The Mind of Christ

Romans 12:1-2

Have you ever wished to have the mind of a genius? Someone like Albert Einstein, Mozart, or Leonardo da Vinci? Maybe a politician like Abe Lincoln or Winston Churchill. Maybe Galileo, Plato, or Socrates. At Christmas I was given a book of wisdom by sports coach John Wooden. Great minds, geniuses.

I really would like to have the mind of Jesus Christ.

The mind is a physical organ – the brain – which directs all bodily functions and movements. It is also our speech. It’s the seat of our intelligence, reason, and logic, our cognitive understanding, our ability to recognize, make judgments.

It’s the source of our creativity. The mind sets goals for the human will. It’s not only our consciousness but also our subconscious.

It’s where dreams float and memory is stored. It’s the resolve of new commitments. It’s our self-awareness and self-definition. In the application of our minds, we solve problems, gain knowledge, process life experiences, pursue curiosities, and form our personal character.

The Bible says, “As a man thinks, so is he” (Prov. 23:7). Aristotle said, “The energy of the mind is the essence of life.” Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Nothing is at last sacred except the integrity of the mind.” Maybe that is why Mahatma Gandhi said, “I will not let anyone walk through my mind with dirty feet.” American author Mark Twain, with tongue-in-cheek, said, “Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.”

Have you lost your mind? As a man thinks, so is he. The Bible speaks about spiritual rebellion as losing our mind or losing our senses. In spiritual rebellion, we live as if there is no God. It is a mindset not only of defiance but also one that journeys away from God as the source of life and our heavenly Father. Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden, saw that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a delight to eyes and desired to make one wise. They were seduced into thinking they knew better than God what was best for them.

This is the root of spiritual rebellion – when we think we know better than God. We begin to believe the lies of the enemy, which further confuses our minds.

In II Corinthians 4:4 we read, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, so they do not see the light of the gospel in the glory of Jesus Christ . . .” We then forget our identity. We develop spiritual amnesia and begin to live like orphans. We forget we are children of God, children of our heavenly Father and, like the prodigal in Jesus’ story in Luke 15, we begin to live as if we have no father.

Have you lost your mind? I like Jesus’ story in Mark chapter 5 when He encounters the Gerasene demoniac among the tombs. This man is possessed and controlled by evil spirits, but Jesus sets him free. It says that after Jesus sets him free, he is clothed and has been restored to his right mind.

That’s why one goes from spiritual rebellion to repentance. The word literally means “a change of mind.” To repent means my mind is now reoriented to accept the way God thinks about life. When the prodigal, on his journey of brokenness, realized he had a heavenly Father, it says he came to his senses. He not only remembered that he had a Father, but also that the heart of his Father was good and full of love. So he decided to go home to his earthly father. This is repentance. We change our mind and begin to think like God thinks.

Paul writes in Romans, “By the mercies of God, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice . . . Don’t be conformed to this world, to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (12:1-2). The Greek word is metamorphosis. It’s a process of transformation as our minds are renewed. Then our minds will guide our bodies to offer ourselves continually as a sacrifice to serve the purposes of God.

I say it often, “Any dead fish can float downstream.” Have you ever known people who believe the gospel, know their Bibles, come to church and worship regularly, but they experience no transformation in their life, in their ethic, in the pattern of how they live?

We long for transformation. According to this passage in Romans 12, the whole of transformation starts with our mind. The appeal is based on all of God’s mercies – God’s eternal love shown to unworthy sinners like me. It is the grace of Jesus that saves me in a way I could never earn. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit living within me to comfort and counsel my mind and empower a new life. Peace with God, hope, freedom, eternal life – all these mercies of God free me up to offer myself in response to God as a sacrifice.

It begins with the renewing of my mind – like a computer processing the data I put into it – but more than that because my mind is warped. I live with what Luther calls “the bondage of my will.” What we need is to have our minds changed in a spiritual regeneration. We need to ask the Spirit of Jesus to come in as we surrender to Jesus’ presence and ask Him to recreate a right mind within us. We need to acknowledge the infection of our flawed thinking and wrong priorities, our dirty thinking, our corrupted perceptions. We need Jesus as the Great Physician to cut those thoughts out and do a cathartic purge of all the garbage in our minds.

In AA circles they call it stink’n think’n. It is where my attitudes are so self-oriented and my victim mindset is such that I can’t think straight. We need Jesus to purge, clean, and recreate our minds. We need ask Jesus to heal our minds with His forgiving grace and heal our memories.

Many of us have had formative experiences, which have left our inner psyche wounded, affecting us even to the present moment. Jesus, the Eternal One, can enter into our memories and heal us to think correctly.

• The Word of God powerfully renews our mind. It exposes my foolishness and the shallowness of the world’s priority. In the same way that light dispels darkness, the Word of God can dispel my ignorance.
• The Word of God creates and deepens faith within me to trust all of God’s promises.
• The Word of God renews my mind again and again by revealing God’s will for my life, God’s wisdom for my life, and the principles of life, which bring blessings.
• The Word of God renews my mind by saturating my consciousness with the love of God, which creates a fountain of joy in my inner spirit.

When I was 18 years old, I had a spiritually renewing experience in my faith. It renewed my commitment to Jesus Christ not only as my Savior but also as my Lord. In the aftermath of that renewed commitment of faith, I developed an insatiable appetite for the Word of God. I loved the Word! I loved reading the stories of the Old and New Testaments. I loved becoming reacquainted with the characters of the Bible – how they walked with God, and how God used their lives to do powerful and significant things in the course of their journey. I loved reading the promises of God’s Word.

I love the Word of God, and when I immerse myself into it, my mind is renewed to right-thinking. In both I Corinthians 2 and Philippians 2, the Scriptures promise us that we now have the mind of Christ. According to Philippians, Jesus, because of His mindset, emptied Himself out. He did not hold onto privilege or power, but completely surrendered to His Father’s will and His Father’s mission. He surrendered Himself to be not only a man but also a slave.

The word in Greek is Doúlos. Although the Old Testament contains hundreds of references to the word slave and the Greek New Testament one hundred fifty references, rarely do we use the word slave in the English Bible. Instead, in the English it’s usually translated servant or bondservant. Somehow the translators thought slave was too strongly negative or belittling to use because it implies that we belong to someone else.

The corollary of the word slave in the New Testament is Kurios, which is Lord. You and I develop a mindset that we are slaves of the kurios, Jesus Christ. I am a slave of the Lord Jesus. I belong to Him. He has paid for my life. He has bought me with His blood shed on the cross of Calvary. I gladly say, I am the slave of Jesus. I belong to Him. Therefore, I want to give myself away, like Jesus did, to forgive and love all people, no matter what it costs. That is the mind of Jesus Christ.

Scripture encourages us to focus our minds on the things above, to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. It says in Philippians, “Whatever is good and lovely and excellent, beautiful, of good report, focus your mind on these things, and the God of peace shall be with you” (4:8-9). However, the new mind Christ gives us is also committed in a resolve that’s ready for action to serve God every day.

Lastly, the new mind Jesus Christ gives to us resonates in harmony with the will of God for us. We are of a mindset to live in total obedience to God.

A number of years ago, I heard the Rev. Susan Briehl, the director of Holden Village in the Pacific Northwest, tell a story of a woman from Seattle. As a beautiful young teenage girl, she found her beauty to be a curse. Her home was cold and harsh. It had no love. She was abused, used, and had no encouragement.

Unfortunately, she learned to use her looks like a weapon. Her smile could open doors at a young age, and eventually she became addicted to alcohol and drugs. She left home and never finished school, surviving on the streets in the way one would think. She was in and out of jail and treatment facilities, and lived in places not fit for anyone. Her life became reduced to a rhythm of addiction and exploitation.

One Sunday morning about 6:00, the police received a report of a young woman sitting in the middle of a six-lane freeway without a stitch of clothing. When the police arrived, the woman was staring off into space. As they immediately covered her with a blanket, they heard her repeating the phrase, “Never forget. Never forget. Never forget . . .” The policeman asked her what they shouldn’t forget, but she just kept repeating those words. When the ambulance arrived, the medical people listened to the same mantra: “Never forget. Never forget. Never forget . . .”

When the ambulance arrived at the hospital emergency room, the medical staff began to examine her to see if she was all right, and she continued to say, “Never forget. Never forget. Never forget . . .”

Finally, almost as if she finally saw someone for the first time, she locked eyes with a medical staff person and said, “Never forget. Never forget. I am a child of God. I am a child of God. I am a child of God . . .”

In that phrase is the key to the mind of Christ – that I know and believe I am a forgiven child of God. Jesus Christ has made me His own, and my whole purpose of living is to be a follower of Christ and offer my life to love others and forgive them in Jesus’ name.

In Christ we have a new mind. In Christ we move from rebellion to repentance. Jesus renews us in the power of His Spirit, and our minds resonate with the will of God to forgive and love in Jesus’ name.

May you have the mind of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Rev. Lee Laaveg
Christian Crusaders

He’s the Light You Need

Matthew 4:12-16

Do you enjoy geography? My wife, Julie, is fascinated with it. She loves looking at maps and globes and reading information about other parts of the world – the climate, the physical features of the land, the resources, and the people who live there in their culture.

As one reads through the Gospel of Matthew, it appears he is fascinated with geography as well. Geography speaks quite loudly in Matthew’s Gospel and plays a big part. For instance, in chapter 2, we see Matthew giving all kinds of geographical information about Bethlehem, Egypt, and Nazareth. He talks about how those areas fulfilled the hopes of Old Testament prophecies.

Geography comes up again in our text for today. After John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus moved to Capernaum in Galilee in the territory of Zebulun in the land of Naphtali in the far north of Palestine. It’s named for two of the Hebrew tribes who first entered the Promised Land. We discover some interesting and helpful things as we look at this location where Jesus started His ministry.

The ancient historian Josephus tells us this area was known for its fertility. The soil was phenomenal! Therefore, a lot of people went there to farm to participate in the agricultural economy.

The area had a dense population – 204 villages with at least 15,000 people in each one. It’s location made it a major trade route between the great nations. People traveled in, through, and around it delivering goods to other parts of the ancient world. Therefore we know it was a mixed population with many Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews).

Josephus also described the people as being very open to change and innovation in Galilee. The southern Jews around Jerusalem and Judea despised them and looked down upon them because they had been influenced by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans, who had taken over their land. Henceforth, they were considered a little less in standing amongst their Jewish peers.

The area, according to Matthew, was considered a place of both moral and spiritual darkness, a very unlikely place to do good ministry. Why wouldn’t Jesus head to Jerusalem instead of this particular geographical location to do His ministry?

Matthew tells us why. The move to Capernaum of Galilee was a prophetic fulfillment, so the words spoken by the Prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled. God’s purposes lie behind this move to Capernaum. Listen to these words –

“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death,
light has dawned.”

The first thing that jumps out is that this area is called “Galilee of the Gentiles.” It does not mean it was made up of Gentiles, but was surrounded by Gentiles and populated as well with some Gentiles. Right away we get a hint that Jesus is interested in having a relationship with everyone, even non-Jews.

Interesting enough, after the resurrection, Jesus met the disciples up north again in Galilee and told them to go make disciples of all nations. He commissioned them to take God’s light to all peoples. What is the spiritual location of the people who populate the area? They are people sitting in darkness, in the region of the shadow of death.

It’s important for us to look at this metaphor: darkness. How is the world dark? What does it mean?

In the Bible, darkness most often refers to evil and ignorance. It means, first of all, that the world is full of evil, violence, and suffering. Look at what happened, for instance, at the time of the birth of Christ in Matthew chapter 2 when the Wise Men didn’t return to tell Herod about Christ. We see violence, death, grief, abuse of power, homelessness, refugees fleeing oppression, and families being ripped apart. It’s the way the world was, and the way the world is.

Another way in which our world is in darkness, according to Scripture, is our inability to cure the suffering and evil around us and in us. Human resources cannot fix the world. We cannot overcome the darkness ourselves. Some might look to the state and politics, some to the marketplace and the economy, some might look to technology and believe we can end the darkness with our own intellect and innovations. But human resources cannot fix the darkness in the world or the darkness inside of us.

Tim Keller in his book, A Hidden Christmas, talks about this. He says, “Years ago I read an ad in the New York Times. It said, ‘The meaning of Christmas is, love will triumph, and we will be able to put together a world of unity and peace. In other words, we have the light within us, and so we’re the ones who can dispel the darkness. We can overcome poverty and injustice and violence and evil. If we work together, we can create a world of unity and peace.
“Can we?
“One of the most thoughtful world leaders of the late 20th century was Vaclav Havel, the first President of the Czech Republic. He had a unique vantage point from which to peer deeply into both socialism and capitalism, and he was not optimistic either would, by itself, solve the greatest human problems. He knew science, unguided by moral principles, had given us the holocaust. He concluded neither technology nor the state, nor politics nor the market alone could save us from nuclear degradation. Pursuit of the good life will not help humanity save itself. Nor is democracy alone enough. But a turning to and seeing of God is needed. The human race constantly forgets, he is not God.’”

Into this context of evil and ignorance we see Jesus, who has come to be Good News for people sitting in darkness. Here is the description and purpose of Jesus. He is the great light shining on those sitting in darkness. Jesus, the Son of God, has come to be light for us. He’s in the lighting business. He came to light up our lives. Help has arrived!

Jesus says later on, “I am the light of the world! Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” So we need to ask, What is the meaning of light? Well, it’s the opposite of darkness, evil, and ignorance. It’s goodness and knowledge. It’s positive! Scripture tells us, “The Lord is my light, my salvation” (Ps. 27:1).

Notice Matthew’s words from Isaiah, which say, “Upon them a light has dawned.” Here we have a symbol of the sun coming up on a new day. What do we know about the sun and its light? Well, we know the sun gives us life and preserves life. If the sun went out, those of us on planet earth would freeze.

In the book of Acts, we’re reminded that only in God do we live and move and have our very being. We exist only because God is upholding us, keeping us together every moment, shining on us.

This is true not only of our bodies but of our souls as well. The sun shows us the truth. If you drive a car at night without your headlights on, you will probably crash. Light reveals the truth of things in front of you so you will have enough truth to steer the car safely in the light. Likewise, Christ brings us truth about ourselves and God, the truth we need so we don’t end up crashing and ruining our lives.

The sun also gives us beauty. Sunlight is dazzling! It brings warmth and joy. People who live in areas where there are only a few hours of daylight at certain times of the year often suffer from depression. Here in Minnesota, we get long periods of grayness, and a lot of people suffer from what they call “SAD.” They need light to pick them back up again and energize them.

We need light for joy. Likewise Jesus, the Light of the World, brings abundant joy to our lives. He brings new life to replace our deadness. His beauty outshines all else and gives us joy. He is the Wonderful Counselor who gives us the truth and walks with us, even into the shadows of death. He is light for us when all other lights go out. He wants you, my dear friends, to have His light.

How can this light become yours? Well, light is a gift of grace. It is meant to be received when we trust in Him and His work on our behalf – His being wounded for our transgressions, taking our punishment upon Himself, paying the penalty for our sins at the cross – rather than trust in our own moral efforts. God forgives and accepts us. He implants His Holy Spirit in us to make us new from the inside out.

This Light, which flashes upon you with all its new life, truth, and beauty, comes as a gift to be received. It has to be a gift. You see, we were so lost, so unable to save ourselves that nothing less than the life and death and resurrection of the Son of God Himself could save us and bring us into the marvelous light of God. To accept this gift simply means admitting you’re a sinner, swallowing your pride and saying you need to be saved by grace. Believe you need to relinquish control of your life, and give it over to Christ.

The message of the Christian faith is, things really are this bad. There is darkness. There is death. We can’t heal or save ourselves. Things really are that way. But, there is hope! Upon our world a light has dawned – Jesus Christ. He has descended into our darkness in order to bring us into God’s light. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it, not even the darkness of death – Jesus defeated it as well! Receive the gift of Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, is the appeal this day.

A number of years ago, a British hymn writer by the name of Graham Kendrick wrote a song, which was very popular in churches around the world. The song had some amazing lyrics! It is basically a prayer asking Jesus to shine on us. We sing it frequently in our own congregation at Shepherd of the Valley. The words are,

“Lord, the light of your love is shining.
In the midst of the darkness shining.
Jesus, Light of the world, shine upon us.
Set us free by the truth You now bring us.
Shine on me. Shine on me.

“Shine, Jesus, shine! Fill this land with the Father’s glory
Blaze, Spirit, blaze. Set our hearts on fire.
Flow, river, flow. Flood the nations with grace and mercy.
Send forth Your Word, Lord, and let there be light.”

May the words of this song be your prayer for the rest of your life. You don’t have to sit in darkness. Christ has come to shine in you. May you be saying in your prayers, “Shine, Jesus. Shine on me.”

Pastor Steve Kramer

Defeating the Devil

Matthew 4:1-11

I came across a poster a while back that said, “Opportunity may knock only once, but temptation leans on the doorbell.”

How true it is! From the beginning of human history, temptation has been a part of living in this world. We only need to look at Genesis chapter 3 to find temptation in God’s perfect world between the serpent and Adam and Eve. We see this scenario play out again and again throughout history and even in our own lives.

Temptation. Someone once said, “To a greater or lesser degree, if you are alive then you are tempted.”

I came across a funny story about temptation. A minister parked his car in a no parking spot and left a note on the car saying, “I circled around this area ten times and couldn’t find a parking place. I’m going to be late, and so I’m parking here. So, please, forgive us our trespasses.”

When the minister returned to his car, he found a citation with a note saying, “I am a police officer. I have gone around this block every day for 10 years, and if I do not give you a ticket, I will lose my job. Lead us not into temptation.” ☺

The truth is, temptation can be a dangerous business. Giving into some temptations like breaking God’s commandments, attempting to run our own life without God’s help, or doubting God’s love for us can be dangerous to our spiritual, emotional and physical health.

A while back, I was talking with an alcoholic friend of mine who had fallen off the sobriety wagon. When I asked him what happened, he said, “I tried to do it on my own power without God’s help. I stopped working the program.”

I think of a man who came in to see me. He emotionally cheating on his wife and was almost ready to commit the physical act as well. In my counseling with him, it turns out he had left God out of the equation. He was on the verge of destroying his marriage and his family to feed his appetite.

Jesus knows what it’s like to be tempted. In the book of Hebrews, for instance, we find this reflection on that truth: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (4:15). We also see this truth in our text for today.

It is near the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. He has just been baptized and affirmed by His heavenly Father – “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” He has been given an understanding of the purpose of His life and the means by which He was to carry it out. He was to be a suffering servant.

Immediately following the thrill of His baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness – not to the cities to do ministry – but to the wilderness! It is a hot, miserable, desolate place. Jesus was led there to be tempted by the devil.

Sometimes the word “test” is used for tempt. Jesus was field-tested before He began His ministry of proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and eventually dying for the sins of the world at the cross.

Satan tried to knock Jesus off His game plan in the wilderness. Jesus had fasted for forty days, which is quite a fast! He probably lost about forty pounds. He was weak physically, but strong spiritually as He learned to focus and depend upon God and God’s promise to take care of Him. The devil then approached Jesus, and the battle was on.

It is interesting to note the temptations Satan threw in Jesus’ direction to get Him to quit following and trusting God. The first one seemed innocent enough: “If you are the Son of God, feed yourself by turning the stones to bread.” In other words, Satisfy your appetite with the power you have, Jesus. You don’t need God for that. Take care of yourself!

Now remember, Jesus hadn’t eaten for forty days; He must have been starving. But Jesus refused. I’m trusting God’s Word. I’m trusting God to provide for Me.

The next temptation was to gain popularity with the masses. You can really wow people as You jump from the pinnacle of this temple, Satan said. You will be saved by God’s angels, and You’ll have quite a following. Jesus was being tempted to test God’s love for Him. But He refused. No. I refuse to test the God who loves Me.

Finally Satan tried this one. “Worship me.” All you have to do is worship me, and I will also give you all the kingdoms of the world! This is a shortcut to success. You don’t have to go to the cross. Again Jesus replied, “Away with you, Satan.” I’m sticking with God! Only Him will I worship.

In all these temptations, Jesus was basically being asked, You’re the Son of God, aren’t You? Why are You in this position? Satan was attempting to create doubt in Jesus’s trust in God and in God’s love for Him. With each temptation, Jesus basically responded, I’m going to do life God’s way, My Father’s way. I will not compromise My trust in Him!

The forty days in the wilderness remind us of Israel wandering around in the wilderness. However, they failed the test of their trust in God completely!

We are reminded of Adam and Eve living in the Garden of Eden without sin. They gave into believing the tempter’s words that God was holding out on them and they could do better by eating the fruit of the tree, which God had warned them about. The devil was trying to put doubt in their minds, and he succeeded. They failed the test, and great was the fall.

But in today’s story, we see round one between Satan and Jesus – and round one goes to Jesus! Jesus is the strong man who emerged a victor that day. Satan will leave Him to test Him again and again. For instance, when Jesus asked Peter, “Who do men say that I am?” and told the disciples about His journey to the cross, Peter replied, You don’t have to do that, Lord!  But then Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!”

In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus also faced temptation as He prayed for strength to face the cross and crucifixion. Ultimately, He emerged victorious at the cross and at the grave. He remained loyal to God’s mission as He paid for our sins. God raised Him from the grave and affirmed Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. He will give victory over the grave to all who trust in His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is our strong man, our champion sent from God – the conqueror – who perfectly carried out God’s will and plan for His life and to rescue us.

What does this have to do with us? It is a nice story about Jesus as He takes on Satan and wins. But listen: Although the battle has been won by Jesus, and Satan will be ultimately destroyed someday by God, we are still in the midst of mop-up operations. The tempter is prowling around like a lion or an angel of light seeking to destroy people’s lives and their relationship with God. He is tempting them to compromise their trust in God and not live their life God’s way.

I am reminded of the story about a hunter who raised his rifle and took aim at a large bear. When he was about to pull the trigger, the bear spoke in a soft, soothing voice. “Isn’t it better to talk than shoot? What is it you want? Let’s negotiate the matter.”

Lowering his rifle, the hunter said, “I want a fur coat!”

“Good!” said the bear. “That is a negotiable question. I only want a full stomach, so let’s negotiate a compromise.”

They sat down to negotiate, and after a time the bear walked away, alone, into the dense woods. The negotiation had been successful. The bear now had a full stomach, and the devoured hunter had his fur coat.

Satan is deceitful like that. He often wants to negotiate, to compromise the truth of God’s Word and cause us to doubt God’s love for us. Sometimes he works on us through hardships and suffering. Other times through prosperity and good times, making us believe we can do better on our own. Sometimes, he works through peers who encourage us to go with the flow, lay aside our values. Other times, through opposition and persecutors who make us afraid to follow Jesus. Satan works his tricks on us in many ways.

But here is the Good News – Help is here! I have One I can turn to knowing He is the strong One, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He is my refuge and my strength!

The book of Hebrews tells us that as we are tempted, Jesus sympathizes with us in our weakness, because He’s been there. So as I focus on Him and lean on Him in prayer, calling out to Him for help on a daily basis, I find strength in Him to be experienced as I face my own temptations. HE WILL HELP ME, but I have to call on Him. Some of us have a hard time asking for help. Calling on Jesus to help us overcome temptations may look weak to people but the demons know it is their undoing.

Billy Graham said one time, “We can’t flee from temptation on our own strength, but God will give us the strength we need if we only seek it.” A friend of mine says, “When the devil knocks, I just send Jesus to the door.” How about the little children’s song,

“Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong. They are weak, but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me. . . .”

By the way, did you notice when temptation was thrown Jesus’ way, He had the Word of God to guide Him, to keep Him on track, to protect Him? He kept saying,
“It is written . . .”
“It is written . . .”
“It is written . . .”

If Jesus needed to lean upon the Word of God, can we do any less as His followers? There is power in reading and studying and applying the Word of God. There is power in having a biblical perspective to look through as we are faced with situations. It is important for us to get to know God’s Word. It is crucial for our spiritual welfare, for winning the battle. It’s been described as the Sword of the Spirit. In it you discover God’s promises and God’s directions for making life work best for you and for others. We cannot afford to be inept in our handling of God’s Word, dear sisters and brothers. Martin Luther stressed the importance of God’s Word in his hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” when he wrote, “One little word subdues him.” Satan – he can be held at bay with a word.

Martin Luther wrote one time, “The devil cannot bear to hear God’s Word. It is the power of God, which burns the devil and gives us immeasurable strength, comfort, and help. We need the Word! We need to be in the Word, know the Word, and lean upon it, because the battle is still on! Temptations will continue to come our way until our dying breath.

But the Good News we learned today is, We are not alone! Jesus is still here for us. We don’t have to face these temptations on our own. We have the Word of God – the Sword of the Spirit – in hand. Call on the strong name of Jesus for help knowing He is the conqueror, and in Him we are more than conquerors. He will strengthen and guide you as you study His Word. Call for help in prayer. Lean upon others in the community of faith to stand by you and help you be strong in the Lord.

I want to close this message with a story out of the textile factories in New England. In one of the workrooms hung a sign that said, “If your threads get tangled, send for the foreman.” A new employee got her threads tangled. The more she attempted to untangle them, the more helpless she became. She finally cried for help. The foreman came and asked why she hadn’t sent for him earlier. She replied in self-defense, “I did my best.” The foreman smiled and said, “Remember. Doing your best is sending for me.”

In a world filled with temptation, our Lord would use those words: Doing your best is sending for Me. That is the way a Christian handles temptation. Just send Jesus to the door. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

The Greatest Inauguration Day of All Time!

Matthew 3:13-17

Two weeks ago we celebrated Jesus Christ’s birth. Today our text moves us ahead thirty years later to Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. We really don’t know much about those earlier years between Jesus’ birth and His baptism. The Gospel writers didn’t seem to think it was important for us know. Luke, however, tells the story of Jesus as a boy being left behind in Jerusalem by Joseph and Mary. When they find Him, He is in the Temple listening and asking questions of the religious experts. Then Luke finishes off that part of Christ’s life by saying Jesus increased in wisdom and years with human and divine favor.

We also know Jesus grew up in the town of Nazareth, and He worked in a carpenter shop with His father, Joseph. Now, at the age of thirty, we find Jesus coming to the Jordan River to be baptized.

One of the things that jumps out at us right away is John’s surprise at Jesus’ request. “You ought to be baptizing me instead!” John said. Actually, many people through the ages have been puzzled by this action on the part of Jesus. Why was Jesus being baptized anyway? He was sinless, right? John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for sin, so it doesn’t seem to make much sense.

I think Jesus’ answer to John is helpful. “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Basically, Jesus was saying, This is part of God’s salvation plan. Let’s carry it out. Jesus’ earthly ministry to accomplish the work His Father had sent Him to do officially began that day. Jesus had come to save the world from sin and death, and bring salvation to humankind. This baptism was His anointing ceremony, His commissioning, His inauguration. God presided over it. As Jesus rose up out of the water, the heavens opened, and the Spirit descended upon Him. God said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

If you examine God’s statement closely, you’ll find these words are actually taken from two places in the Old Testament. The first is Psalm 2, which is a song for the anointing of a King in Israel. The second is Isaiah 42:1 where we hear the announcement of the suffering servant of God. God’s announcement after Jesus’ baptism was our Lord’s title and job description – to be a Suffering Servant for the sake of the world.

The mission of Jesus, which began that day, culminated three years later on a cross when He announced, “It is finished.” Jesus had fulfilled God’s will. The sinless One had taken our sins upon Himself, suffered our punishment, experienced God’s wrath, and died for us. He paid for our sins at the cross. That chapter in the history of God’s salvation plan was now complete. God raised Him from the grave, and nothing can be added to it. All people may now enter into a personal relationship with God because Jesus has atoned for their sins at the cross. Hallelujah!

However, there is another chapter. The mission continues. Let me explain.

Jesus did this for us. What will we do in response to this Good News? We are created in the image of God. This means we have a will to say I do (or I don’t) want to get in on God’s salvation plan. God’s mission is not completed in our lives until we have received Jesus Christ. The Gospel writer John reminds us of this in the first chapter of his Gospel when he writes, “He came to his own, but his own received him not. But to those who have received him, he gives the right to become children of God.” In spite of all God has done for us through Jesus Christ, we must receive Him. And so I ask you, have you received Christ?

Some might respond, Isn’t that a redundant question? Aren’t all members of the Church those who have received Christ, and aren’t all those who are baptized, saved? The answer to both of those questions is, No, not all people who belong to an organized church are believers in Christ. They are still relying upon their own good works to save them. I know this from personal experience – conversations and encounters with people down through the years of my ministry.

Not all baptized people are saved. Our Lutheran Church does not teach baptism alone saves us. We believe God acts in baptism as He enters into a covenant relationship with us. He adopts us into His family and gives us His Spirit. However, when a child is brought for baptism, the parent is instructed to bring the child up in the faith, to disciple him or her. It is important for the child to know the way of salvation and come to love Jesus. It is vital for the child to be brought up in the Church and instructed in God’s Word. The Holy Spirit works through that Word in the child. It is important as parents to read, teach, and model the faith. All of this is done with the hope that the child will be awakened to what Christ has done for her or him. It is then that the baptized child says “yes” to Christ and to following Him.

Likewise, when a person is baptized as an adult into the faith. Then begins the process of discipling the individual so they might to continue to walk with Christ and grow. I know many who have been baptized but walked away from Christ. This puts them outside of a relationship with God. It doesn’t mean God loves them any less, but if the relationship is to be restored, such people must be converted and turned back to the Father who has never stopped loving them and continues to wait for them.

So where are you in your relationship with Jesus Christ? Are you living in the covenant of your baptism, trusting Him and following Him? If you are like the prodigal son Jesus talked about who ran away from his father, the appeal this day is to turn around and come home. Your Father is waiting for you with open arms. He loves you. He wants you.

However, receiving Christ doesn’t finish the story of His mission in our lives. Let me explain. God has a plan for us to mature in our faith and grow closer to Him – bear fruit that glorifies Him. Only as we grow in our relationship with Jesus is God’s mission being fulfilled in our lives.

Some receive Jesus, but never mature in the faith. We read about them in the book of Hebrews in the New Testament. These Christians are being chastised for not growing up, still being babes on spiritual milk, needing solid food. God has given us His Scripture, the community of faith, and the sacraments to grow us up into people who conform to the very image of Jesus. We need to look like Jesus, think like Him, act like Him. Our spiritual maturity begins to take place when we walk the talk and live out the faith we confess.

God’s Word should hold sway over the decisions we make in life. The maturing person in Christ is asking God, What is Your will in this matter? As a citizen of Your kingdom, how should I conduct myself in this particular situation? For instance, if you are a younger person, what will happen when it is suggested that you live with your fiancé before marriage? We live in a society where it is condoned these days. The question is, are you going to operate Christ’s way believing He knows what makes your relationship work best, or will you operate by the ways of the world?

Let’s consider marriage. You found someone who brings you such joy and are thinking of entering marriage with that individual. The maturing Christian would ask these questions:
• Can I worship with this person?
• Is he or she a believer in Christ?
• Can we share Christ in our everyday life, or will it be an issue for us?
• Will we be able to raise our children together in the Christian faith?

Let’s try one more. You’ve been terribly hurt by someone along life’s way. The question is, are you going to hang onto the hurt and nurse a grudge believing revenge is sweet, as the world around us teaches, or will you forgive that person and move on, as Jesus instructed His disciples to do?

Obviously God’s admission in our lives is not completed in us until He takes us to His heaven. However, He really does have a plan for you and me to mature us, to transform us in this life through the working of the Holy Spirit. He intends to shape and mold us to the image of Jesus Christ so we would live obediently and fulfill the great commandment to love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves.

Finally, Christ’s mission continues through us. He clearly commissions us to take the Good News of Christ to others around us who haven’t received Him yet or have wandered away from God. They need His saving grace, and Christ counts on us to reach out to them. He tells us, “Go, make disciples of all nations baptizing them . . . , teaching (all that I have taught to you)” (Matt. 28:20-21). Or He says, “You are my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In Matt. 5:16, He says to His disciples, “Let your light shine before others so they see your good deeds and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Life presents us with many missions: raising a family, providing for ourselves and them, being a good member of my community. But only one mission is eternal. It began that day at the river Jordan when Jesus was baptized and commissioned – His Inauguration Day. His mission continues in and through our lives this week, in our encounters with various people we run into who need Jesus Christ in their lives.

Christ’s mission continues until the day when Jesus returns in power and majesty and glory once and for all when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.

Until that day comes, brothers and sisters, we have a lot of work to do. The mission continues through us until our last breath. We never retire from kingdom work. So we keep trusting, following and serving Jesus until we close our eyes in this world and awaken to behold Him face to face in the next. Until then, the mission continues.

So, dear brothers and sisters, press on for the sake of the Gospel. May the mission of Jesus Christ continue in and through your life. Amen.

Rev. Steve Kramer

What Child Is This? Our Help From Heaven

Hebrews 2:10-18

Merry Christmas. I hope you have a happy new year. I’ve never been sure of what to preach at this particular time of the year – Christmas and New Year’s. It would be easy, I suppose, for me to load a bunch of New Year’s spiritual resolutions on you but that isn’t really Good News to build a life upon. It can come off sounding more like Law than Good News.

We could celebrate, the blessings and challenges of the past year, but that would be somewhat like a Thanksgiving message. So instead, I thought maybe now that the emotional part of the Christmas experience is behind us, why not take one last look at the question we have been focusing upon during the weeks leading up to Christmas: What child is this whose birth we just celebrated?

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews has a very insightful and encouraging answer for us today. Like news magazines and television shows that use collages and images to remind people of things that have taken place, the book of Hebrews offers a collage of images to help us understand this child named Jesus. The first picture that jumps out at us is, He’s our brother! Listen to this verse,

“For the one who sanctifies (cleanses from sin) and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason, Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.”

Jesus is our brother. He became one of us. He is true God, but He’s also true man. He identified Himself with us.

As I look at this verse, I finally understand the third verse of “O Holy Night” when it says,
“Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother,
and in his name all oppression shall cease.”

I’ve never been comfortable singing the line of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” that goes, “God our Father, Christ our brother . . .”

Jesus the Son of God, according to this passage in Hebrews, entered our humanity. He became our brother. He partook of our flesh and blood by becoming one of us. He went through everything we go through. He experienced what we experience in life – even such things as pain, hunger, thirst, tears, loneliness, weariness, disappointments, and temptations. He chose to do life His way – His heavenly Father’s way – instead.

Max Lucado wrote a book a few years ago called God Came Near. I like this reflection he used in the book when thinking about Christ’s incarnation:

“The phrase ‘I’ve been there,’ is in the chorus of Christ’s theme song.

To the lonely, Jesus whispers ‘I’ve been there.’

To the discouraged, Christ nods His head and sighs, ‘I’ve been there.’

He entered into every detail of human life.

“Are you poor? Jesus knows how you feel.

Are you at the lowest rung of the social ladder? He understands.

Ever been taken advantage of? Christ says, ‘I’ve been there, too.’

Have you ever felt like you needed to get away from the pressures and demands? Jesus says, “I’ve been there.”

Family tensions? ‘Yes, I’ve been there too.’

Falsely accused? ‘Absolutely!’

The list goes on. ‘I’ve been there,’ Jesus says.

Whatever you are facing, Jesus knows how you feel.”

I find comfort in the thought that Jesus knows how I feel. He has walked a mile in my shoes. He empathizes with us. When I turn to Him, He understands. This passage tells us that He is like an older brother who doesn’t look down on us or tell us to get lost. Instead, He comes to help us.

I’m reminded of a very popular movie from a few years ago entitled “A River Runs Through It.” It’s a true story about two brothers growing up in the beautiful mountains of Montana. The older brother was quiet, studious, and hard-working. He went off to college, got a good job, and was respected in his community. The younger brother was great fun, always in trouble, pushing the envelope on what was acceptable. He had a drinking problem, as well as a gambling problem, and he ended up associating with some guys who got him deeper and deeper into trouble. Finally, he was killed in a back street brawl. His older brother just couldn’t help him; they’d grown too far apart over the years.

It was a tragic story and the most tragic thing about it was this: the older brother saw what was happening to his brother but could do nothing about it. He just couldn’t reach him and rescue him.

The point of this passage in Hebrews is that Jesus, our older brother, could – and did – come to where His siblings were wallowing in the land of sin and death. He came to help us. He identified with us, shared our fate, and rescued us from it.

How did He do it? The next image in Hebrews describes Jesus as the “Pioneer of (our) salvation.” I think of the American pioneers who blazed the way through the wilds of the West for others to follow and then make new homes and new lives in a new place. Or I think of an explorer hacking his way through an unexplored jungle, forging his way through treacherous terrain until he reaches his goal. Once he’s done that, others can follow His path.

That is what Jesus has done. Our pioneer, He has blazed the trail to salvation to lead us to the presence of God. He went through suffering and pain, sin and death, out of love for us when He went to the cross, for we needed to be saved from all those things. Nobody had ever gone to such lengths and come out on the other side. Yet Jesus did, and in so doing He opened the way to God.

A whole new world is here. A world of cleansing and forgiveness awaits those who follow the pioneer, Jesus Christ. And a new eternal life in the presence of God is ours as we go with Him, Jesus.

The next image of Jesus used in this passage describes Him as a liberator. We find battlefield imagery as we see death destroyed by our captain who came to fight for us. His coming was a rescue mission. We needed rescuing. We were captive to the power of sin, death, and the devil. Through Jesus’ own death, Scripture tells us He destroyed the power of death and was victorious over the devil. In His dying and rising, Jesus has taken the sting out of death. It is destroyed. God’s love displayed in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus won out over evil.

I like this saying that goes, At the cross Jesus was crucified, but Satan got nailed. Jesus frees those who have been held in slavery by the fear of death all their lives.

I love this little story about an Anglican priest named Joe who lives just outside of London. He tells a wonderful story about a woman and her church. This woman underwent some serious surgery and, because she was elderly, her prospects of recovery were slim at best. Fortunately, however, she survived the surgery. Afterward, as she opened her eyes, the first thing she saw was the blurred image of a doctor dressed in a typical white doctor’s jacket. She smiled and said, “Hello, God! My name is Mary!” That is the kind of assurance of eternal life we can all have as we place our trust in Jesus Christ.

Some of us have gone through the Christmas experience with an empty chair at the table. A loved one has passed on. This passage in Hebrews is our assurance for them and for us as well as we consider our own mortality. Because Christ lives, we shall live also.

Finally, the last picture used of Jesus is seeing Him as a high priest. “Priest,” in the Latin, means bridge builder. Jesus became like His brothers and sisters, according to this passage, in every respect so He might be a merciful high priest, a bridge builder, in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the world. We all are sinners in need of atonement. We need to escape the divine wrath of God. As a high priest who lived the perfect life of obedience as a human, Jesus went to the cross for you and for me to make the perfect sacrifice for our sins and put a bridge between God and ourselves.

What a collage! He is our big brother. He is the pioneer of salvation. He is our liberator who conquered death. He is the high priest who built the bridge of forgiveness for us.

Why does the writer go through this collage of images? We learn the answer in the last verse of the passage where he says, “Because he (Jesus) himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” Jesus is our help from heaven.

This last verse seems to be an appeal. I told you all these wonderful things about Jesus, all He went through for you, so you may be certain that He is able to help you as you face the tests of life. The author was writing to people who were being tested by sufferings. They were being tested by discouragement, trials of life, and persecution from the society. The temptation was to give up their faith. The writer wants us to know Jesus is able to help. Help is here – not help was here or help will be here. Help IS here in Jesus Christ.

When you are tempted to give up trusting God and do life your own way, when you think about shrinking back from standing up for Jesus or hanging on to your faith, remember this: He is your help! He is there for you.

We all have times of testing. But Jesus is able to help. As you face the challenges of next year – whatever they may be – Jesus says, You can count on me. I will not leave you orphaned. I am able. Big Brother is here. Help from heaven is here for you and for me.

It’s like the old hymn says,

“Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged.
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful?
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness.
Take it to the Lord in prayer.”

Help has arrived. Lean on Him. Trust Him. Big Brother – Jesus – is here for you. Amen.

Rev. Steve Kramer