Good News for Troubled Hearts

John 14:25-27

I have a riddle for you today. Can you name what I am describing? It is something a widower longs for and needs as he tries to go on without their beloved spouse. It is something parents need as they strive to raise their children correctly in a dangerous world of temptations and distractions. It is something the employee longs for who is being harassed at work on a daily basis and awakens each workday with a sense of dread and foreboding. It’s something a teenager desperately needs who is struggling to fit in, make the grade in school, and feel good about herself. It’s something a small child needs as he watches mom and dad argue. It is something the world has never had since the fall of Adam and Eve and, it never will on its own as hard as it may try.

So what is it? If you guessed peace, you are right! We long for peace in our world as political parties and nations rage against one another. We pray for peace in the lives of our loved ones as they face hardships. I have friends who battle depression and anxiety, and I pray they would receive peace of mind.

We also desire peace in our own lives. Sometimes we get so troubled and worried inside – even fearful – in our fight to raise children, battle health issues, wrestle with financial issues, or struggle with relational issues. I just read an article saying Americans are among the most anxious people on earth. As one teenager put it in this article, “We’re the first-generation who cannot escape our problems at all. We’re like little volcanoes. We’re getting this constant pressure from our phones, from our relationships, from the way things are in the world today.”

More people yearn for one thing more than anything else: inner peace. Without it they have no lasting happiness or security. You have to agree with me, life has gotten more complicated, and we are all looking for peace within.

In today’s passage, Jesus is promising peace to His disciples in a not-so-peaceful situation, in a not-so-peaceful world that hates Him. The anxiety and stress hung thick in the air that evening in the Upper Room when Jesus announced He would be leaving them to be arrested and crucified on a cross. Little did they understand the cross was all part of God’s plan to save His sin-sick world.

As Jesus tells them He’s leaving them, He also tells them they can’t come along. Of course, this made them feel troubled and afraid. They were filled with anxiety and fear. They had to be thinking, Leaving us? No! We’ll be on our own, abandoned, and alone. What will we do without Jesus? Oh, no!

The disciples had been with Jesus for three years, and they had a special bond of friendship they did not want to end. So they responded with their questions. Peter and Thomas both asked, Where are you going? Philip said, Lord, show us the Father, and that will satisfy us. Judas (not Iscariot) asked, How will you reveal yourself to us and not to the world. These men were very afraid and anxious about the present and the future without Jesus.

Jesus responds to their troubled hearts and minds with words of assurance. You will see me again someday. I am going to prepare a place for you in my Father’s house. I will come back and take you to me that where I am, you may be also. Nothing will end their relationship.

He went on to promise, I am giving you another Helper to be with you forever – the Holy Spirit. I won’t leave you orphaned. I’m coming to you. Those who love me and keep my word, my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

Finally, Jesus said these words that we read earlier:

I said these things to you while I’m still with you, but the helper, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.

The word Jesus uses here for the Holy Spirit is “Paraclete,” which has a wonderful cornucopia of meanings for us. It means advocate, helper, comforter, counselor. The Holy Spirit, Jesus says, will be with you like I have been with you to remind you of all I have said to you.

Who is He? He is God. He is Christ’s continuing presence with us, the Spirit of the living God. He is here to remind us of what Jesus said about the love of the Father for us. He directs us with His commandment to love one another as we have been loved. He is here to continually point you to the cross and the empty tomb. He reminds you that in Christ you have been died for, and you are a child of God forever. Nothing can separate you from His love. This Good News brings peace to the troubled soul.

Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, He is my peace given to you, my followers, as you live out your days in this broken world following and serving Me. The Holy Spirit = peace (Christ’s peace).

“Peace” was the usual Jewish greeting when friends met and parted, but Christ’s farewell words of peace were different from that which was current in the world. The peace the Spirit gives us is something deeper and more lasting. It is a peace which banishes anxiety and fear. It guards our hearts and our minds, according to the apostle Paul in the book of Philippians.

On this particular Sunday, we are celebrating a special day in the life of the Church called Pentecost. The book of Acts tells us the Lord’s promise was kept – the Holy Spirit has come. Those same disciples were in an Upper Room fifty days later in Jerusalem, waiting. Suddenly a great wind and tongues of fire hung over their heads, and they were empowered to preach the Gospel effectively in different languages. Peter gave a dynamite sermon, and three thousand people repented and received Christ that day.

The rest of the book of Acts describes the acts of the Holy Spirit in and through the disciples and those who came to believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord. Imagine the scene later on Pentecost evening when things quieted in the Upper Room. Andrew says to Peter, It’s true. We’re not really alone, are we? Peter responds, You’re right, little brother. He came just as Jesus said. Three thousand people! No way we could have done that! It’s only by the Spirit’s power. I’m sure of it. Peace replaced anxiety in the Upper Room. Peace filled the deepest part of their beings as they looked ahead to the difficult assignment, which lay before them, given by Jesus to make disciples of all the nations. They knew they were not alone. The Holy Spirit gave them His peace.

The Spirit’s presence and help continues. Over the centuries and around the globe, He continues to awaken faith in Christ as the Gospel message of Jesus is communicated to people. He continues to guide and lead, comfort and help, empower followers of Christ as they live for Him as His witnesses in the world. We hear about conversions all the time. Lives are being changed through the Gospel.

Author Lee Strobel tells of his conversion story and the difference God made in his life:

“My daughter, Alison, was five years old when I became a follower of Jesus. All she had known in those five years was a dad who was profane and angry. I remember I came home one night and kicked a hole in the living room wall just out of anger with life. I’m ashamed to think of the times my little girl hid in her room to get away from me.

“Five months after I gave my life to Christ, my little girl went to my wife and said, ‘Mommy, I want God to do for me what he’s done for daddy.’ At age five! What’s she saying? She never studied the archaeological evidence regarding the truth of the Bible. All she knew was that her dad used to be hard to live with. But more and more, her dad is becoming this way, and if that is what God does to people, then sign her up! At age five she gave her life to Jesus.”

So what are we to do with this wonderful news of the Holy Spirit, our peace giver? Jesus tells us, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled, and don’t be afraid.” Trust in Him and in His presence. We’re really not alone or abandoned. That, my dear friends, is our peace.

When I was a little boy, my dad made a bedroom for me in the basement of our home so I could have my own space. It was very dark down there and a lot of noise came from our furnace. It was very spooky. I was afraid, so my dad came down to be with me. I could sleep peacefully knowing someone – my dad – was with me. This is what the Holy Spirit does for us. He makes Himself known to us as we believe in Jesus.

Our call today is to believe in Jesus, and the same Holy Spirit will be present to guide you and empower you for witnessing. He will keep you in God’s peace. Pray each day for Him to breathe His life into you, fill your sails with His power and love to keep you confidently going, and shape you to be like Jesus – full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, which Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit. Living in God’s Word, let Him speak words of life into your soul, bring to remembrance and enlighten you with His grace and love. Pray He will guide you, direct you, and speak to you. It is simply a matter of yielding to the Spirit, a willingness to obey what He tells you in the Word. Then you will realize, like so many have, you are not alone. He is with you, and you can experience Christ’s promised peace, which passes all understanding.

My wife Julie and I attended a funeral last month for a stillborn baby. As we sat in the sanctuary with family and friends, sorrow and grief was in the air. The baby’s parents gave the eulogy, and it was remarkable! Yes, they were sad, but they were also filled with strength and peace. Where did their peace come from? They told us it was the peace of knowing Christ. It was Gospel peace, the peace of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God to strengthen, reassure, and promise them, You are not alone. Your little one is in good hands, and so are you. I am with you.

May you have that kind of peace in your life. The Spirit is available. You simply need to ask Him in. It’s like the old gospel song,

“Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
Melt me. Mold me. Fill me. Use me.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.”

May this be your prayer today.

This, my friend, is the way to find peace. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

I’ve Got a Whole New Outlook

Luke 24:44-53

The temple area in Jerusalem was abuzz. People were talking and asking questions about the disciples of Jesus. They were saying things like, Those guys are different now without their Master around. They don’t even seem like the same men from a few days ago when they came to the temple with Jesus.

As you read from the beginning of Luke chapter 24 all the way to the end, you can’t help but notice a change was happening in the disciples of Jesus. They moved from confusion, sorrow, and unbelief to great joy and faith. They were actually worshiping and praising God in the Jerusalem Temple! People had to have been scratching their heads and wondering, What in the world is going on with these guys? What’s come over them? After all, they had just gone through a horrific week watching the leader they trusted be crucified like a common criminal. Yet here they are praising God and being so joyful! What was behind those smiles, the praise, and the confidence that they exude?

I would like to invite you today to use your imagination with me a little bit. Let’s say there was a newspaper in that day called “The Jerusalem Post.” This paper heard of the odd, fascinating behavior of the disciples of the crucified Jesus, which had people talking. Sounding like a great human interest story, the editors of this good newspaper sent a reporter down to interview one of the disciples around the temple area.

The reporter stops James, the brother of John and asks him,

What gives here, James? Your leader, Jesus, has been crucified! Why aren’t you going back home to Galilee, back to your fishing business? Why stay in Jerusalem? And why are you acting so happy and worshiping in the temple every day among the same people who actually called for the blood of Jesus? Tell me, James; the public wants to know!

The reporter waits for James to respond. This is what I would imagine James would say:

Well, we’ve been given a whole new outlook from Jesus, Himself. You see, Jesus is alive! I know you think He is dead, but we have seen Him with our own eyes. We’ve even eaten with Him! He appeared to us more than once or twice.

So I’m here to tell you, Jesus was very dead, but He is now very much alive. We are praising God because He told us that anyone who trusts in Him will receive the gift of forgiveness and everlasting life.

Earlier on He said, “Because I live, you shall live also.” God confirmed this promise for us by raising Him from the dead. So as a follower of Jesus Christ, friend, I am heaven bound! Of course it makes me happy!

Besides that, the risen Jesus has explained everything to us now. He led us through an in-depth Bible study, which was a real mind opener and changed our perspective on all that happened. He said to us, “These are my words I spoke to you earlier that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened our minds to understand the whole of Scripture saying, “Thus it is written that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day.” Jesus helped us to understand that all of what has happened is a part of God’s plan. Even the cross was no accident, and neither was the resurrection.

You see, “must” is the key word here, which Jesus used a lot. All that happened to Him must happen because it is part of God’s plan. Earlier on He told us three times, “I must go and suffer and die, and on the third day, rise.” He kept saying, I must do this and I must do that. We didn’t understand then what He was talking about, but now, now we know He was carrying out His heavenly Father’s plan.

He filled us in on how the whole Old Testament points to Him. He is the fulfillment of God’s promises for the world, His rescue plan. He took us back to Genesis where God told Abraham, “I will bless you and your descendants to be a blessing to all the families of this broken world.” Jesus said this promise has been fulfilled in Him. He led us through Isaiah chapter 53 with the suffering servant who dies for the sins of sinners. He fulfilled that too. He told us of how His resurrection fulfilled Psalm 16, which describes One who is not overcome by the power of death.

In fact, He actually took us all the way through the Old Testament where we find Him in every book. • In Genesis He is the seed that crushes the serpent’s head, the promised blessing to the families of the earth.
• In Exodus He is the Lamb who saves His people from destruction.
• In Leviticus He is the scapegoat that takes on the sins of the people.
• In Numbers He is the bronze serpent on the pole that heals the snake-bitten Hebrew people.
• In Deuteronomy He is the spokesman, the prophet raised by God to be listened to.
• In the Psalms He is the cornerstone.
• In Isaiah He is the suffering servant by whom His wounds we are healed.
• In Jeremiah He is the righteous branch that saves.
• In Joel He is the Savior.
• In Amos He is the bringer of abundance.
• In Jonah He is the grace of God for all the nations.
• In Micah He is the King born in Bethlehem.
• In Habbakuk He is God’s anointed One who brings salvation.
• In Malachi He is the Son of Righteousness who comes in victory.

I know I didn’t cover all the Old Testament references, friend, but they are all there in Scripture. Jesus told us it all points to Him. We didn’t know it before, but now we know that God is in control of this broken world of ours. He wants to restore it to Himself. History is “His story.” God has His plan, and we are on God’s team. This is another reason why we are praising instead of grieving. All is well.

Jesus also told us that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in Christ’s name to all the nations. Repentance and forgiveness is our Good News. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Jesus paid for our sins on the cross and rose from the grave so we might be forgiven. Everyone who turns from their old dead-end ways to Jesus will see forgiveness, a new start, and eternal life.

Now, get this – Jesus commissioned US – the eleven of us – to get that message out to everyone! He told us we are witnesses of these things. In other words, we are His chosen team! This was really good news to us because with this commissioning He seemed to be saying that He forgives us and we are still “in” with Jesus. We have messed up and let Him down before, but He still wants to use us as His witnesses in the world. All is forgiven, and we are on His team. This was such a relief to hear! It was an honor and a privilege. This is why we are praising God. It is why we are happy.

Along with the commission, Jesus also gave us a big promise. He promised a Helper from the Father. So we are to stay in Jerusalem until we had been clothed with power from on high. We don’t have to do this on our own, for power is coming to help us work for Jesus. This helper is the Holy Spirit who will convict and convince people to repent and receive Christ.

We are excited, of course. When He comes, we will turn this world upside down. We will really be fishers of people as He promised we would be when He first called us.

I am joyful because He blessed me. After the Bible study, He took us to a mountaintop outside of town, lifted His hands, and pronounced His blessing upon us, like a priest giving a benediction that God will bless us and keep us, make His face shine upon us and be gracious to us, and give us His peace. It was an empowering moment for me to receive that blessing from Jesus. We go on the mission He has given us with His blessing!

But then came the grand finale. You may find it hard to believe, but we saw something which brought us to our knees in worship. As Jesus was blessing us, He was suddenly carried up into heaven. He disappeared into a cloud!

The cloud has always been a symbol of God’s presence. In the Old Testament, God led His people in a cloud. And I saw a cloud on the mountaintop with Jesus early in His ministry; God spoke to us from it. God didn’t speak this time, but we figured that Jesus was just withdrawing Himself from us visibly so He could somehow still be with us anytime, anywhere till the end of the age. Although Jesus would no longer visit us visibly as after the resurrection, He would still be with us in a mysterious way. Wherever we are, He is available to be called upon as we serve Him.

This is what He promised us. I’ve learned that He keeps His word. I have no reason to doubt that He is with me. Maybe He was talking about the Spirit He is sending us; I don’t know. My little brain can only fathom so many things. But what I do know is this: Jesus is the Son of God. He keeps His word. You can trust Him, and He can do anything. His ascension showed us just how big He really is and how big this whole thing is! He is now the Lord of heaven and earth. He is in charge, and by His grace I’m His and He is mine forever. Someday He will reappear in power and glory and all things will be new under His reign.

This is why we are in the temple every day praising God. Jesus has given us a whole new outlook on the past, the present and now the future! And in case you’re wondering why we’re not out there doing our job yet, He told us to wait. Jesus is Lord! So when the boss speaks, we listen and obey.

Hey, now that you’ve heard all of this, why don’t you join us in worshiping Him? Trust Jesus as your Savior and Lord for forgiveness. You’ll be glad you did!

Thanks for sticking with me in this imagined interview with James. While the interview is imagined, the truths he gave the reporter were not. It’s a fact: JESUS IS ALIVE! He is risen! Jesus has conquered death.

Eric Reed tells a funny story about Easter, 2003. Following the service, a woman approached the pastor and asked, “So what happened with Jesus after the resurrection?”

“Well, He ascended into heaven, and He’s still alive,” the pastor said.

“I know He was resurrected, but He’s alive?” she said.

“Yeah! He’s alive!”

“Alive! Why didn’t you tell me?”

For the next two weeks, she telephoned everyone she knew and exclaimed, “Jesus is alive! Did you know He’s alive?”

Well, He is, and no moment of your life will be faced alone when you’re trusting in Christ Jesus.

Trusting in the risen Christ, you are heaven bound, just like James said. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. He’s carried out God’s salvation plan from the very beginning. Everything points to Jesus.

Trusting in Him means eternal life, which begins here and now and goes all the way into eternity. Turning to Him in repentance and placing your trust in Him means a clean slate with God, the forgiveness of sins, a new start.

Jesus is Lord. He’s the beautiful Savior, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords that we sing about in our hymns. At His ascension, Jesus was installed in a position of absolute rule. In the Apostles’ Creed, we say He sits at the right hand of the Father. It’s a way of saying He’s in authority. All men and women in His creation live under His rule. His reign trumps all other thrones, principalities, and powers because Jesus is Lord of all. He is the beginning and the end. All authority is His, and He holds us in the palm of His hands. This is our joy and our confidence. We follow Him.

The world may look hopeless as you listen to the news, and it may feel like evil is winning over good, but dear friend, nothing could be further from the truth. In the end God wins. He’s in charge.

This is our Good News for today! Jesus is alive! The plan has been carried out. He is Lord. All is well. When the disciples had their minds opened to this great truth, they had a new outlook on life.

My hope is that today’s passage and message help give you a whole new outlook on life. Sorrow, fear, and discouragement do not have to be the final word in your life. Jesus is alive and present for you. He’s Lord – your Lord. He’s powerful and mighty, so trust the Good News. Turn to Him daily for strength, peace, and joy because He is there for you!

Did you notice what the disciples did in response to Jesus’ resurrection and ascension? They believed and worshiped Jesus. They bowed down, submitted to Him, worshiped Him as the Son of God. Worship in this case was a posture, not just a bunch of singing – which is fine, but they worshiped Him. They submitted their lives to Him.

So can you. By the power of the Holy Spirit, you can believe in Him, bow before Him, and give Him the honor and praise He deserves. So can you enter a church and give God blessing and praise for all He has done on a Sunday morning or whatever day of the week you want.

They also obeyed Jesus’ command to stay in Jerusalem and wait for power from on high. So can you obey His commands to love God above all else and neighbor as self, to love one another as He has loved us. Because if you’re in Christ, Christ lives in you and you are powered by His Spirit.

The disciples said yes to the call, the commission, to bring the Good News of Jesus to all the nations, telling them what He’s done for us. So can you.

Friends, the goal for today was to give you a new outlook with this Good News. He is alive! Jesus is Lord! I appeal to you by the Spirit’s power to join James, the other disciples, and the millions of others since in trusting in Jesus Christ. Worship and obey Him, serve Him and live with a whole new victorious outlook on life. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

The Door to Abundant Life

John 10:7-10

Grace and peace are always for you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

All our lives, we have heard messages from the church the biblical truth that God loves broken sinners, and that is gloriously true. We stake our faith on this truth. But today I want to talk with you about the rhythms of the abundant life, which Jesus Christ offers to all believers. Where and how do we experience transformation and newness in the presence of the Holy Spirit?

First, we experience the abundant life when we drop our baggage.

It has been my privilege as a Christian pastor to listen to people share their life stories. So many people carry heavy burdens. Have you ever carried something very heavy for a long distance? Sometimes, until you put it down, you don’t realize how heavy it was or even that you were still carrying it.

The Word of God says, “Cast all your care upon him, for he cares for you” (I Peter 5:7). So many people have wounds from past hurts, difficult experiences of childhood, broken relationships, loneliness, feelings of resentment, guilt, shame, a cloud of grief over lost loved ones or even self-hatred.

Jesus has forgiven you. The One who went to the cross forgives us so we might be empowered to forgive ourselves. Please know this: The abundant life Jesus offers us can never be lived by looking through the rearview mirror. Press forward, believer, and experience the abundant life Jesus has in mind.

The second area to experience the abundant life is when we walk in the power of the Holy Spirit.

This past Easter Sunday, some of our family was home for the holiday. In the afternoon, the grandchildren flew kites in our backyard. Glorious color rose to float in the blue sky empowered and lifted up by the wind. The kites had no power to fly on their own; it was the power of the wind that lifted them to soar.

So also in our Christian life. We don’t have the power to become all God intended for us to be without the indwelling and life-giving power of the Spirit. Breathe it in. Confess to God so you may receive it gladly. Ask God to show you where the Spirit’s power needs to be released so you might be lifted up to new rhythms of life. Acts 1:8 says, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be my witnesses.”

Sometimes the Spirit comes like a dove gently resting on our soul, or like oil anointing our body, flowing over us, till it covers us with the fragrant scent of God’s perfume. Sometimes when the Spirit comes, it’s like standing under a waterfall. The sheer force, exhilaration, refreshment, and cleansing of the Spirit as it pours over us is amazing!

God’s promise to St. Paul was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in your weakness” (II Cor. 12:9). Three times Paul asked God to remove his thorn in the flesh. What was it – a secret sin? A physical illness? A character flaw? A nagging temptation? We’re not sure. But we know this truth that God said, My grace is more than adequate for what you wrestle with. More that than, God’s power is made perfect in our human weakness. We need the power of the Holy Spirit.

