You May Depart In Peace
First Sunday after Christmas – December 31, 2017
Barzillai the Gileadite also came down from Rogelim to cross the Jordan with the king and to send him on his way from there. 32 Now Barzillai was very old, eighty years of age. He had provided for the king during his stay in Mahanaim, for he was a very wealthy man. 33 The king said to Barzillai, “Cross over with me and stay with me in Jerusalem, and I will provide for you.” 34 But Barzillai answered the king, “How many more years will I live, that I should go up to Jerusalem with the king? 35 I am now eighty years old. Can I tell the difference between what is enjoyable and what is not? Can your servant taste what he eats and drinks? Can I still hear the voices of male and female singers? Why should your servant be an added burden to my lord the king? 36 Your servant will cross over the Jordan with the king for a short distance, but why should the king reward me in this way? 37 Let your servant return, that I may die in my own town near the tomb of my father and mother. But here is your servant Kimham. Let him cross over with my lord the king. Do for him whatever you wish.” (2 Samuel 19:31-37)
“Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone.” Barzillai didn’t write those words. But I bet he knew what they meant. Barzillai was an old man who lived in Old Testament Israel, and he had seen just about everything.
He would have been only a child when the prophet Samuel ruled Israel with wisdom and justice. He would have grown up hearing about Samuel’s wicked sons and the people demanding to have an actual king like the rest of the nations. As a young man, Barzillai saw King Saul start his reign with so much promise. As the years went on, he watched Saul turn away from the Lord.
News didn’t travel fast in those days, but I bet Barzillai remembered where he was when he heard the news that a shepherd boy named David brought down the Philistine giant, Goliath. He and his children lived through the days when the kingdom was divided between the schizophrenic King Saul and the faithful King David. And Barzillai probably also remembered where he was when he heard that his first king, King Saul, died in battle.
Barzillai had seen some of the most difficult days in the history of his people. But then he saw some of the best. The faithful King David led God’s people in battle and in worship. God enabled the kingdom to expand. For the first time in centuries, the land of Israel had peace. Barzillai and his family were blessed by that peace.
Then, in the twilight years of Barzillai’s life, darkness once again descended on the Kingdom of Israel. King David’s son, Absalom, turned the people against King David. Civil war broke the nation in half. Families divided. Brother killed brother. Absalom marched on Jerusalem, and his old father, David slipped out of his city.
“Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone.” King David knew those words well. As he ran for his life, David needed to depend on the hospitality of someone – anyone – who sided with him. There weren’t many David-supporters left in Israel. But then, he found the house of an old man who had seen everything. King David arrived at Barzillai’s house.
The Lord had blessed Barzillai throughout the peaceful years in Israel. “He had provided for the king during his stay in Mahanaim, for he was a very wealthy man.” Now was Barzillai’s opportunity to give back to the Lord by providing for his king. But for how long? Was Israel doomed to cower under a usurper king forever? Would sons continue to rebel against their fathers? Was there any hope in Israel?
It wasn’t the first time in Israel’s history that old men asked those questions. And it certainly wasn’t the last. Over the centuries Jewish men grew old in captivity, they grew weak under their Persian rulers, they faced extinction under their Greek conquerers and were almost wiped out by the cold, iron fist of the Romans.
By this time, one old man, named Simeon, longed to see Israel’s king. Like Barzillai of old, Simeon “was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel.” The Lord had given Simeon an extra special prophecy – something the Lord never promised to anyone else. “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”
That prophecy must have been difficult to trust. Every year Simeon grew older. Every day Simeon looked for the promised child, the one who would redeem Israel, and no one came. No doubt he was ready to see the Lord in heaven! Why would he have to ache more every day waiting on this sin-filled earth?
Why do we? Like Barzillai of old, like Simeon in the New Testament, we long to see our Lord face to face. Every Sunday we pray those fitting words of the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come” with an eye toward heaven. We cry out with John in the final words of the Bible: “Come, Lord Jesus.” And then we wonder if he ever will.
Back in the Old Testament, the news finally came to King David at Barzillai’s house: The battle was over. David’s usurping son, Absalom, was dead. As the king marched back into his city of Jerusalem, he turned back toward Barzillai. “Cross over with me and stay with me in Jerusalem, and I will provide for you.”
It must have been an enticing offer. But Barzillai had seen enough. From the good ‘ol days to the dark days, to better times and finally now – he could see the return of the king. His job was done. So he replies with his final words to his king: “Let your servant return, that I may die in my own town near the tomb of my father and mother.”
Simeon waited a lifetime for his king to enter his city of Jerusalem. Finally, on one of the last days of his life, Simeon saw a family enter the temple. They were carrying a baby boy. This wasn’t just any little child. This was Immanuel, God with us. This was the promised Messiah. This was God! Now Simeon, too, could rest in peace. “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people.” But this child wasn’t just a gift for those in Israel awaiting the Messiah. Jesus had arrived for everyone. “A light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
And so now we await the coming of a king. “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.” Old men and little children, Gentile believers of every nationality and continent, we look forward to the arrival of our King, Jesus. And when he comes, you too, like Barzillai of old, like Simeon beholding Jesus, may depart in eternal peace. Amen.
See The Beauty of God’s Good News
Christmas Day – December 25, 2017
The Beauty of Good News Isaiah 52:7-10
The life of a watchman on the wall is one of solitude. While everyone else lives in peace, he is on the wall – patiently waiting & watching. If there was ever a job where the man was to be seen and not heard, it was the watchman. Their presence on the walls alone would be enough to comfort the fearful. But to hear the cry of a watchman meant danger lurked just outside, and death might follow soon after.
The watchmen of Jerusalem were like ancient tornado sirens. It was comforting to know that they were there, but you never wanted to hear them. If you did, the end might be near.
In our first reading from Isaiah, the Lord has a new message for those beleaguered watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem. It comes as a breath of fresh air to the breathless; a sigh of relief to the sad.
“Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout…[wait for it]…for joy.” And what could possibly make the watchmen shout for joy? “When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes.” So who is approaching the walls of Jerusalem? An army? An enemy? Like Old Testament Israel, that is the message we deserve to hear. Because we are sinful, we deserve a punishing message. But that isn’t this message from the wall. Not today.
Today the message is good news! “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” In the days before nikes, when everyone wore sandals; in the days before cars, when everyone walked everywhere, a person’s feet were just about the ugliest thing you could see. They had to be washed before entering a house.
Yet these feet are beautiful! Why? Because of the news they bring. The message is a glorious one. It is a proclamation of peace, of good tidings, of salvation. It is also a reminder: “Your God reigns!”
You can almost see it as if you were there. The messenger is running, he’s out of breath, yet he’s so excited about the good news that he can’t wait until he gets to the city to tell it. He wants to shout it even as he runs. But to save breath, the messages he shouts have to be short. So as he runs, he shouts, “Good news!” Then he runs a little farther, catches a quick breath and shouts again, “Peace!” Then he runs a little farther, catches a quick breath and shouts again, “Good tidings!” Then he runs a little farther, catches a quick breath and shouts, “Salvation!” And finally as he gets closer to the city, he shouts again, “Your God reigns!”
We can’t help but to respond as Isaiah does. “Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.” Finally, when those watchmen yell that someone is coming, the news is good. At last, God’s people are saved.
In fact, not just God’s people of Israel are saved, but…“All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” The hymn writer, Paul Gerhardt understood that by faith. Looking at that good news, Christ himself, the Savior of the world, he puts it better than anyone:
“O Jesus Christ, Your manger is My paradise where my soul is reclining.
For there, O Lord, We find the Word, Made flesh for us — your grace is brightly shining.”
Jesus Shares His Good News Hebrews 1:1-9
It is a phenomenon particular to God’s Word, and it could come at any time. There were periods were it was numerous, and there were long periods when it didn’t take place at all. The phenomenon itself wasn’t picky. It came through old men and young children alike. It came to men and women. It came through angels, dreams, visions, and at one point it even came from a talking donkey. It was pronounced by patriarchs, prophets, priests, judges and kings.
The phenomenon is called “inspiration”, and it was how God chose to speak his message to his people. Already in the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve had fallen into sin, God made this pronouncement to Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” It would be the first of many prophecies given to mankind.
Years later, Abraham entertained three visitors who appeared to be real men. But these were no ordinary men. One was the Lord himself who proclaimed: “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”
In the ages that followed the Lord also spoke his word through Joshua, through Judges such as Gideon and Samson, through prophets such as Samuel, Elijah, Elisha and Isaiah, and through kings such as David and Solomon. And then in the end, God’s final prophecy of the Old Testament came through the prophet Malachi. Through his final Old Testament prophet, God promised, “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant.”
And then there was silence. Not another recorded word was spoken from the Lord. There were no more messages of the Lord through kings or prophets or priests or judges. For over 400 years nothing came. The Old Testament, as a collection of books, was completed, leaving God’s people waiting and hoping for a fulfillment.
Then come the words of the book of Hebrews for this Christmas morning: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways.” Indeed he had. Through countless visions, dreams, and angels the Lord had given his Old Testament word to his people. The writer now continues, “But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” Indeed he has.
And this news from the Lord is indeed good news. “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law to redeem those under law.” As true God, Jesus came to be a man, just like us, in order to be our perfect substitute. And now he himself speaks to you, “Because I live, you also will live.”
By faith this Christmas morning we join with the hymnist, Paul Gerhardt in praising God for his grace and mercy, which are from of old, from ancient times.
“Dear Christian friend, On him depend; Be of good cheer and let no sorrow move you.
For God’s own child In mercy mild, Joins you to him – how greatly God must love you!”
Jesus Fulfills His Good News John 1:1-14
“The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”
Is this world really as dark as we think? After all, here in the season of Christmas we see people giving to charity, helping one another out, and living their lives with a spirit of happiness. I see those people dressed up as Santa ringing bells outside of stores. And even though I don’t always put money in the can, I see others that do. How dark can things really be?
Of course, we know how dark our world can get. All we need to do is look back on the past few weeks, and months. Shootings and storms and fires, war and famine and hatred and vitriol. Darkness fills our world and our country. It floods our community and our homes. And worst of all, that darkness fills our hearts.
Where can a person turn when blackness impedes sight? Who can a person find when he can’t see anything? The light has to come from somewhere else. King David knew that as well as anyone. He knew how black his sins were. And he knew where his salvation came from.
“You, Lord, are my lamp; the Lord turns my darkness into light.”
On that very first Christmas, when the blackness of dark and night threatened to reign forever, a light in Bethlehem sparked and began to shine. The shadows dashed away as “The light shines in the darkness.” And even in the midst of this great sin there our Savior stands as our perfect replacement, as the sacrifice we needed on our behalf, and as our power over death and the devil.
The Word, Jesus, actually became flesh – one of us. He gave up his power. He took upon himself the darkness of the cross and our sins and the sins of the entire world. The Light of the world allowed himself to be snuffed out. But then shone even more brightly when he rose again.
Darkness still seems to reign over this world you live in. It can be overwhelming – when the walls of shadow collapse all around you.
But here comes the light on that very first Christmas morning. The very Savior who would come and seek out tax collectors, prostitutes, pharisees, soldiers and fishermen in order to remind them of his mission promised of old. “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”
The light shines, even in the darkness. It causes watchmen on the towers to proclaim the good news. Christ has come! He has redeemed his people!
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
And now it points us to the light of heaven Christ has won for us. Once again, this Christmas morning, we are blessed to put our peace and joy and hope to song:
“The world may hold Her wealth and gold; But you, my heart, keep Christ as your true treasure.
To him hold fast Until at last A crown is yours and honor in full measure.” Amen.
The Promise Continued
4th Sunday in Advent – December 24, 2017
Meanwhile Boaz went up to the town gate and sat down there just as the guardian-redeemer he had mentioned came along. Boaz said, “Come over here, my friend, and sit down.” So he went over and sat down. 2 Boaz took ten of the elders of the town and said, “Sit here,” and they did so. 3 Then he said to the guardian-redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our relative Elimelek.
4 “I thought I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if you will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.”
“I will redeem it,” he said. 5 Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.” 6 At this, the guardian-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.” 7 (Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalizing transactions in Israel.) 8 So the guardian-redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it yourself.” And he removed his sandal.
9 Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelek, Kilion and Mahlon. 10 I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from his hometown. Today you are witnesses!”
13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. Then he went to her, and the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 16 Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. (Ruth 4:1-10,13,16-17)
God’s first gospel promise seemed tenuous at best. After Adam and Eve fell into sin, the Lord made this promise to that first couple, and the devil: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Salvation would come from Eve’s offspring. She knew it. Adam knew it. And so did the devil.
Enmity, hostility continued between the devil and Eve’s children. In every generation the battle raged on. Satan grabbed hold of Cain, the Lord held on to Abel. Soon, Satan brought the entire world down into wickedness and violence. The only believers left in the world after a few generations were in Noah’s immediate family.
So the Lord sent the flood to wipe out the wicked, unbelieving world. The line of the Savior, that first gospel promise, hung on by a thread. It wouldn’t be the last time everything hung in the balance.
The Lord promised that the Savior of the world would come through Abraham. But there was a problem. Abraham was 100 years old and his wife, Sarah, was 90. She was also unable to have children. Once again it looked as though the line of the Savior would end ignominiously. Then the Lord enabled Sarah to give birth to a son. They named him Isaac.
When the Lord commanded Abraham to sacrifice his only son, the devil must have been delighted. The promise would end and the devil would win. But as Abraham held out the knife, the Lord himself stopped the sacrifice, offering up a ram in place of Abraham’s son. The line continued…barely.
Through slavery in Egypt and the scare of starvation and dehydration in the wilderness, through enemy armies and famines the Messianic line continued. At times, the Lord narrowed the promise. First the Savior would come through Jacob, then Judah, then from one blessed family within the clan of Judah.
Then came the dark days, when it looked as though no one would survive. A famine hit the land of Judah, scattering families to enemy countries. One of those families had been Elimelech, his wife Naomi and their two sons. Their family line was in peril, too. First the father, Elimelech died, then so did his two sons. One of the women they married left for home in Moab.
All that was left were Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth. No hope for a family. No continuation of the family line. And perhaps no real hope for survival in those dark days of the Judges.
But back in Bethlehem, the Lord showed mercy – as he had done for so many generations. A man named Boaz looked after Ruth. He gave her grain and water and protection. Then, during the night, when Ruth asked him to be her kinsman-redeemer, Boaz promised to do that, too.
But there was a problem. According to the Jewish law, there was a closer relative to Ruth’s family that would have first say in taking care of her and marrying her. Boaz knew that all too well. But there was hope. Boaz told Ruth, “If he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives I will do it.”
As soon as he could, Boaz met with the man who had the first right to become Ruth’s “kinsman-redeemer” and marry her. The other man refused because he didn’t want to put his land and money in jeopardy. So Boaz said with joy, “I have…acquired Ruth the Moabite, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife.”
And so it came to pass that Boaz married Ruth. A family of Judah could continue. And while no one knew it at the time, this marriage would be one of the most important in the history of mankind. The book of Ruth tells us why: “Boaz the father of Obed, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David.” You don’t have to be a professional genealogist to realize what this means. Ruth was the the great-grandmother of King David. More importantly, Ruth is in the line of the Savior.
That line had held on by a thread. And God wanted it that way. Those moments when all seems lost don’t just test our faith – it feels like we run the risk of giving it up altogether. Why does the Lord let things spiral out of control so badly? Why does he delight in making things so difficult? Why let the line of the Savior face obliteration generation after generation?
The question can be asked today, too. Why let things get so bad for the Christian Church in this world? The devil sure looks like the winner these days. Terror and violence are worse now than ever. Faithful Christianity seems on the bring of collapse. Christians are killed. Churches around the world torn down. Many people who call themselves believers don’t care about God’s Word anymore. And in our really dark moments we might even think at this time of year: Have a merry Christmas: because it is probably our last.
It has been this bad before. There was once a governor of Syria. He had just come to power when everyone was moving around. The Romans were counting people, and everyone knew what that meant. Tax time. People had to go to the places where they grew up. Inns filled up. Roads were full of people.
One poor couple was expecting, and they arrived in town too late. They had to sleep in the stables with the animals. And it was there, in those out of the way, humble confines, where that very first promise, made thousands of years earlier, was fulfilled. A woman named Mary, a descendant of a woman named Ruth, gave birth to a baby boy in the same town where Ruth gave birth to her son.
That thread of a promise, that constantly threatened line of the Savior, had finally ended. That baby boy would grow up to be the Savior of the world, the Light of the world, our Redeemer who would win that final victory over the devil on the cross. That very first promise that so many generations waited for would finally be fulfilled: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
The world with all of its threats and attacks and violence stands defeated. And your Savior will protect you from your enemies as he walked with all of those believers of past generations. And he points you ahead to the day when he will return to bring you home. Be encouraged by a fellow believer who also awaited Jesus’ coming again:
“Ponder again What glory then The Lord will give you for your earthly sadness.
The angel host Can never boast Of greater glory, greater bliss or gladness.” Amen.
A Kinsman Redeemer
3rd Sunday in Advent – December 17, 2017
One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for. 2 Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. 3 Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.”
5 “I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered. 6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do.
7 When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down. 8 In the middle of the night something startled the man; he turned—and there was a woman lying at his feet!
9 “Who are you?” he asked. “I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer of our family.”
10 “The Lord bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. 11 And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character. 12 Although it is true that I am a kinsman-redeemer of our family, there is another who is more closely related than I. 13 Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to do his duty as your kinsman-redeemer, good; let him redeem you. But if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives I will do it. Lie here until morning.”
14 So she lay at his feet until morning, but got up before anyone could be recognized; and he said, “No one must know that a woman came to the threshing floor.” 15 He also said, “Bring me the shawl you are wearing and hold it out.” When she did so, he poured into it six measures of barley and placed the bundle on her. Then he went back to town. (Ruth 3:1-15)
What should you look for in a spouse? The question can be surprisingly tough. There are a lot of people in the world and each one has their own characteristics, their own values, their own strengths and their own weaknesses.
And if that wasn’t difficult enough, you change over time, too. You don’t always keep the same characteristics. Your values sometimes change. Your strengths can turn into weaknesses – and vise versa.
Ask a grade school student what he is looking for in a future spouse and he will say “nothing.” Pose the same question to a high schooler and they might say “Someone cute, funny, athletic.” Ask someone in their twenties and they might say “Someone with their head on straight, someone with money.” Over time a person’s priorities change.
So what about Ruth and Naomi? Both women had once been married. Both women had lost their husbands. And it is probably safe to say that both women did not expect to be married again. Now, in our culture that opinion would be the norm. But in Old Testament Israel, that could be a problem. If Naomi or Ruth died alone, their family line would cease – like a long piece of thread cut off.
Continuing the family line meant a lot in Israel – especially in Naomi’s tribe of Judah. Everyone knew that from one of these families of Judah would come the promised Savior of the world. But if a family line stopped, there was no chance of that happening. Naomi and Ruth were facing that reality.
But for the first time in years, Naomi had a renewed sense of hope. No, she was probably not going to marry again – but there was still hope for her daughter-in-law, Ruth. So Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for.” Naomi was going to try her hand at matchmaker.
So the question arises again: what do you look for in a spouse? Considering Ruth’s situation, we might think she would be willing to marry just about anyone so she could improve her livelihood. But that wasn’t true, not by a long shot. Ruth had her eye on Boaz, the kind, older man who allowed her to harvest in his field. We don’t know why Boaz wasn’t already married. Perhaps he never found the right woman. Maybe he was ugly.
But the one characteristic Boaz had going for him was that he was a God-fearing man. And that meant a lot to Ruth. So Naomi hatched a plan, as matchmakers do, to get Ruth and Boaz together. “Tonight [Boaz] will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.”
It was a lot of work to do in order to show an Israelite man you are interested. But Ruth did it all exactly as Naomi told her to. And when someone catches your eye, you are willing to do what it takes to be with that person.
The Bible often talks about believers in this way. All of us together are compared to bride – like Ruth. And Jesus is compared to a groom – like Boaz. We like to think that we spend all of our time connecting with our Savior, our groom, being the perfect bride. But we aren’t. We spend time with other things. We chase after worldly riches and praise. It is the mark of an unhealthy relationship when you don’t really want to spend time with you spouse. And sinfully, there are many times when we don’t want to spend time with Jesus in his word or at church or in Bible class. It is all too bad, because Jesus is the perfect groom, and we definitely don’t deserve him.
Ruth probably didn’t think she deserved Boaz. But there in the middle of the night, she showed him in the humblest way possibly that she needed him. She crept up to Boaz as he slept alone near the grain and she uncovered his feet. In that culture at that time this strange act showed that Ruth was interested in Boaz. Hours passed as she waited for him to wake up. How would he react? What would he say?
Suddenly, something startled him and he woke up. Then Ruth said what she had probably been practicing in her mind all night: “I am your servant Ruth…Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer of our family.” Ruth was asking Boaz for two important things. One would ensure her survival, the other would ensure her happiness. She asked Boaz to be the kinsman-redeemer for Naomi and herself. This meant Boaz would have to take care of all of the land Naomi’s husband owned, and he would need to take care of Naomi and Ruth, too. Not every man would do this. But would Boaz?
Here is what he said, “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask.” At cost to himself, Boaz would save these two women.
It all pointed ahead. The job of a kinsman-redeemer was to take care of family members who couldn’t take care of themselves. In fact, it meant salvation. And what Boaz promised to do, what every kinsman-redeemer did, pointed ahead to the promised Redeemer – Jesus.
We have a lot in common with Ruth and Naomi. If we were left to ourselves we would be lost. We can’t save ourselves. We have no means of escape. That is why Jesus came. As our Redeemer he took all of our debt upon himself, all of our sins, and he paid the price. And the price was steep. It meant his own suffering and death. And it meant our life.
So what do you look for in a spouse? The world looks for beauty, money, power, and every other selfish thing they can. Like Ruth, we look at Boaz and we see what really matters – faith in Christ. That faith enabled Boaz to redeem Ruth and Naomi. That faith enabled him to give, even when it was difficult. And in the end, it not only mean taking care of Ruth, it meant marrying her.
Your bridegroom is coming. That is what Paul was talking about in our second lesson: “May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And just like Boaz promised Ruth, so your Lord and Savior Jesus, your Redeemer from sin, will not only talk about bringing you to heaven. No, this is Jesus – your perfect Bridegroom. “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” Amen.
2nd Sunday in Advent – December 10, 2017
Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz. 2 And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.” Naomi said to her, “Go ahead, my daughter.” 3 So she went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek. 4 Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!”
“The Lord bless you!” they answered. 5 Boaz asked the overseer of his harvesters, “Who does that young woman belong to?” 6 The overseer replied, “She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi. 7 She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.’ She came into the field and has remained here from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.”
8 So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. 9 Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.”
10 At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?” 11 Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. 12 May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (Ruth 2:1-12)
There must have been a lot going through Naomi’s mind as she made the long journey home to Bethlehem. She would be seeing everything again – the same sights and sounds of home. She would witness those same Bethlehem buildings and families and farms. She could find old friends again and see what had changed.
Of course, a lot had changed for Naomi. A decade earlier she had left that little town of Bethlehem with her husband, Elimelek and her two sons, Mahlon and Kilion. Now she was returning home as the last living member of her original family. So yes, she was seeing everything again, but she was also seeing it all for the first time.
But Naomi wasn’t alone. Her Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth, had made the long, dangerous trip with her. She had committed herself to Naomi. And now, between the two of them, they had to figure out how they were going to make a living. That wasn’t so easy for two widows in the time of the Judges.
A cursory look through the rest of the events of the period of the Judges shows the era to have been a veritable house of horrors for those who couldn’t fight for themselves. Invading armies often came and killed entire towns. Those who survived soon wished they hadn’t as they were made slaves. Tribes had risen up against each other. Even the Judges of God’s people couldn’t be trusted. One had fought his own people and another sacrificed his own daughter. Travelers were mugged. Women were taken advantage of.
And there walked Naomi and Ruth, two weak widows without husbands or land or money or food. The situation looked dire. Yet the two women still held out hope. Because the Lord knew this world would get perilous, he gave a command that helped those who had no land and no source of income. “When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.” In a sense it was Israel’s built-in welfare program. It allowed the poor to work for what was left over so that they could survive.
That was how Ruth and Naomi were going to survive. “Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, ‘Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.’” Ruth made an important point. It wasn’t enough to work a field. Ruth needed to find favor with someone who was harvesting, and fast, because that job was as dangerous for widows as any other in Israel.
So why would Ruth do something so dangerous for the sake of Naomi? Now might be a good time to pause and count everything that has happened to Naomi and Ruth up to this point. A famine forced Naomi’s family to migrate to Moab, where her husband and two sons died. Naomi and Ruth both lost their husbands and decided to move back to Bethlehem where Ruth would have to pick up leftover grain and hope that it would be enough to feed them both. And none of this takes in to account the dangers of the period in which they lived.
Naomi and Ruth were both backed in to a corner. So Ruth went out to gather what she could from the field behind the harvesters. Then, with Ruth in the middle of the field came a beautiful phrase: “As it turns out…” It is as if the narrater of the account looks at the camera and winks. What was about to happen wasn’t happenstance. It wasn’t a coincidence. For the first time in a long time, something went right for Ruth and Naomi.
“As it turned out, [Ruth] was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek.” It gets even better. “Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters.” Boaz noticed Ruth right away. He asked his foreman about her. “She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi,” he answered.
Then Boaz gave something extra special for Ruth – a special offer that probably didn’t happen every day. “Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me…I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.” Extra grain, safety and water.
At this point Ruth asks the question we’re all thinking: “Why?” That type of charity surprises us, even during this holiday season. Maybe it surprises us because Boaz’s generosity puts us all to shame. How many foreigners have you helped out lately? How many charity mailings did you pull out of your mailbox this last week and just throw away? Now to be sure, we need to be careful how we give – after all, there are people who abuse charity. But sometimes we use that as an excuse to not give at all.
Boaz is the type of man our world sorely needs. He is a God-fearing man who gives generously. But even Boaz’s giving pales in comparison to what our Father in heaven has given to us. We celebrate Christmas as a “giving” season because God the Father gave us his one and only Son on that very first Christmas. You can’t give more generously than that. Jesus continued to give his time for the crowds that came to him. He patiently spoke with his enemies. He patiently put up with his disciples. And in the end, he even gave his life to take away all of our selfish sins. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
It is amazing what happens when we do the same. The greatest gifts in this world aren’t the flashiest or the most expensive. They’re personal. They come from us. The greatest gift is sacrificing of yourself for someone else. That means giving your time for others, even when you would rather be spending your time doing something for yourself. It means using your abilities to help someone else out without getting anything in return. And yes, it means giving even your treasures to someone in need.
Do you think Boaz ever figured out how much he was out because he let all these people pick up grain behind his harvesters? I doubt it. In his mind, it was never his to begin with. He saw it all as an opportunity to help. And it did. Ruth and Naomi, women as good as dead, could now survive.
Now I can stand here this morning and give you all sorts of scientific reasons to give to others. I can tell you the practical reasons for helping others. I can give fancy quotes from famous people that say things like: “The more you give, the more you get.” But none of that is our motivation for giving. Our motivation is actually quite simple. We give ourself to others because Christ gave himself for us. We serve because Christ served us. And we love because Christ loved us first. Amen.
I Will Not Abandon You
1st Sunday in Advent – December 3, 2017
In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. 2 The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there. 3 Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.
6 When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. 7 With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.
8 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. 9 May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.” Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud 10 and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”
11 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”
14 At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her. 15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”
16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” (Ruth 1:1-17)
During the tumultuous period of the Judges in the Old Testament, one Israelite family just couldn’t catch a break. One faith-testing disaster after another came down on them like the blows from a boxer. During this Advent season, we will walk with them. We will watch them experience a disaster so strong that it will chase them out of their hometown. We will see this family lose loved ones, weather bitterness we can hardly imagine, and face the possible extinction of their land, their home, and their entire family line. This Advent you will witness one Israelite family endure the worst curses this world has to offer…and then, in the end, you will see God give them his greatest blessing.
It all started with a famine. This particular famine was so bad that a husband named Elimelek took his wife Naomi and their two sons all the way to Moab. Things have to be really bad for a man to take his family to an enemy country.
Their lives only got worse in Moab. Soon, Elimelek, the patriarch of the family, died. For ten years Naomi grieved. She watched her sons marry and do things their father would have loved to have seen. Elimelek’s death was the type of loss a family remembers.
Then, ten years later, tragedy struck the family again. Both of Naomi’s sons died, too. What was Naomi to do? She had lost everything and everyone she ever cherished. Should she stay a poor, bitter widow in an enemy country – constantly reminded of her loss? Or should she move back to her hometown of Bethlehem, where even more memories of those she had lost would flood over her?
What would you have done? Well, many of us have lost loved ones. So let’s change the question a bit. What have you done when you have lost those you hold dear? It is hard not to give in to emotion. Sadness washes over us in those moments. How can it not? We imagine all that our loved one will never experience. We feel less than whole, as though something the size of that person is missing from our heart.
That sadness can lead to anger. How dare God take him from me? Doesn’t God love me? Didn’t God love her? Then why is she gone? Guilt can follow. Why wasn’t it me? Why are the best always taken first?
Finally, the last emotion that follows might just be the hardest to fight against: despair. All is lost. Everyone is gone. You feel as though you are the last one left, and no one remembers you.
Naomi may have felt all of those emotions. “With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.” For all of her loss, Naomi wasn’t alone. Her two daughters-in-law were still with her. But perhaps even they were too much of a reminder of the family she no longer had. That might be why she told them, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me.”
They still had the rest of their lives ahead of them. In a world that so emphasized the continuation of a family line, Ruth and Orpah could still have children and families. Naomi’s family, her hope for children and grandchildren was all gone now.
Initially both daughters-in-law stayed with Naomi. So Naomi became more forceful. It was time to show these women just how painful her life had become. “It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!” Orpah got the hint. She left.
What would you have done? Well, let’s change the question again. What have you done? When someone is suffering and you still have a future, would you go with them or live your own life? Helping others can be easy – it really can. But what about helping someone when it might mean giving up your own future? That’s quite a bit more difficult.
The Bible has a special type of word for that kind of sacrifice. It calls undeserved love like that “grace.” Oprah wasn’t willing to give up her life for the sake of her mother-in-law. Not many would be willing.
Things weren’t much better in Israel once the Romans took over. Famines still plagued the land. Wives still lost their husbands and children. People still thought twice about helping one another. And it is circumstances like these that make people say “Why would I want to bring a child into all of this?” What’s the point?
Yet those were the exact circumstances into which your Lord placed his Son, Jesus. Sadness, anger, disillusionment, despair – those all existed at the advent of the birth of the Savior. Born in a stables, placed in a manger, Jesus became our perfect substitute to live among sinners.
He comforted those who lost loved ones. He raised to life children who had died in their mother’s arms. And at the grave of his friend, Lazarus, he poured out his heart in a very loving way. Jesus wept.
Jesus never abandoned anyone. But he came to be abandoned by everyone. Sadness, anger, disillusionment and despair all swirled around the cross Jesus was nailed to. But at his death, a new word was defined. It was hope. Jesus’ death means your forgiveness of sins. It means your sure and certain hope of a heaven without sadness and anger, despair or death.
Every fiber of Naomi’s being told her she was completely alone. She wasn’t. Not even close. Her Lord had been with her in Bethlehem and then in Moab, too. And the Lord made sure Naomi was never going to feel alone again. And to do that, the Lord would use the last person anyone ever thought he would: a Moabite woman named Ruth.
When Naomi urged Ruth to go back home, Ruth refused. Then this foreigner spoke some of the most beautiful words in all of Scripture to her mother-in-law: “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
Your Lord has promised that same commitment to you, too. Not even his death could keep him from you. Remember that the next time your sadness leads to anger, or when your despair makes you question your God. Christ’s death and resurrection have taken your sins away. Heaven is yours. And now by faith you too can hold on to that beautiful Advent word: hope. Amen.
Christ the King Sunday – November 26, 2017
”’For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land.
I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken. (Ezekiel 34:11-16,23-24)
There is a Greek word that is so filled with joy, that defines such excitement, and embodies discovery to such an extent that we Americans just had to steal it. “Eureka!” You know what that means, don’t you? It means “I’ve found what I’ve been looking for!” Archimedes yelled it in his bathtub when he discovered the relationship between water-displacement and measuring volume. The state of California made “Eureka!” their state motto half a century ago. And even today, the joy and exhilarating voice of discovery remains that happy Greek word: “Eureka!”
But not all discoveries are good. Gases have been discovered and used to kill. Helpful drugs have been discovered, but many of them are overused and can lead to death. And then there was a man named Julius Robert Oppenheimer. He knew all about the Greek word “eureka” and the joy and sadness that discovery can bring.
Oppenheimer was hired by the United States government with the sole purpose of making a discovery such as the world had never seen. And much to his dismay, he was successful. Oppenheimer had discovered how to make the atom bomb.
He knew the implications of his discovery, and in his most famous quotation he looked at the terror he had unleashed and said, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
Discoveries always have implications. “Eureka” is always followed by either joy or sadness…or both. God’s people of the Old Testament really enjoyed making discoveries. The problem was that these discoveries were almost always new ways to sin. Israel discovered new gods to follow. Their kings found new allies to trust in rather than trusting in the Lord. The people discovered all sorts of ways to get lost in the temptations of this world. They didn’t use the Greek word “Eureka,” they probably would have used the Hebrew word “Matsa,” but they were discovering all sorts of ways to get distracted, to get hurt, and ultimately to get lost.
God uses the age old comparison this morning between his people and sheep. Just as sheep have a knack for discovering new ways to get in trouble, so did God’s people. Their earthly shepherds were of no help. The teachers of Israel, the false prophets, the wicked kings all hurt God’s people – both physically and spiritually.
It all led to one last discovery for Old Testament Israel – something they understood too late. Because of their sinful discoveries, they would only find destruction, captivity and death. That isn’t “Eureka” or “Matsa.” In Hebrew it is called “Havvah” – destruction.
Many of the discoveries we make in our own lives are just as dangerous. We find new ways to sin with the words we say about others. We discover new ways to think sinful thoughts of greed and lust. And we are always finding out new ways to act out against God. Until finally all we can exclaim is “Eureka!” – we’re lost!
Very few were exclaiming “Eureka!” during Jesus’ ministry. Yes, Andrew said it initially to his brother Peter when he first met Jesus: “We have found the Messiah!” But that was out of the ordinary. Most who discovered Jesus eventually were happier discovering other things.
Until it was Jesus’ enemies who made an ominous discovery of their own. They realized they could bribe one of Jesus’ own disciples in to telling them his location. Even better, when they got Jesus on trial and dragged him to Pontius Pilate, as we heard in our Gospel reading this morning, they discovered he wasn’t going to say anything to stop them! So Jesus’ execution on the cross would be his enemies “Eureka!” moment. The Jewish leaders, the Gentile soldiers and the devil himself were all so happy to have killed the Son of God. They thought they had become what Oppenheimer claimed to be “Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
But the “Eureka” moment was even greater than that. Jesus, as the Good Shepherd promised through the prophet Ezekiel, had fulfilled his mission to “rescue [his sheep] from all the places where they were scattered.” He really was the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep.
Then came the greatest discovery of all. On Easter Sunday the tomb of Jesus was empty – “Eureka!”. The stone was rolled away and the grave clothes were folded – “Eureka!” And Jesus himself was alive again – “Eureka!”
What does such a discovery mean? Everything. That Greek word so filled with joy, that definition of excitement, that embodiment of discovery is a word we can’t help but use. “Eureka” our Good Shepherd has found us, his lost sheep. “I will place over them one shepherd…he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God.”
Great discoveries can’t be hidden. When Archimedes made his scientific discovery in his bathtub he was so elated that he ran out into the streets naked yelling “Eureka! Eureka!” The discovery of your Savior Jesus that the Holy Spirit has given to you is even greater. It is the type of finding that you just can’t keep to yourself. You have to tell it to the other sheep out there around you. Those sheep have to hear about their Good Shepherd who has won heaven for them.
There was once a woman who had lost one of her ten silver coins. She had to find it. So she lit a lamp and turned the house upside down in order to find the one lost coin. When she found it she actually called together her friends so that they could rejoice with her – “I have found my lost coin!” Eureka!
Your Savior, Jesus, acted the same way towards you. He searched you out. He found you and made you his now and forever. Eureka! And now in turn he sends you out to make those most important discoveries. He sends you out to find others to share his word with, so that you, too, can joyfully exclaim “Eureka!”
Because eventually every one is going to discover what comes next. When Jesus, our King of kings returns he will once again find us on earth. And as our Good Shepherd he will take us into his loving arms in the joys of heaven forever. And at that moment he will say to you, for all time: “Eureka!” Amen.
The Battle Is Not Yours, But God’s
Thanksgiving Service – November 22, 2017
Some people came and told Jehoshaphat, “A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Dead Sea. It is already in Hazezon Tamar” (that is, En Gedi). 3 Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. 4 The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him.
5 Then Jehoshaphat stood up in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem at the temple of the Lord in the front of the new courtyard 6 and said: “Lord, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. 7 Our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? 8 They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for your Name, saying, 9 ‘If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.’ 13 All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the Lord. (2 Chronicles 20:2-9,13)
King Jehoshaphat, the great-great grandson of King David, was in trouble. It looked like his reign in the southern Kingdom of Judah was about to end. In our reading from 2 Chronicles 20, “Some people came and told Jehoshaphat, ‘A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Dead Sea.’” This “vast army” had already gotten closer to Jerusalem than most armies. The messengers stated just how close army was: “It is already in Hazezon Tamar!” That was too close. This conquering army was only about 20 miles away.
There wasn’t much time. The king would have to quickly send word to the far reaches of his southern Kingdom of Judah calling for men. Jerusalem would have to quickly prepare for a siege. Women and children would need to hide inside the city walls or flee to the mountains. Like so many kings before him, Jehoshaphat found his reign on the precipice of disaster. He had so much to do and so little time to accomplish it!
But Jehoshaphat didn’t do any of those things. Instead of running to the armory, the king walked to the temple. He did call all of his people to Jerusalem, but not to arm themselves. The doors of the capital city were still open. Blacksmiths weren’t making weapons.
King Jehoshaphat was alarmed at this coming army. He took the threat seriously. But instead of making earthly plans, he does the unthinkable. “Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah.” Instead of preparation, the king ordered a fast. “The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him.”
When word got out to that conquering army that the city they were marching on was fasting with their doors open they must have been ecstatic! What luck – a king and kingdom so religiously inclined that they would get rid of all logic and planning, even when the enemy was at their gates!
While the army marched quickly, Jehoshaphat prayed. “Lord, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations.” While the army prepared to bring calamity and the sword on Jerusalem, the king continued to pray: “If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.”
The situation was becoming dire. Jerusalem wasn’t just filled with a few people praying. “All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the Lord.” There were children in Jerusalem! That blood-thirsty army was coming and no one was getting ready for them!
Of course, you know what King Jehoshaphat was doing. You know why the gates of Jerusalem were still open and why men, women and children all gathered at the temple of the Lord. In the midst of the worst crisis of his reign, Jehoshaphat and his people went directly to the Lord. The sight is truly one of the greatest scenes in Judah’s history.
Most kings in Israel’s history would have made the logical preparations. Blacksmiths would pound out iron swords. The gates would be shut and reinforced. The call for soldiers would go out as soon as possible. But Jehoshaphat wasn’t most kings.
In the midst of crisis during our nation’s Revolutionary War, as enemy armies marched on capital cities, Thomas Paine wrote these famous words: “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Crisis has a way of doing that, doesn’t it? It brings you right up to the precipice of disaster. You know what that feels like because you have been there. Maybe your precipice was sickness. The doctor advised you to get your house in order because you didn’t look to be long for this world. Maybe your precipice was an emergency. An accident or an injury threatened your life. Maybe your precipice was the loss of a loved one or a friend.
These are the events in your life that will try your very soul. And when they come you usually have two choices. You can be like those other kings and try your hardest to get beyond your difficult circumstance, or you can do what Jehoshaphat did and go directly to the Lord. The first way of preparation sounds so logical. Jehoshaphat’s prayer and actions seem so illogical. And we struggle to flee to the Lord, especially when we find ourselves on the precipice of disaster as we walk through this valley of the shadow of death.
Maybe Jehoshaphat was tempted to follow logic, too. As the army drew closer and closer his prayer must have become more and more intense. That is why the Lord needed to give a loving reminder to his king. Through a prophet the Lord said, “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.’”
God took over. He meant it when he said, “You will not have to fight this battle.” In fact, an amazing thing happened to that army on the march toward Jerusalem. Another army ambushed them while they were about to arrive at Jerusalem! By the time Jehoshaphat arrived at the location all he saw were dead bodies. The Lord had once again rescued his people.
It all pointed ahead. A descendant of Jehoshaphat accomplished something even greater. Jesus walked directly in to Jerusalem, knowing full well what would come. While his enemies marched toward him in the Garden of Gethsemane, instead of arming himself, Jesus prayed. But in order to win this victory Jesus would have to give up his own body on the cross. And there on that cross Jesus accomplished the greatest victory of all – the defeat of sin, death and the devil.
Seeing our victory on the cross, without our having to do anything, must have been like Jehoshaphat finding the enemy army dead in the valley. God did it all.
So how could the king, and all of Judah, possibly respond to all that God had done for them? “Then, led by Jehoshaphat, all the men of Judah and Jerusalem returned joyfully to Jerusalem, for the Lord had given them cause to rejoice over their enemies. They entered Jerusalem and went to the temple of the Lord with harps and lyres and trumpets.”
And these are the ancient words of thanksgiving they sang: “Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.”
So what about you? When your enemies surrounded you, when crisis pushed you to the precipice of disaster, while you live in these days “that try men’s souls” where do you turn? Look to your Savior, Jesus. ”The battle is not yours, but God’s.’” He defeated those enemies of yours. He washed away your sins. He won heaven for you. And now this Thanksgiving Day you can not only say your “thank you” to the Lord. You can live it, just as faithful Jehoshaphat did. You can sing in your heart every day “Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.” Amen.
Jesus Sticks With You Forever
Saints Triumphant Sunday – November 19, 2017
The word of the Lord came to me: 16 “Son of man, take a stick of wood and write on it, ‘Belonging to Judah and the Israelites associated with him.’ Then take another stick of wood, and write on it, ‘Ephraim’s stick, belonging to Joseph and all the house of Israel associated with him.’ 17 Join them together into one stick so that they will become one in your hand.
18 “When your countrymen ask you, ‘Won’t you tell us what you mean by this?’ 19 say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am going to take the stick of Joseph—which is in Ephraim’s hand—and of the Israelite tribes associated with him, and join it to Judah’s stick, making them a single stick of wood, and they will become one in my hand.’ 20 Hold before their eyes the sticks you have written on 21 and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. 22 I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms. 23 They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offenses, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God.
24 “‘My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees. 25 They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children will live there forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. 27 My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I the Lord make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.’ “ (Ezekiel 37:15-28)
What is your most personal possession? What is that something of yours that, if you lost it, people would see it and say right away: “Oh, that belongs to you.” Your hat? Your coat? Your purse? Your truck? In Bible history, the most personal object a person owned, something they carried everywhere, wasn’t a wallet, or a neckless or even a personal Bible. It was a stick.
Wherever men walked in the Bible, their walking stick went with them. They used them in groups. They walked alone with them. In fact, there is an old proverb that states: “When you have no companion, look to your walking stick.”
That is exactly what Isaac’s son, Jacob did. After Jacob tricked his brother he fled for his life. His only companion throughout his journey of solitude was his staff. At the end of his life, Scripture makes a point to tell us that Jacob worshiped as an old man in Egypt, leaning on his staff. Then, Jacob gave promises to each of his children, telling them what would happen to their families when they became huge tribes. When he got to his son Judah, he had an extra special message for him – and wouldn’t you know it, the message had to do with his stick: “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his.”
Judah’s descendants wouldn’t just walk with discarded sticks, they would wield the scepters of kings. And that is exactly what happened. Almost a thousand years later, a descendant of Judah ascended to the throne. He was King David, and he held that scepter of Judah. His son made it even more glorious.
Then came the dark times. Wicked kings led the people away from the Lord. In those days walking sticks accompanied people as they walked to altars of false gods. Very few staffs escorted people to the temple anymore. God’s people were walking away from him physically and spiritually.
Where has your walking staff been accompanying you? Or, to put it another, more modern way, if we could trace your steps through some sort of GPS tracking device, what places would show up? Our sinful minds walk us to all sorts of places we shouldn’t be going. We walk to others in order to gossip. We hike mountains of temptation in order to sin in ways no one can see. Our walking sticks take us all sorts of places we have no business walking to.
And God tracks all of those moments. In fact, he has been walking with you wherever you go. Like the companionship of a good walking stick, the Lord has been by your side through all of it. And sadly, those walks have not always been on paths of righteousness. We’ve wandered.
So did Israel. After hundreds of years of warnings from his prophets, the Lord had finally had enough. His patience had finally run out. He took the scepter of Judah, the symbol of his people, he held it with two hands, and snapped it over his knee. All at once the once beautiful, glorious scepter, Israel’s spiritual walking stick, was broken.
Is there anything more useless than a broken walking stick? It can’t support any weight. It can’t protect against wild animals. A broken walking stick leaves its owner empty and companionless.
And that was the point. God’s people had brought their brokenness upon themselves. Cast off in to captivity, they had 70 years to think about how it all happened. Every wrong step, every walk away from God had led them to this point.
But God didn’t leave them broken and alone. In a beautiful gospel message through the prophet Ezekiel, God promised reconciliation. And how fitting that the illustration the prophet was to use would include a stick. Ezekiel was to take two pieces of a broken stick, one for the souther kingdom of Judah and the other for the northern kingdoms. Then God told him, “Join them together into one stick so that they will become one in your hand.” This is what that one stick meant: “I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land…There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms.”
So who would do that? Who could unite the destroyed tribes? Who could bring unity, reconciliation and peace? “My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd.” David would come. Well, not King David, but “great David’s greater son” Jesus. He, the Good Shepherd, came with his shepherd’s crook. He came to seek and to save his wandering sheep – all the people whose walking sticks led them away from faith and in to the dangers of the devil and temptation.
Of course, Jesus would have to give up his walking stick to save the wandering and the lost. And that is what he did. He exchanged his stick for the tree of the cross. He made your cross his personal possession. He walked with it on his back to Calvary. And then he died on it. Jesus made that cross his personal possession in order to make you his personal possession.
Knowing your sins, all of them, are forgiven doesn’t just change the way you walk. It changes where you walk. Don’t take your walking stick to those places of gossip. Don’t walk up the mountains of guilt and shame. Don’t walk with your stick to prideful places where arrogance reigns. Walk with Jesus. He’ll be your companion through the calm places in life and the rough roads that follow. He walk with you through the valley of the shadow of death…and beyond.
This morning, on a Sunday we call “Saints Triumphant,” your Savior Jesus doesn’t just point you to your walk here on earth. He points you to heaven. There God promises, “I will be their God, and they will be my people. Then the nations will know that I the Lord make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.” It is the last place your walking stick will take you. It is your greatest possession. Amen.
A Little Respect Can Have A Big Effect
Last Judgment Sunday – November 5, 2017
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34”Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37”Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
41”Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)
Chaos theory might just be the most confusing branch of mathematics. To study chaos theory is to dive down the rabbit hole of arithmetic, calculating patterns in seemingly random circumstances. But the most interesting example of chaos theory is probably something you have thought about before. It is called the butterfly effect, and it refers to how small actions can cause large, wide-ranging outcomes.
Here’s an example. A little over a hundred years ago, in the city of Sarajevo, an escort was driving the Archduke. He was the heir of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and it was important that he be kept safe. But there was a small group that wanted him killed, so they threw a bomb at his car. Thankfully, the bomb missed, and the car sped on.
It seemed a disaster was narrowly avoided. But on the drive back, the driver took a wrong turn. He drove down an alley. One of the men who had thrown the bomb just so happened to be walking home, crossing that very street. Realizing his incredible luck, the man pulled out his gun and assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. His death triggered Austria to declare war on Serbia, Russia mobilized against Germany, Germany moved toward Russia, France, and then Great Britain mobilized against Germany. The First World War had begun, all because a driver took a wrong turn.
That is the butterfly effect. Something that seemed small and inconsequential caused something immense. Scripture is filled with examples as well. The prophet Elijah, in the Old Testament, was depressed. He thought he was the only believer left on earth. So the Lord came to him and encouraged him, saying there were still thousands of believers left. Then he gave Elijah his final assignment. Elijah was to anoint 3 people. He was to “anoint Hazael king over Aram.” He was to anoint Jehu “king over Israel.” And he was to anoint his replacement: Elisha.
Once Elijah did this, everything changed. King Ahab was killed, then so was the rest of his family. The Kingdom of Aram was in upheaval. The northern kingdom of Israel was in pieces. And then something terrible happened in the southern kingdom of Judah. Ahab’s daughter, Queen Athaliah, vengefully killed off all of David’s descendants, except for one little baby boy, who was whisked away in the slaughter. That’s an Old Testament version of the butterfly effect. Elijah was depressed, and so the Lord had him anoint 3 men, and 3 kingdoms were overturned because of it!
This morning we hear the details of a big event – the biggest event in the history of the world – Judgment Day. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him.” That’s a pretty big event! And here is what Jesus will do once everyone who has ever lived is standing before him: “He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”
But as Jesus describes the big events of that Last Day, notice that he focuses on the smallest things. He turns to believers and says, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
You will be on that side, with everyone who ever believed in Jesus. Jesus will say those words to you. So do you remember doing all that for him? Do you remember giving him food and drink, inviting him in, clothing him, caring for him and visiting him? No? Me either. And so we will ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you?” It is a good question, because we, like most believers, have never even seen the Lord!
This will be his answer: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” I suppose you could call it a “spiritual butterfly effect.” Even the smallest act of kindness makes its way to Jesus. By serving others faithfully, from the smallest children to the oldest members at the nursing home, you serve Christ.
So how has your attitude been when you serve the lowly? Have you always spoken to them as though you were speaking to Jesus? Have you always been so very happy to be serving someone who can’t possibly serve you back? No, probably not.
In fact, our attitude is usually the opposite. We get annoyed when we need to serve those lower than us. It sometimes feels like a waste of time. Jesus’ disciples used to think that way, too. When people were bringing children to Jesus to have him bless them the disciples sent them away. “Jesus doesn’t have time for you little ones.” But it was the exact opposite. Those are the people Jesus makes time for, too!
Jesus’ ministry was filled with serving the people cast off by society. He took time for children, for women, for Samaritans, for tax collectors, for lepers, for Gentiles, and, well, for everybody. In fact, he didn’t just give them his time, he gave them his life. Who would give their life for a “cast off”? Who would die for little ones? Jesus would. And Jesus did.
Jesus’ death on the cross was the ultimate example of the butterfly effect. The suffering and death of one man, at one time, took away the sins of all people of all time. Such a small event at the time turned out to be the most important event in the history of mankind!
Those who reject that forgiveness Jesus won for them on the cross will be standing on his left on that Last Day. He will say to them: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” And here’s why: “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” The understandable question will come: “When did we not do this? How could we have known?” Once again, it all comes down to the little things: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
I know what you’re thinking: What if I end up on that left side on Judgment Day? Because we haven’t always served others like we should! The difference is faith in Christ. Do you believer in Jesus as your Savior from sin? If so, by his grace you will stand on the right.
And until that Last Day, the Lord continues to give you opportunities to serve those little ones around you. Happily help your children and grandchildren. Faithfully help those in need. Remember the people the world forgets about by praying for them.
Remember, Jesus served you and me – the least of all. Now go do the same. Now and for all eternity. Amen.