He Will Change Your Life!

Matthew 3:1-12

I was speaking with a friend a while back about someone who was making a mess of things. My friend said That guy will never change. He is a hopeless case!

This is a day of little faith and few convictions. Out of frustration and disappointment, people are inclined to say, You just can’t change human nature. Perhaps you’ve found yourself saying or thinking the same thing about certain people. You know the line: A leopard can’t change its spots. A person will always be that way, no matter what!

We might even think it about ourselves. I can never change. That’s the way I am; It‘s the way I will always be. Then we sigh, shrug our shoulders, and say, I guess you just can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

I have found this kind of thinking can cause discouragement and even despair in us.
I’m a drunk; I’ll always be a drunk.

Or,
I’m a terrible spouse. I’ll always be a terrible spouse; there’s no hope for this marriage.

Or,
I’m a bad, self-centered person. I just give up. You can’t change human nature.

If you believe this, a popular preacher from a long time ago by the name of John would beg to differ with you. In our story from Matthew’s Gospel, John the Baptist came on the scene in the wilderness of Judea out by the Jordan River. Crowds of people from Jerusalem, Judea, and the region about the Jordan River flocked out into the wilderness to hear this guy – even be baptized by him in the Jordan River confessing their sins. Why was John so popular? What was the attraction?

Was it his looks? He was a rather strange looking person, we’re told. He wore camel hair and a leather belt and reminded people of the Old Testament prophet Elijah.

Perhaps his interesting diet struck people as odd. He only ate locusts and wild honey – kind of a Euell Gibbons of his day.

It could be his style, his tone, his plain talk, his urgency. He was very direct and challenging to people. He didn’t mince words.

While some of those attributes played into the picture for the people, it seemed there was more. It was his message. He sounded like a prophet speaking for God. “Repent,” he said, “for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This meant the same as the kingdom of God, but Matthew was writing for a Jewish audience who revered the name of God, and he didn’t want to offend them.

“The kingdom of heaven is at hand!” God is up to something big. Get ready! Repent now! Now is the time to change your direction, and turn to God. Surrender yourself to His leadership.

John’s talk was a bit sobering. He spoke of the wrath to come and an ax being laid to the tree. His words seemed to ally shake people up. John’s message sounded fresh and is different from what people had heard for a long time. His words rang with the authority of God.

He reminded them of an Old Testament prophetic voice of God, which had been silenced for years – and the people were ready for it. It was like an alarm going off, and people were awakened by his message.

What was particularly thrilling about John’s message was the description of the person who was coming. The center of John’s message is this:

“He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. I baptize you with water. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

Someone is coming who is mightier and greater than I, John says. It sounds like the Messiah from God whom the people of God had been hoping for.

He will change your life, John says. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

John is describing the work of the Holy Spirit in one’s life when they received Christ. You see, you can’t change human nature. You can’t change yourself. But God can and will through His Son, Jesus Christ. When you trust in Him, He breathes His Spirit in you, and you become a new creation with new power, a new identity, a new purpose, and a new outlook – just like He did with the disciples.

Just think of what an unpromising lot of people those disciples were when they walked with Jesus. They bickered. They were self-centered. They were jealous of one another. They were fearful, faithless, and had so many outrageous flaws. Peter spoke before he thought. James and John were obnoxious men called “sons of thunder” seeking power.

Yet after the Spirit drenched them on Pentecost, cowardice gave way to courage. Unbelief became a flaming faith and conviction nothing could shake. Jealousy was swallowed up in brotherly love. Self-interest was killed and became a ministry to others. Suddenly on Pentecost, fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus, these men became new people on fire – loving, courageous, and faith-filled – who led 3,000 people to Jesus Christ that first Pentecost. They were changed men from that day forward. Therein lies our hope.

How does this change happen in us? John tells us the answer in today’s text. Jesus also told us using the same word – Repent! The kingdom of God is at hand. The people recognized their sins and confessed them. I am guilty before you, O God. I need your cleansing, your forgiveness – a new start with you. This is the first step of repentance. They turned from their old way of thinking – I can fix myself. I just have to get my act together before I can have a relationship with God. No.

John gives us something new. Salvation is a gift from God. We need to simply turn to Jesus Christ. Turn from the old way of thinking to the new way of thinking. As you come under Christ’s rule, you find He has wonderful plans for your life. He wants to give you love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, faithfulness, and self-control as characteristics in your life. He wants to give you salvation now and forever.

How does this take place? John says as we repent and come to Christ, it happens through the working of the Holy Spirit. The fire of the Holy Spirit burns away the chaff within us.

Peter Marshall, a great preacher of the past, said,

“We have not seen Jesus as the disciples did. We’ve never heard the sound of His voice, seen the sunlight dance on His hair, or traced His footprints in the sands of Palestine. But we have the same opportunity to be changed because the same Holy Spirit is available to us today. He leads us into all truth, convicts us of sin, and is our helper and guide. He can change us.”

By the way, repentance is not a onetime act; it is a daily turning. Martin Luther called it, “A daily drowning of the old self, which has been leading us astray most of our lives.”

Here is our good news: don’t despair! If you want to be different, you can! You, too, can be changed for the better. Anyone can be changed through a relationship with Jesus Christ whose birthday we are about to celebrate this Christmas.

The change I have been describing is happening in all kinds of life today. I want to share with you a true yet wild and amazing story I came across recently in a book entitled, Handcuffs and Broken Chains. It’s an autobiography about a man named Cody Huff who lived in Las Vegas.

Cody was an addict and a dealer. He spent eight years in prison and was homeless. He had been abused as a child and was a very broken, hopeless cause.

But that all began to change when Cody happened to visit a church shelter in 2002 where he had been told he could get a shower and a meal. As he was waiting for his number to be called to go in to get these things, a little elderly woman walked up to him and asked him his name. He told her, and she said, “Cody, it looks like you could use a hug.” He declined the offer saying, “You don’t want to hug me. I really stink!” it had been quite some time you see since he had gotten clean.

“You don’t smell,” she said as she put her arms around him and whispered in his ear, “Jesus loves you.” It was the first time in a year that someone touched him, and that message – Jesus loves you – began to melt the ice around his heart.

While he was having his meal, someone gave him a gift – a Bible. He took it with him and began to explore it. Before long, he couldn’t put it down. He was getting changed. He didn’t want to do the same old thing anymore. He was getting freed from his old life. Cody soon surrendered his life to Jesus Christ and things were never the same after that. He got himself sobered up and off drugs with Christ’s help.

Today he is not only clean and free from the drugs that had held him captive to age 51, but Cody is also an ordained pastor running a ministry for the homeless. This ministry has changed a lot of lives – not only in Las Vegas but around the country.

This Jesus Christ, whom John is pointing to, is amazing. He can and will change one’s life. He changed Cody’s life. This Holy Spirit, whom Jesus brought into this world, can change your life as well as you surrender yourself to His care and His direction.

Christ has been changing the lives of millions and millions of people of all kinds for more than two thousand years.

The Good News is this: You are not stuck with yourself. Jesus Christ can change anyone. He came to this earth and died in your place on a cross to pay for your sins. Then He rose from the grave to give you a new life, a life much better than anything this world has to offer you. Repent! Turn to Jesus Christ.

May the words of this old Gospel hymn be yours today and every day. The words go like this:

♬Have Thine Own Way, Lord;
Have thine own way.
Thou art the potter;
I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after thy will,
while I am waiting, yielded and still.♪

Friends, if you have not yet come to Christ, do so today. Trust Him with your life. Bring Him your brokenness and your weaknesses. Trust yourself to His care. In God’s love, He will make you according to the pattern for which you were designed. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, He will make you according to the pattern for which you were designed in God’s love. And it will be good – for your good and the glory of God. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

A Promising Future

Matthew 24:36-44

It has been said that where there is no hope for the future, there is no power for the present. Hope is a critical element in life. I once read humans can live forty days without food, eight days without water, four minutes without oxygen, but only a few seconds without hope.

Pastor Timothy Keller uses this illustration in his book, Making Sense of God.

“Imagine you have two women of the same age, the same social-economic status, the same educational level, and even the same temperament. You hire both of them and say to each, ‘You are part of an assembly line, and I want you to put part A into slot B and then hand what you have assembled to someone else. I want you to do this over and over for eight hours a day.’

“You put them in identical rooms with identical lighting, temperature, and ventilation. You give them the very same number of breaks in the day. It’s very boring work. The conditions are the same in every way except for one difference: you tell the first woman you will pay her $30,000 at the end of the year, and you tell the second woman you will pay her $30 million.

“After a couple of weeks, the first woman says, ‘Isn’t this tedious? Isn’t it driving you insane? Aren’t you thinking about quitting?’ But the second woman says, ‘No. This is perfectly acceptable. In fact, I whistle while I work.’

“What’s going on? You have two human beings who are experiencing identical circumstances in radically different ways. What makes the difference? It’s their expectation of the future.”

This illustration is not intended to say all we need is a good income. It does, however, show that what we believe about our future completely controls how we experience our present. We are irreducibly hope-based creatures.

What is your outlook on the future these days? Is it hopeful? Is it based on a solid foundation?

Today’s Bible text is about having a hopeful future. We’re told in the story that Jesus is coming again. We don’t consider this fact very often. However, in the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds, we say, “He will come again to judge the living and the dead.”

Have you ever given much thought to what this statement means for you? Is it negative in your mind? In the past, Bible teaching about the second coming of Christ was considered doomsday preaching. But this doesn’t need to be the case.

I propose we view it as a ray of hope shining an ever-brightening beam into a darkening, chaotic world. The fact that Jesus is coming again is promising news – hopeful news – for the follower of Jesus Christ because the world can be turbulent and dangerous. It can make us feel afraid, depressed, and discouraged.

Some days it seems like things are just getting worse in this fallen world of ours. Days seem a little darker. We see it on the news – wars that never end, cruelty between human beings, human suffering, corruption in government, environmental challenges, earthquakes, flooding, fires, drought, climate change. We learn certain foods and drinks, always considered healthy, can actually be killing us. The opioid addiction is way out of hand in our country. Looking around, we see immorality and godlessness all around us. Local church attendance is shrinking and secularism seems to be growing in our society.

By the way, Jesus said this would be the case. He knew. Just read the first part of Matthew 24. Living amid the darkness of a fallen world can be more than a little unsettling; it can be downright overwhelming and even cause us to throw our hands up in an air of resignation and despair. We live each day without much power, unplugged, with no hope for the future and no power for the present.

But Jesus has promised to come again. This is meant to be a word of reassurance and encouragement. His return will be in power and glory. This is grounds for Christian optimism and strength. He has the final word. The world is not headed for ultimate chaos and disaster, but the return of the King and His coronation for eternity. His kingdom shall know no end. We can live with the knowledge that history is not a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. History is actually going somewhere. History is HIS – God’s – STORY.

Evangelist Billy Graham once wrote, “History is going somewhere, and we know full well that He who does all things well will bring beauty from the ashes of world chaos. A new world is being born. A new social order will emerge when Christ reappears. A fabulous future is on the way.” A fabulous future is on the way.

God has a plan, a grand finale of sorts, an end to this world as we know it. We will see Jesus again, and every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. No more sorrow, no more death, no more suffering, no more evil. This is the promise awaiting us in the future. Peace and salvation lie ahead for the follower of Jesus Christ.

Naturally, this news makes people wonder, as those disciples did, When? When? What are the signs we should be looking for? Jesus tells us not to waste our time asking these questions. Even He doesn’t know, only the Father knows.

I want you to think about this statement: the Father knows. Our loving, caring Father is in control. He knows. Even the worst of times is in the best of hands. The Almighty Creator of the universe whom we call Father is in charge. The faithful One who has never turned His back on the world, who keeps His word to those whom He has created in His image, whom He values, has taken care of everything. It’s under control.

While Jesus can’t tell us when, He can tell us how to look to the future.

Be Ready.
• Live expectantly, as if each day is your last, and confidently knowing you are His and He is coming again to take you to Himself.
• Have faith in Jesus Christ and trust Him Christ as your Savior and Lord. Ask Him to take over your life.
• Recognize your sinfulness and your helplessness when it comes to your life and your future. Realize the truth that there is no hope for forgiveness except in the way God has provided – by placing your trust in Jesus Christ His Son, the Lord of heaven and earth.
• Live with Him in His Word daily. Discover and rediscover His promises and expectations of you as His follower.

Live Ready
Obediently serve Him while we wait. Carry out the Great Commission to tell other people about what God has done for us through His Son Jesus Christ. Help them grow as we disciple them in the faith. Use the great knowledge of what lies ahead and point people toward it as a witness.

Malcom Muggeridge, a noted British journalist, was a guest at a breakfast in Washington, D.C. several years ago. When he had finished his testimony, he made a number of comments about world affairs, all of which were very pessimistic. One of the Christians present said to the speaker, “Dr. Muggeridge you have been very pessimistic. Don’t you have any reason for optimism?” Muggeridge replied, “My friend, I could not be more optimistic than I am, because my hope is in Jesus Christ alone!”

Muggeridge allowed the remark to settle for a few seconds and then he added, “Just think if the Apostolic Church had pinned its hope on the Roman empire.” He pointed them to Christ.

I am Ready as I live out the great commandments to love God and love my neighbor as myself in service. Isn’t it interesting that, in his letters, the Apostle Paul referred to himself as a servant?

I read an article a while back out of Faith & Leadership magazine. It said,

“It is possible to be so heavenly minded that we’re of no earthly good.” But professor Todd Whitmore from Notre Dame has also observed how being heavenly-minded can lead to incredible deeds of earthly goodness.

After the war in Uganda had dragged on for more than twenty years, Whitmore moved into the refugee camps in northern Uganda to hear the stories of the displaced Acholi people. As he observed the Christians who were working among the Acholi, he saw what he called “what real Christianity looks like.” Whitmore discovered that the most practical and helpful workers among the Acholi were also the most heavenly minded. He called them “reasonable apocalypse,” which means these Christian workers thought a lot about God’s intervention at the end of history. These heavenly-minded Christians believed no human effort could be relied upon to help the Acholi. It had to come from God. As one of the Christian workers in the camp said, “God is tired of this war and suffering. He will intervene.” Because they believed God would intervene, they also believed it was worthwhile to work for good.

In the United States, people who talk about God’s future intervention are often accused of being escapists, impractical, so heavenly minded they are of no earthly good. But in the refugee camps in northern Uganda, they were the most rational people. Whitmore discovered they were the ones who kept saying things like, We want to make a difference here and now. We want to help with the orphans. We want to help, in the name of Jesus Christ who is coming again.

I am Ready as I love my brothers and sisters in Christ unconditionally as He has loved me – carrying out the New Commandment, which Jesus gave His disciples in the Upper Room before His arrest. I am a person who values fellowship, a Christian family and serves others.

Being Ready means vocalizing certainty and hope in a darkening world that scares people. This world needs our certainty. They need to see our faith, our hope in the future. It is living out St. Paul’s words found in Romans 8:35-39,

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No! In all these things we are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us. For I am sure neither death nor life nor angels nor rulers nor things present nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Being Ready is to be a person of hope and certainty and living it out before the world that is watching.

Maybe you’re thinking this all sounds fine and good, but how can I be sure it isn’t just wishful pie-in-the-sky thinking? Because this hope, friend, is based on the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus once said,

“In the world, you will have tribulation.
But take heart. I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

He certainly has! Jesus overcame the world at the cross and the resurrection. The resurrection makes the future certain for the follower of Jesus Christ. He took the full weight of evil, pain, and death at the cross. It could not hold Him down. God has raised Him from the dead. The crucified and risen Christ has the final triumph! This is the pledge. Jesus is the first fruits of the resurrection. Because He lives, I shall live also. We have good news about the future.

Oprah Winfrey writes a column in her magazine, entitled, “What I Know for Sure.” It is about life lessons she has built her life upon. She got the idea for this column from film critic Gene Siskel who surprised her one time during an interview by asking, “Oprah, what do you know for sure?”

If someone were to ask you what you know for sure, I hope this statement would be on your list:
I know for sure that Jesus is coming again to take me to Himself. I am His forever. Of this, I am sure.

Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer