The Day Questions Were Answered

The fifty days following Easter were a very depressing time for Jesus’ disciples. They had lived with Jesus three years. During that time He had revealed to them who He was and why He had come to this planet. He was the Savior of the world. Through His suffering, death, and resurrection, he would pay the price for the sins of the world. Those who would repent of their sins and receive Him as their Savior and Lord would be forgiven and restored into a personal relationship with God.

He also challenged the disciples when he said that his followers would go forth into the world with the good news of the Gospel as ambassadors for Christ. This assignment was exciting, but it raised many questions. When was their world going to begin? All the information they received from Jesus was, Wait, it will not be long. Don’t leave Jerusalem.

While they were in this waiting period, Jesus appeared. Now something was beginning to happen. They were told, “Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Lo, I am with you always to the end of the age.” They were also told, “You are going to be my disciples in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and in Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the world.”

Now they were getting some specifics. They were going to all nations. This would be a change. Christ was not only to be Lord of the Jews, but all people. While they would be witnesses for Jesus in Jerusalem and those places near to home, they would be traveling to many parts of their little world. They were told their approach to people was telling the good news of the Gospel and baptizing. Through these means of grace, the Holy Spirit would do His work, and people would be brought into a personal relationship with Christ. They would see miraculous things happen through their ministry, because they would be empowered by the Holy Spirit.

After receiving this commission, the Lord ascended into heaven with His parting words being “Wait, soon you will receive the Holy Spirit.”

Ten days later came the day for which they had been waiting. It was Pentecost. Jerusalem was full of visitors when the Holy Spirit rained down upon the disciples like tongues of fire. The people were bewildered because each heard them declaring the wonders of God in their own language. For example, a visitor from Egypt would hear the message in Egyptian.

Some may begin to wonder what this means when a wise guy in the crowd said, “They’re drunk.”

Now we meet a different Peter. Remember how he refused to be identified with Jesus the night our Lord was betrayed? On this occasion Peter jumps up and begins to preach fearlessly to the multitude. Here is one quote from his sermon: “This man (Jesus) was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”

Wow! That was telling it as it was! This was the Holy Spirit speaking through Peter. Jesus’ promise had been fulfilled. Peter had received this power as had the other disciples.

However, the Holy Spirit was also working in the hearts of the people in the audience. The Bible says, “When the people heard this (Peter’s message), they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Without the Holy Spirit being at work in their hearts, they would have turned back in unbelief. Peter is Christ’s ambassador. He is simply delivering the message and leaving the rest to the Holy Spirit.”

Hearing their question, Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

When the day was over, three thousand people were baptized, and the Church was born.

That night, when the disciples were together, you can be sure they were excited. Now they knew where the power would come from. Now they understood that people are won for Jesus Christ when Christian people proclaim the good news of salvation, and the Holy Spirit works faith in those who listen.

That is the way Ð the only way Ð that the Church is built. From that day on, every person who comes to faith in Christ is added to the original community of three thousand believers. There are millions in the Kingdom. Most of them live in the Church Triumphant in heaven.

This account of the first Pentecost brings a word of encouragement to the church today. It demonstrates how God used ordinary people to tell unbelievers about Christ, and the Holy Spirit used their words to create faith in what once were unbelieving hearts. Does that not give you encouragement? God can also use us to build His eternal kingdom.

Many of us need to be reminded that it is the Holy Spirit who does the work. At times we become depressed and wonder if anything is being accomplished. We want a spiritual awakening in our churches, and it does not come. We see the sins in our own lives and long for victory over these sins, which are a part of us. Yet they remain with us.

Here we are told to only be faithful in teaching the Word, and the Holy Spirit will perform miracles. Humans can still say no. We have a will that is free to turn its back on God. We should remember that if any people are won for Christ, it is the work of the Holy Spirit.

In our down moments, Satan throws an inviting temptation at us when he says, “Why don’t you try something else? The Gospel hasn’t worked in your congregation. The people do not hunger for the Word.” So we depart from the Gospel to a message that is more appealing to a twenty-first century crowd. Maybe it is the construction of a new building, different kinds of program, or even other styles of worship. The people may be interested for a while, but it is short lived. Only the Gospel can change the hardened heart.

The disciples got their questions answered on Pentecost. May God grant that we are equally convinced that the world is our mission field, and the means of grace Ð word and sacrament Ð are our weapons.

