or death when you compare it to the future life you have in Christ with a resurrected and glorified body. The appearance of Jesus lighting up like the sun proves that sin has been overcome for you and me. It proves that death has been overcome for you and me.  

 And there is more for you. In today's Collect – our opening prayer – we thanked God that the voice from the bright cloud wonderfully foreshowed our adoption by grace. In other words, when you were baptized, you were not baptized into nothing. No, you were baptized into Christ. Your Baptism not only connects you to the transfigured Christ – clothing you with the brightness of Christ – but your Baptism makes the words spoken to Jesus - words that are spoken to you as well.  

Baptized Saints, do you realize that God the Father is well-pleased with you this day? He is well-pleased with you, not because of what you think, say, or do. No, He is well-pleased with you because you have been hidden with Christ. Obviously, you and I are not God's son as Jesus is, but God still says of you through Christ: 

 "You are My child, My beloved. In you, I am well-pleased."

And so, because your Jesus is not only your Savior from death but also your Savior from sin - that means that there is no distance between you and the Father. Even though this world rarely speaks any words of kindness, you need not worry, for in Christ, God delights in you as His redeemed child. In Christ, nothing else is needed for God's approval. In Christ, you have the Father's good pleasure.  

Baptized Saints, what slander of the world do you have to fear when you have the full favor of God in Christ Jesus? Nothing! There is nothing to fear in the rants, slander, and rhetoric of mankind when you compare it to the approval of God that you have in Christ this day. Again, the approval of the Father is your approval because Jesus belongs to you, and you belong to Him in your baptisms.  

Baptized Saints, in Christ's transfiguration, you have the promise of eternal life beyond the grave. Through Christ, you have God's approval beyond the world's critical slander. In Christ, we see God's glory and hear God's voice. In Christ, you have God's glory and God's voice,  as you journey through this vale of tears with hope, assurance, and joy.  

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Seven Statements On Evil

Text: Romans 12:16-21

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

What do we do with the problem of evil in the world?  

Well, for starters, you and me need to acknowledge that evil exists.  All too often in society, some individuals find it just easier to pretend that evil does not exist.  They conveniently forget the history of evil and easily turn a blind eye to the present evil in our world.  For them, evil is scary.  And so, it is just easier to put a head in the sand and think happy thoughts.  Now, this works fine for these individuals until evil inflicts them personally.  Then, they face enormous difficulties.  

And so, for the sake of this sermon, the first thing we should do with the problem of evil is to acknowledge that it exists.  

Secondly, if evil exists (which it does), it is important to define what evil is.  Tragically, though, much of America defines evil on the basis of feelings.  For example, if something brings pleasure, it is good, and if it brings pain, it is evil.  However, feelings are a lousy guide to discerning what is evil.  The reason is; what brings one person pleasure can bring another person pain.  And so, we cannot use our feelings, opinions, or thoughts as a basis to define what is evil.  Instead, Christians listen to God's Word to hear what is evil.   For example, what we think, say, and do must be measured against the 10 Commandments.  And so, if something breaks God’s Law – it is evil.  If it follows God’s Law – it is good.  

Now, you don’t have to be a highly educated sociologist and theologian to realize that the reason why so many people do not like the Ten Commandments is that the Ten Commandments reveal evil to you, me, and our culture.  And as we know, when we do evil, we don’t like being called out or caught red-handed.  So, logically, if we can get rid of the Ten Commandments, evil gets a hall pass while we convince everyone around us that we are actually doing good.  

There is another aspect to this as well.  Calling something evil that is really evil is not breaking the 8th Commandment.  Too often in the church, we get frustrated and accuse one another of breaking the 8th Commandment when we label another Christian’s public evil actions as evil.  In other words, if a pagan or a Christian does evil in the light of day where everyone sees it, labeling their actions as evil is neither slander nor is it gossip.  The 8th Commandment calls us to put the best construction on everyone around us; however, it does not compel us to falsely label evil as good.  Again, putting the best construction does not mean that we pretend evil does not exist or act in a way that we incorrectly label evil as good – when it is really evil.  

Thirdly, with the problem of evil, the Apostle Paul tells us in the Epistle of Romans that we are to hate evil.  We need to be perfectly clear on this point.  We live in a time that we are told that tolerance is a virtue of being a good citizen.  However, the Apostle Paul states the exact opposite.  He states that the mark of a true Christian is that the Christian hates - that is, loathes and abhors - evil!  To make sure we understand the Apostle Paul, Paul could have used a word that meant ‘dislike’ or a word that meant ‘internal disgust.’  However, Paul used a particular word that means the Christian is to publicly express hatred and separation from that which is evil.  In other words, as a Christian, you should have zero tolerance for evil.  Your body should recoil with disgust, and your words should call out evil when you encounter it. 

But this is where things get messy.  You see, in our world, evil demands that it be tolerated.  Yes, evil demands that you and I tolerate it in the name of love.  However, we often do not know that once evil becomes dominant, well… it attacks that which is good.  As a theologian once said, 
“Evil preaches tolerance until it is dominant, then it tries to silence the good.” 
But you, dear Christian, you are not to tolerate evil – not even for a second.  The Christian is to hate what is evil while holding on to that which is good.  

Fourthly, the Apostle Paul tells us in our reading from the Epistle of Romans that we are not to repay evil for evil.  In other words, we don’t hit back..  When evil is done to you, that never gives you and me the justification to use evil in return.  But does this mean that we Christians are to be doormats?   Contrary to what many pacifists say, Paul is not saying that we have to continually be a doormat.  Instead, what Paul is saying is that so far as it is possible, you and I should live peaceably, not returning evil for evil.  However, there will be times when a fight breaks out and is forced upon you as a Christian – when truth, righteousness, justice, and duty demand that you defend yourselves just as Jesus defended himself in the palace of the high priest.  But as long as it is possible, you are to maintain peace with all people – not return evil for evil.  

Fifthly, the Apostle Paul says that we Christians are to not retaliate and seek revenge for the evil that has been committed against us.  That is to say, the Christian is never to be the one who picks the fight or sets out with anger like a wild beast to settle the scores.  We Christians understand that wrath does not belong to us but belongs to God.  And so, Paul tells us that when evil is committed against us, we are to leave room for the wrath of God – to allow God’s vengeance to repay the sins of those around us either through the proper authorities or ultimately at the end the age.  

Dear friends, too often, we resist letting go of vengeance.  However, we must take note that when we don’t retaliate against an enemy – when we take our ball and go home - it has a way of dumping hot coals on our enemy’s head.  When we don’t retaliate against an enemy, we leave them stirred in their sin, unable to swing at us.  They are left in their hatred, anger, and disgust with no enemy to fight and no one to stir up their drama.  They are left in the poison of their hatred, which God’s wrath often uses to drive them to repentance and sorrow.  

Sixthly, Paul tells you and me not to let evil get the best of us.  Instead, we are to get the best of evil by doing good.  You see, by doing good, you demonstrate to evil that you are not subject to it.  By doing good to evil, you are taking away evil’s justification to hurt you.  By doing good to evil, you show that your conscience is clean and that you belong to another.  By doing good, you will heap hot coals on heads – binding people’s consciences… leaving them with the burden that they are attacking kindness, love, and compassion.  

And finally, what Jeremiah tells us is the biggest thing we can learn about evil.  Jeremiah states,
  "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked – evil."   
You see, there is a great problem with evil in our world, no doubt about it.  However, that same evil that we see in the world is closer than we think.  It is right here in our very own hearts as well.  Perhaps that is the greatest thing we can learn today.  Evil is around us and is right here in our hearts, which means that it needs to be recognized, defined, and confessed so that we may not judge the evil of the world while still having a large plank of hypocrisy in our eyes.  

Dear friends, evil does exist, and it must be defined and confronted, for if there is no such thing as evil, then Christ died for nothing.  But because there is evil, you, I, and our neighbor need a Savior.  

Dear friends, you and I can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice.  But God put His love on the line for you and me by offering His Son in sacrificial death while we were evil and of no use whatsoever to Him.     

And so, all evil belongs to Jesus’ forgiveness.  You are in Christ, which means that evil finds its end in Jesus’ bloody death on your behalf. 

And for those who scorn the cross of Christ, well… their evil still belongs to Jesus – Jesus’ vengeance on the last day.  

May the Lord preserve us as we walk through this vale of tears, resting in Christ’s forgiveness for us until the last day when evil is put away for good so that we can rest in perfect harmony with another in the presence of the Lord Almighty.  

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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