Every Saint Has a Story

Hebrews 12:1-2

An old Jewish rabbi once said, “God made man because He loves stories.” Your life crosses with God’s love, and it has a story to tell. Your life’s story, which places faith in Jesus Christ, becomes a God story. Hebrews 12 talks about the Christian journey as a race run with our eyes fixed on Jesus, and the need to persevere in life. But it also speaks of Jesus as the author of our faith. You are God’s saint. With the Holy Spirit living within, you, by faith, have a story to tell.

This is a God story from years ago.

It was 1945. World War II had drawn to a close and a young German soldier sat broken inside a prisoner of war camp in Scotland. He had been a reluctant soldier in Hitler’s army, and here inside a prison, he had months to contemplate what had been and what was to come. The cities of his homeland were now reduced to rubble, the people impoverished. His sleep was haunted by nightmares of the terrors of warfare.

Then, in his prison barracks, someone put up pictures of the reality of the concentration camps in Dachau, Belzec, and Auschwitz, and the truth filtered into his awareness. He saw faces of Nazi victims. Was this what he had fought for? Has my generation, as the last, been driven to our deaths so the concentration murderers could go on killing and Hitler could live a few months longer?

Because of his depression, his awareness of wartime destruction, and his continued captivity, this soldier lived in a dark cloud of shame and disgrace. That was the hardest thing – dark despair, which had a stranglehold on him and choked him.

A visiting chaplain gave this young German soldier a Bible, and with little else to do, he began reading it. In the lament Psalms, he heard resonant voices, the agony of people who felt God had abandoned them. In the story of Christ crucified, he encountered a God who knew what it was to experience suffering, abandonment, and shame. Feeling utterly forsaken himself, the German soldier found a friend in the One who from the cross had cried,

“My God my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matthew 27:46).

Then in 1947, he was permitted to attend a Christian conference that brought together young people from across the world. The Dutch participants asked to meet with German POWs who had fought in the Netherlands. This young soldier was one of them. He went to the meeting full of fear, guilt, and shame. His feelings intensified as the Dutch Christians spoke of the pain Hitler and his allies had inflicted, of the dread the Gestapo had bred into their hearts, and of the family and friends they’d lost in the disruption and damage to their communities.

Yet the Dutch Christians didn’t speak out of a spirit of vindictiveness but came to offer forgiveness. It was completely unexpected. They embodied the love the German soldier had read about in the story of Christ, and it turned his life upside down. He discovered that, despite all that had passed, God looks on us with shining eyes of His eternal joy, and there is hope for the future.

The young German soldier was Jürgen Moltmann who would go on to become one of the greatest Christian theologians of the 20th century. Years later, with the message of the loving crucified God still indelibly printed on his heart, he penned these beautiful words: “The ultimate reason for our hope is not to be found at all in what we want, wish for, or wait for. The ultimate reason is we are wanted and wished for and waited for.”

What is it that awaits us? Does anything await us at all, or are we alone? Someone is waiting for you, who is hoping for you, who believes in you. As the father waited for the prodigal son to return, so our heavenly Father waits for us. As a mother takes her children into her arms and comforts them, so we are accepted and received. God is our last hope because we are God’s first love.

You have a story to tell. Every saint has a story to tell. The story is retold eighty-seven times in the Old Testament.

“I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
And I will remember my covenant promise.”

Everyone is retelling the stories of the redeemed – the ten plagues, the Exodus, the Red Sea crossing, the pillar of fire and cloud, the supernatural food of manna and the entrance into the Promised Land.

The New Testament is filled with stories of Jesus’ miracles and His power to free a demoniac from evil spirits, heal a woman with twelve years’ hemorrhage, raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead, heal a man whose four friends dug a hole in the roof to lower him to Jesus, and give blind people their sight. People are amazed at what Jesus has done in their lives. They tell others about Him. There is no one like Jesus.

Oscar was my father. He was a farm boy raised in the fields of Park River, North Dakota and went to college at North Dakota State to play football for the Bison. As a sophomore, he was a starter when the team played Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, the number one team in the nation.

