The Eternal Now

John 5:20-26

♪Anybody here want to live forever, 
Say, I do.
Anybody want to walk on streets of gold,
Say I do.♬

How can we live forever?

Today I want to talk with you about time and eternity, about our human predicament and how Jesus came to change it all. I want to visit with you today about the eternal now, when the limits between this world and the next come down. By faith in Jesus Christ, we belong to the One whose name is the great I AM. So I ask you, when does eternity begin?

Most people would say it begins when we physically die. But in John chapter five, Jesus says that the one who believes in Him has already passed from death to life. It has already become a reality.

When we think about time and eternity, we find two different realms. The eternal, spiritual realm is without limit – infinite. But the realm of time within this created order means all of us who live here, live with limits. We have defined space. We live a designated period of years. Everything eventually comes to an end.

Have you ever seen the animated classic children’s movie, Toy Story? The main character, Buzz Lightyear, cries, “To infinity . . . and beyond!” How long is eternity? How does one define infinity? It is hard to wrap our minds around forever – something without limits, without end. We are in such a time-obsessed culture. It is difficult for us to imagine anything besides finite time.

Think about it. We have clocks in every room of our house. They are in our automobiles and trucks, on our computers and cell phones, even on our wrists. We are governed by time.

We also live by the dates on our calendars. We have appointments to keep, deadlines to meet. Every year we celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, holidays. Most of our energy and efforts go toward achieving temporary goals and attaining temporary possessions. We get wrapped up in the here and now.

God, in contrast, is eternal. He has no beginning and no end. My finite brain can think about something that starts today and has no end, but it’s hard for me to grasp something that has no beginning; it just goes infinitely . . . to no beginning.

God transcends time. He is above time. God created time when He created this beautiful world in which we live. Motivated by love, God – it says in Genesis 2 – created Adam and Eve. He breathed into them, and they became living beings.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, there is an intrinsic interdependence between humanity and God. He has inspired us – literally, breathed life into us – and infused us with life. There is an intimate connection between the Creator and the created. We sing in our hymn, “Breathe on me, breath of God. Fill me with life anew . . .”

So we live in this world in our physical bodies. They are God’s gift. But the Bible also says God’s Spirit resonates with our spirit (Romans 8:16). God has given us His Spirit. God has given us a soul. From the Greek “psyche,” It means the essence of our being. Theologically it means God has placed eternity with our breasts so we are able to know God relationally in His love.

So we live life within time in these amazing bodies in the beauty of creation as God’s gift, but we have limits. We are finite beings.

Further, we have a human predicament – death and eternal death (even worse). We live out our lives in a broken, sinful world. Sin is in everyone. It contaminates everything relationally.

Sin is within me. It entered God’s perfect paradise through Adam and Eve’s disobedience. At that moment, physical death entered this world. Romans 6:23 says,

“The wages of sin is death.” Therefore, our bodies age. We feel pain. We become sick and weak. Eventually we die, literally when the breath goes out of us. We are truly transient – just passing through. We are temporary.

Most people live in fear of the eminence and certainty of our physical death. A musical group, Kansas, used to sing, “Dust in the wind. All we are is dust in the wind.” Psalm 103:15-17 says it this way.

“Man’s days are like grass. Like a flower of the field, people flourish. The wind blows and it’s gone, and its place acknowledges it no longer. But the loving kindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting to those who trust Him.”

• Sin is disobedience. Literally it means, missing the mark or falling short of the goal.
• Sin is a rebellion against God’s authority, against God’s right to be God and to rule over us.
• Sin is the rejection of God as the source of life, the One to whom we are accountable.
• Sin is unbelief. Sin is when self rises up to take total control and in defiance say I’m gonna do what I want to do.

However, an even deeper predicament exists in the sinfulness of humanity. In our rebellion, in our rejection, sin breaks fellowship with God as the source of life. It also, therefore, brings eternal death. We are in danger of perishing eternally. Eternal death is the state of existence where we are lost – apart from God’s presence of love and life.

Sin also brings judgment and condemnation. We are guilty before a holy and perfect God. It is my sin. I am a prodigal. I sing in the hymn, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” I run my own path. I fail to trust God as I should. I’m not faithful.

We will all die someday. Without God, we will live in a state of eternal death. That is why the Bible uses the word “perish.” It refers not to physical death, but to be eternally separated from God, permanently. If one dies in a state of rebellion and defiance wanting nothing to do with God, refusing to acknowledge God, rejecting the grace God so freely offers us in Jesus’ name, then – not because God wills it, but because people choose it – they will perish. They will spend eternity separated from God. They will receive exactly what they desire, which is to live without God.

I believe it was C. S. Lewis who defined hell as the absence of God’s presence. Albert Einstein said, “As darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of God’s presence.” So, in response to our finite, temporary condition and our human predicament of death and eternal death, because of our bondage to sin and our separation from God, God sent Jesus, His Son, into our world. The eternal One crashes into time.

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. God didn’t send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him (John 3:16-17).”

This is God’s heart in response to our predicament.

In Revelation 22:3, Jesus says,

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”

Jesus is the absolute Alpha. There is no “before” before Him.

Psalm 90:2 says,

“From everlasting to everlasting, you are God.”

The Gospel of St. John tells us Jesus is the Word.

“And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word created all that exists (1:1) . . . The Word became flesh . . .” (vs. 14).

The eternal One entered the finiteness of time and creation to save us. Jesus comes to us from eternity and leaves His infinite power. He takes on self-imposed finite limits. He enters time and our world. The God who is everywhere present now comes to reveal Himself in the particularity of the physical body – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Is Jesus, God?
• Do you remember how He stood in the boat on the sea of Galilee in the storm and told the wind and waves to stop (Mark 4:35-41)?
• Do you remember when He told the demons who were tormenting and possessing people to go to hell where they belong (Matt. 8:28-34)?
• Do you remember how Jesus healed the sick and gave sight to those who had never seen (Mark 8:22-26)?
• Do you remember how Jesus stopped a funeral procession and raised the boy of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17), or how He stood outside the tomb and called for His friend Lazarus, who was dead four days, to come out (John 11:45-57)? The dead heard His voice and came out.

He is the Lord of life!

When God came in love, the unthinkable happened. He came to His own people, and they rejected Him. Worse than that, they killed Him! They crucified God on a cross.

But God always has the final word. God raised Jesus from the dead never to die again. He is the Lord of life.

Who is Jesus coming into our human predicament?
• He is the Rescuer, the Savior from sin who forgives us and wipes away our past mistakes.
• He is the Reconciler who brings us back into a relationship with God, the source of life.
• He is the One who releases us, frees us from all limits and from condemnation.
• Jesus is the Redeemer who restores our physical bodies and gives us new and glorified bodies.
• Jesus is the Ruah (the Hebrew word for the breath of God), who fills us with His Holy Spirit.

The moment the dead in Christ hear Jesus’ voice and believe, they have already passed out of death into life. That is the eternal now!

Charles Spurgeon, the “Prince of Preachers,” shared this analogy:

If you knew you had been poisoned, and the physician brings an anecdote and says, “Take it quickly or you will die! If you take it quickly, I guarantee that the poison will be neutralized. You will live!” But you say, “No, doctor. I do not believe. Let everything just take its course. I’ll have nothing to do with you, doctor,” well, sir, you will die, and when the coroner’s inquest is held on your body, the verdict will be, “Served him right!” Wouldn’t that be foolish?

I’ve stood at the grave of infants, of children, of a mother of small children, of older friends who have lived a long and full life. But yet it matters that God in Jesus Christ gives to us eternal life.

Do you hear His voice? Do you hear Jesus invite you to believe that He will forgive you, love you, and give you eternal life?

The eternal now is when the walls between this world and the next come down. In the love and power of Jesus Christ, we are free from limits. We are free from death. We are free from eternal death, and we are reconnected to the One who is eternally alive in love for you. The instant we believe, we pass from death to life.

Everyone who has the Son has life. Everyone who believes in Jesus and receives Him as the Son of God, as Savior and Lord, has eternal life. Eternity begins the moment we believe.

I invite you to place your faith in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg

Re: Easter

Luke 24:1-12

All around the world, today churches are filled to overflowing with people celebrating Easter. Perhaps folks outside the Christian faith are wondering what to make of Easter. What is the big deal regarding this Christian holiday? Maybe you are even asking this question as you listen today. So I thought I’d take a few minutes and respond to this question regarding Easter.

Perhaps you’ve already noticed, I am using a lot of “re” words in this introduction, with good reason. You see, many “re” words jump out at us as we read this story.

For instance, we first see a re-appearance. The women, having left the tomb on Friday, reappear on Sunday with spices to anoint the body of Jesus. It was a sign of love and respect for their dead friend – similar to us taking flowers to the cemetery.

Our next word is re-opened. The huge stone covering the tomb was now rolled away and the tomb was reopened. The women went in and discovered the tomb was empty and the body of the Lord Jesus was gone. I once heard someone say the stone wasn’t rolled away to let Jesus out, but to let Jesus’ followers in to witness the emptiness of the tomb. Their friend was not there.

Next there is re-proof. Angels appear and, in their fear, the women bow their faces to the ground before them. The words spoken by the angels are a reproof. “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?”

I have to believe the angels were probably smiling as he said these words to the women. He perhaps had a look on his face saying, I can’t wait to tell you the big surprise I have for you. The joke is on you, silly ones: He is living!

Next is the word re-vealing. He reveals to them the amazing news of what God has done. “Jesus is not here; he is risen,” which literally is translated, “He has been raised.” The One who was dead, the dying man they had watched breath His last on the cross as they stood off watching in the distance – Jesus, their master and friend whom they watched as He was laid in a rich man’s tomb – was now alive!

Following the news they are given a re-minder. Before they could respond to this amazing news, the angel reminded them of something Jesus had said. “Remember how Jesus told you while He was still in Galilee that He must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and on the third day rise.”

There are those words again: He must. It was a divine necessity. Jesus said it not once but three times. God’s divine plan for rescuing a sinful world had to be fulfilled, and now it has been accomplished with the resurrection.

We are told the women re-membered the words of Jesus spoken earlier. You might wonder if we are seeing a bit of faith on their part in this story as they remember. Perhaps, they did have some faith, but it is difficult to see.

Then the women re-turn from the tomb, and they re-call the experience to the disciples and all the rest.

The last word: re-jection. The eleven disciples (remember, Judas is dead) rejected the women’s news. Their words seemed like an idol tale, and they did not believe them.

By the way, I think all of this doubt on the part of the disciples gives the resurrection even more credence. No person would make up a story to get people to buy into it by using women as witnesses to the resurrection. They had no status in this patriarchal society. They could not even be witnesses in a court.

Even if the women’s story was made up, wouldn’t you think the disciples would’ve responded affirmatively to make it more convincing? Risen? Of course He is! Jesus said this would happen. But their response was rejection. They thought the women were crazy in their grief, and they would not believe. Even Peter, who ran to the tomb and saw the folded grave clothes, only walked away from it marveling at what happened. No faith there.

So our Easter narrative has
• Re-appearing
• Re-opening
• Re-proof
• Re-vealing
• Re-minding
• Re-membering
• Re-turning
• Re-calling
• Re-jection.

Did you notice what “re” word is missing in this Good News story? Re-joicing. I guess it is what has been left for us to do, for we know the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say on the radio. We know that shortly after the empty-tomb experience, there were many appearances of Jesus, the risen Lord, to those disciples, He showed Himself to them again and again. Even doubting Thomas became convinced.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! We can rejoice because the Good News regarding Easter is for us. We are reminded that death is defeated. Jesus has won the battle over the power of death.

I remember a cute story written by Phil Callaway about a drive he was making with his five-year-old son. It goes like this:

One sleepy Sunday afternoon when my son was five years old, we drove past the cemetery together. Noticing a large pile of dirt beside a newly excavated grave, he pointed and said, “Look, dad! One got out!” We laughed, but now every time I pass a graveyard, I’m reminded of the One who got out. Because One got out, friend, all who die trusting in Jesus Christ get out, and they live with Him forever. Jesus is the first fruits of the resurrection.

Some of us have lost loved ones, friends, since last Easter. I have. As I pray for those families as their pastor and friend, I ask God to fill them with resurrection confidence. Peace in the midst of their grieving. I pray they will claim it for themselves as well as lean on the risen Jesus on a daily basis.

Sometimes when I do a funeral for someone I don’t really know at the funeral home, people will ask me as a pastor, Isn’t it hard to do a funeral for someone you don’t know? My response is no. Funerals are for the living, and these living, grieving people who sit there are filled with anxiety and fears about their own death. They are hungering and thirsting for what I have to tell them about Easter and the biblical promises, which are theirs to claim.

My dear friends, because He lives, the promise for you to count on as you trust in Jesus is this: You shall live also.

A close friend of mine is going through chemotherapy right now for multiple myeloma. As soon as I heard about it, I called him, and I heard the most amazing words come from his mouth. He said, “Brother Steve, I’m not afraid. I know where I’m going if this doesn’t work for me. I know He is with me, and I belong to Him.”

This is why we can rejoice. For Easter also means my sin really is forgiven and forgotten forever. The resurrection of Jesus is God’s stamp of approval upon Jesus, the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. He has taken my place, the unrighteous one – Steve Kramer. He has become the unrighteousness, taken the punishment upon Himself and given me His own righteousness as I stand before my heavenly Father.

Elyse Fitzpatrick writes, “Just in case you’re unaware, identity theft occurs when someone steals your name and other personal information for fraudulent use. Most of us are dismayed by this new cyber-age crime, and we wouldn’t assume that the theft of another person’s identity is acceptable behavior.

The surprising reality, however, is that Christians are, by definition, people who have someone else’s identity. They are called Christians because they’ve taken the identity of someone else: the Christ. Not only have you been given an identity you weren’t born with or that you didn’t earn the right to use, but you’re invited to empty the checking account and use all the benefits this identity brings! This is so much better than identity theft—it’s an identity gift!”

When God looks at me trusting in His Son Jesus Christ, He sees me as His perfect, righteous son. It is a gift! It’s the Easter gift we rejoice in.

And get this – Easter also means you do not have to live a single moment of your life alone – ever. He lives! He’s not a figure in a history book or a stained-glass window. He is present. He is alive to walk with you in a relationship, and He promises to never leave you orphaned or alone. He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today. He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way. That is what the hymn says.

It begins by saying,
♪”I serve a risen Savior; He’s in the world today.
I know that He is living whatever men may say.
I see His hand of mercy. I hear His voice of cheer.
And just the time I need Him, He’s always near.
He lives! He lives . . .”♬

Ah, what great news this is! I have Jesus to be my friend.

As I close this time with you, I need to bring one more word to your attention regarding Easter. The word is re-ceive. The gift of Christ’s rescue of you and me is freely offered to each and every person to be received. We hold out our empty hands and receive it, so to speak. It is placing your faith in the risen Jesus Christ. This good news of Easter calls for a response. A response of faith. He did all this so you might receive Him and have eternal life.

Knowing about Jesus and knowing what He has done is really incomplete. He wants you to receive Him, be in a saving relationship with Him. It involves, you see, turning from the direction your life has been taking and turning to the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Surrender yourself to the One who awaits you with open arms, who will not turn you away.

I have to ask you today, as you look back over your life, have you done that? Have you received Him to be your Savior and Lord, the leader of your life?

I want to close today with a story by Tim Keller about the power and the promise of Christ’s resurrection.

A minister was in Italy where he saw the grave of a man who had died centuries before who was an unbeliever and completely against Christianity, but a little afraid of it too. So the man had a huge stone slab put over his grave so he would not have to be raised from the dead in case there is a resurrection from the dead. He had insignias put on it saying, “I do not want to be raised from the dead. I do not believe in it.”

Evidently when he was buried, though, an acorn must’ve fallen into the grave. So a hundred years later, the acorn had grown up through the grave and split the rock slab. It was now a tall, towering oak tree. The minister looked at it and asked, “If an acorn, which has power of biological life, can split a slab of that magnitude, what can the acorn of God’s resurrection power do in a person’s life?”

Then Keller comments, “The minute you decide to receive Jesus as Savior and Lord, the power of the Holy Spirit comes in your life. It’s the power of the resurrection, the same thing which raised Jesus from the dead.”

Think of the immovable slabs in your life – your bitterness, insecurity, fears, self doubts. Those things can be split, rolled off. The more you know Him, the more you grow into the power of the resurrection.

He is risen! He is risen indeed! My dear friends, receive Him and rejoice. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

 

Encounters: Our Promise

Luke 23:32-43

A number of years ago, a member of my congregation asked if I would visit a friend who was in the hospital. He explained to me that his friend, Bob, was dying and had no faith to speak of, but he was open to talking about faith. So I went to see him.

After introducing ourselves to one another and going through some small talk, I asked Bob about his spiritual history. Had he been raised in a Christian church? He said he had been baptized as an infant. However, his family was not churchgoers, so he knew basically nothing about the Christian faith. I asked him if he was interested in hearing about it now, and he said he was.

So I asked, “Suppose you were to die today, Bob. Do you think you would go to heaven?” He said he doubted it. I followed up with another question.

“Bob, if you were to stand before God and He would ask you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven,’ what would you tell Him?”

Bob said, “Well, I guess I’d tell Him I tried to do the best I could.”

I then responded, “Bob, hearing your answers to those questions, I have some really good news to share with you today!” We had a wonderful conversation about the Gospel message. I shared the Good News of what Jesus had done for him at the cross. I talked about faith and what it means to trust Jesus and turn his life over to the care of Christ. Then I asked if he’d like to do that right then, and he said he would. So we prayed together. He confessed his need for the Savior and asked Jesus to come into his life.

When we were finished, I extended my hand to him and said, “Welcome to the family!”

He smiled said “Pretty big family!”

I talked a bit more about following up with him and left him some materials to look over regarding the Gospel and following Jesus. I left that day not realizing his time on earth was shorter than we thought. Not long after that encounter, I was told Bob had died. We gave him a glorious, hope-filled sendoff at his funeral!

I tell you this story because our reading of Jesus’ encounter with the dying thief on the cross reminded me of it. Jesus had been led out of Jerusalem to a hill called The Skull where he was nailed to a cross and placed between two criminals – violent robbers – who were also hanging on their crosses. I can’t help but be reminded, as I think about this scene, of the prophecy from hundreds of years before in Isaiah chapter 53 where it says He was numbered with the transgressors. He was bearing the sins of many, though He was innocent.

We don’t have details of the crucifixion. Luke didn’t feel a need to go into details because his audience knew full well what crucifixion looked like. But we do know it was a cruel and torturous way to die. As Jesus hung there in excruciating pain, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” It takes us back to Luke chapter 6 where Jesus is teaching about the importance of loving your enemies. He now is living those words as He prays for His enemies. They don’t know the horrible evil they are doing in killing the righteous, holy One of God. (The apostle Peter would later tell them in the book of Acts chapter 3.) They were unknowingly carrying out God’s plan of salvation when they put Jesus to death. Jesus had come to die for the sins of the world.

An ugly scene was being played out below Jesus as He hung on the cross. Soldiers were casting lots, gambling, dividing up His clothes, fulfilling another prophecy from Psalm 22. Everyone was mocking and taunting Jesus – the rulers, the soldiers, some of the people in the crowd who were watching – sarcastically saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” and laughing at the same time.

A sarcastic inscription was posted above Christ written by Pontius Pilate: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. Little did Pilate know he had written a truth.

Even one of the criminals being crucified railed against Jesus, throwing insults in His direction. “Save yourself and us if you are the Christ.” Like the rest of those taunting Jesus to save Himself, this man didn’t understand. If the Messiah, the Christ, is to seek and save the lost, He can’t save Himself. He won’t save Himself. He is on the cross for a reason. It is God’s plan to save a sinful humanity from sin, death, and the devil. He is taking away the sins of the world. The nails weren’t holding Him there; love was.

Let’s take a look at the criminal on the other side of Jesus, though. Remember two thieves were hanging there – one on the left and one on the right according to Matthew and Mark. He, too, had been reviling Jesus like all the rest. But something happened over those hours of hanging next to Jesus – something totally unexpected, surprising – in the midst of all of this ugliness on Golgotha. This dying criminal was awakened to who Jesus is and his need for Him.

We don’t know what brought this about. Was it the prayer he heard Jesus say – “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing”? Was it the refusal of Jesus to fight back with sharp words against His tormentors and curse them? Was it the love he saw in the eyes of Jesus as He looked out over the crowd?

We can’t know for certain, but we do know something happened. He turned to Jesus and defended Him against the taunts of his fellow criminal. He rebuked him, put him in his place, and made a statement filled with repentance and faith.

First he said, “Do you not fear God?” I don’t know about you but those words strike me as a statement of faith. As he was looking into the face of Jesus, he saw the divine in Him. God in the flesh. He saw a God to be feared, honored, humbly addressed, and worshiped – not ridiculed and scorned, as was the case.

He goes on to say, We belong up here. We are both under the same condemnation. I am a guilty man and justly deserve this punishment for what I have done! This definitely sounds like a repentant person to me. There is contrition in these words, humility in these words. No excuses, just an admission of guilt. No pointing the finger at someone else – I had a poor upbringing. It’s my parents’ fault, or what I’ve done doesn’t merit this torturous ending. It is just a simple, I am guilty, and I deserve this.

He’s not done with his talk. “But this man,” as he nods toward Jesus, “has done nothing wrong!” He is innocent.

Interestingly, these same words were spoken by King Herod and Pontius Pilate. All three of these men are correct in their assessment of Jesus. He is innocent. He is the Righteous One. The truth is, He is the perfect God man. The spotless, unblemished Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. The perfect sacrifice for our forgiveness.

Then the dying criminal looks in the direction of Jesus and makes a surprising request, which must’ve sounded like a beautiful symphony in the ears of Jesus. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” It is a confession of faith, a humble plea of a beggar to his King.

“Just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me,” like the old hymn says. I know I do not deserve it, the criminal is saying, but Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Lo and behold, the dying man receives a remarkable promise from Jesus. “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise (the place of the righteous, the garden of the King, heaven).” Today you will be with Me, Jesus said. With Me, your King!

As a pastor, I hear all kinds of questions about death and dying. What I hear frequently is, Where will I be? What happens when I take my last breath? My response has always been, “You will be with Jesus.” This is what Scriptures say. And what joy that will be!

This promise is not only for the dying criminal, but also for my dying friend, Bob, and for you and for me. It is not because of anything we have done, but because of what Jesus has done for us – paying for our sins on the cross. The Easter resurrection will affirm the truth of Christ’s promise to the thief.

Jesus died shortly after that conversation. The criminal witnessed Him confidently pray, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” I wonder if the criminal said the same prayer for his own passing. It is a beautiful prayer of faith. It says, I know I am in My Father’s hands and nothing can snatch me from those strong, loving arms. I am His forever.

You could call this encounter of Jesus with the criminals a microcosm of the world’s response to Jesus. We see two guilty people witnessing a dying Jesus, who was nailed to a cross with a sign above His head announcing, “This is the King of the Jews.” We see two very different responses to Him, just like today.
One rejects Him,
one receives Him in repentance and faith.
One attacks Him with his words,
the other stands up for Him.
One sees a common criminal,
the other sees a crown and asks for a royal favor.
One sees an ordinary, guilty man,
another sees the perfect, innocent Son of God.
One sees a fraud,
the other sees the future he asked for.
One says “no” to Jesus,
the other says “Yes, Lord.”

Both criminals died shortly after Jesus died.
We all will die one day.

One dies without hope,
the other dies with confident hope knowing he will be with Jesus in paradise.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.”

One is eternally lost,
the other is eternally found and heaven bound.

This truth remains the same today. Every last one of us needs Jesus – just like the criminals. I like this statement by Bishop J. C. Ryle. He said, “One thief on the cross was saved, that none should despair, and only one, that none should presume.”

Dear friends, we are all going to die someday – some of us sooner than expected. Are you to the place in your spiritual life where you know for certain you will be with Jesus in eternity? Because you can have the assurance, the certainty, that you will spend the rest of your days confidently knowing you belong to Him forever. “Neither life nor depth nor anything else in all creation can separate you from Him” (Romans 8:39).

By the way, Jesus’ prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing,” reminds us that eternal life with Him can begin right now! You don’t have to wait until you die. As you place your life in His tender care, you find forgiveness for your sins and a new, fresh start with Him. A purpose-filled life is yours to enjoy today and forever as you entrust your life to Jesus Christ.

That, my dear friends, is the best news you will ever hear! Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Encounters: Jesus Loves Short People

Luke 19:1-10

Have you ever been written off as a hopeless cause by people around you or even by yourself? Have you ever written someone else off as a lost cause? If so, I’m glad you’re listening in because our story for today has something for you and me to take to heart. In our passage, we find Jesus closing in on Jerusalem where He will carry out the rescue mission for which He was sent. He’s passing through Jericho, which is only about twenty miles from Jerusalem.

Now there was a man who lived in Jericho named Zacchaeus. He was Jewish, a chief tax collector for the Roman Empire, and very rich. We also learned Zacchaeus was short. He was physically short in stature. So short, in fact, he couldn’t see over the crowds welcoming Jesus as He came into town. So he climbed a sycamore tree to get a look at Jesus.

Zacchaeus was short in a variety of other ways as well. He was short in morals. His name meant innocent and pure, but he was anything but. He shorted people out of their money. He worked for the government but tax collectors were known to charge people more than was required in order to make a profit for themselves and line their own pockets. They were cheats.

Zacchaeus didn’t care about the poor or anyone else. He didn’t share his wealth with others. He was tightfisted with his money keeping everything for himself. He was successful, but he lived for making money and having the best things money can buy. Money had become kind of a god in his life. It was his security. He was willing to do anything to get it – even cheat his own people for personal gain, which brings us to the next thing Zacchaeus was short on.

He was short on respectability in his community. Nobody respected him – or even liked him, for that matter.

He probably was very short on friends. After all, he was working for the enemy to make his money. The Roman government at that time was the world power and his nation’s oppressors. He was forcing the people to pay taxes to support the evil Empire. So Zacchaeus was seen not only as a cheat, but also a traitor to his own people.

Finally, Zacchaeus came up short in his relationship with God. He was living a life of disobedience to the commands of God. He stole, and he cheated. He was living for money and depending on it for security instead of God. He was ignoring his neighbors’ needs, the poor, and even his own people. He fell far short of living a righteous life before God.

Zacchaeus had heard Jesus was visiting his community. He had heard some things about His miracles, His teachings that had people excited. There was also talk of Jesus being the Messiah sent from God. So Zacchaeus went to see for himself who this Jesus was and what He was all about.

I wonder if it was just curiosity or perhaps a thirst within, a spiritual thirst. Even with all his possessions and wealth, was something missing for him? Was God already working in him? Only God knows the answer to that question.

When Zacchaeus came to see Jesus, he was in for a big surprise, because, while he came to see Jesus, it turns out Jesus was already on the search for him! A life-changing encounter was about to take place in his life. Because he was so short, Zacchaeus couldn’t see Jesus coming down the street. So he ran ahead and climbed a tree to get a look at Him.

Finally he can see Jesus approaching. But when Jesus was near, lo and behold, He stopped! He looked at Zacchaeus up in the tree and made a short statement that would change this small man’s life.

“Zacchaeus!” How did He know his name? People had to be wondering. Zacchaeus had to be wondering as well!

“Hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”

The phrase “I must” speaks of divine necessity. It is used again and again, and it threads its way throughout Luke’s Gospel. It is spoken by Jesus. I must do this, and I must do that. He is under divine orders.

Zacchaeus must have been stunned, maybe even a little embarrassed to be brought into the center of things. And Jesus! He must have wondered, Come and dine? At my house? Today? Right now? I can’t believe it! This man of God wants to come into this old sinner’s house.

We’re told Zacchaeus scrambled down the tree and received Jesus joyfully. Joyfully! Could it be, Jesus’ self invitation to Zacchaeus’ house was heard as an absolution, acceptance, and his joyful receiving Jesus marks the moment of Zacchaeus’ awakening, his conversion? The evidence of faith is joy, right?

Predictably, the people of Jericho grumbled about this action of Jesus as they watched the two of them walk toward Zacchaeus’ house. They said, “He’s gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner!” Going into someone’s home and having table fellowship with him or her was to basically extend the hand of acceptance. This crook, this traitor did not deserve it, as far as they were concerned.

Now, we don’t know what happened in the house, but when they emerge, what a surprise! A new Zacchaeus was making a public speech to Jesus, showing extravagant, lavish repentance and faith. “Lord! Look!” he said.

The word Lord means Zacchaeus recognized Jesus as the ruler of his life. He shows the turnaround that has taken place in his life as he says, “Look, Lord! One half of everything I own I give to the poor.” Wow! Suddenly an openhanded generosity has taken over his life, which was not there before. Give one-half of everything to the poor. In those days, 20% was considered way out of this world. Zacchaeus is talking half of everything.

Zacchaeus also promises the restoration of money gained through his cheating. To those he cheated, he will give back double what the law even required of him to give. This would reduce his living circumstances substantially, but he does not care. He has found something far more valuable for his life – a relationship with Jesus, living with Christ in the kingdom of God.

Last week’s text was about a rich man as well, the rich young ruler. He encountered Jesus, and after the conversation walked away for he was so rich. Jesus said to those witnessing the conversation, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God. It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard Jesus say this then asked, “Who can be saved?” Jesus answered, “What is impossible for man is possible for God.” Today we see this impossible thing happened – a rich man was saved and changed. He let loose of the wealth – which was the center of his life and what he depended upon for a security – and instead entered God’s kingdom. God at work!

Jesus takes the opportunity to have the last word in this episode, by the way. He makes an announcement, an affirmation, and speaks an authoritative word as well. “Today salvation has come to this house!” Jesus is actually talking about Himself, for where He is, salvation is to be found for those who accept them as master and reorder their lives accordingly to follow Him. Zacchaeus is saved.

Jesus also affirms that Zacchaeus is a son of Abraham, meaning he belongs to God’s people through faith in Jesus. He is family now! God’s family! He believes in Christ and the word of authority.

Jesus then sums up His mission: For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. And that is what has just happened. Jesus sought out Zacchaeus and saved him. This statement is filled with authority as Jesus calls Himself the Son of Man, because the Son of Man was an Old Testament Messiah figure found in the book of Daniel. So Jesus is really saying here, I have the authority from God to find and restore lost people, like Zacchaeus.

These words also point us ahead to Jerusalem where Jesus is headed, and to what awaits Him there. He, who set His face to go to Jerusalem back in Luke chapter 9, is almost there now. His fate lies twenty miles away. Prophets have spoken of the fate awaiting Jesus, the Son of Man – rejection, suffering, and death. However, His mission is not just to die but to rescue lost people from sin and its consequences.

The biblical scholar, N. T. Wright says in his commentary, “The statement in this story, ‘He has gone to spend time with a sinner,’ will now soon change to, Jesus has gone to die with two thieves on a cross. The same reason will underline both of these statements, for the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

I find two takeaways for us in this story.

First, Jesus loves short people. I have to say, I’m glad He does! Let me explain . . .

I’m glad about this because I’m short – not physically, though I am shrinking a bit with age. I am short in righteousness before my righteous God. We all fall short in the righteousness department. The apostle Paul says it in this way: “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23). In God’s eyes, we are all Zacchaeuses. All are in need of a Savior. All are in need of God’s forgiveness. All are lost. The Good News is Jesus came to seek and to save us on behalf of His Father who wants reconciliation with all who have fallen short of His righteousness.

We read in II Corinthians 5:21, written by Paul, “At the cross for our sake God made him, Jesus, to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus looks at sinners like me who are stuck up a tree because of our sinfulness, and He calls us to come down to Him – sin and all – that we might have forgiveness and experience God’s grace in our lives.

Dear friends, if you are far from God, if you are feeling like a lost cause and there’s no hope for you, God has not written you off. Maybe people have written you off as a lost cause, and maybe you’ve written yourself off, but God has not. It’s not too late to come to Christ, to come to the One who calls us down to Himself.

Note: He says with a bit of urgency, “I must come and stay in your house today.” Someday it will be too late; It will be your judgment day.

This story reminds me a bit of Jesus’ promise in Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice, I will come into him and eat with him and he with me.” Rescue and salvation awaits, standing at the door. A new start, a new joy-filled life awaits anyone who opens the door of their life to the Savior, Jesus Christ, and it lasts for an eternity.

So friend, whatever your story is, Jesus is calling you – today – to Himself. He is seeking you in order to save you.

Second. This take-away is for those of us who call Him Savior and Lord and are in Christ’s Church. The Master is teaching His disciples, His Church, that there are no write-offs in His book. No one beyond His redemption. With God, the impossible becomes possible. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. Can we, who call ourselves Christ’s Church, do anything less? We are not to piously separate ourselves from the world and give up contact with the lost types and the prodigals, people whose morals, values, and lifestyles make us cringe and feel uncomfortable, who maybe even oppose Christ. Instead, remember that we are sinners ourselves, saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ. We are to humbly make the approach and seek to enter into a loving relationship with them.

I ask you, who have you given up on in your life? Who have you written off as a hopeless, lost cause? There have been times in my own life, God forgive me, when I’ve self-righteously stood in the company of the grumblers in this story who had written Zacchaeus off. It’s so easy to do.

A few years back a Christian songwriter named Bruce Carroll wrote a profound song in which each verse describes a person whose life is totally messed up. In the chorus he asks this question,

Who will be Jesus to them?
Who will show the love that restores them again?
For they do not need a judge, they need a friend
Who will be Jesus to them?

Will you? For it is the mission Jesus has given you. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer