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Matthew 16,21-26 sermon

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Matthew 16:21-26

Pentecost 15

August 28, 2005

“You’re in Good Hands”

 

Goal:  That the hearers believe more firmly that no matter what happens, God is in control.

 

Learning to ride a bike was a challenging experience for me.  My brother took matters into his own hands one day and took off my training wheels.  Like any 5 year old, I was so afraid to see them go.  He assured me that he would run behind me with his hand on the bicycle seat ready to catch me.  “Oh no, you’ll drop me” I whined.  “Trust me, you know I am here, I won’t let things get out of control,” he said, “trust me… you’re in good hands.” 

Maybe someone has said that to you.  A well-known insurance company’s slogan is “You’re in Good Hands with All State”.  While answering the question, “Who do you say I am?”, Peter must have felt Jesus had everything under control.  He knew Jesus had healed diseases and risen the dead.  Peter had just correctly identified Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  Ah yes, things could not be better.  You know, that blissful feeling you get when everything clicks.  You can bet Peter wanted it to stay that way.  However, just when life seemed perfect, an unimaginable catastrophe struck.  Jesus announced the elders, chief priests and the scribes were going to kill him. “Wait, Jesus, you don’t want to do that!”  Peter admonished him.  It was looking like Jesus wasn’t in control.  Surely Jesus didn’t want this either, did he?  Peter wanted Jesus to stop this nightmare prediction before his joy turned to pain.  Jesus was on a mission to redeem all mankind, was Peter thinking things were out of control?  

The Romans tyrannized Israel while occupying Jerusalem.  Peter and the disciples tended to think of Jesus as an earthly Messiah who would take care of their immediate future by conquering the Romans.  Peter, innocently enough, failed to recognize the shortsightedness of his plan.  Peter’s intentions would have resulted in us being forever dead in our sins.  Peter didn’t know God had a bigger plan than that. God intended that Jesus be the sacrifice for the sins of all mankind conquering death and the devil once and forever on the cross.    God was in complete control of the situation, it was all part of his plan of salvation.  Jesus and mankind were in Good Hands.

So how is God working in our lives today when we face disaster?  Is God really in control?  Are we in good hands?  Thousands die in a Tsunami in Asia.  A young woman from Atlanta disappears without a trace in the Caribbean.  Layoffs. Disease. Accidents. Crime.  Things look out of control.  God, are you in control? 

Like Peter, we don’t want to see problems.  We want to see good times and success.  We know all we need to do is pray, tell God how to fix those few problems that come along, and if he does it our way, everything will be fine.  When things don’t go the way we ask, we wonder what went wrong and worry that God might not be in control.

When disaster strikes, we may try to resolve God’s apparent failure by thinking, God isn’t in control, or if he is, he doesn’t love or care for me and must be punishing me. On the other hand, maybe God can control, but doesn’t care to; he must have just set the world spinning and sat back in his easy chair to see what would happen next.  One way or another we start to believe either God is not in control of our lives, or the control he exerts is not loving.

Sometimes we try in vain to comfort others or perhaps even ourselves during difficult times with platitudes like “God will take care of us and everything will turn out fine.  We’re in Good Hands because we are good Christians.”  Yet deep down inside we struggle, wondering if everything really will be fine. 

I am sure some are saying, “Oh, no, the fact we are Christians doesn’t prevent bad things from happening, after all, our faith is not an insurance policy, “stuff” happens.” I disagree.  Bad things do happen to good people, our faith is an insurance policy, and “stuff” doesn’t just happen.  Does that surprise you?  Maybe we need to look at all this in a new way.  God is in control, but sometimes God’s ways are not our ways.

Our faith is our insurance policy.  When I was working, I purchased a life insurance policy for my wife and me.  I did not once believe that it would somehow prevent the unimaginable from happening to us.  What it did do is give me peace of mind.  It gave me the assurance that the care of my children will be under control if evil were to strike.  I have made provisions for my children.  Likewise, our faith won’t prevent sin and evil from touching our lives.  Nevertheless, when evil happens, God is always there to help us cope with the things that must happen to fulfill his perfect plan for our lives and the world.  God has made provision for his children.

Often, we thank God that sometimes things don’t turn out the way we planed.  These are the times we easily discover God’s ways are better ways.  When I decided to read the entire bible for the first time, I decided that I wanted to come up with a one-sentence summary of both the Old Testament and the New Testament.  For the Old Testament, my answer was only five words long.  God has a controlling plan.  My New Testament sentence was only four words long.  Jesus is the plan. 

The Old Testament chronicles the misadventures of the rebellious children of Israel.  The story climaxes with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the Israelites being forced into exile in Babylon.  Things seemed bleak and out of control.  Certainly, this was devastating for the Israelites, as they felt all was lost and abandoned by God.  Nevertheless, God’s long-term plan was bigger than their present suffering.  The Israelites prospered in Babylon. God purified and preserved the remnant Israel.  After 70 years, which is, by the way, definitely not the short-term by our standards, Israel was renewed and restored.  They went home to rebuild Jerusalem.  It might have looked like God was very far away while the whole time he had the situation well under control.  They were in His Good Hands.

I have experienced the wonder of God’s controlling plan frequently in my own life.  My most recent experience was with the home we still own in Kansas City.  We were unable to sell it when we left for seminary so we turned it over to a rental management firm.  Now, this past June, our renters decided not to renew their lease.  What brought great concern was our home sat on the rental market for six weeks and the only person had viewed it turned us down.  We don’t have the money to carry the mortgage with the income and expenses we have here in Saint Louis.  So, like Peter, we decided for God what would be best.  We decided to place one of those desperate “owner must sell” ads in the Kansas City paper.  We figured we would at least get out of our mortgage.  As you would expect, there are people who prey on opportunities like that, and a man called saying he would give us an offer in the morning.  The conversation had lowball written all over it.  Well, we prayed that night that God would take care of us.  And take care of us he did.  By this time, we had forgotten about the rental management firm.  One-half hour before the man called with an outrageously low offer, we received a call from them. We had renters and they wanted to move in in three days.  When the offer to purchase the home came in, we learned that it would require taking $10,000 out of retirement funds just to payoff the outstanding mortgage.  We thanked God and told the offer to take a hike.  God is so good.  He was in control.  We were in Good Hands.

However, we know we are not always blessed with good fortune.  Sometimes disaster strikes.  We feel conquered and carried into exile in a modern-day Babylon.  It seems there is no happy ending.  The world is to spinning out of control.  Peter is rocked with the double whammy of hearing his beloved teacher, Jesus, must die, and the words, “Get behind me Satan!” from the one he seconds ago called Christ, the Son of the Living God.  To Peter it looked like Jesus wasn’t in control, evil was.  A close friend of mine is a polio victim.  For more than 50 years, she depended heavily on her loving husband for many things we can do for ourselves.  In all the time I’ve known her, she never once complained about the disaster the world wrought on them as a young married couple.  Now, God has taken her husband to himself and she faces the days alone.  For now, the world seems empty and God far away.  She wonders why God did not take her first.  He was a good man.  Couldn’t God control the sickness that took her husband?  I was excited to see my brother coming to pick me up the day after completing my undergraduate degree.  The joy was snuffed out forever by the words coming from the tortured look on my brothers face as he said, “Dad had an accident yesterday.  Dad is dead.”  Why couldn’t God control the evil that happened to my father? A joyous couple travels to the hospital to deliver their first child.  They call their pastor at 3 AM for an emergency baptism.  Their severely deformed child will probably not make it until the morning. They plan a funeral instead of a baby shower.  Why can’t God do something to control our suffering?  We people cry out to God, “Abba, Father, where are you now, why are we suffering?”  So you tell me.  Where is the happy ending in that?  Where are the good hands now?

I have to be honest with you, we don’t always know God’s purpose in our suffering today or where the happy ending will be.  We may learn later or we may never know this side of heaven.  Nevertheless, we do know where the Good Hands are.  God loves us and he is in complete control.  Moreover, we do know about tomorrow.  You see, our father has purchased life insurance for his earthly children.  God paid up that eternal life insurance policy by sending His Son to the cross in our place.  Evil is still active in our world.  We will occasionally suffer from the world’s evil until our own resurrection.  On that day God will finally cast Satan is cast into the lake of fire.    Be assured, the one who has preserved us daily, up until this precise moment, guarantees his children salvation in the Last Day.  We can trust him to preserve us now.  He is still in complete control.  Yes, we will still suffer when evil touches our lives.  But, fear not, God is not far away.  He is so close our eyes cannot focus to see him.  We may not understand what is happening in the moment, and we certainly may not like it. Still, we can trust God deeply cares and knows our every need.  He who has brought us safely to this point in life has conquered sin and death.  He will see our salvation through to completion. One day we will be with him in glory in a place where there is no more suffering or pain.  God is good.  We are in the Best Hands.

The hymn Be Still My Soul summarizes what I am trying to say quite well.  You should review it on page 510 of our hymnal next time you are passing through rough waters.  For now, I will offer you a few highlight phrases.

Be still my soul; the Lord is on your side;

Leave to your God to order and provide;

Your best, your heavenly friend,

Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

The hour is hastening on,

When we shall be forever with the Lord

When change and tears are past

All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Now, may you be still, with the peace that passes all understanding, keeping your hearts and minds in faith in Christ.  You are in Good Hands.  Amen.

Prepared by Wendell Stavig

July 22, 2005

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