"See now that I, I am He, And there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded, and it is I who heal; And there is no one who can deliver from My hand. Indeed, I lift up My hand to heaven, And say, as I live forever."
If God Says It
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Some things never change. Truth is one of those things. Either it is true, or it is not. Some would argue that some "truths" change. That might be so for facts, which are either accurate or inaccurate, but not for truths. A fact could change - such as who is the President of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, or what is the smallest indivisible piece of matter known to man. An answer that was accurate a couple of years ago is no longer accurate. It might even be said to have been 'true' at the time, and is no longer true, but the reality is that the statement was merely accurate, correctly defining a changing condition at the moment of its statement, and now that condition is changed.
A truth is something that is true no matter when one evaluates it, or what contrary ideas others may think. Truths may come into fashion, and then go back out of fashion, but they remain true even when society does not like to acknowledge them. Every statement that you can make about God, for example, is either true or false. It cannot change its state, even if the culture around you changes its opinion on the matter. Society may be correct at one time and wrong at another in the consensus of its popular opinions, but the truth remains true even when it is not acknowledged or accepted.
Our Old Testament lesson this morning is one of those truths. It is a truth that is easy to state. Our text is two verses long, fifty-seven words. The truth of it could be stated in fewer words. It is reflected in both the Epistle and Gospel lessons, each in their own way. It is spoken by God through Moses to answer the very common confusion about who is God and how many "gods" there are. The temptation to invent other gods and to become uncertain about who is God, or which God is real, is another one of those things that never changes. Our text is just one example in Scriptures of God answering that unchanging question. Once God has spoken, you may agree or disagree, but you know the truth of it. Our theme this morning is, If God Says It.
Our text is a small portion of a song God taught to Moses and commanded him to teach to the children of Israel. God began by telling Moses that once the people came into the promised land, they would become numerous and prosperous, and would turn away from Him and serve other gods. God knew the hearts of His people. This idolatrous impulse resides in the nature of every human being. That is one of those things that never changes. We may start out good and faithful, but when God blesses us, we human beings tend to let our attention wander, we become fascinated with the things and with our wealth, and tend to find other things to serve rather than God.
You can see that tendency even in our little congregation. We began under great strife - under the cross - which is part of where our name came from. We were shaped by the cross that we had to bear at that time. At one time in our congregational history, we were a congregation of almost fifty people. No one missed worship, and almost everyone came to both Sunday and Tuesday Bible Study. There was no requirement that anyone come to more than one study a week, but everyone came to one or the other, and many of you came to both. Now, just nine years later, our congregation is significantly smaller - in part due to the death of some members, and in part due to members moving away for a variety of reasons, and in a couple of cases due to members choosing to go back to the congregation that we once felt we all had to leave. Our Sunday worship attendance is not nearly as regular as a group, although it is still pretty good, and our Bible Studies are not attended as often. Some people only show up occasionally for Bible Study, only a couple people attend both, and some members almost never take the time to come to Bible Study - on Tuesdays or Sundays.
I understand that life has dealt many of us several changes, and I am not trying to accuse anyone with these facts. I am using them to illustrate the principle which God speaks of to Moses in the chapter before the one containing the song in which our text appears. If this shift in behavior and attitudes happens to us in just nine years, imagine the shift over a couple of generations - or just look at what has happened to our own Synod during our life-time. Churches have emptied. Attendance is just a small portion of what it once was. In our nation it was once thought peculiar if you did not go to church on Sunday. Now it is actually less likely that any particular person will be in church on any given Sunday, statistically, and it is commonly expected that people will sleep in, or go golfing, or to some sporting event, instead of going to church, in our society. We have become prosperous as a people, and we have wandered away from our roots. False Gods and pagan religions are increasingly popular, and culturally the hostility toward traditional Christianity is palpable and increasing at an alarming rate. Militant Atheism is becoming more aggressive in our society today.
In the face of this rapidly changing reality - and the questions it raises in the human heart - God says that there is only one God, and that He is it, or Him, and that there is no other. He also asserts that He alone determines the issues of life and death, of health and sickness, and that there is no one who can change what God is doing. If God says it, it must be true! God reminds Israel - and us - in the light of their rescue from Egypt and His preserving them miraculously for forty years in the wilderness, that He determines who lives and who dies, who is healthy and who is sick, and that no one can rescue, or steal away, anyone from His hand!
In our Gospel lesson, Jesus illustrates that truth by raising the son of the widow of Nain from death. He determines the issues of life and death! He felt compassion on that poor woman, whose husband had previously died, and now her only son was dead, and He changed the situation by speaking a word of life to the man. Jesus obviously had another, second agenda in raising this young man to life again, but He demonstrated the truth of God's Words to Moses by giving life again to that young man. That act shouted I am He!
In our Epistle lesson, Paul writes, Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. He was speaking the same truth, but applying it to the lives of the Christians in Ephesus, and to the challenges and temptations that they were going to face. He was saying that only our God is truly God, and that there is nothing that we will confront that our God cannot handle, change, fix, or accomplish in us, for us, or through us.
The message is the message of faith - trust God and never give in to despair, because God is with you, and He knows what is happening with you, and He can deal with anything you will encounter. He is God, after all. He is in charge of life and death, so you cannot die early, or hang on too long, no matter what the current opinions dominant in our society may be. You will be healthy when God gives you health, and when you endure sickness, God has given it, or permitted it, for His good reasons, and for your blessing. When you face the temptation to wonder how this all is for blessing for you, you need only ask yourself if you know what God thinks of you and what His will for you is like. Do we know the will of God toward us? YES!
We see that will expressed for us in the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He came to be one of us for our salvation. It was and is the love of God which made Christ live and then die in our place. He has redeemed us from our sins and rescued us from death and hell. His love is expressed in taking things all the way to the cross, and the grave, — and that He really means it is shouted to us by the Easter resurrection from the grave. God loves you, and me, and has purchased and won us from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true!
What all of that means is that when we face those situations in life that inspire fear and frustration, we need to turn to God. First, we need to trust Him and believe that He is in control, and find our comfort in those truths. We want to remember His will toward us, that it is good and love and salvation. He has given us prayer so that we may know for certain that He knows what is happening to us, and how it feels to us, and that we may ask Him for the help, the strength, the health, the comfort, the faith, the patience and all those things that we need and want, and so that we may be utterly confident that He is aware of our situation, and know that He is on the job for us.
Then, it is helpful to remember this specific passage from the Old Testament lesson. "I am He, And there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded, and it is I who heal; And there is no one who can deliver from My hand." It is not powerless, useless, or unhelpful to call upon God, and to trust in Him, no matter what it may feel like, and no matter what anyone else around you says. Go to the doctor when you are sick. Their talents and abilities are a gift from God for your use, but place your trust in God, and never forget that not even your doctor can fix things without God's blessing. Do what you can do, vote responsibly, help your neighbor, serve your community, take care of your family. These are the tools God will use, in many situations, to work His good and gracious will in our world. Nevertheless, remember that every issue rests ultimately in God's hands alone, and so call on Him and trust in Him - while you do what God has given you the ability to do - and do not despair. We don't know what all God is working or intends by what we see around us! Our best hope is to trust in Him.
Our text ends with a curious phrase, Indeed, I lift up My hand to heaven, And say, as I live forever. That phrase is from where I drew our theme, this morning. It is God, swearing by Himself, as a testimony to the truth of what He is saying. God is saying to us, If God says it, you may count on it - it is true and trustworthy! All of these promises, and all of the comfort and the confidence of which I have spoken today are not guesses, or uncertain, or only potential, but absolutely true and certain! They are not my word, but God's Word. I am just repeating what God has said, and if God says it, you can take it to the bank!
And as you watch the world around you ponder the question of who God is, and how can we tell, and how do we take advantage of the deity, and what is the meaning of life, and as they wrestle with Islam and Buddhism and Hinduism and all the false and pagan religions that they like to throw against the wall, hoping one of them will stick, or try to deny them all - and discredit the true God in the process, remember: you know the answer already, and you know how the whole thing is going to finally turn out. It does not matter what the world thinks. Public opinion is not always right. In fact, it is usually not right. It is just public opinion, the sort of opinion that guides the choice of the winner of Dancing with the Stars and America's Got Talent - and that elects our leaders. You see how well public opinion works for us sometimes.
We know that human nature is sinful, and that it hates God and righteousness. We were once like that too, before God taught us to know Him. He told Moses that some men will wander away from Him into idolatry pretty much automatically. So we keep that in mind, and remember that it is our heavenly Father who is in charge of life and death, sickness and health, and that no one can deliver from His hand or thwart His good will of love and salvation toward us. We are safe and we are secure with Him, and the cross of Jesus shows us His love for us. No matter what anyone or any situation may seem to say, even what our own minds might suggest, God has spoken, and, if God says it, . . . well, you know that it is so!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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