Safe in God's hands
The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deuteronomy 31:8
Mordy is a 5-year-old female bichon frise – a small dog with curly white hair. A while ago, Mordy got herself into trouble by walking out on the balcony of the apartment where her owners lived. She then squeezed through the railing and got herself on the little ledge … a little ledge 14 stories above the ground … a little ledge which didn’t allow Mordy to go back.
Just about the time that Mordy realized her predicament, Ted Nelson happened to be looking out his apartment window from across the street. He spotted Mordy in her precarious position. Rather than trying to grab his cell phone to take a picture or make a movie or even call for help, Nelson said to himself, “I might have to try and catch this dog.”
Being a man of action and not just words, Nelson ran out of his apartment, got down to street level, crossed the road, and made his way to Mordy’s building. At that moment, Mordy either fell or jumped from her little ledge.
Nelson watched Mordy plummet those 14 stories … and then he caught her. Both of them escaped with only minor injuries.
All of us are like Mordy. Because of our own poor decisions or the harmful decisions of others, we are trapped in a very precarious position. And we are afraid of what comes next.
Students, you might have heard horror stories about your next teacher. You are afraid that he or she is going to be hard on you with homework and/or discipline.
Eighth graders, I know you are ready to be done with school. But, you will be leaving the comfy confines of WLS for the scary world of high school. You are unsure of what is waiting for you there – more competition for spots on the athletic teams, A.P. Lit, Physics, Calculus, acne, looking foolish, making new friends.
Adults, you have different fears. What kind of fear are you carrying around in the pit of your stomach? Is it fear that you might lose your job? Fear about your marriage? Fear of getting older? Fear about money? Fear of being alone? Fear about a lab result you’re waiting for?
Those are all legitimate fears.
But, our biggest fear should be going to hell. An eternity locked out of heaven. Forever without God. An infinity of flames. Endless torment.
That’s what we deserve. Because of our sins, we deserve discipline, ailments, cancer, loneliness, poverty, and death. We deserve to fall from this lifetime into the pit of hell for all eternity.
But that’s not what’s going to happen to those with faith in Jesus, is it?
The Lord saw His sinful children out on the ledge. He knew that the only result would be their physical and eternal death. God didn’t just sit on His throne and watch. He said, “I might have to try to save those people.”
And, that’s exactly what He did!
Because our Triune God is a Deity of action and not words, He sent His Son into this world. Jesus was born as a human so that we might be made sons and daughters of God. Jesus was born into the poverty of strips of cloth and a manger so that we might be clothed in white robes in God’s heavenly mansion. Jesus resisted every temptation. He went toe-to-toe with the devil in the desert. He knew that we could not be perfect, so He was perfect in our place.
But Jesus did not escape with only a few minor injuries. Jesus had His face slapped, His hands pierced, His back torn apart, His head crowned with thorns. He did this to defeat the devil. Jesus shed His blood to cover over our sins. He rose from the dead to defeat death once and for all.
Jesus was even forsaken by His heavenly Father so you would not have to be. Jesus endured the punishment of hell so that you might receive the glories of heaven. He was abandoned on the cross so you might be welcomed as a child of God.
Now, because the risen Redeemer has conquered death and the grave, we know that the Lord is there to catch and save every one of us who trust in Jesus as Substitute and Savior.
The Lord has caught us in His hands and saved us from our greatest fear of falling into hell. But, the Lord also promises to be there to catch us in all of our earthly issues, as well.
The verse that the eighth graders have chosen as their class verse carries this idea: “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8).
When you are struggling with a bully in your class; when you are battling cancer; when your grandparent doesn’t remember your name; when your spouse is suddenly gone; when you are wracked with pain … it may feel as if God is very remote or not there at all. Those of you my age or older might remember one of the lines from a Pink Floyd song asking, “Is there anybody out there?” In your darker moments of weakness and despair, have you ever been afraid that nobody was listening to your cries for help? That there was nobody out there to catch you?
God no longer physically walks the earth as He did in the person of Jesus Christ, but He is always present in many ways. Scripture promises, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). God’s Spirit fills the universe. The reason WLS exists is so that students can hear God’s holy Word daily. The reason God not only invites, but commands, you to worship in church is so that you can hear together as a family God’s mind and purpose and mighty acts. The splash of baptismal water is your adoption ceremony. It is when God announced to you and the world that you belong to Him. The Lord’s Supper is a meal connecting Christ with His confirmed disciples.
God’s Word and Sacraments – His Means of Grace – tell us, teach us, proclaim to us – that God is always with us. He is with us in water. With us in bread and wine. With us in His Word.
We also have images in our churches that visibly demonstrate that God is always with us – that He keeps us safe in His hands. Here at First Evan, we see Jesus reaching down to rescue the drowning Peter. Even when we are being sucked under by our unbelief, Jesus is reaching down to save us.
The resurrected Christ is outside the tomb showing Himself to Mary Magdalene. When we feel most alone and afraid at the tomb of our loved one, the risen Savior assures us that He is there for us in our deepest grief.
The small size of New Hope’s sanctuary reminds us of our closeness as God’s family of believers. The modern blond hardwood floors contrasted by the old barn wood altar, pulpit, and lectern remind us of the timelessness of Christianity – both the old and the new.
At Epiphany, we have the Good Shepherd stained-glass window above the altar. It is a visual assurance that we are safe and secure as lambs in Jesus’ hands and sheep around His feet. Jesus promises that nothing can pluck us out of His hands. We can run away from Jesus, but if we remain close to Jesus, there is nothing that can touch or harm us.
We also have the promise written on the altar in King James old English: “Lo, I am with you alway.”
The Lord is with you right now. And with the Lord near – everything is different. Everything!
Even a serious illness. Even an addiction. Even death. … Even high school. You aren’t facing illness or death or freshman year alone – the Lord is with you!
Your family may forsake you, but God won’t.
Your friends may leave you, but God won’t.
Your health may abandon you, but God won’t.
You may feel alone in the wilderness of this world, but you are not. He is with you.
You may feel like you are on a ledge and ready to fall. He is ready to catch you in His nail-pierced hands.
Listen to God’s assurance at WLS. Sing of His promises in our worship services. See the images of His presence in our churches. The Lord will never leave you. He will never forsake you. You have no reason to be afraid. No reason to ever be discouraged. You are safe in God’s hands. Amen.