A Blessed Promise to Hang Onto

 Matthew 11:2-6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Kramer

He Will Change Your Life!

Matthew 3:1-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Kramer

A Promising Future

Matthew 24:36-44

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Every Saint Has a Story

Hebrews 12:1-2

An old Jewish rabbi once said, “God made man because He loves stories.” Your life crosses with God’s love, and it has a story to tell. Your life’s story, which places faith in Jesus Christ, becomes a God story. Hebrews 12 talks about the Christian journey as a race run with our eyes fixed on Jesus, and the need to persevere in life. But it also speaks of Jesus as the author of our faith. You are God’s saint. With the Holy Spirit living within, you, by faith, have a story to tell.

This is a God story from years ago.

It was 1945. World War II had drawn to a close and a young German soldier sat broken inside a prisoner of war camp in Scotland. He had been a reluctant soldier in Hitler’s army, and here inside a prison, he had months to contemplate what had been and what was to come. The cities of his homeland were now reduced to rubble, the people impoverished. His sleep was haunted by nightmares of the terrors of warfare.

Then, in his prison barracks, someone put up pictures of the reality of the concentration camps in Dachau, Belzec, and Auschwitz, and the truth filtered into his awareness. He saw faces of Nazi victims. Was this what he had fought for? Has my generation, as the last, been driven to our deaths so the concentration murderers could go on killing and Hitler could live a few months longer?

Because of his depression, his awareness of wartime destruction, and his continued captivity, this soldier lived in a dark cloud of shame and disgrace. That was the hardest thing – dark despair, which had a stranglehold on him and choked him.

A visiting chaplain gave this young German soldier a Bible, and with little else to do, he began reading it. In the lament Psalms, he heard resonant voices, the agony of people who felt God had abandoned them. In the story of Christ crucified, he encountered a God who knew what it was to experience suffering, abandonment, and shame. Feeling utterly forsaken himself, the German soldier found a friend in the One who from the cross had cried,

“My God my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matthew 27:46).

Then in 1947, he was permitted to attend a Christian conference that brought together young people from across the world. The Dutch participants asked to meet with German POWs who had fought in the Netherlands. This young soldier was one of them. He went to the meeting full of fear, guilt, and shame. His feelings intensified as the Dutch Christians spoke of the pain Hitler and his allies had inflicted, of the dread the Gestapo had bred into their hearts, and of the family and friends they’d lost in the disruption and damage to their communities.

Yet the Dutch Christians didn’t speak out of a spirit of vindictiveness but came to offer forgiveness. It was completely unexpected. They embodied the love the German soldier had read about in the story of Christ, and it turned his life upside down. He discovered that, despite all that had passed, God looks on us with shining eyes of His eternal joy, and there is hope for the future.

The young German soldier was Jürgen Moltmann who would go on to become one of the greatest Christian theologians of the 20th century. Years later, with the message of the loving crucified God still indelibly printed on his heart, he penned these beautiful words: “The ultimate reason for our hope is not to be found at all in what we want, wish for, or wait for. The ultimate reason is we are wanted and wished for and waited for.”

What is it that awaits us? Does anything await us at all, or are we alone? Someone is waiting for you, who is hoping for you, who believes in you. As the father waited for the prodigal son to return, so our heavenly Father waits for us. As a mother takes her children into her arms and comforts them, so we are accepted and received. God is our last hope because we are God’s first love.

You have a story to tell. Every saint has a story to tell. The story is retold eighty-seven times in the Old Testament.

“I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
And I will remember my covenant promise.”

Everyone is retelling the stories of the redeemed – the ten plagues, the Exodus, the Red Sea crossing, the pillar of fire and cloud, the supernatural food of manna and the entrance into the Promised Land.

The New Testament is filled with stories of Jesus’ miracles and His power to free a demoniac from evil spirits, heal a woman with twelve years’ hemorrhage, raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead, heal a man whose four friends dug a hole in the roof to lower him to Jesus, and give blind people their sight. People are amazed at what Jesus has done in their lives. They tell others about Him. There is no one like Jesus.

Oscar was my father. He was a farm boy raised in the fields of Park River, North Dakota and went to college at North Dakota State to play football for the Bison. As a sophomore, he was a starter when the team played Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, the number one team in the nation.

But then my father had a conversion and decided to leave a life wandering in his own choices to fix his eyes on Jesus and run the race of faith. God’s Spirit led him to Augsburg College, then to Luther seminary and a life of serving as a pastor. All my life as a boy growing up, I listened to him preach the gospel of Jesus. I also heard his heart pray at our dinner table during family devotions. His faith story ignited my faith story. This is how it works.

You also have a faith story, a “before-Christ” and an “after-coming-to-faith-in-Christ” life. I find we are either a prodigal son who runs away from God the Father as if there is no god to find where demons dwell, or we’re like the older brother who stays at home and does all the right things but never realizes the love the father has for him.

How long has it been since you first believed? When did your faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord come alive? Hebrews 12:2 says,

“Jesus is the author . . . of our (stories of) faith.”

Many of us were baptized as infants and grew up trusting Christ. For others, faith came alive later in life and baptism was a public profession of the faith God had given. I remember Ruth Graham, the wife of evangelist Billy Graham, saying, “When did I trust Jesus? You might as well ask when I first loved my parents. I do not remember ever not loving Jesus.”

So even if our faith story is one from our earliest memories of trusting Christ, yet people who are in our life experiences give depth and color to our faith journey. It is essential for us to be willing to share our God story with others.

Why might we be reluctant to share our love for Jesus with others? Revelation chapter 2 has a bold word of the orthodox church that did many good things. But a telling verse is found in Revelation 2:4:

“This I have against you, you have left your first love.”

You have lost your first love.

If you have fallen far from God’s presence, who is to blame? A person once wrote,

“God is like a pigeon in the park. I leisurely throw crumbs of leftover devotion when I feel like it. I’ve not only lost my first love, but I’ve also lost my joy. God uses my joylessness to snap me out of treating Him like a hobby to whom I give time if I feel like it. I create premeditated alibis to rationalize why I’m too busy to trust God, pray to Him, walk with Him, or worship Him in a way that would cultivate intimacy.”

Have you lost your first love? Do you remember this verse from the children’s song, “Jesus Loves Me”?

♬ I love Jesus, does He know?
Have I ever told Him so?
Jesus loves to hear me say
that I love Him every day. ♪

If you have lost your first love, I have three words to help rekindle the faith and hope within your heart and your passion for Jesus.

First, REMEMBER whose you are – a child of God! Jesus has made you in His own likeness. I implore you to seek God’s face like a farmer would chase the harvest, like a hunter would pursue a deer, like a lover longing to connect. Remember what Jesus has done for you.

“There is nothing I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25b).

The second word is REPENT. Change your mind. Reorient the whole of your life to allow space for God’s Spirit in the center of your being. Reorder your priorities so Jesus becomes the central heartbeat of life. When we drift out of touch with the Lord, we leave paradise for the wilderness. Beg for God’s mercy for your ambivalence. As it says in Hebrews 12:2,

“Throw off sin. Get rid of every encumbrance. Fix your eyes on Jesus.”

The third word is RETURN. He is waiting for you in love. Come home to the fresh fire of His love. Dive into the fountain of grace. Drink deeply of His love, which has never stopped flowing.

“In the name of Jesus, we boldly come to the throne of grace
and receive mercy and help in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

This, too, becomes part of your faith story. Fall in love with Jesus all over again.

Why is it important to share our God stories?

I have visited prisons in Iowa several times. I have found that even if I tell the story of Christ as eloquently as I know, the impact is much greater when it comes from a former prisoner who returns to share his faith story. When those men hear the story of a former prisoner who now has a good job, is married, has a family, is living clean of drugs and booze, is worshiping the Lord week by week, and is experiencing the power of transformation, it creates renewed hope in those prisoners. If God can change that man and resurrect him to a new beginning, maybe He can hear my prayer. Maybe God’s Spirit can raise me up and transform my life to give me a new beginning.

I have seen . . .
• Jesus’ love set people free from their addictions and give them new habits and new hope.
• Jesus’ grace and love give hope to people who have recently gone through a painful divorce, then realize that, in the forgiveness of Christ, life is not over, and God can open up a new future.
• The love of Jesus heal the deep grief of someone who has laid to rest a precious loved one.
• The love of Jesus give courage and strength to people who are seeking to persevere in trouble and come through on the other side.
• The grace and forgiveness of Jesus call a rogue, immoral man out of his life of sin. He who sat belly up to the bar night after night, whose marriage and family were falling apart and was in danger of losing his job, said to me, “I have always believed but now I have repented of my sins. I have asked Jesus to be in the center of life. His grace has changed me. I have surrendered.”

Telling our story produces three powerful impacts.
1. It deepens our connection with Christ and affirms the faith we confess.
2. It reveals the character of God – how the power of God works in people’s lives.
3. The Spirit uses it to ignite faith in the hearts of those who hear it.

Can I get a witness? What is your God story? Dare you believe that if you share it with others, God can help them fall in love with Christ too? We have a story to tell because Christ is the hope of the world. Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg

What Do YOU See?

Luke 18:35-43

Back in the 1990s, a new craze called stereogram art became popular. A stereogram is a picture hidden within a picture. Initially, you just see a pattern of some sort. But hidden within the pattern lies a three-dimensional image, which could only be seen by refocusing one’s vision.

Outside my hometown in Livingston, Montana is a beautiful mountain range. If you stare at it awhile, you can see the figure of a giant man lying down. The natives call it “The Sleeping Giant”. When I point it out to people, they often cannot see it. So I try my best to help them see the sleeping giant that they can appreciate it.

Our story for today is about seeing. An adage goes: “Seeing is believing.” However, the story in Luke 18 could very well be entitled, “Believing is Seeing.” The Gospel writer, Luke, has written the story to help us see Jesus.

Jesus is approaching the city of Jericho. He is only 18 miles from Jerusalem, and His journey is almost completed. A crowd is gathered around Him talking, making requests, asking Him questions, trying to get His attention. It is rather loud and raucous. They are traveling to celebrate the Passover, a commemoration of when God set His people free from slavery in Egypt.

Jesus’ popularity is growing. He’s become a celebrity of sorts. The stories of His teachings and healings are floating around the towns and villages of Galilee. People are wondering who He is, so they go out to see for themselves.

Along the roadside outside of Jericho, people are lined up to welcome Passover pilgrims and wish them well. Many are trying to get a glance at Jesus. At strategic places along the way, beggars ask for alms from folks who pass by. It is a typical sight.

Our focus for today is on one particular beggar on the side of the road who is about to have his life changed. He would have an eye-opening experience, for he is a blind man. Because of his blindness, he is unable to work. Having been rejected by family and society in general, he has to beg to survive. He is overlooked and ignored, looked down upon by people, considered riffraff – about as low as you could go on the social scale. But it is all about to change in our story.

The blind man notices the loudness increasing around him. A loud group is approaching ahead, making all kinds of noise. People are talking loudly. He hears people around him saying, There He is! I, I think I can see Him!

What’s all the commotion? he asks no one in particular.

Jesus of Nazareth is passing by. In the popular perception, He was simply “Jesus,” an amazing man from Nazareth. The jury was still out on His faux identity.

When the blind man hears this, he starts yelling something we haven’t heard yet in Luke’s Gospel. “Jesus, Son of David! Have mercy on me.” He is expressing an insight others haven’t had. Though he is physically blind, he sees a lot more than most people when it comes to Jesus.

Notice he doesn’t cry out, “Jesus of Nazareth! Have mercy on me,” but “Jesus, Son of David!” These are words of faith! His heart sees the light before his eyes could, and he recognizes Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, the promised One of God, the Savior. So he cries for an audience with Him, Have mercy on me! Help me! Show compassion on me!

People in front of the beggar, as they heard him cry for an audience with this Savior King, turn around and rebuke him. Shhh. Be quiet. Jesus doesn’t have time for people like you. Just shut up. You’ve got a lot of nerve. Don’t bother Jesus. But the blind man desperately continues to shout even louder: SON OF DAVID. HAVE MERCY ON ME.

Then an amazing thing happens – Jesus stops. Amid all these people talking, the cacophony of noise, and the steady flow of the crowd, Jesus stops. He’s heard the blind beggar, and He recognizes faith. Someone in this crowd has faith and needs Him in some way. So Jesus commands a couple of His disciples to find this individual and bring him forward so He might meet him. Suddenly this invisible beggar has become very visible. Everybody’s watching. He is the center of attention. When they bring him, Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Don’t you find this to be an amazingly delightful question? The high King of heaven, the creator God of the universe, wants to be the servant of this lowly outcast. This is mercy! Grace! He is giving the man further opportunity to publicly display his faith toward Jesus. And the man doesn’t disappoint Jesus. He says “Lord, let me recover my sight.” You can fix this.

Notice the second title he uses now. Declaring his faith in Jesus all the more, he calls Jesus “Lord” as he expresses his sense of Jesus’ deity, dominion, power, and authority.

Jesus responds in the affirmative to the request. One last time, He confirms His deity before the crowd to show the fulfillment of the anointing He received at His baptism. The fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (61:1).

“The blind can see” (35:5).

Jesus says, “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.” With a simple word, the man immediately recovered his sight, and his life was changed. He can see! Imagine what it would be like to see colors, light, brightness, people’s faces, and, most importantly, the face of Jesus who was probably smiling at him as He stared into his eyes. Imagine the freedom that suddenly becomes his, the rescue, the new possibilities that lie before him.

Jesus’s words, “Your faith has saved you,” are salvation words. He will use them to a tax collector named Zacchaeus: “Today salvation has come to this house” as Zacchaeus repents and expresses faith in Him. This is the word of truth for us – Salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ.

What does the man do in response? He doesn’t run into town and tell his family. He doesn’t run around looking for friends to tell. He doesn’t go dancing down the road away from the crowd. Instead, he follows Jesus and glorifies God in his newfound relationship with the Lord. This is the mark of true conversion. He leaves behind the begging business and goes with Jesus into the giving business. He becomes a disciple and follows Jesus, showing a willingness to obey and surrender to His leadership. The people who witnessed this scene gave praise to God for the miracle.