But then my father had a conversion and decided to leave a life wandering in his own choices to fix his eyes on Jesus and run the race of faith. God’s Spirit led him to Augsburg College, then to Luther seminary and a life of serving as a pastor. All my life as a boy growing up, I listened to him preach the gospel of Jesus. I also heard his heart pray at our dinner table during family devotions. His faith story ignited my faith story. This is how it works.

You also have a faith story, a “before-Christ” and an “after-coming-to-faith-in-Christ” life. I find we are either a prodigal son who runs away from God the Father as if there is no god to find where demons dwell, or we’re like the older brother who stays at home and does all the right things but never realizes the love the father has for him.

How long has it been since you first believed? When did your faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord come alive? Hebrews 12:2 says,

“Jesus is the author . . . of our (stories of) faith.”

Many of us were baptized as infants and grew up trusting Christ. For others, faith came alive later in life and baptism was a public profession of the faith God had given. I remember Ruth Graham, the wife of evangelist Billy Graham, saying, “When did I trust Jesus? You might as well ask when I first loved my parents. I do not remember ever not loving Jesus.”

So even if our faith story is one from our earliest memories of trusting Christ, yet people who are in our life experiences give depth and color to our faith journey. It is essential for us to be willing to share our God story with others.

Why might we be reluctant to share our love for Jesus with others? Revelation chapter 2 has a bold word of the orthodox church that did many good things. But a telling verse is found in Revelation 2:4:

“This I have against you, you have left your first love.”

You have lost your first love.

If you have fallen far from God’s presence, who is to blame? A person once wrote,

“God is like a pigeon in the park. I leisurely throw crumbs of leftover devotion when I feel like it. I’ve not only lost my first love, but I’ve also lost my joy. God uses my joylessness to snap me out of treating Him like a hobby to whom I give time if I feel like it. I create premeditated alibis to rationalize why I’m too busy to trust God, pray to Him, walk with Him, or worship Him in a way that would cultivate intimacy.”

Have you lost your first love? Do you remember this verse from the children’s song, “Jesus Loves Me”?

♬ I love Jesus, does He know?
Have I ever told Him so?
Jesus loves to hear me say
that I love Him every day. ♪

If you have lost your first love, I have three words to help rekindle the faith and hope within your heart and your passion for Jesus.

First, REMEMBER whose you are – a child of God! Jesus has made you in His own likeness. I implore you to seek God’s face like a farmer would chase the harvest, like a hunter would pursue a deer, like a lover longing to connect. Remember what Jesus has done for you.

“There is nothing I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25b).

The second word is REPENT. Change your mind. Reorient the whole of your life to allow space for God’s Spirit in the center of your being. Reorder your priorities so Jesus becomes the central heartbeat of life. When we drift out of touch with the Lord, we leave paradise for the wilderness. Beg for God’s mercy for your ambivalence. As it says in Hebrews 12:2,

“Throw off sin. Get rid of every encumbrance. Fix your eyes on Jesus.”

The third word is RETURN. He is waiting for you in love. Come home to the fresh fire of His love. Dive into the fountain of grace. Drink deeply of His love, which has never stopped flowing.

“In the name of Jesus, we boldly come to the throne of grace
and receive mercy and help in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

This, too, becomes part of your faith story. Fall in love with Jesus all over again.

Why is it important to share our God stories?

I have visited prisons in Iowa several times. I have found that even if I tell the story of Christ as eloquently as I know, the impact is much greater when it comes from a former prisoner who returns to share his faith story. When those men hear the story of a former prisoner who now has a good job, is married, has a family, is living clean of drugs and booze, is worshiping the Lord week by week, and is experiencing the power of transformation, it creates renewed hope in those prisoners. If God can change that man and resurrect him to a new beginning, maybe He can hear my prayer. Maybe God’s Spirit can raise me up and transform my life to give me a new beginning.

I have seen . . .
• Jesus’ love set people free from their addictions and give them new habits and new hope.
• Jesus’ grace and love give hope to people who have recently gone through a painful divorce, then realize that, in the forgiveness of Christ, life is not over, and God can open up a new future.
• The love of Jesus heal the deep grief of someone who has laid to rest a precious loved one.
• The love of Jesus give courage and strength to people who are seeking to persevere in trouble and come through on the other side.
• The grace and forgiveness of Jesus call a rogue, immoral man out of his life of sin. He who sat belly up to the bar night after night, whose marriage and family were falling apart and was in danger of losing his job, said to me, “I have always believed but now I have repented of my sins. I have asked Jesus to be in the center of life. His grace has changed me. I have surrendered.”

Telling our story produces three powerful impacts.
1. It deepens our connection with Christ and affirms the faith we confess.
2. It reveals the character of God – how the power of God works in people’s lives.
3. The Spirit uses it to ignite faith in the hearts of those who hear it.

Can I get a witness? What is your God story? Dare you believe that if you share it with others, God can help them fall in love with Christ too? We have a story to tell because Christ is the hope of the world. Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg

What Do YOU See?

Luke 18:35-43

Back in the 1990s, a new craze called stereogram art became popular. A stereogram is a picture hidden within a picture. Initially, you just see a pattern of some sort. But hidden within the pattern lies a three-dimensional image, which could only be seen by refocusing one’s vision.

Outside my hometown in Livingston, Montana is a beautiful mountain range. If you stare at it awhile, you can see the figure of a giant man lying down. The natives call it “The Sleeping Giant”. When I point it out to people, they often cannot see it. So I try my best to help them see the sleeping giant that they can appreciate it.

Our story for today is about seeing. An adage goes: “Seeing is believing.” However, the story in Luke 18 could very well be entitled, “Believing is Seeing.” The Gospel writer, Luke, has written the story to help us see Jesus.

Jesus is approaching the city of Jericho. He is only 18 miles from Jerusalem, and His journey is almost completed. A crowd is gathered around Him talking, making requests, asking Him questions, trying to get His attention. It is rather loud and raucous. They are traveling to celebrate the Passover, a commemoration of when God set His people free from slavery in Egypt.

Jesus’ popularity is growing. He’s become a celebrity of sorts. The stories of His teachings and healings are floating around the towns and villages of Galilee. People are wondering who He is, so they go out to see for themselves.

Along the roadside outside of Jericho, people are lined up to welcome Passover pilgrims and wish them well. Many are trying to get a glance at Jesus. At strategic places along the way, beggars ask for alms from folks who pass by. It is a typical sight.

Our focus for today is on one particular beggar on the side of the road who is about to have his life changed. He would have an eye-opening experience, for he is a blind man. Because of his blindness, he is unable to work. Having been rejected by family and society in general, he has to beg to survive. He is overlooked and ignored, looked down upon by people, considered riffraff – about as low as you could go on the social scale. But it is all about to change in our story.

The blind man notices the loudness increasing around him. A loud group is approaching ahead, making all kinds of noise. People are talking loudly. He hears people around him saying, There He is! I, I think I can see Him!

What’s all the commotion? he asks no one in particular.

Jesus of Nazareth is passing by. In the popular perception, He was simply “Jesus,” an amazing man from Nazareth. The jury was still out on His faux identity.

When the blind man hears this, he starts yelling something we haven’t heard yet in Luke’s Gospel. “Jesus, Son of David! Have mercy on me.” He is expressing an insight others haven’t had. Though he is physically blind, he sees a lot more than most people when it comes to Jesus.

Notice he doesn’t cry out, “Jesus of Nazareth! Have mercy on me,” but “Jesus, Son of David!” These are words of faith! His heart sees the light before his eyes could, and he recognizes Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, the promised One of God, the Savior. So he cries for an audience with Him, Have mercy on me! Help me! Show compassion on me!

People in front of the beggar, as they heard him cry for an audience with this Savior King, turn around and rebuke him. Shhh. Be quiet. Jesus doesn’t have time for people like you. Just shut up. You’ve got a lot of nerve. Don’t bother Jesus. But the blind man desperately continues to shout even louder: SON OF DAVID. HAVE MERCY ON ME.

Then an amazing thing happens – Jesus stops. Amid all these people talking, the cacophony of noise, and the steady flow of the crowd, Jesus stops. He’s heard the blind beggar, and He recognizes faith. Someone in this crowd has faith and needs Him in some way. So Jesus commands a couple of His disciples to find this individual and bring him forward so He might meet him. Suddenly this invisible beggar has become very visible. Everybody’s watching. He is the center of attention. When they bring him, Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Don’t you find this to be an amazingly delightful question? The high King of heaven, the creator God of the universe, wants to be the servant of this lowly outcast. This is mercy! Grace! He is giving the man further opportunity to publicly display his faith toward Jesus. And the man doesn’t disappoint Jesus. He says “Lord, let me recover my sight.” You can fix this.

Notice the second title he uses now. Declaring his faith in Jesus all the more, he calls Jesus “Lord” as he expresses his sense of Jesus’ deity, dominion, power, and authority.

Jesus responds in the affirmative to the request. One last time, He confirms His deity before the crowd to show the fulfillment of the anointing He received at His baptism. The fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (61:1).

“The blind can see” (35:5).

Jesus says, “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.” With a simple word, the man immediately recovered his sight, and his life was changed. He can see! Imagine what it would be like to see colors, light, brightness, people’s faces, and, most importantly, the face of Jesus who was probably smiling at him as He stared into his eyes. Imagine the freedom that suddenly becomes his, the rescue, the new possibilities that lie before him.

Jesus’s words, “Your faith has saved you,” are salvation words. He will use them to a tax collector named Zacchaeus: “Today salvation has come to this house” as Zacchaeus repents and expresses faith in Him. This is the word of truth for us – Salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ.

What does the man do in response? He doesn’t run into town and tell his family. He doesn’t run around looking for friends to tell. He doesn’t go dancing down the road away from the crowd. Instead, he follows Jesus and glorifies God in his newfound relationship with the Lord. This is the mark of true conversion. He leaves behind the begging business and goes with Jesus into the giving business. He becomes a disciple and follows Jesus, showing a willingness to obey and surrender to His leadership. The people who witnessed this scene gave praise to God for the miracle.

As a preacher and student of God’s Word, I’ve learned it is quite important to always ask what the takeaway of the story is for you and me. Several truths jump out at us.

Jesus has a heart for the helpless and the poor. They are precious in His sight. Jesus has the power to do amazing things.

Jesus is the Son of David. The big idea of this story is about faith. Jesus affirms the blind man’s faith recognition. He is not only Jesus of Nazareth, an ordinary man and a good teacher, but also the ONE Israel has been waiting for since Old Testament days. This is the Son of David who was promised to King David way back. He is the Messiah, the King whom Israel has been looking for.

The title the blind man used in his loud cries to Jesus is first mentioned at the very beginning of Luke’s Gospel but not in the same way. The angel announced to Mary that she would have a baby. God would give this baby the throne of His ancestor David, and He shall rule over His people forever. Of His kingdom, there shall be no end. Just as God promised King David in II Samuel 7, this baby is the Messiah, the King, David’s son whom Israel has been waiting for and will serve.

The beggar, even in his blindness, sees this, while others who could see physically couldn’t see Jesus for who He really is – the Son of David. The eyes of his heart saw the Savior who could change his life, and so he calls to Him for help. Jesus recognizes the man’s faith and affirms it.

I wonder if Jesus smiled when He heard the man’s words. Did He thank His heavenly Father as He waited for the man to be brought to Him? Was the beggar’s gift of faith also a gift for Jesus from His heavenly Father to inspire Him and keep Him going as He headed toward Jerusalem to complete His mission and be crucified for the sins of the world? We don’t know, but we do know a miracle occurred affirming that God’s kingdom has come. It is a sign of the kingdom. Jesus is the Son of David. He is the King of His kingdom and the fulfillment of God’s Old Testament promises to His people. He is, in fact, THE Savior King to be trusted and followed. This is the big idea.

When you, in your mind’s eye, see Jesus, what do you see? One may see a teacher. Another may see a great philosopher. Still, another may see a scam artist. The Muslim might see a prophet. Many others, like the blind man – myself included – see the Savior of the world who rescues us and gives us a new life with Him.

As we follow Jesus, we come to realize we are all beggars in the sight of God. We have nothing to offer except the empty hands of faith to receive His riches and His salvation.

This story is appealing to us to see Jesus for who He really is – the Savior – and follow Him the rest of our lives. We can live with absolute certainty that we have access to a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.

Some folks ask how we can know for sure all this is true. A commentary I was reading about this story said this is Jesus’ last miracle in Luke’s gospel. But the commentator is not quite right, for one more miracle has yet to be seen – an empty tomb! Jesus, who died on a cross, is not in the tomb. He is not there! The miracle of His resurrection from the dead is the grand finale!

The message proclaimed on Easter morning is this: This is the Son of David who created David. He is worthy of your trust and your praise.

Dear friends, the risen Jesus is still passing by. Do you see Him? He is ready with His gracious mercies for your life. He loves you. He died on the cross to pay for your sins and make you His own, to move you from darkness into His marvelous light. Call upon His name in faith for His mercy. And remember, He will not pass you by.

As we conclude our worship today, I invite you to let the words of this hymn, written by a blind hymn writer – Fannie Crosby – be your prayer.

♬Pass me not O gentle Savior,
hear my humble cry . . . ♪

Pastor Steve Kramer

Do You Love Me?

Luke 18:31-34

In the musical Fiddler on the Roof, there is a memorable scene between Tevye and Golda in which he asks her, “Golda, do you love me?” She then lists all the things she has done with him and for him. He asks again, “Do you love me?” She initially responds to his question by saying, “You’re a fool,” but he smiles and says, “I know, but do you love me?”

People sometimes play the fool and ask the same question of God. Do you love me, God? Really? Circumstances in life can sometimes cause moments of doubts about His love – such as when we’ve done something we are ashamed of. It can be difficult to understand how God could love us after that. Or when something bad happens to us, we may wonder, If He truly does love me, why did He let that happen?

Looking back on our lives and suddenly remembering things we’ve thought, said, or done for which we’re ashamed, we may still feel the power they hold over us. Satan loves to use flashbacks against us as he whispers, You’re a loser. Jesus couldn’t possibly love you. Or perhaps our insecurities keep us wondering if God still loves us. During these times of doubt, I need a word from God, like today’s reading from Luke 18, to speak truth into my life.

In this passage, Jesus was traveling close to Jerusalem. He knew what lay ahead of Him. He quietly warned the disciples about the coming events. Notice the detail and accuracy of His preview. He would be handed over to the Gentiles by the Sanhedrin Council. He would be mocked, shamefully treated, spit upon, flogged, and killed. I don’t think you and I can even begin to imagine the burden Jesus carried in knowing what lay ahead for Him.

Later in the story, we are told that Jesus literally sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane as He thought about the next day. It all sounds rather nightmarish, yet Jesus went anyway.

The disciples did not understand Jesus’ words. But everything happened as He said it would. He suffered and was handed over to the Romans by the Jewish Sanhedrin Council. We read in the Passion Story how He was mistreated and killed on the worst instrument of torture of His day – the cross. Cicero described the crucifixion as the cruelest and most hideous of tortures. Jesus was stripped and tied to a whipping post. He was flogged with four or five thongs of leather interwoven with sharp, jagged bone and lead.

Eusebius, the third-century church historian, described Roman flogging in these terms: “The sufferer’s veins were laid bare and the very muscles, sinews, and bowels of the victim were open to exposure.” He was taken to a praetorian where a crown of thorns was slammed down upon His head. He was mocked by a battalion of six hundred men, hit about the face, and spit upon. He was then forced to carry a heavy bar on His bleeding shoulders until He collapsed.

When they reached the sight of crucifixion, He was again stripped naked, laid on the cross, and six-inch nails were driven into His forearms just above the wrists. His knees were twisted sideways so the ankles could be nailed between the tibia and the Achilles tendon. He was lifted on the cross, which was then dropped into a socket in the ground, and left to hang in intense heat and unbearable thirst, exposed to the ridicule of the crowd. Jesus hung in unthinkable pain for six hours while His life slowly dripped away. Nightmarish, just as He had predicted.

After Jesus was laid in a tomb, He rose from the grave, just as He said. Hallelujah!

As we think about all Jesus went through, the most important question is, Why did He make the journey to Jerusalem? Why, when He knew what awaited Him? He could have turned around. So why did He go?

First, Jesus went in loving obedience to His Father’s plan. He said earlier in the text, “So that what was written in the prophets will be accomplished.” Hundreds of years earlier, Old Testament prophets spoke of what was to happen to Jesus. The prophet Isaiah spoke of the Suffering Servant.

“I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard. I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6).

And hear his words of the crucifixion in Isaiah 53:5-9:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and by his wounds, we’re healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned – every one – to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, he opened not his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?

And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.”

The prophet Hosea says in chapter 6,

“After two days you will revive us; and on the third day, he will raise us up that we may live before him.”

All of Scripture points to Jesus and the cross. This is no accident. This is no “Plan B” because “Plan A” failed. The cross is not a tragic surprise. No! It was part of a plan.

Author and pastor Max Lucado put it this way:

“The ropes used to tie His hands and the soldiers used to lead Him to the cross were unnecessary. They were incidental. Had they not been there, had there been no trial, no Pilate, no crowd, the very same crucifixion would’ve occurred. Had Jesus been forced to nail Himself to the cross, He would have done it. For it was not the soldier who killed Him nor the screams of the mob. It was His devotion to us.”

This is no accident. It is God’s will being carried out to save sinful humanity – of which you and I are a part – from sin and death. The moment forbidden fruit touched the lips of Eve, the shadow of a cross appeared on the horizon. God’s master plan went into action.

All of us have sinned. All of us have fallen short of the glory of God. We’re polluted by sin. We’re captive to the power of sin. We’re separated from God because of our sin, and we live with the penalty of sin – God’s judgment and our death.

In this prediction of Jesus while on the road to Jerusalem, we see a determined God carrying out His will. He is coming after us so we might have a restored relationship with Him. Jesus will go on to make the payment for our sin with His sacrificial death. As Isaiah said,

“The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

He suffered the punishment that was meant for me. The wrath of God was poured out on Him as He cried out,

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).

I was dead in my sin but He died so I might live. Jesus goes to the cross not as a victim, but as a victor. He will rise again, victorious over the power of death.

This is the plan Jesus is talking about today. It is God’s plan, He tells His disciples. God’s plan was for Him to go to Jerusalem out of love for you and me. Billy Graham once said, “If you were the only person who ever lived in this world, Jesus went to the cross for you, to pay for your sins.”

Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand any of what He was saying. It was hidden from them by God until after the resurrection when the risen Christ said to them,

“Remember the words I spoke to you while I was still with you: Everything written about me by Moses and the prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44).

Their eyes were then opened, and they understood.

AHA! That is what Jesus meant. And they couldn’t announce this Good News fast enough. Everyone needs to know what God has accomplished through Jesus Christ for us. Everyone needs to trust in this and surrender themselves to His care, to His lordship in their lives. Everyone needs to enter into the kingdom of God and live with Him in a new life now, forever.

Christ’s death on a cross and His resurrection are central to our faith. It’s our foundation, our assurance that yes, we are loved. Look at what Jesus has done for you! The Gospel, in essence, tells us we are more sinful than we ever realized, and more loved than we ever dared hope. I repeat:

You are more loved than you dared hope.

Just look at the cross.

I want to close with a story from Christian author Brennan Manning. It is an amazing story about how he got the name Brennan.

While growing up, his best friend was named Ray. The two of them did everything together. They bought a car together as teenagers, double-dated together, went to school together, and so forth. They even enlisted in the Army together, went to boot camp together, and fought on the front lines together.

One night while sitting in a foxhole, Brennan was reminiscing about the old days in Brooklyn while Ray listened and ate a chocolate bar. Suddenly a live grenade came into the foxhole. Ray looked at Brennan, smiled, dropped his chocolate bar, and threw himself on the live grenade. It exploded killing Ray, but Brennan’s life was spared.

When Brennan became a priest, he was instructed to take on the name of a saint. He thought of his friend, Ray Brennan, and so he took on the name Brennan.

Years later, he visited Ray’s mother in Brooklyn. They sat up late one night having tea, when Brennan asked her, “Do you think Ray loved me?” Mrs. Brennan got up off the couch, shook her finger in front of Brennan’s face and shouted, “WHAT MORE COULD HE HAVE DONE FOR YOU?”

At that moment, Brennan experienced an epiphany. He imagined himself standing before the cross of Jesus wondering, Does God really love me? And Jesus’ mother, Mary, pointing to her Son saying, What more could He have done for you?

What more could He have done for you and me?

Friends, the appeal in this message today is quite simple but heartfelt. According to our passage from Luke 18, you and I have been loved.

You are loved. Trust in Jesus. Revel and glory in His love for you. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

 

Money and You

Luke 18:18-30

Many things can get in the way of a person following Jesus Christ and entering into His kingdom. For instance, I recently had a conversation with a man whom I was just getting to know. He was dying of cancer, and it was imminent. When I asked him about his faith, he said he had some faith. However, as the conversation went further, I discovered Jesus doesn’t fit into his faith equation. The man is basically agnostic.

I shared the Good News with him and told him how much Jesus loves him. But he just shook his head and said, “I’m settled in and don’t want to rock the boat.” It seems he wants to remain in charge of his destiny. Maybe it is his pride; I don’t know for sure. He believes he’s okay with life and the future as it is. I pray daily this man has an epiphany.

I just finished reading an excellent book by Pastor Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods. It talks about obstacles, the idols of our culture, that get in the way of having a meaningful relationship with God. Some of them are power, love, sex, success, as well as money and possessions (a big one).

In our text from Luke, Jesus gives us an example of this. A certain young ruler approaches Jesus and asks,

“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Perhaps he was a ruler of the synagogue, a member of the Sanhedrin Council, or a community leader. We don’t know what kind of ruler this man was, but we do know he was someone with authority. He was used to telling people what to do and being in charge. Let’s examine his question.

Good Teacher.
Jesus’ immediate response to him is corrective.

“Why do you call me good? Only God is good.”

He is pointing out that the title “good” is reserved for God and God alone.

Upon first reading, one might wonder if Jesus believes this ruler sees something more in Him. Is Jesus winking at him as He responds to the man’s question – “Hmmm. I think you’re getting it.” But according to the end of the story, this is not the case.

Instead, Jesus gives a brief lesson on proper reverence for God on humility. This man has a superficial view of goodness. Only God has ultimate goodness. No one else has the right to call themselves good. Jesus is telling him to watch his talk.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Eternal life
It means living in God’s kingdom now and forever, living under God’s rule and His promises. Jesus has been telling people to repent and enter the kingdom under God’s rule. But this man asks, “What much I do to inherit eternal life?” These words reveal distrust, a need to stay in control, an inability to live dependant upon God’s promises alone. No humility there. He wants to earn this merit badge and add it to his collection of possessions.

When you think about it, his question is rather strange. You don’t do something to inherit something. To inherit something means to receive it as a gift, especially in matters of salvation and eternal life. It has to be done for you.

Jesus responds to the man’s questions using the same logic of doing something to receive an inheritance.

“You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,
murder, steal, bear false witness. Honor your father and mother.’”

Notice what is missing in this list: the first commandment (no other gods before me), the second, third, and tenth commandments on coveting possessions and greed.

The ruler nods and says to Jesus, “I’ve kept these since my youth!” I find this response to be rather humorous. It’s like he is saying, No problem, Jesus. I’ve nailed those down. I’m so good! How is that for pride and blindness to one’s shortcomings in love and life!

But Jesus can see this man’s soul as He looks into his eyes, and He responds by saying,

“One thing is holding you back.
Sell everything you have, give it to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven. (Come follow me.)”

The man went away very sad because he was very rich. It appears that money and possessions were his god of sorts, his true security. They had a hold on his life, and he couldn’t let go.

As he walks away, Jesus marvels at his sadness and says,

“How difficult it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.”

Jesus is not saying that being rich is a sin. He is simply observing how riches can become idols, obstacles that get in the way of our relationship with God. When they have priority in our lives – even over God – money and possessions become our source of security, our first love, our master.

After Jesus said this, the disciples scratched their heads and asked, “Then who can be saved?”

People in those days believed wealth and riches were a special blessing from God to people with whom He was especially pleased. So they wondered if this man, who has obeyed these commandments all his life, can’t get in, then who can? Jesus answered,

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

We cannot do enough good to get into heaven. Only God can make it possible to enter His kingdom.

Peter says, “We have left everything behind. What about us?” Jesus assures Peter not to worry. God will take care of them. End of story.

Does this narrative have anything to do with people like you and me in 2019? Yes, it does. For you see, I am rich. In all likelihood, if you are living in America, so are you. If we compare ourselves to CEOs, professional athletes, and the Warren Buffets of the world, or even the guy down the street, we’d probably say we’re not rich. But friend, compared to most of the rest of this world, we are seen as very wealthy. In today’s text, Jesus is giving us some insights on faith in God and managing the good things He gives us, like possessions and wealth.

Wealth can become a counterfeit god we trust for our security and ultimately love because of what it can do for us. We can wind up obeying it and living for it as our master and lord. Possessions can be dangerous. An abundance of possessions can easily lead us to forget that God is the source of all good. It can lead us to believe we can trust in ourselves – our own abilities and the mighty dollar – rather than our Almighty God.

The late Bishop Edwin Hughes once delivered a sermon on God’s ownership that put one of his rich parishioners’ noses out of joint. The wealthy man took the bishop out for lunch and then walked him through his elaborate gardens, woodlands, and farm. “Are you going to tell me,” he demanded when the tour was over, “that all this land does not belong to me?” Bishop Hughes smiled and suggested, “Ask me the same question a hundred years from now.”

It is a good reminder, and it is why God tells us in His commandments, “You shall have no other gods before me.” You shall not fashion idols for yourselves to worship and obey. There is only one true God. These things cannot give you the real life you were created to enjoy under God in His kingdom. They will always fail you.

In the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville recorded his famous observations of America. In it, he noted a strange melancholy that haunts the inhabitants in their abundance. “Americans, you see, believe prosperity could quench their yearning need for happiness. But such hope is an illusion because the incomplete joys of this world will never satisfy the human heart.”

The joys of this world will never satisfy the human heart. How true it is! Jesus, in today’s story, is offering something far better than these counterfeit gods.

Tim Keller tells a story in his “Counterfeit Gods” book I like. It’s a testimony of sorts.

“In the midst of the great financial crisis of 2008/2009, I heard a man named Bill recount the three years before he had become a Christian. His ultimate security had shifted from money to his relationship with God through Jesus Christ. He said, ‘If this economic meltdown had happened more than three years ago, I don’t know how I could’ve faced it, how I would’ve even kept going. I would’ve hated myself. It would have driven me back to the Bible and maybe to suicide. Today I can tell you I have honestly never been happier in my life.’

The man lost a lot during the recession, so how could he possibly say that? Keller writes,
“His identity shifted when he met Jesus Christ. It had ceased to rest in being successful and affluent and had come to be grounded in the grace and love of Jesus Christ. It was all that mattered.”

How about you? What is your attitude toward money and possessions? Do you have them or do they have you?

Pastor and author Howie Hendrix shared a story years ago.

“My wife Gina and I once dined with a rich man from a blue blood Boston family. I asked him, ‘How in the world did you grow up in the midst of such wealth and not be consumed by materialism?’ His answer was this: ‘My parents taught me that everything in our home was either an idol or a tool.’”

How do you view your possessions and wealth? Are they idols or tools for God’s glory? You can serve God and use money. But Jesus said you can’t serve them both. It is impossible to serve both God and mammon. This is a fact.

I ask this personal question of you: Do you serve God and use money, or you serve money and use God? Honestly. Do you serve money and use God, or do you serve God and use money?

Back to Jesus’ words in our story. The Son of God, the Savior of the world, who loves you, was rich in His heavenly home, yet He left everything to enter this world and save it. He became poor for our sakes.

Remember where Jesus is going as He encounters the ruler in our story. He is headed to Jerusalem where He will lay down His life and give His everything for you at the cross. He will empty Himself as a perfect sin sacrifice to make you His own and give you the riches of the kingdom.

Friend, when Jesus looks into your eyes and reads your soul, what does He see? The appeal today is to make Him, who gave His everything for you, your everything, over everything. When He is your everything, you have everything you could possibly need, because you’ve become rich in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer