Why Pray?

In the season of Easter, we remember that Jesus was crucified for our sins, that He is now raised from the dead, and that “death no longer has mastery over him,” (Romans 6:9). Jesus will never die again. He is triumphant and victorious.

I think of some of the theological terms I learned in confirmation class. God is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipresent (everywhere present at the same time). But did you know that there is one place where Jesus does not ever come uninvited? That place is into your heart. Revelation 3:20 says, “Behold, I stand at the door knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in.”

O’Hallesby, a Norwegian theologian and Christian writer, says in his book “Prayer,” that Rev. 3:20 is a thesis for all prayer. When we pray, we are opening the door of our life to invite the presence of an all-powerful Savior, Jesus, to come into the context of our daily life circumstances. We open the door to invite Jesus into the rhythms of each day’s life, our relationships, our challenges, our struggles, and our joys.

So when you pray, why do you pray? According to this promise from Matthew, I would say we pray because Jesus, the Lord of life, invites us. His words are beautiful. “Come to me.” It’s an open, standing invitation. “Come to me.” Jesus regularly used this invitation when He spoke with His disciples. He said, “Come, follow me.” Another time he said, “Come away with me to a quiet place and rest,” or Come to the wedding banquet.

After the resurrection, when Thomas doubted that Jesus was raised from the dead, Jesus said to him, “Come, Thomas. Place your fingers in the nail prints, put your hand in my wound. Don’t be disbelieving, but believe.” And in Matthew 11, He tells us, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden. I will give you rest.”

In the aftermath of Pentecost when the outpouring of the Holy Spirit came upon all flesh, Peter and John were at the Temple. Peter healed a beggar sitting at the gate called Beautiful and gave all credit for this healing to the name and power of the resurrected Jesus. The captain of the Temple, the priests and the Sadducees did not want them to preach about Jesus. (That was why they killed Him.) So they put Peter and John in jail overnight. The next morning, as the religious leaders deliberated about what to do with the disciples, it says, “They saw that Peter and John were uneducated, ordinary men, . . . and they noted that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:14).

Spending time in the presence of Jesus Christ changes our life. He invites us to commune with Him and consult with Him, to lay down our burdens. Would that someone would look at us and say, I can tell you’ve been in the presence of Jesus.

When Moses came down from the mountain after receiving the Ten Commandments from Yahweh, his face radiated with the glory of God. He shone with the light of having been in God’s presence.

When we hear Jesus’ invitation to prayer, would that our lives shine with the light of His love. Would that the peace that passes all understanding, which comes from being with the all-powerful, all loving Lord Jesus, exude from our being in a way that spills over into courage and confidence for each day.

Corrie ten Boom was a survivor of a World War II Nazi prison camp and became a Christian author. She said, “Nothing can happen today that Jesus and I can’t handle together.” When we respond to the invitation of Jesus to be with Him, prayer will bless us and change us for the better.

So why do we pray? Simply because the Lord Jesus invites us to come to Him. But also because the resurrected Jesus does not want His people to carry life’s burdens or face life’s challenges alone. “Come to me when you’re weary . . .” When you have worked to the point of utter exhaustion and are totally spent, with nothing left. Marathon runners will often say they “hit the wall” on the 17th or 18th mile.

Remember the woman who had the physical malady of 12 years flow of blood? She suffered for years with pain and isolation. She had spent all she had and yet wasn’t healed, but when she saw Jesus coming by, she thought that if only she could touch the hem of His garment, she would be whole. There is a sense in which prayer in the midst of weariness, having spent it all, having come to the end of ourselves, is reaching to touch the grace of Jesus. “Come to me when you’re heavy laden and burdened down.”

Do you ever have moments where, in physical or emotional pain, you are burdened beyond the point of taking it? When the anxieties of life become so heavy? Maybe you’ve fought with a secret sin and are afraid of being discovered. Maybe you have carried guilt, shame, and regret over some great significant moral failure for years. The One who went to the cross, who poured out His life with grace greater than all our sin, says, “Come to me. I forgive you.”

I’m told that ocean ships often will collect a large amount of sea barnacles that attach to the ship’s hull. They can be weighed down so they ride lower in the water. But those barnacles can also slow down the ship’s navigational speed, causing it to no longer cut cleanly through the water. Now you can either bring the ship into dry dock and, at great labor scrape, and scour those barnacles off, or take that ocean liner up into the mouth of the river where there is fresh water and the sea barnacles will simply drop off.

“Come to me,” Jesus says. In prayer, we come into the freshness of the grace of Jesus where all that guilt, shame, all the heaviness of life’s burdens can be emptied out, and Jesus will take it from us.

The third reason we should pray is that Jesus wants our lives to be inseparably linked to Him. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” What a beautiful image! In prayer our lives connect intimately with the Lord Jesus. He promises in John 14 that He will be our Comfort, our Counselor, our Guide. And we can learn from Him. A disciple wants to continually learn from the Master on the journey of life, and, along the way, the Master will show us the right way and walk in step with us. More than that, the character of Jesus’ gentleness and humbleness will shape our very hearts.

Do you remember in Philippians 2 where Paul wrote, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, . . . became obedient to death Ð even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name” (Phil. 2:5 – 9). As our lives are by faith and prayer yoked to Jesus Christ, I pray that His gentle Spirit and humbleness lead us to be servants to all people in love so they may impact the world with the blessing of God.

Why pray? Because Jesus wants our lives to be yoked to Him.

Lastly, why should we pray? Because Jesus is alive from the dead! He is not powerless or irrelevant. He is the Lord of life and the Lord of love, and He wishes to pour His love into our hearts each day. Romans 5 tells us that when He does this by His Holy Spirit, our hopes are never disappointed.

Luther said that prayer is like a little child coming to his parent. They do so for two reasons. First, the child believes that the parent loves him. Second, the child comes daring to ask for anything because he believes the parent has the power to do something. In prayer we come to the Lord Jesus, the Lord of love, because we believe He does love us unconditionally, and he has the power to do whatever we ask in His name, according to His will.

A few weeks ago, my family celebrated the resurrection on Easter Sunday. My grandson, Carew, who is two years old, came up to me after playing hard all afternoon. He climbed up on Papa’s lap and laid his head against my chest, his head against my throbbing heart. Then he closed his eyes and went to sleep. That is prayer. Prayer trusts

the heart of God, and we literally, by faith in prayer, place our lives in the hands of our dear heavenly Father. We do so confidently in the name of Jesus.

So we pray because Jesus invites us, “Come to me.” We pray because Jesus does not want His people to carry life’s burdens or face life challenges alone. We pray because Jesus wants our lives inseparably linked to Him, yoked to Him for the journey so we might learn from Him. And we pray so that the Lord of love might pour His life and Spirit into our hearts every day. We climb into our God’s lap and rest in His love.

Why Church?

I’m still celebrating Easter. I hope you are, too. He is risen! He is risen, indeed!

We find some great implications in that statement. Some might say, Yes. It means I know that when I die trusting in Jesus Christ, I am going to heaven. It is true that when we die trusting in Christ, the promise is that we are going to heaven and will spend eternity with the Lord. Christ’s resurrection was the first fruits. However, we often forget there is more. We forget that Christ is with us and He is still available. He’s not some historical figure from the past whom we only remember. He is someone with whom we can have a personal, dynamic, life-changing relationship. Many people wrestle with that notion a bit.

I once heard from a lady in Iowa whose aunt and uncle had a visit from a missionary family. When the missionary children were called in for dinner, their mother told them to be sure to wash their hands, reminding them, “You’ve got germs.”

The little boy scowled and said, “Germs and Jesus! Germs and Jesus! That’s all I hear, and I’ve never, ever seen either one of them!”

Some do wonder, Is this same Jesus, who walked the dusty roads of Galilee 2000 years ago, who sat with those disciples and taught them the great truths of the kingdom, who did marvelous miracles, who died upon a cross, and rose again, still available? Can a person have a friendship with Him in 2015? How would you answer that question?

The church would say, yes! The Gospel writers all say, yes. Witnesses throughout history say yes. A personal relationship with the living Jesus Christ is possible for you. Because He lives, you need never face another moment or decision alone.

Those first disciples learned this truth in a personal way through an encounter with the risen Christ. They were locked up in the upper room, feeling puzzled and confused, and didn’t expect to see Him. The tomb was empty. Suddenly, He was with them, no longer a corpse or a memory, but the living Savior! Jesus popped in and surprised them many times over the next days. I imagine they began to look over their shoulders and peek around corners expectantly. It was as if He was trying to teach them that He would always be with them. He even promised, “I will never leave you orphaned.” (That is our promise as well, by the way.)

Soon they became convinced that He is alive and He is available. Those once fearful men became confident, bold people who laid their lives down for the Gospel. That is in and of itself another testimony to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. Those disciples sacrificed their lives as martyrs. One is not usually willing to die for something that isn’t true. But the truth is that He does live and is available to you and to me.

If you’re wondering how you can have a personal relationship with Jesus and where you might station yourself to meet Him and to have a growing friendship with Him, you will find our story of Thomas and the disciples helpful. The simple message of this story is to go to church. Go to church. When Jesus first appeared to the gathering, Thomas was off by himself. Perhaps too despondent to be with the group any longer and was having a faith crisis. His Master was dead, and all of Thomas’ hopes and dreams were now gone.

At that first appearance, Jesus said to the disciples. “As the Father sent me, I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” He was commissioning them to tell about what had happened, the story of forgiveness in Him.

So the disciples ran to tell Thomas. “We have seen the Lord!”

Thomas, however, just snorted said, “Unless I see and touch those wounds of Jesus, I won’t believe.”

A week later, Thomas was with the group. Jesus again appeared to them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then He turned to Thomas and showed His wounds in His hands, feet, and side and said, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Just imagine Thomas’ thoughts at the time. How did Jesus know I said that? Even though I couldn’t see Him, He obviously was there all along listening in. Then Thomas fell to his knees before Jesus and declared these great words of faith: “My Lord and my God.” These words take us back to the very beginning of John’s Gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . The Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . . full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14). Full circle had come now. “My Lord and my God.”

Jesus then said to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Those words are for us. What a powerful story! It is a takeaway that we dare not miss, forget, or neglect. We learn that an ideal place to have an encounter with the risen Christ is in the community of faith Ð the church. It was in the community of believers that Thomas had his encounter with the risen Lord.

The church is a good place to station yourself if you want to draw near to Jesus. Jesus tells us, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). Now we see Him making good on that promise that first Easter and the days that followed. He continued to appear to them as they gathered as a community.

There are certain places where you can anticipate having an encounter with the living Jesus and have Him make a difference in your life. Church is one of those places. I’m not talking about a building, but about people gathered in His name. In worship as the word is spoken and the Gospel message is proclaimed. At the Lord’s Supper as we’re handed the bread and the cup of wine and hear those wonderful words: “My body given for you; My blood shed for you.” At the Lord’s table, we meet Him in a mysterious and wonderful way in the bread and the wine where we not only remember Him, but also encounter Him. At that supper, He reminds us, I’m still with you.

It’s a funny thing about us as human beings. When we start having doubts or face a crisis, such as the death of a loved one, we run away from the church community. We prefer to linger alone in our doubts and our hurts. Staying away from the community of faith is the worst thing you can do to yourself spiritually during those times, for that is when you most need to be surrounded by the loving embrace of faith-filled brothers and sisters in Christ. It is in the midst of the community of faith that the Savior typically shows up.

I know the church has gotten a bad rap over the years. We read about church fights, scandals, sexual predators, prejudices, and so on. All these problems can cause people to skeptically ask, Why church? Why bother with the church? All I need is my Jesus and my Bible. I’ll be fine. Maybe you are someone who has been hurt in the community of faith. It happens. We are saints and sinners who sometimes step on each other’s toes, unfortunately. We have our flaws and our failings to point to. As a pastor I know that well.

The story is told of a mother who came called up the stairs to her son, “Get up! It’s time to go to church!”

The son said, “Oh, mom. I don’t want to go to church. The people there make fun of me. They don’t like me. Nobody listens to me. I’d rather stay home in bed.”

The mother said, “But son, you have to go.”

The son replied, “Give me two good reasons.”

She answered, “Well, for one thing, you’re 42 years old. And for another, YOU’RE the MINISTER!”

The church is not perfect by any means, but I know personally, I would be lost without it. It’s among fellow believers that I have had my own encounters with the risen Christ and grown in my faith. It’s in the hearing of the Word of God preached in a powerful way. When I was away from my faith, it was listening to my father-in-law, Homer Larsen, that really turned me around, and I experienced Christ’s grace.

This was Thomas’ experience. He met Jesus at the gathering of believers, the church. It’s a real gift not to be neglected.

This text also gives us an example of the church functioning at its finest. The disciples obediently went to the first person within their sphere of influence Ð Thomas Ð and told him the news. This is where our best witnessing can be done Ð within our own range of influence with friends and family. The disciples ran into doubt and skepticism, but notice, they didn’t turn their backs on Thomas. They didn’t write him off as a casualty or a loss. Instead they brought him along to the next gathering. This is church at its best. They believed for him. You can bet that they practically yanked him to that upper room for the gathering. They wanted him present, even with his doubts. And Thomas did have an encounter with Jesus!

The message of the Christian Easter community needs to be this: No matter where you are in your relationship with Christ, we’re glad you’re here. We want you to be here. Come with us. Stay with us, even if you are experiencing some doubts in your life and you’re not sure what to make of all of it. Sometimes people go through a spiritual crisis like Thomas did. Faith can be shaken. The church is at its finest when it huddles around such people, and puts its arms around them and says, We’re glad you’re here. We want you here. We care about you.

Pastor William Williman, a great Methodist preacher who has written many books, tells a story about a church doing its job for one of its members. He writes, “A few summers ago, a boy in our church returned home from his first year at college. He appeared at my office to tell me that I wouldn’t be seeing him in church while he was home over the summer. When I asked why, he told me, ÔWell, I have been doing a lot of thinking about religion while I was at college, and I’ve come to the conclusion that there is not much to this religion thing. I found that I don’t need the church to get by.’ I responded by saying that I found all that interesting.

“He asked, ÔAren’t you worried? I thought you’d go through the roof when I told you this.’

“I’ve known this boy, you see, for five years. I baptized him a couple years ago on a profession of faith and watched him grow during his high school years. He came from a difficult family situation. The church had been very interested in him and had a hand in making it possible for him to go to college. ÔNo, I’m not overly concerned,’ I said. ÔI’ll be watching to see if you can pull it off,’ I told him.

“ÔWhat do you mean Ôpull it off’?’ he said. ÔI don’t understand. I’m 19, I can do anything I want to do, can’t I?’

“ÔWhen I was 19, I thought I was on my own too,’ Williman said. ÔI’m saying that I’m not so sure you’ll be able to get away with this.’

“He was confused. ÔWhy not?’ he asked.

“ÔWell, for one thing, you are baptized.’

“ÔSo what does that have to do with anything?’

“ÔWell,’ I said. ÔYou try forsaking it, rejecting it, forgetting about it, and maybe you’ll find out.’

“ÔI can’t figure out what being baptized has to do with me,’ he said.

“I responded, ÔFor one thing, there are people here who care about you. They made promises to God when you were baptized. You try not showing up around here this summer, and they’ll be nosing around asking you what you’re doing with your time, what kind of grades you made last semester, what you’re doing with your life. Then there’s also God. No telling what God might try with you. From what I’ve seen of God, once He claims you, you don’t get off the hook so easily. He’s relentless in claiming what is His, and in baptism God says you belong to him!’

“The boy shook his head in wonder at this strange, unreasonable brand of reasoning and more or less stumbled out of the door of my study.

“In a week or so, he was back in his usual place in the second pew. The baptizers had done their work. God’s possessiveness had remained firm.”

Listen to this testimony of the church at its finest from a lady in my congregation. She writes, “Jesus is alive! Jesus lives in the loving hearts of the ladies who attend Tuesday morning Bible study with me. I’ve belonged to this group for seven years. I recently

lost my dad. I can’t imagine going through a loss like this without my loving Christian friends! What a better place to be or to meet Jesus than in a small group! These are the friends who will pull together and reach out to you in love when you need it the most. I experienced this love and support during my dad’s surgery and days following. Prayer warriors lifted my dad’s needs up to God day and night. When God heard our prayers and took my dad home for his healing, my sisters came to my rescue once again. They held my hands and prayed with me in my kitchen. They filled my refrigerator and freezer with meals, and they were a loving presence at my dad’s celebration of life service. The comfort and love I have felt these past couple of weeks are nothing short of the living presence of Jesus Christ, alive and well. What a blessing, the community of faith taking care of its own.”

Listen, dear friend. HE’S RISEN! He’s risen indeed. You can meet Him and experience His love and power in your life. Where? In His church. Thanks be to God for the church.

Why Smile?

The disciples of Jesus had just gone through a very tough, emotional week. It had been a real roller coaster ride. They had gone from the high of those cheering crowds on Palm Sunday to the low of the bloodthirsty cries, “Crucify Him!” on Good Friday. They were in shock over all the losses they had experienced in the past hours. Their leader had been killed on a cross. A colleague had betrayed Jesus and then committed suicide. Peter, the spokesman for the group, had denied knowing Jesus three times when the pressure was on, and he was broken. They had all scattered like frightened sheep and left Jesus to face the horror alone.

Now they were together, sheepishly looking at one another, ashamed. Thomas, one of the disciples, was even missing. It looked like this whole movement was falling apart before their very eyes. They had to have been wondering how all of this happened.

Earlier that morning, the women had found the tomb empty. Mary reported to the disciples that she had actually seen Jesus alive in the garden. Then Peter and John had run to the tomb and found it empty as well. Of course, they were amazed at this news, but they had to have been more than a little confused by it as well, perhaps even a little skeptical. They didn’t want to get their hopes up only to be disappointed again.

Who could blame them? John’s Gospel tells us they were frightened and hiding. They had locked the doors for fear that the Jews would come after them next. Can you imagine the looks on their faces? Tired, drained, worried, confused, sad. In all likelihood, I imagine the room was filled with frowns.

Suddenly Jesus is standing among them, and says, “Peace be with you” as if to put them at ease. This was the normal way Jews greeted one another. (Did His words contain more than a simple greeting in these words? Probably.) They had to have wondered if it really was Him. Reading the amazed looks on their faces, Jesus showed them His nail-scarred hands and spear-pierced side as if to say, Yes! It really is Me!

The disciples’ response? They were OVERJOYED when they saw the Lord. I love that word Ð overjoyed! They rejoiced. Their joy was beyond words, beyond description. They were overflowing with joy. It sounds like how I remember feeling when my firstborn, Sam, came into this world, and I saw him come to life. I was filled with joy and I thought, “It doesn’t get any better than this!” Then when Martha was born, I was overjoyed as well.

Their response reminds me of Jesus’ words in the upper room the night He was arrested. He said, “In a little while, you no longer see me, and again in a little while you will see me. . . . Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn but the world will rejoice. You will have pain, but your pain will be turned into joy!” (John 16:16, 20). Their frowns melted away and were changed to smiles of joy.

Jesus again said to them, “Peace be with you!” almost as if to convince them all is well. This story is not over. I am alive and I have plans for you. Then He breathed His breath in them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Everything changed the moment Jesus appeared. He who was crucified, was now alive, and those frowns turned into smiles.

Dear friends, He’s still alive! This Jesus, who appeared to those disciples in that upper room, is still with us today. He has not left. We can’t see Him, but He is here, and He is ready to turn your frown into a smile. I can tell you from personal experience and the testimony of millions of others, this same Jesus Christ is available to have a personal encounter and a personal relationship with you. He is here to walk with you through life’s ups and downs. He is so much more than a historical figure we try to emulate. He is more than a figure in a stained glass window to be remembered. Jesus is someone with whom you can have a dynamic, daily relationship. People have been discovering this truth for 2,000 years that when a person believes in Christ and asks Him into their life, Jesus can turn their frowns into smiles of great joy. He will turn your frowns into smiles of joy.

Who wouldn’t want that? Our facial expressions often reveal what’s going on inside of us. When life isn’t adding up, we can fake a smile and try to pretend all is well. However, our feelings soon register themselves on our faces and in our body language, and we find ourselves frowning.

What was behind the disciples’ frowns? Perhaps it was fear or worry. They were afraid for their lives that night and worried they might be next. They were looking at their own mortality and felt scared.

Some of us know that feeling personally. As we walk away from a graveside

leaving the body of a loved one behind, a nagging question lingers inside: What’s going to become of me? I know I, too, am going to die someday, and it scares me. Death can be a frightening thing for many of us.

Or their frowns may have been the result of a shattered dream. Those disciples’ dreams were crushed on Good Friday. They’d suffered a great loss. Defeat is no stranger to us either in this broken and imperfect world. We each face our own personal defeats now and then, and they can really get us down.

I was reminded of this as I watched the NCAA basketball tournament recently. The look of defeat on the bench of those who lost in the closing seconds of the game was clear. The dream they had worked so hard for was vanishing before their eyes.

Their frowns may have been from guilt. The disciples had let Jesus down. (Who hasn’t?) We’ve all failed to stand up for Him at times. I know that is the case with me. Perhaps we lacked the courage to witness, or we did not love someone who needed Christ’s love. All these things can cause us to feel guilty, like we let Him down, and we wonder how He feels about us. Are we on the outs with Him?

Perhaps their frowns were from a sense of feeling lost, without direction. Many struggle with a lack of meaning and purpose. Those disciples were struggling with that issue. What are we going to do now? I’ve invested all this time and energy into this cause. Now that Jesus is dead and gone, what is my purpose? That can be the case for many people. Their life is lacking direction and purpose, and they wonder what in the world are they here for. It can all lead to a frown.

So how do you wipe away your frowns? Some people use human devices, spend a lot of money, take a vacation, throw a party, purchase a new toy of some sort, take a couple extra drinks at the end of a workday. All of these activities, I suppose, are fine, but do they really last? Do they put a lasting smile within one’s heart and soul? These things are just temporary fixes. They really don’t work for long.

What does wipe away our frowns? The risen Jesus Christ. The reality that overjoyed those disciples and kept them joyfully going the rest of their lives was their ongoing relationship with the risen Savior. They knew they did not walk alone.

Dear friends, you don’t need to walk alone either. Jesus is here to walk with you. When you fail or meet defeat, you have a promise from the resurrected Lord to count on. “I will not leave you orphaned. I will come to you.” We can lean on that promise for strength during difficult moments of life, and we can say with Paul, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

I came across a funny story about a pastor who was concerned about the Christian education program in his church becoming ineffective, so he stopped by a fourth grade classroom and asked one of the students, Janie, “When is Easter, and what happens on that day?”

Janie replied, “Easter is in the fall. We dress up in costumes and go trick-or-treating.”

“Oh, no!” the pastor thought. “This really is a problem!”

Hoping for better results, he tried another student. “Jimmy, can you tell me what Easter is about and what happens on that day?”

Jimmy said, “Well, it’s in the winter. We put up the tree, decorate, and exchange gifts.”

Now, the pastor was really feeling sick, so he went to Mikey, the smartest kid in the class. “When is Easter,” he asked, “and what happens then, Mikey?”

Mikey answered, “Easter is in the springtime when Jesus came up from the grave.

“Very good!” the pastor said relieved.

Then Mikey added, “And if he sees his shadow, he goes back, and we have six more weeks of winter.” ☺

Listen: our good news is that Jesus didn’t go back. He is alive and He is with us today. When I walk away from the graveside feeling uneasy about my mortality and a bit fearful, these words of Jesus are mine to hang on to. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). Jesus conquered death on Easter; Because He lives, we shall live also. That is ours to claim for ourselves. When I am weighed down by the guilt of letting Him down in my many shortcomings in life, the risen One points me to the cross and reminds me that I have peace with God through the cross and resurrection. He shows me His nail-pierced hands, feet, and side and says, “You are forgiven.”

When I wonder about my purpose, the Risen Christ reminds me in His words that I am His “sent one.” “As the Father sent me, so I send you” to those who live around you, to point them to me and tell them the message of the great forgiveness I offer every sinner and the new beginning that can be theirs if they’ll place their trust in me (John 20:21). You have a very high calling, and knowing this can turn your frown into a smile.

Many frowns were turned into smiles by the risen Savior on that first Easter Sunday. Jesus has never stopped doing that to this very day. He is risen, and He is here with us right now as we study His word together. He has promised to come to us in that way. He wants each of us to have His peace and be overjoyed at the knowledge that He is alive and with us.

I appeal to you this day through the Word, ask Him in. He says, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). A personal, intimate relationship is yours as you continue walking with Jesus in His word and participate in His community of faith. And as you serve others in His name, you will continue to find Him and understand that He really is alive and right there with you. He will turn your frown into a smile.

When I was a child, I used to sing an old hymn that goes like this:

♪Art thou weary, art thou languished, art thou sore distressed.

“Come to me,” saith one, and coming, be at rest.

Hath he marks to lead me to Him, if He be my guide.

In His feet and hands are wound prints, and His side.

Finding, following, keeping, struggling is He sure to bless.

Saints, apostles, prophets, martyrs answer yes. ♬

Meet Jesus: The Risen One

All around this world, on any given Sunday, millions of people gather in churches to worship and focus on the blessing of Jesus Christ. At the same time, others observe this behavior and commitment and ask themselves, Why all this fuss about Jesus? How would you respond to the question, Why Jesus? Why should I consider Jesus for my life?

I think if someone asked me that question, I would point out, first of all, that everyone has a need deep within them. We were all created to live in a relationship with God. Without God, an empty space resides inside of us. That empty space is caused by humanity’s sinfulness. We each have a deep hunger that cannot be satisfied on our own. We have a hunger for meaning as we sort through life and figure out our purpose.

We also have a hunger for forgiveness. Old regrets can clutter the closets of our hearts.

We hunger for hope in eternity. Scripture tells us eternity is written in our hearts, and we wonder what will happen to us when we take our last breath in this old world. That can be a frightening thing to think about for many.

One might respond, maybe we do have this hunger inside of us, but is Jesus the answer for it? Many are puzzled by Him and so many opinions surround Him. Some see Him as a great teacher or as a great example of a moral person who showed us how to truly live. Others see Him as a wise philosopher who understood life. Some see Him as a remarkable, compassionate person, and still others as a courageous individual who faced death so well. That’s not enough to devote one’s life to. We need to look at Scripture to get a better understanding. The Gospel of Mark, which we’ve been studying the last 11 weeks on Christian Crusaders has drawn us quite a picture of opinions that fall short of understanding Christ. Jesus is so much more than the opinions people throw around.

The Gospel of Mark presents a picture of Jesus as One with authority and power over death, sickness, nature, and the power of evil in the world as He shows compassion to people. He taught about life with authority, as if He knew God’s mind Himself. He actually claimed authority as God’s Son as He referred to Himself, for instance, in Mark 12 as King David’s Lord claiming divinity.

Today’s story from Mark is the cornerstone of Christianity’s claim that Jesus is more than a great teacher, a great philosopher, or the best man who ever lived. It contains the central fact of Christianity Ð the story of Christ’s resurrection. Jesus Christ is risen is the news of Mark chapter 16. He has risen just as He said He would.

The women in the story came out to the tomb to have a final farewell, a memorial service of sorts for their friend Jesus. They had watched Him be cruelty crucified on the cross and thought they would never see Him again. They went out to anoint the body and prepare it for a proper burial. But when they got there, they were surprised to find the stone that was covering the tomb had been rolled away. When they stuck their heads inside, they found the tomb empty and instead an angel announced to them, “You’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He’s been raised. He’s not here. He’s left the cemetery. He’s alive, and He’s going ahead of the disciples to Galilee, so tell them to meet Him up there.”

The news is just that at Easter. Christ is risen! He who was dead, crucified on a cross, is now alive. He has been raised from the dead.

After that empty tomb announcement, Jesus appeared to His disciples and 500 others over the next 50 days after that Easter Sunday. He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Why is that so important? Because Jesus’ resurrection is God’s affirmation of Him. It is an affirmation of Christ’s identity, of Christ’s authority, and of His sacrifice for our sin. The resurrection, first of all, affirms His identity. God is telling us in the resurrection, Jesus is my Son, just as He told you. He speaks and teaches with such authority because He knows My heart and My mind. He knows what really makes a life work because He was there in the beginning with Me when it all was put together.

The resurrection announces to us that all authority has been given to Jesus. He is Lord over this universe. He is in charge. All the powers make our lives miserable have been placed under the feet of Jesus Christ. Death is defeated. It couldn’t hold Him! Death, our enemy, has been swallowed up in victory by Jesus Christ. Jesus is first fruits of the resurrection, meaning that death no longer has the final claim over us when we place our trust in Him. It cannot hold us anymore. It’s something through which we pass. Death is no longer a period, it’s a comma.

I like what Colin Smith writes in his book, Unlocking the Bible Story. From the time of Adam to the time of Christ, death had a way in but no way out. People went into death, but they couldn’t emerge from it. When Jesus died, He cut a hole in death itself. He changed its nature so that when I come to that moment of death, it will not be like entering a prison. It will be like going through a passage that leads right into the presence of God.

That’s all the difference in the world! Jesus has cut a hole in the power of death. It cannot hold us. The power of satan and evil has been defeated through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. God has affirmed that for us. The ending of the story is that in the end, every knee will bow to Christ and call Him Lord.

The resurrection also affirms that sin has been taken care of, once and for all. The sacrifice at the cross, you see, is affirmed, at the resurrection. Our sin is forgiven. We are given freedom by placing our trust in Jesus Christ. Sin is paid for. The sacrifice has been accepted as Jesus received the wrath of God upon Himself as a punishment for our sin. God raised Him and said yes to Jesus, the sacrifice.

Without the resurrection, Jesus Christ’s claims, His life, His words, His cross wouldn’t matter. However, because of the resurrection, now it all matters. He is one to be taken seriously. He is one to be taken in faith.

So if you are asking, Why Jesus?, my response is, Why not Jesus? This resurrected One is the Son of God. He is the Savior of the world and of your life! He is the authority over all, and He is still alive, on the loose, ready to step into your life and mine and have a relationship with us. He can actually change a life, which is further proof of the power of His resurrection.

In his book, Has Christianity Failed You? Ravi Zacharias points to one of the greatest proofs for the truth of Christ. He writes, “The reality of the resurrection is that it changes the lives of Christians. During the course of nearly 40 years, I have traveled to virtually every continent and seen or heard some of the most amazing testimonies of God’s intervention in the most extreme circumstances. I have seen hardened criminals touched by the message of Jesus, and their hearts turned toward good in a way that no amount of rehabilitation could have accomplished. I have seen ardent followers of radical belief systems turn from being violent brutal terrorists to becoming mild, tenderhearted followers of Jesus Christ. I have seen nations where the Gospel Ð banned and silenced by the government Ð has nevertheless conquered the ethos and mind set of an entire culture.” Then he lists some examples in this book.

“In the middle of the 20th century, for instance, after destroying all the Christian seminary libraries in the country, Chairman Mao declared Christianity had been permanently removed from China never to make a return. On Easter Sunday in 2009, however, the leading English language newspaper in Hong Kong published a picture of Tiananmen Square on page one with Jesus replacing Chairman Mao’s picture on the gigantic banner and the words, ÔChrist is risen’ below it. I have also been in the Middle East and marveled at the commitment of young people who risked their lives to attend a Bible study. I have talked to CEOs of large companies in Islamic nations who testify to seeing Jesus in visions and dreams and wonder what it all means.”

The British author A.N. Nelson, who only a few years ago was known for his scathing attacks on Christianity, celebrated Easter in 2009 at a church where, with a group of other church members, he proclaimed that the story of the Jesus of the Gospels is the only story that makes sense out of life and its challenges.

Matthew Paris, a British atheist who visited Malawi in 2008, wrote an article, “As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God. I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa. I used to avoid this truth, but Christians black and white working in Africa do heal the sick and do teach people to read and write. And only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it.”

This resurrected one Ð Jesus Christ Ð came to be your Savior and your Lord. As He had change the lives of others, He can change your life. So I ask you, why not? Why not surrender to His care and leadership in your life? Why not invite Him to take over and give you His blessed promises of an eternal life.

Why not commit yourself to following Him the rest of your days? Faith in Him is not vain or foolish. The evidence is in: To fall in behind Jesus is a smart thing to do. Why not get to know Him, live with Him in His word, and learn from Him how life works as you make Him your life’s authority? His word can set us free. Free from what?

Free from the fear of death, for instance. We have the promise of eternal life. Jesus says, “I prepared a place for you in my Father’s house.” This past year, I have done a number of funerals and one of the men I laid to rest, Keith, was dying of cancer. He was fairly young. I loved the testimony he shared with everyone who came to see him. “I am not afraid. I’m not afraid. I know where I’m going. I’m going to be with Jesus in His heaven.”

Jesus sets us free from a lack of meaning and purpose in life as He points us in the right direction as to what makes a life add up. He says real life is in serving others, giving oneself away. Dave discovered this early on in his retirement. Instead of settling back in retirement, he stumbled upon a mission in the inner-city, which is trying to lead people to Jesus Christ as they build a community center. Dave was able to meet the neighbors and pray with them. Many are finding Jesus Christ, and Dave glows with joy! He says, “I am really living now!”

Jesus also sets us free from past regrets when we come to Him asking for forgiveness. He points us to the cross over and over again and says, “I paid for you. You belong to me. You are forgiven.”

So my dear friend, why not Jesus? And why not right now? If you’ve been keeping Him out of your life, if you been pushing Him away at arm’s length, why not pray this prayer with me? Lord Jesus, I need you. Forgive me of my sins. Come into my life and take over. Show me your ways so that I may walk with you forever. Amen.

He is risen; He is risen indeed! So why not Jesus?