As a preacher and student of God’s Word, I’ve learned it is quite important to always ask what the takeaway of the story is for you and me. Several truths jump out at us.

Jesus has a heart for the helpless and the poor. They are precious in His sight. Jesus has the power to do amazing things.

Jesus is the Son of David. The big idea of this story is about faith. Jesus affirms the blind man’s faith recognition. He is not only Jesus of Nazareth, an ordinary man and a good teacher, but also the ONE Israel has been waiting for since Old Testament days. This is the Son of David who was promised to King David way back. He is the Messiah, the King whom Israel has been looking for.

The title the blind man used in his loud cries to Jesus is first mentioned at the very beginning of Luke’s Gospel but not in the same way. The angel announced to Mary that she would have a baby. God would give this baby the throne of His ancestor David, and He shall rule over His people forever. Of His kingdom, there shall be no end. Just as God promised King David in II Samuel 7, this baby is the Messiah, the King, David’s son whom Israel has been waiting for and will serve.

The beggar, even in his blindness, sees this, while others who could see physically couldn’t see Jesus for who He really is – the Son of David. The eyes of his heart saw the Savior who could change his life, and so he calls to Him for help. Jesus recognizes the man’s faith and affirms it.

I wonder if Jesus smiled when He heard the man’s words. Did He thank His heavenly Father as He waited for the man to be brought to Him? Was the beggar’s gift of faith also a gift for Jesus from His heavenly Father to inspire Him and keep Him going as He headed toward Jerusalem to complete His mission and be crucified for the sins of the world? We don’t know, but we do know a miracle occurred affirming that God’s kingdom has come. It is a sign of the kingdom. Jesus is the Son of David. He is the King of His kingdom and the fulfillment of God’s Old Testament promises to His people. He is, in fact, THE Savior King to be trusted and followed. This is the big idea.

When you, in your mind’s eye, see Jesus, what do you see? One may see a teacher. Another may see a great philosopher. Still, another may see a scam artist. The Muslim might see a prophet. Many others, like the blind man – myself included – see the Savior of the world who rescues us and gives us a new life with Him.

As we follow Jesus, we come to realize we are all beggars in the sight of God. We have nothing to offer except the empty hands of faith to receive His riches and His salvation.

This story is appealing to us to see Jesus for who He really is – the Savior – and follow Him the rest of our lives. We can live with absolute certainty that we have access to a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.

Some folks ask how we can know for sure all this is true. A commentary I was reading about this story said this is Jesus’ last miracle in Luke’s gospel. But the commentator is not quite right, for one more miracle has yet to be seen – an empty tomb! Jesus, who died on a cross, is not in the tomb. He is not there! The miracle of His resurrection from the dead is the grand finale!

The message proclaimed on Easter morning is this: This is the Son of David who created David. He is worthy of your trust and your praise.

Dear friends, the risen Jesus is still passing by. Do you see Him? He is ready with His gracious mercies for your life. He loves you. He died on the cross to pay for your sins and make you His own, to move you from darkness into His marvelous light. Call upon His name in faith for His mercy. And remember, He will not pass you by.

As we conclude our worship today, I invite you to let the words of this hymn, written by a blind hymn writer – Fannie Crosby – be your prayer.

♬Pass me not O gentle Savior,
hear my humble cry . . . ♪

Pastor Steve Kramer

Do You Love Me?

Luke 18:31-34

In the musical Fiddler on the Roof, there is a memorable scene between Tevye and Golda in which he asks her, “Golda, do you love me?” She then lists all the things she has done with him and for him. He asks again, “Do you love me?” She initially responds to his question by saying, “You’re a fool,” but he smiles and says, “I know, but do you love me?”

People sometimes play the fool and ask the same question of God. Do you love me, God? Really? Circumstances in life can sometimes cause moments of doubts about His love – such as when we’ve done something we are ashamed of. It can be difficult to understand how God could love us after that. Or when something bad happens to us, we may wonder, If He truly does love me, why did He let that happen?

Looking back on our lives and suddenly remembering things we’ve thought, said, or done for which we’re ashamed, we may still feel the power they hold over us. Satan loves to use flashbacks against us as he whispers, You’re a loser. Jesus couldn’t possibly love you. Or perhaps our insecurities keep us wondering if God still loves us. During these times of doubt, I need a word from God, like today’s reading from Luke 18, to speak truth into my life.

In this passage, Jesus was traveling close to Jerusalem. He knew what lay ahead of Him. He quietly warned the disciples about the coming events. Notice the detail and accuracy of His preview. He would be handed over to the Gentiles by the Sanhedrin Council. He would be mocked, shamefully treated, spit upon, flogged, and killed. I don’t think you and I can even begin to imagine the burden Jesus carried in knowing what lay ahead for Him.

Later in the story, we are told that Jesus literally sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane as He thought about the next day. It all sounds rather nightmarish, yet Jesus went anyway.

The disciples did not understand Jesus’ words. But everything happened as He said it would. He suffered and was handed over to the Romans by the Jewish Sanhedrin Council. We read in the Passion Story how He was mistreated and killed on the worst instrument of torture of His day – the cross. Cicero described the crucifixion as the cruelest and most hideous of tortures. Jesus was stripped and tied to a whipping post. He was flogged with four or five thongs of leather interwoven with sharp, jagged bone and lead.

Eusebius, the third-century church historian, described Roman flogging in these terms: “The sufferer’s veins were laid bare and the very muscles, sinews, and bowels of the victim were open to exposure.” He was taken to a praetorian where a crown of thorns was slammed down upon His head. He was mocked by a battalion of six hundred men, hit about the face, and spit upon. He was then forced to carry a heavy bar on His bleeding shoulders until He collapsed.

When they reached the sight of crucifixion, He was again stripped naked, laid on the cross, and six-inch nails were driven into His forearms just above the wrists. His knees were twisted sideways so the ankles could be nailed between the tibia and the Achilles tendon. He was lifted on the cross, which was then dropped into a socket in the ground, and left to hang in intense heat and unbearable thirst, exposed to the ridicule of the crowd. Jesus hung in unthinkable pain for six hours while His life slowly dripped away. Nightmarish, just as He had predicted.

After Jesus was laid in a tomb, He rose from the grave, just as He said. Hallelujah!

As we think about all Jesus went through, the most important question is, Why did He make the journey to Jerusalem? Why, when He knew what awaited Him? He could have turned around. So why did He go?

First, Jesus went in loving obedience to His Father’s plan. He said earlier in the text, “So that what was written in the prophets will be accomplished.” Hundreds of years earlier, Old Testament prophets spoke of what was to happen to Jesus. The prophet Isaiah spoke of the Suffering Servant.

“I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard. I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6).

And hear his words of the crucifixion in Isaiah 53:5-9:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and by his wounds, we’re healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned – every one – to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, he opened not his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?

And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.”

The prophet Hosea says in chapter 6,

“After two days you will revive us; and on the third day, he will raise us up that we may live before him.”

All of Scripture points to Jesus and the cross. This is no accident. This is no “Plan B” because “Plan A” failed. The cross is not a tragic surprise. No! It was part of a plan.

