Sermons, Uncategorized

Be Prepared… Not Afraid

“Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem” by Francesco Hayez

Click this link to listen to this sermon: https://drive.google.com/file/d/14gJMF5_ZCfPDiteyjmm6AFjRSjM26tUQ/view?usp=sharing

And [Jesus] said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once” (Luke 21:8-9).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Our text begins with Jesus hearing His followers discussing the impressive appearance of the temple. This would have been quite a natural response to looking at Herod’s temple, which was not only lavishly decorated but was also the largest religious structure in the world at the time. When Jesus tells them of the coming destruction of the temple they respond with the obvious question: when will this happen?

The remainder of the passage is an extended speech by Jesus, a response that goes far beyond the question itself. Jesus warns His followers about a number of things that will happen before the end:

  • the coming of those who will teach falsely in His name (Luke 21:8);
  • rumors of coming wars between nations (Luke 21:9-10);
  • a variety of natural disasters (Luke 21:11);
  • persecution leading to an opportunity to bear witness to Jesus (Luke 21:12-15);
  • betrayal by family and friends (Luke 21:16);
  • the hatred of all around them (Luke 21:17-19);
  • the siege and destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of gentiles (Luke 21:20-24).

Jesus responds to their question by making two related points: First, He tells His disciples to be prepared to face what is to come. There is no sugar-coating here. The world that hated Jesus will hate His disciples. The whole history of the Church will be a history of tribulation and suffering. In order to stand firm in the day of trial the disciples will need to be prepared.

The second point made by Jesus is that all of the hardship and suffering to come should not drive His followers to despair. He will not abandon them but will give them wisdom to witness for Him when the hour comes (Luke 21:15) and He will preserve them in the midst of their suffering (Luke 21:18-19).

These two points come together in the “surprise ending” of the discourse: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). It is ultimately the certainty of their redemption that will be the source of their strength and comfort as they face hardships to come.

In AD 70, Jesus’ prediction of judgment would come true: the religious leaders who rejected Him were punished by God through the destruction of the temple and the laying waste the city of Jerusalem by the hands of the Romans.

What were the disciples to do as they wait for these things to pass? Jesus’ words invite them to see past the trouble, to see past the sorrow and evil in the world, to the day when He will return to judge the living and the dead, and to remove all sin from our lives and make all things right! Because it is Jesus who says these things, His disciples can be confident that God is going to rescue and redeem all His Christian people.

At the start of verse 25, our text switches from the destruction of Jerusalem to the end of the world: the “times of the Gentiles” are fulfilled and finished on the Last Day. Jesus describes the end with these words:

And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves,people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. (Luke 21:25-27).

As Jesus spoke these words, so we are to hear them with Jerusalem’s destruction in the background. As He describes the future destruction of Jerusalem to His disciples back in the 1st century, He tells us that there are parallels to the future destruction of the world. The world will end, and it will end with distress, perplexity, fear, and foreboding among the nations. In the end, like Jerusalem, it will be utterly destroyed. On that day, all will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and glory. And they will be terrified.

Why does it end this way? For the same reason that Jerusalem fell—people following false gods and a religion of our own making, rejection of Jesus Christ as Lord and God, our Redeemer and Savior.

Here’s the truth: while there might be a million different ways in which they are acted out, they’re all one gigantic rejection of Christ. There seem to be endless deviations to human religion, but they all deny the Gospel. They all want Jesus gone. That’s what sin does: it wants Jesus gone.

And that is why the world is going to end—not because it wears out, but because the time will come when the Lord’s patience ends and He says, “If you do not want Me, then you don’t have to have Me around. I will give you a place where you need never have Me around again.” That’s what hell is. A place where God has withdrawn His gracious presence—a place that is literally God-forsaken.

The only reason that this world holds together as well as it does is because it isn’t God-forsaken, because the Lord still attends to it for the sake of His people, for the sake of Christ. Look at the rubble of Jerusalem after Jesus was rejected—destruction, death, and despair reigned supreme. Hell is the ongoing, chaotic destruction in a place where there is no mercy of God because its inhabitants do not want Him there.

In the meantime, the world still has its share of troubles, afflictions, and disasters. There are many things that threaten us and may cause us to fear: global warming, massive national debt, socialism, crony capitalism, increasing pressure against practicing the Christian faith in the public square, a culture of death that looks for solutions to problems in abortion and euthanasia, an aging population, the opioid crisis, the health care crisis, the farm economy crisis, just to name a few. And there are still the good old standbys that Jesus warned His disciples about: false teachers, wars and rumors of wars, persecution, betrayal by family and friends, hatred all around.