The Mission Is Clear

Waiting to find out what is going to happen next in your life can be very frustrating. Some time ago I was talking with a person who had a very difficult surgery. I asked what the most difficult part of the operation was for him. Without batting an eye he said, “Just waiting for the surgery to get started. It was a lot more difficult thinking about it than it was going actually through it and convalescing.”

The disciples had some of these same experiences in the period following Jesus’ resurrection. One day Peter got so concerned about his mental attitude that he just decided to go fishing. And a half dozen of the others decided to go with him. Not knowing what to do next, fifty days was a long time to wait.

God had told them that they were to be builders of His kingdom, but they had a lot of questions in connection with that statement. What would their specific role be? To whom would they go? Where were these people? Were they right there in Jerusalem? In Judea? Might they get out into Galilee? There was no update from God as to when all of this was to begin. But then, suddenly there seemed to be some marching orders.

Jesus had appeared to them during those forty days after the resurrection. He was there to convince them that he was alive. But now they were getting some action. In the first chapter of Acts, you can read words like these: “On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ÔDo not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit’ (vs. 4ff).

“So when they met together, they asked him, ÔLord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’

“He said to them, ÔIt is not for you to know the times or the dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'”

Matthew then picks up another part of the conversation: “And Jesus said unto them, ÔGo and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and lo, I am with you always unto the end of the age.'” Now they were beginning to get some concrete, specific directions. The mission was beginning to be very clear to them.

With this commissioning of the disciples, Jesus also ascended into Heaven.

As far as I am able to interpret, they were on the Mount of Olives, about three-fourths of a mile from downtown Jerusalem where they had their headquarters. In an exciting fashion, they did what the Lord told them to do. They walked back to the center of Jerusalem where they had to complete some unfinished business. They had to elect someone to take Judas’ place. The lot fell to a person by the name of Matthias.

They were now going to used by God. Notice what they had found out: They were going to reach people with the Gospel. Theirs would be a teaching and preaching ministry. They were to go out and tell people the story of Jesus Christ. They were to tell people that all are sinners, but Jesus Christ has come into this world, and by his suffering, death, and his glorious resurrection, he has paid the price for our sin. If we will repent of our sins, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and if we will entrust ourselves to him, he will grant us the forgiveness of all of our sins. That was the Gospel, and they were to proclaim it.

It was only a few days later that James and John, standing at the temple in Jerusalem, were put into prison, because they were preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ! “Jesus suffered and died for you, people! If you want to go to heaven, if you want to be restored into fellowship with God, then it is necessary for you to repent,” these two disciples said. “And you will be His forever.”

They had also found out they were going to get power. A few days earlier those men would not have had the courage to do that. But Jesus said to them, right before He ascended into heaven, “And I am going to be raised up, but you will receive power.” St. Paul put it so well: “You are going to be ambassadors for Jesus Christ, and I am going to make my appeal to this world through you. And (notice this) you are not only going to go to Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, but you are going to go to the far corners of the earth. For the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone! Everyone. You will be my witnesses, not only in word, but also in deed.”

That was the mission given to the church 2,000 years ago, and it is still the primary mission of the Church. When we depart from that primary mission, we cease to function as Jesus Christ wanted us to do.

We have the mission, and we know specifically what we are to do. Yet, from time to time we depart from it and wonder if it is really true. We get some different interpretations of what Jesus Christ had really said. Then we have to have a reformation. There needs to be an ongoing reformation.

Early in the church, with the Church fathers like Ignatius and others like him, there were all kinds of heresies that surfaced. The constant conflict with these wrong teachings, led the leaders in the Church to formulate a brief summary of the essentials of the Christian faith. That is how the Apostles Creed came into being. It is not believed that it was necessarily written by the Apostles, but it was in that period of time, or shortly thereafter, that the Church had to collect a statement of essentials so that they could say, “This is what I must teach. This is what I must believe, if I want to be ministering in the name of Jesus Christ.”

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of the heavens and the earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, and descended into hell. On the third day he rose again from the dead, he ascended into heaven, and he sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty from whence he will come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, and the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”

I thank God I belong to a church that uses that confessional statement on a regular basis, for therein are the essentials of the Christian faith. The mission of the congregation is to proclaim that word in its truth and in its purity. If it is not proclaimed, then the person who teaches contrary to it should be relieved of his/her teaching responsibilities. For what purpose? To help him with his own personal relationship with Jesus Christ and that society may know what Christianity is truly all about.

We move along to the sixteenth century. Here again we find a bundle of heresies. Human beings had set aside the Word of God and said that it is possible to have the forgiveness of our sins by buying an indulgence. With the right amount of money one could buy their way into the Kingdom of God. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It took the reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others who followed to say again and again, “Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.”And that has not changed from the day that Jesus Christ walked among us on this earth. Whenever that primary teaching is disturbed in one way or another, that voice must be quieted.

There is a need for an ongoing reformation in the Church of Jesus Christ. For the heresies, or wrong teachings, continue to present themselves, and we depart from the Word of God. We are human beings. We need the Word of God and the confessions of the Church to tell us when our ideas are not Biblical.

I have a good friend, who at one time was a very evangelical Christian. Today he still believes that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world. However, he believes that since He died for everyone, therefore everyone is saved. This heresy is what is know as christo-universalism.

That is not true. For the Word of God says clearly that only those who believe are saved. The price has been paid, no question about that. However, you and I, empowered by the power of the Holy Spirit, have to receive Jesus Christ.

If a pastor believes christo-universalism, he has little to talk about in the pulpit on Sunday morning. Everybody he is talking to is saved! What is the challenge?

We take this a bit further and say that if you have been baptized, you are saved. Jesus did say that we were to go and baptize. Baptism is his sacrament, and we thank God for baptism whereby we enter into the Kingdom of God. But we can walk away from God. When I used to preach to a couple thousand people on a Sunday morning, I knew full well that many of them who were baptized had walked away, and they needed to return to the Christian faith. They needed a conversion.

The mission of the Church is to bring people back to Jesus Christ. Any heresy that departs from it must be dealt with, and we haven’t been dealing with it very well in the last few generations. The results are that those churches in mainline Protestantism that put in their own interpretations on the Word of God have not shown very much growth.

I sometimes wonder what our children are hearing in Sunday school. There was a day when we had monthly Sunday school teachers meetings. We went over the lessons and the emphases for a given Sunday. Today we just beg people to come and teach. We have no understanding at all of what they are really teaching and what is going on in that classroom. There are no teachers’ meetings.

But here is the good news: Where it is still faithful to its marching orders, the Church is growing by leaps and bounds. It is dynamic!

God has given us marching orders. Teach, baptize, go and tell the world. That’s what the church on the corner is all about. That is what the cathedral churches are all about, and if they are proclaiming these truths, people are in the pews.

The writer of the book of Hebrews makes it very clear that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He does not change, nor do His marching orders to the Church change. So the frustrated believers of those first forty days after the resurrection were beginning to get excited and organized. Ten days later at Pentecost, which we will celebrate next Sunday, the Church was empowered with the Holy Spirit, and it went out and did the work of the Lord.

No we can’t convert anybody, and we can’t build His Kingdom. But we can be the agents who go with the message. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, great things can happen. The Church is not dead as long as it holds dearly to the mission it has been given by Jesus Christ, our crucified, but risen Savior.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Within the next few weeks thousands of young people will graduate from our high schools and colleges. They are well trained. However, for many there will be no job awaiting them, especially in their area of expertise. Another group of people in their 50s has received the pink slip. Though they have served their employer well, the company is sending their jobs to foreign lands where labor is cheaper and the stock holders receive better dividends. Both groups are frustrated and ask, “Where do we go from here?”

This is a common question that comes from people who are frustrated when they do not know what the future holds for them. It was the question Jesus’ disciples were asking after He was crucified and raised from the dead.

In their training to be disciples, Jesus told the Apostles they would continue the work He had begun in building God’s Kingdom. This assignment raised many questions such as, “How do we get started in building this Kingdom? Where are the people we will seek to win for the Kingdom? How will we receive power to accomplish the gigantic task? Will we have to suffer as Jesus did and perhaps die for our Lord?”

As they discussed their future, you can bet many ideas came forth, and, I am certain, little agreement about the shape of their future. It could well have been in the midst of such a discussion that Peter said, “I have cabin fever. I am going fishing.”

