City of Peace

Right now we fight the good fight, and run the race laid out for us as a part of the church militant. Today we remember those who are in the church triumphant, right now, with the Lord at the marriage feast of the Lamb.

Repeat the battle cry of the Archangel

16th Sunday of Pentecost, the Festival of St. Michael and All Angels. Why celebrate this festival of St. Michael and all angels? And why if Michael is an angel do we call him a saint?
What we are doing is not teetering into Catholicism by worshiping angels. Rather this service is a distinctly Christian thing to do. We are reminded today that our Lord Jesus commands his angels concerning us. Calling the archangel Michael a “saint” is not worshiping him. Rather, this fits well the definition of what a saint is, namely someone who is forever in God’s holy presence in heaven. It is in His presence we all will be one day with all the saints of God. There we will dwell and serve our God with his angels forever in glory!

HOPE

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First Wednesday of Advent
Titus 2:11-14

11For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Hope Trumps Optimism

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First Sunday in Advent
Luke 21:25-36

Intro:

Are you familiar with the book Utopia? It was written many years ago by a guy named Thomas More.  Utopia is a fictional tale of a made up land where farming was the most sought after occupation.  Where people got along.  Where people knew their place in society.  People had religious differences but the sorted them out amicably.  The idea of money was despised.  In fact if there were criminals in the Land of Utopia, they were shackled by golden chains.  All in all, people got along, they helped one another, they were selfless.  Seemingly, quite a rosy and optimistic concept

I think many in our society would crave living in such a harmonious place where cares and worries were easily taken care of and folks just got along and hardship was limited or nonexistent. I mean, how often don’t you hear someone say, “It’s 2018 and we haven’t solved world hunger yet?  We haven’t stamped out racism of any and all kinds yet?” But Thomas More was a smart guy.  He realized how unrealistic such a place was.  He put the great irony of the book right in the title.  Utopia.  It’s a made up Greek word and it means “No Place.”  Thomas More realized the Utopia cannot exist in this world. He realize that such optimism was unfounded.

But I’m obviously not up here today to talk to you about a book or a fictitious society that was dreamed up in the 1500s!  It’s the season of Advent!  It’s a season of anticipation and a season of Hope!  And not just a rosy optimistic outlook on the future or the coming year, but real God given hope.

This is where the Holy Spirit would center our thoughts for this morning – He directs us to be watchful and careful so that our Hope Always Trumps Optimism.

CONTEXT:

See, as usual, as we ponder the Word of our Savior Jesus here in Luke 21 it’s helpful to consider where and when he said this.  It was holy week, mere days before Jesus’ crucifixion.  He and his disciples are walking the streets of Jerusalem. And his disciples are marveling at the massive and beautiful stones of the temple!

 

Part 1: Watch

As they saw that huge structure, as they marveled at the construction, the weight and size of those blocks – they were also pondering something else, as well.  They are musing and day dreaming about their very own Jewish Utopia.

And let’s not be to hard on them!  We might have done the same thing in their sandals!  They had just came into the city, their capital city, with their Lord Jesus!  The rightful Heir of King David!  At the moment, from their perspective they thought they were watching their rosy optimistic vision of the future come true!

Here Jesus kind of dumps a bucket of cold water over their head.  In so many words, Jesus tells them, “You know, a day will come when not one of these Stones is left on the other?” What a sock in the gut!  “The optimistic future you’re hoping for, it won’t happen!”

Instead Jesus directs there minds and their eyes to where they should be.  That they should be watching not with an earthly optimism, but they should be watching the world with a Godly hope.  He says a time will come when not just the stones on that temple will be upset, but all creation would be in confusion!  There would be signs or wonders in the sun moon and stars, nations would quake in fear and the heavens would be shaken!  He wanted them to watch those things like the changing of seasons, as he says, “Look at the fig tree and all the trees.30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”

APPLICATION
Watch your future with Hope!  As though you are watching the seasons change.  This is what you and I are directed to think about here when we see a country in turmoil.  When we here of tragedy.  You know that for about 93% of it’s existence our country has been at war – fighting in some way shape or form for 242 years!  And not a single year goes by without some devastating natural disaster.

And yea, our country our society is not what it used to be.  I’m still rather young, and it’s not the nation that I grew up in as a kid.  So I can’t imagine the change that has happened, or the change that many of you who are older than me have witnessed.

I think that just goes to prove Jesus’ point, that he makes to his disciples here!  No matter how optimistic we might be about our immediate future, Utopia is nowhere!  As you watch a changing world remember that your Hope always Trumps optimism.

And what is that hope exactly?  Jesus says, “28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  This is what the season of Advent is all about!  It’s a season of anticipation!  Not just for Christmas time and presents.  Not just because we have an optimistic outlook on the coming new calendar year.  Advent is a season of anticipation and Joy as we are reminded that Jesus is coming again!  That is our great Hope, our great anticipation!  Just as the ancient Hebrew people Hoped for a promised savior to take away sin – and he came!  We hope for the second Advent, and we can have the same surety, the same certainty that he will come again. Not to carry the weight of sin in humility – but in glory to bring his people home.  Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”  Let your hope in him trump all earthly optimism.

Part 2. Take Care!

How timely all these words to the disciples would have been!  They’re in holy week! In a few short days, unbeknownst to them – at the moment – their whole world is about to be turned upside down!  In a very short time.  All the cares and worries of this world and this life would mean very little to them – if anything at all.  Jesus says, ““Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.”

Jesus wanted them to take care and be mindful of the things that were going on in the next few days.  Because not even the last day, but for many of the disciples Good Friday would come upon them like a trap.  They would flee and deny and hide out in fear.  Their optimism for a better future here on earth with their friends, and lives and families would be shattered.

APPLICATION:

In our daily lives we fret and worry about a great many things.  We are always seemingly driving at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the here and now.  But should the Lord come back, should we find our selves on our dying bed – think about how little our earthly accomplishments really matter.  I’m not trying to give everyone here an existential crisis – or I don’t know maybe I am!  The point is, do our lives reflect the fact that the Lord could come back at any time?  Or are we always so focused on this life, on our optimism for our future? What happens when those things don’t work out?  What happens when our optimism is shattered?  Jesus says take care!  Jesus talks about drunkenness here – I don’t think that is so much a denunciation of drinking as it is a call to have a sober mind.  And ultimately how do we do that?

We stay in the Word, His words that endure even though heaven and earth should pass away!  His Words that remind us of our real hope, our sure hope.

CONCLUSION:

Brothers and sisters, you know life between the two Advents of Christ is not easy!  There are plenty of hardships, suffering, and strife – especially for the Christian.  Yet, because of Jesus and the Hope we have in his 2nd Advent – we can endure!  We can live joyful and purposeful lives. We know that Utopia is nowhere on this side of Glory.  That peace and harmony is found only in Heaven. Believers have more than optimism for the future.  We have Hope in Christ.  So watch and take care!  And always let your hope in Him trump optimism for this life. Amen.

Jesus, Our Great High Priest!

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Ash Wednesday
Hebrews 1:1-3

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, access is a big part of our lives, isn’t it? We lock the doors of our home so that only those with entrust with a key can have access, we don’t want just anyone entering our homes. We put passwords on our online accounts so that only we who have the password can have access to our accounts, we don’t want just anyone looking at our information. We put locks on our safes or our gun cabinets so that only we have access to those things so that children can’t get in and be harmed. Access is a big part of our lives, isn’t it? Well, “access” was kind of the function of the Old Testament High Priest.

Over and over again in the OT God taught His people that their sins separated them from Him. The key individual who had access with God to intervene on your behalf was the High Priest.  In the Old Testament house of worship there were two rooms, the holy place and the most holy place. Only priests were allowed in the holy place and no one was allowed in the Most Holy Place behind a massive curtain except the High Priest one day a year – on the great day of Atonement. We’ve tried to illustrate this here at St. Mark’s by placing a curtain over our back window. It’s a visible illustration that our sins separate us from God, our sins block our access with God. So, in the Old Testament, if you sinned or did something wrong, you couldn’t just go to God to ask for forgiveness. You went to the High Priest. The High Priest would offer a sacrifice on your behalf to restore you with God again. The High Priest had a limited access to God, he was the go-between, the intermediary, between the people and God.

