Excuses – Sermon for June 14/15, 2015

Excuses

Luke 14:15-24

2nd Sunday after Trinity

June 14th/15th, 2015

Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

dog4Excuses. We all make them from time to time. Sometimes, the excuses are completely made up. “I didn’t turn in my project because my dog ate it.” “I can’t go on a date with you next Saturday because I’ll be washing my hair.” Sometimes, the excuses are legitimate. “I can’t make that meeting because there was a death in the family and I’ll be at a funeral.” “Officer, I was speeding because I just heard that my son was in a car accident and I’m rushing to the ER.” We often times act as if it’s only the flimsy excuses that are really excuses, as if the valid excuses are something else: justifications, reasons, explanations. But that’s just semantics; the result is the same: you missed a meeting, you broke a law, you cannot fulfill an obligation of some sort, and this is your reason why. This is your excuse. Be it good or bad, that’s still what it is.

Jesus speaks today about excuses. There was a certain man who gave a great banquet and invited many people. When the time for the banquet arrived, they all began to make excuses as to why they could not come. The first said that he needed to check on a new field he had just purchased. Another said that he had to go examine a pair of oxen he had just acquired. Another said that he was a newlywed and therefore had to miss the banquet.  A lot of commentators spend a lot of time debating whether these are good excuses or not. Many argue that the first excuse was a poor one. Why would you need to go see this newly acquired field right at the same instant that you have been invited to this banquet? And shouldn’t you have seen it already before purchasing it? Who buys real estate sight unseen? Others have argued that there’s no reason to think that the guest scheduled his trip to inspect the field after the invitation to the banquet came in. Maybe he had been planning this business trip for a long time and could not easily miss it. We have all had schedule conflicts before – you can’t do everything. The same is true of the second excuse with the oxen. Maybe it’s a good excuse, maybe it’s not. But the result is the same: Neither man attended the banquet.  The third excuse is based on a cultural practice that we don’t normally follow any longer, at least not to this extent.  The book of Deuteronomy says that a man who has taken a bride is free from public obligations for a year in order that he might be happy at home with his wife.[1] We don’t typically honeymoon for a full year, but we still observe the legitimacy of taking time off when you’re newly married. Some argue that this hardly applies to a social event like a banquet, others say that this because this banquet was thrown by a man of such high standing in the community that it could be considered more of a business networking opportunity, which should excuse the young groom’s absence. Good excuse or bad excuse, the result is the same: these people missed the party.

I think that’s the point we need to be aware of. Whether the excuses were good or bad ultimately doesn’t matter. I think that’s a red herring. I think getting lost in that question will cause us to miss the point Jesus is trying to make. Each person thought he had something more important to do that this silly party. Each person chose to miss the party. Each person was so wrapped up in the things of their daily lives, in their property excuses-quotes-1investments, in their material possessions, in their relationships, that they missed the banquet. They each thought they had something more important to do. They each had a reason why this banquet was beneath them. Good excuses or bad, the result was the same. None of them came to the party.

This becomes even more poignant when we consider the wider context of the conversation Jesus is having, and the people he’s having it with.  Jesus himself is at a dinner party himself when he speaks these words, at a banquet that spans Luke chapters 14 and 15. He’s surrounded by a veritable who’s-who of the Pharisees. As he watches their behavior at the party, he tells them it is foolish to take for themselves the most honorable seat at a banquet because someone more important than you might show up and you’ll be forced to take a walk of shame to the back of the room. In fact, Jesus goes on to tell his host that next time he invites a group of people over for dinner he should skip those who can repay the favor and instead invite the poor, lame and homeless people outside.  That’s the type of party God throws, Jesus says. Parties for the outcasts. Parties for the losers. Parties for the lost. God doesn’t throw parties just to impress his friends. God doesn’t throw parties just to invite people into his beautiful home so that they can envy his lifestyle. God doesn’t throw parties so that he’ll be invited to other people’s parties. God throws a party like a woman who had 10 coins and, having lost one, searched high and low until she found it. And because she could not contain her joy at having that which was lost restored to her, she had a party. God throws a party like a shepherd who lost a sheep but then found it. God throws a party like a father whose son ran away, dead to the family, but who came back and was restored. Here at a dinner party hosted by one of the leaders of the Pharisees, at a table filled with high ranking religious leaders and socially important people, Jesus tells everyone that God’s parties are nothing like this. God’s parties are no for the self-important or the social elite, they are for all the outsiders who have been restored to him.

