Be Still and Know that I Am God

The great spiritual leaders of the past had one thing in common: They lived in the Scriptures. It is where they heard God speaking to them. He revealed his will and assured them that he was there to help in difficult times.

One of those giants in the faith was Martin Luther. On this Reformation Sunday, we look at two portions of Scripture that God used in the reformer’s life and see how they changed his life. We witness here the power of God’s Word to change Luther’s life from a man burdened with guilt to a fearless witness of God’s grace.

Luther’s peers described him as a dynamic personality with a brilliant mind. However, he lived with a strong guilt complex, and that led him to become a monk. The year was 1505. In the Augustinian monastery he hoped to find a merciful God and escape the temptations of the world. Yet even there, even after going to confessions that lasted as long as three hours, he found no peace.

One day God spoke to Luther through these words recorded in Romans 1:16-17:

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ÔThe righteous will live by faith.'”

The Holy Spirit spoke to Luther saying, “Martin, do you not understand? You cannot make yourself righteous. God gives you this righteousness. It comes by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who has died for your sins and imputes righteousness to you. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses you from all your sins. God sees you as spotless and clean through Christ.”

The spiritual burden was lifted and Luther stood in a personal relationship with God. He had now experienced that he was made right with God through faith in Jesus Christ. The Son of God had set him free. This was and is the gospel that the Church is to proclaim. It is the message being proclaimed to us today. It is the good news that God brings to us when we read his Word.

How sad it is when the Church substitutes morals for this gospel in its preaching. If the gospel is continually proclaimed, works and morals will be fruits of the faith.

Well, Luther could not keep this good news to himself. People must not be kept in bondage as they seek to work their way into the presence of God. On October 31, 1517, he posted ninety-five theses on the castle church door in Wittenberg. The Reformation had begun, but the future would be difficult.

Through the years he pointed out the wrongs of the Church. This offended the leaders, including the pope himself. From the time that he posted the ninety-five theses until April 1521, Luther debated with some very distinguished theologians. Then Emperor Charles V summoned him to Worms to be interrogated by a theologian named John Eck. During that meeting, Eck confronted Luther with his writings and asked if he would be willing to recant them.

At that suggestion Luther asked for time before he answered the question. Eck was not willing to grant him more time, however, the Emperor was more gracious and gave him one day of clemency. Luther went to his cell where he spent the night alone with God. He pondered the Scriptures and prayed. God was personal, and spoke directly through the Word to Martin. (This is the main point in this sermon.)

What words from Holy Scripture God used to speak to Martin Luther, I do not know. However, I believe that God used Psalm 46 to comfort him in his hours of tension. Psalm 46 has become known as Luther’s Psalm and the foundation for his hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

Can’t you hear the Almighty saying to Luther, “I am your refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Because of that, Martin, do not be afraid.”

And when his emotions got out of control, his Savior would say, “Be still and know that I am God.” Charles V was the Emperor; John Eck was a noted theologian and represented the hierarchy of the Church. Both men held much power in their hands. Yet God reminded Luther that He was in charge, and He was the Almighty.

In his cell, Luther knelt and prayed. Then he wrote out a prayer for strength, which we have today. As he left the cell to enter the court room, he heard that still, small voice saying to him, “Remember, my son, I am with you.”

At 4:00 p.m., Luther stood in the midst of a packed court room and heard Eck again ask the question, “Do you recant?” Then came Luther’s famous words, spoken humbly but with conviction: “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason Ð I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other Ð my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”

When the pope heard the results of the trial, he prayed, “A wild boar has invaded thy vineyard.” Luther was excommunicated from the church.

Luther knew where to turn in his hour of severe testing. Do we not all also have these times of trial? This problem is too great for me to settle. My mind is too small and my reasoning powers are inadequate.

Is this not our problem at times when we are thinking about our relationship with God? In this day, when our culture calls for us to recant, do you know where to turn? Who can help you? Sickness, finance, marriage, relationship with God Ð do you ever wonder where to turn with your doubts? Do you buy a book or go to some religious philosopher for the answers? Luther’s example would be to immerse yourself in the Word of God.

Maybe voicing your opinions these days by standing on the Word of God is not popular. People may not like hearing you say that Jesus is our Savior and we must turn to him Ð we do not need a lot of fancy moralizing in our church. No, we need to hear the Gospel, not just some good works. We need to hear what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Do that and they may give you a title also. Maybe not a wild boar, like the pope called Luther, but perhaps a religious fanatic. That kind of religion is all over, they may say.

If you are an evangelical Christian and speak out clearly based on the Word of God, you may not necessarily win a popularity contest. Our world is not for this. But keep on voicing it anyway.

So be still and know that he is God. He has not changed. As he came into Luther’s life in his predicament, so he will come into yours.

Persistent in Prayer

A personal relationship with God includes an intimate prayer life. God, our Father, communicates with us through His Word, and we communicate with Him through prayer.

In our text, Jesus uses a story to emphasize that we are to be persistent in our prayer life. The opening verse in our text says, “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable that they should always pray and not give up.”

There was a widow lady who felt that she was not being treated justly by her adversary. The judge, who was handling the case, is described as a man who neither feared God nor cared about people. For some time, he did not take her case seriously. Yet she kept coming to him with her plea, “Grant me justice against my adversary.”

Finally, the judge decided for his own sake that she got justice to keep her from bothering him. Then Jesus said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says, ÔAnd will not God bring about justice to his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that she gets justice, and quickly.”

I believe there are some unanswered questions in this portion of Scripture, but the lesson is clear: Keep praying. Don’t give up. As I look into my own soul and observe the thoughts of others who pray, this question continually surfaces: I prayed and prayed, but nothing happened. So I quit praying. I still believe that Jesus is my Savior, but I wonder if he is not tuned into my prayers.

But this is not right.

Matthew Henry, one of the great interpreters of God’s Word, writes about this story that Jesus told. He says, “God’s children meet with a great deal of trouble in this world. There are many adversaries that fight against them. Satan is their greatest adversary. What we pray for is that God will protect us. What is required of God’s children, if they are to obtain this victory? It is to cry out to God both day and night. He does not need their cries, nor is he moved by their pleadings, but he made this their duty, to this he has promised mercy.”

The Bible tells us that Jacob, one of the three major leaders of Israel, wrestled with God (Genesis 34). Isaiah writes, “Give God no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth (Isaiah 62:6).” God invites his children to wrestle with him in our prayer life. This is when prayer gets real.

Jesus wrestled with his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane just before his crucifixion. The account is recorded in Matthew 26. Paul wrestled with God about his health, which he called a “thorn in the flesh.” Three times Paul asked God to take this physical affliction away, and to improve his health so that he would have greater strength in bringing the gospel to the nations. The account is found in II Corinthians 12:7f. King David wrestled with God in prayer that his child would be spared from death. Read this story in II Samuel 11:15f.

How did God answer these men?

Jesus was told that God had sent him into the world to redeem the world and his suffering and death was necessary that this be accomplished. Read this account in Matthew 26:36f. So Christ set his face toward Jerusalem.

Paul was told he would keep the thorn in the flesh, but God’s grace would be sufficient to give him strength to do the work Christ had commissioned him to do.

David was told that the boy was going to die. He could not go to where his child would be, but in eternity David would go to him.

Persistency in prayer Ð it brings forth answers. Sometimes right now, sometimes not until eternity, but God will answer.

Let’s see if we can apply this teaching on prayer to where we live and wrestle with the hard things of life. All of us have our difficult times and wonder where God is in these hours when our souls seem to be torn apart.

A mother has been praying for years that her son would be converted and receive Jesus Christ as his Savior. God’s Word says that the son has a will, and he can deny Christ. However, God tells her to keep praying. Wrestle with God in your prayers for your son. You may not witness his conversion, but this does not mean he will die in unbelief.

I can share two of my own battles with God in my prayer life.

When my wife had a major stroke, I prayed that she would make a complete recovery. One day her doctor, who was my personal friend, asked me how I was praying Eunice. I told him that either directly or through the knowledge of the medical team she could be completely healed. The doctor looked at me in kindness and said, “Maybe you should not pray that way. It is possible that, if she lives, her days will be spent in an institution.” Eunice lived, and she has had a partial healing. We have had twelve great years since her stroke. Her walking is impaired. Her memory is not as sharp as once it was, but we are thankful.

Now I wrestle with God in my prayers about my Lutheran Church. I love that church and have served it as an ordained pastor for 59 years. This church has given me marvelous opportunities to share the Gospel with many people. Now it is my personal feeling that it is moving too far from the Word of God. Too often we are letting culture shape our interpretation of the Bible. Our seminaries are expounding teachings that would have been strongly opposed 50 years ago.

Our text today speaks to me. This 83-year-old man receives an understanding smile, but is told that it is a new day and everything changes. How true, but God’s Word does not change. So I ask God, “What shall I do?” And I hear him say, “Love your church. Correct it in love where you have a voice, but above all, be persistent in prayer for the Church. Never give up!”

This is God’s way.

That is the word of the Lord for us today. Keep on praying. Pray persistently. God is listening, though we may never have the answer.

Thankfulness

The stories Jesus told to his disciples teach us many lessons today. In the story of Jesus healing the ten lepers, we learn three facts:

Misery binds us together. These ten men, including a Samaritan who otherwise never mingled with Jews, were bound together in their sickness.

Jesus has power to heal. He answered their prayers and healed them. Physically we are not lepers, but all of us, in one way or another, are spiritual lepers. As a result, we could talk about the healing power of Jesus to take away our sins and restore us into fellowship with God.

God expects thankfulness from his children. Only one of the ten returned to give thanks. Is this the approximate ratio of people who give thanks to God for his gifts to them?

Our theme today is thankfulness. There are many kinds of thankfulness. As children, our parents teach us thankfulness as part of learning good manners. On Halloween night when children receive their candy, parents often ask them if they said thank you. That is good training.

There is the kind of thankfulness to someone who has helped us when we are in a real predicament. I am reminded of a time when my wife and I were in O’Hare airport. Because she is wheelchair bound, she often needs assistance in the restroom, and this can be very difficult for me to do in a public setting.

However this time, a thoughtful lady, when we asked for her help, graciously responded, “It would be my privilege to be of assistance. My mother is in a wheelchair, too.” I thanked that lady many times for being so kind and helping me in that predicament. The type of thankfulness that we feel at moments like these perhaps has a bit more meaning than when a child is given a tootsie roll on Halloween night.

Then there is the kind of thankfulness that we extend to those who are with us much of the time and do a lot for us, such as our parents. How can we ever stop thanking God for giving us good parents who brought us into the world, took care of us and saw that we were educated, even taught us the faith, as many of them did?

What would life be without a good spouse? We don’t have to be so formal with our thanks to them; we can show our thankfulness in the way that we go about life together.

And we thank God everyday for our children. When we see them growing up into healthy, mature adults and becoming productive citizens of our society, we are so very thankful to God.

However, the type of thankfulness that we talk about today is when God has captured our hearts and we begin to understand that everything we have is a gift from him.

The story in today’s text is that of Jesus healing the ten lepers. Jesus had entered a little town between Samaria and Galilee. There was no love lost between the Samaritans and the Jews. However, these ten people, because of their common disease, were willing to be together. They didn’t care if they were Jews or Samaritans.

As Jesus was walking along, they cried out to him, “Have mercy on us!” Our Lord told them to go and show themselves to the priest. The priest was the one who had the authority to tell them when they had been cured of their disease and could go back to their normal living. So all ten headed on their way. When they saw that they were healed, nine went on to live their lives, but one came back and knelt at Jesus’ feet. Something drastic had caught his being.