Hearing that, some others said, “We are going with you.” So they fished all night without any luck. Someone probably said, “Well, we know the fish are there, but we have lost the art of catching them.” Another could have said, “Yes, sometimes I wonder why we left what we were doing and followed Jesus.” Hearing that, the group might have replied, “If nothing more comes out of our three years with Jesus, I would not exchange them for anything. We will never be the same after spending that time with Him.”

Returning to shore with no fish, Jesus appeared. Perhaps you know the rest of the story. Hearing of their failure to catch any fish, Jesus said to them, “Throw out your net on the right side of the boat.” When they did this, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

As Jesus and the disciples visited over breakfast about their future, Jesus encouraged them. “Don’t be discouraged. Great things are soon going to happen. You might be bored now, but in a few days your life will change radically. Then you will not have enough hours in the day to accomplish all you want to do.”

This interview with Jesus and the disciples shows the importance of the Church. That is why Jesus had said to them, “I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Without the Church we would have a group of believers each going his or her own way and accomplishing little. They needed an organization to accomplish the work of building God’s Kingdom.

This is true in other walks of life. Individuals with great ideas and abilities pool their talents and money in one organization, and great things happen.

I visited with a man recently who told me he had worked for the John Deere tractor company for twenty-nine years. John Deere hired him right out of college. In the many years that he has been with the company, it has directed him in his work. He is part of an organization that builds some of the world’s finest agricultural equipment. What one or two individuals could not do, hundreds and thousands of people, bound together in an organization, can do. The same is true in the Church.

A group of believers in a congregation can perform a powerful mission in the community. When these congregations unite with other congregations to form a denomination, they can perform even greater missions. It is this church, a body of believers, that can reach beyond the community into the world. Examples of the church’s work are the colleges and hospitals that different denominations have built. No matter where we go, the church is there. Young people go to war and they meet the Christian chaplain ministering to them with the Gospel. People break the law and are incarcerated. In the prisons they will meet the chaplain, who offers hope through forgiveness in Christ Jesus, who still loves them. Only the church can perform these ministries.

We thank God for His church. Yet is the church ever a disappointment to God and humans? Of course, it is. The church is made up of sinful people like you and me, and often we see this sinfulness in the lives of church members. The church must be concerned about heresies and the immoral conduct of its members, especially those who carry special responsibilities given to them in their ordination. It is disappointing to see how lax the church has become in its discipline of clergy who live in open defiance of God’s Word. To be specific, same-sex marriages and the practice of a homosexual lifestyle are clearly contrary to the teachings of God’s will. Yet we spend thousands of dollars and years of study to see if there might be a way to condone such unbiblical behavior. They tell us that interpreting God’s Word in the light of culture is important, rather than insisting that the Word of God speaks to a culture in contradiction to the Bible.

Yet in all of its sinfulness, Christ uses the church, and people come to Christ. Experience teaches us that Christians need the church. There the Word of God is taught, and we are led to repent of our sins. There we meet a Savior who will forgive us and use us to move on with the Gospel, which is man’s only hope.

If you are wondering how to put your Christian witness to work in reaching the lost, you will find that place in the church. If you are looking for fellow believers to comfort and strengthen you in the faith, go to the church. It is not a perfect place, but God’s people, with all of their shortcomings, are there. Get involved in the church. It is Christ’s Body on earth.

Be Real! Then God Can Use You

How easy it is for us to present ourselves as someone we are not in order to make an impression. We become masters at concealing our real selves. Some people spend themselves into bankruptcy by living beyond their financial means. Others stretch the truth about their children’s accomplishments just to make a good impression.

Do you want to get a load off your back? Be real! That is the counsel we get from God.

Our text gives us a good example of someone who was real – genuine, true blue. Still, he did not always act that way. God made him that way so that He could use him. I refer to St. Paul.

Paul and those with him experienced severe hardship in Asia. The text does not tell what the difficulties were, however, Paul and his friends suffered severely. Then telling the story in retrospect, the temptation could have been for Paul to stretch the truth a bit to give the impression that he was a great hero. He could have said, You should have seen how I handled that life-threatening experience! I was in charge all the way. A few of my coworkers were frightened, but they knew their friend Paul would rise to the occasion.

However, Paul was not interested in impressing anyone. He writes, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God, who raises the dead (vs. 8-9).