With this parable, it’s as if Jesus is asking, “But you don’t want to come to that party, do you?”  The older brother didn’t want to come to party thrown for his returned sibling. He refused to join the celebration. He had an excuse. Was it a good one? Doesn’t matter. Good excuse or not, the result was the same: he missed the party. The three men in today’s reading didn’t want to come to the banquet. They had more pressing things on their schedule. They had higher priorities. Were they legitimate or not? Doesn’t matter. They missed the party.

And now we have to wonder: is Jesus still talking to the Pharisees he was having dinner with, or is he talking to us? What excuses do we make for skipping out on God’s party?

The truth is, we all have a little bit of Pharisee in us. Actually, we have more than we like to admit. We spend our entire childhood vilifying the Pharisees in Sunday School, and they are certainly the antagonists in the stories of the Gospels. It is easy to think of maxresdefaultthe Pharisees as being “those people” over there. We want to identify with the followers and disciples of Jesus.  But if we are honest, we all play the Pharisee more often than we like to admit. We don’t really want to be the outcasts – we want to be in the club.  We all have some people we consider outcasts, those we want nothing to do with. Maybe it’s those who are literally poor or lame, and maybe not. Maybe we’ve chosen for ourselves another standard of judgment. The point is, we all like to stand before the altar of our Lord and pray, “God, I thank you that I am not like that guy over there.” Whatever standard we judge by, the effect is the same. Lord, I thank you that I am not intolerant and hateful like that person over there. I thank you that I am open-minded and loving. Or our prayer might be the exact opposite: Lord, I thank you that I am not foolishly progressive and post-modern like that person over there. Or, Lord, I thank you that I am not greedy like that person over there. Lord, I thank you that I am not careless with my money like that person over there. We change the prayer to fit our personalities, but the result is the same: Lord, I thank you that I’m better, that I understand better, that I love better, that I trust better, that I confess better, that I please you more with my life and actions than that person over there.

When we hear Jesus speak about excuses for missing the party, it would be easy to sit back and bemoan the multitude of excuses that keep people from enjoying the gifts of God, lies that the sinful flesh convinces us are true. The church is full of hypocrites, that’s why I don’t go. I don’t trust organized religion. The church just wants my money. Sunday is the only day I can sleep in. I can worship God from my bed or in nature. The church is self-righteous and judgmental. And the list goes on. Are they good excuses? Are they bad excuses? Doesn’t matter. The result is the same: you miss out on the party. You miss the gifts that are being given.

But to stop there would miss the point.  The parable is not really about those outside the church who refuse to come in. In the parable, all the outsiders joyfully received the invitation to the master’s banquet and happily attended. No, the parable is about those who are already in the church, those who are already in the kingdom of God who are so crosspreoccupied with the distractions of this world that they miss the party. The parable is about us. It’s about our excuses. It’s about our missing the party.  It’s about our refusing to consider ourselves outsiders and outcasts. It’s about our thinking we have something more important to do. So ask yourself, what excuses do you make for missing the party? What area of your life are you unwilling to turn over to the Lord? Is it your finances? “Lord, I’ll begin supporting the work of your kingdom once my debt is under control.” Your career? “Lord, I’ll begin to make time for you a priority once I get that promotion.” “Lord, I’ll start personal Bible studies or devotions with my kids when things slow down at work.” “I’ll make it a point to bring my kids to church when they’re older.” Where do we, like the people in the parable, decline our Lord’s invitation because you are too tied up in the things of this world? What are your excuses? What are mine? Are they good? Does it matter?  What are we actually excusing ourselves from? What are we trying to get out of? A party. A celebration.

So thanks be to God that the excuses of our sinful flesh are not the final word.  Just as we have to recognize that we often play the part of the Pharisee in this parable, we also have to recognize that our true identity is that of the outcast. Just as we have to repent of our silly excuses, such repentance reveals to us our true standing before God, which is no standing at all, but lying down flat on our face in the sewage of our own sin. But when we see the depths of our sin, when we see the filth of our hearts, that is exactly when we are truly prepared for the feast. That is the exact moment when our Lord raises us up and gives us eyes of faith to see beyond the things of this life and into the life to come. That is the point Jesus is trying to get us to see today. We need to repent of acting like the man who excused himself to go check on his field because in reality we are a coin that was lost but now is found.  We need to repent of acting like a man who had to go examine his livestock because in reality we are a sheep that wandered off but that has been rescued by the Good Shepherd. We need to repent of acting like a newlywed who is too busy on a honeymoon to join in the celebration, for in reality we are the lost son who fatherhoodhas been restored to the family of God. For the Lord is near to the broken-hearted and saved the crushed in spirit.[2] We who were far off in the streets and lanes of our sin have been brought near by the blood of Christ. He himself is our peace. He has knocked down the dividing wall of hostility. Through him we have access to the Father, access to the banquet celebration.[3]