I have a friend who works in prison ministry doing spiritual retreats. He tells of a friend he met in one of those retreats – a Christian businessman who says, “I’m on a first-name basis with the Holy Spirit. So I just call Him ‘Holy.’ Do you know the Christian country song, “Jesus, Take the Wheel”? The Christian businessman says, “Each day I surrender to the Spirit’s leading and ask Jesus’ Spirit to take the wheel. So I climb into the passenger seat of my life. I look over, and Holy is in the driver’s seat. Do you know what? Holy is a crazy driver. He says to me, ‘We’re going to Russia.’ I tell Holy, ‘I’m too busy; I don’t have time.’ But now I’ve made multiple trips over there to share the Gospel. Holy says, ‘We’re going to Uganda, Africa,’ and now, together with other Christian believers from my church, we’ve established a mission partnership there.”

This man is a construction company owner, and he is always short of help. So Holy led him to buy a house, hire a spiritual director, and receive men who have completed their prison term to come live in the house. They then join, by their decision, an intentional Christian community. The Christian construction owner gives them work, but in that community, they also have shared lives, meals, friendship, Bible study, and prayer. Together they have their character in Christ deepened in that way.

Holy is a crazy driver. Is He directing your life? The abundant life is an adventure led by the Holy Spirit where we understand how we are to serve God’s mission.

The third area to experience the abundant life is  to walk in the Word of God. We need to know the Story, know God’s will and wisdom for us, and walk in harmony and in obedience to God. We need to know God’s promises for us.

A U.S. plantation owner from the 19th century had a wonderful friendship with one of his former slaves. When the plantation owner died, he left $50,000 inheritance to the former slave. It would be like $500,000 today. A lawyer for the man who passed away notified the former slave of his gift. Weeks went by, but the beneficiary of the inheritance never touched a dime.

Finally, the banker called the man and said, “I’m just reminding you, you have $50,000 to use or spend for anything you might want or need.” The former slave asked the banker, “Do you think I can have enough money to buy a meal of corn?” The man had never handled a dollar in his life. He had no concept, no comprehension of money or its value. Therefore, he had no understanding of how rich he was.

The Word of God says that we as believers have received the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ. We need to know the Word so we know all the beautiful promises made by God and guaranteed by the blood sacrifice of Christ on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. We have inherited so much from God because of the love of Jesus Christ.

But we need also to walk in harmony with the Word in obedience to God. No one who lives in defiant disobedience can fully experience the abundant life Jesus offers. So I encourage us to do two things.

• Learn to listen for Jesus’ voice and obey Him.
• When the thief comes to steal and kill and destroy, tell the devil to go to hell where he belongs. Tell him in the name and power of Jesus Christ to leave you alone, and then pray Jesus will fill you with His Spirit and guide you in the path of obedience. When we walk in obedience to the Word, claim it, and cling to the promises of God, we begin to experience the abundant life God wants for us.

The fourth area to walk in abundance, we must walk in the Law God gives. Receive it gladly and freely love everyone God brings to you. In Romans 8:32 we read these powerful words, “God who did not spare his only Son, but gave him to us to die, will he not also, with Jesus, freely give us all things? Who will separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ?” Answer, nothing. No one is going to condemn us; no one is going to reject us. We are more than conquerors. Nothing can separate us from God’s love. It is unconditionally enveloping us. His favor is for us.

In the love God has for us, we learn to love ourselves. So many people don’t like themselves. If only they could see themselves as God sees them – His beautiful, gifted, precious child! We learn to love ourselves because we receive God’s love for us and believe it. It is the power of God’s love flowing into us that empowers us to love all people – not just the people who live close to you, are in your family or in your friends circle, but every person God brings to you in the power of His Spirit. Let the love of God flow through you to that person.

The fifth area of abundance is flying after Jesus every day of life.

I recently had a conversation with a retired DNR agent from north-central Iowa. He told the story about his boys.

When they were growing up, someone brought a little gosling goose who had just hatched but was abandoned by its mother on a cold and rainy day. They asked their dad about this wet, scrawny, shivering gosling, “Can we keep it, dad?” he nodded.

They borrowed mom’s hair dryer and warmed that little goose up. Then they put it under a heat lamp in a box, put water out, and ground feed for it. They played with it, and the goose imprinted on the boys. Mary might have her little lamb, but these boys had the goose follow them everywhere they went.

When it was time for the goose to fly, one boy held the goose on the ground holding its wings, and the other boy ran as fast as he could across the grassy meadow. When the boys were about 50 yards apart, the other brother let the goose go. The goose ran on his flat feet as fast as he could go, and then nature took over. His wings came out, and he started to flap them until he flew to the boy, landed in front of him, and waited for him to catch up. Then he flapped his wings and flew again.

From then on, the goose followed them everywhere. Whether they rode their bikes or jogged through the meadow, the goose flew by their shoulder. The goose was imprinted to them.

Through the cross of Jesus and His gift of grace and salvation, we are imprinted to Jesus Christ. We owe Him our life, and all our life we fly after Him, following Him in loyal service to be His friend, to do whatever He asks of us, to work for this King.

Jesus said, “I am the door. If you pass through me, you will be saved. I come that you might have abundant life.”

When I was four years old, my father was the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Belmond, Iowa. My Sunday school teacher was an older woman named Mrs. Kirkendall. She taught us a song that I still have in my heart.

♪One door and only one
and yet its sides are two.
I’m on the inside,
on which side are you?♬

Are you on the inside of the door of Jesus Christ?

An old farmer met with his doctor and received the difficult diagnosis that he had terminal cancer and was going to die soon. So he went to his pastor and shared this difficult news. He was troubled because, though he had been a faithful churchman all his life, he didn’t have peace or assurance that he was okay with God.

The pastor shared with the farmer this passage from John 10. “Jesus said, ‘I am the door. Come in through me and be saved. I have come to give you abundant life.’” The farmer and the pastor prayed together a prayer that the farmer had confessed all his life, but yet again with fresh resolve.

Dear Jesus,
Thank you for forgiving me my sins, for dying on the cross, for being raised from the dead, and for the promise that You give me life forever. In Your name. Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg

The Mark of Authenticity

John 13:31-35

I recently attended an event held by the local historical society. I don’t typically go to those kinds of things, but I was invited by a friend who knew I would find it interesting. The speaker that night was the curator for the Minnesota Twins baseball team. (I am a huge Twins fan.) This man, named Clyde, had been with the team a long time, and he had some fascinating stories to tell about some of the players, owners, and managers he had gotten to know.

One thing he taught us as baseball fans was how to tell whether a signed baseball or jersey was authentic. He explained it would have certain marks that would tell the truth. He talked about hologram tags and other signs to look for. It was fascinating!

It got me thinking about the church. What would you say are the identifying marks – the hologram tags – of an authentic Christian? In today’s passage, Jesus tells us the answer to that question.

Jesus is in the Upper Room with His eleven disciples (Judas has gone off to betray Him). Jesus tells them He is about to be glorified. With Judas’s departure, events were set into motion. The cross and resurrection were Jesus’ glorification, and the glorifying of God the Father. His perfect obedience – carrying out the plan of salvation – was His glorification.

Jesus was also glorified at the resurrection. He was exalted by His Father, held up for all to believe and worship. This glorified Jesus.

Later on, after the resurrection, Jesus told His disciples, “I’ve been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go make disciples” (Matt. 28:18-19). Jesus is identifying Himself as the Glorified One, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the One with authority. Jesus’ resurrection at Easter is the proof.

Since Jesus really is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, He deserves my trust and my obedience. This Glorified One wants you and me, as His followers, to carry out a new command. “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another.”

The word “new” means literally fresh. Not that it’s absolutely new in time, but it’s fresh. What makes it fresh?

We’ve been taught by the Lord Jesus about loving God above all things – heart, soul, strength, and mind – loving neighbor, even loving enemies. Now we see Him talking about loving one another, meaning the Christian community. He’s talking to His disciples, the future Church. He knew the disciples very well – their selfish motivations, and their desire for personal status and greatness, their tendencies to live for themselves. In order to keep them together and carry out the Great Commission, they would need to truly work at loving one another first.

Jesus uses the word “Agape” for love in this commandment. (Greeks used three other kinds of words for love as well.) Agape is not about emotions and affections, but is an act of the mind. It requires a commitment. It is a decision and a verb: To love. It means to sacrificially give yourself away for the sake of someone else.

Upon closer examination, you will find all kinds of “one anothers” in the New Testament: Encourage one another; teach one another. They all stem from this new commandment: Love one another. But Jesus takes it a little further, which is what really makes it new.

Love one another AS I HAVE LOVED YOU.

A pattern exists here for us – founded in Jesus. As Jesus has loved us, love one another. Jesus had just washed their feet. It was the act of a servant in those days, a menial task, a lowly servant’s job. Yet Jesus washed the feet of His disciples in the Upper Room prior to making this statement.

He also loved them in the everyday routine of life with His patience and His kindness. He shared all He had heard from His Father with them. He showed them the Father’s love.

His love also involved the heroic. He laid down His life in love for them. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. I call you my friend” (John 15:13-14). He laid down His life for us. So the love Jesus is commanding here encompasses everything from the lowly and the routine all the way to the heroic, and every self-giving act in between.

By the way, this love is not given on the basis of merit. Notice, Jesus also washed the feet of those who will fail Him miserably. First, we find Judas who will betray Him. Even while knowing what was ahead, Jesus washed Judas’ feet. If you believe yourself to have a valid excuse not to love a particular person in your church, just consider the context in which Jesus has spoken this command: He washed the feet of Judas!

We also find Peter who denied knowing Jesus three times and the others who failed to stand by Him in His hour of greatest distress. Yet Jesus washed their feet and laid down His life for them in order to pay for their sinfulness and everyone else’s at the cross. This is an amazing, gracious love!

Love one another as I have loved you.

This is His orders to those of us who call ourselves His followers.

This commandment is so simple to remember, but not always so easy to obey. We say, Sure, I can love. I can love! And it is easy to love people with whom we agree or are partial to. But what about the rest of the folks we come into contact with? What about the unlovable types, the odd ones, the quirky ones, the irritating ones, the trouble makers? It’s easier to love those who are lovable.

We are often drawn to make boundaries as to whom we will love. We find personal attacks, criticisms, and name-calling within the church. Our own selfish interests trump the common good of the Christian community and ruin the health of the church. People in need of compassion find judgment instead. Those in need of help find apathy or disregard as we reason, Let somebody else get involved and take care of them.

I have such pride and ego. (I imagine you do, too!) I can easily get involved with some very destructive “one another’s” in the community. It must break Jesus’ heart.

In an article I read, Pastor Ray Ortland identifies some of the “one anothers” you don’t find in the New Testament, but unfortunately are found in the church today.

Scrutinize one another
Pressure one another
Embarrass one another
Corner one another
Interrupt one another
Sacrifice one another
Defeat one another
Shame one another
Judge one another
Run one another’s lives
Confess one another’s sins
Intensify one another’s sufferings
Point out one another’s failings

This commandment to love is difficult. Yet, it is doable. This is good news! For while it is impossible to follow this command perfectly (for we are both saints and sinners), it is possible to obey this concept of love. While we may not feel a certain affection for some people, we can step up and help them out of obedience to Christ, whether we feel like it or not! The emphasis is not on feeling the emotion of love, but acting on it. This is what Jesus is asking of us.

We can truly obey this command, then, when Christ enters into our lives. When “it is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me,” as the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 3:20, I am empowered. Jesus promises to work in us producing the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, generosity.

As with all the commandments, this one ultimately requires us to rely on God’s grace. We cannot do it by our own abilities. We pray for grace to keep it and for grace when we fail. But we still work to carry it out for our King of Kings and our Lord of Lords who has done so much for us!

Why is this commandment to love one another as He has loved us so important for us to keep? Jesus explains: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples . . .” The word “love” is the mark, the badge, the hologram tag, the defining characteristic of an authentic believer in Christ. John Piper has written, “. . . if you declare yourself openly to be a disciple of Jesus . . . then your love for others will be decisive in showing that you are real.” Love confirms your profession of faith in Jesus is real.

Jesus is quite clear on this. It’s not our theological correctness; it’s not by our moral purity, or by our impressive knowledge that everyone will know we are His disciples. It is quite simply by our acts of love, service, and sacrifice. These acts point others to the love of God for the world, which is made known in Jesus.

Maybe you have heard this statement from an unbeliever, Who you are speaks so loudly, I cannot hear what you’re saying. How true it is!

Following Jesus’ commandment to love one another also serves as an attraction, a light to those around us. We live in a polarized, individualized, broken, hurting, lonely world. Loving one another is an opportunity to shine for Christ, attract others to Him. Let us not contribute to the polarization in this world, but be a light and a refuge in the name of Jesus Christ as we love one another. This is what Jesus had in mind for His Church.

A great theologian once said, The Church exists to be a provisional display of God’s original intentions for his world. Loving God and loving one another is His original intention. Some people in this world around us may never open or read the Bible. Yet, they are reading us, and so we need to ask ourselves if they are able to see the love of Christ in us. Do we let our light so shine that people see Jesus and give glory to the Father in heaven? Loving one another as Christ has loved us is the real litmus test.

Finally, it’s important to love one another as Christ has loved us because together we stand strong as the Church of Jesus Christ. We need each other in order to grow and thrive in our relationship with Jesus and in our service to Jesus in the world.

In her book, Grapes of Wrath or Grace, Barbara Brokhoff tells the story of a group of American tourists who were taking a bus tour in Rome. Their first stop was at a basilica in the Piazza, which was surrounded by several lanes of relentless Roman traffic. After they were all safely dropped off, the group climbed the steps and took a tour of the church. Then they spread out to board the bus, which was now parked across the street from the church. The frantic guide shouted for the group, “Stay together! You cross one by one, they hit you one by one. But if you cross together, they think you’ll hurt their car, and they won’t hit you.” Much can be said for the strength of unity – especially unity in Jesus Christ.

Some people wonder if Jesus’ disciples followed through and obeyed the commandment Jesus gave them. My answer is found in the first few chapters of the book of Acts and the letters of Peter, Paul, and John. There is a strong emphasis on taking care of one another and loving one another. It is what they strove to do. They held it up as a value and taught others to do the same.

Later on, even after the disciples were gone, Tertullian, a Christian leader, wrote, “It is our care for the helpless, our practice of loving kindness that brands us in the eyes of our opponents. ‘Look!’ they say, ‘how they love one another. Look at how they are prepared to even die for one another!’”

More importantly than the disciples in the early Church is a question for you and me. We know they obeyed and they worked at loving one another as Christ loved them. But after having studied these words of Jesus today, what about you? If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? What does this kind of love look like?

Take Sunday morning worship for instance. Julie and I visited an area church lately, and from the moment we stepped inside the door until we left, people were embracing and offering handshakes, welcomes, and smiles. People were praying for one another and offering to pray for us. It was heavenly. It was love as Christ describes it.

In day-to-day life, the church shows love by taking care of one another. A wife and mother died leaving behind two boys and a grieving husband. The congregation delivered food every day for many, many, many weeks.

There’s the card sent or phone call made saying, I’m thinking about you and praying for you. Know you’re loved.

I think of a family whose house burned down. A couple in our congregation had a large house and offered to let them move in until they were back on their feet. “Consider our home, your own.” This is what Jesus had in mind when He talked about loving one another as He has loved us.

My dear friends in Christ, it’s just as the old song says:
♪”They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”♬

Love one another as Christ has loved us. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Security!

John 10:22-33

A painful thing in life, which people struggle with, is the matter of insecurity. I suspect we all have an insecurity or two rolling around in our heads and a variety of questions we wonder and worry about:
• Am I doing good enough at work?
• Have I saved enough?
• Have I done a good job of raising my kids and taking care of my family?
• Am I pretty enough (or handsome) enough?
• Am I smart enough to do that?
• Will my health be well enough to take care of myself as I get older?
• Is my heart well enough to avoid a stroke or heart attack?
• Do my kids love me enough to take care of me if I need their help?
• When I die, will my spouse have enough money and capability to take care of herself (or himself)?
• Am I safe enough in this troubled and violent world?
• Have I done enough good to be received into heaven?

The list goes on and on. Living in this broken world of ours makes it difficult to avoid having a few insecurities.

Did you notice the word “enough” seems to be a major culprit in our insecurities? Our questioning? It implies a sense of inadequacy.

One of my favorite preachers of God’s Word, Stuart Briscoe, said a number of years ago, “Deep down, we have a sense of individual insecurity to cooperate with other people.” Maxwell Maltz who wrote the book, “Psycho Cybernetics,” estimates 95% of people in our society have a strong sense of inadequacy. I have no difficulty believing that figure. My only surprise is why the other 5% aren’t feeling insecure.

Jesus, in our passage for today, has some reassuring words, which have proven helpful for me in facing – even overcoming – insecurities in life. I’m sure you will find them helpful for yourself as well.

The words stem from a conversation Jesus was having with some of His adversaries who are trying very hard to wreck His reputation and ministry. They even went so far as to do Him in once and for all. They surrounded Him in Solomon’s colonnade around the temple area and asked, “How long will you keep us in suspense, Jesus? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

Jesus responded to them by saying, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you refuse to believe because you are not among my sheep.”

Then Jesus speaks these wonderful words about the blessing of belonging to Him as one of His sheep.

My sheep hear my voice. So many voices speak out to us, offering misguided, harmful information that can harm us saying, Follow my advice and wisdom, and I will show you how to live the good life.

Satan is always busy seeking to make a wreck of our lives and destroy us. He throws temptations our way and says, Go ahead! Give into it. You will enjoy it. Nobody will get hurt. You deserve it!

Jesus promises to speak into our lives. He is our Shepherd. Though usually not audibly, He speaks to us as we open His holy Word. He assures us of His love. He shows us His way. His voice is a voice of wisdom and truth, which protects me, guides me, and gives me real life. It is the voice of real love reassuring me that I belong to Him.

I recently read this story by David Prince.

I know a family who adopted an older child from an unspeakably horrific orphanage in another country. When they brought her home one of the things they told her was she was expected to clean her room every day. She fixated on the responsibility and saw it as a way to earn her family’s love. In other words, she isolated the responsibility and applied it to her existing frame of thinking, which was shaped by life in the orphanage. Thus, every morning when her parents came to her room, it was immaculate. She would sit on the bed and say, “My room is clean. Can I stay? Do you still love me?” Her words broke her new parents’ hearts. Eventually the girl learned to hear her parents’ words as their unconditionally beloved child who would never be forsaken.

After she knew she was a part of the family, even correction and discipline did not cause her to question her family’s love for her. She understood it to be a part of what it meant to be in the family.

When we belong to Jesus as His sheep and place our trust in Him, we are considered adopted children of God, no matter what.

I know my sheep. Think of that. If you are walking with Jesus Christ, you are not just another face in the crowd. He knows you. He knows your name. He knows what is going on in your life. You are precious and important in His sight. He knows everything about you, and He loves you.

Walt Handelsman of the Times-Picayune in New Orleans wrote a story about Pulitzer prizewinning cartoonist, Jeff McNally, the creator of the comic strip, Shoe.

“I once received a call from editorial cartoonist Mike Peters complimenting me on a cartoon of mine. He said Jeff McNally and he had just been talking about how much they liked my cartoon. When I got off the phone, I told my editor that was a highlight of my career. Just knowing someone like Jeff McNally knew who I was. It is hard to explain, but to have someone great know who you are brings a sense of significance to life.”

My dear friends, Jesus Christ, the Lord of the universe, knows you by name. He knows everything about you, and He loves you anyway.

My sheep follow me. When Jesus is in a person’s life, He is there to lead them. Like the shepherd in Psalm 23, Jesus leads us beside still waters to green pastures. He leads us down right paths for His namesake. I don’t know about you, but oh, how I need that!

He is the leader I can truly trust. He is the leader who went to the cross for me. He is there for me, looking out for me, and He has all power and wisdom. With a voice of divine authority, Jesus announces, “And I give them eternal life.” When a person trusts in Jesus, they receive a new life. It is what He calls the abundant life – a life lived in the presence of a loving God and Father.

They will never perish. This life with God has longevity, eternity. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Not even death can steal my sheep from me, Jesus is saying. No one can snatch them out of my hand (not the evil one, not death – nothing in all creation!) My sheep are My sheep, and I am their Good Shepherd. Jesus’ strong hand holds His followers tightly.

Notice: His hand is nail pierced. It reassures me. I have been bought with a price. His innocent and precious blood was shed at the cross for me.

No one is able snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I am His forever. This, my dear friends, always gives me a deep, confident sense of security. When life appears to be coming apart at the seams, it seems to be going totally out-of-control, I don’t know where to turn, and I am sensing a bit of panic, I remember that I have a Good Shepherd. He knows me. I am His, and He is mine. Nothing can snatch me away from His love.

At the end of His speech, Jesus says something that made His listeners get so angry, they picked up stones and tried to kill Him . . .

I and the Father are one. Jesus is claiming deity. He is God. They reject His statement as blasphemy, a total falsehood, which was deserving of being stoned to death according to Jewish law.

But you and I know, Jesus was not blaspheming. The resurrection on Easter proves that. He and the Father are one. Jesus is the Son of God. His claims were endorsed, and He was vindicated when God raised Him from the dead on the third day after His death on the cross where He paid for our sins.

As I read these words of Jesus and the response of His audience wanting to stone Him, I can’t help but be reminded of some words written earlier in the Gospel of John, the first chapter.

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, yet the world didn’t know him. He came to his own and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him and believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:1-3, 11-12).

