November 25, 2018

Are You Sure You Got It Right?

4th Sunday of End Times/Christ the King

First Lesson:  Daniel 7:13-14

Second Lesson:  Revelation 1:4-8

Gospel Lesson:  John 18:33-37

Sermon Text:  Daniel 7:13-14


Some of these you’ve heard of. Others might be new to you. Years ago, the Reverend Jim Jones started “The Peoples Temple.” His goal was to help homeless , jobless, and sick people of all races. Noble, right?  But former members claimed widespread abuse in the group. To remove his group from scrutiny, Jones started a colony in the jungles of Guyana, hoping to build a tropical utopia. When a congressman visited the commune with journalists to investigate abuse claims, they were shot trying to leave. After that, 913 commune members (and 100s of children) perished after drinking poisoned Kool Aid .
In 1984, a Belgian religious leader and neo-Nazi named Luc Jouret started “The Order of the Solar Temple.” It began under Christian guises about Christ’s 2nd coming and the refounding of the Knights Templar. Jouret and others in a Swiss village allegedly sacrificed a child they thought to be the antichrist in 1994. Days later, he and many followers committed suicide. 

If you believe UFOs spawned most religions, mind transfer is possible, and cloning can lead to reincarnation, you are a candidate for the Raëlian Church. It was started in France in the 1970s. A Raëlian follower made headlines in 2003 when she claimed to have conceived the first cloned human being. One more. Followers of “The Heaven's Gate” cult, led primarily by Marshall Applewhite, thought Earth and everything on it were about to be "recycled" to a clean slate and believed hitching a ride on comet Hale-Bopp in March 1997 would allow them to survive. Thirty-nine members (including Applewhite) poisoned themselves in shifts in a California mansion wearing Nikes and armbands that read "Heaven's Gate Away Team." 

Sadly, I could go on. It seems like we hear about a cult or sect like this doing something atrocious at least once a year.  When those stories pop up, what runs through your mind? “How could people follow these whackos?  How could anyone believe any of this garbage?  How can a rational, sane person get caught up in what is clearly moronic/foolish? Hitching a ride on a comet?  Sacrificing kids?  Mass suicide?  How does that happen to a person?” That’s what you think, right?

But do you realize how many people, and the number is growing daily, think that way about us?  Today is the final Sunday of the church year - “Christ the King.”  Pretty self-explanatory, right?  Jesus is our king. But look at it from the perspective of an unbeliever.  We Christians believe in someone we’ve never seen who left no proof of his existence or deity. We base our beliefs on a book completed 2000 years ago. We believe this all-knowing/powerful guy is with us always, even though we have no proof. And we believe because a Jewish guy was killed on the other side of the world, when we die we get to go to a paradise in the sky where all our deepest desires are fulfilled.  When you look at it that way, it does sound kind of crazy.

And keep going.  We believe putting water on a baby’s head and saying some words “transforms” that child.  We gather twice a month to eat the body and drink the blood of our dear leader.  We face one way and sing songs about how great he is. We even part with precious time and money to serve this great one. To the perspective of a lot of people out there, we look like cult members. Maybe you have heard of the flying spaghetti monster. People who wanted to mock religion say it is just as rational to believe in a flying spaghetti monster as it is to believe in God.  Both are made up, figments of imagination.

When people take jabs at us for what we believe, our first instinct is usually to get mad and defensive. Why?  Because they are wrong.  We know they are wrong.  We just know it. But what can happen in those calm moments before bed when everything shuts down except our minds?  We start asking questions. “Do we have it right with this Jesus thing?  Is it possible what others are saying is true?  Have I been duped?  Am I just as bad off as those cult people? Do I follow a feckless leader/madman I turned into someone special because it makes me feel good and gives me hope and a purpose?”  

I must admit these questions come to mind from time to time.  They may not last long, but they visit from time to time.  And I don’t think I am alone in that. So, do you need a shot in the arm to reassure you that you are not some brainwashed cult follower?  Do you need a reminder that Jesus and all he entails is not some legend you only believe because your parents crammed it down our throat? Do you need a spiritual pick me up courtesy of God’s truth so you can rest easy that you are just believing something that makes you feel better and give you purpose?  Do you need to hear again the truth that you don’t follow a spaghetti monster or some useless con man cult leader?  Do you want to hear more about Christ your King?

I’ve got good news for you then.  Actually, God does, and these are words he spoke through Daniel.  In the book with his name, God gives Daniel visions about the future – short and long term.  And our text for today is one of the long-term ones.  He tells and shows Daniel what will happen at the end of all things – on Judgment Day that we talk about a few weeks ago.

Let’s pick the verses apart.  He begins, “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.” Stop there. 86 times that phrase is used in reference to Jesus in the gospels.  And it is used to stress that he is true man along with being true God.  He had to be both to take our place, die for us, and be a fitting sacrifice for our sins.  And the clouds of heaven things.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus said, “I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”  By means of vision and prophecy, God is making it clear to Daniel and to us that the person Daniel sees is Jesus.  Good so far?

Keep going.  “He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.” The “Ancient of Days” is God the Father, a title used to stress that he always has been, is now, and always will be. And the fact Jesus could stand in his presence is super important. People in the Bible often shield their eyes and hit their knees in the presence of just an angel, or if it’s God, they can’t even look at him. Why?  People are sinful and he is a holy God.  But Jesus can stand in his presence.  Why?  He doesn’t have any sin that would prohibit it.  He has and always will have perfect communion with his Father.

OK, I know who Jesus is.  How does that tie into what we are talking about? Back to our text.  “[Jesus] was given authority, glory and sovereign power.” That almost sounds like too simple of a way to say it, doesn’t it – that all power, might, and glory belong to him?  Maybe focusing on specifics will help. Daniel is saying Jesus has to the power to do anything he wants. Like, multiply food for thousands? Drive out demons? Heal the sick? Control nature? Raise the dead?  Yes, exactly like that, and Jesus did all those things because his power is unlimited. What about his authority?  No king outranked him.  No enemy could do anything he didn’t allow them to do. Even Satan is on a leash. His authority was and is so great he has the golden ticket, the skeleton key, and the backstage pass that gets him in everywhere, and everywhere is where he belongs. And glory?  Sure, he hid his full glory for a while as he humbled himself to save us, but what is more glorious than rising from the dead? Than ruling all things? Than sitting at the Father’s right hand and, in time, coming to judge all mankind? Again, words almost seem to fail us, but this is who Jesus is, and this is what he can do.

And in time, all will see this.  Daniel says, “All nations and peoples of every language worshiped him.”  A time will come when no one will dispute Jesus’ claim as Savior, as King of Heaven and Earth. They’ll see it with their own eyes.  And when that day comes, Daniel tells us how things end (or really, how things truly begin): “[Jesus’] dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” The King will take his rightful place, and his heavenly fortress/kingdom/dominion will be established, one unlike any kingdom of man, for it will never fade away.

That helps some, right, in quieting those pesky, questioning voices?  That does put a little more steel in our spines that we are not mind-warped cult followers.  To know that in time everyone will see that God and the Bible are right and correct (and by extension, so are we) is comforting.  But what about now?  “I have the doubts (mild though they may be) right now!  I have people taking pot shots at me and my Savior right now!  All that we just said is great, but what do I do on a day to day basis when I have the questions, when the mind starts wondering, and when I become fearful that I may have been duped?”

The answer may sound simple, but it’s true.  At those times, we cling to our Lord and to his Word.  Sadly, the doubts and questions will be things we struggle with until we no longer have to live by faith, when we will see our Lord in all his glory in our heavenly home.  But God has given us what we need to fight the good fight now.  How so?  What has he given us?

Go back as many years old as you are minus a few days. You were brought to a place like this before you even knew what was going on. And through the power of the Word used with the water, in baptism, you were given a new heart – a believing heart, a heart of faith.  Deep down, because of what the Spirit did, you knew that Jesus was your Lord and Savior.  No, you couldn’t even verbalize it or understand it, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  God promised it did, and we can hold him to his promises.  And the result is that for all the years since then, in your heart of hearts, you have known the truth and all of the truth.  You are loved by your mighty, powerful, glorious Lord, and every one of your sins was washed away by him.

And it didn’t stop there.  Think about how many people God brought into your lives to help you grow in understanding these truths.  Parents, first, did the heavy lifting as they taught you, prayed with you, modeled faith for you, and brought you to church, Sunday school, and catechism.  Maybe God used a pastor or a teacher to help you understand all this even more. 

And all that is just something from the past.  It still happens today. Why do you think we have church every week?  It’s not like we forget everything. We do it so we can gather around God’s Word and have that faith strengthened, to buttress it and get it ready for the next attack that comes.  And God still sends person after person to help with this.  Maybe it is a pastor or staff member.  Maybe it is a veteran Christian. Maybe it is a close friend or just someone you sat next to in Bible class. Then and now, God sends person after person into our lives to help us, to teach us, to guide us, and to encourage us.  

But best of all, he gives his Word.  And not only does he do that, he promises his Spirit will work through that Word.  What will he do?  He will remind us of what we already know.  He will lead us to a firm conviction that what is written and what we believe is true.  He will quiet our doubts about us being duped or Jesus being some scam artist.  He will reassure us that there is one truth, and by his grace we believe it. And he will comfort us with the knowledge that since all that is written and all we believe is true, esp. regarding Jesus, we know the future.  Our Lord will be with us every step of the way in this life – forgiving, comforting, leading, guiding, and encouraging us – and in time, we will be with our Lord forever in heaven.

Will we have doubts along the way?  Might the questions get quite loud in our heads?  Will the world ramp up its attacks as we get closer to the end?  Chances are the answer to all three is a resounding yes.  But we are not defenseless. We have our Lord.  We have his Word.  We have the promise of his Spirit working for us and in us.  We have a faith he planted in us.  And we have many, many people who surround us to support us even more.  And what all that will do is each day convince you more and more that you aren’t an idiot, a sucker, or a moron.  All that will convince you that what you have been taught is the truth, a truth that sets you free and sets you at ease.  For the core of that truth is that Jesus Christ is our King, he will continue to rule for all eternity, and as his brothers and sisters, we will be right there at his feet the whole time.  Truth doesn’t get any better than that.  Amen.