What kind of excuse would justify missing out on that? Whether the world considers it legitimate or not, the result is the same: missing out on the joy of the Father. So let us leave the worldly excuses behind and fix our eyes on Jesus. Through humble repentance, we embrace our place as the outcasts and join our Master’s party. The table is set. The feast is prepared. The wine has been mixed. All that’s left to do is rejoice and celebrate.

[1] Deut. 24:5

[2] Psalm 34:18

[3] Ephesians 2:13-18

Mistaken Identity – Sermon for June 7/8, 2015

Mistaken Identity
Luke 16:19-31
First Sunday After Trinity
June 7th/8th, 2015
Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

            The television show Undercover Boss uses hidden identities to create comical, uncomfortable, or heartwarming moments.  If you not familiar with the show, the basic premise is this: a chief executive or owner of a major corporation leaves the corporate 23692407_BG1headquarters works for a week at an entry level position in his or her company. Disguised as an average Joe, the boss spends a work week interacting with entry-level employees and managers, dealing with costumers, and getting a taste of what it’s like working for the company instead of running it.  The goal for the executive is usually that he or she wants to be a better boss or cultivate a healthier working environment by experiencing life in the trenches. As the camera follows the undercover boss, the audience gets to see how he or she is treated by people who think he or she is just the newest hire. Sometimes the boss is treated kindly, other times the boss is harassed or hazed or insulted. At the end of the week the boss calls the other workers to the corporate headquarters and reveals his or her true identity. Often times there are promotions, bonuses, or other rewards for the workers who proved themselves good employees. For those who treated the boss or the job poorly, the result is usually extra training courses, not to mention the public shame and embarrassment of having a nationwide audience see you make a fool of yourself  to your boss.  In this case, the old cliché holds true: You can’t judge a book by its cover. You can’t always tell who someone truly is simply by looking at them. Sometimes that beggar in the marketplace is really the princess in disguise.

Yet we continue to focus on outward appearance, not so much tattoos or hair color or piercings, although those tend to have a far greater influence than your average teen or twenty-something is willing to admit. No, we look at the things of this world. We tend to evaluate our spiritual health and the spiritual health of others based on what we can see physically. But this can often lead to tragic cases of mistaken identity.

Take the words of Jesus we read together a short time ago. There was a rich man who had the best life had to offer. He lived in luxury, wearing the finest clothes, driving the finest cars, drinking the finest wine, eating the finest food. He lacked for nothing. All his desires were met at a moment’s notice. He had the best this life had to offer. And he went to hell. He had nothing in the life to come except the agonizing desire to have his torment relieved by a single drop of water. No, the one who was wealthy for the life to come was Lazarus, the same Lazarus who lived in the street outside the rich man’s estate. He didn’t luke_16_rich_man_and_lazarus1have a home of his own. He had to scavenge through the trash looking for scraps to make up his next meal. His body was cursed with illness, and he was so weakened by disease that he couldn’t even stop the dogs from licking his wounds or gather the strength to shoo them away. I’m sure he stunk to high heaven. He was the kind of person you didn’t want to be in line behind, the kind of person you didn’t want to sit next to on the bus, the kind of person you wanted to avoid at all costs. But he was the one who was truly wealthy, for he was the one who found himself at Abraham’s side in the end. He was the one who found himself in paradise. He was a child of God. Most people, and we have to include ourselves in this if we’re being honest, most people if they met these men on the street would consider the rich man favored by God and Lazarus cursed. But that would be a case of mistaken identity.

