Reason to Speak

2 Corinthians 4:13-14 “It is written: ‘I believed, therefore I have spoken.’ With that same spirit of faith we also believe, and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.”

Our failure to appreciate the magnitude of the gift presents a major obstacle to our sharing the gospel with others. Many of us have known from childhood that Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know that he is my Savior. That’s a wonderful gift from God. 

But we are also tempted to take it for granted when we have known it so long. Martin Luther said it this way: “When we hear that Christ has redeemed us with his blood, we are moved as much as a dunce is moved when he hears that a hen has laid an egg. ‘What kind of marvel is that?’ says he, ‘Indeed, that happens every day.’ There is also no joy, comfort, thanks or wonderment when people hear of Christ’s suffering. ‘Oh, that is nothing new! Who does not know that? I have known it well for a long time.’ And so the dear Christ, with his precious blood and his immeasurable works of wonder, must be considered a trifling matter.”

This very message we take for granted assures us that God forgives us and loves us in spite of our sin. That gives us something to say! Paul says, “We also believe, and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.” As Paul points out, you and I already know that the same God who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us, too. We know the reason people die is that God punishes sin with death and hell. We know that when Jesus died on the cross, he suffered the punishment for every human being, and every human sin. That means God no longer needs to punish us for our sins. Since Jesus took our sin out of the picture, death can no longer maintain its control over him or anyone else. God raised him to show that Jesus’ death on the cross really worked. That demonstrates to us that we are also going to rise from the dead to live with him forever. 

This means we are preparing for a great family reunion. Not only will we be raised, but God will “present us with you in his presence.” We will be reunited with him. We will also be reunited with every other believer. This includes those who died before us and those who will die after us. Our believing grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, children and grandchildren will join us with God to live forever.

You already knew this. But is that not amazing? Is it not worth saying? We know God’s secret to eternal life. Of all the problems people face, one problem confronts everyone without exception: death. People may not like to think about it, but no one gets around this reality. Some try to put it off with better health insurance, better doctors, better living habits, or better law enforcement, but there is only one effective solution. We know what that is. That gives us reason to speak. Everyone needs to hear what we have to say.

Divine Privilege

1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are his own, that you may tell others about the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

Peter’s list describes our new status, our “identity” as those who believe in Jesus. Some parts of this involve things for us to use, but he presents most of this list simply for us to appreciate. 

First, the Lord tells us that he has made us his chosen people. That reminds us of the special relationship he once had with the people of Israel. Now that relationship has been opened up. It is no longer the unique possession of one ethnic group. You can’t draw boundaries around it. It applies to all who are part of God’s spiritual house by faith.

Is it hard for us to see the value?  Maybe it was easier for the Gentiles to whom Peter was writing to feel how important that is.  He reminds them in verse 10, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.  Once you had received no mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Peter’s audience knew what it was like to be on the outside looking in. Maybe they weren’t even interested in what the Jewish religion had to say before Jesus was preached to them. But now that they had come to know the Lord, now that they knew the peace and comfort, the power and joy they had been missing, they knew what it means to be God’s chosen people.

Another part of our new status is simply to enjoy is being a holy nation. God doesn’t say you can be a holy nation.  He doesn’t say you will be a holy nation. He says you are one. Even if we don’t act holy, even if we don’t feel holy, God has declared us holy. We are holy because Jesus has washed us clean with his own blood. 

Peter calls us, “a people who are His own.” Once again, what can you do with that? All you can do is bask in it. All you can do is drink it in and know how special God has made you. You are his own. You belong to him.  Ordinarily, the idea of belonging to someone else doesn’t appeal to independent, freedom loving people.  But until we belong to God, we never really know what freedom is. That might sound like a contradiction, but the believer understands. Only after the gospel has captured our hearts, and we understand what it means that Jesus has purchased us from the slavery of sin and death; only after the strangling chains of guilt have been torn away by the cross, do we live our lives in the freedom Jesus promised when he said, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” It’s a freedom that belongs only to those who belong to him.

As living stones in God’s spiritual house, we enjoy this glorious new status. But one feature also provides something to put into action. Peter calls us a “royal priesthood.” Earlier in his letter he explained, “You are holy priests who bring spiritual sacrifices that God gladly accepts through Jesus Christ.”

This forms the foundation for the New Testament teaching of the universal priesthood of all believers. In the Old Testament God established a special class of priests who stood between himself and his people. They offered the prayers and sacrifices on behalf of everyone else. Their presence served as a reminder of the way in which sin separated the people from God.

Today Jesus has become our once-for-all sacrifice for sin. We can come to him directly to offer our prayers and lives of service as a spiritual sacrifice to God.

Sometimes the term “privilege” gets used as criticism of the people the envious perceive to possess unfair advantages. We Christians have a privilege that is purely a matter of God’s grace, one to embrace without shame, in the status or identity he has given by making us his own.

Where Is He?

Acts 3:1-7 “One day Peter and John were going up to the temple courts at the time of prayer–at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, ‘Look at us!’ So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.” 

There was nothing unusual about going to the temple and finding people begging for money. We find ourselves in similar circumstances today when confronted by panhandlers. Some people who beg for money may be abusing the charity of the generous. This man simply was unable to support himself because of his disability. He genuinely needed help. Since he was lame from birth, there was no reason to think he would ever be cured.

Peter and John wanted to help. They weren’t trying only to quiet the lame man. Nor were they acting from guilt or annoyed into helping. They loved this man from the heart, and they did more than buy him a meal. 

First, they demanded his full attention. “Look at us.” It was important for the man to hear exactly what the apostles had to say, to understand what they were doing. Then came the gift: “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”  With those simple words, the man was healed. Peter gave him more than a little bread. He gave him a new way of life. Contained in this gift was a very personal reason to trust in Jesus Christ. The healing was so complete that, though the man had never walked a day in his life, now he was able jump and run. No one could deny a miracle had taken place.

Do we see where Jesus is in all of this? Cowardice had led this same Peter to deny he knew Jesus three times. This same John once so thirsted for power that he tried to manipulate Jesus into promising to make him second in command in his kingdom. On the night Jesus rose from the dead these men had locked themselves in an upper room for fear of the Jews. 

Now they were boldly and publicly healing this man in Jesus’ name. Peter and John were not acting alone. Jesus was working in and through them, using the disciples to heal the crippled man. We see Jesus in the lives of his people, loving others through his power.

Do we find him in the same place today? We haven’t been given the gift to heal people miraculously.  But we do have gifts for serving others. These are no less the work of Jesus. He is still working, still serving others, even in those who clean the church, or make the coffee on Sunday morning. His love moves those who send a sympathy card or visit us when tragedy strikes. He is knocking at the unbeliever’s door when someone from the evangelism team makes a visit, and he is seeking the straying when elders call on those who have stopped attending worship.

We may not see him with our eyes, but Jesus hasn’t disappeared. He still serves us in the love and help of other Christians. He still uses us to be his loving hands and mouths today.

To Him Be the Glory Forever

Romans 11:35 “For from him, and through him, and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” 

Everything in creation comes from God. Christians who recite the creeds in church remind themselves of this every Sunday. “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth,” the Apostle’s Creed begins. The Nicene creed adds, “and of all things visible and invisible.” His creating hand has been responsible for all we have and enjoy.

Then, we can say that everything in creation is “through him.” The Lord didn’t just wind the universe up and let it go. His loving hands still play a direct role in everything that happens. He not only provides the good gifts we enjoy from him. He is also the One who has brought them to us. He still delivers every possession we have, whether material or spiritual.

This means that all things are “to him.” Perhaps this phrase is the hardest of the trio to understand. What does it mean that all things are “to God”? This is a way of saying that everything finds its purpose, its reason for existing, in God. It all exists for his glory. No thing and no person will be able to escape serving his gracious purpose in the end.

Do you find some peace here? Does it give you some assurance as you grapple with life? All we have and are is the creation of this wise and loving God. He still very much involves himself in our lives. He brings us his gifts and gives us life as he directs every experience and supports the existence of all things through his power and love. We have the confidence that, whatever we may have, or be, or look like now, in some way we exist to him. We are serving his glory, a glory that shines brightest when he is saving us from sin and preparing us for heaven.

The Lord’s works and ways often leave us with the question “Why?” There is a humility that can explore the answer to that question without harm to faith or criticism of God. But there is also a time be content that he has the answer, even if he isn’t sharing it with us. His greatness far exceeds our own. And that is a good thing. “To him be the glory forever. Amen.”

God Is Greater

Romans 11:34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?  Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?”

C.S Lewis once commented about his frustration with people who asked why God had to make religion so complicated, as if the Lord were just making this all up as he went along instead of revealing quite unchangeable facts about who he is and what he has done. Sometimes people want a little god, a god they can put in a box, or one they can set limits on. 

But do we really want a god like that, one so simple we understand everything about him, one so small we can control him? Why not be happy our God is so great?  Isn’t it better to accept our place, and know how much greater he is?

The idea of thinking we are smarter, and giving God advice is appealing. Might we be tempted to raise our hands and volunteer if the position of “Advisor to the Lord” were actually offered?  We can all look back through our lives and find some time when we tried to appoint ourselves the Lord’s counselor. We think we could do a better job of steering, and avoid the bumps along the way, if he would just give us the wheel.

We struggle to appreciate the growth in faith times like that provide for us. We forget that our questioning attitude flows from our failure to love the Lord with heart, soul, and mind.

It is not our place to tell the Lord what to do.  It is his place to tell us what he has done. Who wants to complain when he tells us that he doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve? Who would have suggested that he demand nothing of us, or that he offer his Son to suffer for our sins? That is exactly what he has to say, and he assures us over and over again. 

Paul’s third question also suggests something about knowing our station.  “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?”  All that we have ever given to God is grief. All that he should repay to us is death and hell. Nonetheless, he treats us as if he does owe us something. 

Take a moment to consider how much of God’s work for us involves the word “give.”  He gave us his Son. Today he gives us the Holy Spirit. He gives us life. He gives us heaven.  He gives us our daily bread. He gives and he gives and he gives. When we understand our station, as the receiver of his gifts, our reasons to question him begin to disappear. Our reason to trust his greatness becomes so much more clear.

Oh, the Depths!

Romans 11:33 “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable his judgements, and his paths beyond tracing out!” 

The depth and the richness of God’s wisdom and knowledge inspired Paul’s trust. God’s knowledge includes that vast store of information that he has about everything he has created. You can take all the information mankind has gathered, double it, triple it, and he still knows more.

Scientists have identified about 800,000 different kinds of insects. They believe there are between 1 million and 10 million left to discover.  They find another seven to ten thousand every year. The Lord knows not only how many kinds of insects there are, or how many insects are alive at any given moment. He personally knows each bug, where it is, and what it is doing. He not only knows the average number of hairs on a human head.  He knows how many are on your head. He knows you and me, and every human being, better than we know ourselves.

“So what!” someone might say. “What good is it?” The Lord’s vast store of information wouldn’t merely make him a good contestant on Jeopardy. Along with the depth of the riches of his knowledge comes the depth of the riches of his wisdom. His wisdom is his capacity to take this knowledge, this intimate understanding of everything he has made, and put it to work for us. Whether we understand it or not, every situation he allows into our lives is tailor made for us at just that moment in time. 

That wisdom accomplished our salvation. The Lord knew that sinful people would never live up to his perfect demands. He sent Jesus to become our brother and fulfill those demands in our place. He knew we had nothing to pay for our sins ourselves. What could we give him? He owns everything, even our very selves. So he took what he knows about us and devised a plan for Jesus to become our substitute. He transferred our guilt to him. He paid what we never could. 

The Lord knew people would never trust his way of salvation on their own. So he sent the Holy Spirit to call us to faith. He took us by the heart and led us to trust that he is our friend. His word convinced us he every sin we commit.

Even a theologian like the Apostle Paul didn’t have all the answers to the theological questions he had. But what he did know about God let him live securely.  He simply trusted in the greatness of God’s saving wisdom.

The Greatest Treasure

Matthew 13:44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”

If we want to understand why this treasure is so valuable, we can start by remembering what it cost.  Our way back into God’s kingdom cost him dearly. Someone once said, God’s grace is free, but it isn’t cheap. Peter’s first letter tell us how much it cost:  “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as gold or silver that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” 

Our sins offended God in such a way that no human payment would ever be enough. Only the life blood of Jesus himself–God’s one and only Son–was valuable enough to win us a place with God. On the cross he paid by experiencing hell for us. He endured every last drop of God’s anger at sin as our substitute. He opened the way to live in God’s love once again. 

What kind of price can you put on a merely human life? Most people will agree that no price can be set.  This treasure God offers is worth the price of God himself, the life of his own dear Son.

The next thing that makes this treasure so valuable is the gift it gives us. What does it mean to be a part of the kingdom of God? Today it means we have this loving relationship with God. Someday it means that we will live in his presence forever. That is not just any life. It is life without all the nuisances, big or small, that plague us now. 

That life to come knows no pain of rejection. Broken families are not a thing there. Marriages don’t fall apart and relationships are never strained. It’s life without hangnails, pimples, wrinkles, or pot bellies. In God’s presence forever, we will live surrounded by his love, basking in his glory.

What is a life like that worth to you? Consider what you would do just to give your children a few extra days or years of the ordinary, generic life we experience now, with all of its pain and problems.  Can you see yourself mortgaging your house if you needed the money for medical treatment? Donating one of your own organs? Giving your own life? Jesus has won for us the treasure of life without end and life without any kind of suffering. Can you even place a price on that?

This isn’t just a treasure for our future. The man who found the treasure hidden in the field was filled with joy as soon as he found it. God’s kingdom has the same effect. Jesus is our joy today. We find our peace in him in this moment. We know that we live in God’s grace and love. We have the riches of his promises, promises to be with us always, to supply all our needs, to protect us from danger, to answer our prayers, to make everything that ever happens work for our good. 

God has never failed to keep a single promise. Maybe we can’t always understand the promises or see their fulfilment clearly, but we can take hold of these treasures and know they will never fail. They hold their value forever, the greatest treasure we will ever own.

More Than the Stars

Genesis 15:1-6 He (the Lord) took him outside and said, ‘Look at the heavens and count the stars–if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” 

Astronomers tell us that there are over 200 billion billion stars in the universe. Not all of them are visible to the naked eye. If every living soul on earth were to count 50 billion of them, they still wouldn’t all be counted.

God’s point to Abram was clear. He had more descendants planned for Abram than he could even count. And Abram had been worried about getting just one. Sometimes God has plans to make us an oak tree when we had our sights set on becoming a radish. God’s promises assure us of his protection now, and they assure us that the care we receive is generous.

God’s promises had an interesting effect on Abram. They not only settled the situation at hand. They assured Abram of God’s love forever. “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”

It wasn’t natural for Abram to believe God. The visible evidence would have led him in the opposite direction. Abram was an old man, approaching 85 years old. It had been ten years since God first promised him children. TEN YEARS! But God’s promises have the power to change people. The word for “believe” here is the same word from which we get our word “Amen.” When we finish our prayers, we say “Amen,” “Yes, I believe this,” “This is the way it really is.” God’s promises change us. They give us the faith to respond, “Yes. What God says is true.”

More important than anything Abram had to say was what God had to say about Abram. God credited him with righteousness. God considered Abram a righteous man, free from sin, though Abram would still be plagued with doubts from time to time, though Abram would still be guilty of some glaring sins.

Among all the things Abram received by trusting God’s promises, the greatest is certainly that God forgave his sins. He considered him righteous. In this way he brought Abram close to himself in relationship of trust and love. This was not due to Abram’s great virtue. It was a gift Abram received because his great descendant Jesus Christ gave his life for the sins of the world.

THAT is the promise that not only assures us of God’s protection now. It assures us of his love forever. Nothing stands between us and God anymore. He accepts us as his very own. When we have problems, this promise puts it all in perspective. For Jesus’ sake God has removed all our sins. No matter what happens in this life, we will always be his own, and he will always be ours. We don’t need to be afraid. Our blessings outnumber the stars in the sky.

Our Shield

Genesis 15:1-2 “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.’ But Abram said, ‘O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?’”

What did Abram have to fear? What sort of problems did he have? God had made him a wealthy man. He had a beautiful wife. He and his little band of servants had just returned from single-handedly defeating five kings and their armies in a battle.

But Abram’s life was not worry free: ‘O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless…” Perhaps we don’t fully appreciate Abram’s agony over being childless. The word Abram used for childless literally means “stripped” or “bare.” The same word can be used to describe nakedness. That was the kind of shame Abram and Sarah felt at not having children. Some problems you can hide, but not this one. You can’t pretend you have children any more than you can pretend you have clothes on. Abram had no one to carry on the family name. His wealth would pass to one of his servants.

An even bigger problem with childlessness was God’s promise of a Savior. Abram was in the Messianic line. If Abram had no children, where would the Savior come from? God had even bigger promises to keep, and Abram was having his doubts.

Each of us comes with our own fears and doubts. I don’t know what we could learn about each other’s fears if we could crawl inside each other’s heads. You know what yours are, and I know what mine are. Just like Abraham we are tempted to ask the question: “What can you give me, Lord? What can you do for me?” Does he really care? Is he really going to help?

Something in Abram’s questions shows he still knew where his help comes from: “You have given me no children” (verse 3). We may think we know where children come from. Abram knew where they really come from: God gives them. More than children, God gave him promises, promises to settle his fears. “Then the word of the Lord came to him: ‘This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.’”

God had a simple solution for Abram. He gave him his word. He promised that Abram would have a son. In effect, he was saying, “Abram, the reality is exactly the opposite of what you think you see and feel. Having a son seems impossible to you now. You are desperate for some way to remedy things, perhaps tempted reinterpret my promises to fit what you see. But I have promised you will have a son. No matter how impossible that seems, no matter how long it takes the promise to be fulfilled, I made it and I will keep it. That is the reality.” The Lord had promised to be Abram’s shield, to keep evil away from him, even the evil of seeing the promise of children go unfulfilled.

The fulfillment of God’s promises to us can be similarly difficult for us to see. He tells us, “Call upon me in the day of trouble, I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” Jesus promise the Lord will give us everything we need: “Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

So often life and experience seem to contradict these words. That makes them no less true. It took 25 years, a quarter century, from the time the Lord promised Abram a son to his son Isaac’s birth. His past record of perfect faithfulness allows us to settle every fear or doubt with the certainty of his word. The Lord is our shield, too. He won’t let today’s problems hurt us in the end.