Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Old Testament lesson, where Solomon dedicates the newly finished temple through prayer. Today, we generally don’t really even have a clue about how things in the Old Testament worked. There are things we know that are there, but we really don’t know why. We know there was a tabernacle, and then a temple where the people of Israel gathered to worship. We know they sacrificed animals. We’d probably make fun of them for these, if we didn’t know God Himself also told them to have them.
However, the Lord was very specific about how to sacrifice. A great part of Leviticus is dedicated to that very subject. The Lord was also very specific about the building of the tabernacle. In fact, He gave Moses a pattern to follow even before he came down from Mt. Sinai. And insisted over and over again that Moses must follow the pattern that he was given on the mountain. We learn later, in Hebrews, that this patten was to make a copy and a shadow of the tabernacle that was in heaven. So yes, the tabernacle is a very big deal. Even for us today.
However, after all those years of wandering the desert, being carried all over the land of Canaan, and being in various places throughout all Israel, King David decided it would be best to retire the old tent, and put a permanent temple up in its place. The prophet Nathan, before consulting the Lord, thought this a was a good idea, and told David to start. But that night, the Lord told Nathan to go take back those words. “Did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”… When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”
And so, here we are in 2 Kings watching David’s offspring, his son Solomon having completed the temple, and dedicating it. And Solomon was very careful to replicate the very same pattern given on Mt. Sinai to Moses. The pattern of the heavenly tabernacle, which was already before God. Including the basin where the priests were washed. And the Bronze altar out in the court where the sacrifices were cooked and fed to the people.
Strange thing about this heavenly tabernacle though. Even before Jesus was born, Jewish theologians recognized that the heavenly pattern was not that of a building, but rather of a man. And even after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the tabernacle isn’t described anywhere. In fact, in our readings just a few weeks ago, it was noted for its absence in John’s Revelation. “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.”
How about this one, “The Word became flesh and, literally, tabernacled among us.” Or what about, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up again in three days.” These texts aren’t talking about the building. The heavenly pattern is the body of Christ. And each furnishing found in that tabernacle and in that temple, their purposes are likewise found in Christ Himself.
However, if you look at today’s Old Testament lesson on your insert, you’re going to notice something. A lot of verses get skipped. And the reason why is because the goal was to find a reading that paired up well with the Gospel text. Jesus healing the servant of the Centurion at a word does match up pretty well with the part of Solomon’s dedication prayer found in verses forty-one through forty-three. But that point gets lost when you include the whole context of Solomon’s prayer. Which is too bad, because that context is amazing. Especially when you know who the temple is.
Because Solomon prays over and over again for God to forgive His people. “[L]isten to the plea of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen in heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.” “When your people Israel are defeated before the enemy because they have sinned against you, and if they turn again to you and acknowledge your name and pray and plead with you in this house, then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel….” “When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you, if they pray toward this place and acknowledge your name and turn from their sin, when you afflict them, then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel….” “If there is famine in the land, if there is pestilence or blight or mildew or locust or caterpillar, if their enemy besieges them in the land at their gates, whatever plague, whatever sickness there is, whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or by all your people Israel, each knowing the affliction of his own heart and stretching out his hands toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place and forgive.” “[F]orgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed against you….” This is what the tabernacle and the temple are for. This is what the body of Christ is for.
The promise made by the Lord to David through the prophet Nathan was fulfilled ultimately in Christ. For not only did Jesus build the temple, He is the temple. He is the place where the forgiveness of sins is given. And His kingdom is established forever. That the Centurion goes to Jesus on behalf of his servant in person is proclaiming this fact. For he did not go to the temples of the pagan gods. He didn’t even go to the constructed temple of Yahweh. He went to the God who tabernacles among us. He didn’t need Jesus to come to His servant, because Jesus has already come. The tent is already here. He came looking for his servant’s sickness, his servant’s sin to be forgiven. And that’s exactly what Jesus did.
The body of Christ is still the heavenly tabernacle today. And it doesn’t matter if you mean the body of Christ that Jesus is sitting up in heaven with. Or the body of Christ that’s found on the altar during our patterned liturgy in our patterned building. Or the body of Christ that each one of you are members of in His Church. They’re all the same body. They’re all the same tabernacle. They’re all places where forgiveness is given to you.
