Presented on The Lutheran Hour on November 2, 2014 By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker (What Is A Saint?) Copyright 2014 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Matthew 5:1-12
Christ is risen, He is risen indeed and faith in Him is power to live blessed lives even in hard times. Amen.
It was just before Christmas last year when a man, I'll call John, lost his job. That's a terrible time to be laid off, wouldn't you agree? You may have experienced the same kind of heartbreak. It's an empty feeling to be told that you're no longer needed where you work--where you've served faithfully for, perhaps, a number of years--the place you've poured your life into. Who can describe the pit in your stomach when you're let go? But to go home and to have to tell your family this bad news just before Christmas, what could be worse?
When Monday came after John's layoff, things did get worse. John's daughter was involved in an accident, rolling her truck and sustaining serious head injuries. She was rushed to the hospital in a coma. Christmas came and went as the family hoped and prayed for their daughter's well being. She was hanging on and showing signs of life, but the outcome was unknown. What could be worse than seeing your own child teeter between life and death?
While they were keeping vigil at their daughter's bedside, they lost everything in a fire. It took their breath away. Life was crumbling around them. The community responded immediately by rallying around the family to provide a place to live after their hospital ordeal was over, but then the final blow hit John and his wife: their precious daughter lost her fight against her injuries. A week after the accident, she died.
Let's be honest: sometimes life brings challenges, tragedy, and grief that are at times too much to bear. And this was a time like that. Sometimes the brokenness of this world, the pressure, the loss will literally make your knees buckle, your heart break, and your spirit crumble.
How can anyone handle times like these, hard times? How can you and I handle such hard times?
Are you going through hard times right now? Is financial pressure making you dizzy? Is loneliness sending you into despair? Is grief taking your heart captive? Are you struggling because life seems so hard?
Hard times, heartbreaking times, scary times can lead you to ask God some serious questions: "Where are You, Lord? What happened to Your love? Have You forgotten about me? Why aren't You showing mercy to my loved ones? Why is this happening?"
Let me be very clear about something; it's okay to ask those questions. The Bible speaks clearly on this. It's okay to wrestle with God. In fact, God wants you to come to Him with your deepest struggles. Remember the man named Jacob in the Old Testament; he wrestled with God as he faced his greatest fears and the possible loss of his own life and the life of his family. The Bible pulls no punches as it tells the account of this desperate man, hanging on to God and not letting go until he could receive God's blessing.
Another person in the Bible, the Apostle Paul, begged God to relieve him of what he called a "thorn in the flesh," a condition that tormented him relentlessly and drained hope from him. But the hope of the Bible isn't rooted in commiserating about the fact that we all might face hard times; no, God wants you to have a way to handle hard times, to deal with hard times, even to overcome them! Psalm 34:18 speaks true and comforting words: "The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit" (Psalms 34:18).
It's about faith in the God who loves you, about confidence in the One who holds you in His arms now and guarantees your eternal future. The Bible says, "Put your hope in the One who reveals Himself as your Savior, Jesus Christ."
Jesus, the Preacher of the Sermon on the Mount text that I just read, reminds us that God is not your enemy, sin and death are. He is not your tormentor, the broken world and even our own flesh is. So, God is not bothered when you ask Him for help. He is not too busy. He is your Savior. He is present to hear you and to help you. Trouble may not disappear, but your Savior lives and He will see you through to eternal life even with Him.
We need strength to deal with hard times; but here's where our world leads us astray. The world will tell you to handle hard times with your toughness and self-made strength. Sometimes, it's true, that might help for a time; but how long can it last? Then some will say, adjust your attitude, think positive thoughts. That too can work for a while, but can it endure through unspeakable pain? Or, here's a very common way of dealing with overwhelming hard times. The world says to seek diversions when you're down, to escape hard times by losing yourself in alcohol or drugs. The world tells you to numb your feelings of despair by lashing out at others or by seeking temporary satisfaction in the desires of your flesh. But what do you do when you come back to reality?
For hard times, the world offers temporary solutions for eternal problems and that heaps tragedy upon tragedy. Is there a better way? One that works forever? Yes, the life of faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior. Today, Jesus invites you to put your trust in Him in all things. Today, you can take heart because you have real help in your Savior Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul was a man who understood suffering and pain. To say that his life was not easy would be an understatement. But in facing hard times, even facing death itself, he could declare: "If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:31-33)
So many ask, "Can Jesus really help me?" If you really want an answer to that, the Bible invites you to look to the cross, and remember what Jesus did. He carried the weight of your sin and mine; He faced the depth of all our pain on the cross of Calvary. And then, the One who carried the eternal consequences of our sin and pain, He rose again. That's right, Jesus conquered death! Is there anything too much for Jesus who walks with you? That's why Paul continued in Romans, chapter eight: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? ... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Romans 8:35, 37).
What an offer in Jesus. Even when you are laid low through the worst of times, you are more than a conqueror in Him. This is what you can trust and believe when life seems to be crumbling. No matter what you are facing in your life right now, trusting in Christ, His eternal life, will always be the last word for you in Him. In Christ, there will always be a way through.
How does that work? It reminds me of a scene from a movie based on a John Grisham novel. It's called, "The Firm." Young attorney, Mitch McDeer, became inadvertently connected with a law firm that was breaking the law by aligning itself with organized crime. Mitch found himself trapped. Either he would have to become a criminal with the members of his firm, or he would lose his law license and possibly his life by betraying his clients. He couldn't fix the problem. He was stuck between a rock and a hard place. But in a conversation with a client about the bar exam, Mitch McDeer was given an idea. There was a way he could maintain attorney-client privilege and not divulge confidential information while at the same time freeing himself from the clutches of his corrupt colleagues. Mitch said to his wife, "I didn't find a way out. It's more like a way through."
You may not have a way out of your hard times right now. Hurt and pain wound you in a serious and deeply hurtful way; but Jesus will give you a way through.
That's what He was saying to His followers in Matthew, chapter five. Jesus, spoke startling words. Especially for people in hard times: Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed even are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:3-12).
Did you hear Jesus mention hard times just like yours? Jesus spoke to people who were bent over in adversity, with lives in pain, with hurts that had drained them dry. Jesus spoke to people who were burdened with sadness and grief. And for all these hard times, for these difficulties that literally take our breath away, Jesus had one phrase of encouragement. He said, "You are blessed!"
You, in your pain; you, as you pay the price for injustice; you, as you feel weak and weary; you, as you wonder if there can be any hope or happiness; Jesus said that, in Him, because of Him, because of the Kingdom of God, you are blessed.
Now hang on for a moment. Stick with me. Jesus wasn't saying that everything is okay. He wasn't saying that the hard times are good for you. He wasn't lacking compassion or treating your difficulties lightly. The word "blessed" has a very special meaning. It means that God has not abandoned you. It means that God is close and doing His work in your life. The word "blessed" doesn't simply mean that you're showered with good things. It means that God is at work for you no matter what is happening in your life. You are not on your own. These moments are not the whole story. You are blessed.
Back in Jesus' day, people who were afflicted or suffering were often considered as ones cast aside by God. If adversity hit, the first question was, "What did they or a family member do wrong to get them in such trouble with God?" Jesus was correcting this misguided thinking. The broken and outcast were not forsaken by God. On the contrary, those are people who are brought the closest for comfort and help. Psalm 34 says, "Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!" (Psalms 34:8).
It is during your worst times that you need to know that you are blessed; God is with you; He is at work for you; you are not forsaken. It is during your most painful times you need to be certain about the fact that you have a Savior who understands your pain. He Himself endured the physical suffering of being beaten and crucified. He carried the crushing spiritual blow of being separated from God the Father when He carried your sin and mine on the cross. It is during the times when you feel like your life is lost, that you need to know that your Savior Jesus Christ overcame death--the greatest obstacle ever, and that even death will not win in your life.
In fact, Jesus can boldly say to all who trust in Him, "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven." You have eternal hope. No matter what this life hands you, you have eternal hope through Jesus Christ.
Friend, your hard times may be resolved this side of heaven, or they may not. I pray they are. I pray you experience healing, help, and wholeness of heart. I do. I pray that you can praise God for His merciful help in your life; but, one day, we will all face death. And for that inevitable hard time, and all the ones that happen leading up to that day, you have an eternal hope now. You have everlasting help right now amidst real hard times. Why, because God is still at work for you. Even in struggles, even in death, He has drawn close and given you the gift of His eternal life through His Son. You are blessed. Even now He remains with you. Even now He provides strength and encouragement. You are blessed.
Yesterday was All Saints Day. It's a day when our loved ones who died in faith are remembered. There are many tears on All Saints Day. In some churches the names of loved ones who died during the year are read aloud. Grief is remembered and acknowledged. Sadness is brought to the surface again. But more than that, All Saints Day recalls the home in heaven our faithful loved ones enjoy. It reminds us of our eternal hope; that even as we weep, we are blessed by the helping and saving work of Jesus.
In an article entitled "Where Was God on 9-11?" author Philip Yancey recounted the tragic events of that horrific day in New York City. The shock, the loss, and grief gripped the nation and the world. Yet, even on that day, Yancey said, God made Himself known. Through strangers helping strangers, through people who drove across the country to bring help and supplies, through first responders, many who sacrificed their own lives, through acts of kindness, and through churches and organizations like the Red Cross, and even the Sanitation Workers for Christ, God was present. A cross appeared in the rubble. Prayer services were held throughout the day. Rescue workers combed the wreckage around the clock, some working 40 or more hours in a row to provide help. This was not ordinary. This was God's presence in the middle of tragedy. This was the real definition of blessing. When times are hardest, God promises to be present.
With faith in God you are blessed in hard times. With faith, you can face the hard times; even begin to move through real fear and struggle! Why, because today, tomorrow, each and every day God, your Savior, your Lord, He's near. You are blessed amidst your mourning, even in your fear, your worry and tears. You are blessed in the loss and in gain, in victory and in pain. You are blessed because God loves you, cares about you, and even in the middle of the trouble that rages, helps you. God is real. He is present. And the clearest testimony of that for you is seeing the real presence of God in the Word who became flesh at Christmas, went to the cross on Good Friday, and rose again on Easter morn that we might have life in Him.
When hard times hit, lean on God's Word. He can speak and bring life to your hurting soul even then.
Today, Jesus gives you the straight scoop on life no matter what's facing you at the moment. In Him, because of Him, you are eternally blessed. God is real, He's active, He's with you. He is strong and He loves you too much to ever abandon you.
That's the reality Jesus brought to the troubled crowds in Matthew, chapter five. That is the reality that John's family hung onto as they lost their daughter. They told the press that they were leaving everything in God's hands. They said, "[We] really trust in Him to take care of it. [We] don't have any other choice."
In hard times, there's only one thing you can depend on, God's work for you in Jesus. Even now, my friend, you have a faithful Savior who is at work for you. The day is coming when all trouble is over, all tears are wiped away. But even now, with faith in Him, be hopeful, prayerful, watchful, because your Savior says, "With Me, you're blessed."
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for November 2, 2014 Topic: What Is A Saint?
ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, in your message this week you talk about All Saints Day. What is a saint?"
SELTZ: Mark, there are lots of ideas out there about what a saint is. But the best, most reliable place to find the answer is in the Bible. For example, Psalm 30 says: "Sing praises to the LORD, O you saints, and give thanks to his holy name" (Psalms 30:4 ESV). The English word "saints" there reflects a Hebrew word for "godly ones." These are people who have been blessed with the steadfast love of God and who now trust in and follow their Savior. The Old Testament also uses another word that we translate as "saints." Psalm 34:9 says, "Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints," and the Hebrew word there means "holy ones."
ANNOUNCER: Does that mean these are people who never sinned?
SELTZ: No. It's actually a reference to sinners who were saved by God's forgiveness. So, they've been made holy by God's grace and His salvation.
ANNOUNCER: Now the word 'holy" could also mean "set apart by God." Are you saying these saints, these holy ones, are somehow set apart by God as His own because they are saved by Him?
SELTZ: Yeah. That's right. In the Bible, a saint is not someone who is born with remarkable godlike characteristics. It's an ordinary person set apart by God for His extraordinary grace and work.
ANNOUNCER: Would the same thing apply in the New Testament?
SELTZ: Yes. This use is consistent in the New Testament as well. As the early church began, we hear this word applied to people saved by God's grace through Jesus Christ. We hear Ananias say about the conversion of the Apostle Paul in Acts, chapter 9; he says "Lord, I've heard from many about this man, Paul, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem" (Acts 9:13 ESV).
ANNOUNCER: So even that early in the history of the church; the followers of Jesus were referred to as saints.
SELTZ: Yes, and, once again, the Greek word means "holy ones," those, not holy in and of themselves, but holy ones who have been made holy--forgiven by Jesus' death and resurrection for them. This word is used dozens of times in the New Testament, referring to God's redeemed people, His church.
ANNOUNCER: Okay, but I think there is also a narrower or maybe a different meaning of that word. For example, we talk about Saint Peter, Saint Paul; you've got cities named Saint Louis, Saint Joseph. We've got hospitals named after Saint Anthony, what is that mean?
SELTZ: Well, the early church began to recognize people who were used by God in exceptional ways to proclaim His name and do His work. The disciples, for example are given special recognition as saints. Paul is an apostle who helped the Christian Church grow and develop. He is called Saint Paul. Even today, Lutheran churches recognize these special servants of God and celebrate their blessings to the church. They weren't born holier than any of us, but they are great blessings to God's people and they were used by God in some extraordinary ways.
ANNOUNCER: Now, what about those saints who are not mentioned in the Bible?
SELTZ: I think that goes to your point about Saint Louis, Mark. It brings us to what we hear in the media about saints these days. The Roman Catholic Church has a process called "canonization," in which a person is certified as a special servant of God. So, in their view Saint Louis, he was Louis the IX, king of France back in the 1200s, he was a devout and upright Christian ruler. He was given the title of "saint" about thirty years after his death. These days, that canonizing process is a bit more involved as the church works to document not only extraordinary Christian service, but heroic and miraculous elements in that person's life.
ANNOUNCER: Okay. Just last year two former popes were announced as saints in that sense.
SELTZ: Yeah, that's what they did. But now even the word "saint" has taken on a narrower meaning these days, so one that seems unreachable by most of us; so, for me, it's important we remember the main idea of the Bible above all else; that every listener who knows Jesus Christ as their Savior is a saint. We are God's saints-ultimately, not by what we do but what God does on our behalf. Even the communion of saints, confessed in the Apostle's Creed, these are all believers living and departed, in Christ.
ANNOUNCER: Okay. So, being part of that communion of saints, our work, then, is to bring that message, that encouraging message of God's love to everyone else in the world.
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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