Sunday, December 4, 2016

Are you ready to take matters into your own hands because the waiting is too long?


Be patient, then, my friends, until the Lord comes. See how patient farmers are as they wait for their land to produce precious crops. They wait patiently for the autumn and spring rains. You also must be patient. Keep your hopes high, for the day of the Lord's coming is near.
Do not complain against one another, my friends, so that God will not judge you. The Judge is near, ready to appear. My friends, remember the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Take them as examples of patient endurance under suffering.  James 5:7-10

GARDENING can certainly keep you humble.  When you plant a seed, does it help for you to command it to grow?  There are many things you can do that will help it to grow, but there is no way to be sure you will get results.  Growth is not under your control, but God's.  When you think about it you will see that there are far more things that are outside of your control than within it.  It may be pious to say that prayer puts all things within reach, but reach is not the same as results.  We cannot answer our own prayers.  We have to trust Somebody else, and when  you have to trust Somebody else, you also have to be patient for He will do things according to His own schedule.

In the Old Testament, in the Second book of the Kings, we can see a stark contrast between two monarchs of Judah, Hezekiah and Zedekiah.  The names may have a similar sound, but after that the similarity ends.  Hezekiah had faith.  He saw the Assyrian army besieging his city, so he sought out the prophet Isaiah.  He knew that God had placed prophets among His people to answer the really difficult questions.  They reminded God's people of the Covenant God had with them, which He had made with their fathers.   Hezekiah was perplexed.  He thought about making an alliance with one of the neighboring kingdoms -- maybe the Edomites, or the Hittites, or even the Egyptians who were starting to recover from their most difficult years.  He asked the prophet.   Isaiah promised Hezekiah that God would send relief, that he should not trust in mortal princes who might tell you one thing then do another.  After all princes are just politicians who frequently say one thing and do another.  Hezekiah trusted Isaiah's word and God delivered Jerusalem in an amazing way!  Over night the Angel of Death killed 185,000 Assyrians.  There was no more siege.

The story of Zedekiah is the story of faithlessness.  He had a similar international situation about 100 years later.  This time the enemy was Nebuchadnezzar, king of Chaldean Babylon.  This was the guy that built the hanging gardens which are one of the wonders of the world.  The prophet this time was Jeremiah.  He had a poor relationship with this king.  His last prophecy was so ill-received that the king burned the scroll it was written on.  Jeremiah warned him against alliances, against trusting in princes.  Zedekiah thought he knew better, so he made an alliance with the Egyptians.  Soon after that Nebuchadnezzar thoroughly defeated the Egyptians.   When the cat was dead, the kittens were in real trouble, including Zedekiah.  There were no more princes to trust in.  The Temple was destroyed and the Ark was lost.

So, is there such a thing as a prince you can trust?  Let's hear the Apostle James as he counsels us to wait patiently for Jesus to return, to pray for His help, and not to trust in ourselves or any other mortals.  Trying to bring about results on our own is just as futile as commanding your garden to grow.  Neither are there any allies.  The world is full of evil powers that are clamoring for our attention.  Do you know who's behind all this?  The worst prince of all, the Prince of this World.  He would love to make a treaty with you, but the only thing you can trust him to do is lie.  James is calling for us to imitate Hezekiah rather than Zedekiah.  This is a time for boldness and courage, a time for patience when things look discouraging.  There is one Prince you can trust, and He is on the way.  That is the Prince of Peace, our Lord, Jesus.

It has been a long time.  The Apostles thought that Jesus would have returned by now.  He has delayed, and we have started to doubt.  How much longer is it going to be?  We are besieged the way those Judean kings were.  Actually, we are a rebellious enclave within Satan's very castle.  Even within our own ranks Satan has a few partisans, but we must not despair.  God has determined the times and the seasons.  It's pointless to worry about things over which we have no control.  The illustration James gives doesn't sound like farming around here.  It isn't.  In the Mediterranean there are two rainy seasons, a  heavy one in the fall and a much lighter one in the spring.  Both of these must be complete before the harvest can begin.  Thus we must wait for all of God's seasons to be fulfilled and all of His signs.  He does not want us to speculate about dates.  That's nothing but useless talk, but that doesn't mean we should settle for what we can control either.  Nothing less than the return of Jesus can satisfy the longing of His Bride.  Nothing that happens within the system of the world can bring the kingdom of God any closer.  All of the famous progress that liberal humanists talk about has only led to more and more destructive policies -- adultery, divorce, abortion, the right to be perverted -- all impious and godless opinions.  No one has the right to have those opinions.  They are sin in themselves.  The Church has sold her birthright if she speaks of "human rights."  The kingdom of God is an absolute monarchy.  There is One Prince; all rights are His rights.

Does it make you uneasy that everything is up to the Prince?  I have two things to say to that.  One is that if it were up to you, you would fail.  The other is that this Prince is good.  Do you know how good?  Good enough to give Himself up to the most dreadful death to rescue sinners like us.  He permitted His body of flesh to be broken with whips and nails, but He kept us, His spiritual body, in fellowship with Him and our heavenly Father.  After He died and rose again He united His scattered flock around the sacred mysteries of peace.  When I say "peace" I do not mean worldly peace.  Jesus gives us a far better kind; peace with God, peace in our hearts, peace that is sure of God's forgiveness; His strength and comfort, and hope for eternity.  He is the Prince we can trust.

James tells us to establish our hearts, that is to be sure that Jesus will come, to have deep roots of faith constantly fertilized by Christ's Word and Sacraments, learning from His teaching and example.  At the foot of the cross established hearts flourish.  The cross is the fountain of genuine love, the source of all courage.  There His grace covers us.  He is a Prince we can trust.  The best thing we can give our children for Christmas is an established heart.  We lead them in using the Word, reading to them the life-giving message of God's love in Christ.  We are patient with them as they try to follow with uncertain early steps.  Under the cross we live as people who are watching for the returning Savior.  We and our children then have a well-grounded hope that some day a Prince we can trust will come and end the siege. AMEN.
~  Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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