Even though He is still rejected by many today, the One who clearly states, “I and the Father are one,” wants to be received and believed by all. So we, who were children of wrath because of our sinfulness, might become children of God trusting in the One who said, “If you’ve seen me, you have seen the Father.”

Now, our belief in Jesus as the Son of God is not a simple intellectual assent, as some might think. It’s trusting Him. Trusting in all He has done for you at the cross and at the grave. It is betting the farm on Him. It’s giving your life over to His care and to His leading. It’s stepping into a personal relationship, surrendering with the risen Jesus Christ who wants to befriend you and give you life.

Yes, it’s true. Life’s challenges and the world’s brokenness can stir up insecurity storms within us. Jesus knew that about us. He knew that we human beings are sheep. We are helpless, prone to nibble ourselves lost, easily led astray, and not as smart as we think we are. But, He wants you to know that, when He is the Shepherd of your life, you have promises you can count on. I encourage you to daily claim these words of assurance He gives you in this passage.

Bob, I know you. You are valuable and precious in my sight. I know what you’re going through. I know your strengths; I know your weaknesses. I know you, Bob, like an open book.

Betty, I have such a good word for you. Just open your Bible to Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, and let me speak into your life. I will lead you down the right paths. I am with you. Follow me and serve me.

John, I have given you eternal life, a life lived in the presence and steadfast love of my Father. You were separated from God by your sinfulness, but it has been taken care of. I suffered and died on a cross and rose again so you could be His and live with the Father.

Julie, you are mine forever and ever. You will die someday, it’s true, but it’s not the end of your story. There is a place prepared for you. I’ve prepared it in my Father’s heaven.

I know, Sam, that this world sometimes seems dark, evil, and undefeatable. But know this: I’m stronger than anything in this whole wide world. I will not allow anyone or anything to snatch you from out of my hand. Nothing – absolutely nothing – can separate you from me.

I want to end this message for today with a statement Christian songwriter and singer Twila Paris made in an interview. I think it’s very profound for us.

“We human beings are so security oriented. Whether it is conscious or not, we all need and want security in our lives. From the time we were born, we were clinging to something. That’s okay, but we must cling to the right thing. When we are holding onto Jesus, that’s when we’re holding on to real hope.”

Amen to that!

Pastor Steve Kramer

Restored!

John 21:1-9

“Do you love me?” This question is asked in almost every human heart. We all have a deep need to feel loved and to know we’re loved. We need to hear that we’re loved.

“Do you love me” can be a painful question for us to be asked, especially when it comes from those with whom we are close. It implies we have not communicated our love very well. When a wife asks a husband, or a child asks a parent this question, it’s painful.

I am reminded of a funny story I heard about a Scandinavian couple named Ole and Lena.

Scandinavians are not exactly known to be very demonstrative. Well, Ole and Lena had been married forty years, and Lena was barely surviving on a starvation diet of affection from Ole.

One day she broke down at the dinner table and said, “Ole, do you love me?”

Ole responded sternly, “Lena, when we were married, I told you I loved you. If I change my mind, I’ll let you know.”

Poor Lena. ☺

“Do you love me” is a question being asked by Jesus in today’s story. It was early morning a few days after Jesus had shown the disciples that He was resurrected from the dead. Seven of the disciples had been out on a fishing trip all night. A misty fog hovered over the waters as they headed toward shore with no fish to show for their efforts. They had gotten skunked. Suddenly they saw this figure. Someone was standing on shore and shouted out to them, “Catch any fish, boys?”

“No, they responded. Then He told them to throw their net on the right side of the boat and they would get some fish. Surprisingly, they did! The next thing they knew, the net was full of big fish, and they were having trouble hauling it in.

John, who liked to call himself “the one whom Jesus loves,” said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” Peter immediately jumped out of the boat and swam to shore on his own leaving the others behind with a huge catch of fish. He’s in a rush to get to Jesus.

When they got to the beach, they saw Jesus who was cooking fish and bread over a fire. “Bring some of your fish and let’s eat breakfast together,” Jesus said. They sat with Jesus around the charcoal fire quietly eating breakfast, but they didn’t dare ask Him Who are you? for they knew it was Him.

It strikes me as odd that they’d even want to ask the question for they had already encountered Him twice since the empty tomb, according to John’s Gospel. He was obviously transformed physically in some way after the resurrection.

Then came Jesus’ question to Peter – and not once, but three times.

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

The first two times Peter responded, “Yes, Lord. You know I love you.”

After the third time, Peter was grieved. “You know everything! You know that I love you.” I wonder, if something was coming back to him as he smelled that charcoal fire. He was being asked this question in front of everyone else. It’s like he had been in this place before. It was uncomfortable.

Notice also, three times Jesus also gives a commission, an important job, to Peter. “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.” In other words, Take care of my Church and bring others who are not yet in the kingdom of God so they might know Me and be rescued for eternity.

It is important to notice of what is actually happening in this scene. Peter, you remember, denied knowing Jesus three times as he stood around the charcoal fire in the high priest’s courtyard the dark Thursday night when Jesus was arrested and stood trial. A rooster crowed after the third time, just as Jesus had predicted.

Now Peter stands among the other disciples and three times he is publicly asked, “Do you love me?” Three times Peter replies, “Yes,” and Jesus gives him an important ministry to carry out as a disciple. An absolution is, in fact, taking place. Peter is receiving forgiveness and grace as he is given a second chance and restored into the community of disciples.

I think it was Max Lucado who entitled a chapter about the story in one of his books with these words: “The Lord of the Second Chance.” It’s true, Jesus is that. But He is not just Lord of the second chance, but also Lord of the third and the fourth and the fifth and sixth and seventh chance as well. His mercy is freely given to us when we let Him down.

At this outdoor breakfast meeting, we see Peter receiving restoration, forgiveness, and a very meaningful job – preach the Good News of Jesus Christ. He will be pastoring the people whom the Lord wants to rescue. He will be watching over them and nurturing them into becoming effective disciples of Christ.

Jesus concluded the conversation with a prediction that must have caused Peter and the others to take a big anxious gulp. The future would not be easy, Peter is told. Jesus said it this way: “I tell you the truth (this is what’s going to happen).” He describes Peter’s own crucifixion, which will glorify God.

Then came the words Peter had heard three years before when it all started for him with Jesus: “Follow me.” It’s in the present imperative, meaning, Keep on following me, no matter what – even if there’s a cross. Spend the rest of your days following me daily. Be willing to ultimately sacrifice your life to bring glory to God.

As we know from the New Testament, Peter faithfully did just that. He did not do it perfectly. He was constantly being faced with his shortcomings – sinfulness and pride – as we all are. Like us, he was a saint and a sinner who still had much to learn about kingdom living. Yet God used Peter in a mighty way as He filled him with the promised Holy Spirit of God and let him loose on a surprised world. What an impact Peter made for Jesus Christ!

As a follower of Jesus. I find this story to be both relieving and challenging. Let me explain . . .

I find that I let Jesus down frequently, in a variety of creative ways. However, as with Peter, undeserved forgiveness from Jesus awaits me. For instance, each time I have a time of confession, I am reminded that, although I profess love for Jesus and promise to love my neighbor, I don’t do a very good job of showing love. Like Peter, I can be self-serving, afraid, prideful, lacking in faith, looking out for my own safety and survival. The truth is, I am a mess before a holy, perfect, righteous God.

But it’s not the end for me – or for you for that matter. Just like Peter in our story, I find absolution – words of forgiveness made possible by the cross of Christ where my sins were paid for once and for all. I have the assurance that I still belong to Jesus and to His Church. He loves me, weak and sinful person I am. Awe. I find such freedom and relief in this absolution! Thank you Jesus.

I am also recommissioned and reminded that I have been redeemed by God for a purpose, just like Peter. I have been given the privilege to once again do important, meaningful work that matters – kingdom-of-God work. I will work to bring the Good News of Jesus to others around me beginning with my children, my grandchildren, my friends, others in my family and those with whom I work. I am considered “on call” for Jesus, to go public for Him. I will let my light shine before others showing love and kindness, then put in a good word of where that love and kindness is coming from: Jesus working in me.

This story holds good news for you and me. Jesus doesn’t give up on us. When we fail Him as His disciples, He forgives us and continues to call us His own. He counts on us to carry out the ministry. He has forgiven us right where we are.

I’d like to get personal with you as Jesus did that morning with Peter.

Do you love Him?

I’m not asking if you like Him or admire Him or are a fan, or feel warm fuzzies toward Him. I’m asking if you love Him to the place where you would sacrifice anything for Him.

Is He your all in all?

Will you follow Him, serve Him, and do His will? Because friends, He loves you! He died on a cross and rose again to pay for your sins and purchase a place in heaven for you. That’s how far His love goes.

If you do love Him, His word to you this day is, Go, do something about it. Because love is more than words and feelings; love DOES. You are surrounded by people who need what Jesus has to offer. He is counting on you to do something to make this life-giving connection happen. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

The Eternal Now

John 5:20-26

♪Anybody here want to live forever, 
Say, I do.
Anybody want to walk on streets of gold,
Say I do.♬

How can we live forever?

Today I want to talk with you about time and eternity, about our human predicament and how Jesus came to change it all. I want to visit with you today about the eternal now, when the limits between this world and the next come down. By faith in Jesus Christ, we belong to the One whose name is the great I AM. So I ask you, when does eternity begin?

Most people would say it begins when we physically die. But in John chapter five, Jesus says that the one who believes in Him has already passed from death to life. It has already become a reality.

When we think about time and eternity, we find two different realms. The eternal, spiritual realm is without limit – infinite. But the realm of time within this created order means all of us who live here, live with limits. We have defined space. We live a designated period of years. Everything eventually comes to an end.

Have you ever seen the animated classic children’s movie, Toy Story? The main character, Buzz Lightyear, cries, “To infinity . . . and beyond!” How long is eternity? How does one define infinity? It is hard to wrap our minds around forever – something without limits, without end. We are in such a time-obsessed culture. It is difficult for us to imagine anything besides finite time.

Think about it. We have clocks in every room of our house. They are in our automobiles and trucks, on our computers and cell phones, even on our wrists. We are governed by time.

We also live by the dates on our calendars. We have appointments to keep, deadlines to meet. Every year we celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, holidays. Most of our energy and efforts go toward achieving temporary goals and attaining temporary possessions. We get wrapped up in the here and now.

God, in contrast, is eternal. He has no beginning and no end. My finite brain can think about something that starts today and has no end, but it’s hard for me to grasp something that has no beginning; it just goes infinitely . . . to no beginning.

God transcends time. He is above time. God created time when He created this beautiful world in which we live. Motivated by love, God – it says in Genesis 2 – created Adam and Eve. He breathed into them, and they became living beings.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, there is an intrinsic interdependence between humanity and God. He has inspired us – literally, breathed life into us – and infused us with life. There is an intimate connection between the Creator and the created. We sing in our hymn, “Breathe on me, breath of God. Fill me with life anew . . .”

So we live in this world in our physical bodies. They are God’s gift. But the Bible also says God’s Spirit resonates with our spirit (Romans 8:16). God has given us His Spirit. God has given us a soul. From the Greek “psyche,” It means the essence of our being. Theologically it means God has placed eternity with our breasts so we are able to know God relationally in His love.

So we live life within time in these amazing bodies in the beauty of creation as God’s gift, but we have limits. We are finite beings.

Further, we have a human predicament – death and eternal death (even worse). We live out our lives in a broken, sinful world. Sin is in everyone. It contaminates everything relationally.

Sin is within me. It entered God’s perfect paradise through Adam and Eve’s disobedience. At that moment, physical death entered this world. Romans 6:23 says,

“The wages of sin is death.” Therefore, our bodies age. We feel pain. We become sick and weak. Eventually we die, literally when the breath goes out of us. We are truly transient – just passing through. We are temporary.

Most people live in fear of the eminence and certainty of our physical death. A musical group, Kansas, used to sing, “Dust in the wind. All we are is dust in the wind.” Psalm 103:15-17 says it this way.

“Man’s days are like grass. Like a flower of the field, people flourish. The wind blows and it’s gone, and its place acknowledges it no longer. But the loving kindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting to those who trust Him.”

• Sin is disobedience. Literally it means, missing the mark or falling short of the goal.
• Sin is a rebellion against God’s authority, against God’s right to be God and to rule over us.
• Sin is the rejection of God as the source of life, the One to whom we are accountable.
• Sin is unbelief. Sin is when self rises up to take total control and in defiance say I’m gonna do what I want to do.

However, an even deeper predicament exists in the sinfulness of humanity. In our rebellion, in our rejection, sin breaks fellowship with God as the source of life. It also, therefore, brings eternal death. We are in danger of perishing eternally. Eternal death is the state of existence where we are lost – apart from God’s presence of love and life.

Sin also brings judgment and condemnation. We are guilty before a holy and perfect God. It is my sin. I am a prodigal. I sing in the hymn, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” I run my own path. I fail to trust God as I should. I’m not faithful.

We will all die someday. Without God, we will live in a state of eternal death. That is why the Bible uses the word “perish.” It refers not to physical death, but to be eternally separated from God, permanently. If one dies in a state of rebellion and defiance wanting nothing to do with God, refusing to acknowledge God, rejecting the grace God so freely offers us in Jesus’ name, then – not because God wills it, but because people choose it – they will perish. They will spend eternity separated from God. They will receive exactly what they desire, which is to live without God.

I believe it was C. S. Lewis who defined hell as the absence of God’s presence. Albert Einstein said, “As darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of God’s presence.” So, in response to our finite, temporary condition and our human predicament of death and eternal death, because of our bondage to sin and our separation from God, God sent Jesus, His Son, into our world. The eternal One crashes into time.

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. God didn’t send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him (John 3:16-17).”

This is God’s heart in response to our predicament.

In Revelation 22:3, Jesus says,

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”

Jesus is the absolute Alpha. There is no “before” before Him.

Psalm 90:2 says,

“From everlasting to everlasting, you are God.”

The Gospel of St. John tells us Jesus is the Word.

“And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word created all that exists (1:1) . . . The Word became flesh . . .” (vs. 14).

The eternal One entered the finiteness of time and creation to save us. Jesus comes to us from eternity and leaves His infinite power. He takes on self-imposed finite limits. He enters time and our world. The God who is everywhere present now comes to reveal Himself in the particularity of the physical body – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Is Jesus, God?
• Do you remember how He stood in the boat on the sea of Galilee in the storm and told the wind and waves to stop (Mark 4:35-41)?
• Do you remember when He told the demons who were tormenting and possessing people to go to hell where they belong (Matt. 8:28-34)?
• Do you remember how Jesus healed the sick and gave sight to those who had never seen (Mark 8:22-26)?
• Do you remember how Jesus stopped a funeral procession and raised the boy of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17), or how He stood outside the tomb and called for His friend Lazarus, who was dead four days, to come out (John 11:45-57)? The dead heard His voice and came out.

He is the Lord of life!

When God came in love, the unthinkable happened. He came to His own people, and they rejected Him. Worse than that, they killed Him! They crucified God on a cross.

But God always has the final word. God raised Jesus from the dead never to die again. He is the Lord of life.

Who is Jesus coming into our human predicament?
• He is the Rescuer, the Savior from sin who forgives us and wipes away our past mistakes.
• He is the Reconciler who brings us back into a relationship with God, the source of life.
• He is the One who releases us, frees us from all limits and from condemnation.
• Jesus is the Redeemer who restores our physical bodies and gives us new and glorified bodies.
• Jesus is the Ruah (the Hebrew word for the breath of God), who fills us with His Holy Spirit.

The moment the dead in Christ hear Jesus’ voice and believe, they have already passed out of death into life. That is the eternal now!

Charles Spurgeon, the “Prince of Preachers,” shared this analogy:

If you knew you had been poisoned, and the physician brings an anecdote and says, “Take it quickly or you will die! If you take it quickly, I guarantee that the poison will be neutralized. You will live!” But you say, “No, doctor. I do not believe. Let everything just take its course. I’ll have nothing to do with you, doctor,” well, sir, you will die, and when the coroner’s inquest is held on your body, the verdict will be, “Served him right!” Wouldn’t that be foolish?

I’ve stood at the grave of infants, of children, of a mother of small children, of older friends who have lived a long and full life. But yet it matters that God in Jesus Christ gives to us eternal life.

Do you hear His voice? Do you hear Jesus invite you to believe that He will forgive you, love you, and give you eternal life?

The eternal now is when the walls between this world and the next come down. In the love and power of Jesus Christ, we are free from limits. We are free from death. We are free from eternal death, and we are reconnected to the One who is eternally alive in love for you. The instant we believe, we pass from death to life.

Everyone who has the Son has life. Everyone who believes in Jesus and receives Him as the Son of God, as Savior and Lord, has eternal life. Eternity begins the moment we believe.

I invite you to place your faith in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg

Re: Easter

Luke 24:1-12

All around the world, today churches are filled to overflowing with people celebrating Easter. Perhaps folks outside the Christian faith are wondering what to make of Easter. What is the big deal regarding this Christian holiday? Maybe you are even asking this question as you listen today. So I thought I’d take a few minutes and respond to this question regarding Easter.

Perhaps you’ve already noticed, I am using a lot of “re” words in this introduction, with good reason. You see, many “re” words jump out at us as we read this story.

For instance, we first see a re-appearance. The women, having left the tomb on Friday, reappear on Sunday with spices to anoint the body of Jesus. It was a sign of love and respect for their dead friend – similar to us taking flowers to the cemetery.

Our next word is re-opened. The huge stone covering the tomb was now rolled away and the tomb was reopened. The women went in and discovered the tomb was empty and the body of the Lord Jesus was gone. I once heard someone say the stone wasn’t rolled away to let Jesus out, but to let Jesus’ followers in to witness the emptiness of the tomb. Their friend was not there.

Next there is re-proof. Angels appear and, in their fear, the women bow their faces to the ground before them. The words spoken by the angels are a reproof. “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?”

I have to believe the angels were probably smiling as he said these words to the women. He perhaps had a look on his face saying, I can’t wait to tell you the big surprise I have for you. The joke is on you, silly ones: He is living!

Next is the word re-vealing. He reveals to them the amazing news of what God has done. “Jesus is not here; he is risen,” which literally is translated, “He has been raised.” The One who was dead, the dying man they had watched breath His last on the cross as they stood off watching in the distance – Jesus, their master and friend whom they watched as He was laid in a rich man’s tomb – was now alive!

Following the news they are given a re-minder. Before they could respond to this amazing news, the angel reminded them of something Jesus had said. “Remember how Jesus told you while He was still in Galilee that He must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and on the third day rise.”

There are those words again: He must. It was a divine necessity. Jesus said it not once but three times. God’s divine plan for rescuing a sinful world had to be fulfilled, and now it has been accomplished with the resurrection.

We are told the women re-membered the words of Jesus spoken earlier. You might wonder if we are seeing a bit of faith on their part in this story as they remember. Perhaps, they did have some faith, but it is difficult to see.

Then the women re-turn from the tomb, and they re-call the experience to the disciples and all the rest.

The last word: re-jection. The eleven disciples (remember, Judas is dead) rejected the women’s news. Their words seemed like an idol tale, and they did not believe them.

By the way, I think all of this doubt on the part of the disciples gives the resurrection even more credence. No person would make up a story to get people to buy into it by using women as witnesses to the resurrection. They had no status in this patriarchal society. They could not even be witnesses in a court.

Even if the women’s story was made up, wouldn’t you think the disciples would’ve responded affirmatively to make it more convincing? Risen? Of course He is! Jesus said this would happen. But their response was rejection. They thought the women were crazy in their grief, and they would not believe. Even Peter, who ran to the tomb and saw the folded grave clothes, only walked away from it marveling at what happened. No faith there.

So our Easter narrative has
• Re-appearing
• Re-opening
• Re-proof
• Re-vealing
• Re-minding
• Re-membering
• Re-turning
• Re-calling
• Re-jection.

Did you notice what “re” word is missing in this Good News story? Re-joicing. I guess it is what has been left for us to do, for we know the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say on the radio. We know that shortly after the empty-tomb experience, there were many appearances of Jesus, the risen Lord, to those disciples, He showed Himself to them again and again. Even doubting Thomas became convinced.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! We can rejoice because the Good News regarding Easter is for us. We are reminded that death is defeated. Jesus has won the battle over the power of death.

I remember a cute story written by Phil Callaway about a drive he was making with his five-year-old son. It goes like this:

One sleepy Sunday afternoon when my son was five years old, we drove past the cemetery together. Noticing a large pile of dirt beside a newly excavated grave, he pointed and said, “Look, dad! One got out!” We laughed, but now every time I pass a graveyard, I’m reminded of the One who got out. Because One got out, friend, all who die trusting in Jesus Christ get out, and they live with Him forever. Jesus is the first fruits of the resurrection.

Some of us have lost loved ones, friends, since last Easter. I have. As I pray for those families as their pastor and friend, I ask God to fill them with resurrection confidence. Peace in the midst of their grieving. I pray they will claim it for themselves as well as lean on the risen Jesus on a daily basis.

Sometimes when I do a funeral for someone I don’t really know at the funeral home, people will ask me as a pastor, Isn’t it hard to do a funeral for someone you don’t know? My response is no. Funerals are for the living, and these living, grieving people who sit there are filled with anxiety and fears about their own death. They are hungering and thirsting for what I have to tell them about Easter and the biblical promises, which are theirs to claim.

