I was interested, so I decided to try it.
We were at the grocery store the other day doing our grocery shopping. While I was waiting for my lovely wife to pick out the right kind of yogurt, I noticed a very interesting drink that was available for purchase. It was a drink made from Kombucha (fermented fruit juice) and Chia Seed Elixir.
On the packaging, its promises were impressive. Renewal. Rebirth. Awakening. Sounds nice. I thought it might be worth the $3 to be a completely changed person.
I drank it...and I was disappointed. No reawakening to discover something new about myself. No renewal to start the next round of pastoral house calls at 8pm on a Sunday. No rebirth to totally change my lifestyle that night.
Just a funny aftertaste.
Now I'm not against a healthy lifestyle. But I wonder if those of us who are feeling tired, incomplete, and in need of a 'do-over' in are looking for rebirth and renewal in the wrong spot.
But who's going to offer real renewal? Who's going to give me good chances? Who can really undo the past and make me look forward to the future?
God saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5)
In other words: God can.
And God does it through nothing less than the very thing we've been talking about all week: Baptism.
Baptism brings rebirth! It works faith. Through this visual, tangible, physical Gospel if Christ's love for them, the Holy Spirit works faith! This is the promise we just read. This means that in baptism, a person is reborn. Their first life -- a life of hatred and hostility toward God is replaced. In its stead, is a new, faith filled life of love and thankfulness toward our Gracious Lord.
Baptism brings renewal too! Because everyday we live our lives, (even as Christians) we sin. We return to our old sinful ways. We act like enemies of God. We feel like failures.
Then, we remember your baptism. Remember God's promise specfically made to you. Remember that Jesus died for you and in him your sinful self died as well. Remember that Christ was reborn in the tomb on Easter morning and through the intimate connection of Baptism so were you!
In Baptism, you are new. You are reborn. You are renewed. You find motivation for the new day, the next hour, even the upcoming moment!
So where do you turn when you are in need of renewal? Stop looking to human manufacturing giants. Instead, look to your Lord and the promise he already gave you in Baptism.
PRAYER: Dear Lord, please forgive me for all the times that I look to other places and things for renewal. You are the only one who grants that. In fact, you won it for us on the cross and you brought it to us through baptism. Lord renew my heart daily with remembrance that I have been reborn in you. Help me to live out the rest of this day in thanksgiving to you and in accordance with this new life. Amen.
“All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”–Galatians 3:27
If it wasn’t for Christmas, I would run out of nice clothing. Thankfully I have a loving wife who always remembers to make sure that my wardrobe is replenished during the holidays.
Good thing too. Jeans get holes. A few buttons are lost on a dress shirt. A pen makes it into the wash and explodes all over my pair of nice khaki pants.
New clothing fixes all of these problems.
Today’s passage from Galatians reminds us that Baptism works similarly. It says that “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
Apart from Jesus, our ‘spiritual’ wardrobe is in need of some work. Addictions have ripped a big hole in our shirt. The sleeves are frayed from continual reaching in greediness. There are so many sinful stains all over our pants that we can’t possibly hide the disgusting marks with just careful placement of our hands.
Enter Jesus. He lived a perfect life. His ‘spiritual clothing’ was spotless. His whites are as white as they were the day he started his human life. His brights are brighter than Clorox could ever get them. His robes are gorgeous in the sight of God himself!
And in Baptism, Jesus gives this ‘looking like new’ spiritual clothing to us. We are clothed with Christ. His righteousness covers up our sinfulness.
Praise God! In Jesus we are clothed anew. We now stand before God without blushing. Because of the marvelous gift of righteousness given in baptism, we will walk into the banquet of heaven without a hint of embarrassment from our sins.
PRAYER: Dear Lord, I have made a mess of my life on this earth. Forgive me for all of the sinful stains I have put on my soul. I trust in the promises of baptism –tied to your Son – that cover my sinful stains. Help me to live this day in the grace of your righteousness. Amen.
Baptism Sunday is at 10:30am this Sunday!
Ever done something really bad? Something especially awful? Something that has haunted you throughout your life? Something that pops into your memory during the quiet peaceful moments and turns them into unsettled seconds of torture?
I imagine that's what the Jewish people felt who had killed Jesus. He was innocent. He hadn't harmed them in any way. Upon farther examination, they had killed a miracle worker! In fact, they consciences may have even pricked them to learn the truth: "They had killed the very son of God! How could God ever forgive them for that?"
In a moment of complete despair, they realized the error of their ways. They called to one of Jesus' disciples. Perhaps they were wondering, if there was any way for them to make it up to God? Could they feed the disciples? Could they help them share their message? If they were better people, could they in any way warrant an ounce of God's forgiveness? Or even less the blow of his wrath?
They asked Peter, "What should we do?"
Peter did not tell them to start making amends to God with their offerings. He didn't ask them to work really hard to make it up to God with their prayers. He didn't even tell them to go on some kind of courageous spiritual journey to earn forgiveness.
His reply was much simpler:
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins." (Acts 2:38)
Did you see that? Peter's prescription for the people who were bogged down by the atrocious sin of killing the very son of God was repentance and baptism!
Take a look at that word "repentance." Repentance means "to turn." These people were to do a 180 degree turn from their sinful pride in themselves to a humble reliance on the LORD.
What better way to do it than to trust his promise in the simple act of baptism?
"God, I'm going to be baptized into your name. Trusting that in doing so, you will give the gift of forgiveness won for me with your death on the cross. Not that I am earning it by being baptized, but that you are giving it in my baptism."
This is the very promise that Jesus himself had given his disciples. He said, "Go and make people who follow me by baptizing them!" (Mt. 28:19)
And this is so personal. To the thousands who were baptized on that day of Peter's sermon, it was extremely personal. To the many who had been hearing echoes of his voice screaming, "Crucify," they now heard the soothing tones of Peter's proclamation: "You are baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
At your baptism, the same was/will be true too. The promise is specifically for you! The devil can't come into my head and say (as he does when you hear a sermon) and say: "The forgiveness that the Pastor is talking about is not for you. It's for the others in this church. Not you. You are too pathetic."
In baptism, God's Word battles these accusations in a very specific way. There is no doubt who is being baptized. There is no doubt who the forgiveness of sins is for. There is no doubt for whom Jesus died on the cross.
May this voice of comfort soothe us with the forgiveness of sins now and always!
PRAYER: Dear Lord, help me remember my baptism with fondness today. Thank you for the wonderful blessing that you gave me in baptism. Thank you for the forgiveness of sins that you gave, very specfically, to me. Thank you Jesus for earning this forgiveness on the cross. Thank you Holy Spirit for making it mine through faith in Jesus. Amen.
There are few things on earth that are harder to clean off of yourself than blacktop sealant. I helped a friend do that to his driveway once. Besides getting it all over my hands I had splotches of tar looking like my own collection of moles running up and down my leg.
I tried water. Nothing. Soap and water. Still nothing. Mineral spirits and lots of elbow grease later, I was able to see parts of my hands – rubbed completely raw from the cleanup effort.
Truth is: Blacktop sealant is nothing compared to sin.
Go ahead. Try all you want. Try to clean up your day to day actions. Try the newest shampoo, the toughest grease fighting soap, and the stain fighting power of Dawn! Nothing will happen. Try living a better life and doing 'good' things and it will not erase the mess of sin that you have already committed.
Good works are about as useless against sin as a Shamwow!
There’s only one cleansing element that promises to completely cleanup the messiness of our sins. Baptism.
Now that doesn’t make a lot of sense does it? Isn't baptism just water while the pastor says some Bible things? How can that water do such incredible things? How can it clean up where these chemical agents fail? How can it affect the soul? How can water -- any type of water at all -- be applied to the outside of a person and somehow make the person clean?
If ever there was someone who might be nervous that this wouldn’t work, it was a man named Saul. His sins – at least from a human perspective – were disgusting. He had persecuted Christians. He had thrown them into jail. He had hated Jesus and looked on approvingly at the murders of Jesus’ followers. These sins had left a deep stain in his inner soul.
To make matters worse, he had just met this Jesus! He was not dead, but alive. Meaning, that Saul now realized he had been persecuted people for following the true God!
I imagine Saul felt alot of this guilt as he sat in the home of Ananias -- a man who knew of Saul's sins so well that he was intially frightened to even spend time with him.
But Ananias was directed by God. He came to Saul and spoke these words -- “Now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away.”
Saul did just that. And his sins were completely washed away!
Baptism is powerful stuff. It isn't because of any chemical agents or all natural cleansers. It is because of the Almighty word of promise attached to it. It is because of God's Word:
“Go and make disciples…baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Mt. 28:19)
Better than washing with soap and water. Better than washing with chemicals. Better than any kind of cleaning agent on the planet. God's Word and promise wash us completely clean. Because when you are baptized, you are washed with water and God's eternal promise of love! A promise fulfilled in the death of Jesus Christ himself.
There isn’t any sin Jesus can’t handle. No matter what you’ve done. No matter what guilt you hold onto. No matter what awful things haunt you on a daily basis – Jesus washes away all of these sins in Baptism!
To be fair, this is only the beginning of the blessings promised in Baptism. Yet, may I ask, do you need in more? You have God’s divine promise of the divine washing that baptism gives. God doesn’t lie. In fact, he died to make this promise a reality.
So, why wait? Why not be baptized into the name of the Lord? Why not receive this incredible cleansing?
As Ananias told Paul: “What are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away!”
PRAYER: Dear Lord, thank you so much for my baptism. Thank you for hte promise of cleansing attached to it. Thank you for washing my sins away. Please help me to marvel at the blessings of my baptism this week and always. Amen.
BAPTISM SUNDAY IS THIS SUNDAY AT 10:30AM! Plan to be there.
You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you will declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into his most wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are a people. Once you hadn't been shown mercy, but now you have been shown mercy."
-- 1 Peter 2:9-10
The beginning of a New Year is often a time for reflection and self-realization:
“I'm out of shape.” “I'm a work-a-holic.” “I'm addicted to my iPhone.” “I'm in love.” “I'm not in love.” "I'm watching way too many reruns of Friends on Hulu." We take stock. We count our blessings. We plan for the New Year accordingly.
Today God's Word is going to help you with some self-realization. It reveals something about believers that is totally incredible about who we are and what God wants us to do!
The lesson is from the book of 1 Peter, a letter written by the Apostle Peter to “believers everywhere.” In the ancient world, yes, but as the letter has been preserved by God's grace...it is a letter that speaks directly to our group of believers here in Raleigh, NC.
In other words, it's a letter to us.
Listen to what Peter calls us first: “You are a chosen people.” This is huge for anyone anyone who was ever chosen last in kickball, anyone who was ever left unchosen at the prom's final dance, to anyone who wasn't chosen for that raise, to anyone who was not chosen to go to the sleepover.
When others in the world have rejected you, what an awesome truth to realize that God has chosen you!
Now watch out. This isn't anything to be prideful about. It's easy to start thinking, “Of course, Jesus chose me! He must have known how awesome I am at singing hymns. And he probably knows my commitment to upholding good morals. Obviously, he'd choose me over my tattooed neighbor.”
Before your ego outgrows the size of your head, look at verse 10 and remember: “Once,” Peter reminds us, "you were not a people!" Hear that again. “Once you were not a people.” Singularly: You were not a person. You were lost. You were nothing. Nothing to God.
It makes sense. Because honestly, what do you have to offer Jesus-- the Almighty Lord of heaven and earth? A substance addiction? An out of control temper? Laziness? The colorful language you use at work? The ability to gossip faster and more often than any other person in Raleigh?
Brother and sisters, know this: God chose you! But it wasn't because of you. It was in spite of you and your sinful self. God chose you simply because of him. Because of his love.
Let this change your attitude. Don't go around with that selfish vocabulary that a lot of Christians use: “I chose Jesus!” “I made a choice for him. And he's happy I did that.” As if we were the ones who did Jesus a favor by letting him be a part of our gang.
We are the ones to be honored! God is incredible. He is Almighty! He is holy. He has no reason to even be near sinners!
Yet in Jesus he has chosen us to be his people. And that's not without incredible benefits:
Look at what this choosing means for us in the next thing Peter tell calls us: A Royal Priesthood.
Just about every little girl's dream is to be a princess! To live in a Disney castle. To wear Disney jewels and Disney rings and go to a Disney dance.
But the idea of a royal treatment isn't just a kid thing. We live in a economic turmoil. Adults can feel as far away from riches as possible. We dream of owning five cars fully paid, as opposed to the one jaloppy that we can barely make the payment on. We dream of eating at a five star restaurant, not slurping the third bowl of ramen in the same week. We dream of living in a mansion, not moving from small apartment to smaller apartment in hopes that we'll save money.
If you are feeling like less than royalty because of your financial situation, then hear this: God has called you royalty!
This means more than taking a trip to Sleeping Beauty's castle. By faith in Jesus, you have the royal riches of God himself. The crown of life. The jewels of God's love. You are an heir to his royal palace in the ethereal streets of heaven itself.
Of course, princes and princesses act a certain way. They have a royal air about them. They lift their chin up as they walk and drink tea with their pinky lifted into the air.
Call it royal. Call it pompous. But they certainly act a certain way.
The royalty of heaven have a way about them too. In fact, it's the only way of heaven. It's the way of holiness.
Which leads to the third thing God reminds us that we are. “A holy people.”
This is so hard to grasp so hard to belive, because of what holy really means. It means that God is declaring you to be without sin.
Even for Christians, it is hard to believe this. The devil tells us the opposite. “You're unholy!” The world tells us the same, “You're imperfect.” Even our own memories betray us: “ How can you be holy? Remember that one sin you can't seem to wash off? And that other sin you can't seem to conquer? And that other sin that is so awful that if anyone else in this church ever found out then they wouldn't hesitate to kick you out! You're phony. You're pathetic. You're anything but holy.”
Certainly those voices in our head are loud.
But God's voice is louder.
And so was his cry on Calvary: "It is finished!" Equally loud was his cry as he conquered the grave on Easter Sunday.
In other Words, God has called you holy through faith in Jesus! Believe it. Don't question your Lord.
It's true because it isn't about you. Look at verse 10. This is not from us! It is from Jesus. His holy blood covers us. His holy life was exchanged for us. His holy sacrifice purifies us. His holy baptism seals us as God's holy people!
What's it like to hear that God has declared you to be without sin and not deserving of punishment?
It's akin to a cancer patient who has been dealing with the pain and fear of knowing that there is something unholy in his body, being told by the doctor that the cancer is gone.
This is us! We know our sin. We know what it deserves. And in Jesus, we hear God say: The sin is gone! You have been cured. You are pure! Through faith in Jesus, you are holy!
IV. A People Belonging to God.
God loves things that are holy. So we shouldn't be surprised but to hear what Peter reminds us of next, you are a people belonging to God.
I think of a child who loves his action figures. Spiderman. Superman. Batman. He loves them so much that he tells other kids they can't play with them. He wants them. He doesn't want them to get hurt. He doesn't want them to get broken.
That's why God warns us of sin! He is telling our sinful natures to back off! He is warning us of the pain sin causes. He is warning us of the devil's deceptions and the doubts that they cause.
God doesn't want anything else to have control of you. Not addictions. Not immorality. Not anything.
Again. Think back to the action figures. Kids may write their names on the bottom of them with permanent marker forever claiming the toys as their own.
God has written his name on you in Baptism. Through it, God sends his Holy Spirit into your heart to claim you as his own. To mark you as his. To say “You belong to me.”
God has a reason for all of this. He has a reason for making you his own. Peter tells us that reason. Follow along with verse 9 again: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God to declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."
God has given us a purpose. This is a great purpose for our church – for you as an individual in 2014: Declare God's praises! There's' two ways to do this:
First with your actions. Live differently. Fight addiction. Have morals. Have Biblical morals. Live by them. Live by them fearlessly. Speak boldly. Pray constantly. Raise Christian children. Worship regularly.
Declare God's praises by the way that you live. By living in accordance to his will.
Secondly, with your words.
There are some awesome restaurants in Raleigh. What I've noticed is that when people go to a good one, they are super excited. They pass it on. They tell their friends. They put it on Facebook. They suggest it to anyone who is asking.
Why not do the same with Jesus? This is what God is calling us to do! It is Jesus himself speaking to you in this passage: Telling you. You! To tell others about himself!
I know we've worked a lot last year inviting people to church last year. And by God's blessing we had all kinds of people to share the Gospel with. Even a few Sundays where we surpassed the apparent firecode.
But this year God is ready to challenge us in a new way. God wants us to continue to invite people to come, but now I think it is time we focus on going. Bringing the message of the Gospel to those who need to hear it.
I want you to take a moment and think. Think of someone who needs to hear about Jesus. We all know someone. Don't even try to suggest that you don't. The greater Raleigh area is over 1 million people strong. And, as we found out in our community surveys this summer, the greatest numer of households identify as “NOTHING”...not followers of Jesus.
Think about that person and write his name down. Do it right now. It could be a guy you work out with. A lady you drink coffee with. A coworker. A buddy. A neighbor. A cousin. A long lost friend on Facebook. Even your spouse!
Think about that name. Write it down. Now, I want you to do three simple things:
1. PRAY. Pray about that person pray that God would work in their lives to bring them to faith. Pray that God would give you opportunities to share the Gospel with that person.
2. LOOK. Look for opportunities to share the Gospel with them. It could be an inquisitive quesiton. Or a difficult time they are going through. Pay attention and look for chance to tell them about Jesus.
3. SHARE. Don't forget to share. Share about your all powerful God. Share your Savior. Share with others whom God loves that God loves them! Share that he sent his Son to die for them. Share that through faith in Him they too will be God's chosen people, royalty. Holy. Belonging to God.
Why should I do this? Don't do it to grow this church. Don't do it because I said so. Don't do it because it will make you feel good or because you might find a new friend.
Do it because it's who you are. You are a person chosen for God's Work. You are God's royalty with all the riches of his kingdom at your disposal. You are holy in his sight without fear of punishment. You are belong to your loving Lord and he will watch out for you.
May this self-realization empower you this week as you look to do the Lord's work.
This day. This week. This year.
Did you get any gift cards for Christmas? Sometimes you might get a gift card to a place that you have never heard of before. Sometimes they're not gift cards, so much as gift certificates, or pieces of paper that the small business owner wrote "$10 free" on in blue ink.
What do you do when you get a gift card to a place that you don't know where it is? Google it. Use your map App on your iPhone. Guys, we pretend like we know where it is and then trust our man-sense to get there.
However you choose to do it -- this may be one thing you are doing this POST Christmas season: SEEKING out stores in order to use a gift card or maybe just return a gift. Today God's Word reminds us that these places are not the only things we should seek after Christmas. But that we should also SEEK GOD!
Open up to Isaiah 55. Remember Isaiah was a prophet at a time when the people of Israel didn't seek God. Instead, they sought their own sexual desires, their own greedy wants, and their own earthly happiness. That was what was most important to them. God was not.
It was Isaiah's job to tell them differently. He says, Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near."
I. When to Seek Him
Do you remember Beanie Babies? People used to go crazy for those things! Moms would pull up in their soccer vans, sprint out of the door, hurdle a baby stroller and get to the McDonald's counter in order to get a tiny bean-filled stuffed wallaby.
Why did people go nuts for that stuff? Because they were only available for a limited time. The value was increased because once they were gone, there were no more!
Isaiah's words are similar. Find God now while he may be found! Find Him while he is available. He will only be available for a limited time. Once that time is over, if you haven't found him, then you'll never find him.
Of course, are most people more urgent about God or Beanie babies? About God or some post Christmas deal? About God or getting home to watch the NFL playoffs because "the game is only on for a limited time!"
Brothers and sisters, we need to change our urgency!
You might be asking, "Why? I've got all the time in the world. When won't I be able to find God anymore?"
Answer: When you are dead. Dead people can't find God. Dead people can't find much of anything. The Bible tells us, "Man is destined to die once and after that to face judgment."
Did you hear that? Die Once. That passage alone eliminates a host of false teachings: There is no purgatory. There is no millenial reign on earth. There is no reincarnation. There is no second chance to find God later. Stop thinking there isn't urgency and find God him now before it's too late!
II. Where NOT to Seek Him!
Isaiah is pretty clear of where God is not. "Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts." Because God is not in wicked ways and you won't find him in unrighteous thoughts.
He's not at the bottom of a liquor bottle. There's nothing heavenly found on the 14th page of pornographic search results. You won't experience and find God through liberal sexuality. The high from whatever will not lift you up so you can see God. Sin does not lead to God!
Yet by the amount of time we spend seeking out sin, you'd think it does lead to God. "I need to clear up my schedule so I can have drinks with the ladies and make fun of all my neighbors." "I need to work all weekend so I can have more things and stuff." "I need to stop doing everything else and watch a couple of hours of this TV show with awful language and adult situations."
Brothers and sisters, stop seeking sin and seek God!
III. Where TO Seek God?
Look back at the Gospel of John. We read more of this chapter on Christmas Eve. The beginning verses are all about someone called "The Word." After some detective work in those surrounding verses, it was determined The Word was referring to Jesus Christ. Now read verse 18: No one has ever seen God, but God the One and only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known."
In other words, we see God in the Word himself. We see God in Jesus and we see Jesus in the Word -- The Bible.
Now let's be clear. I'm not asking you to pick up the book and put it under your feet as you stand at the top of the Blue Ridge parkway so you can get a better glimpse of God in nature. Nor do I want you to use the book to prop open the door to a theological discussion at some liberal university where "they determine what God must be." Nor should you use this book to hold up your keyboard so your wrists won't get tired and you can better search for "What's God like?" on the Google.
God wants you to read it. To hear it. To study it. Because in his Word, you will find God.
Find God in a barn quietly sleeping next to his mother. Find God in the carpenter's shop handing his dad a hammer. Find God on the hillside, smiling as children play near him. Find God, smiling softly as he raises a girl from the dead. Find God standing in a courtroom, listening to the insults hurled at him. Find God on the streets, buckling under the weight of his cross. Find God on a hill, nailed to that cross and dying.
It's really quite amazing! Because instead of revealing himself in some loud, thundering lightning bolts or a glowing, magnificent rainbow, God reveals himself most clearly in a human. A condemned, dying human.
OK pastor, but how do I know this Jesus is God? And how do I know this book about him isn't just the mistaken words of a few human beings?
It really is a matter of trusting Jesus. Because Jesus called the Bible -- the Old Testament portion -- he called it God's Word. Then, his apostles the very people sent out by Jesus' to teach Jesus' teachings wrote the New Testament and declared Jesus -- who was God -- his Words and teachings.
Again the skeptic might say: "But why should I trust Jesus? You said earlier he was a sad pathetic man who died on a cross."
Simple. Jesus came back to life! No other human being has ever been able to bring himself back to life! If Jesus didn't do that, his legacy would live on in books and that's it. But Jesus returned from the dead! He did what only God can do!
And there were hundreds who saw Him alive again! At least 500 to be exact. Most of whom were still alive when this book was completed. Who read what it said about Jesus and who confirmed: "Yep. He was alive. Yep. He was God. Yep. This book is of extreme importance! This holy book is how you will find God!"
IV. Why Seek Him.
That might be the best question to consider. Why seek God at all? Because if the Bible is God's Word, then doesn't it describe how God wipes out sinner after sinner? Doesn't it tell of a worldwide flood? Fire and brimstone destroying to sinful cities? A sinner swallowing earthquake? And these are all nothing compared to the eternal fires of hell it describes! Why would I want to seek Him?
Because there's more to God. Read what Isaiah tells us in the next part of verse: Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them.
Not "he might have mercy." Not "He'll consider having mercy." "Not he will have mercy, if..."
Simply: "He will have mercy on them."
That's why you need to seek God! Because God will give you mercy. Forgiveness. Eternal life. Salvation. To all who turn to him.
This mercy that God bestows is not a limited time offer. It didn't expire at the end of 2013 so that any sin you sinned in 2014 isn't covered under Jesus' death on the cross. No. God's mercy keeps on repeating! God will have mercy for the addiction that you struggle to get past. God will have mercy for those awful sinful thoughts you had yesterday evening. God will have mercy for the big sins. God will have mercy for the little sins.
Simply put, God will have mercy, because He has been merciful! He showed us himself in Jesus who died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.
And the Bible keeps telling you that! It tells you God loved you that he gave his one and only Son for you that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. IT tells you It is by grace you have been saved through faith in Jesus Christ. It tells you God has clothed you with garments of salvation. And In Jesus we have redemption!
It's like that $30 Mug you can get at Starbucks. You pay for it once and then you can get as much free coffee as you want in it. God's Word repeatedly declares to the trouble conscience the forgiveness of sins.
Except it doesn't even cost $30. It's free! Isaiah emphasizes that with the final words of our text: "Let them turn to our God and he will freely pardon."
It would be a downer if it wasn't true. If after spending your entire life trying to find God, you finally stumbled upon him and he spoke to you and said "Glad you found me. Did you bring the righteous deeds I require? No? Come back when you've figured out the secret to being perfect."
That would be sad. But that's not what God will say. Instead, as we sinners find God in the message of Jesus found in his Word, God smiles. He simply says, "My child, you are forgiven."
Brothers and sisters, seek this compassionate LORD in 2014. Seek him while he may be found. Forsake wicked ways. Receive his mercy! Amen.
It's the beginning of the New Year. It's time to reflect. Time to set goals. Time to set workout plans that are bound to fail. Time to get prepared for another year full of activity. Time...
...to be filled with anxiety:
Will I do everything I want to do this year?
Will I make the right choices?
Will everyone in my family be healthy?
Will my finances be ok?
Will this be the year I find my future spouse?
Will my kids do well in school?
Will I be able to pay off my student loans?
Will I pass the next semester in school?
Will my team win the Super Bowl?
Will I be happy?
Will 2014 be a success or an epic failure?
Standing on the "before" side of 2014 can be daunting. There are so many "What will be's?" and "How will that happen's?" that it's tough to be courageous going into the New Year.
I'm sure it was tough for the disciples to be courageous too. Jesus had just left them behind. He had given them a daunting task to do. They were to tell others the message of the Gospel by travelling to lands they had not been and speaking to people who might not be receptive to what they had to say. On top of that, their enemies were still plotting against them!
But I don't know if the anxiety was there.
Jesus had left a promise: "Surely, I am with you always to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:21)
This wasn't an empty, feel good promise that you might hear in a movie like The Notebook. This was real. Jesus had proven that. When they were on a lake, he had proven that he could cross water to get to them. When they were in the middle of a storm, he had proven that he could calm it. Even death could not stop him from being with them! He had returned from the very grave that prevents all human beings from being with one another in order to tell them: "I am with you!"
The same promise is true for you.
He is with you.
Jesus will be offering words of comfort at the ATM as you see your bank account dwindle. He will set beside you as you interview for a new job. He will be behind you as you drop your kids off for school. He will guide you as you search Christian Mingle. He will empower you as you invite your friend to church. He will hold your hand as you wait for test results at the walk-in clinic.
In short, Jesus will never leave you. Surely, He will be with you always.
That means you won't be alone. No matter what comes and no matter what happens, you will be facing the upcoming events of 2014 with a friend right there with you. God beside you. The one who loved you enough to die for you will be close by.
That truth changes the start of 2014. It's not time to be scared; it's time to find comfort! To look with excitement at what God has planned. Time to confidently live knowing that your Lord will be with you...
...Always. To the very end of 2014.