At Jesus’ Feet

It has often been said that the Bible is so simple that a child can understand it, but so complex that the most learned scholars cannot exhaust its meaning.

I believe this is true. Remember the Bible stories we heard as children in our Sunday school classes? One of these stories was the raising of Jairus’ daughter. He was a ruler in the synagogue, and the Bible tells us Jairus had a twelve-year-old daughter who was very ill. He came to Jesus and asked if He would heal her. Jesus obliged. When they got close to the house, Jairus received the message that the daughter had died. Jesus continued to the dead girl’s bedroom. He had with Him Peter, James, John and the girl’s parents. The Lord put his hands on the child and said, “Talitha koum!” which was Aramaic, meaning, “Little girl, I say to you, Ôget up!'” and she stood on her feet. The dead daughter had been resurrected (v. 22-24; 35-42).

Hearing that story, our Sunday school class concluded that Jesus was so powerful He could even raise the dead. It made us feel secure. We understood the story. But is there more to this story? This is a question I have asked many times in preparing a sermon on the text.

There is more! In fact, Tom Wright, one of the world’s leading scholars on the New Testament, tells us that the raising of Jairus’ daughter is not the primary message of the text. Jesus was actually asking, What does it take to bring us to our knees, that we might taste of His grace?

Look at these words: “Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, ÔMy little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.’ So Jesus went with him” (v. 22-24).

Jairus’ story is interrupted when a woman who had been subjected to bleeding for twelve years saw Jesus and thought, If I just touch his clothesÉ Immediately her bleeding stopped. Jesus realized the power had gone out of him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” Then the woman fell at His feet, trembling with fear. Jesus said to her, “Go in peace and be freed from your suffering” (v. 25-34).

Before they arrived at Jairus’ house a messenger brought the news that his daughter had died. Jesus told the synagogue leader, “Don’t be afraid; just believe” (v. 35-36).

Arriving at the house, Jesus took the parents, along with Peter, James and John and went in to where the child was. He took her by the hand and said, “Talitha koum!” which means “Little girl, I say to you get up!” Immediately the girl got up and walked around, astonishing the people. Jesus then gave strict orders to let no one know about this (v. 40-43).

Jesus is anxious to serve us all, but what will it take to bring us to His feet? It took the thought of losing his daughter to show Jairus he could not remain neutral toward Jesus and still expect Him to be his Savior. This, according to Bishop Wright, is a basic message of the text. It was this “something else” that I was looking for as I worked with this text. It brings a powerful message to me and I pass it on to you.

What will it take to bring us to Jesus’ feet? Is it only a one-time experience?

We carry many burdens of a spiritual nature. Christ can help us with these troubles, but first we must come to Him. He needs to hear from the burdened soul the same prayer that Jairus prayed: “Please Lord, help me.” If Jesus does not take away the concerns, He will help us walk through it. He will direct, strengthen, and forgive us.

Let me try to make this concrete so that you will know what I am speaking about. Here is a family who has problems which have divided them. It is obvious there is hatred in their souls for one another. They cannot agree on anything that comes up for discussion. You might suggest that each side go his or her own way and just forget each other. But this is not the answer, for they have too many fond memories of good times with each other. These experiences will not return until these strong negative feelings are erased. And that will not happen until they kneel before the Lord Jesus and pray, “Father, help us.”

To change these hearts is another miracle that only the Holy Spirit can do. But what will it take to bring them to Christ for help?

We need a Savior. Some will say, “Who me? I can take care of my own problems.” Had Jairus said that, his daughter would have died, and so many live and die today because humans are not convinced they need a Savior, nor do they know who the Savior is.

The words of this text bring a special warning to those who know Christ intellectually but have yet to bow to their knees and ask for help. Believe me, He will be there to take you by the hand and bring new life to your dying soul.

We carry many spiritual burdens in this life. Jesus is willing to help us with the load of those troubles if we will but take them to him. But what will it take before we bear our burdened soul with him? In this week’s sermon we will talk about a man who took his desperate situation to Jesus, and the lesson we are to learn from it.

The Evening That Faith Grew

“This lake can get very rough.” Those were the words of our guide as we sailed on the Sea of Galilee on our trip to the Holy Land.

No one knew this better than Jesus’ disciples. At least four of them had been fishermen and lived around the Sea of Galilee all their lives. But on the particular night described in our text, the disciples were crossing the sea and Jesus was sleeping in the stern of the boat. As the ship filled with water and was cast to and fro by the winds, these experienced fishermen became afraid. They ran to Jesus saying, “We will drown, Jesus! Don’t you care?” (v. 38).

After stilling the sea, Jesus looked at his disciples and asked, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith” (v. 40)? Then he left them and they asked, “Who is this man that even the wind and the waves obey him?” (v.41). That was the evening they began to grow up spiritually.

In this portion of scripture we find both a miracle and a parable. The lake was quieted and the disciples’ faith grew a bundle that night. Let’s apply this to our lives.

Part of living involves facing the storms of life. Everything might be moving smoothly in our lives. We enjoy good health, financial security, family who bring us joy and satisfaction, friends who enrich our days, a church that gives us comfort, and a nation that offers us many freedoms and opportunities.

But then things change. Sickness hits, we lose our job, a child gets divorced. Suddenly we find we are in the midst of a storm, and we wonder where God is. We are afraid. However, during these hours we learn that, although God doesn’t always calm the storm, He is still walking with us. During these hours we experience what God’s grace is all about. We learn what the Psalmist meant when he says, “I lift my eyes unto the hills. From whence does my help come? My help comes from the Lord” (Psalms 121:1-2).

Peter’s faith grew that night on the wild sea of Galilee. That experience prepared him to preach his famous sermon on Pentecost, when this fearless disciple of Jesus stood before the people, who could well have put him to death, and said, “You, together with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross, but God raised him from the dead” (Acts 5:30).

Peter’s sermon at Pentecost was also a wild sea, but the fear was gone. He had come a long way in his relationship with Jesus. His experience of being tossed around on a wild sea in a small boat taught him that Jesus was able to deliver on the promises He had made to the disciples.

It has brought me great encouragement in my ministry to watch people grow spiritually as they live with their problems; some of those being big problems. As I preach this sermon, I can name seven people in their 40s and 50s who, within the last few months, have learned they have cancers that could well be terminal. When I asked one of them last Sunday how she was handling the news, she squeezed my cheeks and said, “I’m hanging in there. I’m taking my treatments and they are making me sick, but I leave it in the hands of the Lord. I really want to live, but if He has other plans, so be it. ÔAll things work together for good to them who love the Lord.’ And believe me, I love Him.”

An older woman told a group of us, “I have buried a husband and a child. Another of my children has served time in prison. But God has been my comfort.”

And I sometimes complain!

The storms of life come into every life. They can either destroy us or make us strong people of God. Christ alone can empower us to face the storms as we encounter them. He is in the boat.

Planting the Seed

Each part of the country has its own unique beauty. I love to go back to my home state of Maine, where we are surrounded by the ocean, lakes, and mountains. What a beautiful place to spend my boyhood.

Then I moved to the Midwest. I gradually learned that it, too, has its own beauty with its beautiful fields of grain, especially in the fall of the year, when the corn, oats and wheat are about to be harvested.

It was in the last part of April that I was listening to two farmers busily talk about planting their crops. Anticipation filled their voices as each one talked about the hundreds of acres of seed he had planted. The seed was growing secretly, but soon would make its appearance. By July 4 it would be at least knee high. Then the ear would form on the cornstalk. Natives of the Midwest told me that on a hot, sultry night you could hear the corn growing. And all the while it is growing, the farmer waits for the harvest to see what God had produced.

Today our text is recorded in Mark 4:26. Jesus uses the parable of the growing seed. In light of this text I ask, What are we doing in the Church today? It is a question that needs to be asked by the Christian on a daily basis. Here we have Christ’s answer: the Church’s God-given task is to plant the seed of God’s Word in the lives of people. Then the Holy Spirit does His work of producing the fruit, which is to bring forth a person who is committed to Christ.

At this particular time we are sowing the seed, which is the Word of God. Then we watch as the Holy Spirit works through the Word, producing fruit in our lives. Let’s apply this great truth that Jesus taught us.

A child is born into your home. When the child is a few weeks old you bring him to the baptismal font where the seed is sown. However, that is not the end. God admonishes the parents to nourish the seed by introducing the child to Jesus Christ. He tells us to plant the seed and nourish it.

I recall my mother’s Bible. In the New Testament was a picture of Jesus the Good Shepherd holding a lamb. Mother was sowing the seed in my life. She taught me that I was the lamb, Jesus was the shepherd, and He would always be with me.

But her Bible had another picture that I did not like. It was a picture of Jesus on the cross. She could sense my dislike for the picture, so she told me that this showed how much He loved me. He took all of my sins away, and He had promised me a home in Heaven when I died.

My mother was planting the seed, and it continued as the years went by and my questions became a bit more complex. My grandmother died in November one year and my grandfather came to live with us. One Sunday morning he was not feeling well, so he chose not to go to church. When we returned home he was still in bed. Later, when dinner was ready, I took his plate to the bedroom, only to find Grandpa dead.

All this was too much for an eleven-year-old boy, so my parents talked to me about death. The body would return to the dust, but the soul would go to be with God in Heaven if the person believed in Christ Jesus. Grandpa was a man of faith, so right there God gave me a dynamic lesson on the assurance of my salvation.

As I grew older, legalistic teachings of the Christian faith confused me for a while. I believed that Christ had died for my sins, but that I had to make some kind of contribution for my salvation. And I never got my part done. It was then that I heard an astute theologian speaking to a group of pastors emphasize the danger of confusing people in their faith by mixing the Law and the Gospel. “Just tell them as simply as possible that Christ has done it all,” he said. The seed was being planted.

Others sowed the seed and gave me the teachings of God’s Word regarding marriage being between a man and a woman and lasting until death. They told me that being a witness for Jesus Christ was important no matter what kind of work you did. We wrestled with prayer and how God had told us to live with Him in prayer but not always to expect to understand how God answered prayer.

I was taught that we could well learn to say “I don’t know, but one day I will” on subjects that go far beyond our understanding, such as God being One yet revealing Himself as threeÑFather, Son and Holy Spirit.

Hundreds of people have planted the seed of God’s Word in my life, and He has spoken to me through this Word.

Think of how important it is to have a Christian home, where the seed is planted. Think of how important it is that the Church is about the Father’s business of planting the Word as taught in the Scriptures. It does not change.

What is the Church doing today? It is planting the seed in the lives of people. What will some of these people become?

¥ Husbands and wives who will build a home.

¥ Parents of children who can become great people of God.

¥ School teachers in elementary and high schools, colleges and universities.

¥ Business people from small towns to Wall Street.

¥ Theological professors who will teach others to be the clergy of the church.

¥ Physicians, nurses, lawyers, and other professionals who share the Gospel when they have an opportunity.

¥ Legislators, congressmen and women, Cabinet members, and the President of the United States.

What an opportunity we have. May the seed always bear fruit!

Here is one of those questions I cannot answer. God’s Word says, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out of my mouth; It will not return to me empty but will accomplish the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).

I will not know all the answers to questions related to His promise in this life. My mother taught me to say, “We don’t know all the answers, but this we do know: God loves us and forgives our sins. Therein you have your peace.”

That seed was planted in my heart by faithful servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit made it bear fruit. It is all by grace and nothing the soil does without the power of the Holy Spirit.

And That Is What We Are!

I’ve been called a number of things in life. In 1965 I was named Most Valuable Player in little league baseball. Around my community I was Earl and Delores Kramer’s son. After I attended seminary and received my first call to Winona, Minnesota, I received the title of pastor. You have probably picked up a few titles along the way as well, such as doctor, or professor, or mom, or dad.

The Apostle John wrote of another title that makes the others pale in comparison. “See what love the Father has given us that we should be called CHILDREN of God. And that is what we are!”

Notice that John points out that God has given us not only a title, but a new reality, as he states “And that is what we are!”

I have heard some people question this statement: “What is the big deal? Are we not all children of God?”

The answer to that is no. God has all created us and we are his creatures, but, according to various statements in the New Testament, being a child of God has something to do with having a relationship with Jesus.

For instance, the Apostle Paul stated in Romans 8: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry Abba Father, it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ . . .”

To the Galatian Christians he wrote: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ÔAbba Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but a child, and if a child, then an heir through Christ” (Gal. 4:4-7).

Peter wrote in his letter that we are to be obedient children of God and not conform to old desires. John wrote in his gospel, as he described the coming of Jesus into the world: “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him he gave power to become children of God, who were born not of blood or of the will of flesh or the will of man, but of God.”

Where did John, Peter, and Paul get this notion that a person becomes a child of God through a relationship with Jesus Christ? John and Peter obviously got it through Jesus himself, who for three years taught him such things as how to pray (Our Father). Paul had this message passed on to him from the disciples.

How did this title come about?

John tells us that it is a gift from God.

“See what love . . .” (His love is out of this world!)

“. . . the Father has GIVEN us” (He has lavished upon us.)

What is that love? It is His Son, Jesus Christ, who lived the perfect sinless life and died upon a cross as a payment for my sin. He took all my sinfulness upon himself and gave me all his righteousness. Trusting in him, God sees me as his son or daughter.

John went on to say that not only are we God’s children now, but also that WE HAVE A HOPEFUL FUTURE! “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is . . .”

These two verses of chapter three celebrate the accomplishment of God’s eternal purpose concerning humanity. This purpose finds full expression in Genesis 1:26 as God was about to create man. He said, “Let us create man in our own image . . .” In his likeness Ð perfect! Without sin. That image was marred by humanity’s FALL into sin through disobedience.

That image has been stamped upon us again through Jesus as we place our trust in him. We are God’s children now. But one day we will see him face to face, and we shall be like him. The image will be restored! In the meantime, we are under construction as God’s Spirit works on us, conforming us to the image of his son. Billy Graham’s wife Ruth once said: “I saw a sign on a strip of highway once that I would like to have copied on my gravestone. It said, ÔEnd of construction. Thank you for your patience.'”

Living as God’s child on this planet means a couple things. First, I am known and loved by my heavenly Father. I am loved like Christ is loved. I am honored like Christ is honored.

I read a story awhile back about a priest named Ed Farrel from Detroit who traveled back to Ireland to participate in his oldest uncle’s 80th birthday celebration. On the morning of the big day, he and his uncle Seamus went for a walk down by Lake Kilarny to watch the sun rise. As they quietly stood by the lake watching the sunrise, Ed saw that his uncle was smiling from ear to ear. “Uncle, you look happy.”

“Oh, I am,” replied his uncle.

“Why is that, uncle?”

He smiled and said, “My Father is mighty fond of me.” And he turned and kind of skipped down the road.

We sometimes talk of God loving us, but have you ever stopped to consider that as his child your Father is mighty fond of you? You are not just a number in the phone book. He loves you and he is fond of you. Not only that, I am his forever! Someday I will see him and be like him. I belong to him forever and not even death can separate me from his love or snatch me from his strong hand.

Al Rogness was a marvelous preacher in the Lutheran Church many years ago. He wrote a devotional book that contained this wonderful story entitled “You’re Mine.”

YOU’RE MINE

“In the foothills of Montana’s Rockies a little stream is born. It trickles its fitful path down the hillsides, and flows into the plains. Growing broader and deeper, it becomes a river Ð the Missouri.

“Montana says, “River, you’re mine.” But on it flows, declining to be cradled long by its parent state. Coursing on through the sister Dakotas, it hears again the claim, “River, you’re ours.” Heedless, it pushes on, angling its way between Nebraska and Iowa, but not before each of these neighbors has reached out for possession, “River, you’re mine. Like a restless eel, it slips away, down to join the great Father of Waters, the Mississippi. And as it joins its flow with the larger, the Mississippi says,”At last you have come to me; now you’re mine.”

“Still it flows silently on. At last its currents become slower, fuller, until down into the great Gulf of Mexico it comes to rest in the bosom of the ocean. In the rhythmic heaving of the deep, it hears the ocean’s whisper, “River, you’re mine. “You’ve always been mine. It was I who sent the storm clouds into the mountains to give you birth. It was I who pulled you steadily, irresistibly away from all others back to me. From me you came, to me you return. Only I can really say, ÔYou’re mine.'”

“Into a home a little girl is born. Bending tenderly over the cradle, a mother whispers, “Baby, you’re mine.” The years go on, and soon the baby has become a lady. A lover takes her by the hand, and a deeper voice echoes the mother’s whisper, “Sweetheart, you’re mine.” Then one day she stands looking into the deep eyes of her own baby, and her mother ears seem to catch the unspoken claim of her child, “Mother, you’re mine.”

“But the years refuse to linger, and all too soon her hair becomes silver. Life grows fuller, deeper, slower, and one day she glides through the narrows into Eternity’s ocean. There, in the bosom of her heavenly Father, she hears the voice of God, “My child, you’re mine. You’ve always been mine. It was I who gave you life. It was I who drew you, through my redeeming love in Christ, away from all others back to me. From me you came, to me you return. Only I can really say, ÔYou’re mine.'”

Why do you suppose John shared these words in our text with those early Christians? If you read the whole letter, you’ll find words like, “beloved,” and “my little children.” It is a pastor’s heart reaching out to people he cares about who were experiencing creeping doubts. They were in need of reassurance. Life’s twists and turns and ups and downs have a way of doing that to us.

John’s purpose is found in that first word Ð SEE what love the Father has given us. I am appealing to you to SEE this. Catch a glimpse of it Ð the image of God’s love for you. Hold onto it and treasure it. Consider it each day. Remember it when you are wondering whether to pray or not as you’re facing a circumstance in life. Remember you are a child of God and your Father is mighty fond of you.

Martin Luther wrote in his small catechism that when Jesus taught us to first pray “Our Father in heaven,” he was teaching us to believe that God is truly our Father, and we are his children. We therefore are to pray to him with complete confidence just as children speak to their loving father. Keep coming to your heavenly Father. He’s mighty fond of you.

Remember that you are a child of God as you drive past the cemetery and are reminded of your own mortality. Or as you lie in a hospital bed with wires and tubes running into you, and you’re wondering if this is the end, remember you’re a child of God. You are only walking through the valley of the shadow of death. You’re going to see Jesus face to face.

The first funeral I ever presided at was for an elderly man named Willard Benson. I was asked to sing an old gospel hymn that I had never heard. However, I learned it and have continued to love it and keep it in my heart. It captures what John encourages us to keep in mind as we face death.

“Someday the silver cord will break, and I no more of him shall sing.

But oh the joy when I shall wake within the palace of the King.

And I shall see him face to face, and tell the story saved by grace.

And I shall see him face to face, and tell the story saved by grace.”

See what love the Father has given us? That we should be called the children of God. And that is what we are.