You are forgiven. You’re forgiven because of the things we don’t always take the time to learn about. You’re forgiven because Jesus is our sacrifice. You’re forgiven because Jesus is on our altar. You’re forgiven because Jesus died on your behalf. You’re forgiven because Jesus has raised you together with His body from the grave. You’re forgiven no matter the severity of your sin. You’re forgiven because the cleansing blood of Christ has been sprinkled on you. You are forgiven. Because Jesus is the heavenly tabernacle. And Christ Jesus pitches His tent with you. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Now, I don’t know about you, but the usual reaction I get from people on Trinity Sunday is, “Do we really have to do that long creed?” We only use the Athanasian Creed once per year, and for some, that’s once too many. However, do you know just how much would be lost if we didn’t have it?
Less than three hundred years after the death and resurrection of Christ, the Church faced a radical change. In 313 AD, Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in the Edict of Milan. After generations of fighting against the culture with their very lives, suddenly Christians had to engage the culture on equal footing. In one way, that was great. It meant that no one would be feeding Christians to the lions anymore. But it was also, at the same time, one of the worst things that could have happened. As now, the culture had a voice in what they thought Christians should believe. It’s a problem we’re still dealing with to this day, 1700 years later.
But within a decade, there was already a problem. And the champion of this problem was a guy named Arius. He was well versed in both philosophy and the Bible. And, the popular philosophy of the day was that there was a radical difference between the Body and the Mind. The Body is where the impure things of the world happen. But the Mind is free from all that impurity. As such, God must be primarily Mind. Therefore God was free from things like passion, which was a slavery that every Body had to endure. God would instead primarily be understood by His Will. And the freedom that came from the exercise of that Will. And Arius used that philosophy to understand who Jesus was. God was Mind. But Jesus was Body, subject to passion. And as Body, Jesus died.
Philosophy and Logic interpreted Scripture. God was one. God was Mind. Jesus was Body. Therefore, in Arius’ opinion, Jesus was not God. Was Jesus great? Indeed. Did Jesus die for our sin? Definitely. But Jesus was merely the first of all created beings. And Arius has Bible verses too. Like last Sunday’s Gospel lesson. John 14:28, “…The Father is greater than I.” And this week’s. “I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge.” And, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’”
Arius made a very good case. This message of God as Mind, Christ as Body resonated very well with that culture. And His interpretation of who Christ was spread pretty far. Especially with Eusebius, the bishop of Caesarea backing Arius and his claims up. In fact, this idea reached far enough, that eleven years after the Edict of Milan, Emperor Constantine calls a council of all the Christian Bishops, in order that they would get on the same page, and stop fighting about it. In fact, the Emperor was already on board with Arius’ way of thinking. The biggest problem was from the Bishop of Alexandria, Alexander, and his right hand man, Athanasuis. They opposed Arius furiously. So when Alexander arrived in Nicea, instead of being greeted by the Emperor, like all the other bishops, he was left outside and ignored.
With all this happening, Arius and Eusebius walk into the first day’s meeting confident. And Arius explains his position to all the other bishops confidently. To which, they responded with stunned silence. They all turned to Alexander, and said something to the effect of, “we might not be able to explain exactly what we believe. But we know we don’t believe that.” Alexander and Athanasius worked together with them to find a way of explaining who Jesus is that they could all agree on, and that Arius could not.
They settled on a Greek word “ὁμοούσιος”, which meant “same substance.” It wasn’t a word that was found in the Bible. But it did describe the Trinitarian nature of God. Just as Jesus does in John chapter ten, when He says, “I and the Father are one.” And so, in our Nicene Creed, we confess, “begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.” Arius could not confess that. And the Nicene Creed was begun.
It was finished fifty years later, after Athanasius succeeded Alexander as Bishop of Alexandria. They needed to meet again, because the other Bishops went home with the creed, and the people, who had all been listening to Arius, asked, “So, what does ὁμοούσιος really mean?” “Um, let’s go ask Athanasius.” And they needed to go back again. Well, that’s the short version of the history, anyways.
But why is this point so important? Why fight so hard over it? Arius praised God just fine. He gave credit to Jesus for dying for our sins. He read the same Bible we do. He just came to a little bit different conclusion. What’s the big deal?
The big deal is that by changing Christ from creator to creation, he also fundamentally changed who we understand our God to be. The Arian God was no longer the Scriptural God, but a god in our own image. Because Arius’ god was too holy and perfect to get his hands dirty. Arius’ god didn’t care enough for his Creation to do anything about it’s problems himself. Arius’ god offered to call a taxi to come pick you up, rather than coming to get you himself. Arius’ god looks at you, and says, “Eew.” Arius’ god is incapable of loving you. So he has somebody else do it instead. I think that’s a pretty big deal, don’t you?
Our God is different. Our God gets His hands dirty. So dirty, that God Himself gets down into the mire we’re wallowing in. Our God cares about you so much, that He takes every one of our sins on to His own shoulders. Our God comes Himself to save you. He doesn’t even think of letting anyone else do that in His place. Our God looks at you and sees someone worth so much, that you are worth dying for. Our God loves you. And that love is confessed strongly in the Apostle’s Creed. In the Nicene Creed. And in the Athanasian Creed. All three are a treasure of God’s unrelenting love for us. And it is an absolute joy to confess each and every one of them, when we know what they are.
The Athanasian Creed came after Athanasius died. It was named in His honor because it confesses the very things about Christ that he fought and suffered for. And the creed is as specific as it is, so that we always remember just what our Lord sacrificed for us. This is who our God is. This is what He has done for us. In here, we hear the Gospel.
These creeds are a gift from the Church of years gone past to us today. They protect us from being too swayed by our worldly culture. They confess the battles they have fought on our behalf. And remind us that no matter what the world throws at us, the faith, as confessed by all the saints of all time, will always stand. No matter how powerful our enemies seem. After all, before Abraham was, Jesus is. And He is indeed. Jesus is God. Together with the Father and Holy Spirit. One God, now and forever. Amen.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text today for Pentecost is our Old Testament Lesson. The account of the tower of Babel. And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.
What a strange thing for God to do. Strange enough that it doesn’t exactly sound like our God. This sounds a lot more like those Greek gods. You know, the gods who came down to visit the mortal realm for fun. The same gods who were jealous and shifty. Who were capricious and vindictive. Who needed to keep mortals in their place, lest they ascend Mount Olympus. This text sounds like a myth. Devised as a clever way of explaining why people were from different places and spoke different languages. In fact, if you replace Yahweh here with Zeus, you could hardly tell the difference.
As Christians, we bristle at that. Because this is God’s Word. This is God’s History of the World. And it is correct. Not only that, but this really is God’s judgment against sin. After all, the people were doing wrong. They made false gods of themselves. They thought of themselves so highly that they tried to reach heaven by their own hands. They were so arrogant that they believed that they controlled their future. They were so full of themselves, that they were going cause their own names to go down in history. So God had to show them that they had not reached heaven. They did not control their own future. They were under God whether they liked it or not.
But if that’s why God changed their language and scattered them across the earth, what makes Him any different than any of other so called gods? And why isn’t He changing things up again today, where our towers are taller, our arrogance greater, and our self-indulgence more decadent than ever? And what about even then at that time. Are these the actions of a loving God? This isn’t exactly mercy and forgiveness He’s showing here, is it? Is it any wonder that this text is dismissed as myth? Is it any wonder that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament aren’t always seen as the same guy?
However, we’re good at reading motives into God’s words and actions that aren’t actually there. We rewrite His story with our story. And then wonder why we get confused. We don’t let God be God. We don’t let the one who brings this judgment be Christ Jesus Himself. And when we look, the reason He gives for doing this is not because they were arrogant or full of themselves. But because they are “one people with one language, and this is only the חלל of what they will do.”
Now, חלל isn’t the usual word in Hebrew for “begin” or “beginning.” It is within that word’s range of meaning. But, חלל is normally translated as “to profane.” Those two meanings don’t seem on the surface to have anything to do with each other. And context determines which one is meant. It’s kind of like the word “cool” in English. It means either “to have a low temperature”, or “that’s interesting.” However, you don’t even need to be that clever to use both at the same time. “That ice sculpture is cool.” חלל here, I think, is the same thing. This is only the beginning of the profanity they will do.
Look at it this way. If we are united in sin, there is no sin that will be impossible for us. No depravity too deep to which we could sink. No atrocity too terrible to be dealt out. In dividing people by language and location, our Lord actually curbed even worse things from happening in our history as well as today. And that a good thing, right? Yeah, but again, why not do it today too? Being divided in sin is better than being united in sin. But to be divided is still not good enough. Because we are still divided from each other. Still divided from God. There’s a far better reason for God’s actions in Genesis 11 than the enforcement of the Law. And that’s that God already has Pentecost in mind.
On that Pentecost after Jesus ascended, Peter and the rest of the apostles went out and proclaimed the death and resurrection of Jesus. And they proclaimed Christ to every language that had been previously confused. They spoke in Pahlavi to the Parthians. In Median to the Medes. In Elamite to the Elamites. In Sumerian to the Mesopotamians. In Aramaic to the Judeans. They spoke in Cappadocian Greek, Pontian Greek, and Pamphylian Greek to the people from those areas. They spoke in Anatolian to those from Asia Minor. Phrygian to the Phrygians. Egyptian to the Egyptians. And Latin to the Romans. The death and resurrection of Jesus reversed the tragedy of Babel. And that news, that story, that reality brought true unity to the world.
That underlying problem, the profaning of all things, is exactly what Jesus came to die for. The arrogance, the self-centeredness, the desecration of all things has been paid for with His blood. The sin, the shame, the חלל, Jesus took it with Him to the grave. Everything that divided from God has been brought to an end. It is dead. And Jesus lives. And on Pentecost, the end of the division was shown to the world.
The curse was lifted. Each one was hearing them speak in his own language. The same languages that God confused because of their united sin, are now all speaking the same good news of Christ. That Jesus died and rose again on their behalf. The same people who were divided for the good of the world, are now united. Made one body. And are now together in one kingdom. Together in the bride of Christ, the Church.
And now you too hear the story in your own language. You hear what Jesus has done on your behalf. This whole story goes together. Babel and Pentecost both. What we have divided by our sin, Jesus has reunited by His sacrifice on the cross. What we have confused because of our selfishness, Jesus has made plain in His death and resurrection. What we have חלל-ed, Jesus has made clean by His blood.
It doesn’t matter what kind of tower you’ve constructed. What it is that you have done. Or, how you have divided yourself from God. He has come down out of heaven. Was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Born of the Virgin Mary. Suffered under Pontus Pilate Was crucified, dead and buried. And on the third day He rose from the dead. And ascended into heaven. By doing that, Christ Jesus has confused Satan your adversary. He has scattered your sin to the winds, never to be yours again. And He has given you forgiveness, life and salvation through Him.
This is not the story of some old, jealous God. This is not some made up myth to explain the things we see in our world. This is God saving the world through His Son, Our Savior, Jesus Christ. That’s been the intention from the very beginning. From the even before He came down to see what kind of tower was being built in the plains of Shinar. It’s all been pointing us to that cross. Pointing us to where every sin is forgiven. Pointing us to a new beginning. Not the חלל profane beginnings of the people at Babel. But a beginning born from above. Born from Christ’s resurrection. You are a new creation in Jesus. He has united Himself with you. He has brought you from Babel to Pentecost. And now, because He has, nothing that Our Lord proposes to do through you will be impossible. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text today is the reading from Revelation. Where we have a text that tells us not to take anything away from these words, and yet our reading takes out verses seven through eleven. Hmm. What we do see in the text, however, is how the very end of the story goes. And we’ve heard this story enough times to know where we are in it. That’s the good part. We’re in the city, the New Jerusalem. We’ve passed through its gates and are at the tree of life. We’re at the river of the water of life. We’re before the throne and the Lamb. We will have His name on our foreheads. We will see by His light. And we will reign with Him forever and ever. Amen. All right!
But, what business do we have being in there? Why aren’t we outside, with the dogs, and the sorcerers, and the sexually immoral, and the murderers, and the idolators, and with everyone who loves and practices falsehood? Why aren’t we out there with those who either add to or take away from the Word of God? Why isn’t the Alpha and the Omega bringing recompense with Him to repay us for what we have done? What makes us so different from those people out there?
Because all those things they are, guess what, we are as well. We’re just as happy to ignore the parts of Scripture that make us feel uncomfortable. Not just by leaving verses out of readings. But also in how we live. Maybe by refusing to hear that the sin my neighbor committed against me is forgiven by Christ. We likewise love to add things that justify our actions. Perhaps we live as though the phrase, “God helps those who help themselves” is somehow biblical. We also love to practice falsehood. One possibility being the living of one way six and a half days of the week, and living another on Sunday morning.
We too are idolators. What do you trust in to be there for you instead of Christ? We too are murderers. Maybe not even caring whether or not our neighbor even has help or support in their physical needs. We too are sexually immoral. We know where our internet browsers have gone. We too are what Revelation calls sorcerers. Literally παρμακοι. After all, aren’t we ready to alter our reality via pharmaceuticals, or any other means, so long as we get what we want? We are dogs. Living like animals instead of in the image of God. We’ve got just as much dirty laundry to air as anyone. Maybe more.
There is no difference between us. We don’t get to stand above those outside and say, “I’m less stained than you are.” Or, “I’m downright clean in comparison with you.” Or even, “if you just took better care of things, you could be like me.” We don’t get to do that, because it isn’t those whose robes are still new and clean who get to enter into the New Jerusalem. Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.
Wash their robes. As Jesus Himself tells Peter on the night when He was betrayed, if you’re clean, there’s no need to wash. But to have to wash our robes means that those robes were indeed soiled. Our laundry is dirty. We are stained with sin. And we don’t have the means to wash them ourselves. We cannot clean our robes with anything we have. The only thing that washes is the blood of Christ.
Christ’s death and resurrection is indeed the only thing that separates those outside and those inside. Christ’s blood all over your robes. Dripping everywhere. Christ covering you with the baptism into His death. Blessed are those who wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb. And by that blood, every stain of our sin is removed.
This is the very reason Christ descended in the first place. Just this last Thursday, we celebrated Christ’s ascension. But for Him to ascend means that He first came down for us. From John’s Gospel, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” From Pauls letter to the Ephesians, “In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.” Christ descended in order that He would give His blood to us. So that we may be washed.
And not only is that blood ours in the robes of our baptism, but it is also there in the cup we share on the altar. Because we need to know that, while forgiveness is once for all time, like our baptism, forgiveness is also given repeatedly. And it’s given again and again in the Supper. As much, and more than we need. Because Christ is both all-sufficient in our salvation, and also limitless. There is no kind of stain so bad that Christ’s blood cannot wash it away from us.Christ’s blood has made us clean.
So, now, when Christ does ascend, He brings us up with Him. Not because of anything we have done. Not because we were so good at keeping our robes clean. But because cleaning us is His work. Preparing us for that ascension is His work. And it is finished. Christ brings us into the heavenly gates. Christ gives us the fruits of His cross from the tree of life. And today, in the midst of this stained robe life, we’re ready for that last day to come. We’re ready for the end of the story to get here. We’re ready for the angels words to the apostles to happen. “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Therefore, we pray our text today. The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! And yet we cannot forget that Christ not only comes at the end. Our Lord comes to you even today. That promise of soon is not just based on God’s reckoning of time. Because He’s not just the Omega. He’s the Alpha and everything in between. He’s not just the Last, but also the First, and all in between. He’s not just the End, but the Beginning, and all the time in between. And His coming soon is His coming now, as well as at the end.
Those sacraments that washed our dirty laundry? That Word which delivers Christ’s promises to us? They’re not just for the end. Jesus is with you today in those very things. As it is written, He appoints a certain day, “Today.” Forgiveness is today. Comfort is today. Hope is today. Salvation is today. Life is today. Christ is with you today. When we pray, “Come soon, Lord Jesus,” He answers that prayer. He answers it by His Word proclaimed. By His Righteousness clothing us in baptism. By His body and blood on our lips. The answer to that prayer is indeed yes, even now, as well as in the not yet.
And so, Christ Jesus is here where we need Him most. He’s here for our grief. He’s here for our sorrow. He’s here for our pain. He’s here for our sicknesses. He’s here for our sin. Jesus is here, bringing His promises to you now. You see, the end of the story and today in the story are the remarkably the same. There perfectly, to be sure. But also here today. And so the promise of our text is also ours, even today. Our robes are washed today. We’re in the city, the New Jerusalem today. We’ve passed through its gates and are at the tree of life today. We’re at the river of the water of life today. We’re before the throne and the Lamb today. We have His name on our foreheads today. We see by His light. today And we reign with Him, even today, forever and ever. Amen.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson, where Jesus gives a pretty ridiculous promise. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.
Thanks a lot, Jesus. Now I have to go in after You speak these words and clean up the mess. Because You know what everyone is going to think. That the Father is going to give people anything they want if they just tack those three little words to the end of their prayers. “In Jesus’ name.”
Do you know how many hucksters there are looking to make a quick buck by abusing those words? Do you know how many false teachers will quote this promise, and destroy the faith of countless people? How many will deflect blame onto those who prayed and didn’t receive that they just didn’t have enough faith? Do You know just how many of yesterday’s Robert Schullers and today’s Joel Osteens there are in this world? You just can’t go around saying things like that, Jesus.
Now look what I have to do. I have to break it to everyone that asking for a million dollars in Jesus’ name is not realistic. That asking for impossible miracles in Jesus name is a good way to end up disappointed. That asking for our heart’s desire is just a waste of breath. I have to come up with a way to put an asterisk on your promise, lest people take it too seriously. Come up with a way to temper expectations. I don’t know. Maybe I can say something like, “To ask in Jesus’ name is to ask what Jesus would want you to ask.” I mean, that sounds like what a good Christian should do, right? And that should keep people from asking for what their sinful hearts want.
I know You’ve made this promise in other Gospels. Surely Matthew, Mark, and Luke remembered to make the appropriate qualifiers, right? So, let’s see here… Matthew 21, “but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive.” No, that doesn’t help. Mark 11, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” No. Luke 11, “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Oh, come on! Seriously?! You are not making this easy on me here.
Because, do You know what they’re going to pray for, Jesus? Of course You do. You’re the one who saw it first. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” It doesn’t matter how well intentioned we are. It doesn’t matter how good we try to be. It doesn’t matter if we can’t see any way in which what we want could possibly be bad. The desires of our hearts are the desires of our hearts.
Our wants, despite our outward appearances, are always self serving. Our wishes, despite our intended charity, are always selfish. And they always, always end with one step toward making ourselves God. We want to assure our own safety. We want to create our own happiness. We want to be the final judge of all things. We want to be a god. The only god. And the only way to do that is to get rid of the One Who is already there, by any means necessary. Simply put, for us to have the true desire of our hearts fulfilled is to have You die. Do you hear that? You’ve told them to ask for anything. And they’re going to ask for You to die, Jesus. And are You really going to do that for them?!
Oh. That’s right. You did. We asked for Your death in our every thought, word, and deed. And through that very death, You have saved us all. Maybe that’s what Paul meant, when he said in his second letter to the Corinthians that, “As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”
Lord, is this what you mean? That no matter what we ask for from our sinful hearts, the answer is yes, You will indeed die at our request? Because that’s what we’re really asking for in our hearts? If that’s the case, something is wrong. Because, you told the disciples that night that, and I quote, “Until now, you have asked nothing in my name.” And yet, they were not without their selfish requests of You. James and John even once asked to be the most important of all the disciples.
You want us to ask for anything, and your answer is yes. But there is also something you want us to ask for that the disciples didn’t ask for on that night. Something that has Your name. Something that our sinful hearts would never ask for. Yet because of your death and resurrection, the sinful heart is not the only one we have.You have made a new creation in us. Placed a new heart within us. You died on the cross for our forgiveness. You died on the cross for our salvation. You died on the cross for our lives. And by Your Easter resurrection, even death itself is overcome. And because of Your work at the cross and grave, That gift is ours already. Given before we even knew to ask for it. And with that gift in hand we can now ask for what You want us to.
So, Lord, give us Your peace. You yourself said it, not with figures of speech, but plainly in this morning’s text. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.” And we’re going to need that peace. Because You do promise, “In the world you will have tribulation.” Things are not going to go right. We will suffer. Not only because of our sin. Not only because of the sin of the world. But we will suffer for our faith. We will suffer because you belong to You.
Our old, sinful heart is going to pray for all that suffering to go away in all the ways we desire. But that new heart, that new creation in us desires something else. It desires to be with Christ, no matter what the world does. And the world will do its worst. Just as You promised just one chapter earlier. “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”
And yet You go directly to where we suffer the most, Lord. You are there for us. And You do have peace. Because, Jesus, as You Yourself said, “take heart; I have overcome the world.” This peace that we ask for is the same peace the apostles had when they faced death for their confession of Christ. The same peace Stephen had when they threw rocks at him until he died. The same peace that Justin, Polycarp, Perpetua, and Felicitas had when facing the hungry lions and being burned alive. It’s the same peace martyrs throughout history have had. That no matter our sin. No matter our sorrow. No matter our hearts. No matter that the world can ever do to us. No matter even if we die. Jesus Christ has already overcome it all. And there You are, Jesus. With Your forgiveness. With Your comfort. With Your resurrection. And it is ours.
And so we ask for that peace. Because even though You have already won. Even though we have a newly created heart as a gift. We still have a hard time facing this world. We need that peace given every day. We need the assurance that Your name brings. Because we know for sure that we can’t do it alone. We can’t even do it with help. We need Christ fully. And that’s why You’re here.
So, to all of us today, go ahead and pray. Ask the Lord for anything. If it’s the wrong thing, if it’s selfish, then know the answer is already yes in the death of Christ. And by that death, He has given you exactly what you have asked for and more. And if what we ask is the right thing, then know the answer is already yes in the resurrection of Christ. Because in that resurrection we have all the gifts of God. Either way, in Him the answer is always yes. No matter what it is. Therefore, ask. It’s just as David wrote in Psalm 37, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson, where we find some of the most likely verses to find on a sympathy card. Your sorrow will turn into joy. And, you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. We love the idea that Jesus turns today’s sorrows into tomorrow’s joys. That no matter what we face in this life, we can always count on God turning the bad parts around into good. I mean, it’s even the title of the lectionary notes in your bulletin which we get from synod. The next hymn after the sermon today is called, “Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me?” In fact, God is so good at turning it around, that we should be filled with joy, no matter our circumstances. Isn’t that what Paul did? Isn’t that what Peter did? Isn’t that what we should expect too?
Maybe you don’t realize this, but when Christians talk about their sorrows turning into joys, we often sound fake. Especially to people who know what sorrow really is. We don’t mean to. All we’re trying to do is show them how great God really is. Show them the joy we have because of Christ. But we can come across as people without scars telling those who have them how to pretend they’re not really there. We can make the joy of God sound like we shouldn’t even have any sorrows because of how great it is.
Is that how we hear Jesus’ words in our text? If Jesus turns all our sorrows into joys, then if people have sorrows, then they probably don’t really have Jesus, now do they? Because if they did, they wouldn’t feel this way, right? Whether we actually believe that or not, we do leave that impression. That sorrow is a problem to be solved. That it’s something that Jesus can help you avoid. That it’ll go away if you’ve got a good enough faith life. No wonder people think Christians are a sham.
But it doesn’t really matter what they out there think. The problem comes when that’s what we do believe. Because when we live our life expecting Jesus to just turn on the joy when things get hard, then our faith is going to take a serious hit. Because that’s not what Jesus promises at all. Not even in today’s text. Because do you know what Jesus says? Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful…. You will be. Not something that happened in the past to be forgotten. Sorrow will come. To the disciples in the text. And to you as well.
In fact, it’s expected in every one of today’s texts. Maybe you don’t see it at first. After all, Peter gets sent to the Gentiles in Caesarea. They hear the Gospel, and the Holy Spirit gives them faith through that Word. And that is a great joy for the whole Church, right? Yet because of that, Peter faced opposition from the circumcision party. Today’s joy turned into tomorrow’s sorrow. Jesus’ hand picked number one disciple was criticized openly. And the entire Church had to endure the fight. These Judaizers also harassed the Galatians, leading some of them astray. And this thing that started out with joy, ended up splitting Christ’s bride. Some rejoiced that the Gentiles believed. But that joy alone didn’t overcome the sorrow of losing some very good friends.
Our Gospel lesson has the same thing happen. The disciples had just been through the joys of entering Jerusalem triumphantly. They had the joy of seeing Jesus dominate his competition in the war of words. They had the joy of seeing the Passover come to it’s true fulfillment that Maundy Thursday evening. And they had the joy of Jesus’ final instructions to them here in John fourteen through seventeen. But today’s joy would be tomorrow’s sorrow. A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me. Jesus is going to die. And die on a cross.
In our Revelation text, there is certainly joy. But it only comes after this life is done. To have our tears wiped away is to have tears. For death to be no more means there is death. That there is no more mourning or crying or pain anymore means that there is today mourning, and crying, and pain. In order for the former things to pass away means that those former things are exactly what we must endure today. And that’s more than just the sorrows all people face from living in a sinful world. Christ promises that because we follow Him, we will also have the sorrow of being hated by this world. That’s not Jesus turning sorrow into joy in this life. That’s Christ sacrificing today’s joy for tomorrow’s sorrow. True joy only comes after the sorrows have been endured.
You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. Jesus is not saying that you’re just going to have so much joy that you’ll forget all about your sorrows. Or that joy is so going to cover up that sorrow, that you wont have time to feel bad. No. The joy in Christ is not a distraction. It’s not a gimmick. It’s Jesus actually addressing the very things that cause us so much pain, and grief, and sadness. Jesus tackles our sorrow head on. And turns that sorrow on its ear.
Whatever it is that hurts. Whatever that is that makes you cry. Whatever it is that is too overwhelming to deal with. These are the very things Jesus went to the cross for. These are the very things Jesus died for. Jesus didn’t give these words to make us forget our sorrows. Jesus gave us these words so that we would know that it is okay to feel our sorrows. It’s okay to shed our tears. It’s okay to mourn our dead. It’s okay to cry out in our pain. Because those are the places where Jesus goes. Those are the things Jesus bears. Those are the times Jesus promises not to leave us alone.
And that is where Jesus brings His resurrection. That is where Jesus brings His forgiveness. That is where Jesus brings His salvation. There is where our lectionary notes point us. There is where our hymn would have us go. We will sing in a moment, “God gives me my days of gladness, and I will trust Him still, when He sends me sadness. God is good. His love attends me. Day by day, come what may, guides me and defends me.”
