"God Digs Deep" #81-31 Presented on The Lutheran Hour on April 6, 2014 By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker (So The Church Is Pro-Life, What Does That Mean?) Copyright 2014 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: John 11:1-45
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, and faith brings abundant, eternal life to all who believe. Amen.
Welcome to the month of April! You know what April means, don't you? Yes, it's springtime. Easter is coming. Tulips and daffodils are popping through the ground. But there's something else that is very important. You've got it; baseball season has started! America's national pastime has swung into action! My beloved Tigers just started to play one week ago. The actual baseball season started two weeks ago though--in of all places--Sydney, Australia! It was a two-game series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Dodgers at the Sydney Cricket Ground. It's the first time in history that Major League Baseball was played "Down Under."
Baseball is synonymous with America. It's a national pastime. From T ball to Little League, up through the ranks of high school and college, all the way to the pros; kids and adults love a day at the ballpark. Boy, down through the years, baseball has sure provided some thrills and excitement, hasn't it?
Who could forget Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series?
Then there is Nolan Ryan, one of the greatest pitchers of all time. He threw seven no-hitters in his career, but in 1991, at age 44, he became the oldest baseball player to achieve that feat of pitching a no-hitter.
Or, perhaps you remember about Babe Ruth's famous "called shot" when, in a 1932 World Series game against the Chicago Cubs, Ruth pointed toward the center field bleachers as an apparent signal that he would hit a home run to that spot. When the next pitch came, Ruth's ball sailed into the center field bleachers.
Plenty of baseball legends fill our memories. There's Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio. There's Mr. October, Reggie Jackson; and Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks. Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial are all-time greats. Who can forget, too, Willie Mays and Ted Williams?
But, one of my favorite memories of baseball was when Kirk Gibson hit a homerun in the 1988 World Series. There were 2 outs, 1 on, trailing 4-3, Gibson, with injuries in both legs, suffering from the flu, hobbled to the plate. He fought the count to 3-2, and the next pitch...he hit over the right field wall, winning the game. He hobbled around the bases, touched home plate for the victory and though he didn't take another bat in the series, his heroics motivated the underdog Dodgers to beat the Oakland A's 4 games to 1.
What did all these players have in common? Right, they dug deep. They never gave up. They gave it everything they had. They kept going no matter how strong the opposition seemed.
April may be a time for baseball; but, you know what, it is also a time for Lent. Our heroes in life may have dug deeply when the game was on the line; but, the season of Lent, a season of repentance tells us something much, much more important. It tells us that our Savior Jesus Christ dug deep when our very lives were on the line. Lent is that time when we remember the greatest event of human history; the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We remember how Jesus dug deep, literally He "set His face towards Jerusalem," to take on sin and our death through His own suffering and death. Lent is a time when we see clearly the passion of Jesus to reach the lost, to save the world. The season of Lent focuses on the Savior who did things that were never done before.
John, chapter eleven describes such an event. Do you remember it? It was the time when Jesus literally raised Lazarus from the dead. Let me take you back to that event. As Jesus neared His entry into Jerusalem, He heard that His dear friend, Lazarus, was very sick. Jesus heard about the illness, but decided not to go to see His friend. Instead, He told His disciples, "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it" (John 11:4). Jesus was about to face incredible opposition in His public life, unheard of extremes in His ministry. He was preparing to dig deep, to face every obstacle, temporal and eternal, in order that many would have life in Him through faith.
Have you thought about your troubles, your struggles, the way that Jesus spoke about His sufferings, or even about how He spoke about Lazarus' illness? Have you ever thought that God might be doing something in and through your difficulties to allow you to see His faithful and saving work more clearly than ever? Sometimes God digs deep into His love, His plan, and power so that even the worst of your trials can be used to show you His remarkable faithfulness to you, demonstrating that in your life so that others can come to know the truth of His love and care.
All hell seemed to be breaking loose at this time in Jesus' life. In John, chapter eleven, after two days, Jesus told His disciples it was time. It was time to go visit Lazarus. By that time the illness had taken its toll, Lazarus had died. But Jesus said something incredible. He said, "Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him" (John 11:14-16).
Something remarkable and unexpected was unfolding, even in the middle of real pain and sadness. In spite of many personal dangers, Jesus decided to make the trip back toward Jerusalem to see Lazarus and his family. In Jerusalem, Jesus' enemies there wanted Him dead, but to Jerusalem He would go. His life could be in terrible jeopardy, but Jesus went anyway. The disciple Thomas captured the looming danger when he said, "Let us also go, that we may die with him" (John 11:16).
Could anything good come from all this? What could sadness, danger, and adversity bring? Truth be told, you know that sometimes adversity makes you grow much more than times of ease and smooth sailing. The adversity of Lazarus' death resulted in amazing transformation. Lazarus' sisters, Mary and Martha, were devastated because of the grief. You can't forget Martha, right? She was the sister who was too busy with worries and work to listen to Jesus. But not now. Helpless in sadness, she dropped everything and she ran to Jesus.
We hear that in John, chapter 11: So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to him, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet he shall live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:20-26)
From someone who was busy and distracted, Martha was transformed into a woman who demonstrated remarkable poise during a heartbreaking time, who could now disengage from the urgent pressures of the day, and who offered one of the most stirring confessions of faith in the Bible. Jesus dug deep to reach her. And He continued to dig deep as He shared even greater truths with her and challenged her to stronger faith.
Please don't overlook what happened to Martha. See it as hope for your life. Sometimes things don't appear to be heading in the right direction, sometimes you feel totally out of control; follow her example, lay it all at Jesus' feet. Look at Martha; even more importantly, look at Jesus who loved Martha, the One who digs deep to give her the gift of new life. In Him she is no longer a slave to worry, control, obsession, and self-reliance. Martha stands out as a beacon of what God's grace can do. She was a new creation in Christ Jesus. Jesus died to give that gift to you, too.
And please don't overlook Jesus' reply to Martha. Did you hear it? Did you hear it echo out of the pages of history into your life today? Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die." That's about as straight as Jesus can say it....So, to you, to Martha, "do you believe this?" I pray; I pray that you do.
For Jesus is your resurrection and life. If you believe in Him, you will live forever. Death, still the greatest enemy of humanity, death itself will have no hold on you; the fear of death can be overcome. Do you believe this? Could the adversity in your life be leading you to trust in the Savior who has overcome all adversity for you and who reaches out to you with the gift of life in Him? Through this stirring Word of God today, Jesus is digging deep to give you a new life, new hope, and the trustworthy encouragement of His faithful work for you even now. Will you receive this precious gift today?
What an incredible response from Martha. She goes on to say, "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world" (John 11:27). May that be your response now in your heart. "Yes, Lord, I believe. I believe that you are the Christ, the Savior sent from heaven, the One who died and rose again for me, the One who can carry my burdens and restore my soul. Yes, Lord, I believe."
And that's what Jesus wants for you. Why would He make the effort to dig deep through the trouble and pain to save you? Why, because He cares about you.
Just consider what happened when Jesus saw Mary and Martha's sadness. John, eleven tells us: When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come there with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, "Where have you laid him?" They said, "Lord, come and see." And Jesus wept. (John 11:32-36).
Jesus wept. The Son of God was moved to tears. The word wept conveys bursting into tears, convulsing with weeping. This was not just a single tear rolling down His cheek. Jesus was heaving in cries of sadness for His friends. He had the power to change things, but He was still overwhelmed with the sadness about what sin and death can do and does.
What moves Jesus to tears? His people's pain. The sorrow of the ones He loves. This is what Adam and Eve's rebellion brought into the world. As the Creator and Redeemer of us all, it tore His heart in two; then to see people He loves walk away from Him in unbelief; Jesus wept. Jesus wept over Jerusalem too when He said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" (Luke 13:34)
Seeing people walk away from His gifts of forgiveness, hope, and life moves Jesus to tears. He loves you that much. He cares for you that deeply. He cares about your struggles and pains even more than you and I do.
Know this today, my friend, whatever is happening in your life at the moment, God is not absent. He is not far away when you endure trouble. He is close. He cares. He literally died and rose again amidst tears so that your tears of pain and sadness would be temporary and His promise of life, eternal. He helps you as He speaks to you in His Word and as He reaches out to you through His sacraments, through fellow believers, and through servants who show His care. When tears happen, and they happen to us all, you know someone cares deeply.
That's what happened to Boston Red Sox player Jake Peavy. It was game six of the World Series last year. The end of the game was close. The Red Sox were winning and a World Series victory looked certain. A twelve-year veteran and a seasoned pitcher, Peavy said, "Really the ninth inning, those emotions came out of me and I had tears rolling down my face thinking about, just flashing back on 12 years and beyond... It was very, very surreal." He cried. That moment really mattered, the people really mattered, the fans mattered, the game mattered. You've seen it before. When people really care, when they dig deep and are connected, they weep. So did Jesus. That's how much He cares about you.
But sometimes, when times are difficult, you still wonder if God is paying attention, if He has time for you, if He really, really does care. Even the bystanders in John, chapter eleven, they wondered that. They said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind also have kept this man from dying?" (John 11:37)
Truth be told, Jesus could have prevented Lazarus' death. He had healed many other people. God could have chosen to do things differently. We wish sometimes that life could go exactly the way we want it; it would be less stressful, better, not as sad, right? I don't know, we sinners have a way of messing things up no matter what. But the Bible calls us to trust Him even more then. For God's ways are higher than our ways. His plans are beyond our understanding. He doesn't settle for the simple or predictable. He digs deep.
The Bible says, "[God] does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities" (Psalms 103:10). God could have punished us for our failures and rebellion, He could have taken the easy way out, but instead He punished His One and Only Son in our place. God's ways are mysterious, but they are always faithful. His love is deeper and wider and higher and greater than anything we can comprehend. He digs deep to make a significant difference, to give you life that matters and that lasts forever. So Jesus allowed Lazarus to die in order to bring a greater difference, a bigger victory, not just for Lazarus, but for all the onlookers that day. He wiped away the tears from His eyes, He went towards the tomb of the one who was 3 days dead and said: "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I know that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me." When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out." The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go." Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him" (John 11:37-45).
Did you hear that? The man who died came out. Jesus raised a dead man to life. He dug deep to work a miracle beyond all miracles so that many would believe in Him as the Son of God and their Savior.
Sometimes it takes something really big to break barriers; something must be risked so that something new might come. Something like that happened with a baseball player named Jackie Robinson. Early in his career, as this courageous African American player broke the color barrier in baseball, he had a difficult time finding people who would defend him. But during a game in Cincinnati, as Robinson was being treated cruelly by the crowd, Pee Wee Reese from the opposing team walked up to Robinson and put his arm around him. The crowd was silenced as Reese, a popular player raised locally, dug deep to break a barrier of hatred and rejection.
There are many examples of people digging deep to love and care for others. But God in the flesh in Christ dug the deepest of all. He did it, not for friends, but even for enemies, sinners, those who were lost. He suffered hell in their place so that each one of us could have real, eternal, lasting life in Him. He dug deep, not only raising Lazarus from the dead, but suffering for you and me and giving His life for you on the cross. He carried your sin. He put His forgiving arm around you and silenced the cruel cries of sin and death, of struggle and heartache. Jesus was raised from the dead by God the Father and earned the gift of eternal hope and new life just for you.
God digs deep for you, dear friend. That's not just a Lenten word, that's a daily word upon which to build your life. In every struggle, through every pain, you have the eternal hope of life in Jesus. That's a promise.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for April, 6, 2014 Topic: So The Church Is Pro-Life, What Does That Mean?
ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, back in January our church celebrated Life Sunday; I know that means that we are against abortion, but is that the only thing it means?
SELTZ: Wow! What a good question, Mark; because this is one of the most misunderstood issues in our culture today.
ANNOUNCER: Why is that?
SELTZ: People tend to think that the church focuses only on the issue of abortion, when the issue of life is much bigger than one political issue alone. The Bible proclaims as a fundamental reality that human life is precious. In fact, it says that human beings were created in God's image.
ANNOUNCER: And that includes all of human life, right?
SELTZ: That's right. Jesus was controversial in that He demonstrated that all human beings mattered to God. He died for everyone; remember God so loved the world.
ANNOUNCER: And that fundamental message applies to many things.
SELTZ: It does. If life is precious to God, if life is a gift from God, if all life matters to God, then we human beings better take life seriously too. And that would include people we love, and those we may not like so much either, and that includes people we might not even know at all.
ANNOUNCER: I would hope that even if someone didn't know me personally, they would still value me as a human being.
SELTZ: That's right. It's really important personally and it's important culturally. In fact, this view of people in general is a pretty powerful way to live, even a powerful way to order society.
ANNOUNCER: Okay. What do you mean by that?
SELTZ: Think about it Mark, if you value life, then murder is an abominable evil. If you value life, then even things like marriage and sexuality are to be practiced for the sake of the other person, not just ourselves. If a person values life, then the most vulnerable; the infirmed, the mentally disabled, and unborn deserve our protection and care, not our willful destruction or denigration.
ANNOUNCER: That's a distinctly Christian view of life and it's been a blessing to many down through the years.
SELTZ: It has. In fact, there's a reason why orphanages, schools, even hospitals have sprung up in history. A very compelling reason; that Christian worldview said that all of life is precious.
ANNOUNCER: It sounds like this pro-life view of life is also a pro-people view of life.
SELTZ: Well said. And, it is! It's not just about abortion and protecting the innocent life of a child in the womb. It's about the dignity of life in the world as well. It's about valuing people, even those different than ourselves because life is precious to God.
ANNOUNCER: Sadly, we've all seen what happens when we ignore that truth, don't we?
SELTZ: We sure have. Someone said it this way, "in the 18th century, the Bible was killed. In the 19th century, God was killed. In the 20th century, man was killed." God is pro-life in a pro-death world. More people have been killed in the name of human progress than all other philosophies combined.
ANNOUNCER: And the Bible's view is not just the moral opposition to that, it's actually the proclamation of repentance and salvation to all, even those who find themselves caught up in this anti-life view.
SELTZ: It sure is. Not only does it provide hope, and healing, and salvation to those who've been hurt by the anti-life position; it is calling us to a new way of life now and forever. It also protects us from those philosophies that would denigrate life in general.
ANNOUNCER: Tell us why that is important.
SELTZ: Just think about it again, Mark; if all life is valuable to God, then who are we to consider some lives not worth living. But modern people often believe in the survival of the fittest, or evolutionary progress in certain human beings, but not in others. But, truth be told, those views are the philosophical foundations to racism and all of the ugliness that it's unleashed on our society.
ANNOUNCER: But the view of life that it's made in the image of God pushes back against that falsehood for everyone's sake.
SELTZ: It does. People need to hear that Jesus was the One who leveled the playing field not the politicians of His day. It was Jesus, who spent time with those outcast from their communities. Remember, to do the heinous things to people that we've seen in the Stalinist, Maoist, Hitlerist regimes, seen also in our modern Planned Parenthood activities, one first has to reclassify certain human beings as lives not worth living or as useless lives. Thank God, Christians are pro-life knowing that wherever you have been, whatever you have done, your life is still precious; it can be redeemed and restored to God Himself.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Seltz. Life is precious to be lived to God's glory and also to our neighbor's good. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
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