Presented on The Lutheran Hour on April 12, 2015 By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker (How Is God Present In My Life?) Copyright 2015 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: John 20:19-38
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:30-31).
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Amen.
A few years ago in a city in southern Brazil, the family of a Brazilian bricklayer was summoned to the coroner's office. The bricklayer, Mr. Goncalves, was in a fatal car accident and the family was being asked to identify his body. They could only recognize him by the clothing that he wore. The severity of the collision made any other identification method impossible. According to custom, the next day the man's funeral was scheduled to take place. As the family gathered in tears at the cemetery, something completely unexpected happened. Mr. Goncalves showed up at his own funeral!
Apparently, Mr. Goncalves was somewhere else when the accident happened. He heard about his funeral on the day it was happening and he rushed to the cemetery to tell his family about the terrible mix up. He wasn't dead; he was very much alive! Can you imagine how they felt when he showed up? They were thrilled, they were overjoyed.
Something similar started happening after Jesus' resurrection. Now here's the difference, there was no mistake, Jesus really died. There's plenty of proof for that. His enemies had to make up a story about the empty tomb saying His body had been stolen, because they were sure He was dead. Yes, He really died. He was placed in a tomb. The tomb was sealed and guarded. But Jesus showed up again. Early on the first Easter morning, angels rolled the stone away, and the Son of God, Jesus the Savior, emerged from the tomb alive. He had risen from the dead.
The significance of Christ's resurrection was more than just a novelty news story. Peter, one of the first witnesses of Jesus' resurrection, he said it this way: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3).
Jesus' resurrection changes everything. His defeat of death, the greatest obstacle you and I face allows us to have a new life, a second chance, a new birth into a living hope. Paul, another witness of the risen Christ, said it this way, "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of all those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:20-22).
In Christ all shall be made alive. By faith in Him, failure, sin, sadness; it will not have the last word in your life. Jesus Himself promised it. He said: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, (He gave Himself) that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
The whole Bible is a promise that is waiting to come to fruition in Jesus for you; and joy of all joys, Jesus showed up: born in a humble stable in Bethlehem, living a perfect life in your place, dying on the cross for your sins, and rising from the dead to give you the gift of life. Jesus showed up!
After Jesus' death, His disciples experienced this miracle while they were locked up in a room, afraid for their lives. John, the youngest disciple of the Twelve, he told it this way: On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors were locked, but Jesus came and stood among them and He said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.....He said again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you" (John 20:18-23).
The disciples were filled with doubt, but God showed up. It was Jesus, showing them proof positive that He had been crucified but He was now raised from the dead. The disciples were terrified, but God showed up. Jesus gave them the gift of His peace.
The disciples felt empty-handed and powerless, but God showed up. The risen Savior sent them as forgiven ones to forgive, to engage the souls of other people in deep need.
But that's just who God is. The Bible talks this way about God from the very beginning. He doesn't wait for sinners to get right with Him; He makes it right and He offers them the gift of life in His Name! That's God's specialty, He always shows up just when we need it most!
But let's be honest. Sometimes your wait seems too long and you wonder if God will truly come through to help you. Sometimes you feel locked away--helpless in grief, health struggles, failure, or depression. Sometimes you wonder if God is paying attention to you when it appears that He is delayed in coming to help and the burden you bear is too heavy for you. Sometimes you're just terrified and you feel empty-handed and powerless as you beg God to show up soon. Sometimes it seems that God has left you on your own. What do you do in those lonely moments?
Should you give up on God and go your own way? Should you let your emotion take over and lash out? Should you hurt yourself or others as you act out your anger? Should you plunge into despair or try to escape through self-indulgence? What can you do while you are waiting for God?
God gives you some answers for your times of waiting. We hear that the disciples who witnessed Jesus' ascension and waited for the promise of the Holy Spirit, we hear that they "were devoting themselves to prayer" (Acts 1:14). As they waited, they prayed.
As King David faced obstacles, and enemies, and hardships, he held onto the promise of eternal life and he walked in faith through his earthly struggles. He prayed with eager expectation as he said in Psalm 5:"For to you do I pray. O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and I watch" (Psalms 5:2-3). David watched for God because God shows up with mercy at the hour of our greatest need!
In your lonely moments, God calls you to pray. "Call upon me in the day of trouble;" God says, "I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me" (Psalms 50:15).
When you feel like God has abandoned you, He calls you even more to trust in His promises because He has been faithful to people in the past and He will be faithful into the future; for Jesus Himself promises you and for all who believe, "I am with you always, to the end even of the age" (Matthew 28:20).
In fact, if you really think about it, God has never left you. Even right now, He is with you, inviting you to hear His voice in the words of the pages of His Scriptures. You can count on Him being there for you in His Word right now. Open the Bible; He's there when you need it most. In fact, He's always there waiting for you. Listen to this voice from God at this very moment. In Romans 8 it says it this way: "Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).
God always shows up. He is present in His Word and sacraments, His gifts of grace. You may want to see your troubles disappear right now, and in heaven, in the new heavens and the new earth, they will. But, now, this side of heaven, even struggles can be used by God to draw us close to Him, to give us His strength as we rely on Him. It's a sad fact, but very often, with no struggles even, we tend to forget God and go our way.
