Presented on The Lutheran Hour on May 18, 2014 By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker Copyright 2014 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: John 14:1-14
Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed; and His presence with His promises are the source of real, lasting peace for all who trust in Him. Amen.
Nothing can be more upsetting or nerve-racking than finding out that you're all alone or that you will be all alone, especially if you weren't ready for it. There are times in life that give us glimpses of what it feels like to be all alone.
Just a few months ago, many of us were watching college basketball during what's called "March Madness." There were moments during those games when it wasn't madness or confidence, but nervousness, anxiety, even fear. There were a few games when you could see it in the eyes of the players. At the end of the contest, with the game on the line, they found themselves standing on the freethrow line, in a close game, and all eyes were on them. The hopes and dreams of the team and the schools were in their hands and it didn't matter if everyone was cheering for them or cheering against them. It didn't matter if they had the greatest coach or the worst. At that point in the game, they were standing there all alone, on their own. Some had confidence, but many didn't. In fact, one team missed most of their free shots at the end of the game and wound up losing a game they should have won. Being alone, feeling pressure, even fear, it can do that to you, can't it?
But in real life, when it's not a game, there is an aloneness that can be really unsettling, even debilitating. A friend of mine felt that way when he was young, only 6 years old. He experienced real fear and aloneness at his grandfather's funeral. Funerals can really challenge us, make us afraid, even feel alone.
Well, he felt that and more. You see, during the viewing of the body he inadvertently fell asleep on a chair in the back of the parlor. Apparently nobody saw him there, so when visiting hours were over and no one saw him running around; his family thought that he had gone home with one of the other aunts or uncles. They left without him. Here was this little 6-year old boy, alone with his dead grandfather all by himself. When he woke up, let's just say, he was scared and he sure felt all alone. He said, "It sure was great when I finally heard my father's voice calling out for me." It was great to realize that my father was there and he had come back just for me.
Alone, fearful, then relieved. That's what Thomas and all the disciples were feeling in our text.
Think about was going on all around them. They were aware that their Master, Jesus, would soon leave them. He had told them that one of them would betray Him, Peter would deny Him, and Judas had mysteriously left. What was going on? They were confused and getting nervous. Jesus would later add some more hard truth to their lives, telling them that because of their faith in Him, they would be persecuted, become outcasts, hated by the world, and many would even die for believing in Him.
Yet, in view of all of that, Jesus incredibly says, 'don't let your hearts be troubled.' In fact, He promises that even in the middle of those times when you feel all alone, all by yourself, don't worry, He's there for you and no matter what happens in this life, He's coming back to take you home to be with Him in heaven eternally.
Just like the voice of my friend's father brought real peace to a scared little boy, so the words and the promises of Jesus bring peace to the disciples in the text, to people like you and me today too. Jesus assured another disciple, Philip, that just by seeing Him (Jesus that is) Philip would also be seeing His Father, because Jesus is "God in the Flesh." That calmed Philip's confused and troubled heart. And, Jesus assured Thomas that even though He would be leaving him (and the others) He would return to take them, and all who believe, home with Him in heaven. In view of Christ's coming suffering and death, this promise of real resurrection and life was power to calm Thomas' confused and troubled heart too.
So, here's a reassuring thought, one that you can build your life on; God's Presence, plus God's promise delivers God's peace! Even more boldly, Christ's Presence, plus Jesus Christ's promises equals God's eternal life and peace for all who trust in Him!
When you have a promise from Jesus, God in the flesh, when you have His gracious Presence with you by the power of His Spirit through His Word, you have His peace, a peace that can help you face the struggles of this life until He comes to bring you home with Him in heaven eternally!
Do you believe that? Do you believe that? That's the challenge of this text for you and me! That's our real present Savior making us a powerful promise, to give us His peace for this life and the life to come!
Now the disciples in the text, they didn't know what to make of all this. Philip says, "Jesus, just show us God the Father, that will help, that will be enough." And Jesus gets even more clear, "Philip, if you have seen me, you have seen the Father!"