Some might say these calamities are death throes to indicate that the end is coming. But for you, these are not death throes. They are birth pains. They are reminders that Jesus’ Word remains true. It remains true that this is a world of distress and perplexity. But it is also true that your redemption draws near. So, while all the world is in distress at the thought of death and endings, it is not so for you: Jesus says, “Straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Dear friends, with this text the Lord does not want you to obsess over the end, the Last Day. Rather, He would have you be prepared for it whenever it occurs. And you are prepared for it because of what He tells you in His Word. He tells you that, although the world wishes He were gone, He is still very much present and findable. Just as one could point to Him in our Gospel lesson and say, “There is the Lord in His temple,” so can you today.

You point to His Word and say, “There, in the Word—read, spoken, and preached—is the Word made flesh.” And so He is. Jesus still speaks to you by means of His Word. By His Law, He shows you your sin and need for His grace. By His Gospel, He speaks that grace and redemption into you. He tells you what He will tell you on Judgment Day: “You’re no longer guilty, because I have died with your guilt already. You are prepared. That’s why heaven is yours.” And that’s the message we declare to the world, that others might be prepared for Judgment Day.

You point to the font, to Holy Baptism. The Messiah is present there, too. In that water and Word, He has joined you to Himself, to His death and resurrection. That is key for Judgment Day, for in Baptism the Lord says to you: “You will not die for your sin on Judgment Day, because I’ve joined you to My death for your sin. I’ve joined you to My resurrection, too, so heaven is yours. You’re prepared because I’ve redeemed you.”

And you point to the altar, to the Supper, where the Lord gives you His body and blood—His risen body and blood that has conquered death, descended into hell and come back again for you. No destruction for you, because the Lord strengthens and preserves you unto life everlasting.

The Lord is still present in His temple for you: that’s why this world is not forsaken. It’s just that, rather than a temple made of large stones, He now dwells in the temple of His means of grace—but He is just as surely, fully there as He was in the temple in our text. It’s little wonder that the means of grace are held in such low esteem today, for Christ was treated the same way in Jerusalem. But He is present, and He will not forsake you. Whatever distress you see in this world, the Lord is as near to you as His Word and Sacraments. You will not be put to shame on Judgment Day.  

Be prepared… not afraid. Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. You are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Sermons, Uncategorized

“Fear Not!” : A Sermon for the Funeral of Pat Beyers

20180629_091902Click here to listen to this sermon.

But now thus says the Lord, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:1-3a).

Cheri, Scott, Brendon, Cyndi, and other members of Pat’s family, her friends, and Our Saviour’s congregation:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

When I speak at a funeral service, there are often younger people, and maybe some not so young, who are trying to find the place for religion in their lives. They’re asking themselves, “Does this mean anything to me? Is this just something my parents cared about?”

But then, at some point, everybody faces something he or she can’t handle, something that scares us. Maybe it’s the biggest stress we’ve yet faced in this life, maybe it’s an unexpected diagnosis of a dangerous disease, or maybe it’s the eventual realization that we have to face the end of this life. And suddenly we wish there could be some place to turn—or Someone to turn to—outside ourselves.

Then maybe those who’ve gone before can teach us something after all—like how they dealt with those fears themselves. Turning to their example we see that as they learned and grew, their faith became absolutely foundational.

Pat, I think, is one of those people from whom we can learn. We can learn from Pat because she knew where her Christian faith fit into all this. She knew she could face fears because her Redeemer promised to deliver her from them all. In Pat, God illustrated His assurance that we need not fear.

Our text begins, “But now thus says the Lord.” This is important. There are many philosophies, ideas, and different ways to live life out there in the world. There are many ways to handle fear. You can be crippled by it. You can try to act as if no problem exists. You can try to face it on your own strength. Or you can turn to the Lord. As Christians, we want to know what the Lord says, so when we hear, “But now thus says the Lord,” we listen, we turn to the Lord.

Isaiah continues, “He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel” That’s how Hebrew poetry works: say something, and then say it over again with a little twist for emphasis. In this passage, God says: “I have created you,” but then adds, “I have formed you.” That’s a closer relationship. “I didn’t just bring about some great cosmic force that ultimately produced you,” God is saying. “No, I ‘formed’ you. Like a potter with a piece of clay, I have lovingly and skillfully molded you and shaped you to be who you are. From the time of your conception, while you were yet in the womb, I have been actively involved in your life.”

Then come two great words that are the theme of our text: “Fear not.” Literally, “Stop being afraid.” The same thing the angel said to the shepherds at Christ’s birth and to the women on Easter morning. Fear not. That’s what God tells us through Isaiah; and then He tells us why: “For I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine.”

Life is full of fears. Pat went through most of them. Growing up—that’s terrifying for everybody, isn’t it? We each struggle to find our own identity. We wonder what our life will be like, where we’ll work, if we’ll ever get married and have a family. When we do tie the knot, there’s the fear and tough business of making it work, facing the fears and worries every couple experiences: finding jobs, making a home, planning for the future. And when it doesn’t work out as we expect, there are the worries of what to do now, how to carry on and begin anew.

With children in the equation, there’s a whole host of new fears! There’s worry about paying the bills, keeping the kids fed and healthy, about the friends they hang around with, and the choices they’ll make as they establish their own way in the world. In addition to juggling family responsibilities and a job at the Pipestone County Star, Pat somehow still found time for also serving her church and being actively involved in the Pipestone community.

After her children were grown, Pat entered a new phase of her life. It had to be scary as Pat moved away from Pipestone and began a career in economic development in Northfield, MN. But she was up to the challenge and advanced as new opportunities arose in Manchester, Iowa and Granite Falls, Minnesota. Then she returned to Pipestone in retirement—a move Pat called “the best thing she ever did.” And God opened the doors to new adventures and challenges.

Finally, in life, Pat, like each of us, had to deal with her own shortcomings, her own insecurities, her own sinfulness, her health issues, and ultimately, her own mortality. And that can make any of us afraid, too.

No doubt, there were times when Pat was scared. But she heard the Lord say, “Fear not. I not only made you, but I was born that I would experience everything that you can experience. I understand. Don’t be afraid. I redeemed you on the cross when I took all your sins upon Myself. I want you to look at that cross and know that every bit of punishment due you ended right there. I redeemed you, and in the resurrection of Jesus you know that even the last enemy—death—has been defeated in Me. Fear not.”

As the Lord said to Israel through the prophet Isaiah, He also said to Pat: “I have summoned you by name.” That happened many years ago when the pastor put water on Pat’s head in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. At that moment, God said, “Pat, you are My child. You are Mine. I called you by My name. No one shall ever pluck you from My hand.”

And to make sure Pat stayed in His flock, the Lord fed her regularly in the worship service with His life-giving Word and His own true body and blood for the forgiveness of her sins and the strengthening of her faith.

Our text from Isaiah goes on: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.” The first word there is interesting. Maybe we think God should say “if.” If you pass through the waters.” If hard times come.

But the text does not say “if”; it says “when.” We have somehow taken it for granted that there ought to be a way to get through life without difficulties—some medical breakthrough, some fitness program, some perfect planning will help us avoid trials and troubles. But the Bible says, “No. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” In this fallen world we can expect, we must expect difficulties, troubles, and trials to come. Because of sin, such things are inevitable.

Even so, the Lord promises, “The rivers… shall not overwhelm you.” Oh yes, they will bother you; they will try you; they may make you want to give up. But fear not. I will be with you. When you walk through fire, the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

Pat believed these verses. When asked if this were her true confession, she affirmed again and again to the time of her death: “Of course. Of course, God made me. Of course, God redeemed me. Of course, by the power of the Holy Spirit He will watch over me no matter what happens. Of course, He will raise my body on the Last Day that I may have eternal life with Him and all of His people.”

It probably won’t surprise those of you who know her best, but when I visited with Pat a few weeks before her latest stay at the hospital, she wasn’t interested in talking about herself and her weakening condition for very long. She preferred to talk about how much God had truly blessed her. She wanted to talk about her life, her children, her grandchildren, her hobbies and interests.

You know why? Because she believed God’s promises. She wasn’t afraid of her final moments because she knew her final destination was to be with the Lord.

Yes, there’s sadness today, certainly, and there is going to be more sadness I’m sure. You can’t lose someone you love and not feel a sense of emptiness and loneliness. But I pray that in the days to come, you will also feel a sense of peace.

Think of a rainbow. Rainbows don’t appear on clear days. Rainbows come on rainy, drizzly days. You come here today with the storms of your grief. You come here with the grayness of your thoughts. You come here with a sense of emptiness and sadness—but God gives you a rainbow.

Part of that rainbow is God’s work in Pat. Pat’s life lets us see one band of color in God’s whole beautiful promise also to us. In Christ Jesus, who redeemed you by His death on the cross, in your Baptism, by which God called you by name, you have the whole spectrum of His whole bright, many-colored promises. This is why the Lord, your God, the Holy One, your Savior, the One who created you and formed you, says to you today: “Fear not!”

By God’s grace, may you, like Pat and other saints who have gone on before us, find comfort and peace in Him and His Word. May God continue to work in you through His powerful Word to drive away all worries and fears with His forgiveness and love.

I close this message with the Irish blessing Pat wished you to hear:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.