I had cream puffs on my mind for some reason the other day, which made me think of the Wisconsin State Fair, and that made me think of those businesses and radio stations that hand out free boxes of cream puffs to the first whatever number of people show up at a certain location. I would have to think that if someone gets up at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning to be one of the first 513 cars in the Wisconsin State Fair parking lot and then finds out at 6:30 in the morning that they were Car #514, their first response might be at the very least, “You have got to be kidding! I woke up at that ridiculous hour to get a few free cream puffs and I’m the first person in line who can’t get any. You really do have to be kidding…” Sometimes though that response can be for far more serious reasons, obviously, like you are already late for work – and your child just made it clear she has the flu and can’t go to school; or you just read what your best friend posted online; or you are finally ready to retire and you just found out the doctor’s report. You have got to be kidding may be what we say. “What are you doing to me, Lord,” is often what we mean.
It’s interesting, I think, that in our lesson for today God uses a similar kind of negative thought to give a wonderful comfort. In the opening verses of our lesson the apostle Paul has just stated the central truth of the Bible that we are justified — or said to be not guilty of our sins — by believing in what Jesus did to forgive those sins, and then he warns the people that they better not not believe that by quoting a verse from the Old Testament prophets. Look again at what he says in that indented portion – verse 41: “Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.” In other words, I am going to do something about which you are going to say, “You have got to be kidding, God! That is unbelievable! That’s not fair!”
So what in the world is St. Paul talking about? As you and I talk about it now, I hope this can help all of us take home a helpful thought for today. The verse Paul quoted is from the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk, who wrote a very brief but powerful three-chapter book. Habakkuk begins by complaining to the Lord about how badly people who are supposed to be the people of the Lord are behaving. They don’t seem to care one bit about God or the things of God. The Lord answered Habakkuk with the words Paul quoted hundreds of years later: “I am going to do something that you would never believe, even if someone told you” – and then he tells Habakkuk, “This is what I am going to do. I am going to raise up a horrible nation of people to come on in and destroy the nation I have called to be my own.” And Habakkuk says, “You have got to be kidding, Lord. How can you punish your people with people who are far, far worse than they are?” And God says, “You will see, Habakkuk. Live by faith. It will all work out in the end when I have done what is best for the people I love.” More about that later…
In our lesson do you see the difference between living by faith and not living by faith? The words of our text are the conclusion of a sermon that Paul had been preaching in a Jewish synagogue or church. In that synagogue were Jewish people, of course, and also non-Jews or Gentiles who had come to believe in the Lord — all of whom did not yet know that Jesus of Nazareth had come as the promised Messiah. Paul began by reminding them of the promise of the Savior that God had made from the beginning, and then he said that a few years previously the Son of God named Jesus had come from heaven to be baptized to begin his ministry, as we heard last week, and then to suffer and die and rise again, something he could do only because he was the Son of God — and something he did to prove that everything he had done in dying on the cross did really pay the price that had to be paid for all the wrong things you and I have done that should mean we shouldn’t be able to live with Jesus after we die. But we will get to live with Jesus after we die because, as Paul said in the opening verse, “I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.”
When you tell that to people today, the response today is the same as it was for the people back in that synagogue, “You have got to be kidding.” But it is a response that can be said in two different ways – and this thought is what really answers many of the questions of life. Back in that synagogue and in that city what two responses did you notice? Some people believed what Paul and his partner Barnabas said and wanted them to keep talking to them and to come back the next week and tell them more about Jesus and the Bible. Other people were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying, resulting in Paul telling them that because of their rejection they had made themselves unworthy of the eternal life that God so much wanted them to have – and that God still wanted them to receive.
In other words, when you and I say about the love of Jesus, “You have got to be kidding,” we mean it in a totally different way. We are saying in humility and awe, “You have got be kidding, Lord. You know who I am – and you know what I have done – and you know how I struggle – and you know how frail and fragile I feel and how futile I so often think life is – and you have done this for me! That kind of “You have got to be kidding” is really “Thank you so much for doing what I could never do – and for you yourself giving me the faith to believe something I could never believe on my own. Thank you, God, simply because you love me, for letting me join those in the synagogue that day whom you said were ‘appointed for eternal life.’ That’s why, like them, I am so glad and, like them, I want to honor the Word of the Lord.”
Now, back to the prophet Habakkuk for just a moment… The Lord did do that harsh thing to his people just a little after he spoke those words to the prophet when he brought in the people we talk about quite a bit from Bible times – the Babylonians from a couple of hundred miles away – to ravage the nation of Israel and to desecrate and destroy their holy temple and to carry thousands of people away to live as captives in land not their own. But he had said all would be good, and he made all good seventy years later by letting his people return – people who could know that it was in love that God had let this happen to wake them up and to turn them back to the Lord – people who could know that the Lord would keep his promise about a Savior coming to that Promised Land – people who could know how important it was to trust the word of the Lord and to live the word of the Lord so they could live in the presence of the Lord all their lives and all their eternities. What may have started as “you have got to be kidding” words of doubt or defiance ended up being words of thankfulness and understanding, because they were words of faith.
When God sees fit to bring those little things or big things into our lives that may have us truly saying to God, “You have got to be kidding,” with God’s help let’s try to remember the simple truth that God does not kid. He is both deadly serious and totally serious. He is deadly serious in his warnings that we not take him for granted and that we not go about our lives not thinking about what he expects of us. But he is also totally serious about putting what he expects of us on the back of his Son – and that, too, turns any “you have got to be kidding, God” words of worry or anger into “you have got to be kidding, God” words of peace and joy, because all is good when you know you live in the love and grace of God.
So now this morning during our worship… “You have got to be kidding!” You put faith in the heart of Autumn and made her part of your family when you put your Triune God name on her in her baptism? Through the Holy Spirit that is your promise. “You have got to be kidding!” You will strengthen the faith in the hearts of the many people who will receive the Lord’s Supper today? Through the Holy Spirit that is your promise. “You have got to be kidding!” Telling people that Jesus dying on the cross and rising from the dead will put faith – or increase faith – in the hearts of the people who today are hearing these words simply by having these words spoken to them? Through the Holy Spirit that is your promise. Pray for those who may scoff, wonder and are perishing. Remember that’s who we were. But now because of God’s love praise God for who we are – for who we are in Christ – and, yes, for who we ever shall be. That’s No Kidding – not at all! Amen.