In the story of the ten lepers, all of them were healed. When they discovered their healing, lights went on in their heads: They had things to get done! They had to return home to their families whome they had not seen for a long time and where they were needed.

But one returned to Jesus, praising God, and bowed at Jesus’ feet. That person was expressing a thank you that came from the inner-most part of his heart. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten healed? Where are the other nine?” Then he turned to the leper and said, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

In Jesus’ encounter with the thankful leper, we see a greater lesson. This man received more than health. He met Jesus face to face and entered into a personal relationship with him. His was a thank you that would be with him forever, for it was a part of his personality coming from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. When we have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, our thankfulness for all that he has done for us engulfs our heart, and we look at life as one great gift from God. We live in a thankful spirit for what the Lord has done and continues to do for us. Just think about it Ð he takes our sins away. “Thank you for the big things, for the little things, and for everything else.”

When Christ has captured our lives and we live in a personal relationship with him, we see God in the ordinary things of life, and we express genuine thankfulness in our behavior. He has first place. We want to live out of love and thankfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ. Our stewardship Ð the giving of time, money, and talent for the extension of God’s kingdom Ð reveals our thankfulness. We have a hunger for the Word of God. Our witness Ð telling people what God has done for us in the giving of his Son Ð shows our thankfulness.

Above all, there is a thanksgiving to God, who had captured our whole being and made us new people in him. John Newton said thank you to God when he penned these words, “I once was lost, but now am found; was blind but now I see.”

Can you point to times when Jesus laid hold of your life and brought great blessings to you? I remember when God made it very clear to me while studying his Word that I needed to make my preaching far more personal than I was doing. “Never leave the pulpit without making the way of salvation clear, because there could well be a person sitting in the pew who does not know Jesus as Savior and Lord.” From that day on, my preaching changed. I had not been called simply to teach a biblical story, but to also introduce people to Jesus Christ, who wants to be a part of their lives.

My question today is, in a given congregation, would it be about 10% of the membership whose lives have been captured by Christ? Is that the number of those who have met him and continue to meet him on a regular basis? The strength of the congregation depends upon how many people walk with Jesus on a daily basis in a personal way. A person’s relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is the strength of the congregation, and nothing else.

How many in a congregation know Christ personally? Only God and the individual involved can answer such a question. But I raise the question because I am very concerned that people think they are a finished product simply because they join the church. That is not true.

Where do you find yourself in this story of the lepers? Are you one of the nine who hurried on to do your own thing? Or can you identify with the one who came back to give thanks and receive the greater blessing of knowing Christ personally?

Jesus tells these stories and wants to fill our lives with the greater blessings of knowing him in a personal way.

A Look Into Eternity

A young man was visiting with his grandmother after completing one year of college. His grandma asked him, “What has happened in your life at college?”

“Well, grandma,” he replied, “I had a religion course that opened my eyes to realize that some of my beliefs have been very immature.”

“Tell me more,” grandma replies. Her grandson said, “I do not believe those stories about Noah and Jonah. Do you, grandma? Those people never lived.”

Grandma raised her voice and said, “Oh yes, I do. The Bible talks about them, and I believe what is in the Bible. I look forward to meeting these biblical personalities when I get to heaven.”

“But grandma,” the young man asked, “what if they are not there?”

Grandma looked at him with a disappointed expression on her face and said, “Then you ask them.”

This is another one of those nervous jokes about life after death. I call it a nervous joke because I believe some nervousness about what is going to happen to us after we die is found in the soul of most people.

In their book, The Preacher and the Presidents, Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy tell of a meeting Billy Graham had with President Eisenhower. Ike invited Billy to spend the day with him at his Gettysburg farm. After a day of exploring the battlefield, the President asked Billy if he would visit with his wife, who was not feeling well. Billy went to her bedroom and talked with her. They spent time reading promises from God’s Word and praying together.

