The Fear of God

Continuing our series of sermons on seven deadly emotions, let’s spend a little time thinking after fear. Most of us have fears. We fear illness, financial failure, family problems, people, and the list goes on. I want to limit this sermon to the fear of God.

Is anyone interested in this subject? Have some of you already shut me off? I realize that this is not the most popular topic in society. It isn’t even a common topic around many churches, but it is a common topic in the Bible. Even our Lord Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Why aren’t you interested in the topic? Your answer is a bit shocking, but perhaps honest, “How can you fear God if you are a practical atheist?”

What is a practical atheist? I want to know.

The person replies, “I am a practical atheist because God has little or no place in my life. The Psalmist describes me, ÔThe wicked man is one who has no room for God in his heart’ (Psalm 10:4). I didn’t come from a religious home. We never have made it a practice to attend worship services. Our family didn’t talk about God. If there is a God, He had no place in our lives. Christmas and Easter were holidays, but we did not celebrate them as our Christian friends do. Santa Claus and the Easter bunny were the central figures on those days. We looked forward to all those presents and the Easter egg hunt, but never learned a single Christmas carol, unless you call Frosty the Snow Man and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer carols. We knew them and sang them a lot.”

There are many children today who will be practical atheists tomorrow. There is no mention of God in their homes. They don’t know what a Sunday school is all about. They are taught that the human being is in charge of his own life. When the children ask their parents why their family doesn’t belong to a church, father and mother have a united answer: We are not religious people. We don’t need religion. Some people do.

Another person might reply differently to the question about fearing God. He calls himself a universalist. When you ask him if he has any fear of God, he chuckles and says, You know, I believe there is some kind of a higher power, but He is not one with whom you have a daily chat. The relationship with this divine power is not personal. He loves us all. If there is a heaven, we will all be there. I am convinced this world would be a lot better off if we stopped letting religion divide us. Why can’t we accept one another as we are and stop building these religious divisions in our world?

Since this is Reformation Sunday, let me tell you about Martin Luther, a man who feared God. He was born in Eisleben, Germany on November 10, 1483. That is nine years before Columbus set sail for the new world. He was raised in a family where God was feared. The Almighty had given the Ten Command-ments, and the Church had added hundreds of other laws and regulations that were to be obeyed. Examining his behavior in the light of God’s Law and the rules of the church, Martin was convinced he could never find favor with God, who was to be feared.

Martin had a brilliant mind. He was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to further his education. He became a student at the University of Erfurt where he studied law. But one night on his return from home to the university, Luther was caught in a thunderstorm. He feared for his life and prayed to St. Anna that if she would spare his life, he would leave the university and enter the monastery.

In 1505 Luther became an Augustinian monk, and in 1507 he was ordained a priest. His soul was filled with the fear of God. This was obvious when it came time for Luther to officiate at his first mass. It is reported that his body shook so badly, he could hardly complete the service. However, in spite of the fears that tortured the young man, he continued his studies, and in 1512 he was awarded the degree of doctor of theology and became professor of Bible at the University of Wittenberg.

It was while Luther was preparing his lectures of the students that God spoke to him very personally from the Scriptures. Through his studies in the book of Psalms, Galatians, and Romans, the still small voice came forth: “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written, ÔThe righteous will live by faith’ Romans 1:17.

There Luther met the God of grace who gave him the gift of salvation. We are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ Jesus, who has atoned for our sins. We are not saved by our good works. God’s grace had set Luther’s burdened soul free. His sins were forgiven and he was restored into a personal relationship with God. Peace replaced his fears. Assurance of eternal life replaced doubt about his eternal destiny. He now knew God as a loving heavenly Father who did not condone his sins, but forgave them. He was a God who sought to save His people and not to destroy them.

God’s truth was clear. “If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is when your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, ÔAnyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame'” (Romans 10:9-11). How could the church miss this message? The world needed to hear the Gospel, and Luther was about to do his part in making Christ, the all-sufficient Redeemer, known to the world.

The fear of God had been changed to the love of God in Martin Luther’s life, and so it has been changed in the life of every person who trusts Jesus as Savior and Lord. What Christ did for Luther, He is anxious to do for us.

In Christ the crushing emotion of fear has been taken from us. We join with the prophet and sing, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:2). Do you want to live without that promise?

Should I fear God? Yes, if Jesus Christ is not your Savior. Walking through this life depending on your own strength is frightening. Facing God in eternity trusting your own merits is terrifying. The Psalmist said it right: “The fool says in his heart, ÔThere is no God.'”

Whatever fear we have of God is one of awe, respect, and adoration. That is a healthy fear Ð one we have for our earthly parents.

Bored and Bewildered

We are emotional people! We think and we feel. Often emotional thoughts are stronger than rational thoughts. Our emotions are never stable. Sometimes they are high, and other times they are low depending upon what is happening in our lives.

About a month ago, we watched the Presidents Cup golf tournament. This is a prestigious golf tournament where some of the best American golfers play an international team made up of equally talented golfers. The Americans had won only one of the last Presidents Cups. When Chris DeMarco, an American, rolled in the winning putt on the eighteenth hole, he shouted, “We needed this cup!”

Tiger Woods and David Timms rushed to bear hug DeMarco, and the gallery burst into screams. This is an example of emotions running high. As the Americans celebrated, the international players boarded their airplanes and started home as they pondered how they could have won that tournament. At that time their emotions were low. They probably had one thought: Get us out of here. We’ve had enough of these emotional Americans for awhile. Just give us a few days to heal and we will be back.

Our emotions pretty much tell how we are feeling.

Sitting on the island of Patmos in exile, John gives us an insight into the disciples’ bewilderment following Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. One of their many emotions was boredom. They didn’t know what to do with themselves. They were in the waiting stages, a time when boredom can be experienced.

The disciples had gone back to Galilee where Jesus had appeared to them several times. But on this particular day, Peter was especially low. He had to do something, so the apostle decided to go fishing. With this statement six of the others agreed to join him.

This response was pleasing to Peter, and he must have said to his brother Andrew, Let’s get our fishing boat out of storage and go have some fun. It will take our minds off our problems for at least one day.

They fished all night and caught nothing. This didn’t help their spirits any, and one complained with a depressed voice, We don’t even know how to fish anymore. But when they were close to shore, about a hundred yards Ð the length of a football field Ð a man shouted, “Throw your net on the other side of the boat and you will find some fish.” When they did this, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then John said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” Now watch the display of emotional behavior. Hearing that it was the Lord, Peter wrapped an outer garment around himself and jumped into the water. As usual the other disciples followed him. When they got to shore with the fish, they saw a fire burning and breakfast had been prepared for them.

While they were eating breakfast, Jesus singled out Peter and asked him three times, “Peter, do you love me?”

Peter replied each time, “Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.”

Jesus replied, “Feed my sheep.” With those words their boredom was gone.

Jesus could have said, On this very spot about three years ago, I said to you, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” That day you left your nets and followed me. Now these years have passed and my work has been completed. I have suffered and died for the sins of the world. God raised me from the grave assuring you that He has accepted my sacrifice for the world’s sins. And those who receive me as Savior and Lord will be forgiven and restored into fellowship with God for now and all eternity. It is this message that I give to you to share with all people. There is a world to be contacted with this message, and there is no time for boredom or bewilderment. You know what your calling is. Get on with it. Feed my sheep.

It is to Christians of every generation that Jesus throws out the cure for boredom when he says, If you take my calling seriously, there is no time for boredom. You Christians live among a bewildered people who have lost their way. Tell them about the good life they can have just sharing the Gospel with those who live in darkness.

From childhood to old age, we are afflicted with boredom and bewilderment. I remember as a child, lying on the couch and saying, “I’m bored.” I was feeling sorry for myself. There was nothing to do and no one to entertain me. It didn’t take my mother long to cure my boredom. There was a lawn to be mowed, strawberries to be picked, or whatever came to her mind.

That boredom continued. When I came home from college on vacation, it was quiet around the house. Quite different from a noisy dormitory. I didn’t have to tell mother that I was bored. She could read my behavior. “Why don’t you go down and visit with our old neighbor? She lives all alone and often asks about you. She would be thrilled to talk with you.”

Then I grew up and was ordained. Once in a while I would complain about my work being boring: write sermons, counsel people, visit members of the congregation, etc. My wife would listen and say, “How exciting do you think it is to wash diapers, iron white shirts, or vacuum rugs?” I heard her, but didn’t understand until ten years ago when she had a stroke and the household duties became mine. There isn’t much thrill for me to make a king sized bed, go grocery shopping, or make meat loaf.

