The One 0n 0ne

Jesus’ parting with Peter was sad!

Peter denied Jesus three times in the courtyard of the high priest’s residence. “I don’t know him,” was Peter’s repeated statement. Now after a month it was time for Jesus and Peter to have a talk about the disciple’s denial. This would clear the air and send Peter on his way to be a strong witness for the Savior.

In the hours before His crucifixion, Jesus wasn’t hiding anything from the disciples. He let them know this would be a difficult experience for them also. He said to them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me.”

Confident of his own strength, Peter responded, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”

Jesus replied, “Peter, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”

Then came that time in Gethsemane, the arrest, and Jesus being led off to the high priest for an unjust trial. The disciples were beside themselves. Peter followed Jesus. When they got to the courtyard where Peter was warming himself, he was asked three times, “Aren’t you one of his disciples?” All three times Peter replied, “I don’t know him.”

After Peter’s third denial of Jesus, the Lord walked past the disciple, gave him a sad look, the rooster crowed, and the guilty Peter came apart. The Bible says, “He went out and wept bitterly.” This was the last contact between Jesus and Peter until after the resurrection.

Peter had to wonder if Jesus could ever use him again as a disciple. Well, if he could, Christ and Peter had some unfinished business. Certainly the sin of denial had to be dealt with, so Jesus lost no time. “Peter, do you love me more than these?”

Peter answered, “You know that I love you, Lord.” He was now content to answer only for himself and did not attempt to evaluate the love others had for Jesus. This penetrating question was answered three times, and each time Peter confessed his love for the Lord Jesus. On the basis of his confession, Jesus restored Peter to his discipleship and said to him, “Follow me.” What an example of that amazing grace we sing about at our worship services.

How important it is for us to have those one-on-one times with Jesus as His Word explores the sin in our lives. How devastating it is when we let these sins separate us from our Heavenly Father and other people! For some strange reason, we think it is possible for us to carry hatred in our heart and have a happy, peaceful life. Tom and Harry lived this way. I’ve told the story so many times, but let me tell it once more.

There was a strike among the workers in the mill where both of these men worked. One chose to strike, the other crossed the picked line and went to work. This broke a friendship of many years. No longer did they enjoy the company of each other. In fact, years went by and they never spoke to each other. Then Tom, my mother’s brother, was dying of cancer. Mother was sitting with him in his hospital room when the door opened and there stood Harry. “May I visit with Tom for just a minute?” Harry pleadingly asked. Mother was so happy to see Harry that she ushered him to her brother’s bedside. Harry got down on his knees and, with tears rolling down his cheeks said, “Tom, what a fool I have been. All these years we could have enjoyed the company of each other, and we let a little dispute separate us. Both of us are Christians. We worship at the same church, kneel at the same communion rail and yet we have lived contrary to our Lord’s command. Will you forgive me, Tom?”

Tom, who was so weak that he could not feed himself, lifted his arms, embraced Harry, and asked, “Will you forgive me?” Christ was there, they sensed his forgiveness, and forgave each other. Peace had been restored.

How sad that years had passed and these men hid their sin toward God and each other! But how wonderful, that the one-on-one times together brought forgiveness, and Tom died in peace.

Each one of us have stories to tell. What a powerful lesson this encounter of Jesus with Peter teaches us. How many broken relationships could be restored? How many families could begin to live with joy, which had been turned to hatred because brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, parents and children were so proud they could not say I am sorry. How many congregations have been divided because of strife and could not minister to their communities because their actions spoke louder than their words.

These meetings with Jesus and then with one another are a must for a happy, personal relationship. He will always forgive, however, we must come in repentance and faith before we hear Christ’s assuring words, “Your sins are forgiven. Go and sin no more.”

The Eye of Faith

The account of Thomas doubting Jesus’ resurrection gives us an opportunity to discuss the subject of doubt, specifically as doubt relates to the Christian faith.

I love Thomas and am so glad Jesus chose him to be one of his disciples. I can identify with Thomas for I have encountered some doubts along the way with my Savior. Sometimes it is difficult to believe His words Ð and I will give you rest Ð when my soul is distressed.

As a pastor, Thomas was the one I could turn to in the Scriptures when trying to help a person who had honest doubts. How good it is to say to my doubting friend, “But the Lord loved him and led him to faith.”

Doubting Thomas, as he has been called, said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my fingers where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” Dead men just do not walk around.

But this expression of doubt did not mean Thomas did not love the Lord. Once he said, “Let’s go and die with Him.” He was a bit of a pessimist. Faith apparently was never an easy matter for Thomas. He was not airing his doubts to get attention, nor was he trying to make others believe he was super intelligent and just couldn’t believe a dead man could be alive. He was open to discuss his doubts, because he wanted to believe. Jesus accommodated Thomas.

On this post-resurrection appearance to the room when Jesus visited the disciples, Thomas as absent. William Barclay mentions that Thomas was alone with his grief. He preferred loneliness to togetherness. This was a mistake. We need the fellowship of other believers when times are rough. There is a time for us to be alone with the Lord, but then there are times when we must be joined together with others. We need the Church.

Does Jesus’ treatment of Thomas’ doubt convince us that he will accommodate us too, as He speaks to us through his Word? Let’s look at our doubts.

Here is one. “Sometimes, I am a bit disappointed with you, God. Look at our world. Where are you, God, with your almighty and loving power. Think of all those little children who die of starvation.” And Jesus says, Those starving children are starving because of human neglect. We can feed one child for a month with $8 of your American dollars. There are organizations who are asking for your money. Why do you hesitate in giving it? Rearrange your personal, congregational, or national budget and the starving children will be fed. Read what one of my disciples wrote when he quoted me in Matthew 25:31-46. Doe that help you with your doubt? My word settled Thomas’ doubt. Will it settle yours?

A parent complains. “My daughter is left to raise three children. Her husband has left her to live with another woman. Why do you let this happen?” Jesus does some loving, but penetrating questions: Was your ex-son-in-law a Christian? Did you teach your children what I said in my word Ð Be not equally yoked with unbelievers (II Corinthians 6:14). Did you emphasize the importance of Bible reading in your home when your children were growing up? What you are experiencing might be the cause of your neglect. The marriage should not have taken place.

But in anger you reply. “Get real, God. These children have minds of their own, and you can’t stop them from marrying whoever they want to when they are supposedly in love.”

And Jesus says: It is true that your daughter has a free will and can say, ÔI don’t need your counsel on whom I will marry, Lord. Give me time, and I will make him a believer.’ Well it didn’t happen, and her defiance of my Word is the result. The marriage ended because it was spiritually starved. Two people were trying to make it work, and they did not have the strength to accomplish their goal. But I have not deserted her any more than I did not desert Thomas. There is the forgiveness of sins, and she can start over, but make sure this time it is with someone who loves me.”

You confront the Lord with the unbelief in the world. Jesus asks, “Do you share your faith in word and deed? What kind of an evangelism training program do you have in your church? Have you shared your faith in me with someone this week? Because God has created people with wills that are fee to reject me, and they did from day one to the present, you live in a program world. There will be believers until I return, and then will come the judgment. But empowered by the Holy Spirit many of these people would be my children if you would only share with them the Gospel. Parents do not even share these truths with their children, and the results are that those who were once staunch in the faith now have grandchildren who are complete unbelievers, because they have never heard about me from their parents and grandparents.

Sometimes we humans need to be faced up with reality, and that is what Jesus does in his Word. But remember, He does this in love.

The Bible does not tell us what happened to Thomas, but we know that his doubt was solved. We have his verbal confession, “My Lord and my God.” Tradition says that Thomas went to India to share the Gospel. The Thomist Church in south India does trace its origin to Thomas.

Doubt that is dealt with can end in certainty! That is the good news.

But Christ Has Been Raised

I Corinthians 15:12-26 reads:

“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

The Bible reports, “Early on the first day of the week, the ladies were on their way to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. Seeing the stone rolled away, they entered the tomb, when a young man said, ÔDon’t be alarmed, you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here. He has risen!'”

These are the most glorious words ever spoken to humans.

The Christian never tires of telling the Easter story. Sometimes you seek to tell it in a new way to get the attention of those who do not believe it. St. Paul, whose primary message was, Christ has been raised, used another approach when he wrote to the Christians at Corinth. Here are his words:

“If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless, and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” (I Corinthians 15:14-19)

Paul gives us four thoughts in this text.

1. Our preaching is useless and so is our faith.

Good preaching is witnessing to the biblical proclamation that Christ has suffered and died for the sins of the world and that God has raised Him. He is the victorious Lord over sin, death and the devil. If in faith you receive Him as your Savior and Lord, your sins are forgiven and you are brought into a living relationship with God forever.

Tom Ehrich, writing in USA Today, says, “Our nation needs ethical and religious instructions in the basics: honesty, fidelity, sharing wealth, sharing power and sacrifice. Yet, these are the last topics one is likely to hear in churches.”

These are important topics, but none of them holds the number one priority. The number one message of the Church is to proclaim Christ as Lord and Savior and the only way into a personal relationship with God. People need to hear about the Risen Lord who alone can empower them to live godly lives. Every Sunday should be a little Easter.

2. If Christ has not been raised, we do not have a living Lord, but a dead martyr, and we are false witnesses.

We have presented Christ as a living Lord with whom we can have a personal relationship. If Christ has not been raised, none of this is true and we are false witnesses. He is not one to be worshiped, but only to be admired, like the other great leaders of the world. You might just as well close your church, for now it is only a humanistic agency, and there are plenty of those groups around, starting with the local service organizations. These clubs do much good, but they can save no one.

3. If Christ has not been raised, we are still in our sins.

There is no Savior. There would be no parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15), for there is no forgiveness of our sins. There is no turning back to Christ and starting over. We would carry our guilt and live in the bondage of our sins.

4. If Christ has not been raised, those who have died are lost.

Our funerals would be different. We would have a few relatives and friends stand up and eulogize the person who has died. There would be no basis for any talk about heaven nor any assurance of eternal life. All that we possess would be right here on this earth. It would be like a relative of mine who prided himself in being an atheist. Living on the shores of the Androscoggin River in Maine, he suggested that the managers of the nursing home where he was living out the last days of his life would simply let his body roll into the river and be gone. There was no hope for him and no comfort for us who were his family and loved him.

Paul then brings another powerful thought when he writes, “But Christ has been raised, the first fruits of those who have died.”

Our preaching is not in vain. We have a story to tell. Your loved ones who died trusting Christ are at home with the Lord. They have been moved from poverty-stricken lives to be possessors of a wealth that cannot be measured. We too can know that as the years fly by, we have an eternity before us that knows no end.

Think of the millions of people who live without the blessings of the resurrection. Or think of those who say, “We believe there is something good that is going to happen to us after we die.” But they have no basis for these eternal thoughts Ðonly what they feel Ð that God is loving and will reward their good lives. This is not adequate.

It took a cross and an empty tomb to give us a basis for our salvation. It takes a divinely inspired word that says, Because He lives, I too shall live.

This is the message of Easter. How different life would be if Christ had not been raised. The Christian never tires of telling the Easter story. Life only makes sense when we live it out through the promises of a living Lord who walks with us.

He Died For You

It is debated whether or not a person can die from a broken heart, but it is a certainty that many die with a broken heart, and Jesus Christ was One who did. In the last hours of his life, he looked at Jerusalem and aid, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stoned those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” His love was rejected; his heart was broken. This is spiritual suffering.

Today, as we enter the Holy Week, we turn to Jesus’ physical suffering as recorded by St. Mark. Mark wrote his Gospel from Peter’s preaching notes. Mark tells us that wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate had Jesus flogged and handed over to them to be crucified (15:15). Politics can do some vicious things. It will stop at nothing, especially if your cause is benefitted.

From Pilate’s court, Jesus was brought to Golgotha. Arriving there, Jesus was offered some wine mixed with myrrh, which he refused. The words, The kind of the Jews, was written on the cross. A crown of thorns was placed on his head. The crowd below the cross hurled insults at him, and at the ninth hour, Jesus was dead.

Why did He die?

This year we celebrate the 100th birthday of Dietrich Bonhoffer. Bonhoffer died on the gallows at Flossenberg, Germany when he was thirty-nine years of age. Because he was convinced that Adolph Hitler was evil, he joined a group who sought to kill the dictator. For this great theological leader, we give God thanks. Martyred for the cause of Christ, what an inspiration his life has been.

But Jesus’ crucifixion was not simply dying for his conviction. Jesus came to die for the sins of the world. He paid the price for our sin. Why? In order that we might be His own and live unto Him in his kingdom. Thirty years after the crucifixion, Peter summarized it so well when he wrote, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (I Peter 2:24).

It is true that Jesus came not only to rectify sinful man by his example, but to redeem him by his blood. Jesus says, “I am the Shepherd and the cross is what I must endure to bring my sheep home.”

Why is it that we are so hesitant to emphasize the need of receiving Christ as our Savior, for he is the only way to heaven? We talk rather glibly about going to our heavenly home and giving he impression that all people will be there. It is, of course, to give a ver bal picture of all people being in heaven enjoying a life free from sin and all of its perils. It is not good protocol to give the impression that our eternal home is completely dependent on what Christ has done for us. What if someone in the crowd is not a believer in Christ as Savior? That eliminates this person from going to heaven, which is an offensive thought and brings discomfort to the conversation.

Jesus dies for us that he might gather us into his kingdom.

Recently I walked into a restaurant after attending church. As we walked to our table, a friend grabbed my arm and said, “Homer, if you survive me, will you say a few good words at my funeral service?” I don’t know if the person was kidding or serious. I assume that he has membership in a local congregation and his pastor will handle the funeral well. However, this is a serious request if the person is not kidding. If I honored his request and commented on what an interesting person he had been during his life, giving the impression that our heavenly award is won by a good life, I would be a false prophet. The good word at any funeral is to tell those present that our relative or friend who has now left this world is at home with God and he is there because he trusted Christ as his Savior.

This is Holy Week, the days that we follow Jesus to the cross. As Christians, we need to open our Bible to the four Gospels and meditate on his suffering for us. This shows how much God loves us. It brings the specifics to the general statement Ð For God so loved the world. Having refreshed our minds and souls with Christ’s great sacrifice for our sins we anxiously share this good news with the world. In many places the message is rejected but to those who receive this great announcement of their salvation the life is changed.

One of my professors once raised the question, “Where did Jesus suffer the most? Was it at Calvary where they nailed him to the cross and pierced his side with a sword, or was it on the mountain looking over Jerusalem who had rejected Jesus’ love for them?”

I believe it is seeing people turn their backs on him as being the greater suffering, for this is an ongoing event. Two thousand years later, Jesus looks at our cities and our church to see the masses who refuse to accept him as Savior and Lord. His lament is the same as it was outside of Jerusalem, “How long will you reject me? Will you go to your grave without me? Then you are lost. I want you in my kingdom.”

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

Rejected Love

Preaching God’s Word to people you love can be a frustrating experience. Let me explain this statement to you.

Preparing a sermon and having the opportunity to preach was the most exciting part of my work as a pastor. It had my number one priority and the second was teaching my ninth grad confirmation class.

I first read the text over and over again. Then I asked God to give me the one basic thought from that text that I should deliver to the congregation. I jotted all the thoughts down that came from the Word to my mind. Then I read several of the best commentaries what were available to me on the text. Now it was time to formulate the outline for the sermon and find a few illustrations that would relate the sermon to the world in which the listener was living. Finally, I took my notes to a quiet room in the basement of our home and began to preach it over and over again visualizing the congregation on Sunday morning.

It was a lot of work from the first reading of the text until I entered the big pulpit, and it was big, to deliver the message. I was thoroughly convinced that the message came from God’s Word, and He had sent me to share it with the people. The Holy Spirit could speak through human words, and it could be a life-changing experience.

Then I had the wind taken out of my sails one day when I heard a theological professor say that it was probably a good thing the preacher did not assume too great a level of interest among his listeners. Karl Barth put it this way: “Our best listeners come to church, not simply asking if the mess is relevant and useful, but rather, if it is true.

In retrospect, both people were right, and I needed to hear those comments. Though it might have been a bit discouraging, I believed then, and still do today, that biblical preaching is very important, and the Holy Spirit is at work when we are expounding the Word of God. But as I looked over the congregation, I saw how many of those wonderful friends still questioned the validity of the Word and did not have a personal relationship with Christ. How could they be so indifferent? When I shared this discouragement with my wife, she always has the same counsel: “Just remember, you are not the Holy Spirit. You sow the seed, and let Him do the rest.”

I would often turn to the words of Jesus, which are our text today. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37). The people did not believe Jesus why should I think they will believe me? This is the mystery in preaching. Paul says, “We preach Christ crucified; a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (I Corinthians 1:23-24).

Jesus’ words Ð “How I would loved to have gathered you” Ð reveals the depth of His love for us. The thought of an angry God, anxious to punish humans, is not His message. He presents himself like a parent, pleading and begging with a wayward child, “Please, please come home.” He wants us to hear His Gospel. He points us to the cross where he died for our sins. There he paid the price for our sins, and through faith in Him we can be the forgiven children of God.

William Willimon, chaplain of the Duke University chapel, tells this story: “The other day I hard an address by a Christian leader of great eminence. I walked away from the building with a man. ÔIt was a notable address, was it not?’ I said to my friend. ÔYes,” he replied, ÔIt was a great speech.’ He was silent for a moment. Then he added, ÔI am over eighty years of age. He told me nothing about what I can hope for when I make my great adventure.'”

What will happen on the “other side” is a big part of Jesus’ message. He reveals the depths of his feelings for lost people, and all are lost outside of him.

In these same words, Jesus reveals the patience of God. Again and again he pleads with Jerusalem and with us. “I want to bring you blessings which only I can bring. Will you let me?”

Humankind have always turned a deaf ear to God’s pleading with them. Jeremiah writes, “Go and tell the people of Israel, ÔEach of you mut turn from your actions; do not follow other gods to serve them. Then you will live in the land I have given to you and your fathers. But you have not paid attention nor listened to me'” (35:15). Israel didn’t listen. They went to worship, but they didn’t believe what God had spoken to them through the prophets.

We are no different. In our church paper, The Lutheran, there is an exchanged of letters on an article written by a theological professor. I quote from one of these letters, which tells us that the professor has said, “Our God is eternal, hell is not. . . . the medieval understanding of judgement was sufficient for the issues of the sixteenth century, but we need to do something else for the issues of the twentieth century.”

It is dangerous to quote out of context, but is the professor saying that hell is not eternal, and that God speaks differently on issues face in the sixteenth century than to those of the twentieth century? If this is what he is saying, how long can such a statement be tolerated in a church that confesses the Bible is God’s inspired Word and the authority in all matters of faith and life?

This cannot be taken indifferently if we are listening to what Jesus said. Because they had rejected His offer to let him gather them into the fold, Jerusalem was left desolate (38). There was no hope for them. It is the same today. A life, a home, a church, and a nation without Christ and a personal relationship with him is left desolate. There is no hope!

Why would we reject this love?

We are but one week from Holy Week where we will see that love in action as Jesus walks to the cross. He is dying for the sins of the world. May the Holy Spirit break through our indifference and unbelief to see this love and let Christ gather us into His fold. It is always a joy to preach this glorious message, even though strange voices say, “Don’t take your preaching too seriously. Many of your listeners don’t.”