Lord of the Second Chance

The gospels have a number of stories about the appearance of the risen Lord following the crucifixion and Easter. What is interesting to note is that Jesus does more than just show up in these stories. He has something to give to those to whom he appears.

The women on the road ran into the risen Jesus, and he gave them a job. Go tell the disciples. On the road to Emmaus, two discouraged disciples received an encouraging word and a powerful Bible study on what they’d just experienced. In the Upper Room, the Holy Spirit was breathed into the disciples. Later, Thomas experienced the blessing of peace and received a lesson on faith. On the mountain Jesus gave his disciples the Great Commission.

In our text for today, Jesus has another wonderful gift to give to one of the disciples whose name was Peter. It was several days after Easter. The disciples had already experienced the truth of the resurrection. Now they were waiting for him in Galilee as Jesus had instructed. They waited and they waited for an appearance. When an appearance didn’t happen, Peter said, “I am going fishing.” Perhaps he was just trying to kill some time or was just needing to do something. Some of the other disciples went along with him. They fished all night and didn’t catch a thing. They were probably grumbling about their poor luck as they headed back in.

As they got closer to shore, they heard a voice call out, “Children, you haven’t caught any fish, have you?” They replied, “No.” The voice said, “Throw your net out on the other side.” They did, and the net was immediately filled with fish. As they began to pull it in, a light bulb went off in John’s head. Perhaps a flashback to Luke chapter five when Jesus first entered the lives of Peter, James, and John, they miraculously caught a net full of fish with His instruction. John exclaimed, “It’s the Lord!”

Peter got so excited when he heard that news that he jumped into the water and swam ashore the final hundred yards. What a picture it must have been Ð Peter walking on to the shore dripping wet, not saying anything, just staring at Jesus as the boat glided in behind him. Actually, in the gospels up to this point, Peter hasn’t said a word since that fateful night when Christ was arrested.

As they came ashore, they smelled fish frying and bread on a charcoal fire, which Jesus had prepared. Jesus said, “Bring some of your fish over.”

Peter ran to the boat and carried over the large catch of fish all by himself. It was like he was trying to make things right with Jesus. Then Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” What follows is a lovely scene. They quietly sat around the fire and Jesus served them breakfast. They didn’t say much Ð they knew who he was Ð they just stared into the fire. By the way, did you notice that John in his gospel makes a point of referring to the fire as a charcoal fire? It’s as if he is giving the reader a clue. If you go back to John 18:18, you will find another scene with a charcoal fire. At that fire Peter was a disappointment as he denied even knowing Jesus. It’s almost as if there is a stage being set for a necessary confrontation between Peter and Jesus.

Jesus said, “Simon,” (notice he didn’t call him Peter, the Rock), “Simon, do you love me?” Then he asked him the same question two more times and each time Peter answered in the affirmative, Jesus would say to him, “Feed my sheep.” By the third time Peter was feeling hurt. Why three times? Because there was sin in Peter’s life that needed to be put on the table and forgiven by Jesus. Failure and sin needed to be removed and inner healing needed to take place. Jesus, the great Physician provided that to Peter on the seashore that morning. And after he asked Peter three times if he loved him, Jesus said, “Follow me.” He gave him a second chance.

In writing about this story, Rita Snowden writes, “You ask me what forgiveness is: it’s the wonder of being trusted by God in the place I disgraced him.”

I love this story. It’s a grace story, and I need grace. Often times I really blow it when it comes to faithfully following Jesus Christ. Countless are the times when I have failed to put in a word for him when the opportunity was there. Maybe I didn’t see it, maybe I did, but Jesus didn’t get a witness from me. Or times I’ve let him down by not keeping my word and being a person of integrity. How many times have I failed to be a light to cause others to glorify my Father in heaven, yet my behavior did anything but show light for Jesus.

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the police officer who pulled over a man in a car and, asking for his license and registration, the driver responded, “What’s wrong, officer? I wasn’t speeding was I?”

“No,” the policeman said. “I saw you waving your fist as you swerved around the lady driving in the left lane. And I further observed your angry red face as you shouted at the driver of that Cadillac you cut off, and how you pounded your steering wheel violently when the traffic came to a stop at the bridge.”

“Is that a crime, officer?”

“No, but when I saw the ÔJesus loves you and so do I’ bumper sticker on your car, I figured the car had to be stolen.”

How often has our behavior left people wondering where we stand with Jesus Christ? How often have we used his name in a way that would make people wonder if we really belong to him? There are times when we truly do let him down. That is why I like this story. It’s a grace story that paints for us the picture of a Savior who forgives.

There is another story I read some time ago and wanted to share with you today. It goes as follows:

On New Year’s Day, 1929, Georgia Tech played UCLA in the Rose Bowl. In that game a young man named George Riegels recovered a fumble for UCLA. Picking up the loose ball, he lost his direction and ran sixty-five yards toward the wrong goal line. One of his teammates, Benny Lom, ran him down and tackled him just before he scored for the opposing team. Several plays later the Bruins had to punt. Tech blocked the kick and scored a safety, demoralizing the UCLA team.

The strange play came in the first half. At halftime the UCLA players filed off the field and into the dressing room. As the others sat down on the benches and the floor, Roy Riegels put a blanket around his shoulders, sat down in the corner, and put his face in his hands.

A football coach usually has a great deal to say to his team during halftime. That day Coach Price was quiet. No doubt he was trying to decide what to do with Riegels.

When the timekeeper came in and announced there were three minutes before playing time, Coach Price looked at the team and said, “Men, the same team that played the first half will start the second.” The players got up and started out, all but Riegels. He didn’t budge. The coach looked back and called to him. Riegels didn’t move. Coach Price went over to where he sat and said, “Roy, didn’t you hear me? The same team that played the first half will start the second.”

Roy Riegels looked up, his cheeks wet with tears. “Coach, I can’t do it. I’ve ruined you. I’ve ruined the university’s reputation. I’ve ruined myself. I’ve let down the team. I can’t face that crowd out there.”

Coach Price reached out his hand on Riegels’ shoulder and said, “Roy, get up and go on back. The game is only half over.” Riegels finally did get up. He went onto the field, and the fans saw him play hard and play well.

All of us have run a long way in the wrong direction at times. Because of the forgiveness offered in Jesus Christ, however, remember Ð the game is only half over.

Yes, I do blow it. Does that mean I am useless to my Savior? Beyond redemption? No! According to this story, a new start is available. We have a second chance. Jesus does not write me off. As I come before him humbly and honestly and allow him to perform soul surgery on this wounded soul of mine, he says to me, “Get back in the game, Kramer. Nurture the gifts I’ve given you. Cherish the calling I’ve placed on your life, and devote yourself to my cause.”

Yes, dear friends, we still have our moments when we blow it as followers of Jesus Christ. But here is the good news: Jesus Christ, our risen Savior, is the Lord of the second chance.

The Christian Friend

We are created as social beings. Some are more social than others, but most of us need to have a circle of friends. While we have a host of friends with whom we share many experiences, our friendships created within the Church have a depth that others do not have.

Consider the conversations that we have with those who are not Christians. What do we talk about? Family, vacations, work, recipes, houses, health, sports, politics. With our Christian friends we discuss these same topics, but other questions such as forgiveness, the abundant life in Christ, and eternal life are a few that add depth to our conversations.

Life teaches us that friends have a great influence on us. Isn’t that why parents are anxious that their children have some good Christian friends? Parents fear their children will get in with the wrong crowd, which can spell trouble ahead.

Our text today talks about the importance of Christian friends. Timothy, who lived in Derbe or Lystra had become a spiritual son of Paul. Since the apostle was confined to his prison cell, Timothy was his errand boy. He delivered messages from Paul to the people in Thessalonica and Corinth and brought Paul great comfort in the Roman jail. Paul writes, “I have no one like him, who takes an interest in your welfare. For everyone looks after his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the Gospel. I hope to send him as soon as I see how things go with me.”

Faithfulness described Timothy. It is the description of all true friends. These people are there when you need them the most. Have you sometimes been surprised who your best friends are?

Paul mentions another friend in our text, Epaphroditus. The Philippians had sent Epaphroditus to Paul with a gift. While he was in Rome he became sick and the Philippian congregation worried about him. After he was better, Paul sent him home with this letter.

More than the gift of money, Paul appreciated the fellowship he had with Epaphroditus and would have liked for him to stay longer. However, he realized how homesick Epaphroditus had been, so it was best that he leave. We see the danger of self-centeredness and being concerned about our own needs. This is a good example of how the Holy Spirit led Paul out of himself and bound him to his brothers and sisters in Philippi.

I am an only child. Consequently, I do not understand the relationship that exists among siblings. I do not know how I would react if I had brothers and sisters. My feelings make me believe that I would want to see them often. What I do understand is the joy one can have with his brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. With them we can pray and share the faith. We can not only discuss the experiences of the past and the present, but we can talk about what lies ahead, for we all have a future in the heavenly home.

Not long ago a group of us were discussing what heaven was going to be like. Each of us were pretty dogmatic on what we believed about heaven until our discussion developed into an argument. In the heat of our conversation, we all broke out in laughter. None of us know the details of what the heavenly life will be like. We only thought we did. What a great conversation Ð talking about heaven. What surprises are in store for the family of God when we live in those mansions promised to us by our Lord!

I have been visiting a person who is in serious trouble with the law. This man has been my friend for many years, so when I learned he was in trouble, I went to see him. In his depressed state he wanted to tell me his legal problems. I said to him, “I haven’t come to hear your problems. I know enough about it and am terribly disappointed and sad that you could do such things as you are accused of doing. But I have come because I love you and I have the answer for your problems. That answer for you is to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Since then we have had regular visits as we read the Scriptures and pray together. One day I asked a common friend, who had been converted to Christ about three years ago, to visit him in jail. This was a different environment than they had previously shared. Once they fished and drank together on a beautiful Canadian lake. It was a big party for them. Now they were in less pleasing circumstances.

I do not have all the details of their jailhouse visit, but I could not resist asking what they talked about. This is what my incarcerated friend wrote to me: “What a wonderful surprise to see him in person again. And what a testimony Ð and praise God Ð I can’t believe it! He says another one of our friends is on the same path. I last saw this fellow when we went fishing in northern Saskatchewan and to know that both of them have a new life is a miracle.”

Now listen! If Paul sat in prison with two friends, Epaphroditus and Timothy, can’t we believe that God sent Dick to his troubled friend and let him know what a change Jesus had made in his life?

Since that visit, my friend has asked Christ to be a part of his life. He let me know that when and if he goes to prison, he will not go alone. Christ will go with him, and when he arrives at the prison, there will be brothers in the faith who will be there to meet him. This is the family of God.

No person is an island unto himself. We need Christ and we need one another.

Some Day

The Bible is often called holy history. It is a historical account of God working in history. St. Paul is one of its inspired writers, chosen by God to write a part of this historical account. In his letter to the Philippians, he tells the people that there is yet another chapter to be written, and this will deal with the second coming of Jesus.

One day the Savior will return to judge the living and the dead, as we confess in the Apostles’ Creed, and at that time “every knee in heaven and on earth will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (vs. 10-11).

As believers, we sometimes let our minds go and anticipate what that day will be like. We probably will find our thoughts to be wrong, but just imagine what it could be like if two men, like Martin Luther and Adolph Hitler, would be standing at the judgment throne. Their knees would be bowed and their tongues would confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Then these words would be spoken, “Depart from me Adolph; you rejected me. Come, Martin, into the heavenly habitations provided for you and all who trust Christ as Savior and Lord.” The point is that there will be a judgment that will result in a separation of all humanity into an eternal home of either blessedness or damnation.

Some day the Lord Jesus, who lived in his humiliated state for thirty-three years, will come in his exalted state to reign as a part of the Triune Godhead for all eternity. God has highly exalted him and given him the name that is above every name. He is Lord, and at his name every knee all will bow.

Where will we be in this massive crowd as the world comes to an end? If we have died trusting in Jesus Christ as the One who has taken our sins away, it will be a blessed homecoming. Then we will see our Savior face to face, and all of the mysteries of the Christian faith will be made known. If we have died in our sins, rejecting Christ as our Redeemer, then it will be a horrible day. It is difficult to comprehend. St. Paul described our thoughts well when he wrote, “Now I see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but one day I will fully understand.”

The promise of Christ’s return has been treated in many ways. Some learned theologians have said it is a myth and must be demythologized to make the truth more acceptable to rational thought. This interpretation is not acceptable to evangelical Christians who take God’s Word more literally than such an explanation.

Others will say the return of Christ is a beautiful legend that brings us much solace and comfort when death has taken a loved one from the family circle. While the Christian believes this to be true, he believes it is far more than a legend. It is a historical event. Christ will physically return to this earth. The Bible teaches this in so many places, and we believe it to be true.

Most confessional churches confess their faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed by saying, “And he will come again to judge the living and the dead.” Others are more detailed in their teaching on the subject and are referred to as premillennialists or dispensationalists. Dr. Joseph Stump, in his book, The Christian Faith, writes, “In general, it may be said that their tenets include the following: Christ will come again before his final coming to judgment and will establish his kingdom visibly upon the earth. The conversion of people will then proceed very rapidly. Satan will be bound during this period. There will be a twofold resurrection: a first resurrection of the just to establish his kingdom and a final resurrection of all the dead at the end of the world. The living Christians and those raised from the dead at the first resurrection shall reign with Christ on earth for a thousand years. The Jews will be converted and have a large place in the kingdom. Much of this teaching comes from Revelation 20.”

The Bible teaches that the history of the world has an ending. Sometimes we wonder if the end is near. Hasn’t every generation of Christians entertained these thoughts? Listen to Jesus’ words: “No one knows the day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard. Be alert! You do not know when that time will come” (Mark 13:32ff).

Today we rejoice that we know so much about this holy history as recorded in the scriptures. We would be foolish not to find our place in this story and be assured of what our place will be in the last chapter yet to be written.

Prepared for Satan’s Attack

People sometimes ask where preachers get the tests that are a basis for their sermons. Many of us use the lectionary text. These texts are historic texts for each Sunday of the church year. Thousands of churches around the world use them. A congregation in London that uses the lectionary texts would base the sermon on the same portion of scripture as a church in New York. Lutherans use the lectionary lessons, but are not limited to them.

Sometimes the pastors feel that placing a special emphasis on a subject like prayer is important. So they will personally select passages from the Bible to help the congregation learn what God’s Word teaches us concerning the topic. We call this topical preaching.

A third source of selecting texts is preaching on a book in the Bible. This is what we are doing now. I am preaching on the book of Philippians. It is important for the preacher to discipline himself to expound on all major thoughts in the book. This approach will give the congregation a true overview of the message that God has for it and can apply to the church.

If it were not for this discipline, I would have skipped over these first four verses in the second chapter of Philippians. Why, you might ask? Well, because the problem of division in the local congregation or denomination is not one of my favorite subjects.

You may say that any organization can expect divisions. Country clubs and service clubs have divisions. Wherever people gather in a group, you cannot expect unity.

However, the Church is not just another organization. It is united in Jesus Christ, and when that unity is broken, the witness for Christ is hurt.

In expounding on our text, Dr. William Barclay says, “The one danger that threatened the Philippian church was disunity. It is, in a sense, the danger of every healthy church. When people believe in earnest, and their beliefs truly matter to them, they are apt to get up against each other. The greater their enthusiasm, the greater the danger that they might collide with each other. It is against that danger that Paul wants to safeguard his friends.”

The histories of many congregations have found Dr. Barclay’s observation to be true. In a sleeping giant congregation Ð where little happens and people suffer from a real case of apathy Ð often few problems exist. The membership is content to come to worship services whenever it is convenient and let others run the affairs of the group. This church is content to live and let live as long as nobody bothers them too much. Seldom are there problems in this group. Divisions are often the sign of people who love their church and want it to be a blessing in the community.

Let us look at what has caused divisions in congregations. Paul tells us this when he writes, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of other people” (Philippians 2:3, 4).

The Living Bible translates these verses in this way: “Don’t be selfish; don’t live to make a good impression. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. Don’t just think about your own affairs, but be interested in others too, and in what they are doing.”

Meditating on these inspired words, I thought back over my years in the church. What caused divisions that had to be handled in love?

Once we had a language problem. Our congregations were made up of people who immigrated from Denmark, and all the services were conducted in the Danish language. This was the language that made members feel comfortable. But then reality set in and people realized that, if the congregation were going to grow, they had to use the English language.

Although I was just a little boy, I can remember some business meetings where votes had to be taken on whether or not the service should be in Danish or English. Feelings ran quite high and friendships were tested. The sin of selfishness came into play. “What do I want?”, not “What is going to reach the community with the Gospel?”, was a tough topic to discuss in love and free from emotional flare-ups.

Then came the gender issue. What is the woman’s position in the church? Should she be allowed to vote? Could she even sit on the same side of the church as her husband? Silly, you say. However, it was not a silly topic for those Bible-loving people who believed that when Paul told the women to remain silent in the church, he was delivering a message from God that we should not tamper with.

The arguments were interesting for us. Yet they were not so interesting for those who found themselves doing battle over this question. I often wondered, if the arguments could get this heated in the church, what must have been happening at home between husband and wife who did not share the same opinion on the subject?

We had hardly settled the matter of voting at congregational meetings and women teaching men in the church when the denomination threw another curve at the congregation. Should women be ordained? While this too has quieted, strong feelings about women pastors still are not settled in some congregations.

Another issue was racial separation. Based on isolated Bible passages taken out of context, some pious people felt that remaining separated was better for the races and each group should have their own church. We all know that God has led us a long way in this conflict, but it is not completely settled. Were we interested in the spiritual welfare of those who were of another color? What should we do with this portion of God’s Word? God had spoken clearly. It was a matter of letting the Holy Spirit give us a change of heart and a new understanding what it means to be one in Christ.

Now we have a problem with the difference of age. We have differences in worship style: music (organ or drums) and traditional hymns of the past or today’s praise songs. Young members are confronting older members asking, “When are you going to step down and let us do our thing?” Older members are saying to younger people, “If you do not like it here, start your own church. That is what we had to do.”

God’s Word tells us, “Do not just think about your own affairs, but be interested in others too and what they are doing.” It is the Holy Spirit who must lead the older people to say to those in their prime, “It is time for us to let you lead the congregation,” and it is time for the younger group to say, “Do not leave us. We need your wisdom and testimony of how God has led you.”

This, I believe, is getting an update on what Paul would say to us. Our problems are different from those of the Philippians. However, the message is the same: Live in harmony with each other. Never compromise the teachings of God’s Word, but let all else be discussed in love.

It is Jesus Christ who brings unity to the church. He has forgiven us and tells us to forgive one another. He has shown us what a compassionate spirit is and tells us to pass it on in dealing with others. As he lives in our hearts, the spirit of Christ’s love for us should move us to love him and others. It is he who counsels us to sit and talk, listen and speak with open hearts and minds. This is essential if the congregation is to be a witness in the community. Other organizations will have their divisions, but the Church, under the Lordship of Christ, cannot succumb to behavior that causes disunity.

We have a Counselor. He is the Holy Spirit who will lead us. This is Jesus’ promise to us.