Experiencing Ultimate Wholeness

Preachers face a dilemma. People want entertainment from the pulpit, but God’s Word is not always entertaining. Pastors are counseled not to bring discomfort to the listeners. Yet Jesus violated that rule. Many sermons are little more than psychological dissertations seasoned with a little gospel, whereas they should be Biblical expositions with a theological base.

Hearing the words of today’s scriptural text, a listener might wonder if I am feeling well today. The answer is yes. I feel fine. However, if I expound the text, there will be little entertainment for the congregation.

Isaiah is telling us what God demanded as a payment for sins. He is also revealing how much God really loves this world. Listen to these words: “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5).

Not a pretty picture, is it, especially when I know Isaiah is telling what God did for me. That makes it very personal – too personal for some.

Mel Gibson, in his movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” gives his viewers a picture of Christ’s suffering and death that is faithful to the Scriptures. Have you seen the movie? I hope you have, or you will. I have seen “The Passion” twice. Neither time was I entertained. Nor did I buy popcorn for either showing, which is the normal menu at the theater.

The first time I saw the movie I could only respond by saying, “Too much.” There was simply too much beating. Was all of this beating necessary to get the point of Christ’s suffering across to the audience? Then I waited a few days and returned to the theater to see the picture again. Suddenly my feelings changed. It was not too much. This movie shows how seriously God takes sin and what Christ had to endure for me. It reveals how much God loves me. He was willing to suffer so that I might live with the assurance that He forgives my sins. Because of Christ’s sacrificial death and glorious resurrection, I know I have a place in heaven.

To understand this text and what happened at the cross, one has to be truly convicted of their sin. There is no real meaning to these words, “Your sins are forgiven,” until we see ourselves as lost and condemned creatures. We cannot pay for our own sins.

However, we do not like this message. Therefore, those of us living in the Postmodern Age have devised other ways to deal with our sins. Our culture has adopted a philosophy that there are no ultimate truths. We have become masters at rationalizing our sin. Here are a few examples:

Bill Clinton committed adultery in the Oval office. He was impeached, but continued to serve. How could this happen? It was not treated as sin, grievous to God, but forgiven by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Instead our country adopted the attitude: Who of us are without sin? Look at all the good the President has done for our country. He continued to serve as our President, not needing a Savior in the minds of the masses.

Not to be partisan, Richard Nixon was found guilty of lying to the nation in the Watergate scandal. He was forced to leave office, but later pardoned by the new President and treated as a hero in the minds of many.

How can this be? Nixon felt that to know the truth about Watergate would be more than the average citizen could handle. So he shielded the nation from the gory facts of what happened. Christ never came into the picture. Nixon did not need a Savior. After all, he was President of the most powerful nation in the world. Besides that, he was successful in opening trade with China for us, and look what that meant in monetary gain.

Martha Stewart is found guilty of lying to the courts. However, we should overlook the wrong she did, for it is just society’s way of punishing the successful and wealthy. Jesus is not needed in this case.

Mary Brown (a fictitious person where you can place your name) and Homer Larsen are guilty of a sharp tongue, a critical spirit, an unforgiving attitude, etc. Well, this is no big deal. We are all sinners, and see how much good we do to balance the bad things that come from us. No Savior is needed.

We cannot overemphasize the love of God. However, neither can we neglect preaching the righteousness of God. It is at this point that this sermon is not entertaining, and people are made to feel uncomfortable. Two rules have been broken now that make the message a good sermon in the minds of many listeners. However, remember our theme is Experiencing Ultimate Wholeness. What is needed to experience this state of mind and soul?

When the Law of God gets done with us, we are broken people. This is not where God wants to leave us. He too wants us to experience this ultimate wholeness. This includes peace, comfort, freedom from all guilt, and true joy. He wants us to leave the worship service saying, “Yes, I am guilty, and lost without hope. However, I am forgiven, saved, and restored into fellowship with God for all eternity.” This is ultimate wholeness.

How can this happen? Christ alone is the answer. Notice the words of our text. “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities . . . by his wounds we are healed.” Notice how personal this is.

“Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness,” the writer of the book of Hebrews tells us.

St. John writes, “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.”

Peter says, “You know that you were not redeemed with perishable things, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish.”

To use the computer as an example, our sins are on the screen. Because of Christ’s atonement for these sins, when we pray with the Publican of old, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” our Father hits the delete key, and our sins are no more. Then, and only then, do we experience ultimate wholeness. That is the Gospel.

Think of it! At the end of the day, we can know that our sins are forgiven and there is peace for the night. In the morning, our Lord takes us by the hand to walk with us through another day. When we slip and fall, He picks us up and sends us on our way.

This is life with Jesus.

Stress

Experiencing stress is a part of living. When we live as responsible people, we will experience some stress in our lives. In fact, stress can cause a positive effect. Stress gets us going and adds excitement to our lives. Facing an examination causes a student to study, and learning takes place.

Competition adds stress, but it also brings out the best in us. Life without some kind of stress would make us lazy, unproductive people. A person who wants a job with no stress, but all kinds of security, a bowling ball, a fishing pole, and a set of golf clubs, may get what he wants. But at the end of his life, this person will have accomplished little or nothing.

So, our purpose in this sermon is not to eliminate all stress, but to learn from the life of Jesus how to manage those times of tension. He has much to teach us.

Being committed to the Lord Jesus Christ adds to our stress. Jesus said, “No servant is greater than his master, nor is the messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:16). Jesus experienced a great deal of stress in His ministry. Let us review some verses found in Matthew 26.

Verses 1, 2: “When Jesus finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, ‘As you know, the Passover is two days away – and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.'”

As we have seen portrayed in Mel Gibson’s move, The Passion of the Christ, crucifixion and beating causes excruciating physical pain. Just to think of dying this way caused stress, even for Jesus, the Son of God.

Verse 21: “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.'”

The thought that one of Jesus’ closest friends would betray Him caused him stress. Do you suppose He wondered why he had ever chosen Judas?

Verse 33: “Peter replied, ‘Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.'”

Another disciple will prove unfaithful. How stressful to see human nature as it really is.

Verse 39: “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.'”

Many of us remember the stress in our lives when we were told that our illness, or that of a loved one, was terminal. Didn’t we experience stress as we prayed, “Father, if it is your will, please heal me (or this person)?” Jesus understood that prayer, because He had lived with the same stress and asked God to remove the suffering.

Verse 40: “Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?’ he asked Peter. ‘Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.'”

Realizing he must not only face these next torturous hours of suffering was stressful, but He also knew he must face them alone.

“We have a high priest who has been tempted as we have been.” This includes knowing what stress is. Never, in those tough hours, say that no one understands what you are going through. Yes, He does.

Because the world was hostile to Jesus, it is hostile to His followers. The disciples had many hours filled with stress simply because they were faithful to the Lord Jesus.

Consider Peter and John’s visit to the temple as recorded in Acts 3 and 4. They were being questioned about how they had healed a crippled man. When they said, “We did not heal this man by our own power. By faith in the name of Jesus this man was made strong,” this immediately brought a response from the priests, who told them to do no more teaching about Jesus. Then there was stress.

However, Peter replied, “Judge for yourself whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

Recall Paul and Silas imprisoned in Philippi. They had preached about Christ, which caused a beating and imprisonment. You can read about this incident in Acts 16. The story has a wonderful ending, for the prison guard was converted because of their powerful witness about Jesus. Nevertheless, you can be sure there were some stressful moments when the beating was taking place, and they were wondering about their future.

These disciples were not perfect people, and we can see their witness weakening often. Paul reprimanded Peter for his hypocrisy one day. Peter would adjust his behavior depending upon who was in the crowd. When certain Jews were not around, Peter would enjoy eating pork. Yet, when these people were present, he refrained. Peter had a double standard of behavior. This hypocrisy bothered Paul, and he told Peter what he though about it. Don’t you think there was stress in the camp when these two solid witnesses for Jesus Christ were engaged in a confrontation?

To be faithful in our Christian witness can often cause stress, but Jesus teaches us how to handle this stress. He does not tell us to work at adopting more moderate views in our Christian witness. No, instead we are to remain strong, and when those hours of stress come, listen to what He says in his Word:

“Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

“I will strengthen you, comfort you, and uphold you with my powerful right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

“Cast all of your cares on him because he cares for you” (I Peter 5:7).

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present held in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

“I lift up my eyes to the hills – whence does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2).

As God makes us more Christlike, stress will not be eliminated from our lives. Instead, we will know how to handle those tough hours as we are drawn closer to our blessed Lord.

Temptation

Each time I read the story of Jesus being tempted by Satan in the wilderness, I am reminded of a day when I was in the seminary. I had a class called New Testament Exegesis. We were studying the Gospel of Matthew. The format of the course was that a student would translate the text from the Greek to the English. He would then expound on certain words and make comments on the sentence construction. It was a class that took considerable preparation.

As I walked into the classroom with one of my friends, he said, “I hope the professor doesn’t call on me today. I am not prepared.”

Well, wouldn’t you know it. The class was started with a prayer, and then the professor called on my friend to translate. This fellow was not the best student in the class, but he did have a real gift of gab.

“Professor,” he said, “could I ask a question about this story before I begin the translation?”

“What’s your question?” the teacher asked.

The student replied, “Since Jesus was the Son of God, do you think he could have fallen into temptation? He was divine. Had He sinned, Jesus could not have died for the sins of the world. Then He would be dying for His own sins. This bothers me, and I would appreciate some discussion on the question.”

The professor was agreeable, and the class spent the hour discussing whether Jesus could have fallen into temptation. Of course, we concluded that He could have fallen since He was also true man.

As we left the classroom, my friend told me he felt a bit sheepish, but he had enjoyed the discussion. I agreed. It was one of the most beneficial sessions we had in that course. How important that we know our Lord tasted of what temptation really is. The writer of Hebrews said it well when he wrote, “He has been in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

Think of it! We have a Savior who understands how real temptation is.

Let us look at how Jesus handled the temptations Satan brought to him. Jesus had been in the wilderness for forty days without food. He was hungry. In that physical condition Satan suggested that Jesus change the stones into bread. He appealed to his physical appetite. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The human being demands that his or her appetite be satisfied. However, Jesus said, “Man does not live by bread alone.”

A second time Satan tempted the Lord. He took Him to the highest part of the temple and said, “If you are the Son of God, cast yourself down. Your Father certainly will protect you. This will give you the assurance that He will always be with you.”

Jesus replied, “Don’t you know that you are not to tempt the Lord your God?”

Yet this was not enough, so again Satan tempted Jesus by taking Him to the top of the mountain and saying, “Look at this world. There are many riches that would make your life so much more exciting and easier. Fall down and worship me, and I will give you all these treasures.”

Hearing this, Jesus said, “Be gone, Satan. We are to worship only our Heavenly Father.”

The Bible then says, “Satan left him.” However, it was not for long. Satan is never done with us. In those three years of ministry on His way to the cross, Jesus was confronted often with Satan’s temptation. Certainly Jesus must have been tempted to hate Peter, James, and John for sleeping in the Garden of Gethsemane when their Master had asked them to be His support in that trying hour. Even when Jesus needed them the most, they were unfaithful.

After finding His disciples sleeping, Jesus met Judas who planted a kiss on His cheek pointing out to the Lord’s enemies who Jesus was. He must have been tempted to be terribly angry at such hypocrisy. Jesus’ presence had blessed this disciple for three years, and now he sold the Lord for thirty pieces of silver. How low could a person fall?

Jesus was tempted by Satan until he breathed his last he breathed his last breath. Do not say no one understands your temptation. We have not begun to be tempted as Jesus was tempted.

Still, we do have our temptations. Look at three of the most common approaches Satan uses to draw us away from the Lord.

1. Follow the culture, even if it conflicts with the teachings of God’s Word. This is a temptation that comes not only to the individual Christian, but to the Church. Right now the blessing of same-sex marriages is Satan’s weapon. We know that this is contrary to God’s Word. The Bible clearly teaches that only a man and a woman are to marry. It does not condone a man marrying a man, or a woman marrying a woman. However, the mayor of San Francisco has chosen not only to deny the teachings of God’s Word, but to break the law of his state. Thousands of people who claim to be Christians follow him. The Church in its weakest moment does not stand up and take a Biblical stand. Here Satan wins the battle.

2. The young couple will soon be married, and Betty knows that the marriage is not going to be pleasing to the Almighty God. Her fiancee, so handsome and personable, is not a Christian. In fact, he shows hostility toward the Church. However, Betty does not want to lose him, so they marry. Soon the children begin to come, and a few years later she realizes what a sad environment this is for the children. They hear their father curse and belittle God. The Bible is a closed book in their home. When Sunday comes, mother trots off to church alone. Satan has won the battle. Her appetites were satisfied only to be followed by much sorrow.

3. The doctor has diagnosed your husband’s illness as cancer, and he has just a short time to live. The thought of losing him and raising your family alone is difficult to accept, but God has never failed you; He will not fail you now. You stand firm on Christ, who is your Rock. You say goodbye to each other as far as this life is concerned, and you entrust him into the hands of a loving Savior who has gone to prepare a place for him. We can overcome temptation when we leave all in God’s hands.

It is well for us to note that Jesus resisted each of Satan’s temptations by quoting Scripture. Satan is defeated in the presence of God’s Word. We should be so well acquainted with the Bible that, when the hour of temptation comes, we, too, can use God’s Word to defeat the enemy.

Unlike our Savior, we know that because of our sinful nature we will sometimes fall when tempted by Satan. Then our Lord will forgive us, pick us up, strengthen us, and send us away by saying, “Go, and sin no more.”

Did the professor know that the student was not prepared and was buying some time? I believe he did. He was a wise man and knew the students very well.

However, I am happy he permitted the discussion to go on for an entire class period. It left a great impression on my mind. My Savior understands. He does not condone my sin. He forgives it and empowers me to rise above it. What a Savior!

Loneliness

Which is worse, to be homesick or have a bad headache? My answer is, give me a headache anytime. I have only been homesick once, but I never want that experience again. Homesickness is a form of loneliness. My definition of homesickness is having an abnormal longing for loved ones or an environment that has great meaning for me. The number of people who surround you does not take away the lonesomeness.

Lonesomeness seems to come when those who mean something to us are absent. As I have mentioned before in sermons, I had an uncle who was a hobo. Uncle Lars used to visit us occasionally. Those were great days for me as a boy. He had such interesting stories to tell, like riding a freight train, sleeping in strange places, and talking about some of his favorite jails where good-natured police officers would let him spend the night if the cells were not full. But Lars never stayed very long. It always surprised me when he said, “Well, I must be on my way.”

When I asked where he was going, he would say, “Well, I need to get back to camp. “I’ve been away for quite a while and am anxious to see the boys.” When I think of it now, I believe that Lars was lonesome for the hobos. We were kind to him, but we were not his kind. We did not have much in common. In fact, when his brother, my father, talked to him, it was quite evident that dad was irritated because of his lifestyle. Dad could not understand him, and he could not understand dad.

We know that bars are often sanctuaries for many lonely people. The drunkards will tell you that at the bars are people who understand them.

In reading the Scriptures you will learn that Jesus had many lonesome hours. Listen to these words: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” He longed for His children to be with Him. What great fellowship they could have enjoyed as they shared their love with each other.

Well, if all of Jerusalem would not join Him in that great fellowship, certainly his disciples would long to be with Jesus. However, such was not so. There was lonesomeness in His voice when Jesus said to the disciples the last night he was alive, “This very night you will leave me.”

As if that were not enough, during the most difficult hours, just before Judas handed Jesus over to the Sanhedrin, Jesus saw the chosen three – Peter, James, and John – fall asleep. He needed them to walk with Him down that lonesome valley, but they were too tired, so he traveled the last steps alone.

Then came the final blow when they were taking Jesus to Pilate’s court. He heard someone point at Peter and shout, “This fellow was with Him, for he is a Galilean!”

Peter replied, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered what the Lord said, “Before the rooster crows today you will deny me three times.” Was that not a lonesome hour? Not one person shared His burden in the last hours.

Yet we are not done. A word that is difficult to understand, but certainly presents Jesus’ lonesomeness, came from the cross when he said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The sins of the world had been placed on Jesus, and God could have nothing to do with those sins. So He too withdraws from His Son.

Jesus was completely alone. How true these words: “We do not have a Savior who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have One who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet without sin. . . . Let us then with confidence approach the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Never say you are alone. You might feel alone, but in reality you are not unless it has been your choice to walk away from Him. If that is the case, He will be right there to bring you back into the fold. Your Father is so anxious to live in that personal relationship with you that He has promised never to forsake you.

The early disciples had those lonesome hours. When Paul wrote to Timothy, His spiritual son, he wrote, “Do your best to come to me before winter.” Paul was sitting in a Roman prison. He wanted Timothy. He was lonesome. How necessary it is for us to have brothers and sisters in Christ around us in those difficult hours. Paul knew he was not alone. Christ was with him.

Our newspapers show pictures of young men and women leaving home to spend twelve to eighteen months away from family serving in the military. Sometimes it is even a mother saying goodbye to her young child. One mother said to the press as she walked to the bus, the first step on the road to Iraq, “Thank God for e-mail and cell phones.” This is true. However, I pray that she could also say, “Thank God for Jesus who will go with me all the way. I will not be alone, but he will comfort me. For He knows what it is to be lonesome.”

Let us learn from the Psalmist who said, “Yea, thought I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me.” To find a comfort in this passage of Scripture, we must first have a personal relationship with Christ. He asks you for a place in your heart. He is lonesome with you. You are precious and important to Him.

Are you lonesome? Does God’s Word have any help for you? Yes, it does, and that is what this sermon has been all about. If you are in a living, personal relationship with God through faith, then you know that no matter how difficult it is not to have those you love around, you are never alone.