How often do we fall victim to mistaken identity, not only in the way that we estimate the value of others, but in the way our world evaluates us! The cultural winds have changed direction in our homeland. The Epistle for today from 1 John reminds us of the importance of love, that our God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God. That all sounds well and good, but at the risk of sounding like an old SNL classic, what is love? According to our world, love seems to demand that you live and let live. Just keep your mouth shut – that’s true love to our world. Christians, whose God is love, Christians,stock-footage-close-up-head-shot-of-a-guy-with-his-mouth-covered-with-duct-tape-and-the-words-don-t-speak-written who love because he first loved us, Christians whose whole existence is tied up in the receiving and living in the love of God are branded as unloving because we take a stand on the truth of God’s Word. Our world doesn’t care about truth. Our world flees from truth like roaches from the light. Our world takes its stand on feelings and experience. Now, it’s true that you can’t control another person’s experiences of joy: you can’t tell another person which color should be their favorite or which genre of movie or music should be their favorite.  But we live in a world that silences any attempt to speak against pretty much any experience at all. We live in a world that believes that just as you can’t say which colors or movies someone ought to like, so also you can’t say which gender a person should have intimate contact with or even which gender they ought to be. It considered unloving to speak as if you know the truth or to claim that someone else is wrong.

But think about the inconsistency here. We get so upset, almost militant, about the dangers of secondhand smoke or other known carcinogens. The truth as discovered by medical studies is trumpeted from the rooftops. Smoking is outlawed in public places, in front of buildings, and any place where if may have adverse effects on bystanders. All this is done out of concern for the bystanders; you might say it’s done out of love. But when Christians try to do the same with moral choices, to speak out about the murder of the unborn, the sexual corruption of our time, the institutionalized greed and self-centeredness of our time, we are branded as the unloving ones. When we speak of the dangers these behaviors pose to the fabric of society or to the souls of its people, when we speak of the dangers of moral actions in the same way we speak of medical dangers, we are villianized. Granted, our words aren’t always as kind and gentle as they could be, and in such cases we must own our mistakes, repent, and change our rhetoric. But even when we do explain everything in the kindest possible way, the message is still rejected. We will continue to be rejected, and with even more fervor in the years to come. We don’t fit the world’s standard of success and tolerance. The rich man in Jesus’s example was decked out in the finest clothes and luxuries of this life while Lazarus remained an outcast. The currency of today is tolerance, is having a mind so open that your brain falls out. The so called love of today demands that each of us sit in our little bubble, keeping entirely to ourselves. It doesn’t matter if you have never done anything hateful or hurtful to someone you disagree with. The very act of disagreeing gets you put outside in the gutter, left scrounging for scraps to survive.  When it comes to the currency of our world, we are indeed beggars, a 21st Century Lazarus.

But take heart, Lazarus.  It is nothing more than a case of mistaken identity.  We may be poor like Lazarus, but like Lazarus, we have something more than the acceptance of this world waiting for us. Something better. Something eternal. Something that far exceeds the fleeting comforts available this side of the grave. Like Lazarus was an outcast in the world of his day, we will increasingly be outcasts in ours. We will be more aggressively marginalized. We will be told more emphatically that our faith ought to be entirely private, that it has no place outside the walls of this building, that our beliefs must be kept to ourselves at all times.  Just look at the way our government now speaks about freedom of worship instead of freedom of religion, as if they were the same thing. But take heart, for our true identity is not found in what this world considers us to be. It is found in Christ and what he has done for us. Our true identity is found in our baptism, in the new creation given to us through water and  the Word. Our true identity is found in the promises of God. The things of this world will pass away. The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of God stands forever. Our true identity comes from that Word, the strong Word that speaks us righteous.  Like Abraham, trust in the promise of God is credited to us as our righteousness. It may not change our appearance or status in the eyes of an unbelieving world, but it changes our identity before God.

To the world we will still look like Lazarus. Our lives will often look no different than the lives of the world around us. We will still struggle with illness and addiction. We will still struggle with financial hardships and unemployment. We will still struggle with pride and the temptation to self-justification. We will still lose our temper, act on our lust, indulge our greed, and stroke our egos. Apart from the gift of repentance, we are no different from the Dives and Lazarusrich man in today’s reading. Apart from the gift of repentance, we will be the ones begging for a drop of water to relieve our eternal torment. But if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come![1] This new creation is not readily visible to the eyes of the world. In the eyes of the world, we are Lazarus. But so also are we Lazarus in the eyes of the Lord. In the eyes of our Lord our true worth is seen.  Even though we are already God’s children now, what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when Jesus appears again on the last day we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.[2]

The struggle and joy of the Christian life is that it is cruciform, meaning our lives follow the shape of the cross. As we just heard a moment ago from 1 John, as Jesus was so also are we in this world.[3]  Our lives follow the pattern of Jesus.  Jesus encourages us in today’s reading to listen to Moses and the Prophets, to listen to the Word of God, for the Word of God is enough to show us who we truly are and to reveal reality to us. And the word of God is clear: in our lives we will share in the sufferings of Jesus, for in baptism we are united to him.  He is the image of God into which we are being reshaped. When we look at the details of Jesus’ life, we see clearly that things aren’t always what they appear to the human eye.   When the word became flesh, the world did not know him. He came into his own, and his own received him not. He was treated as an outcast. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows. They considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted. He suffered mockery at the hands of sinful men. He was constantly questioned and tested as if the message he brought was not from God. He was stripped and beaten and executed.  But in the resurrection his glory was revealed. That is the same glory that we participate in as we kneel to receive his body and blood, the body and blood of the risen Savior given to us so that we might be joined to that body here in this life and into the life to come.

The world did not see Jesus for who he truly was. They could not, for that takes the eyes of faith. The world cannot see us for who we are in Christ, for that takes the eyes of faith. We have the eyes of faith, so let’s use them. Let us not be mistaken about who we are in Christ or who we are in this world. We are children of paradise. We are the redeemed ones of God. We still live in this world and struggle against sin, death and the devil. But the victory has been won. See that. Believe that. Trust that. For in that promise is our hope. That is the true identity of God’s children. That is who we are in Christ.

[1] 2 Corinthians 5:17

[2] 1 John 3:2

[3] 1 John 4:17

A Little Knowledge – Sermon for May 31/June 1

A Little Knowledge
John 3:1-17; Romans 11:33-36
Trinity Sunday
May 31st / June 1st, 2015
Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

             A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Whether you’re rushing to judgment or taking every precaution possible, the truth remains that making a decision without all the facts can lead to behavior that is sometimes comical, sometimes tragic. How many movies have you seen where someone gets himself or herself into an uncomfortable situation by making a decision without all the facts, like loading your entire family into a brand new station wagon for a cross country vacation, only to find that Wally World is Logo-Option-2closed when you get there.  Or if you prefer a more serious example, consider Romeo and Juliet. Like many tragedies, the plot turns when the messenger cannot deliver his message in time. If the messenger had been able to inform Romeo of the plan hatched by Juliet and the Friar, their relationship might have ended quite differently. Alas, because Romeo didn’t know all that he might have known, he jumped to the wrong conclusion. He didn’t have all the facts. He didn’t know as much as he thought he knew, and it turns out he was wrong. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

And yet we as people idolize knowledge. We worship understanding. We are convinced as a species that there is nothing outside the grasp of human understanding. We believe that even if I don’t personally understand something, someone somewhere understands it. And even if there is no one who understands it today, we tend to be convinced on some level that there will be someone somewhere in the future who gets it. Humanity as a whole still carries with us the residue of Modernism and the Enlightenment; we tend to believe that any mystery can be solved if the right person has enough time.

O what fools we mortals be! There are many things that are beyond our understanding. Take, for example, the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity. Today is Trinity Sunday, so we once again are asked to consider the three persons with majesty coequal. How can there be three persons who are one God? Human efforts to understand the Trinity beyond what we have been given in Scripture have gotten people in trouble for centuries. Any student of the history of the early church will be confronted with these misunderstandings, and any student of the history of the rest of the church will see how they keep popping up with Shield-Trinity-Scutum-Fidei-English.svgeach new generation.  But maybe that’s not you. Maybe you don’t struggle to understand the Trinity. Maybe you are content to let its inner workings remain a mystery. That doesn’t mean you don’t still fall victim to the temptation to idolize human understanding. One of my favorite insights from Luther is the realization that while Christians may be willing to admit that God is bigger and more powerful than we are, we have a hard time admitting he is wiser. That’s why the words of the Apostle Paul are so hard to stomach: “Oh the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”[1]

Who has known the mind of God? Certainly not us, and yet we act as if we have. We are quick to question God on the basis of our own understanding, to take him to task for the way he is handling something in our lives. We are quick to accuse God of being foolish, pig-headed, or flat out wrong, assuming that we know better than he does. “Why me” is our favorite question! “Why do I have cancer?” “Why did my loved one die?” “Why did I lose my job?” “Why did I have such a hard childhood?” “Why do I battle with depression?” “Why me?”

