The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
The great Albert Einstein once said that you donít really know something; you donít really understand something unless you can explain it in a plain and simple way to your grandmother. Now, this makes sense when the subject is something like quantum physics or calculus or biochemistry, but what about when the subject is God? Do you know God? I donít mean do you have mere knowledge of God; i.e., do you know about God. Even Atheists, Satanists, and all types of people in our culture who openly despise God and hate God know about God. Do you know God? Do you understand God? Can you explain God in a plain and simple way to your grandma, your children, your grandchildren, or anyone for that matter?
WellÖ maybe we need to break these questions down a bit. Can we know God? Is that even possible? Absolutely. In the Biblical, intimate sense of the word, to know God is to trust in God; to believe God and have faith in Him and His promises. The apostle John states in his first epistle, ďWe are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of Truth and the spirit of falsehood. Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.Ē Basically, when we love one another just as Jesus has loved us, we are showing/proving that we know God. We know His love. We understand. Conversely, those who despise Godís Word of Truth; those who claim to know/love God and yet refuse to listen to His Word really donít know Him at all. They may boast of knowing God. They may boast of loving God, but itís a spirit of falsehood. Itís a demonic spirit of lies, and the fruits they bear prove it. They donít know God. They may know the god of their own making. They may know the god theyíve fashioned in their own image and likeness; i.e., the god that approves of their wicked ways, but they donít know the one true God; the eternal God; the just and loving God of Holy Scripture.
NowÖ just because we can know God through faith doesnít mean that weíll ever fully understand God. Thatís a whole different animal! And understand: Iím not talking about things like the concept of eternity or the doctrine of the Trinity; things that we will NEVER understand; things that God doesnít give us to understand. What was God doing before He created the heavens and the earth? How is God one God, and yet three persons? How does that work? I donít know. I canít explain it. Not even the smartest theological minds in all of history can explain it. The best they can do is give some poor examples. ďItís like a shamrock. Itís like a triangle.Ē No, itís not. But you donít need to know how eternity works in order to have eternal life (thank God!). You donít need to know how the Trinity works in order to have eternal life. If you did, God would tell you. He tells you everything you need to know in order to be saved.
Look to this cross. This is what Iím talking about when I say that you will never be able to fully know/understand God. Here is the perfect, sinless, innocent Son of God Himself. This is how much God loves you! Why?! I know you. And even if I donít know all about you and all the sinful skeletons in your closet, I know me. Why would God waste His time on a moron like me? I know my sinful reality, and I know what my sin deserves. I know that not only do I deserve to be on that cross, I deserve way worse. I may not be able to comprehend eternity, but I know that I deserve only present and eternal punishment for my sin. Why in the world would God do any of this for me, let alone ALL this for me? I know what I would do if I were in charge, and it ainít what this God does! What kind of God does this?! I donít know. I donít understand it. I canít explain it.
And thatís just it. The mercy, the grace, the love of God is truly incomprehensible. You cannot comprehend it, and even in heaven you wonít be able to comprehend it. For the rest of eternity youíll be in awe of it. Youíll rejoice and praise Him for His mercy, grace, and love, but you will NEVER be able to truly comprehend it. It is truly unknowableÖ at least in all itís fullness and glory. You will never be able to wrap your brain around the love that God has for you and for all children of Adam, even those folks who absolutely donít deserve it.
And that brings up a couple of points we need to address before we call it a day. If you pay attention to the First Reading for today (Acts 1:12-26), you find that the apostles make it a point of filling the apostolic vacancy left by Judas. The apostolic band is down a guy, leaving them with only eleven men. Eleven wonít do! Why? Because the Good News of Christ crucified is for ALL people; all twelve tribes and nations of Godís people. No one is to be left out.
How does one come to know God? How does one come to know this incomprehensible love that God has for us and for all people? Evangelism. Mission. Speaking and sharing the Word. St. Paul tells us, ďĎEveryone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.í How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? (You canít believe or call on Him if you donít know Him.) And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? [Ö]So faith comes through hearing; hearing the word of Christ.Ē
All theology is Christology, right? All [true] knowledge/wisdom of God is knowledge/wisdom of Jesus Christ. From Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, every word, every jot and tittle and iota points to Jesus and is about Godís love for us in Jesus. You know God; you know Godís love for you and for all mankind by knowing Jesus. You canít know God unless you know Jesus! ďNo one comes to the Father except through Me.Ē EVERYONE needs to hear this. EVERYONE!
And what does this knowledge of Jesus look like/sound like in everyday life? Notice: I didnít ask what it looks/sounds like for one hour on Sunday mornings. Churches are filled with people who donít know the love of God for them in Christ. Theyíre working hard in the hopes of getting to heaven. [Cross/Baptism] They just donít know. They donít get it. Again, St. John tells us very clearly what true knowledge of God looks like and sounds like in everyday life. ďWe love because He first loved us. Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.Ē We love, not just because He first loved us, but because we know God; we know the love of God.
And thatís where the Revelation text appointed for today comes into play (Rev 22:1-6. 12-20). ďBehold, I am coming soon, bringing My recompense with Me, to repay each one for what he has done.Ē Now, to Old Adamís ears, that sounds only like pure Law. Itís terrifying. Jesus is going to return, and Heís coming to pay back everyone for what theyíve done. Gulp! Lord, have mercy! And then in an attempt to assuage our fears, we reason that Jesus canít be referring to us because weíre saved by grace. Jesus is coming to pay back people for what theyíve done, which can only mean wicked unbelievers, right? Wrong.
Understand: Iím not telling you to be afraid! Thatís not at all what Iím saying. Just the opposite. For those who know Christ and hold fast to Him and His love for us, these words are pure grace. You see, the original Greek makes clear that Jesus is returning, and Heís bringing His misthos (wage/reward/recompense) with Him. Christ very purposefully calls it ďMy reward.Ē It is the reward which Christ Himself earned, and which He freely gives to all believers by grace. Unbelievers get their misthos; their wage; the wage for sin, which is death; the justly-deserved wage that theyíve earned with their sins and by rejecting Christ. But Jesus says very clearly here that He is bringing ďMy reward.Ē By virtue of your baptism into His all-redeeming death and resurrection, His victory is credited to you. His blood-bought wage that He earned with His perfect life and all-atoning death is your reward, purely by Godís good grace. Purely by Godís grace, because we know and trust in Christís all-atoning death and resurrection, we receive His reward. The ďrewardĒ itself is the gift of eternal life in Godís holy presence, earned for Godís people by the death and resurrection of the Lamb of God. This ďwage/rewardĒ is represented by the tree of life (22:2, 14). These words of our Lord at this particular point in Revelation have nothing to do with those who donít know Him; those who reject Him, despise Him, hate Him, and mock Him. They have no access to the Tree of Life. ďLord, let us in!Ē ďGo away. I donít know you.Ē
Do you know Christ Jesus died for each and every one of your sins? Do you know this cruciform love of God for you in/through Christ? (I didnít ask if you are able to comprehend it. Do you know it? Do you believe it and hold fast to it?) My friends: Fear not! Rejoice! Christís reward is your reward. We absolutely do receive His wage for what weíve done. Weíve believed in Him. Weíve put our trust, our hope, our everything in Him. Faith believes and holds fast to Christ. Thatís just what saving faith does. ďFear, love, and trust in God above all things.Ē Faith alone in Godís grace alone, which is ours purely because of Christ alone.
Now, this being the case, I donít have any prescriptions for you, nor should I. Iím not going to stand before you and tell you that you need to do this, that, and the other thing. You need to work harder or else! Jesus is coming to dole out payback for what you do! Nope. Such preaching is ignorant. Itís unfaithful. Itís preaching that doesnít know the all-redeeming, unconditional, unearned and unmerited cruciform love of God in Christ. But you already know all this, and for this I am thankful. You know the Truth because you know God and His Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
That said, Iíll end by simply pointing to the cross of Jesus; to the love of God made flesh and hung on a cross, for you, for me, and for all children of Adam. This Good News, as you well-know, is for all people, all tribes, all races, all nations. You know this Good News. Now explain it. It isnít difficult. Itís actually quite simple. ďWe preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles, but to all those who are calledóto all those who know this cruciform Truth and Ďwhat does this meaníóthis is Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.Ē This is Christ, the love of God. Maybe the simplest way to explain it: ďJesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.Ē Itís that simple; so simple that even the littlest and lowliest can know it, believe it, hold fast to it, and explain it. (Iíd argue that the littlest ones know it the best, which is why our Lord calls us to have the faith of little children.)
May this Love of God for you in Christ; this peace which surpasses all human knowledge and understanding, guard and keep your hearts and minds in Him, now and into all eternity.
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people. It is NOT necessary to ask my permission for any of it! In fact, you don't have to mention me at all. (I think it's highly problematic when pastors seek credit/glory for sermons inspired by the Holy Spirit!) Give praise to God for the fact that He continues to provide for His people.
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