Sunday, March 8, 2015

My Lord and My God

We're still looking at Thomas. Today, we'll consider his most famous words. Once he sees the risen Jesus face to face, Thomas admits more than what you'd expect. Instead of simply admitting that Jesus has indeed been raised, as the others told him, Thomas says to Jesus,

My Lord and my God.

What do those words mean? It's so easy to read them and move on. Let's not do that. Let's spend a little time unpacking what's here. I'm persuaded that doing that can be very helpful.

As usual, we'll do this in stages. The first thing that you need to see is that there are many lords and many gods. That means that there are options, choices.  Some people chose one thing for their lord and god and other people chose something or someone else. Think about the world that the Israelites lived in. Some worshiped Baal. Others worshiped Molech. And then there were those who worshiped Yahweh. That's why Paul wrote to the Christians of his day,

For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth — as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords” — yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

But don't think about this as something limited to the past. It's still true today. There are still many lords and many gods. That becomes clearer as you think about definitions.

So, what's a 'lord'? It's that person or idea that someone submits to. It is the person or principle that guides his life. Lordship is all about submission. As a result, lordship is about more than the simple obedience of doing this and not doing that. Lordship is an attitude about living. So, listen to some Bible on this.

For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.

We submit to Jesus in everything. Living, dying and everything in between. For us, He is what it's all about.

But not everyone is a Christian. Not all submit to Jesus as Lord. So, for some life is all about some special goal. All their decisions are viewed in terms of - that is, all of life submits to - that goal. Getting to that special something is all that matters. Then, there are those who submit to their fears. That's what determines whether they take the right fork or the left. Which one seems too scary to choose? They'll choose the other. And there are lots of other options. We all submit to something or someone. Whatever that is will be lord.

Then, there is a person's god. Again, everyone has a god, even the atheists. So, a god is that person or thing that you ultimately trust. It's what you have placed your hope in. It's what you love most. There may be many gods in a person's life. But when push comes to shove, when all the chips are down, there is one god that is above all the others. That's that person's real god. That's the god that he ultimately depends on. If this god doesn't come through, there will be serious problems. Consider the many people whose lives aren't working and who have a growing sense that they are not working. Their gods have failed them, and they are coming to see that.

Most of you have heard the saying about not putting all your eggs in one basket. The point is that if things don't work out, if the basket fails, then you've lost everything. And you don't want that to happen. So, common wisdom is to play it safe. Spread out your risk. The fact is that when it comes to the really important things, we do put all of our eggs in one basket. Everyone does. We have to. There really isn’t any other way to live. We risk everything on some god or other. And failure here is catastrophic.

So much for definitions. Now, back to Thomas. Do you see what Thomas was saying to Jesus? 'It is You that I submit to and live for. It is You that I have entrusted myself to and put my hope in. And when everything is on the line, it's You that I depend on.'

Thomas wasn't being weird or radical in saying this. He was simply responding to what Jesus required. Here's just one example.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

I think that Jesus is pretty clear here. To be one of His disciples is to structure your life around Him, to love Him more than even father and mother. It is to prepare to lose all that is of value to you for His sake. To be one of His disciples is to submit everything to Him. The Lordship of Jesus. 

Then there's this from a Psalm where the psalmist talks to his God.

Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me! Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.

Hope, trust, utter dependence. And David, who wrote those words, knew that if his God didn't come through it would all be lost. There was no plan B, only shame. Whether Thomas had this particular Psalm in mind or not, his words to Jesus reflect the sentiment it displays.

Now, John included Thomas' words for several reasons. Here's one. Thomas is a model. He is showing us what it means to be a Christian. It's about submitting to Jesus as Lord and depending on Him as God. So, you also are to say to Jesus, 'My Lord and my God.'

Now, as you think about saying those words to Jesus, here are two things to remember. First, I want to remind you that you really do mean it when you say to Jesus, ‘My Lord and my God’. If you didn't you wouldn't be here. You understand that these two words, Lord and God, are at the heart of your being a Christian. And so, you say them sincerely.

Here's the second thing. You also know that just saying them isn't enough. You know that you're supposed to live them, too. The attitudes and choices of your life are to be based on those two words. You know that. And you also know that your doing that is flawed. And as you think about that, you know that 'flawed' doesn't explain the half of it.

So, for you, saying those words is sincere and flawed. And what do you do with that? Here's something to hold on to that I think you will find helpful. Your situation is acceptable and unacceptable at the same time.

One day you will stand before the Judge of all the earth. Your life will be evaluated according to God's standard. And His standard is perfect holiness. So, He looks at you and looks at the record of your life. And you know that what He sees recorded in His book isn't pretty. You have not met His standard, and you know it. So, what will you say to Him in that moment? What could you say to cover over the multitude of times you have failed? There is nothing. Anything you say will boil down to, 'Look at this good thing that I did.' The problem, of course, is that the Father is doing exactly that. What good thing have you done that could impress Him? Even your believing is unimpressive. Think about how often you have failed at that. In this situation the only thing that you can do is wait for Jesus to speak. Wait for Jesus to tell the Father that He has dealt with all of that. He has covered all of your flaws and all of your failures. Wait for Jesus to say that He has made you acceptable. And He has.

On that last day, and every day from now till then, Jesus speaks up for you so that you are found acceptable. So, relax. Take it easy on yourself. You are acceptable to the Father because of Jesus. Believe that. It's the Gospel.

But, remember, that's only the first part of that sentence. 'Your situation is acceptable and unacceptable at the same time.' But how is it unacceptable if you are already acceptable? It's unacceptable because you still sin. In doing that you are rebelling against your Lord who calls you to holy living. To sin is to doubt your God who promises you more. So, you need to work at embracing Jesus more fully as your Lord and your God. You need to understand better, in the details of your own life, what those two words are all about. When the heat is on, to what do you submit? Where is your hope then? When life is going along really well, what do you love more than anything? What guides your decisions? What do you depend on? What are the false lords and phony gods that you give yourself to? And you do give yourself to them. That's what sin is all about. So, to embrace something or someone else at times instead of Jesus as Lord and God is unacceptable. That must change.

However, you don't change that by doubting that you are already acceptable before the Father. On the other hand, knowing that you are acceptable doesn't give you permission to be content with your sin and live a flawed life with other lords and other gods.

So, you need to hold on to both ends of that sentence. Your situation is acceptable and unacceptable at the same time. You need to rest in Jesus and work hard for change - at the same time.

And how will that show? It will show in what you pray about. What's at the top of your list? Accomplishing what everyone else in our culture is working for, or submitting your comfort and happiness to the Lordship of Jesus? And how do you define your hopes and dreams? According to what Jesus, your God, promises you or according to the phony pledges of some other god?

Resting in Jesus and working hard for change will show in your repenting. It's not that you beat yourself up for your sins. That's not repenting. It's that you return again and again to repent of the same sin and you don't stop until, by the grace of the Spirit, that sin is gone. And it will show in you becoming tired of the effort. Change is hard. But your tiredness will be matched by your peace and your joy.

And let me say very briefly that your main tool in working at change while relaxing in Jesus, in embracing both ends of that sentence, is being here on Sundays to be blessed by the Word, the Sacraments and the prayers.

Thomas got it. He was able to see that Jesus is his Lord and his God. And out of that came a life that mattered and was used to change the world. The same will be true of you as you follow his example.