"Jesus Doesn't Babble"#87-40
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on May 31, 2020
By Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison, Guest Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: John 14
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Here is Jesus' own Pentecost Word to us from John's Gospel chapter 14. "The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My Name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give it to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."
I'm more than suspect that you and I have something very much in common. I have had quite enough of the endless talk of the coronavirus, on Facebook, on every form of communication, on every minute of talk radio, on every second of TV, radio, and all other forms of news. I've had enough of the scenarios repeated over and over again: the prognostications, the predictions, the revision of predictions, the predicted revisions, and even the public service announcements.
I've had it with the political shoving matches and fights over who did what when, over respirators and ventilators, masks and chloroquine and plasma treatments. Yes, it works. Or, it may work. Or, no, it doesn't work. Is there a vaccine on the way? Yes, and no. The infection rate is very high. No, the infection rate is actually very low. It really only affects older folks and those with "premorbid" conditions. How about that word? That's a new one. "Premorbidity." No, young people are in fact dying and suffering horribly. Where did it come from? A wet market in China? What's a wet market anyway? Or was it from a Chinese military lab? What's an essential service? Which businesses should be opened? Which should be closed? Are liquor stores essential and churches non-essential? Who says so? The mayor? The county commissioner? The governor? The federal government? Why are the same guidelines interpreted differently by authorities in different communities? Where are the boundaries between government authority and religious liberty? Are First Amendment constitutional rights surrenderable? How can a church and its pastor carefully obtain permission from the local authorities to have limited services, with limited numbers of people, with all the social distancing required, and then still be subject to harassment and even death threats?
When should we start opening the country again? Has the peak reached the peak? Has it passed? Have many more have been infected than we thought and thus developed antibodies? Are we risking more waves of infection? Will the economy come back? Is the damage irreversible? Will this epidemic change the way we look at social interaction, the way we look at church and school and medicine and work and government and a thousand other things?
What a baffling, babbling, cacophony of contradictory craziness. Yes, babbling. It's Pentecost. Jesus has something to say just for you, and Jesus doesn't babble. He says, "Don't be afraid." There are three texts from the Bible that the church often reads on Pentecost Sunday. The first one comes from the earliest part of the Bible. Genesis 11 tells the story of the tower of Babel. Details are disappointingly few. Somewhere near what today would be modern Iraq, the descendants of Noah, long ago, sometime after the flood, decided to build themselves a great tower. It appears they had a new construction technique, and they were very proud of what they had achieved, and were planning to do.
They said, "Let us make a name for ourselves." But they had forgotten the Lord God. God responded by confusing their language and spreading them around the earth. They could no longer understand each other and complete their massive construction project. Their great plan was foiled. That's where we get the words "babble" and "babbling" and "babbler." It all comes from the tower of Babel. Dissension, disunity, disharmony, confusion, conflict—even the inability to understand each other's languages—are all the result of sin and its punishment. But Jesus came to de-confuse, to de-babble Babel.
In fact, Jesus spoke very clearly. He tells us some really great things in the Pentecost Gospel from John 14. He was talking to His disciples just before He was betrayed, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word and My Father will love him. And We will come to him and make Our home with him. Whoever does not love Me does not keep My Words, and the Word that you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me." Jesus says, "Hold on to My Word." Grab it. That's what faith does. It grabs God's Word. God the Father said of Jesus, "This is My beloved Son. Listen to Him" (see Mark 9). Grab hold of that. It's yours. Jesus said to the religious big shots, "I came not for the righteous, who have no need to repent, but for sinners" (see Luke 5). Grab hold of that Word. Are you a sinner? You certainly are. The Bible tells us to be perfect in thought, word, and deed. You aren't, not by a long shot, and neither am I.
Jesus said, "Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (see Matthew 11). Grab hold of that Word. It's free. It's just for you. Jesus said, "I came to give My life as a ransom." For whom? For you! Grab it and never let it go. Jesus made a promise in this last speech to His disciples. He said, "These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you, but the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My Name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." The promise of Jesus happened after exactly seven weeks of seven days each. Seven is the perfect number in the Bible. Four is the number of earth, and three is the number for God, the Trinity. So seven is the wonderful number of God and man reconciled.
Seven times seven is all the more marvelous. For 49 days, Christ kept appearing to His disciples after His resurrection. That was during the 49 days of the great Jewish Feast of the Harvest, and what a harvest it was! For the Bible says that "the resurrected Christ is the first fruits of them that sleep" (see 1 Corinthians 15). There's so much more to come. Christ is a first fruits. The promise of the resurrection to eternal life is for everyone who believes in Jesus. And it's for you. Then on Pentecost, the promised Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, and the Spirit brought to memory all the things that Jesus had said to them so they could speak them and write them down in the Gospels. "Peace, I leave with you. My peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."
Jesus even undid Babel. Listen to what the Bible tells us in Acts 2, "When the day of Pentecost arrived, the disciples were all together in one place. Suddenly, there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as a fire appeared to the apostles and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem, Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound, the multitude came together, and they were bewildered because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, 'Are not all of these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians. We hear them telling in our own language the mighty works of God.' And all were amazed and perplexed saying to one another, 'What does this mean?' But others mocking said, 'They're filled with new wine.'"
In Christianity, there is absolutely no place for any racial or tribal preference. There is no difference: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (see Romans 3). Christ died and rose for all. With the gift of the Holy Spirit, making His words heard by all, un-babbling the babble of Babel, Peter preached it. Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, "'Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk as you suppose, since it's only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the Prophet Joel, 'And in the last days it shall be,' God declares, 'that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved.' Men of Israel hear these words, Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourself know.'"
All those folks from all over the world heard Peter's sermon that day, each in his own language, and from that time until this very moment, the apostles and Christ's church have continued the preaching of Jesus Himself. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (see Matthew 3)—the first words that came out of Jesus' mouth preaching. Be sorry for your sins, and believe in Jesus, who has paid your price by His death and overcome your sin and your death by His resurrection. I tell all of you today, don't be afraid.
In fact, on this Pentecost day, these words I speak are the very words of Jesus, accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit, and they are addressed to you, wherever you are right now, as I speak them. Jesus' Words to you hold good, no matter what comes next in this crazy world. Jesus doesn't give you pseudo-religious nonsense. He's got the remedy for Babel, and He doesn't babble. It's crystal clear. "Peace. I leave with you. My peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." Jesus has grabbed hold of you with these Words.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Reflections for May 31, 2020
Title: Jesus Doesn't Babble
Mike Zeigler: The Reverend Dr. Matthew Harrison is the thirteenth man to serve as president of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, since its founding in 1847. President Harrison has been serving in this role since 2010. He's also a prolific writer and one of his books is all about joy. It's titled A Little Book On Joy published by Concordia Publishing House in 2011. Why did you pick joy of all the things that you could have written about?
Matt Harrison: It was not long after the market crash in 2008, and if you recall it was a long time coming back and some challenging economics. I just thought I wanted to explore this topic in the Bible. Lutherans have a reputation for not looking at issues like joy or thinking it's superficial or it's not a real theological topic. But I discovered quite something different. It's not merely the froth on the beer. There's something deep and dark and delightful down in the beverage itself.
Mike Zeigler: Very good. Yeah. You have a quote from the book that struck me as very important. You said that, "If we seek joy for its own sake, we won't find it," and maybe that's kind of like seeking the froth on the beer. That's all you'll get. But if we seek Jesus, we'll be engulfed in and inundated by joy, and quite by surprise.
Matt Harrison: One time I was driving through Kenya with my family, and I wasn't expecting it, but on the road to Mombasa, from the capital Nairobi, all of a sudden we looked south and there about 60 miles away was Kilimanjaro. And it's just a glorious snow-capped, volcanic mountain, standing almost alone on the horizon. I had no expectation to see it. Then some weeks later we intentionally drove down to that area and actually drove up on the mountain. And with the intention to have a marvelous look and drive high on the mountain. And guess what? It was raining that day, so we didn't see a thing.
Mike Zeigler: Yeah.
Matt Harrison: So I kind of liken that to seeking joy. If you seek this kind of a pseudo joy in places they might satisfy for a little while, but Jesus is the Source of real and profound joy because He is a source of forgiveness, of perpetual thankfulness, of righteousness, of blessing, of recognizing our blessings, and all those things are really tied up with joy.
Mike Zeigler: In the book you also mention a friendship that you had with a man years ago who struggled with a lot of doubt about whether or not he was truly a Christian because he didn't feel that joy in his heart continually. As you've talked to people, I'm sure this is not an isolated incident. People feel this way, that they struggle with their joylessness. You write in your book that the joy of the Spirit is often a "joy set before." Tell us what you mean by that and maybe a little bit more about this friendship you had with this man.
Matt Harrison: He really struggled. He had issues with mental illness and post-traumatic stress disorder from military service. And he was caught in a kind of Christianity that demanded perfection and thought that the real joy of Christianity is an obedience to the Law. And the Law does one of two things: it cuts us and causes us to despair because we can never live up to its demands. "Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect." This is just intense demand for a perfect heart, soul, mind, body. And if you get that Law double-barrel like that, it causes people to despair. And this young man sometimes he would be totally despairing because he knew that he was sinning and falling short all the time.
On the other hand, the Law does this, it makes hypocrites like the Pharisees who had convinced themselves that they were in fact following the Law perfectly. Mostly, he was dejected and hit by the Law. And I said, "Look, the very fact that you are sorry that you're a sinner and the fact that you recognize you're a sinner is the proof that the Holy Spirit is alive and well and working in your heart. Because if He wasn't, you wouldn't care." And I gave him the Gospel, the free forgiveness in Christ, which trumps mental illness. It trumps all of our sins. It is our one and only solid everlasting hope.
Mike Zeigler: And it strikes me that both of those postures that you mentioned, whether despair or pride or hypocrisy, both of those is different as they are rob you of joy, true joy. You say in response in reflecting on these conversations with this man that the joy of the spirit is often a "joy set before." So what did you mean by that?
Matt Harrison: Hebrews says of Jesus, "For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross." There is something utterly profound. Jesus knows He will go to a very dark place, death, and for our sakes, rejection by the Father. Our sins are rejected by the Father, not in us, but in and on Jesus on the cross. And Jesus knows exactly what He's doing, quote, Psalm 22 on the cross, go and read it. This message will go far and wide. He's rejected by the Father for a purpose, and the message of forgiveness will go far and wide by the end of this Psalm. And Jesus knows this and knows that nothing but joy is in front of Him, even while He struggles and suffers for the moment.
Mike Zeigler: And as His people, we experienced much of the same, especially now in these times when joyful moments seem few and far between, but we have that joy set before us in the resurrection and the new heavens and the new earth. So your subtitle of this book that we've been talking about is, The Secret of Living a Good News Life in a Bad News World. We've heard a lot of bad news over the last months and potentially more bad news to come. So how are you these days finding reasons to rejoice and give thanks, as Paul says, even amidst the bad news of our present situation?
Matt Harrison: It's most interesting in St. Paul often thanksgiving and joy are tied together. So he says in 2 Thessalonians 5, "Always rejoice. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks." Now, we will be down at times. Many of us struggle with depression or addiction or mental illness through no cause of our own, no fault of our own, so it's not Pollyanna. I realized that. And yet Paul urges us to rejoice in our sufferings, even. It's Jesus and Jesus brings about joy.
My brother died now three years ago, and it was one of the saddest, probably the saddest, time in my life. And yet to this day I'm sad, but I have an undergirded rock-solid hope and joy that nothing but eternal life is in front of us, and we shall see him again. And that can never be taken away.
Mike Zeigler: So expect Jesus to show up and speak that gift of forgiveness and promise of new life. Let that lead you into thankfulness, and joy may very well surprise you like Kilimanjaro appearing out of the mist.
Matt Harrison: That's what I think.
Mike Zeigler: Thank you so much for joining me today and for being with us on the program.
Matt Harrison: It's so wonderful to be with you, and thank God for you and all of your wonderful work, and the many, many faithful years of The Lutheran Hour. God bless you all.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)