Author and pastor Max Lucado put it this way:

“The ropes used to tie His hands and the soldiers used to lead Him to the cross were unnecessary. They were incidental. Had they not been there, had there been no trial, no Pilate, no crowd, the very same crucifixion would’ve occurred. Had Jesus been forced to nail Himself to the cross, He would have done it. For it was not the soldier who killed Him nor the screams of the mob. It was His devotion to us.”

This is no accident. It is God’s will being carried out to save sinful humanity – of which you and I are a part – from sin and death. The moment forbidden fruit touched the lips of Eve, the shadow of a cross appeared on the horizon. God’s master plan went into action.

All of us have sinned. All of us have fallen short of the glory of God. We’re polluted by sin. We’re captive to the power of sin. We’re separated from God because of our sin, and we live with the penalty of sin – God’s judgment and our death.

In this prediction of Jesus while on the road to Jerusalem, we see a determined God carrying out His will. He is coming after us so we might have a restored relationship with Him. Jesus will go on to make the payment for our sin with His sacrificial death. As Isaiah said,

“The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

He suffered the punishment that was meant for me. The wrath of God was poured out on Him as He cried out,

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).

I was dead in my sin but He died so I might live. Jesus goes to the cross not as a victim, but as a victor. He will rise again, victorious over the power of death.

This is the plan Jesus is talking about today. It is God’s plan, He tells His disciples. God’s plan was for Him to go to Jerusalem out of love for you and me. Billy Graham once said, “If you were the only person who ever lived in this world, Jesus went to the cross for you, to pay for your sins.”

Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand any of what He was saying. It was hidden from them by God until after the resurrection when the risen Christ said to them,

“Remember the words I spoke to you while I was still with you: Everything written about me by Moses and the prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44).

Their eyes were then opened, and they understood.

AHA! That is what Jesus meant. And they couldn’t announce this Good News fast enough. Everyone needs to know what God has accomplished through Jesus Christ for us. Everyone needs to trust in this and surrender themselves to His care, to His lordship in their lives. Everyone needs to enter into the kingdom of God and live with Him in a new life now, forever.

Christ’s death on a cross and His resurrection are central to our faith. It’s our foundation, our assurance that yes, we are loved. Look at what Jesus has done for you! The Gospel, in essence, tells us we are more sinful than we ever realized, and more loved than we ever dared hope. I repeat:

You are more loved than you dared hope.

Just look at the cross.

I want to close with a story from Christian author Brennan Manning. It is an amazing story about how he got the name Brennan.

While growing up, his best friend was named Ray. The two of them did everything together. They bought a car together as teenagers, double-dated together, went to school together, and so forth. They even enlisted in the Army together, went to boot camp together, and fought on the front lines together.

One night while sitting in a foxhole, Brennan was reminiscing about the old days in Brooklyn while Ray listened and ate a chocolate bar. Suddenly a live grenade came into the foxhole. Ray looked at Brennan, smiled, dropped his chocolate bar, and threw himself on the live grenade. It exploded killing Ray, but Brennan’s life was spared.

When Brennan became a priest, he was instructed to take on the name of a saint. He thought of his friend, Ray Brennan, and so he took on the name Brennan.

Years later, he visited Ray’s mother in Brooklyn. They sat up late one night having tea, when Brennan asked her, “Do you think Ray loved me?” Mrs. Brennan got up off the couch, shook her finger in front of Brennan’s face and shouted, “WHAT MORE COULD HE HAVE DONE FOR YOU?”

At that moment, Brennan experienced an epiphany. He imagined himself standing before the cross of Jesus wondering, Does God really love me? And Jesus’ mother, Mary, pointing to her Son saying, What more could He have done for you?

What more could He have done for you and me?

Friends, the appeal in this message today is quite simple but heartfelt. According to our passage from Luke 18, you and I have been loved.

You are loved. Trust in Jesus. Revel and glory in His love for you. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

 

Money and You

Luke 18:18-30

Many things can get in the way of a person following Jesus Christ and entering into His kingdom. For instance, I recently had a conversation with a man whom I was just getting to know. He was dying of cancer, and it was imminent. When I asked him about his faith, he said he had some faith. However, as the conversation went further, I discovered Jesus doesn’t fit into his faith equation. The man is basically agnostic.

I shared the Good News with him and told him how much Jesus loves him. But he just shook his head and said, “I’m settled in and don’t want to rock the boat.” It seems he wants to remain in charge of his destiny. Maybe it is his pride; I don’t know for sure. He believes he’s okay with life and the future as it is. I pray daily this man has an epiphany.

I just finished reading an excellent book by Pastor Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods. It talks about obstacles, the idols of our culture, that get in the way of having a meaningful relationship with God. Some of them are power, love, sex, success, as well as money and possessions (a big one).

In our text from Luke, Jesus gives us an example of this. A certain young ruler approaches Jesus and asks,

“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Perhaps he was a ruler of the synagogue, a member of the Sanhedrin Council, or a community leader. We don’t know what kind of ruler this man was, but we do know he was someone with authority. He was used to telling people what to do and being in charge. Let’s examine his question.

Good Teacher.
Jesus’ immediate response to him is corrective.

“Why do you call me good? Only God is good.”

He is pointing out that the title “good” is reserved for God and God alone.

Upon first reading, one might wonder if Jesus believes this ruler sees something more in Him. Is Jesus winking at him as He responds to the man’s question – “Hmmm. I think you’re getting it.” But according to the end of the story, this is not the case.

Instead, Jesus gives a brief lesson on proper reverence for God on humility. This man has a superficial view of goodness. Only God has ultimate goodness. No one else has the right to call themselves good. Jesus is telling him to watch his talk.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Eternal life
It means living in God’s kingdom now and forever, living under God’s rule and His promises. Jesus has been telling people to repent and enter the kingdom under God’s rule. But this man asks, “What much I do to inherit eternal life?” These words reveal distrust, a need to stay in control, an inability to live dependant upon God’s promises alone. No humility there. He wants to earn this merit badge and add it to his collection of possessions.

When you think about it, his question is rather strange. You don’t do something to inherit something. To inherit something means to receive it as a gift, especially in matters of salvation and eternal life. It has to be done for you.

Jesus responds to the man’s questions using the same logic of doing something to receive an inheritance.

“You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,
murder, steal, bear false witness. Honor your father and mother.’”

Notice what is missing in this list: the first commandment (no other gods before me), the second, third, and tenth commandments on coveting possessions and greed.

The ruler nods and says to Jesus, “I’ve kept these since my youth!” I find this response to be rather humorous. It’s like he is saying, No problem, Jesus. I’ve nailed those down. I’m so good! How is that for pride and blindness to one’s shortcomings in love and life!

But Jesus can see this man’s soul as He looks into his eyes, and He responds by saying,

“One thing is holding you back.
Sell everything you have, give it to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven. (Come follow me.)”

The man went away very sad because he was very rich. It appears that money and possessions were his god of sorts, his true security. They had a hold on his life, and he couldn’t let go.

As he walks away, Jesus marvels at his sadness and says,

“How difficult it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.”

