God is For Me

by The Rev. David A. Kind

John 3:16-21

You have come to a conference entitled “For You”. I’m sure as you’ve planned for this trip you’ve considered just what that title is meant to convey. Simply put, God is “For you”. Christ is “For You”. His love is “For You”. His gifts are “For You.” But every Christian wonders at one time or another whether or not all of this, God, His love, His blessings, really are for him or her. You know what the Gospel says about Jesus’ love, but you are also assailed with other voices that want you to doubt that love – the voice of your own conscience as you consider your sins, the voice of the devil who wants to amplify what conscience says so that you are lead not to repentance but to despair, the voice of the world that calls your faith foolish. This deadly chorus cries out that God surely can’t be for you. And yet the Gospel says very clearly that Jesus loves you and died for you. But when your feelings and your experiences cry out something different, you find yourself wondering if it’s really true. And if it is true, as it surely is, then how can you be sure about it? How can you know that God is “For You”?

The ancient Israelites must have struggled with the same questions. In the Old Testament lesson you heard today they are just about to cross over the Jordan river into the promised land when Moses addresses them as to the faith God desires to give them and to find in them. At one point Moses says: “The Lord delighted only in your fathers, to love them; and He chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as it is this day.” The people’s own recollection of history and of their own experiences in the wilderness, could have been interpreted in a completely different way by them, and probably was by many of them. Where Moses proclaims God’s love to them, they see only trouble and wrath and hardship. The Lord chose Abraham, but then caused him to leave his homeland and his family and go to a foreign land, and to trust in a promise that he would not live to see fulfilled. The Lord sent the offspring of Abraham down into Egypt where after a brief period of prosperity they were enslaved and suffered for some 400 years. The Lord at last raised up Moses to lead the people of Israel out of their captivity, but instead of taking them directly into the land promised to Abraham, caused them to wander around in the desert for 40 years until the generation that came out of Egypt as adults had died off. And now as their children were about to enter into Canaan, a land they would have to take by force of arms, they hear again the message that God loves them. And many of them must have wondered if God really was “for them”.

And yet the Lord God had shown His love for them throughout all of their trials and hardships. He had called Abraham out of the land of Ur in order to make a great nation of Him, and in order to fulfill His promise of sending the Messiah to save mankind. He had sent the children of Israel into Egypt to save them from famine, and though they ended up being enslaved there, the Lord kept them and blessed them, so that by the time Moses leads them over the Jordan they are “as the stars of heaven in multitude.” Yes even in this darkest period of their collective memory God was bringing about good for them. Moreover He brought them out of Egypt with a strong hand, gave them the wealth of Egypt to bring with them, brought them through the Red Sea in safety while destroying their pursuers in the same waters, fed them with heavenly bread for forty years and provided them with water in the desert. And above all He provided for the forgiveness of their sins by giving them the Tabernacle and the liturgy of the sacrifice. And these to whom Moses spoke had seen the Lord’s presence among them and had received His blessings in a very direct and tangible way, so that Moses can say to them: “He is your praise, and He is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things which your eyes have seen.” Surely God was for Israel and for each person in Israel. He explicitly stated His love for them. He proved His love for them by pouring love out upon them even in what felt to them like the worst of times. And His love would continue to be poured out upon them in the promised land and later in the sending of His Son as their Savior. If you were an ancient Israelite you could say for certain that God was “For You”.

But looking out from this pulpit, I do not see any ancient Israelites here today. So what about you? Is God for you or not? Your life at times may seem to testify that God is not for you, but against you. When you find yourself being treated as an outcast by your classmates or find yourself the brunt of their jokes; when you are rejected by one whom you care for deeply, or even just by one whom you think cute and interesting. When you are persecuted for being a Christian by your friends and maybe even by your teachers; when you see one of your parents or grandparents or someone else you love dying; you may well wonder is God really “for me”?

God is certainly for you, even in the most difficult times. Your conscience may accuse you of being a terrible sinner unworthy of God’s love. Your life may cry out to you that God has abandoned you or is perhaps punishing you. But Christ cries out even more powerfully with His Gospel and with His love. “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Yes God has sent to you and to the whole world a new Moses; one who not only speaks about the promises of God, but who is the fulfillment of those promises; one who is not only God’s prophet, but is God’s Son. His having been sent is the living expression of God’s love for all people. His having become the propitiation for our sins is the enactment of that love. And what is that about, being the propitiation for our sins, that is about being the atoning sacrifice, that is about death and blood, that is about the cross. But in that sending and propitiation is found our forgiveness and life. Jesus said: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” And so just as with the ancient Israelites, God has explicitly stated His love for you. And He has proven His love through what He has done.

But how can you know for sure that you are on the receiving end of these promises? How can you know that you are included here, especially when there are so many who are part of the world, but have not received Christ’s grace? Look not only at what God has done for all, but also at what He has done for you individually. That which God has accomplished in Christ Jesus, our salvation, after all, is given to each one of us and applied to us individually. Have you been baptized? If you can answer “yes” then you know that what Christ has done has been given to you and that God really is “for you”. Here you have crossed the Red Sea from bondage and death into freedom and life. Here you are sealed with God’s name. Here you are washed from your sins and given eternal salvation. Jesus has promised it after all, and has sealed His promise with His own death. This is why Luther anchors baptism first of all in the promises of God. He writes in the Small Catechism: "What does Baptism give or profit?" It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. "Which are such words and promises of God?" Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Mark: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” If you are baptized you have proof that God is “for you”. God is not tricking or deceiving you here. Do not doubt, but believe Him and trust His promise.

And having taken you from the wilderness of your own Egypt in Baptism, He also feeds and nourishes you on your way. He gives you the living heavenly manna of His own flesh and His own blood. Is God for you in this? Of course He is. Again Luther quotes Jesus words in the Catechism: “What is the benefit of such eating and drinking?" That is shown us by these words, ‘Given and shed for you for the remission of sins’; namely, that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words...” This is Jesus own promise to you. Eat and drink Him in faith, and believe what He says. Know by this also that God is “For You”.

And by these things you can know that in all things this is true: that God, His Son, His love, His gifts, are all “for you”. He has given His Word and that cannot be broken. His love cannot be broken, for Christ has died and rose again to prove it, enact it, and fulfill it.

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you…?” He requires you to believe. That’s it. Just trust Him. Just believe Him. And such belief looks to Him for all good and all blessings. Such belief loves Him in return. Such belief loves others too for His sake. But these are not additional requirements. They are simply the results of believing and of receiving God’s love and living in it. Hard times will certainly come. Your faith will be tested. But remember that all of these things will eventually pass away. Christ’s love never will. Believe Him and trust Him. In all times He is “For You”; to whom be all honor and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, to life everlasting.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

Created: August 2nd, 2007