Jesus is On Duty
Dear Friends in Christ,
The other day I had a conversation with some folks. All of us were having some things thrown at us into our lives that are not pleasant. On the other hand, people have had a whole lot worse. I was born after World War II like most of you here. Those of you who lived or even served during the war went through a very serious time in the history of our country. In my former congregation we had two different families where husband and wife got married right before the husband was shipped overseas. One of the couples didn’t see each other for forty four months. The other didn’t see each other for a year and a half. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for them, wondering if their marriage would come to an end before it really got started. What a dark time in the history of the world!
Most of us don’t know what that was like. We have no idea what it was like to wake up in the morning and wonder if the military personnel who were designated to tell families of the death of loved ones would show up at the house that day. What an unsettling time! Yet every era has its own uniqueness. How about living during the Middle Ages when thousands upon thousands died from the Bubonic plague? How about the Peasant’s War at the time of Luther where some estimate 100,000 died? Or the earthquakes and tsunamis of recent years that killed hundreds of thousand?
Unfortunately when things go well, too few give glory to God. Perhaps that’s why he allows calamity, to bring us to our knees.
When the apostles stood on the Mount of Olives and saw Jesus ascend into heaven the fortieth day after Easter, the Bible says that they went away rejoicing. They knew that Jesus lived and that “The Lord Jesus Was Still on Duty.” And he is for us 1) giving gifts through his church and 2) giving gifts to the church.
The word ‘grace’ is word that every Christian must understand. Grace ought to put a smile on every Christian’s face. It is such a beautiful word. We have learned little anecdotal meanings of it. In Sunday School we learned that grace is “God’s undeserved love.” Some have made an acronym of it
God’s Reward At Christ’s Expense. When I think of God’s grace my thoughts turn to forgiveness of all my sins - so many of them that I can’t name a fraction of them. Yet I am forgiven as are you.
But God’s grace goes beyond forgiveness alone, His grace is everything that he gives to us. Paul uses the word here to refer also to the special and unique gifts that God gives to the people of his church. God gives us these gifts, not to lay dormant, but to be used for the good of others – to build others up and to strengthen others in their faith. But rest assured that Jesus has given these gifts to us as individuals. “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” He doesn’t want them wasted.
What are those gifts? Paul says in Romans, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” More are listed in I Corinthians 12 and other places. They are undeserved but very real. But I am afraid a bell doesn’t ring inside our heads that God gave them to each of us and each of us needs to be using them. I do believe that so far too many Christian people who think that all God wants from us is to show up on Sunday and throw some bucks into the offering plate. There is more than that to our response to Jesus’ love for us in dying on the cross; he gives his church gifts to use.
Remember that they do come from Jesus. “This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) Wow! Is that a mouthful!
Yes, Jesus came from on high. He is God. He once said, “Before Abraham was, I AM. The Bible says, “Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor.” He came down to this earth. He took on our humanity. He set aside the full use of who he was and what he could do because he is God so that he could die. He needed to die to save. He needed to die to pay for the sins of all. He was ultra successful
“He led captives in his train.” The one who gives us gifts, the one who came to save took prisoners and put them away never to hurt us forever. The enemies? Not Capone, not even Al Qaeda or the Taliban but sin, death, and the Devil! Jesus, the giver of all gifts, rendered them powerless.
But Pastor, don’t we still sin? Yeah, we sin, but Jesus clothes us in his holiness. God sees us for who Jesus is. His life is our life. His righteousness is our righteousness. Pastor, don’t we still die?
Yeah, we die but Jesus died to turn our death into the best experience we are ever going to have. Yes, it’ going to be better than Disney or some Caribbean Isle. We are going to live and live well - so well that the human language doesn’t have the words to describe it.
Doesn’t the Devil have his way with us? Yes, and no! Way too often we do what he wants. We are like putty in his hands, but because of Christ and the forgiveness and the righteousness he gives us, he can charge us all he wants with sin, but none of the charges stick. All because of Jesus who is also the one who gives us gifts.
But Jesus who descended also has ascended. He no longer sets aside his power. He is using his power to the fullest, not like so many who get power and use it selfishly and foolishly. Remember this is our God. “He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)”
No one can hide from him. Nothing can be hidden from him. He knows what his church needs. He knows people need his church. A few millennia ago he saw the city of Nineveh needed to hear about the LORD. Jonah was his chosen instrument to go and preach. Jonah wasn’t real fond of thinking he had to go and do it. When he tried to go west instead of east, he found himself in the belly of a whale. Do you know what? The LORD “who fills the whole universe” was there too. The LORD who fills all things knew the people of Nineveh needed what the LORD had to offer them – real hope and change – hope that comes from forgiveness and change to know the real and only God is the LORD. As reluctant as Noah was he was a gift from God’s church to people. Nineveh repented.
As Jonah was a gift, the gifts keep coming. “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.” The Lord of his church created the office of public ministry for people to get on the path to God. When Paul lived there were apostles. They were sent out by the Lord directly and were with him from the beginning of his ministry and witnessed the resurrection from the dead. There were prophets who spoke for God; there were evangelists who shared Jesus with those who didn’t know him. Someone made the observation that these workers had one thing in common, they move from place to place.
He also names pastors who shepherd God’s people. He names teachers who assume the responsibility of training on a smaller scale and more individual way. As the church expanded and served more people, others were called to positions that seemed fill the needs that the church had. The early Christian church in Jerusalem created the office of deacon they could help with daily distribution of food to the poor so that the apostles could do what they needed to do – preach the Word.
I hope you understand this. God created the public ministry and allows the church to be specific in the way it is carried out. We have a minister of music. Such a position is not mentioned in the Bible, but Messiah has a need for Paul to serve in such a way so our music program can be bettered both chorally and instrumentally. God gave us Paul and all who serve.
His workers are called “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Imagine what an army the church could be if everyone recognized the fact that we are an army, given unique gifts to be used together to defend the truth of God’s Word but more so to battle the unholy Trinity of sin, death and the devil along with his most unholy angels. An army needs good and committed leaders to teach, motivate, inspire and plan and put the troops out there in daily life. God’s army needs to keep training the next generation that so that more are ready for the future generations. There are no sidelines; there are no benches. Everyone is in the battle.
What’s our goal? There are three. 1) “That the body of Christ may be built up.” We want a larger body of Christ and a stronger army of Christ. Remember it is all about Christ. 2) We all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature.” We all need to grow up and keep striving for unity in our faith and knowledge and practice of the Holy Scripture. It drives me crazy when people think God leaves the Scriptures ambiguous so we can somehow interpret the way we want. 3) We attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” We grow and become more like Jesus.
Now I know you are thinking is that really possible? Can we really attain a perfect unity and maturity in the faith? Can we really become just like Christ. No, not on this side of the grave, but we want to keep trying. If you own a business, don’t you always want to make it better? Don’t you want it to be more efficient? Don’t you want to keep it going in the right direction? Our lives need to be pointed one direction - upward. Our Lord supplies the workers who teach the Word that supplies the power to make it happen.
It is so hard to live faithful, resolute lives dedicated and committed to the Lord. There are so many things that are at war against us. But remember who you are. We are the army of Christ. We are the body of Christ with Jesus as the head. “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Everyone has a role. Too often people think I am too small or too unimportant to make much of a difference. That’s wrong thinking. “The church “grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” I love some of the things that are going on here as this passage is put into practice. Our Sunday School staff is terrific working together for Jesus. Our Church Council has some very gifted men. I love the Living Christmas Card when we see so many get involved in welcoming and giving glory to Jesus. The Jesus Cares Ministry. So many other things apply here too. Work days? Well, let’s put it this way, it let’s me know we are not in heaven yet.
Yes, Jesus ascended into heaven and is no longer visible on this earth. But look at his church. Look at it carry out the work. Look at the gifts. He is still on duty.