Bethel Evangelical Lutheran worshiping Jesus at 8th and N. East Ave. in York, NE.402-363-0022

November 26, 2017

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Colossians 1:13-14, 20

Dear Friends in Christ,

Where is the best place to live? Every once in a while you see a list – “the ten best places to retire,” or “the ten best places to live in the world, or in the United States.” The supposed experts who are making the lists look for things like availability of jobs, affordable housing, low crime rate, low taxes, a good school system, medical services and recreation options that are close by. If a city, or metro area, ranks high in all those areas they will rank high on the list of best places to live.

By contrast, there are some very bad places to live in our world today. We see pictures of war torn areas like parts of Syria, or hurricane devastated Puerto Rico. We find it hard to imagine living in bombed buildings, or without electricity for months. We realize how good we have it when we see how people in parts of Africa live, having only mud huts and eating only what they can grow, no stores, no refrigeration, subsisting one day and one meal at a time.

But Paul reminds us that whether we live as a subsistence farmer or in one of the ten best places to live on earth with all the amenities you can imagine, all of us were born into the worst possible place to live. We were all born citizens of the domain, or kingdom of darkness. Thanks to your baptism and your Christian parents you probably don’t remember what it was like. But a few weeks ago, when it was cloudy and dreary for a number of days in a row, many people commented on how depressing it was that they hadn’t seen the sun in a while. Imagine what it would be like never to have the light of the sun. Imagine how depressed you would feel. Now, imagine that you knew that there was a kingdom of light, but it was on the other side of an impenetrable wall. Imagine the hopelessness you would feel.

By birth all of us were citizens of that worst place to live, that place with out light or hope, the kingdom of darkness. But, Paul says, the Father rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves… the kingdom of light.

Notice how Paul emphasizes God’s grace. You were born into the kingdom of darkness and there was nothing you could do to escape. You were doomed to live in that hopeless, depressing place forever. But God planned and implemented your rescue. Like a Special Forces soldier, Jesus came into the kingdom of darkness, unlocked our chains, blew open the prison doors and carried us over the impenetrable wall into the kingdom of light. He rescued us. He transferred us. He gave us citizenship in his kingdom. We didn’t do anything. He did it all.

Paul also describes how Jesus was able to accomplish his daring rescue mission. He tells us that Jesus has the fullness of God dwelling in him. He existed before all things with the Father. Through him and for him all things were created. He has the highest rank above every power, seen and unseen. Yet he took on flesh and blood. He chose to descend into the kingdom of darkness to do battle with the Prince of Darkness.

Part of the battle against the Prince of Darkness was that he had to endure temptation. We know of the temptations he endured at the beginning of his public ministry; how the Prince of Darkness chose an opportune time to tempt him, after he had fasted for 40 days. And, when Jesus defeated those temptations, Satan didn’t give up, but continued to look from opportune times to tempt him, like when Jesus was praying in the garden about the suffering he knew he was about to face. But Jesus is the Son the Father loves, the one who was tempted in every way, just as we are, yet he remained without sin.

The rescue mission wasn’t over when Jesus defeated the temptations of the Prince of Darkness. He had kept the law in our place, resisting every temptation to sin, but there was still the matter of the debt we owed for the times we had given in to temptation and broken God’s law. God’s justice demanded payment. He wouldn’t be a just God if he didn’t demand payment for sin. And Jesus provided the payment God demanded – not perishable things like gold or silver, but the blood of his cross. As the spotless, sinless, lamb of God, he offered himself on the cross. He offered to have the Father put him in the outer darkness of Hell. He offered to take on himself the punishment God’s justice requires. That’s the picture of redemption. As Peter says, For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors,(from the kingdom of darkness) but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

It may have seemed that the Prince of Darkness had won the battle and that we were doomed to live in his dark kingdom forever. Those who saw Jesus on the cross thought he was the looser. The people watching the crucifixion along with the Jewish leaders ridiculed him. They didn’t believe he could be the Christ of God, the Chosen One, the Son beloved of the Father. The Roman soldiers supervising the crucifixion made fun of him. Even one of those being crucified with him mocked and blasphemed him. If we had been there we too would have either joined the mocking, or been filled with doubts as the disciples were. But, by God’s grace, we know the rest of the story. Jesus did die. He was buried. He was laid in a tomb and the stone rolled in front of the opening put his lifeless body in pitch darkness. But as the sun rose on Easter morning the stone was rolled away and the bright light of dawn shown into an empty tomb. Jesus is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead. If you want proof that he accomplished his rescue mission, look at the empty tomb. Look at his glorious resurrected body floating up into the sky until a cloud hides it from sight. The resurrection proves that the Prince of Darkness has been defeated. Jesus came and tied up the strong man and set his captives free. The father has placed all things under Jesus’ feet. He is King of kings and Lord of lords, the ruler of the kingdom of light.

For now, as long as we still live on the earth, being citizens of Christ’s kingdom is a status, not a place. When the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts so that we trust that Jesus has redeemed us, we receive citizenship papers for the kingdom of light. We don’t get to live just yet in the place where we will bask in the perfect light provided by the Lamb and the one sitting on the throne. We have to wait for that until the time comes for the new heaven and the new earth. But through faith we already enjoy some of the benefits of citizenship in Christ’s kingdom of light.

We see what truth is. We see that there is absolute truth, things that are right and in line with God’s will, and things that are wrong and in line with the will or the prince of darkness. We see the truth about God, that he exists; that he created all that exists; that he is not only just, but he is Love personified. We see that good isn’t something we do to get something from God, but it’s what we do because of what God has already done for us.

Through the light of faith we see that we have the forgiveness of sins, and we have peace with God. We enjoy the ability to come to God without fear of being punished or rejected. We call him Abba, Father. We experience the peace that comes from knowing that the heavy burden of guilt has been lifted from our shoulders and that our sins have been sent far, far away, as far as the East is from the West. There is no condemnation for those who are citizens of Christ’s kingdom.

When the darkness of the world and its troubles begin to bother us and tempt us to doubt whether or not we are really citizens of the kingdom of light, with Luther, we can say, “but I am baptized. At my baptism God claimed me as his own, clothed me in garments of light, put his seal on me, and gave me the Holy Spirit as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come.” In a sense, our baptism certificate is our green card showing that God has transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, the kingdom of light.

When the Father gives the command, Jesus will appear in glorious splendor for all to see, not just with the eyes of faith, but with their physical eyes. Then, every knee will bow before him, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. And everyone who trusted in him as their Lord and Savior will no longer only claim the status of citizenship in the kingdom of light, but will actually live, body and soul, in the best place to live, in the presence of the King of light forever and ever.

By God’s grace you have been rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of the Son he loves. You are citizens of Christ’s kingdom, of the kingdom of light. Live as children of light.