Who Owns You?

Who owns you?

St. Paul answers this question when he writes, “You are not your own, you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your body.”

What does Paul mean when he says, “We are not our own?” He is telling us that Christ, through his suffering, death, and resurrection, has redeemed us from sin, death, and the devil. Therefore, we are not our own. In Christ, God, who created us, has redeemed us when we sinned and we belong to him.

What does this mean in everyday life?

No one tells us better than Martin Luther in his explanation to the second article of the Apostles Creed. Luther writes, “He has redeemed me . . . that I might be His own, live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.”

Jesus demonstrates what God’s ownership of him meant by his commitment to do His Father’s will. Jesus had made Capernaum His headquarters after being chased out of Nazareth. The disciples would have been willing to settle down in Capernaum. It was a cozy place, and the people kept coming to hear Jesus preach. Jesus had become so popular in their midst skipping away early one morning to have time alone with his Father was necessary for him. When the disciples found Jesus and told him the people wanted him, he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”

Our Lord had no idea how he would be received in the next town. However, because He was not his own, but belonged to His Father, it was necessary to do his Father’s will. Jesus received direction from his Father. His life was not his own.

As disciples of Jesus, our lives are not our own. God has given us a mission to perform. This is a difficult message for us to apply to our lives. Are we not our own? Obviously, the Bible makes it clear our basic mission is to lead people to Christ by telling them the way of salvation. However, it also means showing people how much God loves them through deeds of kindness and love. Let me illustrate.

We have recently been introduced to a program of helping to feed hungry children around the world. When I walked into a room at our church to see how this works, I witnessed an assembly line of workers filling small bags of food ingredients, such as rice and proteins. After the bags had passed through several hands, they were sealed and packaged for shipment to a country where people are dying from starvation. I was told one bag of food would feed six people one meal.

The director of the program told me this food would be sent to Christian missions around the world. Before the workers would dispense any food, they would tell the recipients Christ sent them this gift because he loves them and wants them as a part of His Kingdom.

This is our congregation’s opportunity to help feed a few of the world’s starving people. We know the hungry are dying. We know how they can be fed. We have Jesus’ words that say, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat . . . Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:35,40).

Who owns us? If Jesus owns us, we must do his will and help feed these people. It’s as simple as that. We make Christianity so complicated, we often miss the point. Our text tells us Jesus could have stayed in Capernaum. It would have been so comfortable, but God told him to move on, and he was obedient.

The text tells us Jesus left the crowd to be in a solitary place. What do you suppose He was doing there? He was listening to his Father and getting orders for the days ahead. Having a quiet time with God is necessary for us. Without it, we run the danger of exhausting our energies and losing God’s perspective for our lives. If Jesus was going to feed others spiritually, he had to be fed himself.

This leads me to a very disappointing statement I hear often. A church worker speaking before a congregation said, “We don’t go to church to get something. We go to give something.” This is not true. We go to church to receive spiritual food to strengthen us so we can go forth to give something. If we are not spiritually strong – and we will not be unless we are fed on God’s Word – we will have little or nothing to offer others except our own experiences, which are of little value.

After Jesus had been fed in that solitary place with His Father, He rose from his knees and went to work. In Jesus’ quiet time God spoke clearly, “You must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also; that is why you were sent.” These were our Lord’s divine marching orders.

It is said that in the midst of the Reformation, Luther spent hours in prayer. Prayer prepared him for the task God had given the reformer to do. God told Luther through His Word in Romans 1:17 what his mission was: Luther was not his own. He belonged to God. Obediently, he went on his way, and God directed, strengthened, and made him a blessing as he restored the message that people are saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.

This is what happens when we are convinced our lives are not our own.

We are bought with a price.

His Message Has Authority

In the minds of many people, religion is up for grabs. You can take it or leave it. It’s your opinion versus my opinion. So why don’t we respect each other’s convictions, and go our respective ways?

The Church has a problem with this suggestion. In our Lutheran Church, we have a confessional that says, “We believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God and the only authority in matters of faith and life.”

I am thankful for this statement. Without such a confession, I have no authority to which I can turn for answers to the puzzling problems of the day.

Often I am asked, What do you believe about this or that? I have to reply, “It does not matter what I believe. Rather, it is what God’s Word says. It is THE authority in all matters of faith and life.” When our answers to problems are based on the Word of God, they are authoritative, for the Christian believes that God has spoken. This is what Jesus was teaching his disciple in Capernaum, and it is what He is teaching us today.

Our text tells us that Jesus had been thrown out of Nazareth, his hometown. So he moved on to Capernaum, which became his headquarters. On the Sabbath, he preached in the synagogue, and the people were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority. He was sure of what he was saying, and Jesus’ answers to their many questions were not multiple-choice answers.

Jesus demonstrated his authority over the demons that possessed a man who had come to the synagogue. The spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are Ð the Holy One of God!”

Jesus said sternly, “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.

While we know little about demon possessions, this happening in the synagogue is a great demonstration that Jesus can set us free from any power that controls us. While we are helpless to deliver ourselves, Christ can set us free. Jesus spoke courageously, with authority, and yet with simplicity. This describes how the Christian Gospel is to be proclaimed by those of us who are his spokespersons. Too often we are prone to say, “In my opinion” or “I think.” This weakens the message and leaves the listener with the thought that what is true for one person might not be truth for another.

As the disciples walked with Jesus, they learned to speak with conviction. This is seen in Acts 4. Peter and John had gone into the temple to pray. By the gate to the temple, they met a man who had been crippled from birth. There he sat begging the people for a coin or two. He asked the disciples for money, and Peter uttered the familiar words quoted so often, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

Then the Bible tells us that the man got up and, walking into courts, he praised God that he had been healed. Soon Peter and John were being asked how they had performed this miracle. Now notice the courage that shines through the disciples’ answer: “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see” (Acts 3:16).

The disciples’ answer disturbed the priests, and they were taken to jail. Being questioned again about how the man was healed, Peter said, “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:10 f). Again we see how well Jesus had taught the disciples to speak with love and courage.

The Christian message today must be spoken with courage, conviction, and love. The Church must send out a clear voice from the Bible saying, “Thus says the Lord!”

A friend of mine experienced this a few days ago while drinking a cup of coffee with some friends at a local restaurant. The conversation got around to religion, and one woman said, “I believe that God is so loving, He will save everyone.” Before she knew it, my friend replied, “That is not what the Bible teaches.” Notice, she did not say, “I don’t believe that.” She turned to Scriptures for her response, which made it much more powerful than if she had been answering her own opinion. Now her friends had to argue with God.

On the subject of salvation, Christians have all kinds of spiritual truth to share with an unbelieving world. Paul writes to Timothy, “God wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (I Timothy 2:4). In the book of Romans, Paul says, “If you confess with your mouth, ÔJesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:10f).

Having spoken these words in love, but with great conviction, the results are in the hands of the Holy Spirit.

Why don’t we share these words when God gives us such a marvelous opportunity? I know your answer, because it has been mine all too often. We do not want to be offensive. We do not want to lose people’s friendships. That’s the price we have to pay in 2006. Thank God that you do not have to go to prison as the disciples did.

In our daily walk with the Lord, He continues to train us as he did his disciples. Where God’s word speaks, the Christian is challenged to speak. As we speak, the Holy Spirit works, and the Kingdom grows.

Christ and Your Hometown

When a famous person arrives in his hometown, there is often a celebration. That is the way it was in my hometown years ago when Rudy Vallee came home as a movie star and musician. I was just a boy, perhaps ten years old, when Rudy came home having won national prominence. We had a parade, and there were signs and banners carried by most people reading, Welcome Home, Rudy. Some who had known him as the druggist son were especially thrilled when he stopped and chatted with them.

Many years later, a friend and I were at a summer convocation in New York City. Rudy was playing on Broadway, and my friend suggested we get tickets for the play. Before the performance started, I sent a note back stage telling Rudy that I was from Westbrook and often visited with his father. Immediately the usher came back and said we could see Rudy after the performance.

You should have seen the eyes of my friend when I said, “Come on. Let’s go back and visit with Rudy.” Back in his dressing room, he was very cordial and we exchanged memories of growing up in Westbrook. It was a thrilling experience to have visited with such a prominent person.

Not so when another famous man returned to his hometown. This man was Jesus who said, “No prophet is accepted in his hometown.” I am not making a comparison between Jesus Christ and Rudy Vallee, but only how people respond differently. When Jesus came to Nazareth, the town where he grew up, and announced that he was the Messiah the people became so angry that they tried to kill him.

To describe this event in the language of our day, we might call Jesus’ announcement in the synagogue his “coming out” day. He, the carpenter at Nazareth, was saying “I am God. I have been anointed to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

In fairness to the hometown folks, it must have been a real shock. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. Jesus has gone too far if he is telling us that he is the Messiah.

Jesus knew their thoughts and said, “I tell you the truth. No prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years, and there was a serious famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow of Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisah the prophet. Yet not one of them was cleansed Ð only Naaman, the Syrian.” A gentile.

Jesus was telling his friends at Nazareth, “This is a new day. I am telling you that God loves all people. I am telling you God’s mercy can reach out to all people, even the Syrians.”

That did it and they attempted to kill Him.

This story must be told to every generation, for the truth it reveals is true I every age.

Jesus, in His Word, is still saying, “I am the Savior of the world. It was at the cross I died to make atonement for the sins of the world. I have come to assure those who will receive me as Savior and Lord that their sins are forgiven, they are God’s redeemed children, and there is a place for them in heaven. I have come to set the spiritual captives free and to open the eyes of the spiritually blind to let them know they are sinners, but in Christ their sins can be taken away.

What kind of a response does the gospel message receive from Americans in our day?

A majority receive Him. The rest are indifferent or hostile to this gospel.

USA carried an article from the Prague Post, and I quote, “Only 19% of the people in this once-religious country believes that God exists. In the Czech Republic, according to this article, “In the Czech Republic the bars and cafes are full, the crystal and art shops are busy, and the historic cathedrals and churches are basically empty.”

Where has Europe gone spiritually speaking? Is this where America is going? A former President of France has said, “Europeans live in a purely secular political system where religion does not play an important role.”

Pat Buchanan, in his book, The Death of the West, writes, “The dechristianizing of America is the goal of many liberals Ð and they are succeeding. Court decisions have banned school prayer, removed most nativity scenes from the public square, and legalized gay marriages as part of that pattern. Europe is showing us where the path leads, and it is not good.”

But back to Nazareth. Jesus escaped His enemies in the hometown, but three years later they got him and nailed Christ to the cross. John describes Jesus’ ministry so well when he writes, “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him, but to those who received Him, He gave power to become the sons of God” (John 1:11).

Jesus’ offer is still proclaimed, “If you bow in faith beneath that cross, you will be saved.” But there is another side to the coin. Jesus is very specific: “But if you do not trust me as your Savior and Lord, you are lost.” My friend, this is serious business. Don’t take it lightly. Your eternal destiny is at stake. Receive Him, and he is yours forever.

You Can Be Changed

In a new book, The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching, John R. Stott writes, “The decadent era of the church’s history has always been those in which the preaching has declined. Not only the preaching of the Word, but the listening to the Word have both declined. A congregation cannot mature without a faithful and sensitive biblical ministry. Response to the Word of God depends on the Word that has been spoken.”

Stott goes on to say, “The preacher’s task is to expound the Scriptures. To open up the inspired text with such faithfulness and sensitivity that God’s Word is heard and His people obey him.”

Reading this book, I have been forced to examine my own preaching. God has a word he wants us to hear. That word is found in the Scriptures. Its central message of salvation is clear, but not everything in Scripture is clear. Peter said there were things in Paul’s letter that he did not understand (II Peter 3:16). Therefore we need people who are trained to expound both the clear message and those words that need deeper study. We need one another in understanding these words. Often from out of their experiences untrained people can shed light on the Word that is much more profound than comes from the greatest scholar. On the other hand, we need good biblical commentaries from the scholars who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ Jesus.

I have a real interest in looking at pastors’ libraries. In commenting to a pastor about his library, I asked him what commentaries of the Bible he reads. To my surprise, he told me that he did not read commentaries. God gave him the message and he didn’t need help from humans. I didn’t argue with him, but I would like to have said, “What great insights into this divine truth you are missing, because you don’t read what others have said about these words of Scriptures.” When I visit with another young pastor who says, “Preaching is my most important task.” I understand why the congregation he serves is vital and growing.

Frankly, I shutter sometimes when I see how lightly preaching is taken in some churches. The person who is standing in the pulpit first needs a personal relationship with Christ, and then take a good theological education. Today’s text is an example. It tells the story of the day in Cana of Galilee when Jesus changed water into wine. If you recall the incident, Jesus and His disciples were at the wedding when Jesus’ mother came and said, “They have run out of wine.” His answer to Mary was interesting: “My time has not yet come.” Then he told the servants to fill six stone water jars each holding twenty to thirty gallons with water. Having done this, He told the servants to take the wine to the master of the banquet.

“Where did the wine come from?” The host wanted to know, because usually they served the best wine first and then when people had drunk freely they brought in the poorer wine. Yet this wine was the best of all.

What was the purpose of this miracle? John writes, “This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him” (John 2:11). He was revealing to his disciples who he was. He had power not only to change water into wine, but to work changes in the lives of people. This is a biblical truth that needs much study, so that becomes the proclamation of hope in our worship services.

What does this text say to us?

The message tells us that Jesus, the divine Son of God, can do the miraculous. This is a profound truth. If he could change water into wine, He can change us from the lost to the saved. St. Paul gives fresh insight to a human being’s conversion when he writes, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold the new has come” (II Corinthians 5:17). Christ changed Paul and believe it, He can change us. If you are a Christian, you know the changes He is working in your life.

A young man was once asked by a friend, “Do you believe that Jesus changed water into wine?” His reply was, “Without a doubt, I believe Christ can work miracles because I saw him change alcohol into furniture when my father became a believer in Jesus Christ and was freed of his alcoholism.”

“Christ can change us.” These can just be words or they can be words that bring us new hope. If you are not a Christian, He can create faith in your hearts through His Word and life will be different for you. The old phrase Ð He will never change. He’s a chip off the old block Ð is not true. When I hear the testimony of one of my friends, it is unbelievable. This man has lost a son and a grandson, and now he has lost his eye sight, yet he freely confesses that nothing can separate him from God’s love in Jesus Christ. The amazing part of this story is that some years ago this man was an agnostic who personally had no time for the Christian faith. Christ changed him.

This changing is ongoing. Those of us who have walked with Him for years know that Christ continues to do His work in our lives. Our lives are built on His eternal truths as we are strengthened in our daily walk with Him.

To the people in Cana Jesus revealed His glory. To us the witness is even more dynamic, because we can say, “Look around and see what happens in our own midst when Jesus enters people’s lives. They are changed, and this is a greater miracle.”

If there are things in our lives we do not like, we can take this word of hope from our Savior: “You can be changed!” When this is the message that comes from our pulpits, the Church is strong, and the Church is a beacon in our society. Guard the pulpit.