Here Paul confesses his weaknesses and presents his real self. He was afraid. He could have been angry with both God and people. He could have asked where God was in all of this. Paul realized how weak he was in difficult times. He was not only ready to quit, he was ready to lie down and die. Instead Paul saw the hand of God working in this difficult experience. He concluded that God used those terrible hours to show him how helpless he was, and how dependent upon God he was. When people have learned to be real, God can use them. It reminds me of Abraham Lincoln’s words: “I have often been driven to my knees.” This is the confession of many great men and women in facing the difficult times of life. When we can be real about our inadequacies, God can help us.

We live with our hurts. I think of the devastated state of the parents who were told their son had been killed in a motorcycle accident. The wife who got the news that her husband had been killed in a car accident. The father who walked down the church aisle behind his wife’s casket while his son (home on temporary leave from a federal prison) walked by his side in shackles. I do not know what Paul’s problems were in Asia. However, I do not believe they were any more difficult than what some of these people are going through. It is at times like these that we bow before God and plead for strength. It is at times like these that make us real as we confess our helplessness.

Looking at these experiences in retrospect the human may say, “I made it. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Not so with those living in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We turn to Him for strength and direction. When we confess our weaknesses and turn to God, He can use us.

In this text Paul says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

God comforts us in sundry ways. He comforts us as we hear Him speak in His word. We recall some of these beautiful passages where God meets us where we are and brings us peace. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me,” is just one of the many passages that show us how closely our Father walks with us.

He brings us comfort through others. This is especially true when someone, who has suffered afflictions similar to ours, listens carefully. I recall when my wife first became disabled as the result of a stroke. I would listen carefully to those who had also had a stroke. They knew what the stroke victim was experiencing and could tell me how best I might help my wife. Now, after many years, there are those who have suffered a stroke and are anxious to learn about our experiences with this affliction. What an opportunity it is to bring a strong Christian witness pointing those who are having difficult times to show them the need of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

I like what Rick Warren writes in The Purpose Driven Life. “Do not waste your hurts. Use them to help others.”

What a challenge this is! How thrilling to say to a person who is afflicted as you have been, “I know some of the things you are going through, for I, too, have walked the road you are now on. I know the emotional experiences that go along with your pain. Let me tell you how my relationship with Christ helped me through these days.”

This is not just a visit where we share our emotional times to prove one horror story is worse than the next one. It is a time to share our experiences, admitting that we cannot carry the burden alone. We have to be real, let God help us, and then use us.

Mothers, we haven’t forgotten that this is your day. Millions of people will say their mother is their comforter. She knows the hurts they carry, whether they are five or fifty years old. She knows their emotional fears when they confess they can go no further. She helps them through those feelings of fear, anger, discouragement, and everything else that is going on inside them.

If you are a Christian mother, share your hurts with those whom you love and who love you. Be real in their presence. You do not have to impress anyone. Let your children see how real you are, not acting like one type of person at home with the family and another one in public. You do not have to impress anyone. Just tell those kids what Jesus has done, and is doing, for you.

“When Do People Resist Christianity?”

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Early in the first century a son was born to a Jewish family in the city of Tarsus of Cilicia. On the eighth day of his birth, he was circumcised and given the name Saul. He was born into a strong, upper-middle class family. Just to be born in Tarsus, with its strong emphasis on education, was a great advantage for this young man.

Saul also had a strong religious background. He tells us that both his father and mother were Jewish. No Gentile blood was in his family. He was of the tribe of Benjamin, one of the most prominent tribes of Israel. Saul was a Pharisee and trained under the teaching of Gamaliel, a well-known Jewish teacher of the Law.

All of this caused Saul to be zealous for the Jewish faith. It was his conviction that any person, movement, or government that threatened Judaism was an enemy of God and had to be dealt with by his people.

In the mist of Saul’s mission to destroy the Church, God intervened (Acts 9). This was the day Saul was on his way to Damascus to bring back to Jerusalem some Christians so that they might be persecuted or killed. On the way Saul was thrown to the ground, and a voice from heaven spoke saying, “Saul, Saul. Why do you persecute me?”

Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?”

“I am Jesus whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

“Saul got up from the ground. Yet, when he opened his eyes, he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus where they met a man named Ananias.”

Ananias had heard about Saul and questioned God when he was told to instruct Saul in the basic teachings of the faith. God revealed to Ananias that Saul was His chosen instrument to carry the Gospel to the Gentiles. Having led Saul to know Christ as the Savior, Ananias baptized him. His sight was restored, and he spent several days with the Christian disciples in Damascus.

Observing Saul, the disciples asked, “Is not he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem?” However, it was evident that Saul had been converted and was now one of God’s great witnesses to the Gospel. We are told that Saul grew ever more powerful and baffled the Jews. It was not long before the new convert to Christianity was the Jews’ hit list to be killed. However, the followers of Jesus helped him to escape from Damascus.

For the next three years, Saul lived in Arabia. This was a time of maturing in the faith. God was preparing this zealous young man for a long, difficult ministry that would climax in martyrdom. Throughout the rest of his life, Saul (changed to Paul) talked about the miraculous change in his life when Jesus became his Savior and Lord. He described the Gospel as the “power of God unto salvation to all who believed.” He told the Corinthians that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed, and the new has come.”

In our text today he writes, “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached.” Saul writes that he is the least of the apostles, not worthy to be called an apostle because he persecuted the Church. But then he continues, “But by the grace of God I am what I am and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them Ð yet not I but the grace of God that was with me.” This is what the Gospel can do.

This leads to the question, which is the theme for this sermon, When do people begin to resist Christianity?

The answer is clear: When Christ begins to change people’s lives.

We know that Paul visited his hometown at least once during his ministry. How do you suppose the people reacted when they saw him? I can hear their comments: See what this Jesus has done to Saul, who once was a great young person with the possibility of being a strong leader in our religious group. Disgust and anger came from a fear in their souls about how Jesus would interrupt their lives and make them different people. This has been the same concern in every generation.

It was the same fear that Adolph Hitler had when he realized how the Church could throw a monkey wrench into his plans for Germany and the rest of Europe. When the dictator was told by Martin Niomoller that the future of the German people was in the hands of Almighty God, Hitler knew that the confessing church of Germany had to be quieted. He let the people know that the church could remain in Germany, but with limitations and that it was never to question the power of the state.

When Christianity becomes threatening to a society, people grow anxious. Society wants a church that will make us comfortable and does not challenge us. It is to be a nonthreatening church. It is our church on the corner filled with many memories. It is where we go on Christmas and Easter. It is the place where we have our weddings, funerals, baptisms, and confirmations. Since the membership is stable, we are satisfied. Let’s not get too excited about witnessing to this message of Christ in our community.

Another picture of the church, which seems to be acceptable, is the new, growing congregation. It has great programs, beautiful facilities, and is a pleasant addition to the community. The pastor is an entertaining speaker and sends you home with the thought that there is really nothing very wrong with your life.

However, let the message of Christ begin to change people and the question is asked, What do the people in this congregation believe? Are they radicals?

Some people lament that their children lost all interest in the church when they went to college and seldom attend a worship service. That is understandable to a father and mother who love the Lord. What is difficult to understand is the parent who says, “Our kid got mixed up with some evangelical church while attending the university and now he is a different person. He even begins to talk with us about our relationship with God and wants to know if it is a personal relationship. I have always believed in a higher power, but that is not enough for him. We have often prayed the Lord’s Prayer in our home, but now he wants to pray informal prayers daily. Wow! This is not our kind of religion. Praying is personal. He sure got mixed up. I hope he will find another church when he returns to the university next fall.”

One wife complained to me about her husband’s drinking. She had made other trips to see me about his alcoholism. The husband finally did something about it. He went into the hospital for treatment, and later he received Christ as his Savior and Lord. He was a different person. She appreciated his kindness and love for her, but she was not sure that she wanted to attend church every Sunday. He even wanted them to read the Bible and pray together. One evening she got so disgusted with his religious zeal that she said, “You know, sometimes I liked you better as a drunk than the way you are now. Isn’t there a happy medium to all of this?”

When a post-modern society is reminded of God’s absolutes and that everything is not relative, it begins to say that we are carrying this Christianity too far. We need to remember that this is the real world, and people are going to do what they please.

What kind of church do we want? Certainly our culture does not want one that has the potential of being use by God to work radical change in our lives. This could be disturbing not only to our religious life, but to our economic, political, family, and social life. So we serve notice on Jesus to remember His place in our midst Ð no radical change, Master. The problem is that Jesus cannot be reduced to a master. He is Lord, and this is not the way He operates.

No, instead you hear Him say, “This is my message for you. I do not force it on you. This message can change you; however, you cannot change it.”