My dear friends, because He lives, the promise for you to count on as you trust in Jesus is this: You shall live also.

A close friend of mine is going through chemotherapy right now for multiple myeloma. As soon as I heard about it, I called him, and I heard the most amazing words come from his mouth. He said, “Brother Steve, I’m not afraid. I know where I’m going if this doesn’t work for me. I know He is with me, and I belong to Him.”

This is why we can rejoice. For Easter also means my sin really is forgiven and forgotten forever. The resurrection of Jesus is God’s stamp of approval upon Jesus, the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. He has taken my place, the unrighteous one – Steve Kramer. He has become the unrighteousness, taken the punishment upon Himself and given me His own righteousness as I stand before my heavenly Father.

Elyse Fitzpatrick writes, “Just in case you’re unaware, identity theft occurs when someone steals your name and other personal information for fraudulent use. Most of us are dismayed by this new cyber-age crime, and we wouldn’t assume that the theft of another person’s identity is acceptable behavior.

The surprising reality, however, is that Christians are, by definition, people who have someone else’s identity. They are called Christians because they’ve taken the identity of someone else: the Christ. Not only have you been given an identity you weren’t born with or that you didn’t earn the right to use, but you’re invited to empty the checking account and use all the benefits this identity brings! This is so much better than identity theft—it’s an identity gift!”

When God looks at me trusting in His Son Jesus Christ, He sees me as His perfect, righteous son. It is a gift! It’s the Easter gift we rejoice in.

And get this – Easter also means you do not have to live a single moment of your life alone – ever. He lives! He’s not a figure in a history book or a stained-glass window. He is present. He is alive to walk with you in a relationship, and He promises to never leave you orphaned or alone. He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today. He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way. That is what the hymn says.

It begins by saying,
♪”I serve a risen Savior; He’s in the world today.
I know that He is living whatever men may say.
I see His hand of mercy. I hear His voice of cheer.
And just the time I need Him, He’s always near.
He lives! He lives . . .”♬

Ah, what great news this is! I have Jesus to be my friend.

As I close this time with you, I need to bring one more word to your attention regarding Easter. The word is re-ceive. The gift of Christ’s rescue of you and me is freely offered to each and every person to be received. We hold out our empty hands and receive it, so to speak. It is placing your faith in the risen Jesus Christ. This good news of Easter calls for a response. A response of faith. He did all this so you might receive Him and have eternal life.

Knowing about Jesus and knowing what He has done is really incomplete. He wants you to receive Him, be in a saving relationship with Him. It involves, you see, turning from the direction your life has been taking and turning to the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Surrender yourself to the One who awaits you with open arms, who will not turn you away.

I have to ask you today, as you look back over your life, have you done that? Have you received Him to be your Savior and Lord, the leader of your life?

I want to close today with a story by Tim Keller about the power and the promise of Christ’s resurrection.

A minister was in Italy where he saw the grave of a man who had died centuries before who was an unbeliever and completely against Christianity, but a little afraid of it too. So the man had a huge stone slab put over his grave so he would not have to be raised from the dead in case there is a resurrection from the dead. He had insignias put on it saying, “I do not want to be raised from the dead. I do not believe in it.”

Evidently when he was buried, though, an acorn must’ve fallen into the grave. So a hundred years later, the acorn had grown up through the grave and split the rock slab. It was now a tall, towering oak tree. The minister looked at it and asked, “If an acorn, which has power of biological life, can split a slab of that magnitude, what can the acorn of God’s resurrection power do in a person’s life?”

Then Keller comments, “The minute you decide to receive Jesus as Savior and Lord, the power of the Holy Spirit comes in your life. It’s the power of the resurrection, the same thing which raised Jesus from the dead.”

Think of the immovable slabs in your life – your bitterness, insecurity, fears, self doubts. Those things can be split, rolled off. The more you know Him, the more you grow into the power of the resurrection.

He is risen! He is risen indeed! My dear friends, receive Him and rejoice. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

 

Encounters: Our Promise

Luke 23:32-43

A number of years ago, a member of my congregation asked if I would visit a friend who was in the hospital. He explained to me that his friend, Bob, was dying and had no faith to speak of, but he was open to talking about faith. So I went to see him.

After introducing ourselves to one another and going through some small talk, I asked Bob about his spiritual history. Had he been raised in a Christian church? He said he had been baptized as an infant. However, his family was not churchgoers, so he knew basically nothing about the Christian faith. I asked him if he was interested in hearing about it now, and he said he was.

So I asked, “Suppose you were to die today, Bob. Do you think you would go to heaven?” He said he doubted it. I followed up with another question.

“Bob, if you were to stand before God and He would ask you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven,’ what would you tell Him?”

Bob said, “Well, I guess I’d tell Him I tried to do the best I could.”

I then responded, “Bob, hearing your answers to those questions, I have some really good news to share with you today!” We had a wonderful conversation about the Gospel message. I shared the Good News of what Jesus had done for him at the cross. I talked about faith and what it means to trust Jesus and turn his life over to the care of Christ. Then I asked if he’d like to do that right then, and he said he would. So we prayed together. He confessed his need for the Savior and asked Jesus to come into his life.

When we were finished, I extended my hand to him and said, “Welcome to the family!”

He smiled said “Pretty big family!”

I talked a bit more about following up with him and left him some materials to look over regarding the Gospel and following Jesus. I left that day not realizing his time on earth was shorter than we thought. Not long after that encounter, I was told Bob had died. We gave him a glorious, hope-filled sendoff at his funeral!

I tell you this story because our reading of Jesus’ encounter with the dying thief on the cross reminded me of it. Jesus had been led out of Jerusalem to a hill called The Skull where he was nailed to a cross and placed between two criminals – violent robbers – who were also hanging on their crosses. I can’t help but be reminded, as I think about this scene, of the prophecy from hundreds of years before in Isaiah chapter 53 where it says He was numbered with the transgressors. He was bearing the sins of many, though He was innocent.

We don’t have details of the crucifixion. Luke didn’t feel a need to go into details because his audience knew full well what crucifixion looked like. But we do know it was a cruel and torturous way to die. As Jesus hung there in excruciating pain, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” It takes us back to Luke chapter 6 where Jesus is teaching about the importance of loving your enemies. He now is living those words as He prays for His enemies. They don’t know the horrible evil they are doing in killing the righteous, holy One of God. (The apostle Peter would later tell them in the book of Acts chapter 3.) They were unknowingly carrying out God’s plan of salvation when they put Jesus to death. Jesus had come to die for the sins of the world.

An ugly scene was being played out below Jesus as He hung on the cross. Soldiers were casting lots, gambling, dividing up His clothes, fulfilling another prophecy from Psalm 22. Everyone was mocking and taunting Jesus – the rulers, the soldiers, some of the people in the crowd who were watching – sarcastically saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” and laughing at the same time.

A sarcastic inscription was posted above Christ written by Pontius Pilate: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. Little did Pilate know he had written a truth.

Even one of the criminals being crucified railed against Jesus, throwing insults in His direction. “Save yourself and us if you are the Christ.” Like the rest of those taunting Jesus to save Himself, this man didn’t understand. If the Messiah, the Christ, is to seek and save the lost, He can’t save Himself. He won’t save Himself. He is on the cross for a reason. It is God’s plan to save a sinful humanity from sin, death, and the devil. He is taking away the sins of the world. The nails weren’t holding Him there; love was.

Let’s take a look at the criminal on the other side of Jesus, though. Remember two thieves were hanging there – one on the left and one on the right according to Matthew and Mark. He, too, had been reviling Jesus like all the rest. But something happened over those hours of hanging next to Jesus – something totally unexpected, surprising – in the midst of all of this ugliness on Golgotha. This dying criminal was awakened to who Jesus is and his need for Him.

We don’t know what brought this about. Was it the prayer he heard Jesus say – “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing”? Was it the refusal of Jesus to fight back with sharp words against His tormentors and curse them? Was it the love he saw in the eyes of Jesus as He looked out over the crowd?

We can’t know for certain, but we do know something happened. He turned to Jesus and defended Him against the taunts of his fellow criminal. He rebuked him, put him in his place, and made a statement filled with repentance and faith.

First he said, “Do you not fear God?” I don’t know about you but those words strike me as a statement of faith. As he was looking into the face of Jesus, he saw the divine in Him. God in the flesh. He saw a God to be feared, honored, humbly addressed, and worshiped – not ridiculed and scorned, as was the case.

He goes on to say, We belong up here. We are both under the same condemnation. I am a guilty man and justly deserve this punishment for what I have done! This definitely sounds like a repentant person to me. There is contrition in these words, humility in these words. No excuses, just an admission of guilt. No pointing the finger at someone else – I had a poor upbringing. It’s my parents’ fault, or what I’ve done doesn’t merit this torturous ending. It is just a simple, I am guilty, and I deserve this.

He’s not done with his talk. “But this man,” as he nods toward Jesus, “has done nothing wrong!” He is innocent.

Interestingly, these same words were spoken by King Herod and Pontius Pilate. All three of these men are correct in their assessment of Jesus. He is innocent. He is the Righteous One. The truth is, He is the perfect God man. The spotless, unblemished Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. The perfect sacrifice for our forgiveness.

Then the dying criminal looks in the direction of Jesus and makes a surprising request, which must’ve sounded like a beautiful symphony in the ears of Jesus. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” It is a confession of faith, a humble plea of a beggar to his King.

“Just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me,” like the old hymn says. I know I do not deserve it, the criminal is saying, but Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Lo and behold, the dying man receives a remarkable promise from Jesus. “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise (the place of the righteous, the garden of the King, heaven).” Today you will be with Me, Jesus said. With Me, your King!

As a pastor, I hear all kinds of questions about death and dying. What I hear frequently is, Where will I be? What happens when I take my last breath? My response has always been, “You will be with Jesus.” This is what Scriptures say. And what joy that will be!

This promise is not only for the dying criminal, but also for my dying friend, Bob, and for you and for me. It is not because of anything we have done, but because of what Jesus has done for us – paying for our sins on the cross. The Easter resurrection will affirm the truth of Christ’s promise to the thief.

Jesus died shortly after that conversation. The criminal witnessed Him confidently pray, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” I wonder if the criminal said the same prayer for his own passing. It is a beautiful prayer of faith. It says, I know I am in My Father’s hands and nothing can snatch me from those strong, loving arms. I am His forever.

