Monday, November 18, 2019

Stand firm: in a living faith

You might be a Sadducee. After some deep reflection this week, I have concluded that I am more
of a Sadducee than I ever thought. A “Sad-You-See” you say? What is a Sadducee? Chapter 20 of
Luke’s gospel where he records the bump-in Jesus had with the Sadducees tells us enough to be
able to understand the Sadducees and see how similar to them we might be. We will learn to
distinguish between a living faith and a dead one so we can stand firm in a living faith in Jesus.
27 Some of the Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) came to him. 28 They asked
him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies leaving a wife but
no children, his brother should take the wife and raise up children for his brother. 29 So
there were seven brothers. The first took a wife and died childless. 30 The second took her
as a wife, 31 and so did the third, and in the same way the seven died and left no children.
32 Finally the woman died too. 33 So in the resurrection, whose wife will she be? For the
seven had her as a wife.”
34 Jesus said to them, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But
those who are considered worthy to experience that age and the resurrection from the
dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36 In fact, they cannot die any more, for
they are like the angels. They are sons of God, because they are sons of the resurrection.
37 “Even Moses showed in the account about the burning bush that the dead are raised,
when he called the Lord: ‘The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’
38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all are alive to him.”
So how do I know if I’m like the Sadducees, you might be asking? First you need to understand
who they were. They were a denomination of Jews. Yes, there were different churches, or groups,
even at that time. Just to name a few...the Pharisees, the Zealots, the Herodians. Yes, people
have always gathered together with others who think like them. What made the Sadducees
unique at that time is that they denied much of the supernatural. They respected the first five
books of the Old Testament that Moses wrote, which the Jews called the Torah.. Genesis,
Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. But, as Luke states here, they did not believe in
the resurrection. They thought this world was all there is. So far so good, you might say.
I believe there are 66 authoritative books and I believe that because Jesus lives, so will I. 
The question they flung at Jesus reveals their beliefs and why they did not like Jesus.
They did something right, though. They came and talked directly to Jesus. If only we did
the same with one another. Many of the problems I see could be addressed through direct
conversations. They go to Jesus, you see. And they ask him a hypothetical question. They
give Jesus a highly unlikely situation to think about. “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a
man’s brother dies leaving a wife but no children, his brother should take the wife and
raise up children for his brother. 29 So there were seven brothers. The first took a wife
and died childless. 30 The second took her as a wife, 31 and so did the third, and in the
same way the seven died and left no children. 32 Finally the woman died too. 33 So in the
resurrection, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as a wife.”
Notice how they quote Moses because they respect his writings. Moses laid out this practice of
a brother taking his dead brother’s wife so she and the kids would be taken care of. This was
their life insurance because they didn’t have American Family Insurance. At first, you may
assume they are asking an innocent question…”whose wife will she be in the resurrection, in
the life to come? Will all seven be her husband? Will The first one? The last one? 
Jesus’ answer to their question exposes what is wrong with the Sadducee mindset, though.
Jesus said to them, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage.
Marriage is for this age, this life. Elsewhere, Jesus clearly identifies that the purpose of
marriage is to become one flesh with one person of the opposite gender. Human anatomy
and biology tells us the same thing. 
But those who are considered worthy to experience that age and the resurrection
from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.” Wait, no eternal love?
You mean, some of our love songs are wrong, Jesus? Yes. Jesus says marriage is for this life.
It has beautiful purposes for this life and Jesus uses marriage care for us in this life. But in the
resurrection, in heaven, Jesus will take care of all our needs without marriage. The bride of
Christ, the church, will not need marriage in heaven. That spouse you’re with now, even if you
adore them, which is good, will be your brother or sister in Christ in the resurrection. You will be
friends. You will worship God together. But you won’t need to be married there. Marriage is for
this life, as long as you both shall live.
Jesus is a straight shooter here and gives a very direct, clear answer. But the rest of his
answer shows that he knows the Sadducees have more in mind with their question.
In fact, they cannot die any more, for they are like the angels. They are sons of God,
because they are sons of the resurrection.” You don’t know how radical this was to the
Sadducees, my friends! Jesus takes their question as an opportunity to give a bold and loving
witness about the resurrection! “They cannot die any more, he says. He even says they are
“like the angels.” He doesn’t say we will be angels, but like the angels, meaning that we cannot
die. We will be closer to God than ever before, face to face, in front of his throne, praising him,
serving him, ruling with him, day and night. They are sons of God. What? THEY are sons of God,
sons of the resurrection! How bold! Yet again! Who are the sons of God? Those counted worthy to
experience the resurrection! Think of how offended the Sadducees may have been. Not only does
Jesus tell them there is a resurrection, which they don’t believe in, but then he says that “they”,
other people, will be counted worthy of living after death.
But how do you know, Jesus? What gives you the right to say that? He goes back to Moses’
words again, the Moses the Sadducees respected. 37 “Even Moses showed in the account
about the burning bush that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord: ‘The God of
Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ 38 He is not the God of the dead, but
of the living, for all are alive to him.” If God appeared to you in a burning bush and told you to
take your shoes off and listen to him, would you? I would hope so. That happened to Moses.
He’s stumbling through the desert, watching over the sheep. He sees a random fire burning that
doesn’t die down, so he goes and investigates it like any of us would. God speaks to him through
his angel from the bush. “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
I am. But they were all dead by Moses’ time! But he is their God, which means they are alive!
Every one of those Sadducees learned this story as a kid or read it as they perused those 5
books they knew so well. And now Jesus reminds them that Moses came face to face with the
living God, the God of the living. How can you respect Moses’ words and not take this story at
face value, dear Sadducees?
There is something else incredible in that bush. This angel of the Lord character that spoke to
Moses at that bush appears throughout the Old Testament. The angel of the Lord appears a lot
when there is some kind of saving to be done. In this case, the angel of the Lord tells Moses what
he doesn’t want to hear, that he will go back to Egypt and lead God’s people out of slavery. The
angel of the Lord delivers the Word and will of God to people, in this case, Moses. The angel of
the Lord appears FOR God.
And now the one answering the Sadducees questions answers authoritatively for God. He delivers
a message about some saving that needs to be done...saving people from death. He tells the
Sadducees what they don’t want to hear, that there is in fact a resurrection and that their dear
Moses heard the living God talk about the resurrection through that bush and then recorded it for
them to hear. He delivers the Word of God from Moses to the Sadducees. And he delivers an
explanation of that Word as he answers their question. He delivers the will of God...that those
who are counted worthy will be raised and will not die!
Jesus knew the Sadducees were very earthly-minded people, you see. They believed in what was
visible, what was known, what was right in front of their face. They could trace their bloodlines to
Moses, so they respected what he had to say that fit with their ideas about the universe. They saw
a closed universe, not an open one that included life after death and angels. The history of their
people, the land they lived in, the places of prominence they had in the temple, that was all real.
That was all they thought they needed. And it would all be better if they could take it all back from
Rome. They were invested in this life. Jesus knew they needed to hear about the resurrection
from him and from Moses. In fact, they were so dumbfounded by his answer to them that they said,
“teacher, you have spoken well.” And then they no longer dared to ask him any question. 
Do you see why I think I’m more like the Sadducees than I ever realized? Do you see why I think
many of us are? How often are our minds fixated on earthly things, not heavenly, spiritual things.
The things of man, not the things of God. The stock market and the state of our nation can control
our happiness when we let it. How often we think if we can research it and figure it out, we can fix it.
And still, we fall apart inwardly and can’t explain why we do and say the damnable things we do and
have such a hard time fixing ourselves. How often we turn to heaven only when we want God to
weigh in on the outcome of something, “God, help my team win. God, help me be successful in this.
God, help me get a job or have my offer accepted on that home. God, help us all get along for once
this Thanskgiving.” And then our happiness and our faith can be directly tied to the outcome of
those earthly things. There’s nothing wrong with these prayers, but is this all that matters? Is this
all God tells us to pray about?
The only part of the Lord’s Prayer that has to do with physical things is when we pray, “Give us
today our daily bread.” God promises to take care of our daily needs while we are on this earth.
God invites us to turn to him in every need, to cast all our cares on him because he cares for us.
But God wants to turn our eyes higher than our daily bread, higher than physical, earthly things.
Listen to the Lord’s Prayer in a few minutes and let him open the very door of heaven for you.
Listen to how many things we pray about that are spiritual, heavenly. And start to notice how
many of his promises have to deal with spiritual, heavenly, higher things in comparison with how
many deal with the state of things in the here and now. God wants us to be more focused on the
life that goes on forever than the things that will perish, spoil, fade, change, and die. He wants us
to have a living faith, not a dead one. A faith in Jesus, not the faith of the Sadducees.
It’s time to see God as Jesus wants us to see him, as he wanted the Sadducees to see him. The
God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob! The living God of the living. Jesus was in that burning bush,
my friends. Jesus appeared to Moses and went with Moses to save his people from slavery in
Egypt. Jesus was the burning light that led them to the Promised land by night and the pillar of
cloud that led them by day. Jesus brought them into that land despite their wavering faith. But
that was only a temporary home for his people. It was a picture of a better, heavenly home that
Jesus has now prepared for each of us and all those who know him. 
How is this home ours? You see, Jesus loved his people so much that he came to live in a body.
The eternal God bound himself in a human body. And he lived a life that was worthy of God’s love.
He deserved all of God’s love forever and ever. If anyone was worthy to live forever with God,
it was Jesus. If anyone was worthy to leave this dying world without dying, it was Jesus. And you
know what, God counted him worthy.. to die! What? Yes, he was the only one who was worthy
enough to die for those whose faith in God was dead, who had the dead faith of a Sadducee.
His life was worthy and satisfactory to God, so much so that God does not treat you and me as
our Sadducee faiths and sometimes dead faiths deserve. He died for the dead in faith so our faith
could be made alive again. He died for those who didn’t really know God so we could know God
again. He died for those who would have died apart from God so we could be raised forever with
God and never die again. Jesus died for those who would have been in hell so we can be in heaven. 

Stand firm in this living faith! Amen!

Stand firm: in the words God gives through his servants

“In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah, king of Judah, the following word
came from the Lord.
2 This is what the Lord says. Stand in the courtyard of the Lord’s house, and speak to
people from the cities and towns of Judah who have come to worship at the House of the
Lord. Tell them everything I have commanded you to tell them. Do not hold back a single
word. 3 Maybe they will listen, and everyone will turn from his evil way. Then I will relent
and not bring about the disaster that I was planning because of the evil things they have
4 You are also to say this to him.
This is what the Lord says. If you will not listen to me and follow my law, which I have set
before you, 5 and if you do not listen to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I
have sent to you again and again (but you have not listened), 6 then I will make this house
like Shiloh, and I will make the name of this city a curse word for all the nations of the earth.”
Jeremiah 26:1-6
  1. The words God gives through his servants are direct.
“The following word came from the Lord. This is what the Lord says…” Have you ever thought,
wow, that person is blunt. Or, that person really needs to say what they mean and stop beating
around the bush! God has a way of always being direct and caring. That’s his only way.
There was no other way to get through to his people than directness. They were not listening to him.
They were not following his law, which he engraved on stone tablets for them and taught them from
little on. They were not listening to his prophets. So, the Lord would communicate in the clearest way action. Jerusalem would fall.
And God does the same to the fortresses of our hearts. If we are building the city of Aaron or the city
of whatever your name is, he will find a way to make it fall so that he can rebuild the city of God there.
Rather than being dictator of our own city and having the pressure of being our own God and
having all the big answers to life’s big questions, God rules in this new city. God has the answers
the life’s big questions. We became a part of this larger city, a vital part, but not the hub. God is the
hub that makes it all run.
  1. The words God gives through his servants are thorough.
“Tell them everything I have commanded you to tell them. Do not hold back a single word.”
Now, this is not an excuse for sermons that get too long and lose your attention. But there is a
strong case to make our teaching time with each other thorough, which can be done with meaty
sermons and Bible studies that leave you full and make you want to return for another meal from
God. This means that our teaching is more than “Jesus loves me this I know, that is all I need to
know.” We have a full library in our office that helps you dive into all sorts of topics, like
Christ-centered recovery to porn addiction or how the Christian deals with aging or chronic illness.
There is a book for just about every topic now and if it’s not there, ask one of your pastors.
This is why we invest in our Bible study leaders. The more full they are with God’s Word and how
to apply it to modern challenges, the closer to Christ we will all be through these bewildering times.

3. The words God gives through his servants hold out real hope.

“Maybe they will listen, and everyone will turn from his evil way. Then I will relent and not
bring about the disaster that I was planning because of the evil things they have done.”
God’s ultimatum is simple. Listen and turn from your evil way. Evil happens whenever we twist
something. We are professionals at taking good things God has, money, work,
communication, influence over others..and using them in ways God never intended.
Evil happens when we twist good things to gratify ourselves. “Turn from evil,”
God says to the people at Jeremiah’s time. Simple. Or was it? “Turn from evil,” God says to you and
me. Simple? Or is it?
We are typically not professionals at using the things God made in the ways God intended them.
It is so hard for us much of the time to think of anything else but gratifying our own selfish interests.
We try to turn, but are drawn like a magnet to gratify self. It’s like trying to turn away from that
bucket of Halloween candy...just one more piece. Just one more…God teaches us here and often
through the words he gives through his servants not to find hope within ourselves. We look within
and find a predictable pattern...evil, evil, evil.
God turns us to another Word, away from the word of self, the word of man. He turns us to the
Word of Hope, Jesus. He had it all, the city of God. No evil. How much more gratifying could it get?
But he didn’t have us. God had to punish us, did he not? God had to send the disaster he has told
us about throughout history, did he not? Evil and God do not mix. Evil people cannot live with a
good God. The true God must deal with evil or he is not powerful and his words mean nothing.
And so he did. Jesus did more than show us how to avoid evil and use the good gifts of God the
way God intended. Jesus avoided the evil we do not want to do, but keep on doing. Jesus did the
good we want to do, but do not do. Jesus listened to every Word of God...he lived in direct
communion with God so we could be brought back into direct communion with God. He so
thoroughly knew God’s Word because he was and IS the Word of God. We know God better
by knowing Jesus better. 
Jesus gave real hope from his cross, a hope outside of ourselves. God did not relent as
Jesus hung there. Jesus was held accountable for every evil thing you and I and the evil
human race has ever said and done and thought. Jesus’ beautiful name was cursed so our
names could be beautiful in God’s sight once again. Jesus’ life became an utter disaster so
our lives could be rebuilt in the city of God. God has relented from punishing you. He will not
send the disaster on you and me that we should have expected. Your name is cleared in
God’s book. God holds your name right up next to Jesus’ name! You couldn’t get a higher
place than he’s now given you! Stand firm in these direct, thorough, hope-filled words God
gives through his servant!

So, as I tell the people in our new member classes, is this what God says or is this what
Aaron says? YOU check it out. Let God’s direct, thorough, hope-filled Word live in you.
Be the servant who listens to God’s Word. Be the servant through whom God speaks his Word. Amen.

Stand firm: in God's covenant of forgiveness

The time has come. God has made a new space for us to stand in. A homey space. A space where
each of us belong. Familiar enough, but new. All the creature comforts of old, but extraordinary.
Nothing stale, drafty, or drabby about it. It’s new. It’s clean. He’s done all the work with his own two
nail pierced hands. Paid for all the renovations with his own sweat and blood. Welcome to the new

But wait a minute. If God has made a new space for us to stand in, a new covenant, was there
something wrong with the old space, the old covenant? Is it like when we get sick of a friend and stop
responding to their texts and invites to get together? Like when we get sick of a job and leave it for
another? Or get sick of a room in our house and renovate it? Or get sick of our car and buy a new
one? No, it’s not like this at all.

Nothing was wrong with the old covenant. Nothing was wrong with the space God gave to Adam
and Eve, the covenant he made with them that he was their God and they were made in his image.
They were to live in harmony with him and one another, which would satisfy their needs for safety
and belonging. They were care for the garden and the world he placed them in, which would give
them enough goals to agree upon and to work at together. They would have collaboration in their
work and fulfillment as they watched the work of their hands blossom and produce fruit. They were
to enjoy God’s presence, care for each other and care for the world he entrusted to them. Enough
purpose to go around for eternity. God would be like a faithful husband to them. They would be like
a faithful wife. Mutual admiration and respect. Their bond would only deepen and become more and
more rich as time went on. Until they broke the covenant.

Nothing was wrong with the covenant. It was beautiful AND it made all the sense in the world. 
Nothing was wrong with the people God made either. Until we broke his covenant. Until we had an
affair on our God. An affair with what? We replaced his good covenant with our own forged papers
of what our lives should be like. We thought we could create a better space for ourselves. A better
life. A space where we could do WHAT we wanted HOW we wanted. And by doing so, we put
ourselves into a scary space. We not only broke the covenant, had an affair on our God, but then
kept our distance. Served God the divorce papers. Either we were too ashamed to look at God again
because of what we had done OR we felt a high with this newfound “freedom” living in our new space,
under a covenant we had made with ourselves. Two people in a covenant...too much work. We’d rather
do it on our own, right?

Now travel through time with me to the time of the Exodus, when God, the faithful husband,
brought his enslaved, traumatized people out of 400 years of slavery. You remember how he led them
to Mt. Sinai after drowning their abusers, the Egyptians, in the Red Sea. He wants to bring the bride
that he’s freed back into a safe space. Back into a covenantal relationship with him. 

Let me briefly define covenant…”an agreement between two parties.” 

So, his people are beneath the awesome and terrifying glory of God on the top of Mt. Sinai. It didn’t
used to be this way before his people left the safety of his covenant with them. But now God’s glory
was inaccessible. An adulterous sinner could not see God and live. Let me clarify, anyone is an
adulterer in God’s sight who has fallen in love with anything, anyone else than God. Including
ourselves. So Moses came to the top. Not even Moses could look at the face of God. God had to
hide him in the crack in the rock, pass by and let Moses see his back. Why did God bring him into
this terrifying, glorious space? To establish the covenant, the two sided agreement, with his people

How did God arrange this covenant? How did he let the people know what the agreement would be?
What would be best for their relationship? How they would live under his blessing and protection?
How they would remain in a safe space with plenty of land to go around, plenty to eat and peace all
around? You know this. He gave them the 10 commandments. The 10 commandments are the
epitome of the old covenant. It’s where we see the old, good, covenant spelled out most clearly. In
essence, God says through those commandments, “Be in awe of me, I am the LORD. Love me, I
have always loved you. Trust in me, I have been faithful to you. Remember the special descendant
I promised to Adam and Eve. Remember how I rescued you from your abusers in Egypt. And here is
how, these 10 points will make it clear for you how to obey me with awe, love, and total trust.

And what do you hear as Moses comes down the mountain with this covenant? He opens the door
on the most revolting of scenes...the people are partying, celebrating, worshiping...a golden calf.
Horror of horrors! Betrayal! Another affair! As though their faithful God brought them out of Egypt to..
to what? To sin? To break his covenant once again? How much more of this could God take?

SMASH! The 10 commandments crumble as Moses picks them up over his head and breaks them
upon the face of the mountain. It’s over! The people have broken the agreement again. In the most
hideous of ways. Even though God would soon give him another set of tablets with the same old
agreement on them, the people would continue to gripe against their faithful God and his appointed
leader, Moses. And we would join them in breaking this covenant from conception onwards…

Now our last stop for today. The time of the prophet, Jeremiah. More trauma. Three world powers,
Assyria, Babylon and Egypt fighting for world domination. Babylon overtakes Assyria and then takes
it out on God’s people in and around Jerusalem. Hmmm...The news hasn’t changed much, has it.
But not so fast...Jeremiah wasn’t a prophet sent to speak against the nations AROUND God’s people.
God sent him against his will to tell Jerusalem they would fall. Why? They had again had an affair on
their God! They trusted too much in the power of man, both in their own might and in alliances God
didn’t want them to make. More adultery. More unfaithfulness. 

Their lack of awe, love and trust in God was the source of their mess. They began to offer child
sacrifices, just like the nations around them. Hmmm..don’t just point fingers at those who end life
in the womb, what about the tempers and mixed up priorities and bad examples of marriage,
relationships, the love of money, and abuse of substances that we pass on to our children? This
church and Dunn County is not much different than the people at Jeremiah’s time. We have
collectively committed adultery against our God. Hold on with me, hold on.

Scholars even go so far as to claim that the length of Jeremiah’s book and the scatterbrained writing
without a timeline and the way the book repeats itself is a sign of how traumatized Jeremiah and his
scribe, Baruk and the people who the Babylonians carried away were by all this.

And it is into this broken covenant, this broken agreement, this horrible space, this space of betrayal,
adultery, unfaithfulness that God speaks the words we have in front of us today from Jeremiah 31:31-34. 

“The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of
Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. This is the covenant I will make with the
house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it
on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his
neighbor, or a man his brother saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from
the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and
will remember their sins no more.”

Welcome to the new covenant. Take a step into it and look around. What do you notice? He makes the
covenant. Well he did that with the old one too, you say. But wait a second, he makes this covenant a
ONE-SIDED covenant! God did not tell you to do anything. He does everything in this new covenant!
What does God do as a faithful husband to his people? He says he will write his law on our minds and
hearts. The law that we have broken, he writes on our minds and hearts. On our stone cold, dead,
stubborn, rebellious, adulterous heads and hearts. He writes his laws on their as if we have kept them!
Every law with awe and trust and love for our God. How is this possible? Well, he says. “They will know
me, from the least of them to the greatest.”

How can we know God? How can we have his law written on our minds and hearts as if we’ve kept our
side of the covenant with him? Go with me to another dark mountain. There is darkness and fear just
like Mt. Sinai, but something is different. We can see his face, the face of Jesus, who lived in awe of his
Father’s goodness and greatness, who trusted that his Father would somehow bring him back from this
traumatic death he was going through, who loved his Father by keeping every law we had not. We see
his face, pierced with a crown of thorns, blood and sweat rolling down, agony as suffocation sets in.
But he is not only gasping for air, he is gasping for his Father, the breath of life. The Father who always
went after his people like a faithful husband has left Jesus alone. Abandoned. He never left his
unfaithful people. But he leaves the faithful one as if he was the one who had all those affairs.

And because of what Jesus did for you on that mountain, you now hear your God’s gentle,
trustworthy voice speak of you, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Even the sins you remember and can’t get out of your head, God does not! Even the sins others remember,
God does not. Even the wickedness that makes you hate yourself, that makes you sick to think of, God has

Stand in this covenant of forgiveness! Stand in this safe space! Brother and brother, husband and wife,
daughter and mother-in-law, Christian employee and employee who don’t get along, go stand together
in God’s new covenant of forgiveness! You and I have all broken the covenant with God. We were all
adulterers in his sight. But now, he has erased that from our history and has written his covenant of
forgiveness on our minds and hearts. His new covenant of forgiveness is for each of us! Stand with
your awe-inspiring, faithful, loving God. Let this covenant sink into your minds and hearts. Even you,
even I, have been forgiven. As if you never sinned. This new covenant has nothing to do with your
performance, with your past, with what good or bad you’ll do in the future. This new covenant has
everything to do with who God is. The time has come to stand with both feet, with heart and mind,
each one of us, in this new covenant of forgiveness. Amen.