So, your struggles may remain for a time, but God always shows up. Your pain may continue for a moment--that's not unusual in this vale of tears, but God has come down in His Son Jesus for you. He is present. Even there, God shows up for you today to give you His hope.
Perhaps God has shown up for you today to give you the gift of faith. To doubting Thomas, who was not there when Jesus first appeared to His other disciples on that first Easter Sunday evening, Jesus showed up again a week later to call him to faith. Mercifully, kindly, Jesus put Thomas' doubts to rest. Jesus even said, "To those who haven't seen, but believe," even more blessing for them, for you, for me! And then the Gospel writer John steps out of the moment to address you and me even more specifically, he said, "Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:30-31).
I wonder, right now, if you feel that this message really is for you. I wonder if you realize that in this Word God is showing up in your life so that you will believe in Him and you will be saved. It's God's specialty. He loves you so much, He shows up personally and persistently to draw you to Himself. Look around in your life. You know it, God always shows up. And His grace and kindness are always better than you can ask for or imagine. And you know this is even happening for you right now.
Just ask Noah and Elijah Ricafrente. You see, they discovered the thrill of the right person showing up in their lives. The brothers, ten and eight years old, they're avid football fans and they were really delighted when they got to go to the Eastern Carolina University football game with their Pop Warner team. Even better, they got to put their gear on; they got to try out their football skills on the field at halftime. What a great day it was for the Ricafrente brothers!
But something even better was about to happen. You see, Noah and Elijah's dad was a U.S. Marine deployed for the second time in Afghanistan. He had been gone for five months and wasn't expected home for another thirty days. While the boys were on the field, a video greeting from their dad played on the big screen. They never expected such a blessing from their dad, Gunnery Sergeant Josh Ricafrente. But that wasn't the end. Suddenly, Josh Ricafrente walked onto the field and he embraced his boys. The boys were shocked and the crowd went crazy. People in the stands were crying. Everyone was thrilled that the father of these boys showed up.
When the right person shows up, your life is changed. Just ask Noah. Just ask Elijah.
But that also happened to an airline passenger on a flight from Florida to Dallas, they discovered it firsthand. The passenger was suddenly stricken with a heart attack, but Doctor DeCarlo Noble happened to be on the plane with his wife and three daughters. They were returning from a vacation. The doctor heard the cries for help from a family member. Dr. Noble climbed out of his seat, laid the passenger in the aisle and with the help of another passenger, started CPR chest compressions. The flight attendant brought him an automatic electronic defibrillator and he shocked the passenger's heart back to life. Twice the passenger flat-lined and the doctor resumed CPR and shocks to the heart. Suddenly the stricken passenger began breathing on his own. As the doctor helped bring the passenger back to life, the pilots had turned the plane around and made it back to the terminal. The passenger was met by an ambulance and rushed to the hospital. At the right time, in the right place, a doctor showed up just when he was needed.
When the right person shows up, your life not only may be changed, it may be saved.
Our text tells us that Jesus showed up in our world and He shows up in our life today to save your life and to change your life. His just-in-time death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave, it lets you stand up and cheer. That's for sure. The gifts of forgiveness of sin and eternal life in heaven they also give you a new lease on life. Even through your darkest hours you can have hope. Even when life seems to be sinking you, you can trust that God always shows up to lift you up.
You may remember that we're coming up on the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. On April fourteenth and fifteenth, one hundred and three years ago, the ocean liner struck a massive iceberg and sank into the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean. I'm sure you know the story. An unchecked quest to set speed records across the Atlantic led to the tragic collision. Two hours and forty minutes after striking the ice, the "unsinkable" ship plunged beneath the surface of the ocean. Fifteen hundred lives were lost. Too few lifeboats were on hand. The evacuation was disorganized and chaotic. It was a tragedy on many levels and many lessons were learned that day.
One of the biggest lessons that was learned that day was that sinful human beings are failure-prone. The Titanic's "unsinkable" mechanical technology was flawed. The prideful mindset that sent the ship speeding through ice fields was unsound. The lack of response to the Titanic's trouble by ships close by was riddled with mistakes and misunderstanding. The Titanic went from indestructible to incapacitated; it went from heroic to helpless in just a matter of minutes.
The other lesson we learn is that failure-prone, sinful human beings need help. That's especially true when we're in trouble.
And that happened that fateful day too. With the Titanic in trouble; the Carpathia heard the pleas and responded. The Carpathia was a passenger ship sailing from New York. It was fifty-eight miles away from the Titanic when it received the distress signals. Travelling at full steam, it took the Carpathia four hours to reach the site of the sunken vessel. It picked up all 705 survivors and took them back to New York City.
The rescue ship was heroic, but later, even the Carpathia found itself in need too. Six years after its gallant rescue of the Titanic survivors, the Carpathia was torpedoed by a German submarine as World War I raged. Survivors scrambled into lifeboats as the ship went down. Lifeboats were filled with 275 passengers and crew. They needed rescue this time. A ship called Snowdrop showed up to drive away the submarine and rescue the survivors.
