The King’s Way

John 14:1-6

Dear friends:

Is there anyone in life that you admire so much that you pattern your life after their character, their goals, their behavior? I admire Jesus Christ. Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” I remember how Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:5, said “Blessed are the gentle in spirit, for they will inherit the earth.” Jesus was the King of Glory. In our world, when a new king is crowned, all the people in the kingdom wonder “what will this new king be like?” So we might ask “what is the way of life that Jesus our King models for us?”

Recently I went to movie with my wife, “A Beautiful Day”. There’s a scene where Fred Rogers, played by Tom Hanks, is riding a subway car. The whole group of people in the car, of all ages and races, spontaneously begin to sing because they recognize Mr. Rogers. They sing “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine?” Jesus is the King of Glory, who left the power of Heaven as the Son of God, and came down to our world, to our neighborhood. Jesus moved in to live among us. And still today Jesus asks “won’t you please be my neighbor?” Perhaps you’ve had experience, like me, were someone walked past you in a public place and the fragrance of the person that walked by lingers. Maybe it’s the pleasant fragrance of a cologne or the sweet smell of a good perfume. I want to ask you: when people are around you do they smell the fragrance of Jesus Christ?

Jesus shows us the way to live, first of all, by walking with humility. In the human experience, usually, the more power one has, the more selfish and arrogant we become. But Jesus, who had the greatest glory and the most profound infinite power, left the glory and the power of Heaven to become the greatest lover and the most generous giver the world has ever known. Humility is not weakness, but confidence in God’s presence and love to the extent that we can place others before ourselves. Where we can see the touch of God on other people’s lives, where we can treat them as if they bear the touch of the holy. Jesus always used His power to bless us and to save us.

The second way of Jesus is that He was submissive to the Father in love. Jesus was obedient to the Father’s mission, even though the mission was impossible and no one else except Jesus, as the son of God, could’ve accomplished it. But Jesus, in love for His Father and in love for our broken world, and in love for us as individuals, embraced the difficult, dirty, and deadly mission for which He’d come. He endured the rejection and the hatred of His own people that He had created. He endured great disrespect and injustice. We read in Luke 9:51 “Jesus set His face resolutely toward Jerusalem.” It was a steely resolve. And when He faithfully committed to go to Jerusalem, He knew that He was going to die there. But He was submissive to the Father in total obedience. Remember, how in the garden of Gethsemane, He pleaded with the Father: “Is there any other way, Father? Yet not my will, but Yours be done.”

The third way of Jesus showing us how to live is that He offers his unconditional love for everyone He’s created. No exceptions. Have you ever had the experience where you are in the midst of a big crowd? Maybe you’re in a packed gym for a basketball game, or you’re sitting in a crowded auditorium, waiting for concert from a famous musician, or maybe you’re driving through a major metropolitan area in heavy traffic. And it occurs to you, crowded around by people, that God knows each person in the crowd and loves them all. Jesus has unconditional love for everyone He has created. And He encourages each of us, because He knows our full potential and He knows the purpose for which God created us. And so in His love, in the most positive way, He pours Himself in love to us so that we might become all that God intended. In His unconditional love, He treats us with kindness and patience; in truth, but also in gentleness. That’s why His arms are always open to us.

The fourth quality of Jesus the King is that He is willing to serve all people regardless of who they are or what they’ve done, regardless of the cost, regardless of the task. Jesus courageously and sacrificially serves us, even if it causes Him great suffering. This is an upside down, countercultural quality. It’s the inversion of power, were Jesus uses almighty power to serve us and to save us. Remember: Jesus is the King who knelt before His disciples and washed their feet. Jesus is the King who stood before a blind beggar and said “what would you like Me to do for you?” And Jesus told us that “I have set an example that you should also do like I am doing.” Jesus has the heart of a king that takes Him all the way to the cross.

If we took an inventory of what we’ve discussed together so far in the way of life Jesus shows us, I have to admit to you: I fall far short. I can’t follow the way of Jesus with perfection. In fact, though I deeply admire Jesus and give it my full effort, I cannot be perfectly obedient. So please know that we would follow the King’s ethics, the King’s character, the King’s behavior, NOT as a way that we would be saved. Our hope is never based on our ability to walk perfectly in Jesus’ way. Jesus is our King, who shows us the way, but Jesus ultimately is the King who had to make the way for us to be in the Kingdom of God. He had to die on the cross to open the way for salvation, that we might be the recipients of the love of God. Jesus not only shows us the way, He is the way, and He welcomes us in His love and invites us to believe in Him. Remember: Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” So yes, we pattern our life after the way of life Jesus showed us, but we trust Jesus as the Savior who forgives all who are willing to receive His love. His arms are always open in reconciliation. Jesus removes every barrier to our peace with God. He has opened the floodgates of grace and mercy by His death on the cross and being raised from the dead.

I remember the promise in 2 Corinthians 2: it reads “thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ. He manifests through us the sweet fragrance of Christ of the knowledge of Him in every place.” We are the fragrance of Christ. Not long ago I read the story of the young couple with an 18-month-old son named Eric. The little family had traveled to their grandparents’ to spend the weekend. And on Sunday, after they worshiped together, the young family headed for home. Along the way, they needed gas and stopped at a truck stop for a bite to eat. As they entered into the restaurant it was largely empty, and they were all by themselves. And their little boy Eric started saying “Hi dare! Hi dare!”, (meaning ‘hi there’.) Every time the boy said that there was a response from a table booth in the corner: “hi, there, little boy.” They looked at that corner table and saw an old, ragged, tattered man. His coat was several sizes too big and torn in multiple places. His trousers drug on the floor, and his shoes literally had holes in them, and his toes stuck out. He had an old hat tilted to the side, his face was unshaven, and when he smiled there were missing teeth. Yet, for some reason, little Eric was attracted to this older man, and he kept saying “hi dare! Hi dare!” and every time the old man would answer. Finally, the stranger said “little boy, do you know how to play pat-a-cake?” And Eric would start pat-a-caking. “Little boy, you know how to play peek-a-boo?” Sure enough, little Eric hid his eyes and played peek-a-boo. There was an instant rapport between little Eric and the old man, who was obviously a reject of society. Eric’s parents felt uneasy, and the husband whispered to his wife “let’s eat our food and get outta here.” So they gulped it down. Then he said “I’ll pay for the food, you get Eric out to the car.” Mommy started toward the door, hoping to get out without problems, but as they passed the older man he reached out his arms. The old man looked at mom and said “would you, would you let me hold your baby?” She really couldn’t say no because Eric virtually lunged into the arms of the old man. He cradled Eric on one arm and patted his back with the other, as Eric put his arms around the old man’s neck and laid his head against his shoulder. Closing his eyes, the old man talked to the boy with tears rolling down his cheeks. For a long moment, he held the child close and loved him. And as he did, he looked up at mom and said “take good care of your boy.” She answered “I will, sir.” He handed Eric back and said “thank you, thank you very much. You’ve given me the best gift I’ve had a long time.”

Jesus, God’s son, left the power and glory of Heaven to come down to where we are, and then to throw his arms around our neck and to embrace us in love, because that’s the King’s way. It’s the presence of Jesus’ spirit within us that is like a teabag in hot water. Jesus’ spirit colors and flavors our lives with his grace. Only Jesus’ spirit living within us can produce within our lives the King’s way, the King’s character, the King’s heart, planted deep within us. Jesus’ presence changes us. Faith enables us to put our hands in the hands of God. So we put our hands into the hands of Jesus Christ, and He leads us in the way of life that He has shown us. There’s a poem written by Minnie Louise Haskins, it reads:

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

So we commit our lives to pattern after Jesus, who we love and admire. But we also trust Jesus, who is the only way to be in relationship with God the Father.

Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg

Jesus Is: Mighty

Matthew 8:23-27

Dear friends:

I live in the upper Midwest of the United States and every once in a while during the summer months the sirens will go off outside warning us that there is a severe storm headed our way, and we ought to take cover. It might be a tornado or a serious thunderstorm; it can all be a bit unnerving. Some of you might live in areas where there are other kinds of natural storms, such as hurricanes, and those can be very frightening as well. These storms of nature are just a part of living on planet Earth. We know that storms happen. But there are other kinds of storms we will experience in life as well that sometimes catch us by surprise. There are relational storms, as marriages struggle or we find ourselves in the midst of a divorce. It could be a lack of friendships in your life or feeling cut off from people and all alone. That’s stormy weather. Or there are health storms: a cancer that’s eating up your body or chronic illness that won’t go away. Or financial storms: a loss of employment, unexpected losses in your investments, or healthcare costs. There’s the storm of loss, and the storm of transition. And if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ you’ve learned that following Jesus doesn’t exempt you from facing those storms in life.

How do you handle the storms? I mean let’s face it, it’s so easy for us to get scared, and panic, and doubt. Such is the case with the disciples in today’s story. This episode we read follows a conversation the Jesus had with some admirers who said they were interested in following Him. He and the disciples were just about ready to get into a boat to go over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and these admirers, along with the disciples, had witnessed Jesus doing miraculous healings earlier on, and they wanted in. Well Jesus warns them not to expect easy, smooth sailing if they follow him. It’s a high commitment thing. Then Matthew says “when Jesus got into the boat His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm.” No easy sailing with Jesus. The Sea of Galilee was known for its sudden storms. It would come up out of nowhere, and they could get nasty. And this one must of been a doozy, because even the seasoned fisherman in the boat were among the panicked as the boat was being swamped by water. And as a whole, Jewish folks didn’t really like the sea – they were afraid of it, they were landlubbers. They saw the sea as a dark, evil, power of fear. So this storm had to have made the disciples’ stress level skyrocket all the more.

Now amazingly, Jesus is sound asleep in the back of the boat as they’re trying to keep it afloat. But when things look out of control, they wake Him up. “SAVE US, LORD, WE’RE PERISHING!” There appears to be some faith here on their part, right? But Jesus responds in an interesting way. In the midst of the storm, before He even addresses a storm, He uses it as a teachable moment. He speaks to them. “Why are you afraid, oh you of little faith?” In the midst of the waves filling the boat, the wind whistling around them, Jesus seems to be scolding them for being afraid. He calls them people of little faith. And notice: He gets after them not for “un-faith”. He doesn’t say “you’re all out of faith.” He gets after them for their little, wavering faith in the face of a frightening storm. They seem to have forgotten His power and authority that they had witnessed earlier in the chapter. Their faces show sheer panic as they wake Him up, not confident belief they still haven’t figured out who He really is. And they don’t know the plans that God had for Him: to go to a cross, to pay for the sins of the world, and rise again. They didn’t realize He was the Son of God. They don’t have the advantage that we have of reading the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They don’t have the big picture. Even though, I have to admit that even in knowing the big picture, I still can sometimes find myself panicking and despairing when storms hit in my life and things are overwhelming. How about you?

Anyway, back to the story. After the rebuke towards the disciples, Jesus stands up in the boat, and he rebukes the wind and the sea. And there is immediately a great calm. With only a word He stills the storm. Can you imagine the feelings of those disciples sitting in that boat, now on that calm, still sea? There had to have been awe and holy fear and wonder. It would take your breath away, wouldn’t it? Matthew says “they marveled, saying ‘what sort of Man is this, that even the wind and sea obey Him?’” As if they didn’t expect Him to be able to stop the storm.

This story is another epiphany of Christ’s power and authority. He’s much more than He appears on the surface. He’s more than a teacher, miracle healer, prophet, or earthly-type of Messiah. He’s more than that – only God can do something like this, according to the stories and songs from the Old Testament. I wonder: were the disciples beginning to catch a glimpse of light regarding His identity? Perhaps. Of course, later on it will become very clear as they witness His death and His resurrection from the dead. Then they won’t be able to be still about Him, even in facing the worst of storms, like rejection and persecution for their faith and mission.

It does make me wonder, as I read a story like this: was this story saved for us, to reassure us, that even those first disciples struggled with faith and fears? And if it takes time for them to grow in faith, then maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised that it takes us time as well. And maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves (and one another) when we‘re struggling with our fears.

So, let’s talk about you. How would you describe your relationship with this Jesus? What do you think of Him, believe about Him, plan to do with Him? Are you trusting Him with everything in your life? I hope so. This story from Matthew, you see, reveals two things we need to seriously consider. First, it tells us who Jesus is. And next, it teaches us what He expects of His followers. First, He’s God in the flesh. He’s the Lord over all creation, even over storms. He is mighty, He has all power and authority. Ultimately, He defeated the greatest storm that humanity faces: death, when He rose from the dead as the first fruits of the resurrection. Just listen to this description of our mighty Jesus in the book of Colossians. Here’s what it says about Him: He is the image of the invisible God, the Firstborn of all creation, for by Him all things were created in Heaven and on Earth. Visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities, all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. In Him, all things hold together. In this story, when they call on Jesus they addressed Him as “Lord”, being God. I don’t know if they meant that, but… Friend, have you called him “Lord” in your life? Have you entrusted your whole life to His direction and care? Because Jesus is Lord over all creation, even the storms. He is our Savior, our rescuer, our powerful leader worth following and trusting in all circumstances. He’s definitely the One you want in your boat.

A Christian sailor named Gorman Foch once wrote in a letter to his worried parents “If you hear that our ship went down don’t worry. The sea is but a puddle in my Savior’s hand, and nothing can snatch me from that hand.” After his resurrection, Jesus will announce to His disciples that “all authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to Me” by His Heavenly Father. That He is sovereign and holds all of us in the palm of His hand. He has the final word over this world, and we see in the Gospels that He actually cares about us, He loves us. The palm of that hand that holds us is a nail-pierced palm, for our sake. He is mighty.

Next, Jesus says “why are you afraid?” which communicates to us that He wants us to trust Him in every situation of life, even in the storms. Storms will come our way, it’s part of living in a broken world. We are not exempt as followers of Christ Jesus, as we see in the story today. But know this: we are not abandoned. He is with us. He’s in the boat. Don’t panic! He’s Lord, and He will deliver us through the storms of life. Trust Him. He’s promised that nothing can snatch you from His hand. You are His forever, as you follow Him. As the sometimes beaten up, imprisoned, and tortured, and threatened  apostle Paul assures some Roman Christians with these words: “for I am sure that 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.” Friends, Paul is not simply waxing eloquent here. These wonderful words of assurance come from years of personal experience with Christ Jesus in his boat. When he says “I am sure”, he’s sure of it because Jesus has been in his boat. He’s “convinced”, as some interpretations of that statement put it. And He is with you. If you are His follower,  the risen Jesus is in the boat with you. Believe this, rejoice and be glad. The King of Kings and the Lord of Lords and sovereign over the universe, Who knows you and loves you and went to the cross to rescue you and rose again for you is with you. When the storms hit, He’s whispering in your ear: “be still, and know that I am God.” When everything seems to be falling apart, as the winds of adversity blow into your life, you can confidently pray “Jesus help me. I surrender this to you.” When your sin and guilt weighs you down because you’ve messed up again, and you feel far from God, you can confidently confess “for the sake of Jesus forgive me. Cleanse me. Renew me.” and forgiveness will come your way. When death, perhaps the greatest storm of all, comes knocking at our door, you can confidently pray with Jesus “into your hands I commit my spirit.” For Jesus has conquered the power of death, and has promised his followers, saying

Let not your hearts be troubled, you believe in God, believe also in Me. In my Father’s house there are many rooms, if it were not so would I have told you that I go and prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare that place for you I will come again, and take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.

I would like close with a story I came across about someone facing a storm. Kara Tippetts, an author and mother of four with her husband Jason, went home to Jesus on March 22, 2015 after a long struggle with breast cancer. As the cancer spread, she courageously embraced her situation, trusting God. She believed that cancer was not the point, but Jesus was. Near the end of her life Kara wrote this:

My little body has grown tired of battle, and treatment is no longer helping. But what I see, what I know, what I have is Jesus. He has still given me breath, and with it I pray I would live well and fade well. By degrees doing both, living and dying, as I have moments left to live. I get to draw my people close, kiss them and tenderly speak love over their lives. I get to pray into eternity my hopes and fears for the moments of my loves. I get to laugh and cry and wonder over Heaven. I do not feel like I have the courage for this journey, but I have Jesus—and He will provide. He has given me so much to be grateful for, and that gratitude, that wondering over His love, will cover us all. And it will carry us—carry us in ways we cannot comprehend.

Friend, if you are His follower, aren’t you glad that the mighty, powerful, faithful Jesus Christ is in the boat with you? Don’t be afraid. Believe me, He cares for you and you can trust Him in all things.

Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Jesus Is: Calling

Matthew 4:18-22

Dear friends:

A number of years ago, Chan Gailey, football coach for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, told how he learned a little lesson in humility. He was the head coach of Alabama’s Troy State, and they were playing for a national championship. The week before the big game he was headed to the practice field when a secretary called him back for a phone call. Somewhat irritated, he told her to take a message because he was on his way practice. She responded “but it’s Sports Illustrated.” “I’ll be right there” he said. As he made his way to the building he began thinking about the upcoming article. It would be great publicity for a small school like Troy State to be in Sports Illustrated. As he got closer, he realized that a three-page article would not be sufficient to tell the whole story. Coming even closer to his office he started thinking he might be on the cover! “Should I pose, or go with an action shot?” he wondered. His head was spinning with all kinds of possibilities. When he picked up the phone and said “hello”, the person asked “is this Chan Gailey?” “Yes it is” he replied confidently. “This is Sports Illustrated, and we’re calling to let you know that your subscription is running out. Are you interested in renewing?” Coach Gailey concluded his story by saying “you are either humble or you will be humbled.”

You know, we receive all kinds of calls in life, don’t we? Junk calls, usually an automatic robotic voice: “congratulations, we have picked you to go on this trip.” Or a voice offering to update your car warranty. There’s spam and scam calls. “This is the Social Security office, and we need your Social Security number to get your account straightened out.” Fundraising calls: “this is your alma mater, we’re doing a capital campaign and we need your financial help.” Of course there are personal calls from family and friends who are checking in with us. Then there those bothersome calls from people you don’t really want to talk with because they’re irritating and interrupting your day. Surveys, for instance. Or crank calls, or prank calls, or business calls from customers, bosses, or colleagues. Some calls, though, we receive are quite memorable and important to us. I remember when my congregation called me up, said “Steve, we just voted and we want you to come and be our pastor.” Or a call from my grown-up son or daughter, “dad, we just had a baby boy!” Important calls.

Today I want to talk with you about the most important call you will ever receive in your life. Because, you see, in our passage for today we come across the calling of Andrew and Peter and James and John by Jesus. He saw these fisherman with nets in their hands by the sea of Galilee and He called out to them “follow Me.” To follow someone means to come after them. Start going, moving in their direction. Get behind Him. And they responded, amazingly. They dropped what they were doing, left behind their businesses, and followed. Everything: business, family left behind. And they traipsed after Him in faith. They had some previous exposure to Jesus according to John’s gospel. Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist. He told Andrew that Jesus was the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. Andrew was intrigued by this, and so he followed Jesus home and spent some time with Him and was convinced! He went home and told his brother Simon Peter “we found the Messiah!” And then Andrew brought Peter to meet Jesus, and then he stayed on, learning more. So later on, when Jesus comes to them and calls them by the Sea of Galilee to follow Him, they went with Him. They’d had some time, I suppose, to think about what they’d learned. They followed. They didn’t know where He would lead them, but they went in faith. And their lives were never the same after that, were they? They began following Jesus, and that involved living with Him 24/7. Getting to know Him. Learning from His wisdom as He taught them. Observing Him as He went throughout the villages, teaching and preaching and doing a miraculous miracles like the healing of people and casting out demons. They watched His compassion towards all kinds of people, and His faith in His Heavenly Father impressed them every step of the way. They were excited about Him and growing in faith as they lived with Him. After a while they experienced the thrill of even serving Him in His kingdom cause, when He authorized and sent them out on their own, two by two, to preach the good news of the kingdom of God in the villages, heal, and cast out demons. Now, it wasn’t very easy following Jesus. They would watch him face off day after day with hostile opponents from Israel’s religious establishment. And later on they would actually have to watch him die a horrific death on the cross. It was also eye-opening and life-changing that three days after that crucifixion they saw Him alive again. They also saw Him ascend to His Father in power and authority after they were given a commission by Him to go make disciples of all nations. To be His witnesses. At Pentecost they experienced the promise of the Holy Spirit being poured out upon them, just as He said, empowering them to turn their world upside down as they spread the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection. And they were changed men. Big-time changed! Their lives would never be the same after being with Christ, now filled with the Spirit. Their lives were better, more satisfying, very significant. And just think: it all began with an obedient, positive response to a call along the sea of Galilee. “Follow Me.” And from there, the adventure of a new life with Jesus Christ began for those men.

Friends, that same call has never stopped coming. That call comes to us today from risen Jesus Christ – He’s alive. He’s still calling people to follow Him. To follow Him involves stepping into a living relationship or a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. A person, you see, can still have a close walk with Jesus as those disciples did. Oh, you may not be able to see Him, but You can learn from Him and His word. Talking, listening to Him in prayer. Praising Him in worship. Serving the needs of others in His name, you’ll encounter Him. And that’s how you come to know Him in a very personal, dynamic way, and learn more and more to trust Him and believe that He really does know what is best for your life. And let me tell you what following Christ leads to: it leads to salvation. God wants all people to be saved, according to scripture. And the means of being saved is entering into a relationship with Jesus Christ, who died on a cross to pay for our sins, and rose again. He is the means to enter God’s kingdom of light, of receiving God’s forgiveness for sin, and the promise of everlasting life. He’s the Way, the Truth, the Life God wants for us, and no one comes to the Father but through Him. He told us that Himself. Following Him also leads a person to positive personal changes in one’s life. Life with Jesus is life-changing. The apostle Paul describes for us the fruit of the Spirit that God wants to put in our lives through our relationship with Jesus: love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and gentleness and generosity and self-control. Boy, that’s going to make for some rich relationships with other people besides, isn’t it? I mean, as someone once said, Jesus loves you just as you are, but He refuses to leave you that way.” He wants to make you like Himself.

We learned in this story that to follow Jesus also leads to new adventures, beyond your wildest dreams, as you receive a new eternal purpose which is challenging and satisfying. You know when He said “follow Me” he also added on “I will make you fishers of men.” As we follow Jesus and actually obey His command to be His witness to everyone, and tell everyone we know about Him with our words and our actions… As we step out in His name and fish for people right alongside of the risen Savior… As we experience the joy of being used as His instruments in this world, bringing others into a saving relationship with Christ… Let me tell you, life does not get any better than that! I can tell you that from my own personal experiences leading people to Jesus. And let me tell you whenever people have responded positively to Christ’s call to follow Him, their lives have always been changed for the better. Now I’m not saying it’s an easier life that Jesus is offering you and me. Jesus never promised that. In fact, the follower of Jesus Christ will find that he or she is not immune from the hardships of living in what we know is a sinful, broken world. And Jesus Himself tells us that following Him will involve “carrying a cross”. There will be some suffering, some sacrifice in this hostile world that rejects Him, as we bring the good news message who He is and what He has done for the world. It’s not easy, but still, it’s a much better life… No, wait a minute, let me correct myself: it’s the best life a person can have. Jesus called it “the abundant life” He came to give.

Isn’t it interesting that those first disciples that Jesus called (except for one: Judas) stayed the course in following Jesus. I mean they actually put their lives on the line for Him. They were imprisoned and beaten and martyred for Jesus. Why did they do that? Why they stick with Him? The answer to that is they had found the life they were looking for in Jesus. There were no regrets, only rejoicing in Christ.

I think of another disciple who came onto the scene later on named Paul, who was [once] a great persecutor of the faith, and he wrote these words: “for me to live is Christ.” He said there’s nothing compared to knowing and serving Jesus Christ, the rest is just garbage in comparison. He said in his life could be expressed a simply being compelled by the love of Christ working in him.

I’d like to ask you a personal question today: have you responded positively to the most important call you will ever receive? The call from Jesus to follow Him? Oh, I’m not talking about some sort of “easy believism”: say “yes” and say a prayer and go on with our life as if nothing has changed. No, I’m asking have you given your unqualified trust and obedience to the Lord of the universe, Jesus Christ? Does Jesus have the highest priority? Is your relationship with Him the supreme relationship, out of which every other relationship and activity is defined and directed? How would you answer that?

My appeal is that you not ignore or reject His call to follow, as so many do. Follow Him! I know that in life some calls I get on the phone I don’t answer because I reason with myself “I’m too busy with something more important, I don’t want to be interrupted.” Well this call is way too important for any individual to ignore. Follow Jesus with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. This is one call you do not want to miss. With the lack of good, trustworthy leadership in our world today there might be for you a certain amount of reluctance to entrust your life to anything, or to anyone, or any kind of leader. But I want you to remember this: this call comes from One who died for your sins and rose again victorious over the power of sin and death and the devil. And He sits in authority over this world, and He loves you very, very much. He died for you, He rose for you, He is the leader you can trust with your life and he has your best interests in mind. He’s been teaching me that again and again and again as I’ve walked with Him. To follow Jesus Christ and have a personal relationship with Him is life to the max.

You know, I do a lot of reading and I recently read an inspiring testimony by Dr. Rosalind Picard, a renowned professor at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). She writes that her first 20 years of life were spent thinking that religious people were ignoramuses, and that she was too smart to buy into this “God thing”. But through a series of encounters with some Christians that she admired, she came to realize her arrogance and that she was being a fool, snubbing “the greatest mind in the cosmos” as she put it. She asked Jesus to be the Lord, the leader of her life. She followed Jesus. She writes:

Have you ever tried to assemble something mechanical, and it only kind of works?  Maybe the wheels spin, but not smoothly.  Then you realize you were missing a piece.  When you finally put it together correctly, it works beautifully.  This is how it felt when I handed my life over to God: I thought it had worked fine before, but after it was ‘fixed,’ it worked exponentially better.  That’s not to say nothing bad ever happened to me – far from it.  But in all things, good and bad, I could count on God’s guidance, comfort, and protection. So the day I walk humbly alongside the most amazing companion, Jesus Christ, the most amazing companion anyone could ask for, I am filled with desire to keep learning and exploring.

Do you have that kind of relationship with Jesus? You can. As Jesus called Peter and Andrew and James and John and the apostle Paul, and millions of others since, and Rosalind Picard, Jesus is calling you. “Follow me, I’ll make you fishers of men.” Commit yourself to follow Jesus. Trust Him. Obey Him. Serve Him. And you will discover for yourself that He is the way to go, that He is the truth to believe, and He is the life that God wants for you.

Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Jesus Is: The Light You Need

Matthew 4:12-17

Dear friends:

When I was a little boy my family visited the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park out in Montana where I’m from. Of course, we wanted to do a tour of the limestone caverns, which are considered the largest and most spectacular in the northwestern part of the United States. Now what I remember about the tour, first of all, is that I was a little nervous and scared at the thought of going down deep into these underground caves. It was scary enough seeing the bats flying around at the entrance to the cave as we prepared to go in. Then we descended deeper and deeper and deeper into the earth. It got chillier, and damper, and darker. The guide at one point turned off the lights just to show us how dark it could get. We couldn’t see anything – you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face! The blackness was disorienting and paralyzing. We didn’t move, and I was scared. Then suddenly he turned on his flashlight. One tiny flashlight lit up that huge cavern. The tour group let out a big sigh of relief as this one small light dispelled the darkness. We went through the rest of the tour and I breathed a sigh of relief when it was all over and we stepped back out into the warm, beautiful, Montana- “big sky country” sunlight. I don’t know about you, but I prefer light over dark.

Matthew, in our passage for today, talks about light and darkness. He tells us that as Jesus made His headquarters for His ministry in the village of Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee, that this was actually a fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy. Listen to his words again:

The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.

This passage comes from Isaiah 9. In Isaiah’s time God’s chosen people were living in the darkness of their sin and God’s judgment. They had turned to idols for their security instead of the God of Israel. Darkness prevailed. In fact, all of God’s commandments were being brazenly broken by His people, again and again. And now God’s judgment was looming upon them – a world power was about to take away their land. They were looking for answers in the wrong places, and now are stumbling around in the dark trying to fix things, according to Isaiah, who spoke on God’s behalf. They were lost! The future looked bleak for them. They would be invaded, deported, and live in exile as punishment, Isaiah told them. But in Isaiah 9, there’s a great announcement from Isaiah about a hopeful future for them. There would come light! God’s saving light. Isaiah goes on to describe the promised one from God – a King – coming Who would be their Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. Their light would be given them. As Isaiah predicted, as you know, they lost the land just as he said and they were exiled. God’s punishment was carried out, and they lived in exile for many, many years. Eventually they were allowed to return home, thanks to God’s help. But after they returned to their land, there was still no Messiah King yet to rule over them. They lived under the domination of various world powers, so they looked forward to the day when the Messianic King God promised would arrive and make things right for Israel, just like was described in Isaiah 9.

Now, in today’s story Matthew announces:

The time you’ve been waiting for has arrived! Here is that light that Isaiah was talking about. It’s Jesus! He has come to overcome the darkness of the world. A new day is dawning, even in the region of the shadow of death itself.

We learn in this statement that Jesus is a light for all kinds of people, not just Jewish folks. This area, where Jesus was beginning His ministry, was Jewish and pagan. It lay aside the international trade routes, with all kinds of people with all kinds of beliefs and religions walking around. Jesus, you see, had come for all people sitting in the darkness of this world. Everybody needs the Light. It’s worth noting also that the rabbis back then used “Light” as a name for the Messiah that was promised to come, and “Light” was used to describe God Himself. For instance, Psalm 27 begins with the line “the Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear?” And God’s glory is described as a great light.

So now we have this announcement: the Light has come. Old Testament prophecies fulfilled, and Matthew finishes this text “so from that time on Jesus began to preach saying ‘repent for the kingdom of Heaven,’” Matthew’s way of saying the kingdom of God, “’is at hand.’” In other words, God’s promised Light of salvation has arrived. “Turn to me,” Jesus says, “and enter into the kingdom of God’s light.” You see, God did not create you and me to live in darkness, but in His light. Darkness is talked of negatively in this passage for very good reason.

Everyone knows that we need light physically. Without the sun we’d freeze to death in the darkness. In the darkness, crops can’t grow, plants can’t go through the process to give off oxygen for us to breathe. We also know that we need light emotionally. We human beings become depressed when we’re living in darkness, when it’s gray out, in the gray and darkness of winter. Many of us have a “sad lamp” to try to overcome the depression. And isn’t it interesting that when things are bad or feeling bad we talk of them as “dark times”. Fear comes with that darkness as well, as we think of children being afraid of the dark. Light gives confidence. And we need light from an intellectual standpoint as well. We talk about it in that way. Light shows us the truth. For example, it shows us the bend in the road when we’re driving at night so we don’t go off the road or hit something that’s in the roadway. And we talk of then being “enlightened by the truth” in books and in science and so on. When something is revealed to us, we discover something, we talk of “the light goes on in our head” and how good that feels.

So that’s why darkness serves as such a good metaphor for humanity’s spiritual predicament. And it shows how important light is for us. Darkness represents (in the Bible) evil and ignorance and helplessness and hopelessness and lostness and death itself. When we live apart from God we’re living in the dark. We’re operating under the Prince of darkness, Satan. We stumble around in the darkness of sin and death, and we cannot get ourselves out of it even if we try. We are totally in the dark, ignorant, about how to fix it. Oh, we try artificial means to bring some light into our personal lives: money and possessions and relationships and success and doing good and being good, moral people and earning God’s favor. But these attempts don’t really work. They’re only temporary, fleeting, and they fall short. And when we look into our world and we see how dark it has become some days, we might turn to the government, or to economics, or education, or technology for the light, but they fall short as well.

As human beings created by God we need real Light, we need God’s Light to survive and live spiritually. That’s how we’re wired. Without His Light, we’re in a mess. We’re in a terrible predicament. And Matthew’s gospel announces to us “Light has arrived, His name is Jesus!” One day later on this Jesus will even refer to Himself as the “Light of the world”, that whoever comes to Him will not need to stumble around in the darkness. Jesus, you see, is the Light we need. His teaching and healing brings light. His suffering and dying and rising will give light and life to all who come to Him. You get around Jesus and His light exposes the truth of our sinfulness. It’s like sitting under the dentist’s lamp when going for a checkup: all the flaws in our face show up. His light turns us and leads us to the truth, not only about ourselves, but about God and God’s heart. He tells us when you’ve looked into His face you look into the face of God. And he talks to us of our need for God; that we’re incomplete without God in our lives. His light reminds us of what is good and true. It can be trusted for what is safe and what is unsafe. What is hard for us, what is good for us, life-giving. His light brings us a steady stream of joy, even in the midst of darkest circumstances, because His presence is with us and also in us.

Think about this: when Jesus died on the cross for our sin, darkness fell over the land, didn’t it? He was descending into darkness at that time so that we could be brought into His marvelous light, God’s eternal light. Someone once said “without Christ we’re like a ship lost in the open sea in a dense fog, groping around for the eternal shore, waiting with beating hearts for someone to dispel the darkness with the light of salvation.” And this is what Christ has done for us: He’s our light. The apostle Paul in Colossians describes believers in Christ as “saints who live in Christ’s light” and he says “Christ has delivered us from the domain of darkness. He’s transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Delivered, transferred from darkness into light. Christ is that Light.

I have a personal question for you today: are you living in the darkness or in the light? Have you been delivered and transferred out of darkness into the marvelous light of God? If your answer is “no, I’m in the dark,” there’s no need for you to sit in the darkness any longer. Let me assure you of that. There’s no need to be away from God and His Light. There’s no need to go through life fearful and scared and nervous and lost and hopeless, because the good news that’s announced to us today is “the Light has come!”

And how do we get in on the gracious gift of this light? Jesus tells us in his first sermon that was read in the passage: repent. To repent is basically to admit you can’t save yourself and come to the light of Jesus Christ. Turn to Him and believe in Jesus and what he’s done for you at the cross and the tomb. Don’t just come the Light though – walk in the Light. Follow Him the rest of your days. Listen and obey Him. You do that by daily opening those Gospels to let Him speak to you, to teach you. It’s the way to go. It’s a wise way to live, Old Testament scripture tells us, “God’s word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.” And share the Light with others. He shone the light of His love on you, now reflect His love to others with your own kind words and actions. And, of course, tell people about what He’s done for all of us; let that Light shine so that others might come to the saving light of Jesus Christ.

Oh friend, Jesus is the Light every one of us needs. God wants to light up your life and give you a brand new day. God wants to put this old gospel song in your life:

I wandered so aimless, life filled with sin
I wouldn’t let the dear Savior in
Then Jesus came like a stranger in the night
Praise the Lord! I saw the light!
Oh, I saw the light, I saw the light
No more darkness, no more night
Now I’m so happy, no sorrow in sight
Praise the Lord! I saw the light!
Praise the Lord! I saw the light!

Come to the Light of Jesus Christ! Come now!

Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer