Parents, when you tell your children to do something, you expect them to do it. Teachers expect the same in the classroom and supervisors on the job; anyone in authority and all those under authority know this. Do you think it’s any different with God? We are under His authority, and we know the answer. But how often are we guilty of hearing what God has to say but not doing it? We may even deceive ourselves to think that if we go to church and listen, we’ve done our duty. But God is blunt: "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." Hearing and doing God’s Word are as inseparable as breathing and living. "Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a person who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like." (James 1:22-24) How foolish we are to listen without doing!
How can we be doers of God’s Word? He tells us: "But the person who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does." (James 1:25) This "perfect law that gives freedom" refers to the entirety of God’s Word, especially the Gospel, the central message of the Bible. It’s all about Jesus, who came as your substitute, to live for you as a perfect doer of God’s Word, to die for you as the perfect sacrifice for your disobedience, to rise from the dead to declare you free from the guilt and penalty of your sin. In Jesus you are also freed from the power of sin, freed to live as a doer of His Word. What enables you to live that life is the forgiveness of sins Jesus freely gives you through faith in Him. Being a doer of God’s Word is not a matter of your will power but a matter of the Gospel’s liberating power. So look intently into God’s Word and continue to do this, not forgetting the freedom that your Savior Jesus Christ has given you to BE A DOER OF GOD’S WORD.
Have you had 'hard thoughts' about God? Have you been tempted to resent Him for your troubles? 'How could you, God? I put my faith in You and look what it got me. I trusted You and look what I’m going through. None of this hardship would be happening if it wasn’t for You.' The issue is not the trials we face. The issue is not God, who allows the trials. The issue is the sin within our hearts. "When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." (James 1:13-15) In our trials, we will either trust the goodness of God, or we will fall to temptation and blame God. To follow our own evil desires rather than trust the absolute goodness of God is to walk a deadly path that only and always leads to eternal separation from Him.
God doesn’t want that to happen! So the very next words from James remind us of God’s goodness to us: "Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all He created." (James 1:16-18) Every good and perfect gift from above includes not only your life and all material blessings, but also the life of His Son, Jesus Christ, given into death for you, and the gift of faith, worked in you through His Word, to give you the blessings of forgiveness and eternal life. All this and more come from your heavenly Father who is unchanging in His goodness to you. He continually loves you in spite of your daily sins, and He continually forgives you freely and fully as you come to Him. So no matter what you face, WHEN TEMPTED TO BLAME GOD, REMEMBER TO PRAISE HIM.
What kind of children will you have if parents don’t allow them to face, endure, or work through difficulties? They will likely be weak, spoiled, lazy, entitled, and immature. And how would we turn out if God didn’t allow us to face, endure, or work through the harsh realities of life? This is why God says through His servant James, "Count it all joy…when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (James 1:2-4) There’s another side to consider, especially when tempted to question God in trying times: What kind of parents do you have who don’t allow their children to face, endure, or work through difficulties? And what kind of God do you have if He doesn’t allow you to face, endure, or work through the harsh realities of life?
But we need to go back to this: "Count it all joy when you face trials of many kinds." That might seem irrational, offensive, even cruel. (Many have judged God as such.) But the joy is that God loves you so much that He will not allow you to become weak, spoiled, lazy, entitled, or immature. He allows trials in your life to draw you to Himself and to produce in you a mature and steadfast reliance on Him. Your God and Savior is greater than all your trials! Notice He says, "Count it all joy," not 'Count it all enjoyable.' God does not downplay your sorrow and pain in trials. No, He knows what it’s like! It was not enjoyable for Jesus to be mocked, beaten, and crucified. But He stepped into humanity to take upon Himself our sin, the ultimate cause of all our pain and sorrow. Here’s a glimpse into God’s heart: "For the JOY set before Him [He] endured the cross, scorning its shame." (Hebrews 12:2) Jesus considered it all joy to save you, even though it meant dying on the cross! Look to Jesus and see that THERE IS JOY IN YOUR TRIALS.
Has the awesomeness of God gradually faded for you? Has your attention to your great and glorious God been drawn to other things that have become more awesome, more important to you? Has 'church' become merely the building you go to…or used to go to? A pattern results when we lose the awesomeness of God: First we lose our sense of God’s Law, then our sensitivity to sin, then our need for repentance, then our love for the Gospel, then our commitment. If we tracked our lives, we would see that we’ve been guilty of this pattern at times. But God doesn’t stand idly by as we find our awe in other things rather than in Him, the God who saves.
The prophet Isaiah was sent to call people back to the awe of God, and his message still speaks today. (Isaiah 6:1-8) He was given an awesome vision of the Lord upon His throne with angels calling out, "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory." To say God is "holy" is to say He is set apart and above us in every way. So when Isaiah sees the Lord, he cries out, "Woe to me! I am ruined!" Any thought of standing before God with a claim of 'I’ve been a pretty good person' absolutely melts in the light of this vision. You know the "woe" Isaiah feels; you know your holy-holy-holy God deserves so much more than your sin-tainted efforts could ever give Him. But then the amazing happens: An angel touches Isaiah’s lips with a live coal from the altar saying, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for." You too have been touched with a forgiveness that takes your guilt away and declares you at-one with God. It comes from the cross of Christ, the altar of supreme sacrifice. This sacrifice means that you are not ruined; you are saved! Behold: As awesome as the Lord’s holiness is, His grace and mercy are equally awesome! This changes us from unworthiness to a willingness to answer God’s call to serve as Isaiah did: "Here I am. Send me!" NEVER LOSE YOUR AWE OF GOD.
You’ve probably felt what they felt. When Jesus told His disciples, "I am going away" (John 16:7), they were filled with grief and couldn’t bear the thought. How were they going to carry on without Him? Have you ever felt like Jesus has left you? Our rebellion and guilt give us every reason to feel this way. Yet Jesus gave them this promise that extends also to us: "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." (John 14:26) Here the Holy Spirit is called the Counselor. Other translations use the word Comforter or Advocate or Encourager or Strengthener. The rich Greek word "paraclete" contains all these thoughts. To try to capture it in a single phrase, the Holy Spirit is by you and for you. You are not alone. This is not some nebulous force; in the mystery of the Trinity, this is God Himself by you and for you.
Notice how the Holy Spirit comes to your aid and stands by your side: He "will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." This is what you read throughout the Gospels, the New Testament, and the whole of the Scriptures which testify about Jesus. The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God, and His work is to put the spotlight on Jesus as your Savior. His work is to bring you what Jesus has promised: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27) Every earthly thing God could give you cannot measure up to this peace that Jesus gives and that the Holy Spirit instills in you through the Word. The world’s peace is always intermittent and temporary. The peace Jesus gives – the peace that surpasses all hardship and difficulties with the promise of forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Him – is constant and eternal. So take heart; THE HOLY SPIRIT IS WITH YOU AND FOR YOU THROUGH GOD’S WORD.
At any given time millions of dollars of counterfeit money are circulating around the country. But genuine U.S. bills have a security thread so the authenticity of any bill can be tested. Did you know that God provides us with a 'security thread' to test counterfeit teachings and to recognize the authenticity of His teaching? "This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God." (I John 4:2,3) An ancient confession of faith, the Nicene Creed, was written 1700 years ago for this very reason, to proclaim and defend the truth that "Jesus Christ has come in the flesh," that Jesus Christ is true God and true man. 'We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God…true God from true God…for us and for our salvation, He came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and became fully human.'
Don’t miss the IMPORTANCE and the COMFORT of this truth; it is 'for us and for our salvation.' It all hinges on the fact that 'He came down from heaven,' that "Jesus Christ has come in the flesh." If Jesus is not God in the flesh, then He suffered and died as just a martyr rather than as your Savior. But because He is true God as well as true man, then you have the payment you need for the forgiveness of your sins. Let me put it this way: If I write you a check for $1,000,000, don’t get your hopes up; my account doesn’t hold that kind of money. But if you get a $1,000,000 check signed by a billionaire, take it to the bank. Similarly, if Jesus is not true God, don’t get your hopes up that you are going to heaven. But because He is true God, you can take it to the bank that you are going to heaven. Counterfeit teaching, like counterfeit money, holds no value in the end. Use the 'security thread' God has given you and accept no substitute: JESUS CHRIST HAS COME IN THE FLESH FOR US AND FOR OUR SALVATION.
Of all the things that are called into question and doubted in life, God’s love is probably at the top of the list. Because our conscience testifies of our guilt and our inability to make up for our wrongs, how many times have we wondered, 'Does God really love me? I know who I am. I know what I have done. How could He love me?' Or maybe we have questioned God’s love because of difficulty or tragedy we have experienced, wondering, 'God, if you love me, why are these things happening to me?' God’s Word bursts into the middle of these questions with an exclamation: "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are." (I John 3:1)
It’s more accurate to the original Greek text to translate it this way: "Behold! What kind of love is this that the Father has given to us?" "Behold" is meant to wake us up to the reality of God’s love and to marvel at it. Behold! – He has given His love TO us by giving Himself FOR us, sending His Son as the perfect sacrifice to be condemned in the place of you and me and all rebellious mankind. What kind of love is this? Oh!, it is a passionate love that loved you to death (and back!); it is a gracious love that loves the unlovable; it is a miraculous love such that the Father loves you beyond what is seemingly possible, with a love beyond any earthly love, a love beyond measure! Of all the things we could question in life, the Father’s love isn’t one of them. This love, given to us in Jesus, proclaimed to us in His Word, poured out upon us in baptism – this love doesn’t just call us God’s children; it MAKES us His children. "And that is what we are." HOW GREAT IS THE LOVE THE FATHER HAS GIVEN TO US!
"No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine." That’s Botany 101. Jesus uses that simple illustration to make a serious point: "Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me." That’s Spiritual Life 101 – there is no life with God apart from Jesus, the life-giving Vine. Jesus gets even more direct when He says, "apart from me, you can do nothing." Some people point to the good they do as their claim to life with God, but that’s as backwards as a branch claiming it receives life because it’s fruitful... No, it all depends on the connection to the vine, and our life with God all depends on our connection with Jesus, the life-giving Vine. This simple illustration with its blunt words is Jesus’ loving but serious way to get you to see and understand that life with God does not and cannot depend on you or what you do, but can only come from Him. (John 15:1-8)
This is why Jesus says, "Remain in me, and I will remain in you." (v4) When you are connected to Jesus in faith, you are connected to the very Son of God. You are connected to the One who made you and the One who saved you. You are connected to the perfect life He lived for you and the full price He paid for your sins by His death on the cross. You are connected to His resurrection from the dead and to the heavenly home He has promised to prepare for you. The life that flows from this Vine to every branch connected to Him is the forgiveness of sins, peace with God, and life everlasting. The result here and now? "If a man remains in me and I in him, he WILL bear much fruit." (v5) IN JESUS YOU HAVE EVERYTHING YOU NEED FOR A FRUITFUL LIFE.
Everyone has them. Even the greats, the likes of Job and David and John the Baptist. Maybe some have more than others, but everyone has doubts. Everyone has at times struggled with taking God at His word. The prevalence of doubt doesn’t make it any less the sin that it is. Doubt says, 'My God cannot be trusted.' Doubt dishonors God. So Jesus rebuked His doubting disciple, saying to Thomas, "Stop doubting and believe." Let us take that to heart as we learn from Thomas. (John 20:24-29)
The other disciples had been telling him, "We have seen the Lord!" When we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, we are celebrating eyewitness accounts of the fact. Listen to the disciples. Like Thomas we might object, "I didn’t see Him; how can I know this is true?" Parents, would you accept that from your children when you are trying to share your knowledge and wisdom of what you’ve witnessed and experienced in life? But see how patient the Lord Jesus is with you as He was with Thomas. He doesn’t come to Thomas saying, 'How dare you insist on more proof when I told you I would rise; how dare you doubt me and the witnesses I have given you!' Instead He says, "See my wounds, touch my hands and my side." Why point out His wounds? Because the truth of who Jesus is and what He has done for us by His wounds breaks down all conditions and dispels all doubts. His wounds testify that He paid the highest price to meet the demand of justice and set us free from the penalty our sins have earned us – His wounds testify that we are forgiven! This is the grace that prompted Thomas to emphatically exclaim, "My Lord and my God!" as he looked upon the wounds of his God. Yes, listen to 'doubting Thomas' and learn from him. THE RISEN SAVIOR DISPELS ALL DOUBTS!
Have you ever experienced what you would call a "life-changing moment"? Maybe it was living on your own for the first time, or getting married, or having children, or retiring, or a brush with death. God wants you to understand that there is no greater life-changing moment than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Look at His followers that Sunday morning. The women, grieving, were going to the tomb to anoint His body. The men were in hiding, fearful of what the authorities might do to them, dejected because Jesus was dead, ashamed they had abandoned Him. And although Jesus repeatedly told His followers He would rise on the third day, none of them were expecting a resurrection. It shows what grief and guilt do. They blind and deafen us from seeing and hearing the truth of Jesus. How many of us are so worried and upset about troubles that we’ve failed to take to heart this truth or that promise of Jesus? How many of us are so distressed and distraught with life that we’re living like Jesus is dead?
But one word changes everything: Egerthe. That’s the Greek word translated as "He has risen!" Listen to the angel proclaim life-changing truth and triumph at the empty tomb: "Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here." (Mark 16:6) Egerthe! Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, just as He said He would. His resurrection proves that He is who He says He is – the Christ, the Son of God. It proves that His life carries the significance He says it does – the ransom for sinners. It proves that He has satisfied the wrath of God for our sins – once and for all. It is the AMEN to, "It is finished." It is the AMEN to, "Your sins are forgiven." It is the AMEN to, "Because I live, you also will live." It is the AMEN to, "Trust in God; trust also in me." It is the AMEN to all He has said, all He has promised. Egerthe! HIS RESURRECTION IS LIFE-CHANGING FOR YOU!
Discover God's power to change your life in the GRACE 180 series.
INTRO, HOPE, COVERED, TRUTH, FULLNESS, REST, PEACE, OPEN, NEW, RESURRECTION
Christ Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
Daniel is the Staff Minister at Christ Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, El Paso TX.