You see how it works, don't you? We all need help. We all need rescue. We all need a Savior. And if you feel like you're sinking in the icy waters of life, Jesus shows up for you today. He is the risen and living Savior of the world.
And if you're celebrating the salvation He has given you, He sends you today, as His disciples, to bring the gift of new life to people in your life. You know it's true: a lot of people are sinking. They need Jesus to show up for them, we can be those people who bring the very good news that they, like us, need to hear over and over and over again!
Every year at our Lenten services at Immanuel Lutheran in Brandon, Florida, we ended the Wednesday night prayer services with the hymn "Abide With Me." The words got you ready for the passion of Jesus, Good Friday and Easter morning because they proclaimed a Lord who always shows up, who always stays the course for those who need Him most. I can still hear my people from Immanuel singing these words......
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide; The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide. When other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
I need Your presence every passing hour. What but Your grace can foil the tempter's power? Who, like Yourself, my guide and stay can be? Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
Hold fast Your cross before my closing eyes; Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies. Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee; In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
And so He does, dear friend. He does for you, now and forever.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for April 12, 2015 Topic: How Is God Present In My Life?
ANNOUNCER: How is God present in our lives today? That will be our question today for Pastor Gregory Seltz. I'm Mark Eischer.
SELTZ: Great question. I think it's one that needs answering, Mark, especially as we face the rigors of our life. Life is filled with blessings and evidence of God's goodness, but I'll be the first to admit that life can be very hard. There is no way I can make it through life on my own either.
ANNOUNCER: I agree. But, how is God present in our lives?
SELTZ: What if I answer this way: God is with us both visibly and invisibly.
ANNOUNCER: Okay. What do you mean?
SELTZ: God has always been visibly present for His people. Remember about the birth of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. An angel appears to Joseph and told him about the miraculous pregnancy of Mary and the Messiah she would bear. The angel gave Joseph instructions to name the baby "Jesus," which means "Savior." And then he says this, "All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 'Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel' (Matthew 1:22-23). Here's the point, "Immanuel means, God with us.
ANNOUNCER: That sounds like a great description for God.
SELTZ: It is, as long as you remember that this description applies to the person of Jesus Christ, not some generic understanding about God.
ANNOUNCER: But, wasn't God present with His people also before Jesus came in the flesh?
SELTZ: He was, but Jesus was the culmination of that way, that way that God was always present in the lives of people! He walked personally with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He appeared to Abraham and spoke to him as he traveled to a new land. He guided the Children of Israel through the wilderness in the form of a pillar cloud or a pillar of fire. His real presence was the smoke that filled the tabernacle and temple. God has always been with His beloved people in a visible way.
ANNOUNCER: Okay. That was then, but what about today? People still want to encounter God. They still want to know that He's close and present.
SELTZ: And He is, too. In fact, one of the most profound ways God is present is through His Word and His gifts called the sacraments. The Bible is not a rule book per se; it is a book of the powerful words of God, the presence of God. The gift of the Lord's Supper is like that too. Jesus gave the gift of His real presence to His disciples as He prepared to die, rise, and ascend into heaven.
ANNOUNCER: Because He wanted them to know He would never leave them alone.
SELTZ: Well put. When Jesus says about the bread, "This is my body," or about the wine, "This is my blood," He is miraculously present in Holy Communion with the believer. It is a real-time, here-and-now connection with our ever-present God.
ANNOUNCER: Now how is reading the Bible like receiving the Lord's Supper?
SELTZ: Think of it this way. We can receive the Word of God, Jesus, as we receive and hear and read the words of God, the Bible. We can read what He says to us. His Word is living and active. It's much more than just a book. The Bible is God's truth, His forgiving presence that permeates our souls.
ANNOUNCER: How else is God visibly present?
SELTZ: He is present in us, too, as we receive His Spirit-filled gifts by faith! Jesus promised He would send the Holy Spirit to give us faith and to dwell within us always. He even makes our physical bodies, the bodies of believers, His holy dwelling place. As St. Paul says in Corinthians, "Don't you know your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God?" (6:19)
ANNOUNCER: What does that mean for the church?
SELTZ: It also means when two or three are faithfully gathered around His gifts, the Word and sacrament, Christ is there. He is present, but in a way too, then, there is a real flesh and blood presence of Jesus through His church. In fact, that is why the church is often called the body of Christ.
ANNOUNCER: Now what about God's invisible presence.
SELTZ: Think of it this way, Jesus also gifts us with His Spirit and He promises us, "Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). God's promise is clear: we do not walk through life alone ever. Through faith in Him, His promise, there is never a time when God forgets about us or abandons us. Because He loves us, God stays close to us at all times. He hears our prayers; He leads and guides us; He gives us strength and wisdom. We can trust the fullness of His promise of His real presence-both visible and invisible.
ANNOUNCER: And we can be certain that He's active and present in our lives because Christ is risen.
SELTZ: He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
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.
"With High Delight" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
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