Jesus is not saying that being rich is a sin. He is simply observing how riches can become idols, obstacles that get in the way of our relationship with God. When they have priority in our lives – even over God – money and possessions become our source of security, our first love, our master.

After Jesus said this, the disciples scratched their heads and asked, “Then who can be saved?”

People in those days believed wealth and riches were a special blessing from God to people with whom He was especially pleased. So they wondered if this man, who has obeyed these commandments all his life, can’t get in, then who can? Jesus answered,

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

We cannot do enough good to get into heaven. Only God can make it possible to enter His kingdom.

Peter says, “We have left everything behind. What about us?” Jesus assures Peter not to worry. God will take care of them. End of story.

Does this narrative have anything to do with people like you and me in 2019? Yes, it does. For you see, I am rich. In all likelihood, if you are living in America, so are you. If we compare ourselves to CEOs, professional athletes, and the Warren Buffets of the world, or even the guy down the street, we’d probably say we’re not rich. But friend, compared to most of the rest of this world, we are seen as very wealthy. In today’s text, Jesus is giving us some insights on faith in God and managing the good things He gives us, like possessions and wealth.

Wealth can become a counterfeit god we trust for our security and ultimately love because of what it can do for us. We can wind up obeying it and living for it as our master and lord. Possessions can be dangerous. An abundance of possessions can easily lead us to forget that God is the source of all good. It can lead us to believe we can trust in ourselves – our own abilities and the mighty dollar – rather than our Almighty God.

The late Bishop Edwin Hughes once delivered a sermon on God’s ownership that put one of his rich parishioners’ noses out of joint. The wealthy man took the bishop out for lunch and then walked him through his elaborate gardens, woodlands, and farm. “Are you going to tell me,” he demanded when the tour was over, “that all this land does not belong to me?” Bishop Hughes smiled and suggested, “Ask me the same question a hundred years from now.”

It is a good reminder, and it is why God tells us in His commandments, “You shall have no other gods before me.” You shall not fashion idols for yourselves to worship and obey. There is only one true God. These things cannot give you the real life you were created to enjoy under God in His kingdom. They will always fail you.

In the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville recorded his famous observations of America. In it, he noted a strange melancholy that haunts the inhabitants in their abundance. “Americans, you see, believe prosperity could quench their yearning need for happiness. But such hope is an illusion because the incomplete joys of this world will never satisfy the human heart.”

The joys of this world will never satisfy the human heart. How true it is! Jesus, in today’s story, is offering something far better than these counterfeit gods.

Tim Keller tells a story in his “Counterfeit Gods” book I like. It’s a testimony of sorts.

“In the midst of the great financial crisis of 2008/2009, I heard a man named Bill recount the three years before he had become a Christian. His ultimate security had shifted from money to his relationship with God through Jesus Christ. He said, ‘If this economic meltdown had happened more than three years ago, I don’t know how I could’ve faced it, how I would’ve even kept going. I would’ve hated myself. It would have driven me back to the Bible and maybe to suicide. Today I can tell you I have honestly never been happier in my life.’

The man lost a lot during the recession, so how could he possibly say that? Keller writes,
“His identity shifted when he met Jesus Christ. It had ceased to rest in being successful and affluent and had come to be grounded in the grace and love of Jesus Christ. It was all that mattered.”

How about you? What is your attitude toward money and possessions? Do you have them or do they have you?

Pastor and author Howie Hendrix shared a story years ago.

“My wife Gina and I once dined with a rich man from a blue blood Boston family. I asked him, ‘How in the world did you grow up in the midst of such wealth and not be consumed by materialism?’ His answer was this: ‘My parents taught me that everything in our home was either an idol or a tool.’”

How do you view your possessions and wealth? Are they idols or tools for God’s glory? You can serve God and use money. But Jesus said you can’t serve them both. It is impossible to serve both God and mammon. This is a fact.

I ask this personal question of you: Do you serve God and use money, or you serve money and use God? Honestly. Do you serve money and use God, or do you serve God and use money?

Back to Jesus’ words in our story. The Son of God, the Savior of the world, who loves you, was rich in His heavenly home, yet He left everything to enter this world and save it. He became poor for our sakes.

Remember where Jesus is going as He encounters the ruler in our story. He is headed to Jerusalem where He will lay down His life and give His everything for you at the cross. He will empty Himself as a perfect sin sacrifice to make you His own and give you the riches of the kingdom.

Friend, when Jesus looks into your eyes and reads your soul, what does He see? The appeal today is to make Him, who gave His everything for you, your everything, over everything. When He is your everything, you have everything you could possibly need, because you’ve become rich in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

The Scandal of God

I Corinthians 1:18-25

It is an amazing truth that the people of our culture are curiously drawn to public scandal.

He did what?
She said what?

We’re drawn to learn all the juicy details.

Did he really take steroids?
What kind of relationship were they involved in any way?
Did he plan to sell his government position?
Did the company executives cook the books to deceive investors?

People involved in scandals are in the headlines almost every day from all walks of life. Famous people, politicians from both sides of the aisle, athletes, movie stars, TV stars, Wall Street tycoons – the scandals go on and on.

Perhaps the scandals that draw the greatest scrutiny are religious scandals. The public revelation of hypocrisy by those who publicly profess faith, love, and loyalty to God yet experience great moral failure – pastors, church leaders, religious leaders. Scripture says, There, but for the grace of God, go I (restated 1 Cor.15:8-10). Another place in Scripture says,

“Let he who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (1 Cor. 10:12).

Scandal is defined as
1. A public disclosure of immorality or failure.
2. A widely publicized incident of allegations of wrongdoing, disgrace, or moral outrage.
3. An action or circumstance which now threatens to destroy the reputation, power, or position of a person.

From a biblical standpoint, the word scandalum can mean to cause ruin, slip or stumble. Scandal is
4. An occasion of misfortune or the collapse of power coming through an individual’s sin.
5. An obstacle on the path over which someone stumbles
6. A sin that leads to an explosion of disaster.

Most of the time in the New Testament, a scandal is an issue, which blocks the human relationship to God. An obstacle in coming to faith, or the cause of a person going astray from the faith. It either hinders faith or detaches the person from intimacy with God. Today I want to talk with you about the scandal of God.

What if God was involved in a scandal? The apostle Paul in I Corinthians 1 says God is involved in scandal, the foolish scandal of a crucified God. What a paradox! The foolish scandal of the cross of the Lord, Jesus Christ. It is the ultimate paradox – the death of God, the death of the eternal King, the Messiah. The Old Testament says,

“Cursed is the one who hangs on the tree” (Deut. 21:23).

No wonder the message of the Gospel of Jesus is such an obstacle, such a scandal for Jewish understanding of a relationship with God. And yet, here it is boldly proclaimed – not only in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians but throughout the New Testament. The cross of Jesus Christ is the wisdom of God and the power of God.

Let’s explore the idea of wisdom. When we think of wisdom, we might have an image of a wily old veteran or a wise old sage who knows all the tricks of the trade. He or she knows their way around the block. The classic Greeks defined wisdom as being fully and preeminently experienced to the point that the individual is adept in a specific skill. Wisdom is the mastery and superiority of learning, yet it is acknowledged as a gift of divine grace.

Wisdom is a superior insight into the reality of life in this world that leads to a mastery of practical living. In fact, Socrates, the great philosopher, said: “Autonomous wisdom is no wisdom at all.” In other words, if wisdom, knowledge, and intellect are not applied directly to pragmatic life, it is no wisdom at all.

Stoics believed that wisdom imparts individuals with the knowledge of the system of the cosmos. Therefore, wisdom empowers a person to live in harmony with the cosmos. It combines theory and practice. Therefore, wisdom is actualized knowledge, utilized knowledge.

Gnostics believe wisdom is knowledge enabling a person’s soul to journey away from entrapment in this physical realm back to the purity of spiritual essence. They believe that human wisdom is the path to eternal salvation.

For all people, wisdom leads to self-confidence, success, and mastery of the world. The human utilization of wisdom leads to personal gain. Wisdom is a means to power. The application of knowledge gives strength, intellectual prowess, and maybe even arrogance. Wisdom is a means to triumph, to conquer people and situations making them work for you. Wisdom is a means to success, prosperity, and wealth. Wisdom is a means to independence and self-reliance.

Perhaps the most telling verse in this passage of Paul in I Corinthians 1 says, “…the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” So if one imposes a vision of wisdom onto an erroneous understanding of Jesus, we might speak of a

Success Jesus, like a rabbit’s foot or a lucky charm.
Nice Jesus who teaches us kindness, patience, civility, politeness, and good manners.
Moral-police Jesus who teaches us a new ethic and shows us proper moral boundaries in order to hold the evil in us in check. It’s about like trying to hold a buffalo in a pasture with a weak fence.
Miracle Jesus, as if He is our personal genie at our command available to grant our personal whims so life is never hard.

Is that really the Jesus whom God has shown us in the New Testament story of His life, death, and resurrection? How can we know God? The New Testament’s central revelation of God is, in Paul’s words this:

“We preach Jesus Christ crucified,
the wisdom of God
and the power of God to all who believe.”

A crucified God is a foolish scandal. Someone who is eternally alive and infinitely powerful being put to death on a wooden cross. It is the story of the perfect Son of God going to the cross to carry the burden, the responsibility, and the punishment of all people’s failures for all history, for all eternity. He takes the sins of the world – my sins – on Himself.

The cross is the
• climactic revelation of God in history.
• climactic revelation of God in the created order in eternity.

The cross has a red river of life that flows to all who believe.

The cross reveals the
• Truth of the cosmos and our human lives.
• The darkness of the heart of human sin and failure – a failure so perverse and pervasive and profound that God had to die to overcome it.
• Our broken lives and shattered relationships so estranged that God alone can heal, forgive, and reconcile. God died on the cross to absorb into His heart our evil and the punishment we deserve. The heart of God bled to wash away our sins and make us pure.
• Unconditional love. God demonstrates His greatest glory and power by stooping low to embrace us in our broken failure and offer us unconditional love.

Why is the cross important? Because it fulfills the promise of God, which invites us to trust His promise of forgiveness. The cross is a
• Place of a new beginning as the Spirit of Jesus is poured into us to raise us to hope again.
• A foolish scandal.
• The wisdom of God.
• The power of God.

Think of it; who but God could
• Overcome His foes by letting them do what they want?
• Establish His eternal power and win victory by submitting to the enemy?
• Kill death for all time by dying Himself?
• Use His last breath to forgive His executioners and release a river of grace available to all people of all time?
• Reign as King and Lord of the cosmos with the cross as His throne?

We cannot come to know God through our obedience nor our righteousness. We cannot come to know God through our intellect, power, wisdom, nor our effort. God reveals Himself and meets us where we are, as we are – at the cross.

The death of God is the moment of God’s total self-giving in love. Jesus breathes His last with labored breath and seals His unconditional love for you forever. God invites you and me to believe in His action for us on the cross. This is the essence of the Gospel.

Jesus Christ was crucified in our place on the cross. It is a foolish scandal. The cross is the death of God but also the end of me. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me, and the life I now live in this physical body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loves me and gave Himself for me.” In the cross, God says you’re forgiven.

Years ago I visited with a Jewish couple in a former parish. I listened to the man of the family tell his spiritual journey, which was a traditional Orthodox Jewish profession of faith. He was a sincere man and worshiped regularly.

After listening, I asked if I could share what I believe to be true about God. I went on to share the Good News of Jesus, the brokenness of our human nature, our sinful hearts, and how the Son of God was born of a virgin, eventually dying on the cross. The perfect God, giving His life in sacrifice for rebels. It was a gift of unmerited favor, unconditional love, and forgiveness for all disobedient people who believe and repent in Jesus’ name. Then God raised Him from the dead and promised to pour His Spirit within the heart of every believer.

At the end of it, the man said, “That’s absurd! Why would a perfect holy God do that? I can never believe that understanding of God.”

It is a foolish scandal, an obstacle to faith, a stumbling block, for the message of the cross is the message of God’s forgiving love and acceptance. It is absurd and illogical. It is a mystery we cannot fully understand, a foolish scandal. But it is God’s promise for those of us who believe it is the power of God’s love and the wisdom of God.

In I John 4:10 it says, “In this is love not that we love God but that he loved us and gave his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” In love, Jesus takes the punishment we deserve, and by faith, we take the shadow of the cross as our safe place. It is the place where God comes to meet us. The cross is God’s power embracing us in our weakness. The cross is the place of grace in Jesus’ name.

Whoever you are and whatever you’ve done, Jesus comes to you where you are, as you are, to tell you again, My child, I forgive you. I died on the cross to love you. I reconcile you to my heart, and I ask you to trust me and rise up to walk with me. A love like that is always scandalous. Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg

For Children Only

Luke 18:15-17

As one reads the Gospel stories, it becomes apparent that Jesus is very interested in people. He welcomes and cares about all kinds of people, and He makes time for all types – religious and irreligious, rich and poor, healthy and sick, old and young (even the very young). Today’s story tells us about Jesus and little children. The story gives us a heartwarming word picture of an approachable Jesus who cares about kids.

Parents were bringing their children – even babies – to Jesus, according to our text. They wanted their children to be blessed by this celebrity rabbi who had gained notoriety for being a wonderful teacher and miracle worker. However, the disciples rebuked those parents.
     Jesus doesn’t have time for that.
          It’s a waste of His time and energy.
               He has a tight schedule!

Their attitude was children were not important!

Children in that society, of course, were valued and loved by their parents, but they were to be seen and not heard. Jesus used this scene for a teachable moment. He called those parents with the kids to Himself, perhaps motioning them to come near. Then He corrected His disciples with these words: “Let the children come to me. Do not hinder them, for to such belong the kingdom of God.”

In Mark’s version of this episode, we are given a touching description of Jesus taking children in His arms and laying His hands upon them to bless them. I’ve seen some wonderful pictures by artists of this scene. Maybe you have too. It’s a heartwarming picture of Jesus playing with the children.

This story teaches us a few lessons about Jesus’ relationship with kids and the kingdom.

First, we learn Jesus wants children to be brought to Him. “For to such belong the kingdom.” They are important and precious in His sight. As the song says,

♬Jesus loves little children,
all the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
they are precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world.”♪

What is this “kingdom of God” Jesus talks about? It’s not a geographical place at all. And it’s not limited to heaven. When Jesus talks about the kingdom, He is talking about life with Him under His care, with His rule in our lives. He is our King. A personal relationship with God begins now and continues into eternity. Jesus wants children to have that too. I’m not here just for adults who believe they have everything figured out. I want the kids to know me and trust me. This, my friends, is very good news.

And while it is good news, it is also a calling for us to take seriously. As a grandparent, one of my daily petitions is for my children to bring their children to Jesus so they will come to know Him and trust Him. I was thrilled when they brought their kids to the baptismal font to be adopted into the kingdom, but now the work of raising them in their baptismal covenant must be carried out. They must be brought to worship, Sunday school, and children’s programming. They must be read to from a beginners’ Bible and taught to pray. Someone needs to model what it means to follow Jesus. I am so thrilled my children are teaching them about Jesus!

Julie and I believe our calling as grandparents is to support and pray for them as well as teach and model what it means to follow Jesus. It is important and obedient to bring our grandchildren, whom we love so very much, to Jesus.

In my church, we emphasized and invested heavily in children and youth programming. We recognized how important those beginning years are to establish a firm foundation in those kids’ lives. Most of them made their decision about Jesus before they graduate from high school. Hundreds, even thousands of kids, have met Christ Jesus over the years at church. It takes a committed congregation, as well as committed parents, to raise a child to faithfully follow and trust Jesus.

Jesus warns us: “Do not hinder them.” Children can be hindered in so many ways.
Hypocrisy. If you are skipping church more than you are going, you are communicating the message that worship is not as important as other things, and you don’t walk the talk. Your kids observe you all the time. You are hindering them in their walk with Christ.
Lies (even little lies). Children soon learn that integrity isn’t really important for the disciple of Jesus. You are hindering them.
Prejudice. When you speak hatefully of other races, your hypocrisy is teaching them that the love of neighbors is conditional upon the color of their skin. You are hindering them in loving like Jesus.
Selfishness. You are hindering them in loving like Jesus if you look out for yourself first and not serve others in Christ’s name. If you keep your possessions held tightly to yourself and not act with generosity, you are hindering them in following the servant King, Jesus Christ who gave His all for us. Your hypocrisy will hinder them.
Spiritual Ignorance. The attitude to let them figure this thing out for themselves is deadly. When we don’t talk about Jesus and what He has done for them at the cross by dying for their sins to pay for their salvation and their forgiveness, we hinder them.
Marginalization. When we do not value and love them as Jesus does. When we don’t make time for them but treat them as extras in the picture of life, we hinder them.
Prayer Neglect. Christian parents and grandparents are called to evangelism in our homes. We need to pray for their souls. Our children, no matter how young, are sinners. They need a Savior, Jesus Christ. Don’t hinder them.

While Jesus calls the children to Him in our text, the primary point He makes is with adults. In His last statement, Jesus says, “Truly I say to you . . .” (When He says truly, it means He is about to share something important.)

“Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

Receiving the kingdom of God like a child does not mean to go back and be a little kid again. Instead, we are to be childlike in our attitude.

In John chapter three, Jesus tells Nicodemus, a Jewish teacher, that he must be born again. Another way to say it is, born from above to enter the kingdom. Nicodemus asks, Hey wait a minute! Does that mean I have to enter my mother’s womb again? That is impossible! But that is not what He is saying at all. So what does Jesus mean when He says we have to receive His saving gift of God’s kingdom like a child?

1. We come empty-handed. Infants come empty-handed, bringing nothing into this world. So must we as we approach our Savior.
2. We declare our neediness and our dependence upon God’s grace. Kids come dependent upon their parents to provide for them, to care for them. This is how we approach Jesus’ kingdom.
3. We come trusting. Children are trusting. They learn along the way that they can turn to mom and dad and rest securely with them.

I was recently at a Bible camp teaching an Elderversity. We were studying Psalm 131, which gives us a picture of what it means to quietly trust God. The psalmist writes,

“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great, too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.”

This is a beautiful picture of what it means to trust. The weaned child – not the suckling child who mindlessly, instinctively comes to mother (Christ) for milk. This child has learned the mother’s love by resting securely in her arms. This is what God wants for you – to rest securely in Him.

4. Finally, we receive God’s kingdom not only empty-handed, dependent, and trusting, but with humility. Jesus had just finished telling a parable to the religious elite and His disciples about a Pharisee and a tax collector who approached God in the temple – one with pride and the other with humility (Luke 18:9-14). Jesus said it was the tax collector who walked away justified – the one who approached with humility, asking for mercy.

Jesus then summarized this parable by saying, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” He is talking about coming to Him in humbleness, like children. Children are symbols of littleness and neediness. Only empty hands can be filled. We receive God’s kingdom and His promises humbly, empty-handed, trusting, knowing we don’t deserve His mercy by any means. It is all by God’s grace. We don’t have a leg to stand on to be in His kingdom. It is grace.

The big idea in this text is the kingdom of God is for kids only. As Jesus loves children and wants them as members of His church, so should we. We should be baptizing them, praying for them, investing in them, and doing whatever we can for them to meet and trust the Savior of the world for their salvation and receive the abundant life Jesus wants to give them.

We should be rejoicing when they’re in worship, even when they are noisy and disruptive. After all, someone is bringing their kids to church. It’s important. They are living out their promise made at the baptismal font. Let’s not gripe about it, but rejoice in it. These kids are precious and important in God’s sight just as much as you are.

David Stone shared this poem about kids, and I want to share it with you. It’s entitled, “The Trouble With Old Clay.”

I took a piece of plastic clay
and idly fashioned it one day.
And as my fingers pressed it still,
it moved and yielded to my will.

I came again when the days were passed,
the bit of clay was hard at last.
The form I gave it still it bore,
but I could change that form no more.

I took a piece of living clay,
And gently formed it day by day.
And molded with my power and art,
a young child’s soft and yielding heart.

I came again when the days were gone,
it was a man I looked upon.
He still that early impress wore
but I could change that form no more.

We can only enter the kingdom of heaven like a child, my friend, with childlike trust and dependence upon Jesus. Are you a kid of the kingdom? You can be, for Jesus is calling you to come like a child, trusting in His promises that He has given His life for you. He died and paid for your sins at the cross, and you can receive a new eternal life. Put aside your pride that says you can make life work right without Him. Approach Him humbly like a child – empty-handed, ready to receive what He wants to give you – salvation.

Of course, in your relationship with Him, you will want to explore and learn all you can about Jesus. But never leave behind the simple basics.

Karl Barth was an important theologian of the 20th century. In 1962, he was asked in an interview how he would summarize the millions of theological words he had published. “With a song, I learned at my mother’s knee,” he replied. “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me.”

Let’s end this message today by singing that beautiful children’s song of faith together.  ♬Jesus loves me, this I know . . .

Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Ten Healed, One Saved

Luke 17:11-19

Cary Grant, a famous movie actor from a long time ago, once told how he was walking along the street and met a guy whose eyes locked onto him with excitement. The man said, “Wait a minute! You’re, you’re . . . I know who you are; don’t tell me! Hmmm. Rock Hud . . . . No! You’re . . .”

Grant thought he’d help him so he finished the sentence. “Cary Grant.”

The man argued, “No, that’s not it. You’re, you’re . . .”

There was Cary Grant in all his glory identifying himself with his own name, but this fellow did not recognize him. He had someone else in mind.

The Bible has a verse about Jesus which states,

“He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize him” (John 1:10).

We see a bit of this being played out in our story today of Jesus and the ten lepers.

In the past, I’ve frequently preached on this narrative at Thanksgiving services. In fact, it is the chosen Gospel story for Thanksgiving in the church’s lectionary. On the surface, it seems appropriate because it looks like a Thanksgiving type story. But I propose something more important is going on here than remembering to say thank you.

It is true that Jesus seemed to appreciate the show of thanksgiving from the healed man. However, I’ve come to believe this story is more about recognizing Jesus for who He really is and then responding in faith and praise. Let’s take a look at it again.

Jesus and His disciples are walking along the border between Judea and Samaria. He is headed to Jerusalem where a cross looms ahead for Him. He will suffer and die on a cross to save us from our sins, to carry out God’s salvation plan for the world.

On the way there, Jesus was approached by ten men who had leprosy. They stood off in the distance and cried to Jesus for mercy, which is also interpreted as pity in some translations. People with leprosy were considered outcasts of society and were quarantined. No one wanted to catch this horrible skin disease, which caused pain and even loss of limbs. It also carried psychological losses, such as loss of family, personal worth, community, and dignity. According to Jewish law, they were required to keep their distance from healthy people. This is the reason these ten stood at a great distance from Jesus as they cried out for mercy.

Why were they calling to Jesus? They obviously had heard about Him and His healing powers. Hoping He might heal them, they cried, “Lord Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Surprisingly enough, Jesus answered their cries.

I love the fact that Jesus noticed these outcasts and had mercy on them. He has a heart and passion for hurting people. His latest healing miracles had caused some conflict and criticism. But Jesus being Jesus couldn’t help Himself, and He showed compassion to these hurting individuals. Besides, Jesus’ disciples might learn from this experience.

With a voice that rang out with authority, Jesus said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests!” According to Jewish law, a person who had experienced healing from this disease must show himself to the local priest before returning to society. Jesus was intimating that these men were going to be healed.

As they went, they were suddenly made clean. They were miraculously healed of their leprosy. Therefore, this is a miracle story. Miracles were clues to point to the kingdom of God being at hand in Jesus, who was the long-awaited Messiah of God. One of those lepers, who saw he was healed, turned back praising God with a loud voice. He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet giving Him thanks. Unlike the other nine, this man was awakened to something important in this encounter. So he turned back and fell upon his face praising and glorifying God in worship. Jesus’ identity had become all too clear to him.

Luke editorializes at this point in the story. There is almost a parenthesis there – Now, he was a Samaritan. Samaritans were hated by the Jews. They were written off as half-breed pagans. So this guy was in double trouble. He was not only an outcast because of his leprosy, but he was also a write-off because of his race.

Interestingly, he was with nine others who apparently were Jewish. Misery loves company, doesn’t it? No matter what the background, it seems to know no borders. But Jesus in His mercy, of all things, healed this man too.

Look at Jesus’ response to his turning back to Him. “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

Notice, Jesus doesn’t say anything about thanking Him, but He does talk about praising God. They didn’t seem to recognize that they had encountered God in the flesh, the divine. But this foreigner of all people, this outsider, this write-off, caught it and began to worship, for he knew he was in the presence of God.

It was just like the disciple Peter when he first met Jesus. After pulling in a large catch, he fell on his face before Jesus and called Him “Lord! God.”

Jesus points out that out of the ten, only one got it. Look who he was – a foreigner, a Samaritan! He said to the Samaritan, “Rise and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” While ten were healed, only one was saved. Your faith has made you well.

The act of recognizing God in Jesus, then turning back reminds me of repentance, of surrendering oneself. In faith, he turned back with praise and thanks to God for Jesus. Falling on his face before Jesus is an action one would take when approaching the divine. It’s the posture of worship.

Jesus’ response – Get up. Arise and go on your way; your faith has made you well – says it all.

Get up is a resurrection term in the early Church.
Arise announces a new life has been given you. Like the prodigal son, ‘this man was dead and now is alive again.’
Your faith has made you well. In the Greek, this literally means, “has saved you.” In other places of Scripture as well it is translated, “has saved you.”

So this man is worshiping Jesus as his Savior. He is displaying a saving faith, not a temporal faith. God’s salvation is offered to everyone to receive by faith. Even Samaritans can be saved.

Later in Acts chapter one, the risen Jesus Christ will tell His disciples, “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.” One could say the least likely person out of the ten received mercy and was saved that day! This poor guy had the two things working against him: He was an outcast of society and he was a Samaritan (pagan).

This is good news for people like you and me. Salvation in Christ is freely offered to everyone to receive in faith. Because of my sin and rebelliousness, I, too, could be considered the least likely to receive His mercy and be saved. I deserve absolutely nothing from God. I stand before Him empty-handed, unclean.

But my God is full of steadfast love and grace. Jesus entered our world to save us. Through faith in Him who suffered and died as an outcast for me at the cross, I receive mercy and grace. I am no longer an outcast before God. He will provide cleansing from my sins at the cross. His blood makes me clean, and I am restored into fellowship with God and with the family of God who trust in Jesus. My sin-sick soul has been healed by the blood of Jesus Christ. As the Word of God says,

“By his stripes, we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

I’ve been thinking about this story for some time, and I had this thought. As the lepers heard Jesus say, Go present yourself to the priests, I remember that I, too, have a priest to go to, who will pronounce me clean – Jesus Christ. He is described as our great High Priest in the book of Hebrews. He is the mediator between God and a sinful person like me. He offered not the sacrifice of animals but His own blood to make me clean. By raising Jesus from the dead, God endorsed Him as the Lamb of God, the Great High Priest, who takes away the sins of the world – including my sins and yours.

What is Jesus looking for from me then, according to the story? Two things.

First, turn to Him in faith. If you’ve turned away, turn back. Believe in Him. Trust Him with your life.

John Stott tells us that an amazing thing happens when we come to Christ and put our trust in Him. A marvelous but mysterious exchange takes place. He takes away our sins and clothes us with His righteousness. In confidence, we stand before God trusting not in our own righteousness but in God’s manifold and great mercies, not in the tattered rags of our own mortality but in the spotless robe of the righteousness of Christ. God accepts us – not because we are righteous, but because the righteous Christ died for our sins and was raised from death.

Second, trust Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, and then humbly, joyfully, and gratefully praise God in worship for His Son, our Savior. Give thanks in faith and worship with the Apostle Paul saying, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”

May you be a walking doxology all the way to heaven singing,

♪Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise him all creatures here below.
Praise him above ye heavenly host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.♬

Pastor Steve Kramer