Romans 8:18-24a It is so very easy--living in this world that is broken by sin and death--to become depressed and discouraged—to lose hope.
With each election cycle we hear candidates promise that they are different than those who came before—that this time things will be different for our nation.
Many people find themselves in marriages and families where the future holds out the promise of the same old painful past.
Those of us who have lived more than just a few years on earth discover that we are not becoming stronger, but weaker, with the passing years.
It is difficult to be people of hope when it seems as if the future is simply an endless repeat of the same old cycle of brokenness and death that has come before.
And yet, we are called to be people of hope! The Bible says: that love always hopes-- and that there is a hope that is an anchor for our souls—a hope that will not disappoint us. And so what is that hope for the future that we Christians have? God the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to write:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Do you see that word “consider” there in your bible? The Greek word that Paul used there comes from the ancient business world and it means to count up and enumerate and weigh things out carefully. And so then…
In one column are all the things that tempt us to lose hope: a nation in moral decline, difficult relationships, frail health, economic difficulties-- and in the other column are the good things of God that are still to come: an eternal home where sorrow and suffering have no part, relief from the burden of our flesh, a reunion with those we love who have gone before, and a new life in the very presence of God.
Add up both of those columns and you will very quickly discover that even the most broken earthly life that is full of hardships-- still does not come close to outweighing the wonderful life that God has in store for those who are his children and heirs of all of the blessings Christ has earned for us on the cross.
Many of these blessings are still in the future—they are objects of hope—but they are no less certain than the accomplished facts of salvation history. We just have to wait for them in hope, looking forward to the day when they will be our own. And so…
When will, what we hope for as Christians, become our own? The Bible says: The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
As we look at the world around us, it is often difficult to distinguish between those who are God’s children from those who are not God’s children. As the bible says, it rains on the just and the unjust.
In other words, earthly blessings and hardships are no indicator of those who are God’s children and those who are not. Sometimes Christians suffer while the evil flourish.
But it will not always be this way. There is coming a day—the Last Day—when there will be a distinct division between those who are God’s—and those who are not. There will be reward and punishment on that day—and what we have hoped for and prayed for and longed for as Christian people—what has always been in the future—will become our present possession for eternity.
And not only do WElong for that day—but even creation longs for that day-- for it too will be restored. The Bible says:
The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
When evil entered into our world—all of creation was affected. Satan took upon himself the form of a serpent. Adam and Eve ate forbidden fruit. And their sin not only ruined their lives—but it ruined creation as well. God said that:
No longer would work be a delight--but creation would work against man every step of the way with thorns and thistles and every other kind of earthly hardship.
No longer would man and woman dwell in perfect delight with one another but there would be animosity between them.
Every generation that followed them would come forth into the world through pain.
And death would enter into the world—beginning with the animals that God used to cover Adam and Eve’s shame. A broken creation.
So it still is today. The world that was created to support our life-- takes our life through earthquakes and tsunamis and hurricanes and disease and drought and famine. Men commit every kind of evil against their fellow man and bitterness and anger extend into even our closest human relationships. And death is still the end of every living thing.
That was true even for our Lord. His blessed mother brought him forth in painful labor. The knife of the priest on his eighth day of life cause him to cry out in pain. He labored by the sweat of his brow. His family struggled to understand him and his friends rejected him. He too breathed a last earthly breath just like every other person who came before him.
But three days later Jesus did something that no one had ever done before—he rose up from the dead. His resurrection is God’s promise that the curse of creation that brings death to us and ruins this beautiful world will not endure forever—that the downward spiral of the world -and mankind with it- has been reversed by God and is now moving in a different direction—towards freedom and life. The Bible says:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
When Adam and Even sinned, one of the consequences of that sin was that children would be brought forth in pain. And yet despite the pain, children are brought forth.
The love and courage of women and their hope for their children’s future is greater than their fear of pain and new life comes forth into the world. That is the way that Paul describes the world itself—filled with pain-- but not futility—looking forward to the future and a new life to come.