You could call this encounter of Jesus with the criminals a microcosm of the world’s response to Jesus. We see two guilty people witnessing a dying Jesus, who was nailed to a cross with a sign above His head announcing, “This is the King of the Jews.” We see two very different responses to Him, just like today.
One rejects Him,
one receives Him in repentance and faith.
One attacks Him with his words,
the other stands up for Him.
One sees a common criminal,
the other sees a crown and asks for a royal favor.
One sees an ordinary, guilty man,
another sees the perfect, innocent Son of God.
One sees a fraud,
the other sees the future he asked for.
One says “no” to Jesus,
the other says “Yes, Lord.”

Both criminals died shortly after Jesus died.
We all will die one day.

One dies without hope,
the other dies with confident hope knowing he will be with Jesus in paradise.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.”

One is eternally lost,
the other is eternally found and heaven bound.

This truth remains the same today. Every last one of us needs Jesus – just like the criminals. I like this statement by Bishop J. C. Ryle. He said, “One thief on the cross was saved, that none should despair, and only one, that none should presume.”

Dear friends, we are all going to die someday – some of us sooner than expected. Are you to the place in your spiritual life where you know for certain you will be with Jesus in eternity? Because you can have the assurance, the certainty, that you will spend the rest of your days confidently knowing you belong to Him forever. “Neither life nor depth nor anything else in all creation can separate you from Him” (Romans 8:39).

By the way, Jesus’ prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing,” reminds us that eternal life with Him can begin right now! You don’t have to wait until you die. As you place your life in His tender care, you find forgiveness for your sins and a new, fresh start with Him. A purpose-filled life is yours to enjoy today and forever as you entrust your life to Jesus Christ.

That, my dear friends, is the best news you will ever hear! Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Encounters: Jesus Loves Short People

Luke 19:1-10

Have you ever been written off as a hopeless cause by people around you or even by yourself? Have you ever written someone else off as a lost cause? If so, I’m glad you’re listening in because our story for today has something for you and me to take to heart. In our passage, we find Jesus closing in on Jerusalem where He will carry out the rescue mission for which He was sent. He’s passing through Jericho, which is only about twenty miles from Jerusalem.

Now there was a man who lived in Jericho named Zacchaeus. He was Jewish, a chief tax collector for the Roman Empire, and very rich. We also learned Zacchaeus was short. He was physically short in stature. So short, in fact, he couldn’t see over the crowds welcoming Jesus as He came into town. So he climbed a sycamore tree to get a look at Jesus.

Zacchaeus was short in a variety of other ways as well. He was short in morals. His name meant innocent and pure, but he was anything but. He shorted people out of their money. He worked for the government but tax collectors were known to charge people more than was required in order to make a profit for themselves and line their own pockets. They were cheats.

Zacchaeus didn’t care about the poor or anyone else. He didn’t share his wealth with others. He was tightfisted with his money keeping everything for himself. He was successful, but he lived for making money and having the best things money can buy. Money had become kind of a god in his life. It was his security. He was willing to do anything to get it – even cheat his own people for personal gain, which brings us to the next thing Zacchaeus was short on.

He was short on respectability in his community. Nobody respected him – or even liked him, for that matter.

He probably was very short on friends. After all, he was working for the enemy to make his money. The Roman government at that time was the world power and his nation’s oppressors. He was forcing the people to pay taxes to support the evil Empire. So Zacchaeus was seen not only as a cheat, but also a traitor to his own people.

Finally, Zacchaeus came up short in his relationship with God. He was living a life of disobedience to the commands of God. He stole, and he cheated. He was living for money and depending on it for security instead of God. He was ignoring his neighbors’ needs, the poor, and even his own people. He fell far short of living a righteous life before God.

Zacchaeus had heard Jesus was visiting his community. He had heard some things about His miracles, His teachings that had people excited. There was also talk of Jesus being the Messiah sent from God. So Zacchaeus went to see for himself who this Jesus was and what He was all about.

I wonder if it was just curiosity or perhaps a thirst within, a spiritual thirst. Even with all his possessions and wealth, was something missing for him? Was God already working in him? Only God knows the answer to that question.

When Zacchaeus came to see Jesus, he was in for a big surprise, because, while he came to see Jesus, it turns out Jesus was already on the search for him! A life-changing encounter was about to take place in his life. Because he was so short, Zacchaeus couldn’t see Jesus coming down the street. So he ran ahead and climbed a tree to get a look at Him.

Finally he can see Jesus approaching. But when Jesus was near, lo and behold, He stopped! He looked at Zacchaeus up in the tree and made a short statement that would change this small man’s life.

“Zacchaeus!” How did He know his name? People had to be wondering. Zacchaeus had to be wondering as well!

“Hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”

The phrase “I must” speaks of divine necessity. It is used again and again, and it threads its way throughout Luke’s Gospel. It is spoken by Jesus. I must do this, and I must do that. He is under divine orders.

Zacchaeus must have been stunned, maybe even a little embarrassed to be brought into the center of things. And Jesus! He must have wondered, Come and dine? At my house? Today? Right now? I can’t believe it! This man of God wants to come into this old sinner’s house.

We’re told Zacchaeus scrambled down the tree and received Jesus joyfully. Joyfully! Could it be, Jesus’ self invitation to Zacchaeus’ house was heard as an absolution, acceptance, and his joyful receiving Jesus marks the moment of Zacchaeus’ awakening, his conversion? The evidence of faith is joy, right?

Predictably, the people of Jericho grumbled about this action of Jesus as they watched the two of them walk toward Zacchaeus’ house. They said, “He’s gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner!” Going into someone’s home and having table fellowship with him or her was to basically extend the hand of acceptance. This crook, this traitor did not deserve it, as far as they were concerned.

Now, we don’t know what happened in the house, but when they emerge, what a surprise! A new Zacchaeus was making a public speech to Jesus, showing extravagant, lavish repentance and faith. “Lord! Look!” he said.

The word Lord means Zacchaeus recognized Jesus as the ruler of his life. He shows the turnaround that has taken place in his life as he says, “Look, Lord! One half of everything I own I give to the poor.” Wow! Suddenly an openhanded generosity has taken over his life, which was not there before. Give one-half of everything to the poor. In those days, 20% was considered way out of this world. Zacchaeus is talking half of everything.

Zacchaeus also promises the restoration of money gained through his cheating. To those he cheated, he will give back double what the law even required of him to give. This would reduce his living circumstances substantially, but he does not care. He has found something far more valuable for his life – a relationship with Jesus, living with Christ in the kingdom of God.

Last week’s text was about a rich man as well, the rich young ruler. He encountered Jesus, and after the conversation walked away for he was so rich. Jesus said to those witnessing the conversation, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God. It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard Jesus say this then asked, “Who can be saved?” Jesus answered, “What is impossible for man is possible for God.” Today we see this impossible thing happened – a rich man was saved and changed. He let loose of the wealth – which was the center of his life and what he depended upon for a security – and instead entered God’s kingdom. God at work!

Jesus takes the opportunity to have the last word in this episode, by the way. He makes an announcement, an affirmation, and speaks an authoritative word as well. “Today salvation has come to this house!” Jesus is actually talking about Himself, for where He is, salvation is to be found for those who accept them as master and reorder their lives accordingly to follow Him. Zacchaeus is saved.

Jesus also affirms that Zacchaeus is a son of Abraham, meaning he belongs to God’s people through faith in Jesus. He is family now! God’s family! He believes in Christ and the word of authority.

Jesus then sums up His mission: For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. And that is what has just happened. Jesus sought out Zacchaeus and saved him. This statement is filled with authority as Jesus calls Himself the Son of Man, because the Son of Man was an Old Testament Messiah figure found in the book of Daniel. So Jesus is really saying here, I have the authority from God to find and restore lost people, like Zacchaeus.

These words also point us ahead to Jerusalem where Jesus is headed, and to what awaits Him there. He, who set His face to go to Jerusalem back in Luke chapter 9, is almost there now. His fate lies twenty miles away. Prophets have spoken of the fate awaiting Jesus, the Son of Man – rejection, suffering, and death. However, His mission is not just to die but to rescue lost people from sin and its consequences.

The biblical scholar, N. T. Wright says in his commentary, “The statement in this story, ‘He has gone to spend time with a sinner,’ will now soon change to, Jesus has gone to die with two thieves on a cross. The same reason will underline both of these statements, for the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

I find two takeaways for us in this story.

First, Jesus loves short people. I have to say, I’m glad He does! Let me explain . . .

I’m glad about this because I’m short – not physically, though I am shrinking a bit with age. I am short in righteousness before my righteous God. We all fall short in the righteousness department. The apostle Paul says it in this way: “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23). In God’s eyes, we are all Zacchaeuses. All are in need of a Savior. All are in need of God’s forgiveness. All are lost. The Good News is Jesus came to seek and to save us on behalf of His Father who wants reconciliation with all who have fallen short of His righteousness.

We read in II Corinthians 5:21, written by Paul, “At the cross for our sake God made him, Jesus, to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus looks at sinners like me who are stuck up a tree because of our sinfulness, and He calls us to come down to Him – sin and all – that we might have forgiveness and experience God’s grace in our lives.

Dear friends, if you are far from God, if you are feeling like a lost cause and there’s no hope for you, God has not written you off. Maybe people have written you off as a lost cause, and maybe you’ve written yourself off, but God has not. It’s not too late to come to Christ, to come to the One who calls us down to Himself.

Note: He says with a bit of urgency, “I must come and stay in your house today.” Someday it will be too late; It will be your judgment day.

This story reminds me a bit of Jesus’ promise in Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice, I will come into him and eat with him and he with me.” Rescue and salvation awaits, standing at the door. A new start, a new joy-filled life awaits anyone who opens the door of their life to the Savior, Jesus Christ, and it lasts for an eternity.

So friend, whatever your story is, Jesus is calling you – today – to Himself. He is seeking you in order to save you.

Second. This take-away is for those of us who call Him Savior and Lord and are in Christ’s Church. The Master is teaching His disciples, His Church, that there are no write-offs in His book. No one beyond His redemption. With God, the impossible becomes possible. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. Can we, who call ourselves Christ’s Church, do anything less? We are not to piously separate ourselves from the world and give up contact with the lost types and the prodigals, people whose morals, values, and lifestyles make us cringe and feel uncomfortable, who maybe even oppose Christ. Instead, remember that we are sinners ourselves, saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ. We are to humbly make the approach and seek to enter into a loving relationship with them.

I ask you, who have you given up on in your life? Who have you written off as a hopeless, lost cause? There have been times in my own life, God forgive me, when I’ve self-righteously stood in the company of the grumblers in this story who had written Zacchaeus off. It’s so easy to do.

A few years back a Christian songwriter named Bruce Carroll wrote a profound song in which each verse describes a person whose life is totally messed up. In the chorus he asks this question,

Who will be Jesus to them?
Who will show the love that restores them again?
For they do not need a judge, they need a friend
Who will be Jesus to them?

Will you? For it is the mission Jesus has given you. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer