Sunday, April 5, 2015

Jesus Is Raised and You Are Changed

One of the most important questions that you will ever answer is, 'Who are you?' I've told you before that understanding yourself is one critical part of wisdom. But that's true only if your understanding of yourself is accurate. Many problems arise when that understanding isn't accurate. That’s why I raise my question, 'Who are you?'

I've spent the last two weeks answering a different, but related, question. That question is, 'Who aren't you?' It helps a great deal to get the answer to that question right. It will help to answer the first question.

So, two weeks ago I spoke to you about sin. I told you that sin makes you guilty. And that means God is against you. Sin also corrupts you. It makes you ugly. And that corruption doesn't stay put. It gets worse. Sin also enslaves you so that you become a tool in Satan's hands to do whatever he wants. I told you that this could be you - but it isn't. But the only reason it isn't you is Jesus.

You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

Jesus has come, and He has changed who you are.

Last week I tried to describe hell to you. I told you that the corruption of sin that begins now doesn't end in the next life. It continues. It gets worse. And it's not that the body is corrupted. It's the person who degenerates. This goes on forever. I also told you about darkness as an image of hell. That makes it a place where God is not. It is a place, then, where there is no love, no kindness, no peace. And that makes hell an incredibly lonely place. So, it is no surprise that it is a place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Forever. But that is not for you.

Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power.

Hell, the second death, will not touch you.

Now, between talking about sin in this life and hell in the next I've described many people. But I have not described you. Jesus has saved you from all of that. By what He did on Good Friday and then strikingly concluded on Easter Sunday, He has dramatically changed things. He has dramatically changed you. Because of what He has done, you get to answer that question - Who are you? - differently. You are not a sinner. You are not destined for hell. Those things are not true of you. But what is true? Who are you? How has the resurrection changed the answer to that question? What has Jesus saved you to?

There are many good answers to our question. I’ll mention two. Here's the first: saint. You are a saint. How often the New Testament applies that word to people just like you.

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.

You are saints.

But for whatever reason, that has become a word that is reserved for special people. It's not often that you hear someone refer to himself using that word. It's become a church word of a special sort. So, let's translate it. What the word actually means is that you are holy. How does that feel? Are you ready to tell someone that you are a holy person? It sounds wrong, doesn't it? But isn't that exactly how the Father sees you? When He looks at you He doesn't say, 'Oh there's another sinner.' No, He says, 'There’s another of my holy people.' Oh, you still sin. And the Father knows that. But that's not who you are. That's not the right answer to the question. Jesus has changed you. With the power that He has as the risen Lord, He has changed who you really are. You are a saint, a holy person. You should practice using that word to describe yourself - at least when you describe yourself to yourself.

Here's another answer to that question. You are children. But let's be careful here. You're not just anyone's children. You are God's children. Imagine that. Your Dad is God. And whatever a dad is supposed to be, God is that: a listening ear, wise counsellor, vigorous protector, helpful guide. God is all of this and more to you.

I had told you in that sermon about sin that when someone is guilty because of sin he has God as an enemy. God is against him. And I tried to convey something of what that means. I described such a person with these words: 'The Almighty God is opposed to you. He wants to frustrate any good that you might be working for, any effort you put forth to enjoy life.' I tried to make that sound as strong as I could.

But that means that flip side is just as strong. Because you are His children God is for you. The Almighty wants you to experience good. He intends for you to flourish. And He is willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen. He is more for you than what you understand.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

And He is for you because of Jesus.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

Jesus has made you children of God.

Now, it's one thing to agree with these answers in theory - about being a saint and a child - but too often, it's another thing in practice. There are too many Christians who know the right answers to our question, but they still respond to it in the wrong way. This wrong answer colors everything that they do. It is the hidden and subtle influence that distorts how they see and deal with reality. So, when they look at themselves and wonder, 'Who am I?', they tell themselves, 'I'm a sinner.' And when challenged on that, when they are reminded that they are saints, what do they say? 'But look at all the terrible things that I do. Just yesterday I ...' And they describe some awful thing that they did. Now, I am not disputing the fact that they do commit some awful sins at times. That's true. But they have given the wrong answer to that question. Yes, they sin, but that is not who they are. Jesus has come. He died and was raised to deal with all of that. He has saved them from those sins. He has changed them.  And that means that Jesus has changed you. And because of that, you can answer that question differently. 'I am a saint, one of God's holy ones. Yes, I still sin. But that isn't the real me.' That's the right answer. And the first person that you need to give that answer to is yourself. 'I am a saint, one of God's holy ones.' 

Then, there is that other answer to apply: child. You are a child of God. Now, that label is more familiar and easier to apply to yourself. But again, there is a problem. This time it isn't that saying that you're a child of God sounds wrong. But so many have such a hard time with this answer when it counts. When push comes to shove, when the chips are down and it really matters, too many Christians act as if they are fatherless and on their own. They tell themselves that if life is going to work, it's up to them to make it work. So, in the midst of life, they are not children but orphans. At least that's how they see themselves. That's how they act. They are all alone, at least in the hard parts of life. And it's all up to them to deal with it. But that's not true, at least not for you. It's another of those lies that fool us. We are children, children of the most high God and not orphans. Jesus has changed us. He has changed who we are.

So we have some beautiful truths to answer that very important question, 'Who are you?' 'I am a saint. I am a child of God.' That is the truth. And it isn't news to you. You've heard these things before. But in the midst of life it can be a truth that is too easily forgotten. And the answer gets changed. 'I am a horrible sinner. I am a lonely orphan.' Did Jesus come among us for that? No, He came to change us.

But living according to who we really are is hard. So, how do you do that? The solution is clear. Believe the Gospel. Jesus has come, dying and then being raised, so that anyone might become a saint and a child. All it takes is believing this Gospel, embracing it as truth, entrusting yourself to Jesus. But as I told you last week, the faith that saves is not the faith expressed sometime in the past. It is a living faith, expressing itself every day. But it's not as if you can believe the Gospel in the morning and expect that to carry you the rest of the day. No, it’s believing the Gospel when you are tempted to act as if you are a sinner. It's believing the Gospel when you are tempted to act as an orphan. It's believing the Gospel in the hard parts of life. And one reason that these parts of life are hard is that they blindside you. You don't see them coming. And all of a sudden there you are. What do you do? Daily prayer helps, especially as you pray for the ability to believe the Gospel in those hard parts of life. And being here on Sundays to meet with God is also important so that He might bless you with what you need by the Word and the Sacraments. But I won’t lie to you. It's a battle. But we were warned that it would be. The world, the flesh and the devil.

But we can be very optimistic. Jesus also faced this battle. And while it looked like He lost, He actually won. And because He won that battle He guarantees us that we will also win. All we need to do is believe Him.

Today is Easter. We are celebrating the resurrection of our Lord Jesus. And there is good reason for us to celebrate that. Jesus was raised to do us good. He was raised to change us. He was raised so that we might become saints and children. And that, in fact, is who we are.