My Beloved

Many people walk through life feeling unloved. I know of some of them; I have talked with them.

One day when I was just a kid, my friend and I were playing catch in his driveway when the ball went into the flower bed and may have broken off a flower. My friend’s father kicked him severely. The kid ran down the street as fast as he could in excruciating pain, I’m sure. I ran after him and asked if he was all right. “Yes,” he replied. “I’m all right. My father can be very good to me, but he has these temper tantrums. My mother died a year ago, and I have no one to turn to. I think that, underneath it all, my father doesn’t really love me.”

Years ago, my father bought a Victrola record player. I liked to listen to a particular song on it, supposedly written by a man while he was in jail. This is what it said:

“O I wish I had someone to love me,

someone to call me their own.

O I wish I had someone to live with,

I’m tired of living alone.”

Coming from a home where I was very well loved, I couldn’t understand the idea of a person wishing he had someone to love him. Perhaps that was why he was in prison Ð because he had never experienced the love of another person.

When I was in the seminary, a student and I were talking. A fellow’s name came up, and he said, “Well, he’s a little bit different, but he’s a great guy!” When I said what made him different, he replied, “He and I were in the same class once. His father, a high-ranking official of our church, was going to preach in chapel. So I said to him, ÔI bet you are excited to see your father and listen to him preach. You must be proud of him.’ And he said, ‘Not really. Dad will be on campus, but there is every possibility that he will not even see me. He’ll be so busy with the heads of departments in the college that he won’t have time to look me up. Sometimes I wonder if he is so busy with the church that he doesn’t have time for his family.'”

Now I am sure that the father, who was a godly man, loved his children, wife, and all others around him. However, he gave his son the impression that maybe he did not love him.

If you one of those who, rightly or wrongly, feel that you are not loved, then I have some great news to share with you. One of the blessings of being a Christian is knowing that you have a heavenly Father who loves you under all conditions, good or bad. He loves you. And our text for this first Sunday in Lent gives us a clear picture of his love.

Jesus had come down from Nazareth to Jerusalem. John the Baptist was in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The people came out to hear his message, confess their sins, and be baptized. Jesus also came to John to be baptized. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need be baptized by you . . .”

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper . . .”

When John had baptized him, Jesus came up from the water. Then the heavens parted, and the voice of God cried out, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Jesus was being told by his Father, “I love you. You are my Son.”

We must remember that Jesus was not only God, he was also man, and he would need those words of encouragement many times. He knew his mother and Joseph, who had raised him, loved him. But words of encouragement Ð that his heavenly Father cared for him Ð carried him through the dark days ahead. In the darkness of Gethsemane, the darkness of Calvary’s mountain, where he was crucified for the sins of the world in order that he might say to those who believe in him, “I love you.” I came to die for your sins. I love you! I love you very much!

Tom Wright, a Bible commentator, writes, “God says you are my dear, dear children. Now you just try to read that sentence slowly using your own name at the start and reflect on it every day.”

“Bob, Jenny, you are my dear child. I love you. You are my beloved.”

Say that every day. “For what God said to the Lord Jesus Christ,” Dr. Wright interprets in his book, “he also says to you and me.”

Wright goes on to explain that Jesus is the Messiah who represents his people. What is true of the Messiah is also true of the people of God. Learn to hear these words addressed to yourself and let them change you. When we realize that God loves us, the brunt is taken off when others do not. We still need someone with flesh and blood to love us, but underneath everything else, we know that God loves you.

Put your name in this sentence. “For God so loved Peter or Mary that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” That is love and it will change your life!

I don’t know how far my young friend matured in his Christianity. He was just a little boy whose mother was dead, and he felt his father didn’t love him. But I pray that he can remember what our pastor told us in confirmation class Ð God loves you Ð for then he could carry it with him, no matter how rough the day became.

If we think that God is a bully, he’s angry, he’s a threatening parent who yells at us, slams the door on us, or kicks us out into the street because we haven’t made the grade with him, we will fail at the first whisper of temptation. But if we remember the voice that spoke those powerful words of love, we will find the way through.

“You are my beloved Son,” rang through Jesus’ ears at Calvary’s cross, for he knew that the Father, who had sent him into this world, was the One who stood by him and would soon receive him again into the kingdom of God.

Some misfortunate people in our world believe they are not loved and no one has ever loved them. But I wonder sometimes, if they feel that way because they rejected the love that was given to them. Their relatives or friends tried in every way to love them, but they rejected it for one reason or another.

If you are part of that group, remember this: God still loves you. It is never too late in this life. If you say, “Well, I turned my back on his love when I was just 20 years old, and just look at my life from that time on,” it is too bad that you lived your life without him and his love. However, his arms are still outstretched. I know, with no doubt, you can still come to him, and his message will always be the same.

How can I be so sure of this? Because it describes me. I came from a home that was anxious to love. I am a much-loved person. I had many friends and relatives who loved me, and I often turned to their love. Yet underneath it all was that love of God that was warmer and more real than the love of a God-fearing father and mother.

The same can be true of those who have not yet placed yourself in the hands of the love of God. If you have resisted that love for a long time, don’t you think it’s time in this Lenten season to stop and think again of all that he ever did for you? It’s a season when we center our thoughts on the love of the Savior. He loves you so much. Simply love him as your Savior and Lord.

As I have watched some of the presidential candidates on television, I see how they cruelly dig up past mistakes in the other candidates’ lives and then drill it into the conversation simply to get a vote. If those candidates will realize that the kind of love we experience on this earth is very superficial, perhaps they would know that what they are doing is not right, and underneath it all is a Father who loves them. Perhaps then they would not think evil things of a fellow member of the human race.

Our text is marvelous; it’s a marvelous season of the year. I hope and pray that, as you celebrate this Lenten season, you will know how much God loves you.

Is There Life on the Other Side?

The question is often asked, what do you think it’s like on the other side. Or do you think there is another side. Is there life after death? This is not an uncommon question asked today, especially as one stands by the bed of a loved one who is about to pass away. In our society today, there are many answers to that question. Here are a few:

1. There is no life after death. Life on this earth is all there is, so make the most of this life.

2. I don’t know if there is life after death. No one has returned to tell us.

3. I hope so.

4. Of course there is life on the other side! God will take care of all his children. No one is lost.

5. The Bible tells us there is a life on the other side for all who confess Christ as Savior and Lord.

The Old Testament teaches that there is life after death. In Psalm 73:24 we read, “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.”

The much-loved Psalm 23 closes with these words: “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

One of the basic messages of the New Testament is that Christ came into this world to be our Savior and Lord and to bring all those who believe in him into the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus spoke these words to the thief on the cross: “Today you will be with me in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

The Christmas message tells of God coming to this world in the person of Jesus Christ as the God-man. Jesus came to forgive sins and to promise a place in the Kingdom of God to those who receive him as Savior and Lord.

When Jesus proclaimed in Nazareth that he was the Messiah and the Savior of the world, the Jews wanted to kill him. He came to build his kingdom, but his people refused to accept Jesus as true God and true man. He was not the kind of Messiah they were expecting.

Early in his ministry, Jesus selected twelve disciples who would be the men to bring the good news of Christ to their world. They would be commissioned to go and make disciples of all the nations by baptizing and teaching this gospel to the far corners of the world. In order that they could perform this mighty task, they had to be convinced that Jesus was God.

As a part of their training, Jesus took Peter, James and John with him to a high mountain where they were all alone. Jesus was then transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. Then Elijah and Moses appeared before them, talking with Jesus. Peter, frightened and at a loss for words, said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters Ð one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, a voice came from the cloud saying, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, but wondered what “risen from the dead” meant.

One could ask the purpose for the transfiguration.

For Jesus, it could have been a break to remind him that the Father was with him. He had experienced difficult days, and the cross was before him. Having had that peek into heaven could have been a reminder that he was about his Father’s business.

For the disciples, it could have been preparation for the suffering and martyrdom they were to face. In his second letter, Peter reveals where he found comfort and strength to move on as a spokesman for Jesus. He writes, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ÔThis is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-18).

For those of us who trust Christ as Savior and Lord . . . The Holy Spirit reveals to us through the Bible who Christ is and what he has called us to do. Like the robber on the cross, we hear Jesus’ voice saying, “You will be with me in paradise.”

Is there life on the other side? This is God’s answer, and it is revealed to us in Holy Scripture, which is our authority. Others have another answer revealing uncertainty about life after death. Whose voice do you believe?

Listen Up!

Have you ever noticed the power of the spoken word in your life? Words like, You know I love you; What you did was well done; You should feel good about it, or I know you are going through a rough patch. But I believe in you and I’m on your side, can really lift your spirits.

In our text for today, the writer of Hebrews points out that God has spoken to us in a very special and unique way, and we need to pay attention to what he has said.

The book of Hebrews was written to some early Christians who were drifting a bit from their faith and becoming casual with some of the basics. Sometimes familiarity can cloud a person’s vision of what’s important. They had experienced some persecution for believing that Jesus was the only way of salvation. In the light of that persecution, they could have begun doubting their faith and softened the message in order to fit in better with society. Perhaps they felt that as Christians they should have been spared these problems.

The letter to the Hebrews is a response to their doubts and questions. It draws a word picture of Jesus for them (and us) to consider. The writer begins his letter by saying, “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, . . .” Some prophets spoke judgement, some spoke grace. But even with all the speaking, the picture of God in the people’s minds was a bit sketchy.

“. . .but in these last days God has spoken to us by a Son, . . .”

“In these last days,” Ð in other words, we are in the last chapter. History is his story, and it’s headed somewhere. God is in control.

“God has spoken to us by a Son . . .” Ð Who is Jesus? He is the Son of God, the heir of God, and “the reflection of God’s glory.”

Remember Jesus’ words to his disciples: “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” And John’s words in his Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth, and we have beheld his glory.”

Not only is Jesus the reflection of God’s glory, he’s the exact imprint of God’s being. In those days an emperor would hire someone to make a dye or a stamp with his image on it that would be stamped into a piece of soft metal or on a wax seal to show the character of the emperor upon it. Jesus has the imprint of God upon his soft flesh. As we look at Jesus, we see the imprint of the Father upon him.

“. . . having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” Jesus is superior to the angels or to anything else begging for your allegiance and belief.

So who is Jesus? He’s the Son of God. He reflects the glory of God, the imprint of God is upon him. Whoever has seen Jesus, has seen the Father.

The writer goes on to say what Jesus did for us: “(When) he had made purification for sins,” God has spoken a word of forgiveness to us through Jesus. He made a sacrifice for us at the cross so that we might have forgiveness and be cleansed.

Each and every one of us has a stain (referred to as sin) deep within us. It rears its ugly head in a way that we sometimes act very self-centered and egotistical. However, at the cross Jesus soaked up our stain like a sponge and took the punishment for our sin, which was keeping us from God. What amazing love God has given us in Jesus Christ!

Tim Keller, a pastor that I enjoy reading, once said, “Here’s the gospel: You’re more sinful than you dared believe. You’re more loved than you dared hope.”

Jesus made purification for our sins, God raised him on the third day, and “he sustains all things by his powerful word.” He is present with us today, and he is the same Jesus who died on the cross, rose again and promised his disciples to always be with them to the end of time. “I will not leave you as orphans but I will come to you.” The word “sustains” carries the image of being carried along by something. Jesus carries us along with his powerful word as the Holy Spirit is active in our lives.

Not long ago, I visited a widow, Janine, whose husband of 62 years recently passed away. She had a devotion book with God’s Word sitting on the table. “This is my daily devotion,” she said. “I just got done with it. It’s what carries me through these days.”

I was just talking with a man who has been battling Crohn’s disease for 30 years. He had a lot of pain. In the midst of our conversation, he pointed out to me, “I live by Romans 5. That suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope doesn’t disappoint us. I am hanging onto that one, Steve.” It is what carries him.

In Jesus, God has also spoken a word of confidence in hope. “. . . he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” All power and authority have been given to him. Jesus has the last word over this world. We know the ending. All history is headed toward him. One day every knee is going to bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Someday we will take our last breath, but Jesus has prepared a place for us. He will come and take us to himself that where he is, we may be also. He is the way and the truth and the life, our way of entering God’s heaven.

That is our hope. That is our confidence for the future.

The writer then sums it all up: “Therefore (since I’ve told you who Jesus is and what he came for) we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1). In other words, listen up! God has spoken. Pay attention to him.

Back in 1998, a man named Bob Kupperschmidt was riding in a plane with his friend. When Kupperschmidt turned to say something to the pilot, he was surprised to see his friend slumped over the controls, dead. He quickly grabbed his microphone from the radio, pushed his friend away, grabbed the steering mechanism, and cried for help. Fortunately two pilots were nearby and came to assist him in flying that plane. Bob had never flown a plane before. When it was time to land the plane, an ambulance and fire truck were waiting along the strip for the disaster. But to their surprise, Kupperschmidt emerged from the plane unhurt.

I imagine that, as Bob Kupperschmidt sat at those controls, he listened to every word those pilots said to him, as if his life depended on it, because it did. And they got him safely home.

My dear brothers and sisters, your God who loves you and created you wants a relationship with you. He wants to get you home safely. He has spoken a word Ð Jesus Christ Ð pay attention. Listen up! Put it to work as if your life depended on it, because it does.

Listen up! God has spoken. It’s the word of life: Jesus Christ.