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Believe and Become!

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

21st Sunday in Pentecost B, October 21, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“”Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts. [Hebrews 4:7]

The song I chose as a mental hook, “We Fall Down” is by Pastor Donnie McClurkin.  I want  to take some liberty with the words, and  change them just a little bit.  Listen:  “We fall down, Christ picks us up.  For a saint is just a sinner who fell down, and Christ picked up.   He picks us up again; get back up again; He picks us up again; get back up again.”  Or as they say in the Philippines, in their Tagalog  language, “Na mon, Na mon.”  Again and again.

Today, listen don’t worry about tomorrow or yesterday, but today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, but grab onto the  promises of His Word and get back up again and again!

Adam and Eve at first didn’t need the promise of forgiveness; they walked and talked with God in paradise.  But something happened;  sin happened and they lost access to both paradise and God.  But God wouldn’t let that separate Him from the people He created in His  image, so He did something to restore that image; He gave them mercy and grace, which in turn brought forgiveness and new life.  God  gave His promise that one day He would come to them and provide a Savior through the bloodline of the woman.  Adam and Eve fell in  sin, and God picked them up by giving them hope; He gave them the promise of a Savior, Jesus Christ, who would  pick them up!

Many years latter, the Hebrew people were in bondage and they cried out to God for help, and He heard them.  He reminded them of the promise He made concerning the coming Savior who would make all things new and right; He reminded them that they were a people of faith who should grab onto that promise.  So God sent them Moses, a type of savior, but not THE Savior.  Moses would lead them out of bondage and into a type of promise land, Canaan, but not THE Promised Land of Paradise.  But they began to grumble and complain.  They began to lose faith, and they sinned against God and their neighbors.  Their sin was serious; they would not repent of it and trust the promises of God.  So God punished them and they died in their sins.  But their children did  repent and believe, and God allowed them to enter Canaan.  They fell down, but the promises of God concerning their Savior lifted them back up.

Their faith in this promised Savior was the only way God would one day give them total rest… Sabbath rest!  And that one day came, and God kept His promise and came to them from their own bloodline.  Born of the Virgin Mary, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God came to them in human flesh.  He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  And on the third day He rose from the dead and proclaimed Sabbath rest for all who believe.  Through His death and resurrection He gave complete forgiveness for all sins.  This good news was preached first to the Jews, and then to all who would listen and believe.  Many rejected and fell down, but some believed and Christ picked them up.

And now we read in our Epistle lesson (Hebrews 4:1-16), that some are again in danger of disbelief; of lack of faith in the promises of God.  Some of them then and some of us now were and are in danger, so Christ desires to pick us up; He wants us to grab onto the promise of forgiveness and get back up.

I know that some of you here may feel like it might be too late to get back up; you might think that God is growing tired of you.  Maybe you feel that you are no longer counted among the saints, and instead you’ve become an ain’t!  Well like the song said, a saint is just a sinner who fell down and Christ picked up.  So… get back up again.  Do you need help getting up?  Then let this message from God pick you up again.

What was bad news for the wandering wilderness generation turns out to be good news for us.  You see, we learn that all of those who died in the wilderness, an entire generation of Hebrews, didn’t have to die; they could have repented, and trusted in the promises of God.  God would have lifted them up again, but they would not let Him, so they died in their sins, and the next generation made it to the promise land of Canaan.  But Canaan wasn’t the place where God would give them true Sabbath.  Canaan was just a shadow of the spiritual place and goal that God set before them in the promise of His Word.

Dear friends, that promise is still ours to grab onto, just as it was theirs.  It remains in force as an offer of peace with God; all any have ever needed to do was rest in the offer and receive the Savior who is promised in the Word of God.

Since countless men and women that went before us refused to trust in the promise of the Savior and died in their sins, forever cut off from paradise, then let us approach God and His promises with fear and trembling.  Otherwise we too may fail to reach our goal of paradise and peace with God.

The promises of God are the good news; the gospel about Jesus Christ.  Just as the promise came to those before us, it comes to us now… today!  The message they heard didn’t help them in the least, because they lacked faith in it.  You see, faith is the glue that sticks you to God and the hope of His promises fulfilled for you.  Faith is what gives you Jesus when you fall; the same Jesus who gladly calls you not just friend but brother.  He is the same Jesus who picks you up again and again.

By faith, God promises and gives to you Jesus, your true Sabbath rest.  By faith, we who believe in Jesus enter that Sabbath rest immediately at baptism.  And by faith, we walk in that Sabbath rest until we enter forever into God’s peace in paradise.  Since we have that rest and will forever experience that rest, shouldn’t we do everything to stay in that rest?  Shouldn’t we put all of our attention on protecting our relationship with Jesus?

How?  How do we protect that relationship?  By staying in the Word of God.  A Word that is sharper than a double edged sword.  It is the Word of God and not our money, things, or prestige that offers peace and delivers it.  The Word of God alone looks intently into our souls and shows us the sin that we hide so well from others, and then it offers us forgiveness and new life.  All that God asks of us that we trust Him; He asks that we hear Him speak to our hearts in His Word and simply believe.

It is the Word of God alone that strips you naked and vulnerable before your creator, and then offers to take your shame and cover it with the glory of Jesus Christ; the same glory that our parents, Adam and Eve once had but lost; but then had again when they placed their faith and trust in the promise of a Savior who would make all things new again.

In our gospel lesson, you heard again about the difficulty of a rich man getting into heaven.  In fact it is about as possible for a rich man trusting in his riches to get into heaven as it is for a Camel to pass through the eye of a needle.  In the middle ages a story was told about a gate in Jerusalem called the eye of the needle.  It was so narrow that a man or woman had to enter on foot, without a camel, horse, or weapons.  This design was intentional so that the city would be protected from invading warriors.

Whether that story is true or not is immaterial, but the illustration is perfect.  God wants you to place everything you trust in at the foot of the cross.  He wants you to come empty and naked to the waters of your baptism, where He clothes you with the righteousness of His own Son, Jesus Christ.  He wants you to trust Him with your time, talent, and treasure, so that He can give you the wealth of His kingdom.  In essence, He wants you to enter heaven through the narrow way… Jesus Christ alone.  And to make sure we trust in Christ alone so that a sinner becomes a saint, He speaks these Words of assurance to you.

Today, not tomorrow but today, if you are hearing His voice do not harden your hearts but enter into rest.  Turn to Jesus, the Son of God, your Compassionate High Priest.  Grab onto Him and let Him pick you up again and again.  Hold fast to your confession of faith that in Jesus alone you have peace with God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and Earth.  Because, you don’t have a High Priest in Jesus Christ who is unable to sympathize with your weakness, but instead you have your Savior and God who was born of the Virgin Mary just as you were born.  He suffered, not just in His death but in this life.  He faced all of the same tragedies and heartaches that you face, but He faced them perfectly, without sin, for you!  For you, He suffered, died, and was buried, FOR YOU, FOR YOU.  Let those words ring in your ears; let them soak into your heart and mind.  Jesus fell down; He let them put Him down, but then by His own power, the power of God He got up!  He got up so that you would trust Him and allow Him to pick you up, again and again, until the final day when He takes you up to your promised rest in paradise.

So be bold and grab onto the promises of God that were first given to you within the waters of your baptism.  Be bold and approach His table of grace where you dine on His body and blood, in, with, and under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of all of your sins.

Be bold, believe, and become the saint that Christ picks up.  Boldly believe and become all that God proclaims for you, in Jesus name… AMEN!