LENT 4, B – March 11, 2018

SCRIPTURES – Numbers 21:4-9; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

“Whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God.”  John 3:21

 

Boy, how quickly things can change. Early last week I happily held a golf club in my hands and swang for the short grass of the green. A couple of days later I grumpily held a shovel in my hands and dumped heavy load after heavy load of snow onto the grass. How I prefer the golf club!

Well, God has also drastically changed this sermon. On Monday I thought I’d be preaching to you about faith. I mean, John 3: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him…”; Eph. 2: “by grace you have been saved through faith; and the story in Num. 21, of the people being called to look at a bronze serpent on a pole – these all speak of faith! But, then I noticed: God saved the people from dying by Moses’ work of making a snake and raising it up; Eph. 2 ends, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works…” And, the Gospel reading ends with Jesus saying, “whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God.” So: today’s readings focus upon our works! I guess I’ll preach to you about them.

What is God teaching us about our works in these lessons? First, He is telling us that our good works are really His works. “his deeds have been carried out in God,” Jesus says. God is at work in you, doing the good works you do!

You’ll understand this when you remember what God wants you to call Him: Father. Since He is your Father, your life comes from Him. You are His child. Now: good parents not only want their children to do good things; they also help them and teach them to do so. Well, so does your good Father in heaven. “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.”… “his deeds have been carried out in God.” He fills you and leads you and helps you to do the good He wants you to do.

Does this mean, then, that the good works God gives you to do will be religious things; like praying and Bible reading, or giving up something for Lent, or perhaps even visiting a religious site? Not necessarily. God had Moses make a snake and put it on a pole for people to look upon. This strange action was a good work, a saving work, because God told him to do it. But, did you know that the people saved that pole? Over the years it became as deadly as venomous snakes, for people began to view it as having special power and made offerings to it. God never told them to do that. This went on for 700 years, until King Hezekiah did the good work of destroying that pole. And so, even a “religious” work can become sinful. It’s not the work that matters, you see, but God’s command, and the faith that follows that command.

Ø  Last week Lorayne mentioned a time when our daughter Tina wanted to give up playing violin. She was 11 and was probably tired of practicing. Lorayne told her, “Uh, uh, no way you’re quitting. You’re good!” (Frankly, we probably also didn’t want the money we had put out to go to waste!) Well, it’s a good thing we made her continue. Tina has not only blessed people with her playing; she has also been blessed herself. Her hard work learning the violin has helped to shape her into the hard-working, musical, and good person she is!

If good parents – who are also sinners and are not always motivated by the best of desires – do this and so bring about good in their children, do not be surprised that a good God gives you good works to do, and teaches and shapes you through them. He is your loving Father, after all!

And there’s the key to good works: the relationship, God as your loving Father and you as His loving and obedient child. Without this relationship you have no good works but only ugly, dead works.

“Whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God,” Jesus says. It’s the light that makes the difference: the light that is the Father’s forgiveness and love for us in His Son. Christ’s light shining upon you, and then shining forth from within your heart, makes everything about you look so different, so beautiful, to your heavenly Father!

Ø  I remember enduring many a grade school concert, hearing Tina and her classmates scratch and screech away on their instruments. At times it was like fingernails on a chalkboard. And, what did we parents say? “That’s my child up there! Aren’t they good!”

Your works may be no different than those of someone who does not believe that God is our Father through Jesus. What makes them different – precious to God! – is your relationship. Without the faith in Christ that sees God as Father a person is not His child. God responds to his works, then, like you would to a screechy, scratchy concert on the radio whose performers you didn’t know. What wants to listen to that? You’d change the station!

“God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Faith in this God, who in love gave up everything, even His beloved Son, to rescue you, makes all the difference. Such faith is the greatest of works! It is the work from which all other works spring. “Whoever believes in him is not [present tense] condemned.” Right now you who believe stand in God’s favor. He looks upon you with love, forgiving your sins and seeing everything you do as good! And, as your loving Father, He gives you more good works to do.

But, there’s the difficult part for us. Do you think Tina liked being told she could not give up her violin but had to continue practicing? Good parents don’t always make things easy for their children. Neither does your good Father. The works He gives you to do will at times run counter to your desires.

Ø  The snake on the pole was such a work. The people had asked Moses, “Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” He didn’t take them away, but instead provided an antidote to their painful bites. God was teaching them to trust Him and follow Him.

 

Because God loves you as your Father He gives you works to do that are difficult at times, even painful. Often they are the works of His commandments, and are contrary to what others are doing. For instance:

Ø  Keeping the 1st and 8th commandments by enduring suffering when God lays it upon you – perhaps by not healing you or keeping someone from speaking ill of you – and not crying out against Him or accusing Him of not listening or caring. This is among the hardest works God gives you to do, and the greatest works of faith.

Ø  Keeping the 8th commandment by listening carefully to, and thinking and speaking well of, one you disagree with and even dislike. (This even applies to politicians!)

God is working to put to death your sinful desires and to fill you, and shape you, with His desires. This is a struggle; but thank God for the struggle! You are God’s workmanship. He is bringing you into His light in Christ, that it might be clearly seen that your deeds are carried out in God.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps. 27:1) Let us not be afraid to let Him direct our lives and make us into His people who show forth His light. For, He is not just the almighty and eternal God. He is our Father who loves us! May His will be done, now and always, in our lives!! In and through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.