Jesus Himself is God's clear answer for their life, for your life, now and forever. Get to know Him. He, and only He, can take our confusions, our fears, our aloneness and overcome them with His Presence, His promises, and His peace!
In fact, Jesus says something even more incredible. He says that when it comes to the things that really matter for your life and mine, He says, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life for you!"
You see, the Bible won't let us diminish Jesus. The Apostle John records 7 "I am" statements from Jesus' lips. Jesus says of Himself: John 6: 35, 48 I am the bread of life. John 8: 12, 9:5 I am the light of the world. John 10:9 I am the door. John 10:11 I am the good shepherd. John 11:25 I am the resurrection and the life. John 14:6 I am the way, the truth, and the life. In fact, Jesus boldly says, "I'm God in the flesh" or as He says it in John 8:58 "Before Abraham was, I am!"
So, Jesus is no mere noble Martyr, a kind of Superstar like we wish He could be! Have you ever heard of Frederick Buechner, a Pulitzer Prize finalist and writer? He made this comment about Jesus, "If all the resurrection means is that Jesus' spirit lives on like Abraham Lincoln's or Adolf Hitler's, but that otherwise He is just as dead as anyone else who cashed in 2000 years ago, then, as St. Paul puts it, 'our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.' Buechner goes on to say if the enemies of Jesus succeeded for all practical purposes in killing Him permanently around AD 30, then like Socrates, Thomas More, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr., and so on, He is simply another saintly victim of the wickedness and folly of men, and the cross is a symbol of ultimate defeat." Well, Jesus will have none of that.
Into this rebellious world, hell-bent on its own destruction, into our confused lives, unsure of where we're going or who we are; Jesus comes with some plain talk. He says, "In all things look to me, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life!" Into all confusion and trouble, Jesus says, "Look to Me for your answers. I'm God in the Flesh for you!"
Here's truth that will transform your life; Christ's Presence, plus Jesus Christ's promises equal God's eternal life and peace for all who trust Him!
Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said, "Truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it; ignorance may deride it; malice may distort it; but there it is." When it comes to Jesus, when you're looking for what holds, what is real, what lasts, it's Him; He is the Way to God, the Truth of God, and the Life of God for you.
His Presence, His promises can deliver you real peace! And that's the truth of the Bible for you, for me, for all.
The disciples again were afraid of this truth talk that Jesus was sharing with them. He was telling them that He had to die for them, for all. He had to leave them for a time. They were frightened, scared, feeling the ache of possibly being alone without Him. We've all felt those things at times.
But Jesus doesn't just tell them the truth to prepare them for the trouble to come; He tells them that truth for their ultimate rescue and salvation. His truth not only is something that a person can hold on to, His truth holds on to us. It comes back for us. It delivers what He says. Christ's Presence with His promises gives real peace because you can count on Him to deliver it no matter what and He will see it through, right through to the end.
In the midst of this gut-wrenching talk, Jesus says this incredible thing. No matter what happens in the lives of these disciples in the near future, don't worry; He would come back for them, they could count on it. He had the power to go to the cross, to suffer a death they couldn't endure, to give them a life they couldn't earn, to make heaven possible where it was beyond the realm of their possibility, and He would ensure the fulfillment and the delivery of those promises to them. Period.
Though His work on the cross would take them from Him for a moment, He would come back for them, just like He said! Though His ascension to heaven would take Him from us for a moment, He will come back again to judge the living and the dead and bring His people to be with Him in places already prepared. There is real peace when there is a promise you can count on from a Person who fulfills their promises just like they said they would!
A local pastor told a story of a terrifying day at a New Jersey beach for a father, his son, and his daughter. The kids were 8 and 10, but they were good swimmers. In fact, they enjoyed swimming together in the Atlantic Ocean quite a lot. On this particular day, a few years ago, they went swimming like they had done so many times before.
As they swam, they got farther and farther from shore. Suddenly the father realized that the tide was carrying them out to sea. It had also separated them from each other. Trying to stay calm, he searched for both children, and realized that he had to help his son back to the beach for his safety and then return to rescue his daughter. So just before turning to the shore, he called out to her, "Mary, I am going to shore for help. If you get tired, remember what I taught you, stay calm, turn on your back, and remember you can float all day long. And I promise you, I promise you, I'll come back for you; trust me."
He and the boy made it to shore and then there was a frantic search for the girl. Finally, after four hours, they found her far out in the ocean, away from the shore. But, they found her calmly swimming on her back, not frightened at all.
There was a tremendous amount of relief when the calm girl was finally back on shore. Everyone wondered how she could be so at peace. And they were even more stunned when she gave such a simple answer. She said, "Daddy said he would come back for me and, like he said, I could float all day, so I swam and I floated because I knew he would come."
That little girl knew that her father would do all in his power to come for her no matter the cost to himself. But, when it comes to things like forgiveness, life, and salvation; it's going to take more than merely the love of a good mom or dad; it's going to take the love of a Savior, God in the flesh, for you and me. The Bible says that the work of Jesus isn't merely the best efforts of the best human being that ever lived. It's infinitely more than that. He doesn't merely show the way, share the truth, and shed some light on a situation. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
In fact, when John says that "Jesus is the Way," he's saying that this is a Way that has been paved for us.
It was paved when God made a promise to Adam and Eve. It was paved when God made Abraham the father of His promises for all to see. It was paved when Moses spoke of deliverance to the Pharaoh of Egypt; a deliverance that only could happen from the God whose Name was "I AM." It was paved when Jesus, the "I AM" in the Flesh, went to the cross, went through the cross by the fact of His resurrection, to make a way back to the Father through His life, His death, and His resurrection.
That's a way home that gives all who believe, real peace now because the One who made it possible is with us preparing an eternal place for us, and promises to come back for all those who trust in Him, to take us to Himself. He makes that way possible, where there is no way! In the comedy movie "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure," there was one little, silly phrase which became very popular, especially among young people. One of the two (I forget which one) made some revolutionary, mind-boggling suggestion. The other responded in disbelief, "No way;" which prompted the simple response of belief, "Way."
Well, this text is talking about something more revolutionary and mind-boggling than any suggestion in "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure." Just think of some of the revolutionary, mind-boggling truths of the Bible.
Ready? The Bible says God loved His fallen creation so much that He became like them in the incarnation, that's the message of Christmas, and not only did God become Man in Christ Jesus, but Jesus became our sin for us, "so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). Disbelief says, "No way!" Faith explodes, "Way."
Or, think of this; we just said this a few weeks ago, "Christ is risen! He is risen indeed and lives and reigns for all eternity." Disbelief says, "No way!" Faith says, "Way!" And then it gets real personal. The Bible says, after our dead bodies are buried and turn to dust, they too will rise gloriously on the Last Day. For those who trust in Him, because He lives, we will live eternally also! No way! Faith says, "Way!"
But our lesson today goes even further. Not only was Jesus born for us, died for us, and rose again for us that we might live in Him; He promises that, no matter what is happening to us for the moment, heaven is our home. He's already prepared it just for us.
No way! Way! "No way; yes, way," says the Way, the Truth, and the Life for you! God's Presence in Christ plus God's promises through Christ equals God's peace with Christ forever!
That's what Jesus is all about. His Presence with you through His Spirit-filled Word, His promises that He Himself guarantees, and fulfills and delivers; that's peace that you can build your life upon, now and forever.
There are times in this world where we can feel all alone. It might be a terrifying day at a funeral or a time when it seems like we are being washed out to the sea of uncertainty or fear. No matter what you may be feeling at the moment; please know this; Jesus knows you and me, better than we know ourselves. And He promises that He will not leave us as orphans on our own, but will come back for us as surely as He died and rose again for us when He walked this earth.
Put your faith in Him. Let Him come close to you by the power of the Holy Spirit through His Word and sacraments; and let that equation for peace be yours today as you put your faith in Jesus Christ. For God's Presence plus God's promises all in Jesus Christ, bring God's peace to your life now and forever. Put your faith in that Way, that Truth, that Life for you in Christ.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for May 18, 2014 Topic: Should the Church Celebrate Cultural Holidays?
ANNOUNCER: Should the Church celebrate cultural holidays? Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, I can understand why a greeting card company might like to have all kinds of special days and commemorations; but to what extent do you think the Church should celebrate cultural holidays?
SELTZ: It's an appropriate question, Mark. Last week we celebrated Mother's Day.
ANNOUNCER: Right, and to what extent do you think the Church should observe things, let's say Grandparents' Day, Super Bowl Sunday, or Labor Day?
SELTZ: Well, first, I think we have to set people's hearts and minds at ease and let them know that the church is not AGAINST cultural holidays. There is nothing in the Bible prohibiting special celebrations in society. But it's a good question because Christians need to ask how much we conform to the world and how much do we let the world set the agenda for us as believers.
ANNOUNCER: It's conceivable that you could get so wrapped up in so many cultural celebrations that you end up losing your focus on Jesus and the life He gives, that could be set aside.
SELTZ: That's where we need to strike a balance. Remember when Jesus prayed for His disciples in John, chapter 17, He said, "I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. So I ask You Father, not to take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one" (John 17:14-16 ESV). So, Jesus kept His disciples IN the world, but He didn't want them to be OF it. We live in that same delicate balance. We are not supposed to let the culture run roughshod over the church and have the message or focus of the church disappear, but we're also not called to remove ourselves from the culture so that no contact exists anymore.
ANNOUNCER: God calls us to be a light to the world, to give witness to His grace and truth.
SELTZ: And to do that we need to be in the world--connected with the culture, if you will. However, as Romans, chapter 12 tells us, "Don't be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good, acceptable, and perfect" (Romans 12:2 ESV).
ANNOUNCER: Okay, taking that all into consideration, then, how should the church treat cultural holidays?
SELTZ: Well, with this balance, Mark, on the one hand we need to recognize what people are thinking and doing. Not to mention Mother's Day in some way--in the sermon, or prayers, or announcements, would be overlooking where people are at in our culture. It would also be sacrificing the opportunity to "take every thought captive" and make it obedient to Christ, as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 10:5. So, if you can connect the culture to Christ, you've taken that cultural component and caused it to be a platform for the proclamation of the Gospel.
ANNOUNCER: But there is another side to that.
SELTZ: Well, there may even be two sides, actually. First, there are some cultural connections that don't serve the Gospel well. On one hand, a day like Mother's Day allows us to see the Biblical themes of family, self-sacrificial love, and the role every woman has in mentoring and disciplining others in their family. God compares Himself to a mother in the Bible. It's a solid Biblical theme, it brings blessing to people.
ANNOUNCER: But, there are occasions that may not serve the Gospel.
SELTZ: You're right, and making a big deal out of these may be a stretch. I remember something called Earth Day; and a lot of people thought, "Well, it must be about recycling or conservation. But, if you dig down deep in it, it's actually celebrating a whole different religious point of view, and earth even becomes God in some of those celebrations. So, that cultural celebration can't be the sole source for the church's agenda. And that's why the church year that brings us through the life of Christ and growth as Christ's followers, that's a solid, time-tested rhythm for the church as we deal with the headlines that are around the world. So, headlines can't dictate the agenda and they can't replace balanced teaching for the full counsel of God. But, we better not ignore the headlines either.
ANNOUNCER: It's sometimes not easy to find the balance.
SELTZ: No, there isn't; there is some tension there to be sure; but if followers of Jesus keep their hands firmly on the Scriptures, their eyes on Christ while at the same time staying attentive to the needs and rhythms of the world, a balanced message and emphasis will result in our prayer life, in our Bible study, in our worship, and in our conversations with believers and unbelievers alike.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Seltz. 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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