A Happy Day

Have you ever wondered what it would it was like to walk daily with Jesus as the disciples did? I am sure we would have some difficult days when people rejected Jesus’ message. The words of our text tell of a sad day when many people had the opportunity to hear the Gospel and receive Jesus as their Savior and Lord, but did not listen him, and consequently were lost.

Just after Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, He and his disciples went to the Mount of Olives, where he prayed in anguish and wept for those who did not accept the gospel.

One day, Jesus learned his friend in Bethany, Lazarus, had died, so He went to the grave where Lazarus’s family and friends were weeping. Jesus was moved by their grief, and the Bible says in John 11:35, that “He wept.”

Jesus and His disciples also had happy days, and that is where we want to center our thoughts today. In Luke 10:17-20, we read about seventy-two messengers who were sent out on an evangelism mission to share the message of the gospel. This is the message they revealed: People are sinful, but Christ has come. Through His vicarious suffering and death at the cross of Calvary, He took the sins of the world upon himself. Those who receive Him have the great power of knowing their sins are forgiven. They can now rejoice for their names are written in heaven.

People believed their message and were converted. This made the disciples very happy, and so they returned to Jesus, filled with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name!” Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” He was telling them that the Word has power over Satan. “I (Jesus) have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Jesus then prayed, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” His Church Ð those who understood who He was and why He came Ð was now established. “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Jesus privately said to His disciples, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”

I wonder sometimes how it would be if our states’ and nation’s leaders would search for the answers to all the perplexing problems they face by looking to the wisdom of God’s Word. It is a happy day when we realize that Someone who is stronger and wiser than us has the answers. How comforting it must have been for those who stood crying outside Lazarus’ tomb to hear Jesus say, I know you are grieving, and I grieve with you. But just remember this: Lazarus knew me as his Savior, and he is now at home with God.

There were sad and happy days for Jesus and His disciples who walked in his physical presence. For those of us who walk with Him in his Word today, this is also true.

Many years ago, I became thoroughly convinced that we had to get serious about evangelism. So we put together a small evangelism program. We trained people who knew the Lord Jesus personally to go out into the community each Tuesday night and visit the homes of those who were anxious to know more about Jesus Christ. We experienced great joy as we watched people learn of the greatest peace we can have in this life, and that their names are written in the book of life!

That is the assurance of salvation. It is a happy day when we know Jesus walks with us and will take us home to be with Him in heaven when our last breath is drawn. The more we apply this message in our churches, the more wonderful life will be.

However, some of the teams were saddened to hear the person they were visiting say, “We don’t want much of the church. We want to belong, and we come whenever it is possible, but we also want to have our freedom.” Happy days and sad days around the church.

Congregations have sad days as well. The rural population in many areas of our Midwest is declining, and people are moving to the city. As a result, some of our congregations have had to close because they could not keep their churches running financially.

Once a man took me out and showed me a section of farm land. He said, “This 160 acres is a farm. We have 3 other plots of 160 acres, and together they make up a section. At one time, four families could live on that piece of land. Those four families belonged to the church and brought their children to Sunday school. The church was thriving. Today, however, farming is much more mechanized. One farmer can farm all 640 acres himself. So now, instead of four families in the congregation, there is only one. Our congregation cannot exist anymore, and so we are closing.”

That was a sad day, and one could feel for those people, knowing what their church had meant to them. They had their children baptized there. They were married and buried from that church. They heard the Gospel on Sunday mornings, and were delighted to know they were a child of the King. But they also understood why the church had to close, and then they joined a new church with a larger congregation. Their happy days would then return.

Evangelism. What a happy day it is when we can tell the story of Jesus Christ to the people round about us and rejoice to know Christ is their Lord and Savior.

I always felt happy when we had a baptism. How blessed it is to watch the parents bring a child to the baptismal font and hear the pastor say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Those parents knew the Holy Spirit had planted the seed of faith in that child’s soul. It was happiness.

Then the parents take that child home and do as they promised at his baptism Ð diligently teach him the Ten Commandments, the creeds, the Lord’s Prayer, and bring him to the services at God’s house. That baptismal promise later becomes personal at a Bible camp or during daily devotions, or even in a conversation with a friend. He can then say, “Mom and dad, Jesus became real to me tonight.” Jesus used others to tell him that He is his Savior and Lord. Those are happy days when we join with Jesus in fellowship and listen to His Word.

But there are also sad times in the life of a baptized child, such as when he has gone through his confirmation instruction, then leaves the church and seldom comes back. Sadness when he realizes his life is empty, and his parents say, “Why don’t you try reading your Bible? Come back to church, even if it is a different church where you can hear the gospel clearer, go ahead and go. Let the power of the Holy Spirit speak to you.” Oh, what a wonderful day when the child says, “Yes. Now I understand!”

What a wonderful moment when it becomes clear that Jesus is not just a story in the Bible. He is your God, your Savior, and your Lord. That is the power of the Holy Spirit.

The church’s importance is to gather on a regular basis to hear the Word of God and then to carry that Word to our friends.

It has been said, “D-day has been accomplished when Jesus died on the cross and said, ÔIt is finished.’ That was a happy day. Sooner or later, however, V-day will come when Jesus takes us home to be with Him in heaven.”

When Trials Come

The book of James is known as a letter that addresses what it means to live a life of faith in Christ. One important life lesson we can learn from this book is, life can be tough. We see that in our passage for today when James says, “Whenever trials come your way. . .” Notice he doesn’t say, if. He says, whenever. Life can be tough; expect trials.

Life can hold a variety of trials. They can come from within as we face temptations or outside in the form of sickness, afflictions, financial troubles, relational crises, grief, and loss of friends. However, trials can also come to our Christian faith as we face ridicule, rejection, and even physical suffering in some parts of the world.

James was the brother of Jesus and the leader of the main church in Jerusalem, which had experienced many trials. He was well acquainted with the twists and turns life can take, even as a follower of Jesus Christ. He knew how tough life can be, so his advice is, when life gets tough, “Count it all joy.” That attitude sounds pollyannaish, doesn’t it?

I am reminded of the story of a psychologist who did a study on optimism and pessimism. He found a couple young boys Ð one, an eternal optimist, and the other, a down-and-out pessimist. First he placed the pessimist in a room filled with all kinds of toys, candy, and ice cream, and then he placed the optimist in a room filled with horse manure. Then he said to them, “All this is yours to enjoy! I’ll come back and check on you in a little while.”

An hour later he came back and found the pessimistic boy glumly sitting in the corner, while horse manure was flying through the air as the optimistic boy energetically shoveled. When he asked why each boy was doing what he was, the optimistic boy said, “I’d didn’t play with the toys because I’d probably break them. The ice cream would probably give me a stomachache, and I’d probably get cavities from the candy.”

However, the optimistic boy excitedly stated, “I figured with all this manure, there’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!”

When James says, “Count it all joy,” he is talking about more than positive thinking. His perspective calls us to a demonstration of faith. Not long ago I read a story about a pastor who used to have “Count-it-All-Joy” parties every now and then. He so believed in this verse from James that, whenever he faced a difficult situation, he would invite his friends to his house for a party. This wasn’t a party to celebrate a birthday or a promotion, but a difficulty, because he knew it would bring him something of special value.

Not many of us have ever thrown “Count-it-All-Joy” parties, for life can really hurt. Yet, it is important to remember that, unless we go through some trials, we will never know what our faith is made of. We consider our trials joy because we believe God can use them to bring something wonderful out of them. The testing of our faith produces endurance and makes us an overcomer. We are stronger in the long run.

I am reminded of a scenario John Ortberg, a fellow pastor, created one day. He said, “Imagine you have a script of your newborn child’s entire life, an eraser, and five minutes. You read that she will have a learning disability in grade school. In high school, she will have a great circle of friends, but one of them will die of cancer. After high school, she will get into her preferred college, but while there she’ll lose a leg in a car accident, followed by a difficult depression. A few years later, she’ll get a great job, then lose that job in an economic downturn. She’ll get married but later go through the grief of a separation. What would you edit out of her life?” Ortberg asks.

“Wouldn’t you want to take out all the stuff that will cause her pain?” psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, poses. “If you could erase every failure, disappointment, and period of suffering, would that be a good idea or cause her to grow into a lesser version of herself? Is it possible that we actually need adversity and set backs, maybe even crises and trauma to reach the fullest potential of development and growth?” While He doesn’t produce the trials, God is at work in them making us the person He wants us to be. Suffering builds endurance and makes us stronger.

James goes on to say, “So let endurance have its full extent.” Don’t cave in, don’t run from your trial. Don’t surrender to it. Why? “That you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” It’s a character builder. You’ll come out more mature and whole, more Christlike as you go through these times. God can use that experience to strengthen and transform you in your faith. Count it all joy, because God can use it to make you stronger and transform your life.

I remember when my mother died several years ago. I was at her bedside watching her go through a long, drawn-out period of suffering until she finally took her last breath. As awful as that experience was, I came out of it with a deeper sense of compassion and empathy for people who are going through grief or suffering loss as they watch loved ones suffer. I might have never gained that if I had not gone through it myself. So, although I still miss my mother, I thank God for the experience.

Trials build us up and make us mature. That sounds kind of difficult, doesn’t it? Where do I get the skills to handle these tough times? Well, it is hard. But the good news that James reminds us of is that there are heavenly resources for you and me as followers of Jesus Christ. He says, “Life is tough. Count it all joy. If any of you is lacking in wisdom (that is, practical skills for daily living), let him ask God . . . and it will be given to him.” Don’t waste the opportunity to use problems and mature from these circumstances.

We have a God to whom we can turn to in prayer when we are lacking the wisdom to deal with these situations, and He is for us. Jesus at the cross is a reminder that He is for you. He wants a relationship with you. He died on the cross for your sins so you can have a restored relationship with your heavenly Father. God hears and answers prayer. He is generous and He responds. Ask for His help, and it will be given to you. Ask for the necessary skills and wisdom, and it will be given to you.

History has it that James had a nickname: camel knees. His knees were so calloused because he had learned the power of prayer and the faithfulness of God. He became a man of constant prayer in the midst of his own trials.

Notice. James tells us how to ask. He says to ask in faith, with no doubting. Don’t just toss something up half-heartedly. The greatest enemy to answered prayer is unbelief. The person who doubts is like a wave of the sea, tossed by the wind, back and forth, up and down, doubled-minded, and unstable. Instead, ask God in faith.

Does it work? Well James would say it does, and through history there are people who would concur with him.

Recently I heard a testimony from Joni Eareckson Tada. When she was 17 years old, she jumped off a dock into some shallow water and severed her spinal cord, making her a quadriplegic. Since that time, she has been a powerful and effective witness to the power of Christ at work in a person’s life. She even learned to draw and paint beautiful pictures with only the use of her mouth.

I recently heard her reminiscing about her childhood days with her family as they camped at Bethany Beach in Delaware for two weeks each summer. One of her favorite activities was collecting shells and stones, especially the small, perfectly rounded little stones washed in on the waves. The constant washing of the water and shining by the sand made for the shiniest, most smooth stones. Joni and her sister would have contests to see who could collect the most flawless stones. They would lay them out on the picnic table and paint faces on these smooth rocks.

And then Joni offered some insights on this memory. She said, “I’m often reminded of those smooth rocks with smiling faces whenever I read this passage in James chapter 1, which says the testing of our faith produces real character. My affliction with this disability and all the day-to-day challenges and irritations that come with it, is like a constant polishing, constant pounding, shaping, filing of the rough edges of my character. And, oh, it can be a tiresome process. But I am convinced that God wants to paint the smile of Jesus upon this countenance of mine.

“Do I always smile? I’ll be frank with you Ð there are times when the bite of my being a quadriplegic, coupled with pain, has me looking in the mirror in the morning with a groan saying, ÔO God, I just don’t have the strength today; please help me.’ I’ve got a long way to go and so do you. But I am willing today,” she concludes to her audience, “and I hope you will be willing as well, to welcome those trials as friends, because it has everything to do with our character.”

A Concern for the Lost

In today’s text, Jesus draws a picture of the lost sheep. That lost sheep is part of a large flock Ð one hundred of them. But now there were only ninety-nine, for one had nibbled his way out of the flock. So the shepherd left the remaining ninety-nine and went out to find the lost one. And when he found it, he put it on his shoulders and joyfully went home.

On the way home, the shepherd said to his neighbors and friends, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” That which was lost had been found.

Jesus then concludes the parable with these words: “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

Going back over the parable, we see the flock of sheep likens to our congregations. This flock is safe with the Shepherd. They are thoroughly convinced the Shepherd will care for them and satisfy their needs. They are healthy and well, and no affliction will come to them. All was exactly the way they wanted it. When Sunday comes around, they go to church. Some times the message is taken not very seriously, but they are good church people all the same. They leave church Sunday morning with somewhat of an assurance that Jesus is with them, both now and in eternity. This is the flock.

Then we find this one sheep who nibbles himself out of the kingdom. This sheep is the person who thinks Christianity is all right, but wants to try something else. This situation often comes in our formative years Ð high school or college days. We belong to the church and respect it. We love our parents for their faithfulness to the church, but decide to see what else is being offered before we make a strong commitment. So, while we don’t do anything drastic, we kind of nibble our way out of the kingdom.

The flock has been out grazing, but is home again. People from all over the world are part of the flock. In this particular flock, ninety-nine have come home, but one is lost. So the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine and goes out seeking the lost sheep.

In the picture, Jesus is the Shepherd. He leaves the congregation knowing they will be well fed and spiritually cared for by others. He goes out to find the sheep who really and truly is lost. Then, when he finds him, he picks him up, puts him on his shoulders and takes him home.

As the shepherd walks home, neighbors come out, see him walking home with a sheep over his shoulders, and ask what happened? He smiles and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.”

While He does not love the lost sheep more, He knows those who are home are safe and nothing is likely to harm them. The lost one could have died by moving away from the flock, but it is now home, resting comfortably in the Shepherd’s arms.

Where, then, do you find yourself in this picture, friend? Perhaps you are in the flock. Many of us probably are there. We are Christian people in the sense that we trust Christ as our Savior. We know He will protect us and give us the necessities of life. We have all we need to eat and to wear. We have our friends. When we are sick, He cares. When our loved ones die, He assures us they have gone to be with Him. The attention we receive at that time is wonderful. However, no one, ever, really cares for us like Jesus.

Are you in the flock (the congregation)? Jesus wants to use you. You are not to just comfortably sit in the little flock Ð for He has work for us to do. People, scattered throughout this world, need to be brought back to the flock. The church is to be Jesus’ mouthpiece. It is to reach out to the lost sheep and say, “You know, Jesus still loves you. Although you are here in church this morning, you are really not tied into Christ like you should be. You have walked away.”

Jesus is out seeking His lost sheep today through the voices on this radio program and many other radio and television programs. Christian Crusaders’ primary purpose is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with all who feel they are not wanted. Jesus Christ is telling you today, “You are mine. I died for you, and I have been raised. I live! And I walk beside you. When you die, you will be with me in heaven.”

If you are wondering if anybody does care, read this text over and over and over again. In it Jesus is telling us He will go to the far corners of the earth to find us. Wherever the world is, the church is to work.

We think of the mission fields. Many people have sat in church Ð part of the flock Ð and decided to spend a few years on the mission field. They have wonderful experiences as they serve as Christ’s representatives telling those who had never heard about Jesus, in many cases, and those who have nibbled their way out of the flock, about the Shepherd, “No one ever cared for you like Jesus.”

We are also called to be missionaries to people around us. As Christian parents, we teach our children that no one ever cared for them like Jesus. Our families can hurt our feelings and let us down, but we should not be discouraged, for Jesus loves us.

If you are just starting high school or college and are anxious to see what the world has to offer, let me say this to you today: Don’t think too seriously about that. But if you do, or if you have already nibbled yourself from the flock, your Shepherd, Jesus, is searching for you and calling you back home.

God uses his Church to tell the story of Jesus Christ Ð plain and simple. Many are waiting to hear that story.

Not long ago, a lady went to a church women’s group with a friend. She had not come from a strong church home, but was ready to be filled with the message. The lady who brought her was playing the role of Jesus, seeking and saving the lost. She had not just invited her to a meeting to have a cup of coffee or a piece of cake, but to a gathering where they would hear the story of the Gospel.

The lady went on to say that she had just lost a member of her family and wondered about this matter of eternity. She said, “I’d like to come back to this church some day and bring my husband.” They did return to that church, and today they are leaders in a well-known congregation. Someone had acted in the place of Jesus as she dropped a simple but loving invitation.

It’s also interesting to see adult children come home and do the same thing to their parents. These children will kindly and lovingly say, “I thank you for all you did for me, but it wasn’t quite enough. I want to share my faith in my Savior with you.” Can you imagine being sought out by Jesus through your child? Can you imagine what will happen when mother and dad say, “We have been lax in our Christian life,” and in examining it, they discover they have not had a real relationship with the Lord Jesus at all! But now, this child of theirs is telling them this great story.

No one has ever cared for us like Jesus, and no one ever will. He is calling on us to act in His behalf, seeking the lost.

If you are part of the group of church people who are comfortable just sitting there, hear Jesus’ voice today to be His representative all over this world. He is calling us to be His voice Ð perhaps as a missionary to a foreign land, perhaps to those living within the walls of our homes.

If you are out of faith in Christ, He is calling you back to be with Him for now and for all eternity. I pray, my friend, you will take this passage of scripture and make it a passage you will read often (Luke 15:1-7). Jesus is always seeking His lost sheep. Sometimes He is seeking us, and sometimes He is seeking others through us.

The Cost of Discipleship

What did Jesus mean when he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, . . he cannot be my disciple.

Let’s look at a few examples of what I think Jesus was trying to impress on those of us who consider ourselves disciples.

A group of men met together each day for coffee and fellowship. One day the topic of conversation turned to religion. Each man told which denomination they belonged to, until one man said, “We attend a certain church, but I guess in reality, I’m really just a Christian. When my wife and I were married, we had nothing to do with the church. But then my wife began attending with a friend, and she became converted. Now she’ll often say, ÔThat which we used to do, we can’t do. We used to follow our own will, but now we follow the will of Jesus.’ In other words, Jesus has come to the throne, and we have to pass into the shadows.” The man’s comment left the other men with a clear understanding of what the Christian faith entails. No longer is life about what I want, but rather it is about doing the will of and obeying the teachings of Christ our Lord.

Here is another example. Two professors were visiting, when one said, ” So and so tells me he was one of your students.” The other professor answered, “He may have attended my lectures, but he was never one of my students. A world of difference exists between attending lectures and being a student of mine.” One of the truths of the church is that so many people are simply distant followers of Jesus (attenders of church), but very few are real disciples (students of Christ).

Jesus does not want us to hate our family. That is not what He is saying in this passage. In fact, the Bible tells us to love one another. The home is to be one of the most blessed places in the world. What Jesus is saying is this: We may live our lives in the same manner for a long time, but when we become a Christian and Jesus becomes the Lord of our hearts, our lives are also changed. If we have been doing something that is contrary to the will of God, we must turn away from that action. We surrender our will and turn toward Scripture, trusting the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us and our family. We may really enjoy doing something in a particular way, even though it wrong. The cost of being a disciple of Jesus comes at a cost Ð denying what I desire, in deference to what Jesus desires for me. Does that sound strange to you?

There was a man who lived out this principle in a powerful way. His name was Dietrick Bonhoeffer. He was born in Germany. His father was not a Christian, but he respected his wife’s convictions to teach the children the Christian faith. When Dietrick was fourteen, he decided to study theology. Some of his siblings were not very favorable to the idea, for they believed he would be wasting his good mind. However, his mother believed in living one’s faith, and she made it clear to her family that if God wanted Dietrick to teach theology, so be it. Christianity was not just a matter of going to church, keeping a few laws and rattling off a few nice scripture passages. Dietrick’s twin sister, Sabine, wrote, “There was no place for false piety in our home, save in Rome.”

Dietrick traveled to New York in 1931 to study and teach at Union Seminary, but he was highly disappointed. Union Seminary taught a liberal theology. He is quoted as saying, “In New York, they preach about everything. Only one thing is not addressed Ð or if it is addressed so rarely it is that I have not as yet been able to find it Ð and that is the Gospel. I do not hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ from these beautiful cathedrals and churches here in Manhattan. I seldom hear the name of Jesus. I seldom hear the talk about the cross where Jesus suffered and died for the sins of the world and every person must accept this and believe it to be a Christian. I have discovered one notable exception in New York: I hear the Gospel in the black church more than in any other place.” He spent much of his time in Harlem and worshiped each Sunday in the Abyssinian Baptist Church.

Yet, things were bad in Germany and Dietrick felt he had to go home. Leaders at Union pleaded with him to stay, for they saw his keen mind, but he could not be persuaded. Before long, he was back on a ship heading to his native Germany. Ten days after arriving home, Dietrick went to Switzerland to visit with Dr. Karl Barth, a man who became a very close friend. They had many good sessions together, and Barth helped Bonhoeffer oppose the Nazis on moral and theological principles. Hitler was thoroughly convinced that the future of Germany was in his hands, but Bonhoeffer protested, “No, It is in the hands of Almighty God.” When Hitler learned of voices like Dietrick Bonhoeffer, there were only two things to do Ð kill them or put them in prison.

Bonhoeffer was put in prison, and he sat in various prison after another for two years before Hitler had him executed only 23 days before the end of WWII.

On Sunday mornings while in prison, Dietrick would often lead his fellow prisoners in worship and prayer. One day they asked him to write a prayer, which he did. This is what he wrote:

“O God, early in the morning do I cry unto thee.

Help me to pray and to think only of thee:

I cannot pray alone.

In me there is darkness, but with thee there is light;

I am lonely, but thou leavest me not;

I am feeble in heart, but with thee there is help;

I am restless, but with thee there is peace.

In me there is bitterness, but with thee there is patience;

Thy ways are past understanding, but thou knowest the way for me . . .”

Then there was a call at the door: “Prisoner Bonhoeffer, get ready to come with me!”

He did go, but as he left he gave them some closing words as he quoted Isaiah 53:5 Ð “With his stripes we are healed,” and I Peter 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” And as he left the room, he said to his friends. “This is the end Ð for me the beginning of life.” He was then hanged.

A historian writes, “Bonhoeffer’s death was almost certainly by the decree of Adolf Hitler. Why would he want to hurt his man? He could not win any more battles, but there was that evilness within him that said, that if he had to die, they too would die.” And so Dietrick Bonhoeffer learned the price of discipleship.

We will probably not have any experience like this. However, we will have many opportunities to learn the cost of being a disciple of Jesus. While it doesn’t cost much to be a follower, following him as a disciple can mean a great deal.

The cost of discipleship may Ôcome due’ in the family, at work, in school, or in our social life. Whether it is a great cost like the price Dietrick Bonhoeffer had to pay or a simple change in our lifestyle, that is what Jesus Christ requires of us if we are to be His true disciples.

Come, You Are Invited

Our Lord gave this story to His followers when He walked on this earth but, it also is for us who follow Him two thousand years later. What does this parable have to say to us living now?

In today’s text, the people who were invited had their excuses why they could not attend. One was going to take care of his fields, one was going to take care of his oxen, one of them had just gotten married and had to spend some time with his bride. So the king’s servant was sent out again and again to invite others until the room was full. The conclusion of the parable is this: not one of those who originally were invited and refused to come, would get a taste of the banquet.

Jesus suffered and died for the sins of the world, and He promises that everyone who receives Him as Savior and Lord will, by the grace of God, have a place at the heavenly banquet. The invitation goes out. Everything is now ready.

The ultimate point of every sermon is that we are invited to the banquet of Christ to live in fellowship with Him. This relationship not only insures us life with Him in Heaven, but it also means we are to walk with Him while we are here on this earth.

A person may respond to the invitation: “I am ready to allow Christ to live in my heart as my Savior and my Lord. I want to communicate with Him and have Him communicate with me. There are many things in this world that I cannot understand, but I know I can trust where I am led by my Savior and Lord.”

I am thankful for every person who answers this invitation from our Lord to come to the banquet feast Ð but not all come. Some people may say, “Well, I am not there yet. Maybe someday I will consider God, but not today. Right now I think of Jesus intellectually as the Savior of the world, but He is not a part of my life as I know the Bible talks about. Give me a little time.”

Jesus loves these people. The day of grace is with us until we breathe our last, but time does run out. We cheat ourselves by rejecting His invitation to come into relationship with Him, by refusing to walk in His presence.

The other night Larry King, a well-known entertainer, was being interviewed on television. He was talking about death and what happens after death. Mr. King said, “I don’t believe there is anything after death. My wife does Ð she is a very faithful believer Ð but I don’t believe it.”

Many people are of this same persuasion. They may be thinking about packing in everything they can now, because when this life is over, it’s all over. Many people do not see any need for a relationship with Christ. However, the Lord has told us to continue sharing the Gospel and inviting people into a relationship with Him. Our Lord Jesus Christ wants us to know that the invitation to come into a relationship with Him continues until we breathe our last.

What does Jesus have on the menu at the banquet to which we are invited? First we can imagine a place at the table in the kingdom of God, which gives us the assurance of our salvation. When I die, I will have a seat in the kingdom of God.

Christ also assures us that while we are here on this earth, He has some great things on the menu that He wants you to have and take part in. Many things in our nation, in our homes, and in our churches bother us and upset us. But Jesus tells us to “Come unto me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” That’s a great promise. We can have our rest, which is found in God Almighty alone. I see people trying to claw themselves out of the problems of life. Their efforts are futile until they finally leave it all with the Lord and are ready to move on.

This can often be the case when we are raising our children. As they become more independent, they often grow apart from the family. Spending time together is not their priority. You long for the unity that only Christ can give in your family. Then you hear Jesus say, “I’m still working. I am able to do the miraculous. Rest in me.” That’s a big item on the menu.

Another menu item is forgiveness of your sins. Sometimes we seem to be able to live with our sins and even enjoy them with no desire to forsake them. But I wonder if, when it’s dark at night and your life is right before you, you might say, “Lord, what shall I do with this sin?” It can involve the way you have treated a child. It might be the relationship between you and your spouse. Perhaps your marriage is not as it should be, and you have sinned against one another. The home is never going to be right until the sins against one another are finally taken away. Jesus Christ knows we are individual people and have your own will. He knows our behavior is wrong, but He tells us those sins can be forgiven.

I recently visited with a lady whose husband had been unfaithful to her. He had not only been with just one woman, but several. She struggled with the situation. She said, “We were apart for a while and saw counselors of every description. We visited with our pastor. Nothing seemed to help, yet neither one of us wanted to see the marriage end. Finally, together, we cast all our cares upon the Lord and heard Him say, ÔYour sins are forgiven.’ We began to read the Scriptures together. Day after day, certain things would come up to cause doubt in our relationship, but we clung to Jesus’ promise to forgive our sins.”

I think that woman has a wonderful testimony. It is never easy for us when we have been wronged by someone. Statistically more than 50% of marriages end in divorce. That should not be. Christ tells us to confess our sins, and we will be forgiven. Then we can look into the eyes of the person we have sinned against Ð our spouse, our parent, our child Ð and confess, “I have done all these things, and they are wrong, I’m asking you to forgive me. Christ has forgiven me, will you forgive me too?” That is a crucial moment in the life of any home.

Another menu item on Christ’s banquet feast is strength to face the problems of our day. Consider this menu item in regard to world matters. We have all kinds of prophecies that the United States will not be the number one world power much longer. Other nations have greater power, and we may not be well protected against them. We have people in leadership who trying their best to govern our country, but the fact is they are human beings and inadequate in and of themselves. We need to learn that our strength comes from the place where our nation’s foundation lies. We need to rely on the Lord Jesus Christ.

What would happen if we would turn it all over to Jesus Christ? It is important to have the separation of church and state. However, we may have carried that too far. We need to change our thinking as a nation, and confess our need for God Almighty and His saving grace. We need to rely on Him in our government, in our homes, in our communities, and in our businesses. The strength of our nation would flow into all areas of our culture Ð God promises He will be with us when we call on Him.

Jesus invites you to come to the banquet. He wants you to be in a relationship with Him. If we pass through this life and never accept His invitation to the table, His stern words will ring true: “Not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.” Won’t you call on Him today, and accept His invitation?