After this visit, Billy and Ike went downstairs for lunch. While they were eating, Graham felt that something was bothering the President. Finally he asked, “Could you explain to me how a person can know for sure that when he dies he is going to heaven?”

Eisenhower had engineered World War II and spent many sleepless nights worrying about its outcome. Now this same man was concerned about life after death. He needed help because he realized that this question could not be answered by his own intelligence. Only God had the answer.

Jesus helps us with this question in our text. Dr. David Tiede, in his commentary on St. Luke’s Gospel, has guided me. This difficult portion of Scripture has been poorly interpreted in some sermons I have heard. Dr. Tiede says that this is a powerful story to which we should give much attention.

Jesus tells his story giving us insights into life after death.

There was a rich man who was enjoying life and his wealth. By his gate sat a beggar named Lazarus, who ate crumbs from the rich man’s table. We might compare it with a rich man dining at the Hilton while a homeless person was out by the dumpster looking for something to eat. Finally, Lazarus died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man died and went to hell.

In hell, where the rich man was in torment, he looked up and saw Lazarus by Abraham’s side. So he called to him, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water to cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.”

Abraham replied, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received good things, while Lazarus received bad things. Now he is comforted here and you are in agony. Besides this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, neither can anyone cross from there to us.”

“Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.”

Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the Prophets. Let them listen to them.”

“No, father Abraham,” he said, “but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.”

The story speaks for itself and teaches us three basic biblical truths.

1. There is an eternity with a judgment. We are not animals. God has given an immortal soul to us in the creation. We will live forever in either heaven or hell. Remember that these are the Jesus’ words. If we repent of our sins, and by grace through faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior we are forgiven, we will be brought into a personal relationship with God forever. However, if we reject Jesus Christ, we will die in our sins and be lost forever. The rich man was not lost because of his wealth, except that he had made wealth his god. Lazarus was not saved because of his poverty, but because he lived a life of faith.

Many who consider themselves Christians and are faithful members of the church will deny this portion of Scripture, but remember, Jesus Christ spoke these words.

2. A time will come when repentance is no longer possible. It was too late for the rich man to repent. The day of grace and forgiveness ends at the time of death. Until then, God’s love and forgiveness in Christ can deal with all of our sins. Remember, he also said, “I came to seek and to save the lost.” However, there is no second chance after death.

This teaching is also offensive to the masses, but remember, it is the teaching of the Savior. We cannot pick and choose what we want in the Scriptures.

3. The only revelation we have of what happens in eternity is found in the Scriptures. No one will be returning from the dead to give us more information. Our knowledge of life after death is limited. We know very little about life after death, but we know enough, and that is sufficient. Christ is the way into that heavenly home where we will know in full and see him face to face.

How much can we learn from the rich man? He probably was not a bad man in the eyes of the world. His problem was that he wanted whatever added to his pleasure. This life and its pleasures was his goal in life. Is this not the way we often live?

Recently I read in our newspaper of the concern that the price of birth control pills is increasing. They are afraid that many young women will find it difficult to buy the pills, and therefore cause what the paper called “unintended pregnancies.”

God’s Word tells us that sex outside the marriage relationship is sin. “Thou shall not commit adultery” is one commandment that the world would set aside, for it might take away from physical pleasures of life, although God has declared such behavior sin. However, we do not want the pregnancies, so in all of our wisdom we have produced a pill that will permit sexual activity without any fear of conceiving a child in our promiscuity.

Would that not have fit into the life of the rich man in our text? If it were sex that he wanted, he would have it with whomever he chose. For many this has become a way of life. When the guilty person stands before God in judgment, it will be too late to repent, and unforgiven sin is punished by eternal death.

Again, remember the words that we have heard in this text come from the Lord Jesus Christ. He wants no one to perish. He loves us and has initiated the action. He has come to us and asks that we receive him by grace through faith. This is the day of grace. Listen to his voice.