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