But the office of High Priest in the Old Testament was only meant to be a picture of the ultimate Great High Priest. All the old Testament priests were themselves sinners, they had to offer sacrifices for their own sins, their work was never complete, they had to offer sacrifices for sins again and again and again, and they kept dying and so another high priest had to take over. But they were to be a foreshadow of the ultimate Great High Priest who is Jesus. The truth we’re going to focus on this Lenten season in our midweek services is that we HAVE, right now, a Great High Priest. Tonight we’ll focus on Jesus is our Great High Priest because He is qualified, through Him we are purified, and with Him we’ll be glorified. Qualified, purified, and glorified.

First, qualified. The OT high priests had special qualifications to serve in that capacity. He had to be from the tribe of Levi, the family of Aaron, had to be without physical deformity or defect, had to marry the right kind of woman, he could not attend funerals, had to wear certain garments. But what about our Great High Priest? We’re told, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” Throughout the OT God spoke to great men – Moses, David, Isaiah – great men, but just great men. They were given bits and pieces, each providing a piece of the puzzle, but when all those pieces were put together the picture was of Jesus. If people listened to those prophets, how much more so shouldn’t we listen to Jesus! He is God’s own eternal Son! “Whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” Wow! Consider Jesus! Heir of all things, Maker of the universe, radiance of God’s glory, exact representation of His being, sustainer of all things! The point is, don’t turn a deaf ear to him. Jesus is fully qualified to be our Great High Priest to tell us of heavenly things- listen to him!

Second, purified. One of the most important things that the High Priest did in the OT was provide purification for the sins of the people. On the Great Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16 God tells us that the result of all the elaborate rituals that were involved with the Day of Atonement were this: “On this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins.” But here, what are we told about Jesus? “After he provided purification for sins.” Interestingly, the OT priest, who normally wore fancy clothes, on the day of Atonement would actually put on different clothes, simple clothes, probably was covered in blood and dirt from the sacrifices and looked more like a slave than a king.

And isn’t that the picture we get of Jesus? On the night before Jesus died, he took off his outer clothes, got down on his hands and knees and washed the disciples’ feet purifying them from the accumulated dust and dirt. But there’s more than just meets the eye. It was a foreshadowing of another purification Jesus was about to provide hours away on the cross. When Peter objected to Jesus washing his feet, what did Jesus say? “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” We need to be washed, purified, cleansed of more than our feet, but of our sin.

That’s what Ash Wednesday is all about. The ashes are an outward sign of what’s in our hearts. Dirt, dust, and ashes. The pride, the arrogance, the selfishness, the sins of our lives has stained us with a stains no detergent, soap, or anything we do can get out. It’s a spot that won’t go away. But that’s why we need Jesus, our Great High Priest. He went to the cross to be pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin. The blood of Jesus applied to our hearts, our mouths, our hands, our feet by faith cleanses us from all sins. Wash me, Lord, and I will be clean! Our qualified High Priest has purified us.

And finally, with him we’ll be glorified. “He sat down a the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” Jesus’ exaltation to the right hand of God confirms to us that His work of purifying us from sins is completed. But the incredible thing is that Jesus’ exaltation wasn’t just for him- it’s for us too. It’s meant to inspire us that Jesus is right now preparing for us a place in glory. God knows our weaknesses, God knows how difficult  life is here on earth, God knows how difficult it is to deny ourselves and follow Christ’s example through life in this world, so He promises us a place with Him in glory, we can be assured that because of the qualified Great High Priest, because He has purified us from all sin, so we will one day, in due time be glorified with Him forever in heaven.

We may have very limited access in this world, but because of the work of our Great High Priest Jesus, we have complete, perfect, total access to God forever in heaven. What grace! Amen.

Inseparable!

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11th Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 8:35-39

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, do you know what a “deathtrap” is? Now that word can be used in any number of situations, but perhaps the most familiar we are with such a concept is in either movies or books. A “deathtrap” as I understand it, is a literary plot device that puts a good character or hero or actor that you sympathize with into a very dangerous and lethal situation. You know, it’s the scene where the person is walking blindly into a very precarious situation. You as the viewer see all the dangers and threats and schemes that the enemy has put into place to trap the unsuspecting hero or heroine. Such a plot device builds tension and creates anticipation and makes you almost want to yell at the screen, “Don’t do it! Go back! They’re going to get you!” It fills you with fear as you sympathize with the character or anger as you think, “Don’t be so dumb! Can’t you see what’s going to happen??” It’s a device used both in all kinds of literature and movies for both children and adults. A deathtrap.

But have you considered the fact that, in a way, we’re all living in such a “deathtrap”? There’s so much that we can’t see about our own lives. We don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring, we don’t know horrible accident is going to happen to us or one of our loved ones, we don’t know what illness or disease or sickness is waiting for us, we don’t know what’s going to happen with nuclear bombs or threats of war, are we like the character in the movie walking around in the midst of danger? But, far worse, is the fact that we can’t see what Satan and all of his demons have planned for us. Every day they are planning and scheming and devising deathtraps not just for our bodies but for our souls! The devil wants nothing less than to rip us away from God, to get us to doubt God, to weaken in our faith, and finally to no longer believe, that’s his goal. Martin Luther, in his explanation of the Lord’s Supper, said this, “Now, what is the devil? Nothing else than what the Scriptures call him: a liar and murderer. A liar who entices the heart away from God’s Word and blinds it, making you unable to feel your need or to come to Christ. A murderer who begrudges you every hour of your life. If you could see how many daggers, spears, and arrows are aimed at you every moment, you would be glad to come to the sacrament as often as you can. The only reason we go about so securely and heedlessly is that we neither imagine nor believe that we are in the flesh, in the wicked world, or under the kingdom of the devil.

One of the truths of the Reformation is that God does not lie. All of Scripture is true. Even when- and especially when – God’s Word seems to contradict our reason and logical skills. What we’re looking at is one of the most comforting sections of Scripture. We need to take it in all seriousness, to trust in it with all earnestness.

But at the same time the Bible also clearly states that we can fall from faith. The Bible does not teach the error “once converted always converted.” The Bible doesn’t teach that if we can prove that we were saved at one point in life, then we’re good, we’re safe. Perhaps functionally a lot of people live that way. They may call themselves Christian, they may have grown up in the church, may have gone to Sunday School when they were young, but have “outgrown” church, they have very little to do with God’s Word and are busy with their lives. They think, “I’m good with God. I’m going to heaven.” When in reality they’re going to hell.

Perhaps there’s also a warning here for us. The Bible makes it very clear that we can fall from faith. The Bible gives numerous examples of people who were believers but then fell away. The Bible tells us “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Cor 10:12). The Bible describes people who believe for a while but “in the time of testing they fall away.” (Luke 8:13) The Bible talks about some who have “rejected… and so have shipwrecked their faith” (1 Tim 1:19). The Bible clearly tells us that we can fall from the faith and be lost eternally. It’s horridly scary to think about the deathtrap we’re in every day or to think about times when we have indeed fell away, when we’ve rejected God’s Word and knowingly and pridefully flung ourselves headlong into sin.

But the Bible also clearly teaches the truths of our verses and many others. The Bible tells us “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear” (1 Cor 10:13). Jesus said, “No one can snatch them (his believers) out of my hand.” (John 10:28) “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6). And then words our text, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any power, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” What are we to make of this?

On the one hand, God clearly says that we can fall from the faith, lose our faith, and die eternally in hell. On the other hand, the Bible also clearly states God’s promises that God will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, no one shall pluck you out of the Savior’s hand, and nothing will separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus!

Isn’t this a contradiction? It may be a contradiction to our minds, but it’s exactly what contradictory hearts like ours need to hear. Here’s the truth: The very person who is convinced that he can fall, that he may fall, that he is in great danger of falling away throughout his earthly life, can also be perfectly sure that he will never fall away.

Our hearts have such a contradiction in them. Our hearts are still terribly wicked, even though we’re Christian. There’s a part of us that wants to think, “I’m good, don’t worry, I’m fine, I can do it on my own, I’ll never fall away, I’ll never lose my faith.” So, we need to hear the serious and earnest warnings that God gives us: We can fall!

But our hearts are also timid, scared and weak and we desperately need reassurance. When I’m scared, when I think that I’m going to fall, when I’m afraid I’m not going to make it or afraid I’ll lose my faith and be lost eternally. My extremity is God’s opportunity. When I am weak, then I am strong. For when I know that I can’t stand on my own, that I cannot persevere on my own, that I am helpless on my own, then the Lord comes to me and says no one shall pluck me from His hand, nothing will separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We face many things, trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword. The word trouble is “pressure” anything that presses down on us, hardship is distress caused by pressures, sicknesses and surgeries, family problems and financial burdens, persecution – either physical or, perhaps more what we’re used to, psychological against you for believing God’s Word, danger and sword – constant threat to our bodies on the small scale- robbery or theft, and on the large scale to wars and nuclear threats. And all these threats are just like believers in the OT faced – deathtraps all day long.

But what is God’s blessed assurance for us? “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” “More than conquerors” that phrase implies a comparison. You take all the threats, all the dangers, all the deathtraps that our enemies have lodged against us on one side and weigh that against God’s love for us in Christ and we come out more than conquerors. God’s steadfast love for us demonstrated most clearly in sending Jesus to be crucified for our sins and raising him from the dead for our justification proves God’s eternal love for us and assuring us that the outcome for every believer is always and only victory.

And then 10 non-separators are listed as not being able to separate us from God’s love: neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, and finally, lest we think there was a loophole or lest we think something was missed, “nor anything else in all creation” will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. What incredible comfort!

We might be the characters walking around with deathtraps designed by our enemies all over, but, look at the words that God, who does not lie, tells you, receive the assurance of God’s forgiving, pardoning, eternal love for you in the Sacrament this morning and be assured: NOTHING will be able to separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Given to the Lord

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7th Sunday of Easter
1 Samuel 1:21-28

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear people of God, What are you sacrificing for? We make sacrifices all the time for a greater good, don’t we? Let me explain: If you’re planning to take an expensive vacation or buy a new boat or get a new car or purchase a new home or whatever, you have to make sacrifices. You decide not to buy any and everything that you’d like, you might decide not to go out to eat so much, you might decide to not take a vacation one year so you can have a better one the next year- you make sacrifices for the greater good. Those sacrifices become the means to achieve a greater goal. It’s also why we’re celebrating what we’re celebrating this weekend. This weekend we’re honoring those men and women in our armed forces who are or were willing to sacrifice many things – even their lives – for the greater good of preserving the ideals and values that our nation holds dear, particularly our freedoms. Their own lives become the means to the end goal of preserving our nation’s freedoms.

We do this sort of thing all the time in our lives, don’t we? We make sacrifices for a greater goal. And, yet, so often for some not-so-honorable goals. We might have an end goal in life of being able to retire and be financially sound or have a lot of money, but what are we willing to sacrifice for that end goal? Our marriage? Our relationship with our children? Our health? All those things- marriage, children, health – have become the means to the end goal of money. Or, we might have a goal of being popular or well-liked by many people, but what are we willing to sacrifice for that? Our values? Our faith? Compromise and do things we know are wrong or sinful?

What we have here in our text this morning is an end goal switch in Hannah’s heart that makes all the difference. Let’s look at: Hannah’s hurt Hannah’s hope, our hurt, our hope

To understand our text we have to first understand that this is part of a larger account. You see, we’re told right away that Hannah’s husband Elkanah had two wives. Now, perhaps you’ve noticed that this comes up a number of times in the Old Testament and perhaps you’ve struggled a bit with these polygamous marriages that we see in the Bible. But if you ever come away from one of these texts and think that God is condoning polygamy, you’re not reading it. Every time that it comes up we see it bring just incredible disaster and hardship and problems to families. This is one of those times.

Hannah could not have children, Peninnah – Elkanah’s other wife – could. So, Peninnah mocks and taunts and ridicules Hannah and Hannah is devastated, she weeps, she can’t eat, she’s crying all the time. Now, why is Hannah so devastated? We have to understand the context of this time. At this time both family and society depended on women having children. First, the more children you had, the more money you had. More children meant more workers the family had in the field. The more workers, the greater prosperity you enjoyed. Secondly, the more children you had, the greater chances you could live into old age with some degree of comfort. They, of course, didn’t have social security or 401ks, so older people were cared for by their children. And lastly, your country needed a lot of children because the more children the country had the more people it had, the more people, the greater the army. If your army was larger than the enemy, it was more likely that you would win. So, women who had children were viewed as heroes, they were patriots.

So, NOT being able to have children was essentially equal to hopelessness. It meant no foreseeable future for your family, for yourself, or for your nation. And that’s what Peninnah reminded Hannah of over and over again.  To them in that culture having a family was the ultimate thing. But every culture has a value system, it does this to something, it makes something the ultimate thing so that if you don’t have it, you’re nothing, you’re worthless. Perhaps today it’s achievement, prosperity, or popularity – if you don’t have it, you’re considered less and not important.

So that was Hannah’s hurt. But what did she do? She made a resolve. Once, while the family was at Shiloh- where the tabernacle was, Hannah made a resolve, she went to the tabernacle, prayed to the Lord and made a vow that if the Lord should give her a son, she would give her son to the Lord to serve him for his whole life. He would become a Nazirite. Now, at first, it seems like she’s making some kind of a deal with God: Give me a son and I’ll give him to you. But that would still be making having a child the ultimate thing and God just a means to that end. But that’s not what Hannah did. You see, after she made this vow to the Lord, she went home, she ate, and she was no longer downcast. In other words, she had peace. If it was a bargain she was making with God it would have gone like this: prayer, pregnancy, and then peace. But it doesn’t work that way. She has peace before she gets pregnant. And she promises to give her son to the Lord. Should the Lord give her a son, she would give her son to be a non-Levitical priest, a Nazirite. This meant that her son would live in God’s house from the time he was very little – probably 3 years old. That means she wouldn’t have a son to show off to all the people, he wouldn’t be there – he’d be at the tabernacle. That means she wouldn’t have a son so that the family could prosper, the son would be doing the Lord’s work. That means she wouldn’t have a son to have some financial security because he’s gone, he’s dedicated to service in God’s house.

And so, can you picture it? They are on their way to Shiloh- Elkanah has a massive 3 year old bull that he’s leading – which would have been a huge sacrifice for a farmer, and Hannah is leading her little 3 year old boy hand in hand to give him to the Lord. Wow! How could she do that? How could she give up her son like that? Well, this is what changed in Hannah- she says, “I’m not going to rest my heart in what society says, I’m not going to rest my heart in culture or in my husband’s love or in the desire to have a child, I’m going to rest my heart in the Lord, I’m putting my hope in the Lord.” No longer is she wanting a child for her, but for the Lord. She doesn’t want a child for her sake, but for the Lord’s sake. God is no longer the means to the end of having a child, but having a child is the means to the end of glorifying the Lord. See the difference? Israel was a terrible spiritual disaster at this time- they needed a solid spiritual leader. Hannah says, “I no longer want a child for me, I want a child for the Lord, I want a child for spiritual strength of the nation through whom God is going to send the Savior into the world.” In other words, she set her sight not on the temporary, not on the seen, but on the unseen, the glory and salvation of God and His kingdom.

What about you? Do you have a hurt like Hannah? Do you have a hole in your life that you want desperately to be filled? Has God become just the means to the end of having whatever it is your heart is really desiring? Are you willing to dedicate your job, your career, your family, your prized possessions to the service of the Lord? Are we willing to say, “Lord, thank you for this job you’ve given me, the career you’ve blessed me with, may I use it for your glory?” Are we willing to say, “Lord, thank you for the family you’ve given me, may I honor and glorify you with it.” Fix your eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

But how does that happen? How do we have that eternal perspective? How can we have that willingness to sacrifice for the greater good of the Lord and His kingdom like Hannah? It doesn’t come from within us, it comes from outside of us. Hannah prayed for a son to be given for the work of the Lord. Hannah then gave that son up for the work of the Lord. The work of the Lord, however, was all working toward one goal: to bring the Savior into this world. Yes, Hannah sacrificed having her son for herself for the greater good of God’s work and His kingdom. But, that doesn’t come close the sacrifice God made on behalf of you and me. Jesus, God’s own Son, wasn’t only given to the work of the Lord, but Jesus was sacrificed- not just by living in God’s house – but really sacrificed on a cross.  In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, “Lord, your will not mine be done.”  Jesus kept God’s plan of salvation first and foremost- even above His own life, He did so in your place and mine for all the times we’ve selfishly made other things more important than God and His work.  And He was dealt all the blows, all the wrath, all the punishment from God Himself for all your sins and mine. Why? Because in the heart of God is a love so great, so boundless, so amazing that the greater good to God is having you and me in heaven with him forever.

Perhaps you’re feeling the hurt of some hole in your life right now or perhaps you’re tempted to be controlled by the value system of the society, culture, and world that we live in- as if money, things, relationships are the ultimate goal that you should sacrifice everything else for. But don’t focus on the seen, but the unseen. Realize what Hannah realized: In the Lord you have all the significance, worth, and love you’ll ever need. And since you have him you can sacrifice all the lesser things for the greater goal of having the Lord and doing His work and like Hannah have peace.  Amen.

Reassured, Refocused, Rejoicing

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Ascension Day Worship

Reassured by the Rule of Christ – Esther 6

The account about Esther is just an absolutely amazing account. It all happened when most of the Jews were still in exile after Nebuchadnezzar had taken them to Babylon. Well, the Persians defeated the Babylonians and were the ones in power. King Xerxes was the Persian king and at a large party that he was hosting asked his wife Queen Vashti to come so he could show her beauty off to all the people, but she refused to come. This made him quite upset and because they were afraid this was going to cause all the women to start disobeying their husbands, he banished Queen Vashti and went in search of a new wife. Well, it just so happened that after a sort of contest that a woman named Esther pleased him and won his favor so she became the Queen, although King Xerxes didn’t realize that she was a Jew.

Later, the king promoted this man named Haman who was full of himself to a high position in this government and he expected everyone to bow down to him. But a certain Jew named Mordecai refused to do so. Mordecai happened to be Esther’s cousin. Haman became so upset that he didn’t just want to have Mordecai killed but wanted the whole nation of the Jews to be exterminated. So, he requested that the king issue the order to have a certain people in their kingdom killed, not telling the king what people group it was. The king agreed. Haman was delighted and set out to erect the execution device.

In the meantime, one night the king couldn’t sleep, so he had his records read to him. In his records, he was reminded about a time when Mordecai a Jew had uncovered a plot and saved the king’s life. So, King Xerxes wanted to honor him. He found out that Haman just so happened to be outside his chambers and so he brought Haman in and asked him what should be done for the man the king delights to honor. Haman, thinking he meant him, suggested that he be paraded around and honored. The king says, “That’s a great idea, go and do this for Mordecai the Jew.” Haman was devastated, but went out and did it. In the meantime, Haman had been invited by Queen Esther to a banquet with her and the king. She held the banquet to request that the king not exterminate her people. Haman came to the banquet and the king asked her what she wanted, she revealed about how Haman planned to exterminate her people. The king became furious left the room, while he’s gone Haman stays to plead with Queen Esther for his life and he trips and falls on the couch she is lying on and just then the king happens to walk in, thinks he’s trying to molest her and immediately orders that Haman be put to death on the execution device he had made for Mordecai.

Wow! But here’s the lesson. We often go through life scratching our head, confused, and frustrated because life doesn’t seem to be working the way that we want or expect. We face difficulties, sickness, disappointments and problems. We wonder, “Lord, what are you doing?” Why this? Why now? What’s going on? And sinfully we forget who’s in charge.

But at Jesus’ ascension we’re reminded of an awesome truth: Jesus ascended to the right hand of God. That means Jesus, the one who became man, lived, died, and rose for you, is now sitting in the position of ALL authority and all power and is ruling ALL things for the good of His people, for the good of you and me. No, we won’t always know it or see it or understand it, but He is and He will continue guide all things to bring you to your eternal home. Jesus’ ascension reassures us of the rule of Christ. A lesson from Esther chapter 6: (read lesson)

Refocused by Being Raised with Christ – Colossians 3:1-4

Who are you? If you were asked that question, what would you respond? When you look in the mirror what do you see? What is your identity? Who are you? What would you say?

Well, as Christians we have lost our original identity.  Having been born in this world we had an identity and it wasn’t a good one.  God says that a sinful parent plus a sinful parent equals a sinful child.  You and I were born into this world in sin, dead in our trespasses and sin, hostile to God, God’s enemies, worthless in God’s sight.  By nature we had a horrid identity completely corrupted by sin.

But God did something.  He sent Jesus who became human like us, identified with us in every way except He had a perfect identity.  He sent Jesus who identified with our sin by taking it upon Himself and dying for our sin on the cross. Then Jesus left that sin in the grave and gloriously rose from the dead.  Then gloriously ascended to the right hand of God, the place of all power and glory.

Then God did something wonderful for you.  He gave you a totally new identity.  How so?  He killed you.  You died.  You see, when God worked faith in your heart He connected you to everything Christ did for you.  Jesus’ death became your death to sin.  Jesus’ resurrection became your resurrection to new life.  Jesus’ ascension into heaven became your ascension into heaven.  When God worked faith in your heart He clothed you with Jesus so that you are now hidden with Christ in God.

We sometimes see pictures of ourselves and cringe or say that was a terrible picture!  So, in life, if try to find our identity in ourselves, we’ll always cringe because we see our failures, our sins, our struggles.  But when you look away from yourself and look to Christ you see your new identity, you see your identity as God sees it, you are perfect for Jesus was perfect for you, you have a place in glory for Jesus ascended for you!  You see, your life, your peace in life, your contentment in life, your joy in life, has nothing to do with how you look, but it has everything to do with where you look.

So what do you picture with Jesus’ Ascension?  Picture your new identity.  In God’s sight you’re no longer a sinner, you’re a saint who since Jesus ascended into glory you too will appear with Christ in the glory of heaven.  Set your mind on that, refocus on the reality that you’ve been raised with Christ! A lesson from Colossians chapter 3: (read lesson)

Rejoicing because of Christ – Luke 24:44-53

There are just so many things in life that can tear us down. What other people say about us can tear us down, the comments people make can make us feel horrible, the sarcastic replies can ruminate in our heads. Not only that, but we can also be reminded of past sins and failures that burden us with guilt. Not only that but we can so easily be frustrated by things in life that don’t turn out the way we want or expect or hope for. There’s a lot in life that can tear us down.

But the disciples weren’t much different than us, were they? They too faced a life of ridicule because of their faith in Jesus. They, too, had done some pretty horrible things – they abandoned Jesus in the Garden, didn’t believe his promise to rise from the dead, were full of fear.

But here they are rejoicing. Here they are worshipping God, praising him, and with great joy. How come? First, He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures- they saw God’s incredible faithfulness in keeping every promise. Then he led them out to the vicinity of Bethany and lifted up his hands to bless them, showing them the nail scarred hands – the proof that he died on the cross for all their sins and was now alive blessing them. And finally, they saw Jesus powerfully rise up into the sky – reminding them that this Jesus is God with all the power as God.

Those are all reason for you and I to rejoice too. Rejoice! God has given you and me the record of his faithful love for us in the Bible- there we have all we need for all peace and joy. Rejoice! Jesus hands are still up blessing us and reminding us constantly of his hands that were nailed to the cross for the forgiveness of all our sins. Rejoice! That same Jesus who powerfully rose into the sky is the one who is still in control and will remain in control and guide all things with His power to bring us home to heaven. Those are more than enough reason to rejoice always. A lesson from the Gospel of Luke chapter 24: (read text)