This image radically changes how we view the brokenness of this world and the terrible tragedies of the natural order.
No longer do we see an endless cycle of pain and misery and suffering that have no meaning or purpose or end—but we see them as the birth pains of a new world to come—a new creation redeemed by the blood of its Creator and renewed by his resurrection so that the whole world can live again without the stain and punishment of sin—just as we will one day live. The Bible says:
Not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.
The children of Israeloffered up the first part of every harvest to the LORD—as a tangible sign that the LORD had provided for them just as he promised-- and that having begun the harvest he would bring in the rest of the promised crop. That firstfruit gift connected the past and present and the future.
So it is with the firstfruits of the Spirit. We have been born again by the work of the Holy Spirit—we confess that Jesus is Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit—the Holy Spirit dwells in our life—and the Holy Spirit gives us his good gifts.
The Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives is a promise from God—a guarantee, a down payment, on every other blessing of body and soul that he has promised to his children-- culminating in our physical resurrection from the dead on the Last Day.
Now, when we die, our souls go to be with the Lord—and the Bible says that is better by far than what we experience here on earth.
But that is not all there is to the restoration and renewal of our lives by any means! We are both body and soul and Jesus Christ has redeemed both body and soul and rose up from his grave—body and soul—glorified, never to die again. So will we!
That day is still in the future—it is an object of hope—and until that day we suffer the hardships of the broken human condition. We age. We get sick. We become frail. And we die.
But Christians do not see that as simply our own small part in an endless cycle of birth, life and death that has no meaning or purpose or fulfillment.
Instead, we know that we are moving towardssomething—that life, real life, life as God intends is getting closer and closer and that knowledge helps us to wait patiently for the day of resurrection that God has promised will come for his children. Amen.
Micah 7:18-20 Apparently last Sunday’s sermon about loving others like Christ loves us--struck a chord with a number of folks who heard it! One person, especially close to me, who shall remain nameless, said after worship was over: “Well, that’s it, I’m not going to heaven”!
That’s exactly what the Law does when it is preached in its fullness! It shows us that we do not have what it takes (this time in our love for others) to make our own way to heaven.
Much of the Book of Micah is just like that. It is full of hard-hitting preaching of the Law. If you have your Bibles open and flip through the pages of Micah and read the headings you will get a quick sense of how hard-hitting his message was! “The Coming Destruction!” “Woe to the Oppressors!” “The Indictment of the Lord!” “The Destruction of the Wicked!”
Neither the politicians nor the preachers not the people were spared from the law. Their lack of faith, their love of money, their immoral lives, their divided hearts were laid bare and shown to be rebellion against God that deserved his judgment in time and eternity.
That’s what we heard last Sunday: that anger is murder and no murderer has eternal life. But in defense of my sermon, despite how hard-hitting it was, I also talked about God’s love for us in Christ—that this is what true love is and how Jesus makes all the difference in our life.
So it is in today’s text: there is woe and destruction and indictment and judgment to be sure! But there is also the compassion and forgiveness of God who reaches out to people who cannot make their way to him, who rescues people who cannot help themselves, who saves people who only deserve his judgment.
Then and now: there is hope for us (not because we get it right) but because we have in the LORD a God like no other who forgives and restores sinners. The Bible says:
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance?
Most Bible experts consider this a rhetorical question that is only asked so that it may be answered by the one who asked it—but I’m not so sure.
I believe the Holy Spirit inspired Micah to write these words so that we really would consider just for a moment—just exactly what kind of God we have in the LORD who forgives sins so mercifully and completely—and compare him to the false gods and dead idols of the unbelieving world. And so I ask you…
Do the false gods of Hinduism or Islam forgive sins by sacrificing themselves for sinners? Do the countless gods of the pagans act with mercy towards the broken? Do all of the idols that struggle for a place in our hearts give us the comfort and peace of knowing that we are loved? No!
Who is a God like the LORD? The answer is no one! There are, in the end, only two religions in the world.
There is the false religion (in its many forms with its many false gods) that requires man to make his own way to forgiveness and righteousness—and there is the true religion of Holy Scripture and its one true God who pardons iniquity and passes over the transgressions of his people. The Bible says that the LORD: does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.
Before we go too much farther we ought to be very clear: God is angry over the sins of mankind. They are an affront to his eyes, they are a stench in his nostrils, they are an outrage to his ears! He is absolutely serious when he says that we are to be holy as he is holy and he means it when he says that the wages of sin is death!
The Bible is absolutely clear that the LORD is a God of wrath and we ought to stand in awe of his holiness and fear his judgment. But the Bible is just as clear that the LORD delights in steadfast love. DELIGHTS in STEADFAST love!
We learned about ourselves last week that our love for others is all over the place in its sincerity and truth and sometimes it is lacking altogether! But the LORD’s love for us never changes; his mercies never cease; and he does not hold onto his anger over our sins forever!
But we also need to understand this: the reason that the LORD does not retain his anger forever is not because his holiness and righteousness have changed-- and it is not because he has changed his mind about his expectations for us.
Rather, the LORD does not hold onto his anger because he has poured it out upon his Son.
Micah had to trust that this was true as he prophesied about the Messiah to come-- but we know it is true because of the accomplished facts of salvation history.
The Savior born in Bethlehem of whom Micah prophesied died on the cross, in our place, with the wrath of his heavenly poured upon him, because of our sins-- and the Father abandoned his son, our substitute, to death and hell and the grave.
He did this FOR US and Christ sacrificed himself FOR US because he saw our great need and was moved to come to our aid because we were helpless to make our own way to him. The Bible says that: He will again have compassion on us;
In the Old Testament and the New Testament, compassion is not just a feeling of pity that God has from on high upon those down below-- but a heartfelt concern that moves him every time to help those in need.
There were hard times ahead for the people of Judah but Micah knew and he wanted the believers then and now to know that the Lord could be counted on (no matter how dark the days, no matter how well-deserved the discipline) to have compassion on his people and come to their aid.
And that is exactly what he did for our greatest need of all—our need of forgiveness. Micha uses two vibrant word pictures to show us just how completely the Lord has dealt with our sins. First of all he says that the LORD will he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
There is only one person who has had the complete victory over temptation and sin and the devil and that is Jesus. He rose victorious over death and he grave and he reigns as the King of kings and Lord of lords while all of heaven sings his eternal victory song.
The experience of the rest of us when it comes to temptation and sin and the devil is very different indeed. We know about ourselves how difficult it is to go even a short time without some sin of thought, word, or deed. We know how often our love for others is not like Jesus’ love for us.
If you have every struggled against a besetting sin particular to you know how humiliating it is to fall victim to that sin again and again. Oftentimes, in various ways, we are defeated by our spiritual enemies.
That is why it is the best possible news for us that the LORD himself treads our iniquities underfoot! The image comes from a battlefield in the ancient world where an enemy has been so utterly defeated and brought to ruin that their conqueror can walk upon them unafraid and unchallenged.
That is God’s own truth about the sins in your life: they lie defeated under the nail-pierced feet of your champion, Jesus Christ.
And then Micah goes on to offer us another picture of how completely, how totally the LORD has dealt with our sin. He says that the LORD will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.
In the ancient world, when ship and a crew and their cargo was lost at sea—it was lost—along with everything in it. There was no recovery effort—not way to bring it back. It was simply gone forever, never seen again. Even today, if you take a cruise and throw something overboard, it’s gone for good!
That’s how completely the Lord has dealt with our sins. They have been cast into the flood of Jesus’ blood that poured out from his sacred veins upon Calvary’s cross. Covered by his blood, they cannot be found, they will not be recovered, they will never again see the light of day!
Now I want you to reflect with me for just a moment. I want you to think about some sin that you have brought into this place, maybe it is a harsh word over this last week, maybe it is some loveless deed from the past, maybe it is something that you deeply regret, maybe it is a besetting sin that mocks your faith in Jesus.
Now I want you to picture that sin in utter defeat under the feet of Jesus, conquered by him once and for all. I want you to picture that sin so completely covered by the blood of Jesus that it will never again see the light of day.
That is no creative visualization on our art that has no basis in reality. That is what the LORD says about your sins of the past and that is what the LORD says about you in the days to come.
The Bible says that the LORD will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old. What about this new week that we have entered into today? We know that there are going to be faith challenges. We know that there are going to be temptations. We know that there are going to be some spiritual defeats and some sin. How do we face the future knowing this about ourselves without despair?
We face the future trusting in the promise that we hear today: the LORD WILL show faithfulness to his people! He has sworn on oath by himself (for there is nothing greater) that he will always be the God of steadfast love and compassion who will pass over our transgressions and pardon our iniquity and cast ALL our sins into the depths of the sea.
In this week to come, and in every day of Your life as his child: that I who the LORD is and that is what he will do. Amen.
1 John 3:13-18 I think that most of us have heard the phrase, “Talk is Cheap”. Or the phrase, “You need to put your money where your mouth is.” Or the phrase, “You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?”
And we know what is meant: that words are easily spoken --but the actions that accompany them, that give proof to the truth of what we say-- are costly.
That is the theme of our text today. John says that we Christians are not to love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. Now, John is not saying that we shouldn’t speak kindly to one another—not at all! The Bible is full of counsel on speaking kindly to one another
But what he is saying is that, the way we live our lives, and especially the way that we treat one another, ought to correspond to our confession of faith—that there ought to be a real connection between the love that Christ has for us shown in his sacrifice on the cross --and the love that we have for one another shown in the concrete ways we treat one another.
We Christians know what love is because we know the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross-- but what God wants us to understand today is that the world around us will to come to know what real love is because of the Christ-like way we treat one another.
The Bible says: Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. Every year, generally around Christmas, we all become combatants in what are called the “culture wars.”
The checker at Walmart says Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. The schoolchildren get a “winter” break instead of a Christmas vacation. Some little town is sued because of the manger scene on the lawn of the county courthouse.
It’s becoming more widespread. Just recently a case concerning a one hundred year old WWI monument in the shape of the cross went to the Supreme Court because it was on public land and there were people who wanted it taken down.
And so I want to ask you: when these things happen, when you hear about them: how does it make you feel? John says: Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. But we are surprised aren’t we? Along with outraged and offended and up in arms at the injustice of it all! But here’s the thing:
I can assure you that the Christians in the Middle East and Africa are not surprised. They know, and always known the truth of John’s words that the world hates Christians. They have always taken heart in the words of Jesus that Christians are blessed when they are persecuted and that we ought to rejoice because that persecution identifies us with Christ and his people and that if we are hated, it is only because the world hated Christ first.
The attitude of the world towards Christ and his people us is hatred and we should not be surprised by it. But what should be our attitude towards others? Should we return hatred for hatred? Or is there another way? The Bible says that:
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.
Let’s be very, very clear: the way of hatred is the way of death. And the measure of our faith in Jesus is found in the measure of our love for others—especially those in the church.
Now, it is not as if we are to only love Christians. The Bible says that God so loved the world. Jesus says that we are to love our enemies and do good to those who mistreat us. But in these verses John is especially focusing our attention on how we treat one another in the church as a demonstration of our faith in Jesus. If we love them or not. Now…
The church ought to be the easiest place to find love-- but too often the opposite is true! If you don’t believe me, reflect a bit on these questions: “How do you feel about the people in this place?” Picture them in your mind’s eye and think about it.
The people sitting in these pews with us today are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have the same heavenly Father. We have the same Savior. There is no one closer to us on earth than those in this place who share our faith. And so we ask ourselves…
Are there people here I avoid because they just set my teeth on edge? Are there people here I ignore because they are not in my social class? Are there people here that I am embittered towards because of some past wrong? Are there people here that I regard as my enemies because they disagree with me about something here at church? Hear the Word of God:
Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
In these words John is simply echoing the teaching of Jesus. The Pharisees thought that they were in good shape spiritually because they were living outwardly holy lives. But Jesus called them white-washed graves: clean and white on the outside but ugly and dead on the inside.
He went on to explain what he meant: that it is not just those who actually have an affair who are guilty of adultery but the one who lusted-- and that it was not just the one who took a life who was guilty of murder but the one who was angry—and that living this way, even in our hearts, a person would never enter the kingdom of heaven.
That is exactly what John says here: that hatred of others, especially our fellow Christians is murder-- and that no murderer has eternal life.
These are hard words and they are meant to be because God wants to lay bare the truth about our hearts and lives: that much too often we do not love others as we should because we do not love others as we have been loved by Jesus. The Bible says:
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
The truth of the matter is that we haven’t loved others as we should-- but it is also true that we haven’t been loved BY others as we should. In this broken world, true love is finally and fully seen in only one place-- and that is in the love that Jesus has for us at the cross.
He laid down his life for us out of love for us. He died loving people who did not know him, for people who hated him, for people who would heap scorn and ridicule upon him, for people who would never accept his love or allow themselves to be changed by his love.
He loved us, not because we are particularly lovable, not because of what he could get from us, and certainly not because we have ever or could ever do anything to deserve that kind of love. He loved us because he is love-- and he showed what true love looks like as he laid down his life for us upon the cross.
That is what love is-- and the Bible says that, as recipients of his love, as those who have passed from death to life through faith in him, as his disciples, we are to lay down our lives for others, especially for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Now…
When John talks about “laying down our lives” he is talking about the crucifixion: of literally laying down upon the rough beams of a cross, of nails being driven into hands and feet, of a crucified body being lifted up for all the world to see.
That is what Jesus did for us-- and that is the shape of our love for others. And so what does that look like in our lives? The Bible says that:
if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?
You and I are not called by God to be crucified for the sins of the world but we are called upon by God, as followers of Jesus, to offer our bodies as living sacrifices for the sake of those around us. The Bible says that this is our true, spiritual worship-- and this life of love will show itself in actions that are concrete, sacrificial, and costly.
John especially mentions the real connection that ought to exist between the worldly goods the Lord has entrusted into our hands as his stewards-- and how we use those goods to help others, especially those in the church.
There are countless opportunities in our world today to help those in need. To care for persecuted Christians and their families. To share with our fellow Christians around the world who don’t have the very most basic necessities of life. To help those whose lives have been turned upside down by the tragedies of life.
A closed hand and a closed wallet reveals a closed heart where the love of God does not abide and John says very simply that our love for others is not revealed in our words but in our actions. Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
The Bible is full of instruction and counsel about our speech. John is not saying that our words do not matter—they do!
But what he is saying is that there is a particular shape to our love. The truth of God’s love for the world was shown in Jesus’ death on the cross and so the truth of our love for the world, and particularly those in the church, God intends would look like Jesus. Amen.
Genesis 15:1-6 The verses of Holy Scripture that we have before us today deal with one of the most important men in the Bible and some of the most important events in salvation history.
The Jews of Jesus’ day and Jesus himself used Abraham as an example of what life with God was all about. Both Paul and James referenced events from Abraham’s life to talk about how a person can be right in God’s sight.
For our own purposes here today we are going to consider this text from the perspective of both, a believer’s life, and what matters in the end. The Bible says that: After these things… Well, what things are those?
If we go back to what happened immediately before these verses, Abram had won a great military victory, rescued his family members from their enemies, and was blessed by the King of Salem who was also a priest of the most-high God. All of it a high point in Abram’s life.
But if you go even farther back, there is the call of the Lord to Abram to journey to a place he had never seen before and how he stepped out in faith. There is the lie Abram told to Pharaoh about Sarai to save himself and there is the family strife between him and Lot.
And so then, After these things… references the great highs in Abram’s life and the great low’s. These words encompass the great acts of faith and the failures of sinful faithlessness, large and small. In ALL this we see a picture of the life of a believer.
In our own lives there are great successes: academic and business and professional-- and there are failures: the last rung on the corporate ladder we don’t climb, the degree we are not able to finish, the opportunities we missed.
In our own lives there are spiritual high points: when we are especially close to the Lord, when our faith-life is deepening and growing, when we see our children take their own place in the church. But there are also the lows: the selfishness that makes for conflict in our families, the sins great and small that always remind us that we are not yet all that God wants us to be.
Throughout the Bible, Abram is referenced as the man of faith—and he is! But he is, still, just a man--subject to all the joys and sorrows of life in this broken world.
That is important for us to remember! The joys and the successes and the victories are wonderful when they happen but they do not last. We are not magically immunes from the brokenness of this world, the sinfulness of our flesh, or the temptations of the devil.
Sin and sorrow was part of Abram’s life and it will be part of ours too but there is a faithful God who is with us and invites to cast our cares upon him. The Bible says that:
…the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
These words were spoken to Abram after a great military victory and a great spiritual blessing. Anybody who was looking at Abram’s life from the outside would have said that he had the world by the tail. But God knew what was in his heart: the fear and turmoil that was there-- and he made him a remarkable promise: the LORD was his shield and his reward.
No matter how fearful and uncertain the future, the LORD was his shield—no matter what great victories he would have, it was really the LORD who would be his reward. In good times and in bad times, it was the LORD himself who would be his blessing and helper.
So it is for us. Any victories or joys or successes we have are only for this life and most of them don’t last very long even in this life. What a comfort to know that the LORD is our reward—our enduring, everlasting blessing.
And when there is fear and uncertainty in our life—even if it is (as it often is) of our own making, what a comfort to know that the LORD himself is the one who will be our shield. That was the promise of God to Abram and that is the promise of God to us. It is that love and care and concern that allows us to go to the Lord with all that is on our heart, knowing that he desires only to bless us in the midst of it. That’s what Abram did. He said:
“O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.”
When God called Abram to walk by faith to a land and a future he did not know, he made him a promise: that the LORD would make Abram a great nation and that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed.
Years went by- and years would go by- and still there was no child in their family that Abram and Sarai could lay hold of and know the promise of God fulfilled. They simply had to walk by faith, trusting that God was faithful and could be counted on to keep his promises even when there was no way for them to see it.
They did not always succeed in that—there were real faith failures. At this moment Abram was planning for his heir to be someone from outside the marriage. We know that in short order Sarai would come up with her own sinful scheme to produce an heir.
In all of this they struggled to rely simply on God’s Word and walk by faith and not by sight-- and I think that we understand this about our own lives of faith, don’t we?
God says, I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future and yet how often do we worry what the future holds?! God says, Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for I go with you; and will never leave you nor forsake you” and yet how often do we feel all alone in the world? God says that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins and for the sins of the world and yet how often do we carry around a load of guilt for sins long since forgiven and forgotten by Jesus?! We too have faith struggles. And yet…
Called by God to be his people, we must journey home by faith and not by sight. We are called to believe his promises even when we cannot see them.
And there are times in our life, just like there was for Abram when we doubt those promises and try to find peace and hope and fulfillment in some other place than the promises of God. The LORD knows this about us just like he did Abram. The Bible says that the LORD: knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust and so he works in our lives to strengthen our faith in him because, in the end, that is what truly matters. The Bible says that:
The word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
What Abram discovered that day is that the LORD’s promises are true and he doesn’t need our help to bring them to bear. He is more than capable of fulfilling his promises!
Already in Abram’s life the Lord had made this promise by directing his attention to the dust of the earth and asked him to number the grains of the sand if he were able and so his descendants would be. From that moment on, in every moment of Abram’s journey home, every step he took on the dusty ground beneath his feet would remind him of the faithfulness and strength of the Lord.
But there was even more to the promise! The earth that Abram walked upon was the earth the Lord had created and the earth from which the Lord had brought forth the first man. And so every step of his life’s journey Abram would be reminded that the Lord had the power and faithfulness to keep his word and provide a son by his mighty power .
Now that promise was renewed in the stars above, to remind him again of the creative power of God who called the heavenly bodies into being-- but also to show Abram that his descendants would be much, much more than an earthly people with an earthly home. They would be a heavenly people who would live forever with God in heaven.
Every time he lifted up his eyes at night he would be reminded of the promise of God that his descendants would come from his own body and that all the families of the earth would be blessed through them. That promise would find an immediate fulfillment in the birth of Isaac but its true fulfillment is found in Jesus-- who Matthew calls the Son of Abraham.
Jesus says about this promise that Abraham looked forward to his day and rejoiced. Abram didn’t know all the details of Jesus’ work like we do-- but he trusted the promise of God that was grounded in the earth beneath his feet and the stars above his head.
In the same way the Lord strengthens our faith in his promises by connecting them to the fruits of his creation in bread and wine and water and words so that we can believe in him and be strengthened in our faith which is what really matters in the end. The Bible says that Abram: believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
There were victories and defeats in Abram’s life and there were spiritual highs and lows. But the victorious highs were not the source of his life with God and the sinful lows did not destroy that life. What mattered in the end was the faith Abram had in the promises that God had made. Believing those promises, Abram was right in God’s sight.
So it is for us. There are going to be highs and lows when it comes to our life with God. There are going to be joys and sorrows as we live on earth. But our life with God does not rest upon anything in us--but rather upon his promises that we lay hold of by faith.
What we see throughout Abram’s story is that the LORD is worthy of that faith! He is the God of kept promises who raised up the offspring of Abram in Jesus Christ through whom all the families of men have been blessed, including us here today! Amen.
John 3:16 On this Trinity Sunday we confess our Christian faith in the words of the Athanasian Creed. We carefully define and distinguish between the three persons of the Holy Trinity and we maintain their full divinity even while we confess that there is just one God.
We confess that long, theologically precise creed while hearing a sermon on just one verse of Holy Scripture, a verse that the smallest child among us knows by heart:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
While we may be struck by the contrast between the theological precision of the Athanasian Creed and the simplicity of the verse before us for our meditation, what I would have you know, and believe, and understand-- is that there is no conflict, whatsoever, between the two! They express the same, exact saving truths about the person and work of our gracious God.
Both the Athanasian Creed and John 3:16 deal with the two most basic, fundamental, important questions that any of us will ever ask: “Who is God”? And, “How can I have a life with him”? And the answer to those questions is this: There is one God in three persons. A heavenly Father who loves us. A Son who has given his life for us. A Holy Spirit who has called us to faith so that we can be saved.
This one true God is not a theological abstraction, or the academic subject of some dusty philosophical treatise, but is instead the God of our salvation.
Jesus says: For God so loved the world… That we are here today; that we have life; that we exist at all-- is only because we have in God a heavenly Father who loves us.
The Bible says in 1 John that: God is love. We are the fruit of the love that exists within the three persons of the Holy Trinity and God created the world and placed mankind at the pinnacle of his creation because he is a God of love.
Not only has he made us, he continues to be involved in our lives, for our good, every step of the way. He knew us before we took shape in our mother’s womb. He has provided for every need of our earthly life. He was watched over every moment of our life and he will bring his children home.
God’s love extends to every person in this world and to the cosmos itself. Whether men know and confess him as their God, he continues, as the Bible says, to cause rain to fall on the just and the unjust. In other words, he continues to provide for the needs of all his creatures, sustaining the universe moment by moment and providing even for those who are his enemies and wage war against him.
From the beginning of the Bible to the end, the Bible writers have stood in awe and wonder before this mighty God whose love extends to the smallest creature-- and they have marveled at this goodness that sustains and cares for all people whether they acknowledge him as their Father or not.
But such is the love that God the Father has for this world, and every person in this world, that he is never content for any part of it, or any person in it, to be lost to him. God has made us and all men for himself and he is never satisfied in only blessing us for this life-- but desires to bless for eternity because his love for us has no end.
It is that everlasting love for all the world and all the people in it that moved him to bestow a gift of love upon mankind like no other. or God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…
When God created the world in the very beginning, in very short order, man’s disobedience and rebellion against God destroyed everything that God created. The world and all people were marred by sin and death including our own lives.
From that moment on, all of the earthly blessings of God would not extend forever like he designed—human life would not go on for eternity like he desired. Life with God in all its fullness came to an end. And yet…
Such was God’s love for the world that he did not destroy the world and mankind and begin again. Instead, he promised that he would make things right-- and he did that in the most amazing, marvelous, unexpected way: he gave his own Son to be the Savior of the world.
The Bible says: This is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and gave his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. The Second Person of the Holy Trinity, possessing the fullness of God, equal to the Father regarding his divinity, took upon himself our flesh and became one of us.
He lived our life here on earth in perfect obedience to his heavenly Father. He took upon himself all of the sins that have been a part of our own broken lives. He took upon himself the curse of death that God has spoken of each of us because of those sins. And he died on the cross as our substitute under his Father’s wrath.
But there was even more! Death was not his end. He rose again as the new, obedient Adam in whom everlasting blessing and life has been restored. He did this for us and for our salvation and for the salvation of the world.
The Bible says Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins and for ours only, but for the sins of the world. The Bible says that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not counting men’s sins again them. The Bible says that
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Salvation for the world—bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus…given to Whoever believes in him. I want you to understand how unbelievably wide and narrow is the salvation that the Father has accomplished for the world in his Son Jesus Christ.
The word “whoever” means exactly that: whoever! No matter your status in this world, no matter the depth of your sins, no matter how far and long you have wandered, the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ are sufficient for your salvation, countless thousand times over.
Christ died for you, to make you God’s child. But that word “whoever” is also necessarily tied to those who believe that Jesus is their Savior from sin and death.
Christ died for all people, every sin of every sinner was paid for on the cross, but it is ONLY those who believe in him who will not perish but have eternal life. ONLY those who believe in Jesus will be saved!
That is why God sent his Holy Spirit-- so that people could come to faith in Jesus and be saved—so that they could be born again from above. That is what Jesus was trying to get Nicodemus to understand. Nicodemus was not going to be saved because he had been born a Jew. He needed to be born again because flesh can only give birth to flesh. What was needed for Nicodemus (and what is needed for all people) is spiritual birth. And as little as Nicodemus caused himself to be born a Jew, just as little would he cause himself to be born again.
The Spirit would do that in his life and in fact did do that in his life! We learn at the end of the Gospels that Nicodemus did indeed come to faith and n the same way the Holy Spirit continues to do his saving work in the hearts of men who hear the Good News about Jesus and come to faith in him as Lord and Savior.
The Bible in 1 Peter says that God caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible says in James that God brought us forth by the word of truth. The Bible says in Romans the faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ and that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to them that believe.
God the Holy Spirit continues to give spiritual life to those who are born dead in sin and trespass just as he did for Nicodemus: through the Good News about Jesus and what he has done for us in his death and resurrection.
And so then, the Good News for us on this Trinity Sunday is that we have in the Holy Trinity, revealed in the Bible and confessed in the creeds of the Church, a God who has known us and loved us for eternity, a God who has lived, and died and be raised so that we could regain God’s eternal blessings, and a God who has called us to faith so that we can believe in Jesus and be saved. One God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
And it is indeed Good News for us because the difference his presence and work has made in our lives is the difference between perishing in the fires of hell forever and being saved unto eternal life. The Bible says: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Over the last two thousand years of the church’s history, men have fought and died for the truth about God revealed in the Bible and confessed in the creeds of the church. They have sacrificed all that they have, not because of some theological treatise, not because of some confessional hair-splitting.
They have contended for this faith because it is nothing less than eternal salvation for those who believe and eternal death for those who don’t because it is the answer to the most fundamental questions of our human existence: who is God and how can I have a life with him.
Today we have heard the answer in God’s Word and we confess the same in the words of the Athanasian Creed. Amen.