We persistently question God about the way he is working in our lives – often accusing him of not knowing what he’s doing or of not doing what’s really best for us. But we haven’t seen the mind of God! We have not explored to depths of his wisdom and painting-jesus-god-suspending-the-world-between-his-handsknowledge! His judgments are unsearchable and his ways mysteriously beyond our comprehension. At least, that’s the way Paul puts it. When God himself speaks, he is much blunter. Take the experience of Job. Here was a man who had been a faithful man of God. He had been blessed with much earthly wealth and comfort. He had a large family and a comfortable home. Then, God sent Satan to take it all away. Job’s family died. Job’s fortune dried up. Job himself was stricken with illness. His friends tried to figure out what he had done wrong to deserve such treatment from God. His wife told him to curse God and die. When Job himself reaches the end of his patience and questions the wisdom of God, God responds like this:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

“Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb,
when I made clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10 and prescribed limits for it
and set bars and doors,
11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

And it continues from there. God continues to put Job in his place – and by extension, us as well. Who are we to question the Almighty? Who are we to think we know better than God? That our brains understand better than the one who created them? Do we understand how he created this universe? Do we understand how it works? We may understand that it works and what it does. But that is such little knowledge compared to the omniscience of the Almighty. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.  Who are we to question the mind of God?

Rather than leaning on our own abilities to understand God, we are called to rely on the knowledge that God has revealed about himself.  Jesus made this abundantly clear in his conversation with Nicodemus. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen. No one has ascended Crucifixinto heaven to see God except for the one who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. If you rely on your own understanding, you will fail. You don’t even fully understand the things of this earth. How could you understand the things of heaven and the ways of God? No, if you want to understand the ways of God, listen to the one he sent.” If you want to know God, don’t look at the details of your life, look at Jesus.  It is Jesus who was born the sinless Son of God. It was Jesus who lived a life of perfection, fulfilling the covenant God had made with Moses. It was Jesus who kept the Law perfectly in thought, word, and deed. It was Jesus who suffered for the way that our very existence as sinful people violates the holy Law of God. It was Jesus who overcame death and the grave and opened to us the way of everlasting life.

If you want to understand God, look at the way he acts in Jesus, for that is how God loved the world. Jesus is how God acted out his love for the world. Just as Moses lifted up a snake in the wilderness so that the Israelites would be delivered from snakes, so also God lifted up a dead man on a cross so that we could be delivered from death. Look at him – for that is how God loved the world: by giving his only begotten Son over to death in order that all who look to him might not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send the Christ into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. And it is saved. And you have eternal life. As Jesus himself says: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”[2] That’s you. That’s me. We have passed from death to life, all because of what God himself has done for us.

What joy we have in this. What freedom! Rather than getting lost in vain attempts to uncover the mysteries of God, we rejoice in what little knowledge we have. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but in this case, it’s dangerous for Satan.  He will stop at nothing to distract us. He will pull out every trick in his diabolical bag in an effort to drive us to despair.  And make no mistake – every attempt to understand God apart from Jesus ends in despair. For apart from Jesus all we have are the things of this world, and the things of this world always die. They always crumble. They always fail. If we rely on the things of this world and on our own understanding, we will find ourselves confronted with a false god who fails and crumbles.  But that is not the God we have. That is not the true God. The true God has revealed himself in Jesus. When we fix our eyes on him, we see life. We see him overcome this world. We see the promise of our deliverance.

Yes, we still live in this valley of tears. Yes, we are still unclean people who dwell in the midst of an unclean world.  We are people of life in a dying world. We are people of hope in a world of despair. It will only get worse before it gets better. Sin will increase.  Society will get worse.  We will continue to look to heaven and wonder why God is allowing these things to happen. Why does he sit by and watch the wickedness continue? Why does hejesus-died-for-you2 sit by while millions of babies are dismembered in abortion clinics across the world? Why doesn’t he act when he sees the greed and corruption and lust and narcissism of our world?  In our frustration we remember the words of the Apostle Paul. We have not known the mind of the Lord. We may not understand his reasons, but they are his own.  Therefore, they are justified. There’s much truth in that, but little hope.

Our hope is found in the words of Jesus. We remember the life of Jesus. We remember the death of Jesus. We remember the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is the key. Jesus is the answer. Christ crucified to set you free from this veil of tears. Christ crucified to bring you life. For that is how God loved the world. There are many questions we may want answered, but Jesus is all that matters. Don’t understand the Trinity? Don’t worry; look at Jesus. Don’t understand why God isn’t fixing the hardships in your life? Look at Jesus. Keep your eyes fixed on him, for in him we see God’s love in action.  When stacked next to the omniscience of God, it may only be a little bit of knowledge.  But when it comes to Jesus, a little knowledge is a beautiful thing.

[1] Romans 11:33-34

[2] John 5:24