Therefore, do not be afraid to weep and lament while the world rejoices. And do not expect that all our sorrows will go away so long as we follow Christ. Just the opposite. Our troubles are where Jesus comes close to us in order for Him to be there in our every need. Because just as we share in His sufferings, He likewise shares in ours. And even though we are weak from these things, He is not. Today’s joy may indeed be tomorrow’s sorrow. Yet in those sorrows, there is Christ on our behalf.
So don’t get it backwards. Joy doesn’t replace sorrow. Joy is there even in the midst of sorrow. Don’t get it backwards. Sorrow doesn’t only last a day. And our joy isn’t that our sorrows are so small. No. Our joy is that Christ is there for us in the midst of all our sorrows. Even the ones that don’t go away with the morning dawn. Because sorrow is real. Sorrow is promised. And yet, sorrow is exactly the place Christ Jesus goes for us. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. One of the last things Nancy and I discussed before she died was whether or not everything was okay. Nancy was on hospice. She was unable to get out of bed. And she knew her last day was coming soon. Of course that question came up. It will come up for every one of us who will see death coming slowly for us. Is everything okay? Is it okay between me and God? She wasn’t sure if it was. And in that kind of moment, when we’re in it, we aren’t sure either.
Because even after a life of faith. Even after hearing the Gospel. Even after receiving God’s gifts. We know there is a moment coming where we can no longer go back. And if there’s anything we missed. Anything we forgot to say or do for God. Anything that stands between us and eternal life, then we had absolutely better know what it is before we pass the point of no return. And it’s in that moment where we’re reminded of all the times we failed. All the times we sinned. All the times we couldn’t do what God asked.
Maybe it’s a variation on the question, “Have I done enough?” The answer to that question, not only for Nancy, but also for all of us, is no. No we haven’t. None of us have accepted well enough. Believed strong enough. Lived good enough. Done nearly enough in order to go to heaven to be with Jesus. When we look inside and are honest with ourselves–which there’s nothing like dying to get yourself honest about who you really are. But there’s nothing in there that can actually stand before God and make our case. As Paul quotes from the Psalms, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Not you. Not me. Not Nancy.
However, there is a difference. When we ask with worry if things are okay, we already know in our hearts that they are not. That’s not the time to hear more Law. That’s not the time to have more that we have to do. Rather, it’s the time to hear the good news that what needed done has already been taken care of. Because Jesus did for us all the things we were supposed to do. And Jesus bore on that cross all the things we weren’t supposed to do, but did anyways. And every one of today’s texts are there to give us that assurance. That confidence. That Gospel.
Our question is brought up by God’s people in our Isaiah text. But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” It is as if to ask, “Are things okay? Because they sure don’t seem to be any more.” The nation of Israel was dying . The Babylonian exile was coming. And they were wondering if there was anything that they had to do. Their answer isn’t that they should have done more, but rather that God would not abandon them, despite their sin. The Lord says to them, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.”
Israel is not forgotten. Nancy is not forgotten. You are not forgotten. Jesus has engraved us onto His own hands. Those nail marks are for you and for me, and for us all. He doesn’t let us go because we don’t measure up. He doesn’t abandon us because we sin. He doesn’t give up on us even when we die. In fact, those are the words our Psalm proclaims to us. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. And whether or not we live up to our end of these words, Christ nonetheless lives up to His.
After all, [w]ho shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? …No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
There is no fear too big. There is no failure too large. There is no sin too great that it cannot be forgiven. There is nothing too much that Jesus cannot overcome. Not even our inability to do enough. Because we do not belong to Christ because of what we did. We belong to Christ because of what He did. It’s His death and resurrection on our behalf that has rescued us. It’s His cross and passion that has won for us forgiveness. It’s His bleeding and dying, and being buried that has saved us. And it is His resurrection from the dead that has given us eternal life with Him. That is Nancy’s hope. That is her confession. That is her assurance.
And that cannot be taken away from her. Nor can it be taken away from us, just because we’re not sure we’ve done enough. As Jesus Himself says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” It’s not up to the sheep to make themselves okay. It’s all up to our Good Shepherd. And He has indeed made it okay. He has done enough for us all.
Nancy is in Jesus’ hands right now. She is there before the throne and before the Lamb, singing God’s praises. She has the love of God in Christ Jesus. Even in the valley of the shadow of death, she is comforted by Christ’s rod and staff. She is engraved into Christ’s hands. And she, like all of us, now await the day of the resurrection of all flesh. In the meantime, we mourn. Because death hurts us all. But our mourning is not forever. We will see Nancy in the flesh once again. Wrap our arms around her once again. And in that day, Christ Jesus will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Thanks be to God.