The King’s Return

Matthew  24:27-42

Dear friends:

I pray that the wonder of Christmas fills you with joy in your life of faith as we celebrate the truth that Jesus has come to the world. Jesus has been born to be our Savior!

But I want to remind you today that the same Jesus whose birth we celebrate was born to be our Savior, has promised to return for us someday. Someday the King Jesus Christ will return to establish His kingdom forever. Billy Graham once was quoted as saying “I read the last page of the Bible; it’s going to turn out all right.” Jesus taught us to pray the Lord’s Prayer “Thy kingdom come,” so as often as we pray that prayer we’re praying for Jesus to come again, to establish His kingdom. Did you know that there are 380 verses in the Scriptures about Jesus’ second coming? King Jesus is returning to Earth someday to establish His kingdom forever. And the Christian believers living in the world at that moment in time will be raptured, will be called up with Christ in the air! That’s what we read in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4. That Jesus, when that trumpet blast happens, will bring with him all the believers who have fallen asleep in the faith through the centuries of time. What a day that will be!

Can you imagine how bewildered the disciples were immediately after Easter? They had just watched their Lord die on a cross, bleeding until He breathed His last. The one they believed to be God (and the Messiah) now died and was laid in the tomb, buried behind a sealed stole. Then they rejoiced that He was raised from the dead, that He conquered death, that He was alive forever; only, on a certain day, to have Jesus float up into the sky out of their midst. And an Angel appears and says “why are you staring at the sky? Jesus, Whom you watched ascend, will come back again!” “When will that be?” No one knows the time or the day – not the Angels, not the Son of God, but only the Father.

When I was a boy I feared the rapture. I worried that I wasn’t good enough, that my faith wasn’t strong enough or sincere enough. I worried that I wasn’t obedient enough and that I would be “left behind” when Christ returns. My faith had not yet fully understood the Gospel promise. I didn’t live with the assurance of salvation – with the joy and peace of knowing that I was forgiven and saved because of what Jesus did. You see, the second coming of Jesus Christ should not be something we fear, it should be an event of great thrill! It will be a day of excitement! The first time, Jesus was born in humility and vulnerability; a little infant, powerless, lying in the manger. He was born to die on a cross to be our redeemer. But the second coming of Jesus Christ… He will come with power and great glory and every eye will see him! He’ll come in victory and triumph. So my hope is that each of us affirms our faith and lives with the assurance of our salvation and peace with God.

So there are some truths I want to unpack with you about the second coming of Jesus. When the King returns the Father has given Him authority to be judge of the world. Not everyone will go to Heaven, not because God wills it, but because they reject His love offered in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ will come as judge not with vengeance as if His patience was exhausted or He was punitive in His judgment or retaliatory. But He knows those who are His. Jesus knows those who believe in Him and those who don’t. So it says in Matthew 24 “one will be taken and one will be left behind”. In Philippians 2 it says “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess Jesus Christ is Lord.” Some will meet Jesus on that day as their longed-for Savior. But some will meet Jesus that day as their judge. Jesus said some will beat on the door and say “let us in!”, and Jesus will say “sorry, I never knew you.” So Jesus comes as judge because not everyone is a believer in Him and not everyone believes His promises to be true, so not all will go to Heaven.

Second, when the King returns it says in the scripture it’ll be like the days of Noah. Noah was a preacher of righteousness. But imagine what it was like when he began to build that big honkin’ boat (the ark) in the middle of a grassy meadow, and people would come up and ask him “why are you building a boat in the middle of this meadow?” And he, the preacher of righteousness, would say “because God is going to judge the world with a flood. But it is still a day for you to come back to God, to ask for His mercy and affirm faith.” In the days of Noah it will be a time of anarchy and violence. There will be no respect for life. Life will be cheap. We know that throughout history there are wars, but in our time period there’s terrorism – the senseless slaughter of lives of innocent people designed to induce fear in all the culture. There are more abortions committed today than ever before and it’s a tragedy in our cultured world. Life is cheap; violence is perpetrated throughout the world through human trafficking. Life is cheap; great violence, if you listen only to the news and were not a believer in Jesus as the Lord of history you’d be a pessimist. But as in the days of Noah it’ll also be a time of great apostasy. Many people falling away from the faith. Many people denying the Jesus is God. Many people abandoning the church and forsaking their faith. Worse than that, becoming mockers of our faith. It says in the time of Noah in Genesis 6:5 “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was so great on Earth that the intent or imaginations of human hearts were for evil continually.” It wasn’t just the people were weak and falling into sin, but that they were creative in their evil; that their imaginations led to crafty immorality and wickedness. The days of Noah were also times of apathy to spiritual life. The Holy Spirit calls and calls but people turn a deaf ear to the invitations of God to come and receive His love. Scoffers reject the love of Jesus Christ totally and live as their own masters. Time passes, even centuries, and the doubt grows. “Where is this Jesus you say is coming?” Many are seduced into unfaithfulness and unbelief. I remind you what it says in 2 Peter 3:8-9: “For God, a thousand years is as a day and a day as a thousand years.” You see, God is not slow. Rather God is patient, not wishing anyone to perish but hoping and longing that all would repent. It’s like Jesus’ parable of the waiting father in Luke 15: “with open arms he searches the horizon longing for his prodigals to come home.”

Third, when the King returns, when Jesus comes again, scripture says it will be suddenly, like lightning flashes across the sky. It’ll be so fast you will not be able to get yourself ready in the moment. One of the favorite lies of the devil is “you have plenty of time.” I say today is a day to come back to God. We need to live ready, trusting in the promises that Jesus offers us. So I ask you, if Jesus returned today are you ready? Are you living ready with faith in Him? I love the simple prayer that Pastor Nicky Gumbel in the Alpha Series teaches us. It has three parts to it: first “Jesus I thank you for dying on the cross for my sins.” Second, “I am sorry for my sins and rebellion and I ask you to forgive me.” Third, “come into my heart and life by your Holy Spirit and be my leader and my Lord.” The truth is that when Jesus came that first Christmas He came and accomplished our redemption. He did go to the cross! He did rise from the dead! He has completed the work of our salvation. Jesus has already made us ready. Like the words of the old hymn “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less”:

When Christ shall come with trumpets sound
Oh may I then in Him be found
Clothed in His righteousness alone
Redeemed to stand before His throne

When the King returns, when Jesus comes again, for Christians it is a thrilling day of great victory! He returns in power and glory, and His reign of love and peace will be forever! He will give life to all His people. Christ’s light and power will dispel all darkness. No more sin, no more sickness nor sorrow, no more death nor grief, no more hatred nor killing. Jesus will transform everything and make it beautiful. He will heal all that is broken; not only the world but the individual hearts and souls of people. It will be like a wedding day – a day of joy when we who are the bride of Christ will be united forever with Jesus the Lord, our King, our Bridegroom. What day that will be!

When I was a freshman in college at Wheaton College outside of Chicago, Illinois, my girlfriend Denise (who is now my wife) rode the train to downtown Chicago train station and this Iowa boy from the rural areas drove to downtown metro Chicago to meet her at the Chicago train station. I remember what joy was in my heart as I saw her get off the train and embraced her in love! I might’ve even given her a kiss. It reminds me of a story told by preacher Adrian Rogers who told of an old preacher who went down to the train station and saw a parable of life. As the train pulled into the station and the people began to get off the train from the travels, there were loved ones they are to greet them with hugs and kisses, and it was a time of rejoicing. But in the same moment, the preacher saw another man handcuffed to a law enforcement officer. The man was soon to be departing for prison. This prisoner was also hugging his wife and children, but he was weeping in sadness because they would soon be separated permanently. Wonder of wonders – the same train which brought such joy and happiness to one group brought great sorrow and separation to another. That’s what it will be like when the King returns. When Jesus comes again, it’ll be just like that. For we who believe it will be a moment of great joy! But for those who have renounced Christ or lived as if God does not exist it’ll be a day of great sorrow, when the truth of His coming will be revealed. I ask you: are you at peace with God? Jesus has come and accomplished our salvation. Jesus was born to be our Savior and someday He’s going to come again to pour His mercy and grace out to all believers. Today is a wonderful day to ask Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and with assurance still more sure to affirm that your faith believes in Jesus Christ as your Savior and your God. So together we pray amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

 

Pastor Lee Laaveg

He Will Rescue You

Matthew  1:18-25

It’s only three days until Christmas. During these past few weeks, people all around the world have been preparing for this day by shopping and cooking, baking, decorating, attending Christmas programs and concerts. All this activity has been happening around a 2,000-year-old story. It is the story of the birth of Jesus.

For some, this story is meant for children to re-enact in a pageant and nothing more. It is cute and charming. Others view it as a made-up folktale, a legend of sorts, or a myth not to be taken seriously. Others will listen with a sympathetic ear hearing it as a sad story of social injustice about a poor couple forced to leave home by an oppressive government. There was no place for poor Mary to give birth except in cattle stall.

But for the believer in Jesus Christ, the Christmas story is so much more! The Christmas story is a rescue story. It is Good News of the power of God for salvation. In Matthew’s version of the Christmas story, after a lengthy genealogy revealing Jesus’ family tree, it begins this way:

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way . . .”

The story in Matthew is not as glitzy as Luke’s version of the birth. There are no shepherds, no choir of singing angels, or a stable scene with animals. Yet it is every bit as profound and loaded with good news for you and me.

We find Joseph center stage in this episode. He’s troubled because he just learned Mary is pregnant, and he knows he is not the biological father. Joseph is a good person. Matthew describes him as just, righteous. So Joseph was going to quietly divorce Mary to save her the embarrassment and condemnation from the rest of the village of Nazareth. But just before he follows through on this, he has a dream in which he receives a message from God. An angel speaks to him.

Some people wonder if God speaks in dreams. My response is, according to Matthew and elsewhere in Scripture, He does. Remember Joseph and his coat of many colors in Genesis, God speaking to Abraham in a dream, and several other places as well.

“Do you believe in angels?” people ask. Absolutely! Angel stories, or angelophonies as they are called, are present throughout Scripture. More importantly, Jesus talked about angels as being real. The message Joseph heard from the angel is so central to our story. Hear these words again:

“Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to move ahead with this marriage. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.”

“Joseph, son of David” tells us Jesus is from the line of King David. He was ultimately the One promised by God as a King to reign forever in David’s lineage.

“This child is conceived by the Holy Spirit.”

What? Joseph must’ve initially thought. This is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard! This baby in Mary’s womb is God’s child? She’s still a virgin? Impossible!

This kind of reaction, by the way, is still given to this day by those who are skeptics of the Christian faith. This is outrageous thinking they say. Scientifically impossible!

I believe God can do anything He wants to do, don’t you? The God who created everything, who threw the sun and stars and the moon into space, who created this beautiful, awesome complex world can make a virgin birth happen as well.

A pastor, Peter Larson, one time wrote,

 “The life of Jesus is bracketed by two impossibilities – a virgin’s womb and an empty tomb. Jesus entered our world through a door marked ‘No Entrance’ and left through a door marked ‘No Exit.’”

The name this angel talks about – Jesus – is really the Good News here. It means, “God saves,” for He will save His people from their sins. Jesus is the Savior. He’s not here to save people from the power of Rome or another exile as in the past. He’s here to save people from something bigger, much deadlier – their sins. Jesus is the only one who can do this.

Many people find it difficult to accept that there is only one way to rescue us from sin and judgment. Listen to a Christian apologist, Greg Koukl, use the following analogy to show how Jesus is the one and only solution we need.

“Most ailments need particular antidotes. Increasing the air pressure in your tires will not fix a troubled carburetor. Aspirin will not dissolve a tumor. Cutting up credit cards will not wipe out debt that is already owed. If your water pipes are leaking, you call a plumber, not an oncologist. But a plumber will not cure cancer. Any adequate solution must solve the problem that needs to be solved, and singular problems need singular solutions. Some antidotes are one-of-a-kind cures for one-of-a-kind ailments. Sometimes only one medicine will do the job, as much as we may like it to be otherwise.

“Humankind faces a singular problem – people are broken, and the world is broken because our friendship with God has been broken, ruined by human rebellion and sin. Humans – you and I – are guilty, enslaved, lost, and dead. All of us, everyone. Everywhere. The guilt must be punished, the debt must be paid, the slave must be purchased. Promising better conduct in the future will not mend the crimes as of the past. No, a rescuer must ransom the slaves, a kindred brother must pay the family debt, a substitute must shoulder the guilt.”

There is no other way to escape. Jesus is our one and only solution, our Savior.

Matthew inserts at this point,

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet Isaiah. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son. They shall call his name Immanuel, which means, God with us.”

The Lord’s identity is confirmed as well. Who is this Jesus? He is “God with us.” God in the flesh. God has not abandoned His world, even though we may deserve it. Instead, He steps into the world to be with us. He experiences everything we experience – the limitations, the pain, the suffering, and so on.

This story teaches us two wonderful truths, which are meant to shock us and throw us at the same time. This is really good news for you and me.

First of all, Jesus is Immanuel. He is God with us. God has entered our world to be with us. He understands us. We have a great high priest who sympathizes with us, who can say I know exactly what you mean. I’ve been there.

But Jesus is also God for us. He came to save us from our sins. We have all sinned against God. We have fallen short of the glory of God. We are rebellious and self-centered, which keeps us separated from God, for the consequences of sin is death. On our own, we are helplessly, hopelessly lost. We cannot solve this by ourselves. But God in Christ has come to rescue, to save us, to break the chains of sin and death, and set us free to live in a saving eternal relationship with our Creator.

Jesus will later go to the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. He who knew no sin became sin and endured our punishment. He bore God’s wrath for sin and bridged the gap between God and humankind once and for all.

This, my friends, is why Christmas is such Good News meriting great celebration. God has come to rescue you and me. Forgiveness and eternal life have arrived through Jesus Christ. We are not on our own. We have a Savior. He is Immanuel. God has come to be with us, to save us.

I like these words from Pastor Tim Keller, which summarizes my thoughts well.

“If Jesus didn’t come, the story of Christmas is one more moral paradigm to crush you. If Jesus didn’t come, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere around these Christmas stories that say we need to be sacrificing, we need to be humble, we need to be loving. All it will do is crush you into the ground considering that.

“But if Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh, you are going to know much more about God. If Jesus is who He says He is, we have a 500-page autobiography from God in a sense, and our understanding will be vastly more personal and specific than any philosophy or religion could give us.

Because of Christmas, look at what God has done to get you to know Him personally. If the Son would come all this way to become a real person to you, don’t you think the Holy Spirit will do anything in His power to make Jesus a real person to you in your heart? Christmas is an invitation by God, which says, Look at what I’ve done to come near to you. Now draw near to me. I don’t want to be a concept. I want to be a friend. What good news that is!

The climax of the story is Joseph’s response. He trusts. He obeys. He will dedicate himself to raising and protecting this child, as we see a few verses later when he has to quickly take the family to Egypt.

Hear these words again:

“When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel commanded. He took Mary as his wife. He did not have sexual relations with her, and when the son was born, he called his name Jesus.”

The rest is history.

We are reminded that the Christmas story calls for a response from us. We respond. Joseph responded. We’re not to simply listen, nonchalantly nod to this story, and then put it back on the shelf until next year as if it didn’t happen. We are to do something with it, do something about it. One might have any number of responses to this Jesus who came humbly and helplessly the first time around but will come again someday in power and majesty once and for all to rule as Lord over the world.
• Some will reject the story. They will reject the offer God is making as preposterous.
• Others might respond with repentance and faith. They will turn around and come home to Jesus Christ and trust their life to His care and leadership, saying ‘yes’ to Him. They will trust in what He did for them at the cross and the empty tomb.
• Believers in Christ will respond with praise and thanksgiving, a grateful heart, much like the Apostle Paul who wrote, “Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift.” On Christmas we say, thank you.
• Other believers in Christ will experience a renewed trust in Him and a renewed commitment to being a great-commandment and great-commission person – loving God, loving neighbors, telling everyone they can about Jesus.

What will it be for you?

You’ve just heard the greatest story about the greatest person who ever lived, who did the greatest thing anyone could ever do for you. The greatest thing you can ever do with this story is to believe and follow Jesus.

May the words of this Christmas carol be our prayer today:

♬”O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray.
Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels, The great glad tidings tell.
O come to us, abide with us our Lord Immanuel.”♪

Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

A Blessed Promise to Hang Onto

 Matthew 11:2-6

Second thoughts are something we all experience from time to time in life. For instance, I remember a woman saying to me in my office, I’m having second thoughts about marrying this individual. Someone else said to me along the way, You know, I’m headed toward retirement but I’m having second thoughts. I’m not sure what I will do with my time. Someone else might say, I’m having second thoughts about this relocation I’ve made in life or a purchase I’ve made.

Have you ever had second thoughts about Jesus? I wouldn’t be surprised if you are nodding your head to this question. Second thoughts can even happen in our faith life. Someone might have second thoughts about Jesus because He isn’t meeting their expectations. They say, My life isn’t going all that well. It is filled with problems. I have pain in my life. I thought Jesus would prevent that. Or perhaps you’re having second thoughts because someone you admire has rejected Jesus and their rationale is challenging your own belief in Him.

Second thoughts can happen as the result of unexplained suffering and evil, which can cause intellectual doubts. It’s not unusual. The important thing though is what you do with second thoughts when they come.

We have a story before us today I think is helpful. A preacher named John the Baptist is having second thoughts about Jesus. John is in prison for preaching a repentance message and pointed people to the coming kingdom of God. He also publicly denounced King Herod’s marriage as illegitimate, which angered Herod, so he had John arrested.

In our story, John is sitting in prison waiting and wondering if he will ever get out, and if not, was he wrong in his thinking about Jesus? Why isn’t He helping me? John wondered. Jesus had been baptized by John, and John told his disciples that Jesus is the One they had been waiting for. There goes the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. John was quite excited about Jesus arriving on the scene.

But now we find him in today’s passage feeling confused and puzzled, struggling a bit. Disappointed. What he has heard about Jesus’ ministry so far hasn’t been very exciting, and he is having second thoughts about Him. Jesus isn’t acting according to John’s expectations. John had predicted the wrath of God – the ax is being laid to the tree, fire and brimstone and judgment. But John is not hearing any wrath of God in Jesus’ message. There is no judgment or ax or fire and brimstone. Other than a few miracles here and there, not much success or momentum has occurred as John had expected. He must have wondered, If Jesus is the One, why am I still sitting here in prison? I’m one of the good guys!

Have you ever asked that question when life isn’t going well? Why doesn’t Jesus get me out of this?

Frederick Buechner, a wonderful Christian writer wrote about John the Baptist’s thoughts in his book, Peculiar Treasures, a Biblical Who’s Who. His words might help us understand John’s questioning. Listen to this:

John apparently had second thoughts about Jesus later on, however, and it’s no great wonder.

  • Where John preached grim justice and pictured God as a steely-eyed thrasher of grain, Jesus preached forgiving love and pictured God as the host to the marvelous party or a father who can’t bring himself to throw his children out even when they spit in his eye.
  • Where John said people had better save their skins before it was too late, Jesus said it was God who saved their skins, and even if you blow your bankroll on liquor and sex like the prodigal son, it still wasn’t too late.
  • Where John ate locusts and wild honey in the wilderness with the church crowd, Jesus ate what He felt like in Jerusalem with as sleazy a bunch as you could expect to find.
  • Where John crossed to the other side of the street if he saw sinners heading his way, Jesus seems to have preferred the company of the stewardship committee and the world Council of Churches rolled into one.
  • Where John baptized, Jesus healed.

John is troubled. He is struggling. Am I wrong about Jesus? He needs confirmation of some sort. So he decides to get to the bottom of it by sending a couple of his followers to ask Jesus this question: Are you the one who is to come – Messiah of Israel – or should we look for another?

When you think about it, this is a loaded question. John is being very blunt. He is communicating his second thoughts and personal doubts about Jesus to Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t miss a beat when He hears this question. He is not angry or resentful. He doesn’t write John off saying, I’ve had it with him. How dare he question me! Instead, He responds,

“Go back and tell John what you hear and see. The blind see; the lame walk; those who have leprosy are cleansed; the deaf hear; the dead are raised back to life, and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor.”

Jesus’ response is actually meant to be words of reassurance and encouragement for John. First Jesus says, Listen to the report from your men, John. The day you and the Old Testament prophets have been pointing to is actually happening. There are the signs! The kingdom has begun to arrive! Kingdom miracles are taking place. Good News is being preached. Kingdom news is delivered to the poor in spirit. Lives are getting blessed and changed for the better.

Jesus is pointing to the fulfillment of verses in Isaiah 35 and Isaiah 61, which Isaiah used to describe what will happen when the new day of the kingdom and the Messiah comes. The blind will see, the lame will walk, the dead are raised, Good News will be preached to the poor. This is meant to be reassuring evidence for John. There is your evidence, John.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He follows this word of reassurance with a word of promise, maybe tinged with a gentle bit of chiding of John the Baptist for his doubts. Jesus says, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” It’s a promise of blessedness. God’s blessings are a promise of joy actually.

First, we look at the word, blessed. This language is found in the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew chapter 5. Jesus says,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

These statements are referred to in church circles as the Beatitudes.

Blessed can also be interpreted as happy. Happy are the poor in spirit. But Jesus is talking about more than a temporal or circumstantial feeling attached to happiness. Being blessed is the state of well-being, which belongs to those who respond in faith to Christ. It’s a joyous state of favor in God’s eyes.

Joy! Jesus says Blessed is he who takes no offense. The word “offense” is the Greek word scandalon, from which we get the word scandalized. It is also used as a stumbling block. Jesus says Blessed is the one who takes no offense on account of me. In other words, blessed is the one who doesn’t reject me or turn away from me, isn’t scandalized by me, who doesn’t trip over me. Instead, they do just the opposite. They trust me even though they may not always understand everything about me, or I don’t quite fit into their own personal expectations. Blessed is the one who sticks with me.

Faith. The person who doesn’t fall away from me will have blessings from God. Joy. Jesus is saying, Trust me, John. Hang in there with me. Perhaps your expectations of me need to be reconfigured or reconsidered. There’s no need to look for another. The truth is, there is no other. I am the one. So stick with me and you will have blessedness from God. I promise.

Jesus is basically asking us to stretch our understanding to fit a different model of the Messiah from what we may have believed – a magical problem-solver and giver of good things. We need to change our expectations and simply believe Him as He is.

We don’t know what John the Baptist did with his message from Jesus. We are not told. But I have to believe Jesus’ words gave John reassurance and the strength and comfort he needed as he lingered miserably in a dungeon until his dying day when he was beheaded. Trust me, John, Jesus says, and you will be blessed.

But enough about John the Baptist and what he did with this promise from Jesus. Let’s talk about you. How is your relationship with the Lord Jesus these days? Are you trusting Him with your life for your very salvation? I hope so. Or are you having second thoughts and getting to a place where you’ve followed Him for a while in your life but you are struggling right now? Your expectations have been disappointed. You feel a little beaten up, a little shaky. It can happen to anyone.

Satan, by the way, loves to play with your mind to destroy your faith. So if you are having second thoughts today, this story is especially for you. I can’t help but appreciate the story because it reminds me in my own moments of second thoughts, that even John the Baptist, who was described by Jesus as the greatest man born of woman, a Hall of Famer of the faith and loved and served God faithfully to the end, had his moments – just like me.

Second thoughts and doubts come. It’s not unusual. Here’s the big idea we learned.

Don’t walk away from Jesus. Instead, walk toward Him as John did. Ask your questions, check the evidence in His word, listen to the testimonies of other believers around you. Let them build you back up again. Go to worship and get the big picture of God’s plan again and again and again. Jesus wants us to believe in Him, no matter what circumstances we are experiencing. He wants us to know today that He is the One sent from God that first Christmas to be your Savior and Lord and friend, and there is no other one by whom you will find blessedness and the joy of salvation with God.

This story speaks to our troubled souls and says, Keep following, keep serving, keep trusting, for in Him is the blessedness and inner happiness your soul is thirsting for. In Christ alone is a right eternal relationship with God possible.

Blessed is the one, joy-filled is the one, who trusts in Him. And know this – in the end, you will not be disappointed.

One last word for you to consider today about the blessedness Jesus promised. A right relationship with God didn’t come about easily or cheaply. Jesus had to suffer the curse of my sin so I might be blessed. In fact, as the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 3, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” We were, by our sinfulness, cursed people. But Christ became a curse on the cross. He suffered our punishment so we might be blessed, restored to a right relationship with our loving and holy God through faith in Christ. God raised Him from the grave three days later as His endorsement that Jesus is the One. You don’t need to look for another. Christ became a curse so you and I might become blessed. What love!

He is the one who is calling out to you today to trust Him in all circumstances. Bring Him your doubts and your second thoughts. Don’t run away from Him but run toward him.

What blessedness, what joy awaits those who trust in Jesus Christ whose birth we will be celebrating just a couple weeks from now. He is the One our hearts are thirsting for. And dear friends, there is no other. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

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