Life is somewhat routine for all of us. The surgeon, attorney, teacher, farmer have their days of routine, which leads to boredom. But it is in these rather depressing times that Jesus says, Friends, I have a mission for you to perform. Finish your work and go home to your family to be a Christian parent and spouse. Gather your family for a good devotional time. Let your children see how much you love them and will always be there for them. Help your son, Bob, who is depressed, because he does not have the ability to make the team and wonders where his talents lie.

And now I am old Ð 81 years old. That’s old. As I have told you before, my wife and I have the privilege of living in a beautiful retirement center. I believe we are a happy lot who live here, but once in a while I hear someone say, either with body language or words, I am bored. You can watch about so much television, read so many books, play so much bridge or golf, and then what do you do?

The same Jesus who stood by the Sea of Tiberias, says, There is one of my children who would be thrilled to have lunch with you. Why don’t you arrange this luncheon, and while the two of you are having a good visit, don’t forget to talk about your best friend, Jesus. Maybe she doesn’t have a relationship with Him. Share His love for her, and lead her into His presence. Then leave the rest to the Holy Spirit. I promise that you will not be bored for the rest of that day.

Oh, it is fun to have those emotional highs. I don’t blame the American golfers for jumping and shouting and bear hugging. But now it has been a month since the Presidents Cup golf tournament, and I would imagine the emotions have quieted to some degree.

Who can lift you in those times of boredom? Jesus can, but first you have to know him. Do you? Is He yours? Empowered by the Holy Spirit, do you receive Him anew every day? Then He has a mission for you that will erase all boredom.

That’s What I Like About Jesus – He Paid

Our world is shrinking in some respects. Because of population shifts and advances in technology and communications, we are being exposed to a host of other faiths and belief systems. More people are turning to religions like Islam, Buddhism, Scientology, Kabbalah, and New Age theologies. In conversations with these individuals, they will sometimes ask you what it is that you like about Jesus.

If you recall, Peter, in a New Testament letter, said to “always be prepared to share that hope that is within you.” So I ask you now, how would you respond to a question such as, What is so special about Jesus?

As I consider that question, one of the first things to come to mind is a statement that Jesus made to his disciples. They were on the road on the way to Jerusalem when the conversation began. Although they had been with Him for about three years, the disciples hadn’t figured out yet what would happen to Jesus or to them. Jesus was walking ahead of them, as rabbis often did back in those days. The scriptures tell us they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. Why would they be afraid?

If you look back at the previous chapters in Mark’s Gospel, you will understand that Jesus had been saying some unexpected things to them, and they did not know how to respond to him. Jesus had laid it all out to them two times before that he had to suffer and die, and then rise again. That is totally outside of what those disciples thought was going to happen.

This day was no different. Jesus stopped walking, turned to them, and said for the third time, “I’m going up to Jerusalem. I’m going to suffer, be rejected, and go through some horrific things. I will be killed, but then on the third day I will be raised again.”

What’s ironic is, as Jesus is pouring out his soul to his disciples, showing them a glimpse of the future, James and John come to Him with a kind of shopping list of what they want to get out of this thing. They say, “Jesus, we want you to do for us what we ask. Make one of us to sit at your right hand and one at your left when you come into your glory.” Their idea of glory was when Jesus would come into some sort of power, he would be some sort of a king, and maybe they would be second in command for him.

Jesus responded to them. “You don’t know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the same cup that I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the same baptism as I?” He was talking about the death that he was about to face, but they were not hearing it.

Remember that cup image: Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane a little later on in this story, and he says, “Father, if it is possible, remove this cup from me. But not my will, but your will be done.” Jesus is asking these disciples if they are willing to do that.

They, not understanding him, said, “Well, yes, we are able.”

Then Jesus said, “Someday you will drink that cup, and you will be baptized with that baptism.” It is a shadow of what lies ahead for James and John later on as they serve the kingdom of God and give their lives up as martyrs for the sake of Jesus Christ.

The others hear this conversation going on and they get furious with James and John! Why? Because they wanted the job James and John were going after. You can picture a little pushing and shoving there; they are in each other’s faces, and a brawl about to happen. We see almost a micro-chasm of humanity as they show their sinful nature. I wanted that job! I should be the leader! Jesus loves me more than you! I’m the one with the leadership skills, you don’t deserve to be the head of this bunch! And so on.

At that point Jesus steps in and gives them the big picture. “You don’t get it, do you? Look at how the rest of the world operates. Those that are kings and lords are like tyrants, and the world is a mess because of it. But not so among you. In this kingdom that I am bringing, if you serve, that is greatness. You are not looking for the top positions, you are looking for those whom you can serve in this world.” And then, as if to put an exclamation point to his clarification, he said what some people refer to as his mission statement, “For the Son of man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Here we see Jesus’ purpose statement being shared with his disciples: “I came to save up my life, to empty myself, to give myself totally over for the sake of others. I came to give my life as a ransom.” The disciples might have been scratching their heads when they heard that word, ransom. You wonder if they really picked up on that, because ransom is sort of a financial term.

In the Old Testament the word, ransom, is a financial term. It means a pay back for a personal injury. If someone were to get into financial difficulty, they often times would sell themselves as slaves. If someone paid off another person’s debts and then set them free, they would have paid the ransom price and redeemed that person.

“I came to give my life as a payment.” A payment for a debt. They might have thought, Ransom, that’s mighty strange language. Are we in financial trouble? Have we personally injured someone? What kind of debt do we have, and who are we slaves to?

What they did not understand was that Jesus was not talking about finances. He was talking about a spiritual bankruptcy that exists in each one of us. The Bible calls it sin. This world was captive to it and unable to pay the debt to the God who created us and against whom humanity rebelled in its sin. Jesus is talking about setting us free from our captivity to sin.

They had heard him say that already, but obviously had forgotten it. The eighth chapter of John says, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. But the Son has come to set you free.” He has come to set us free from sin and its consequences Ð eternal death.

The disciples in all likelihood did not understand what Jesus was saying Ð that he was going up to Jerusalem to make a payment, not only for them, but for you and for me. Our sin had put us in debt to God, a debt that we could not possibly pay on our own. It is impossible to make things right in our relationship with God. We were separated from Him and captive to sin and its consequences. Jesus says to his disciples that day, This is why I came. This is what my life is about. I came to make a payment for your sins.

You and I know the rest of the story. Jesus went up to Jerusalem and carried out the plan. He suffered a horrific death. He experienced the separation and forsakenness from God, as judgement upon humanity’s sin was poured out upon Him on the cross, and he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus’ last words at the cross were, “It is finished.” Those were not words of resignation. It is a commercial term, meaning literally it is paid. Our sins have been paid for in full through the sacrificial death of Christ. On the third day God raised Him up, and He lives. God put his stamp of approval upon that payment and promises that all who put their trust in Jesus Christ shall not perish but have eternal life. I am a sinner; Jesus paid my debt.

Someone once remarked, “How sad Jesus had to die for me, but how wonderful that He thinks I am worth dying for. I don’t know why Jesus loved me, but I am so glad he did.”

When people ask me what’s so special about Jesus, I tell them the difference between simply being religious and having Christ in your life. With religion, personal belief is spelled this way: D – O. Do this and do that, and then maybe you can get God to love you so he will let you into his heaven.

But Christianity is spelled D – O – N – E. It’s all been done for us by Jesus Christ. Consequently, He offers us the forgiveness of our sins and the promises of heaven freely as a gift. “Jesus paid it all,” as the old hymn says. That’s what I like about Jesus.

Confucius didn’t pay it all; Buddha didn’t pay it all; Mohammed didn’t pay it all; Joe Smith didn’t pay it all. The founders of Scientology, they didn’t pay it all. Jesus paid it all; He gave his life as a ransom, a payment for you and for me.

Put your own name in the statement Jesus made to his disciples, “The Son came to give His life as a ransom . . . for Bill, for Steve, for Jennifer, for Martha, for Sam. Jesus paid it all for you and for me. That’s what I like about Jesus.

To Want What God Wants Is the Secret of Happiness

One of the most important messages in the Bible is Genesis 1:26-27. Here God’s Word tells us that humans are created in His image. We are the crowning work of God’s creation. He has created us with a mind with which we can think, a will with which we can make a decision, and a soul that is eternal. In this sermon, I would like to visit with you about the will.

God has given us the ability to make decisions. This means that we can, and often do, make decisions that are contrary to God’s will. The primary message of Genesis 3 is telling us that Adam and Eve chose to act contrary to God’s will. God told them not to eat of the tree of knowledge, and they did. At that point, sin entered into the world. Paul tells us that “sin entered into the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” Thus, we live in a broken world.

This broken world is seen in sickness, death, man’s inhumanity to man, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and a host of other imperfections. We are not basically good people, for as the Bible says, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” This does not mean that we are incapable of doing some good things that are pleasing to God. However, our nature is sinful, meaning it is in conflict with God’s will. Our greatest desires are not always to do God’s will.

But here is the good news: God, the Holy Spirit, working through His Word can make drastic changes in us so that our greatest desire is to do the will of God. The Psalmist prays, “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your good Spirit lead me on level ground” (Psalm 143:10). When Christ is our Savior, we are teachable to do what God wants us to do. This is seen in the will of St. Paul. Once his will was to destroy Christ’s Church. After his conversion, the Apostle lived and died for the Church and its message of the Gospel.

This does not mean that we can become perfect people of God. Though Paul’s desire was to do God’s will, his old sinful nature got in the way. He describes himself as a wretched man and asks, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24-25). God forgave him daily and the spiritual change in his life continued.

Hearing all of this, you might ask, Is this just some more theological jargon that just does not work in everyday life? I suggest that if this is your question you find a mature Christian person and let him or her share their experience with you in being a part of this process of becoming a new person in Jesus Christ.

I can assure you that it is not theory in my life. I need God’s forgiveness daily. For eighty-one years now He has been working changes in my life, and the task will continue until I die. As a young person, I had decided to become an accountant until a young pastor casually asked, “Have you ever considered the ministry?” In retrospect, I believe that question came from God through the lips of a friend. It confronted me with a thought that had never occurred to me. God has given us great freedom in choosing our work as long as it is pleasing to him and we can be his witnesses.

The next major decision was who should I marry? God again gives us great freedom. There was only one word of counsel: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (II Corinthians 6:14).

Then came the challenge of raising two daughters and a son. Here God’s Word gave us more counsel, and it was our responsibility as Christian parents to take these words seriously. The Bible was to be read as a family in our home. Church attendance was necessary, and we as parents were to demand respect from our children while we were not to provoke them to anger.

God gave us great help in the Scriptures telling us what was right and wrong, what would strengthen us in our relationship with Him, and what would be harmful. For example, good Christian friends were a must. We could share our joys and sorrows and call upon the Lord to help us when the problems of life were too great for us to face alone. He was very clear in what constituted a good sense of values and the place of money in our lives.

All of this was very practical, and we have discovered that we were the happiest when we wanted for our lives what God wanted us to have. Hundreds of times we have wanted something that was not pleasing to Him. He permitted us to make our own choices, but it didn’t take us long to see how empty a lifestyle was when it did not have God’s blessings.

Now the time draws near when we will say farewell to this old world. In the words of Lloyd Ogilvie, “By God’s grace and through the merits of Jesus Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, we will graduate to heaven.” Then we will know His perfect will, and we will be like Him.

Life has taught me many lessons, and here is a very important one:

To want what God wants is the secret of happiness.

Haunting Questions

Life presents us with haunting questions. I recall when our children were small, I often worried if my wife would die. How would those children be raised? Would I be adequate? When I read those horrible stories about a young lady who has been kidnaped and raped, I am haunted with the question, How would I react if that were my daughter?

How do you handle such haunting thoughts? Well, we put them out of our mind and comfort ourselves with the thought that “This will not happen to me.” Odds are pretty good that it will not. As a backup thought, we comfort ourselves by saying that if it does happen, God will provide, and we know this is true.

Today, Jesus teaches a parable that leaves me with a haunting question I would like to share with you. Let’s look a the parable.

Jesus tells the story of a man who planted a vineyard. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a vacation. When the rent was due, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect, but they killed the servants. Again the owner sent other servants to make the collection of the rent, and the tenants killed them. Then the owner sent his son, thinking they would not dare to harm me, but he was so wrong. The son was killed, too.

Having told the story, Jesus asked, “What will he do to those wicked tenants?” The people answered, “He will find other tenants who will give him the share of the crop at harvest time.”

Finishing the parable, Jesus said to the chief priests and Pharisees, “I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” When the spiritual leaders heard Jesus’ remark, they knew he was talking about them.

Who was Jesus talking about? It is pretty evident, but so we have a clearer picture of the parable, let’s identify them. The vineyard is Israel. The tenants are the religious leaders, the servants are the prophets, and the Son is Jesus.

The Kingdom of God was limited to the nation of Israel. Abraham was the father of this nation. God expected them to be his people who would live in a relationship with him. He would bless them and make them a blessing. When the time was ready, he would send his Son, who would be the Savior and Lord of the world.

But what did Israel do? They became a disobedient people, turning their backs on God and serving other gods. Yet God did not give them up. He sent the prophets to reason with them, but they would not listen. They stoned and killed these servants of God. Finally, God sent his Son, the Lord Jesus, and they crucified him. It was then that God scattered them. Israel became a wandering people with no homeland.

God was not done. His Kingdom would be built, and we get the first word about this Kingdom when Jesus and the disciples were having a conversation at Caesarea Philippi.

Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”

Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

Jesus, with real excitement, said, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father, who is in Heaven. You are Peter, and on this rock (meaning Peter’s confession). I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Then all was quiet.

Fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came in a most unique way. Peter preached his famous sermon, which is recorded in Acts 2. On that day 3,000 people confessed their faith in Christ and were baptized. The Church was born. The Church of Christ was no longer limited to people of one nation. All people who confessed Jesus as Savior became a part of the Kingdom.

St. John describes the Church in this way, “And there was before me a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe and people and language standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9). All who are baptized believers in Christ Jesus, confessing Him as Savior and Lord, make up this great Kingdom. And they live with a promise: “And the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.” Thousands have tried, and are still trying, to destroy God’s Kingdom, but it will continue to bless this world until Jesus returns to take its members to heaven.

But let’s just think about the Church in light of today’s parable. As the Bible says, the Church was born on Pentecost. For the first three hundred years, it cost dearly to be a part of the Church. Those were the years of hardship and martyrdom. But in 325 A.D., or there about, Emperor Constantine set the Church free from persecution. Now it was popular and easy to be a part of the Church. Some have said that Constantine’s declaration of making Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire weakened the Church, for now there were masses of people who claimed to be a part of God’s Kingdom, but had no personal relationship with Christ. They used the Church for material and political purposes.

As the years went by, the visible church battled over heresies and organizations. The division between the Roman and Eastern churches brought about much strife. Then came the Protestant Reformation, which opened up the doors to many groups known to us today as denominations. Some of the mainline denominations known in America are the Lutherans, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Congregationalists, Methodists, Baptists, and the list goes on. As we look at the mainline group of Protestants, we find they are decreasing in church attendance and are weakening in strong biblical convictions. Many in these denominations have no relationship with God. Yet, in their own minds they are members of the Church, the Kingdom of God. In a more sophisticated way, they are still killing the prophets and crucifying the Christ. Their beautiful cathedrals, once filled with people, are empty. The great artists who were inspired to beautiful pictures of biblical characters are not around. Who are the successors of Bach and Handel?

Why is this? Have the souls of people been captured by the Gospel that compelled them to give expression to their faith? The culture blesses the killing of the unborn. Marriage is no longer between a man and a woman. Instead same-sex marriage relationships are fast becoming accepted. All the time God speaks powerfully in his Word to this rebellious people.

It is here we face the haunting question, Is the parable applicable to the visible Church today? Is Jesus saying to this rebellious people, “The kingdom will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit”?

What will the mainline churches of America look like at the beginning of the twenty-second century when our western civilization has disregarded the Ten Commandments as its moral base? What happens to a people when they have no eternal assurance? What happens to this blessed land when the Christian populace is not in America, but in Africa?

What do we do with these haunting questions? The church fathers have wanted us to wrestle with these haunting questions, for they made this the text for today a part of the lectionary.

My personal belief is that if the Lord does not return before, the Christian Church in the year 2100 will look much different than it does today. The parable makes it clear that, if a one group of people reject God’s plan of salvation in Christ, he moves on to another group. Interesting, isn’t it, that there are few Christian churches in places like Ephesus, Philippi, and Corinth?

Is the day coming, or has it arrived, when evangelical Christians are leaving the churches of their fathers and mothers, and finding their places in groups where the Word of God is being proclaimed, people are being converted, and are zealously sharing the Gospel with all kinds of people?

You can have a review of this parable and leave it way back there in history. It might make us more comfortable after returning from church to do this. But we also have the challenge to ask the haunting question, Is Jesus speaking to his Church today, and if so, what will his next move be?