Are You Enjoying Your Easter Gifts?

Last week we packed the churches. We sang glorious hymns and heard trumpet fanfares. We wore our Easter best and celebrated the message, He is risen. He is risen indeed. So, today I ask, How are you enjoying and using your Easter gifts? You might respond by saying, “Other than Easter candy, we exchange gifts at Christmas only.” I’m not talking about those kinds of gifts.

When Jesus appeared to his disciples that first Easter evening, he actually brought gifts. I found three in our text for today, and the risen Christ wants us to enjoy these gifts as well.

This episode opens when the disciples were in a locked room. They were afraid of the Jews, who had killed Jesus only a few days before. Earlier that day, Peter and John had gone to the tomb, which they found empty. They had not encountered Jesus and so were probably discussing among themselves if it was true that he’d risen. Peter might have been thinking to himself, “Boy, if it’s true, I don’t know if I can face him now. I denied even knowing him three times when the chips were down.”

Perhaps the others were just as uneasy at seeing Jesus alive. They had scattered like frightened sheep the night Jesus was arrested, and they witnessed his crucifixion from a safe distance away. Perhaps they were wondering, “If he really is alive, is he angry? Will he ever trust us again?” You can just imagine the looks on their faces Ð tired and worn, worried, shocked, and confused. It’s the same look one has after a trauma like a fatal car accident or a heart attack. It’s a look that says, “What do we do now?” while standing in a hospital room looking at a loved one.

Suddenly Jesus was standing among them in that locked room, and the disciples probably pinched themselves to make sure that they really were awake! But before they could say anything, Jesus said, “Peace be with you.” Then he showed them his nail-pierced hands and spear-pierced side to prove it was really him. The room probably filled with laughter and smiling faces as they celebrated Christ’s resurrection, just as he had promised a few days before. God indeed had the last word. In the midst of this Easter reunion, the risen Jesus gave them some gifts that we don’t want to miss.

Peace. Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you!” And then he said it a second time, as if making a point. “Peace be with you!” He wasn’t talking about peace and quiet, but about the peace of his forgiveness. Although they had let him down, he was reaching out to them, just as he reaches out to you and me. “Your sins have been taken care of at the cross. Receive the forgiveness that I want you to have in your life and the peace of knowing that you belong to me and that I love you.” This is the peace of knowing that he holds the future.

The disciples must have breathed a sigh of relief as they looked at his nail-pierced hands and stared into his smiling face feeling that everything was under control, even death. The Apostle Paul later wrote, “Whether we live or we die, we are the Lord’s.” There is peace in knowing that I belong to him forever.

I heard a wonderful little story about an elderly woman who underwent serious surgery. Although her prospects of recovery were slim, she survived the procedure. When she opened her eyes and saw the blurred image of her doctor dressed in the typical white doctor’s jacket, she smiled and said, “Hello God, my name is Mary.”

That is the kind of peace and assurance of eternal life we receive by trusting in Jesus Christ. It is the peace of knowing that, whether we live or we die, we belong to him. Jesus gives that assurance to each one of his followers. We can know that, if we were to die today, we would see him in eternity, for he has prepared a place for those who trust him. We don’t know what it looks like, but we know we are going there. And it’s not because of anything we have done, but because of what Christ has done for us. He paid for our sins at the cross, and he defeated the power of death at the grave. We are invited to claim that gift again and again as we stare at our own mortality. Because he lives, we are heaven bound. That is peace!

If you do not have a relationship with Jesus, here is a message for you: Heaven is a prepared place for the prepared. So prepare yourself now. Turn to Jesus and place your trust in him. He wants you to have the peace of knowing about eternal life.

Trust. Jesus also gave the disciples his trust. When you examine the words of Jesus carefully, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” you see that it’s actually a promotion of sorts. They began the story as disciples, learners. Now they are Apostles being sent into the world to bring God’s good news of forgiveness to the world. They are in the business of connecting others to God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is trusting them with the most precious thing in his life: connecting others to the Heavenly Father.

Just think about how important that is, my dear friends. Jesus is trusting you and me with his most important thing, his mission. That’s quite a gift. If you belong to Jesus, he is trusting you to carry on his mission, to make sure the people around you know the promise of everlasting life. That is quite a trust.

Power. Jesus breathed on the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven, and if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” He’s giving them power to be effective witnesses of what God in Christ has done for the world.

If you are a follower of Jesus, you have the same power of the Holy Spirit working through your witness. When you talk to someone about Jesus, trust that it will have an impact and you will make a difference. Jesus actually promised the disciples in the Upper Room, “You will do greater things than (I), because I go to the Father” (John 14:12).

These are the gifts of Easter. The peace of forgiveness and knowing there is a place for me in Heaven. The trust Jesus has given us to win the world for him. The power of the Holy Spirit to carry out his ministry and make a difference for him. However, these gifts cannot be employed until they are received. It is like receiving a gift card but never redeeming it. Likewise, the gifts Jesus Christ offered those disciples, and offers to us, cannot be enjoyed until they are received, entrusted, and employed for his cause.

The Easter story is a reminder that Jesus has given you gifts. You are invited to use them and put them to work in your life. The disciples did, and their lives were never the same. Peter wrote of being filled with a living hope, a feeling like he was born anew. The book of Acts testifies of the confidence and the peace and the joy that those disciples experienced as they served the Savior by bringing the Gospel to the world around them. They turned civilization upside down as they lived out their purpose to bring the good news of Jesus to the world. It was the promise of forgiveness and everlasting life with God.

While we may not turn civilization upside down, each one of us has a sphere of influence that we can turn upside down with God’s power as we live in his hope, and his peace, and his power, as we trust him and carry out what he has entrusted to us Ð his mission.

Brothers and sisters, the experience those disciples had can be your experience, too. Are you enjoying your Easter gifts? I encourage you to claim the gifts today. Use them to his glory and you will be very glad you did.

Stand Firm! Jesus Lives

This is the Easter Gospel that we have heard for many, many years. And we have to still ask ourselves what we make out of it. It is so glorious that death has been conquered!

We turn to St. Paul who tells us the benefits we get from Easter. “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain” (I Corinthians 15:1-2).

Paul is telling us that our whole salvation is contained in this gospel. We still have it; it’s still ours. We know the power and glory of a Savior who walks with us and takes us into heaven. But if we’ve left it, our faith is in vain.

So he wants to lay the matter on the line with us today on this Easter Sunday. We can celebrate Easter all we want, but if we have denied the resurrection Ð if the risen Lord does not live in our hearts Ð then there is no glorious note of this day and it’s just another day. But we take the positive Ð it is true. Jesus Christ comes to us with this one great blessing Ð our salvation.

As we look over our many blessings, we are hard-pressed to find anything that means more to us than the message of the resurrection. Stop and think of the funerals we have attended. It is very sad when we lose a loved one. I think of some of the young lives that have been blotted out Ð young children and youth killed in accidents.

Perhaps this past year you had to say goodbye to a beloved parent who had grown to be quite old. You had to make arrangements Ð purchase a nice casket, meet with the funeral director, hold a viewing the day before, and arrange the funeral. Your friends and relatives came, and it was good to be together. But when the lid was closed on the casket, was it the end? If you do not believe in the resurrection, then you believe that it was.

Yet, according to Paul, our salvation comes only through the Gospel. He received it from the Holy Spirit and passed it on to us. (It is verbalized quite well in the Apostle’s Creed.) Paul tells us, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve” (I Cor. 15:3-5).

Yes, Jesus appeared. And Paul says that Jesus also appeared to him, although Paul wasn’t one of the Twelve. Jesus appeared to Paul on the Damascus Road, when Paul was going to bring some Christians back to Jerusalem to kill them, and He said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Then the Lord sent Saul (Paul) off into Damascus, and then to Arabia where he learned more from other Christians and occasionally had a direct revelation from the Lord Jesus himself.

This is not a made-up message. This message has come through revelation, and far be it from any person Ð no matter how educated the mind may be Ð to say it was all right for another day, but we don’t believe it today. For if that is your belief, then you either have a made-up story of your own, which carries no background whatsoever, or you believe that the funeral is the end of it all. If the funeral is the end of it all, then we’d better do something to really make this life much better than it is. And so we live that type of life.

However, that isn’t the way it is, friend. It isn’t the way it is at all, for Christ has been raised from the dead, and we, too, will be raised if we trust in him.

In the closing part of I Corinthians 15, Paul says, “Where, O death, is your victory. Where, O death is your sting?” Death has no victory for “the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Stand firm, even in a day when it is sometimes very difficult. Stand firm! For you are standing on the fact that Christ died for your sins, and they will be forgiven when you repent. Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, and that glorious victory can be yours.

This leads us to the part that makes Easter either really meaningful or just another holiday where some of your friends and relatives have gathered.

Perhaps you come from a family where Easter was celebrated as a glorious day in your home. You wore some new clothing and celebrated the fact that Jesus came forth from the grave in a very real way.

I remember that, during my childhood, my father would occasionally drive through the cemetery on Easter Sunday afternoon. We envisioned the day when, because Christ died for our sins, he would return. And so I have been blessed with that knowledge and have never been without the faith of knowing that Jesus Christ lives.

I am very fortunate, and I know many of you also had God-fearing parents who were true to the Scriptures. You heard the message from them and from others that death is not the end. “O death, where is your sting. O grave, where is your victory?”

Others of you may have a different story. You may be saying, “Easter in our house was a glorious day when our family gathered. However, I cast all this aside in my late teens and early 20s. I thought it was a lot of foolishness. But then a terrible trauma occurred in my life, and I began to see that everything I trusted was right here on this earth Ð what I could acquire, the material. I needed something more, something eternal. No longer did I want to say, ÔI hope there is something more.’ I am sick and tired of hope, and I want to know!

“So I came back to the faith. I now know that I have a resurrected Savior. I received him back. I was so excited to tell my parents, for they have sorrowed over me all these years because I didn’t have the joy of salvation, and I wasn’t going to heaven. I still remember the day I said to my loved ones, ÔI’m back. And I will never leave him again, because I know he will never leave me. He never left me when I rebelled, and he is still with me now. I am back with him.'”

Perhaps you were not raised in a Christian home. You never knew what it was to believe in a life after death. Here it is, another Easter day, and you have an opportunity to accept what God has given you in his Word. Paul said, “I delivered to you what I received.” Paul received it from God, he gave it to others, and it has been passed on so we have it here today.

My beloved, on this Easter Sunday, if you confess your sin and trust the resurrected Lord, then all will be well and you can stand firm in this great truth that Jesus Christ is alive. No longer need you fear. No longer must you move about believing this life is all there is. You can be very concerned about all the bad news happening in our world today. Yet, beyond that is the Good News that on the first day of the week Jesus Christ came forth from that beautiful tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, and the angels sang “Hosanna in the highest!” And you sing, “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.”

Leave it there friend, and God will give you the peace that passes all understanding and the peace of knowing that you are not roaming through this world alone. You will not face eternity alone, for Lord Jesus Christ is with you.

Christ the King

To describe his mission, the Bible presents Jesus in many ways. He is referred to as the greatest Prophet ever known, that is, the greatest teacher. Scriptures say the crowds were amazed at his teaching because he taught as one who had authority. His messages were not presented as simply his opinion or a possibility but the truth.

In the vast majority of scripture, Jesus is presented as the Savior. In Mark 2:5, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” On Friday of this week, we will celebrate Jesus as the Redeemer, the “Suffering Servant.”

John talks about Jesus as a Shepherd. He says, “I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). When we follow him, he will lead us into the depths of peace, joy, and understanding throughout our lives.

Jesus is referred to as the Lord again and again. “So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath,” (Mark 2:28). Jesus is saying, I am God! I am not only a man, I am also God. I am the Lord.

Today is Palm Sunday, and we see the scriptures present Jesus as the King who rides into Jerusalem. It is the great message that he has come to be the Lord, the King of the world.

When a king visited a country, it was a great event, and they had all kinds of celebrations. Jesus, mimicking this, asked for a colt. Then he rode into the city on that Palm Sunday, with his disciples and crowds following him. The crowd shouted and threw palm branches before him. Some people were so overwhelmed that they took off their coats and placed them before Christ as he rode.

The focus today is on Jesus’ entrance on Palm Sunday as King and Ruler. Then, making it personal, the King of our lives who rules what we do.

When the religious leaders heard the celebration, they felt it had gone far enough. They decided that Jesus had to die, and it should happen right away on this particular week. So they went to Pilate and told him they wanted Jesus to be crucified. However, his crucifixion could not be ordered by the Jewish people. It would take orders from the Roman government. Pilate wasn’t sure that he wanted to do that, for he could find no guilt in him whatsoever. “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”

“But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected.

Pilate then began to question Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

And Jesus said, “Is that your own idea, or did others talk to you about me?”

Pilate became rather angry and said, “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”

Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”

Pilate discussed his matter with the Jewish people who had brought Jesus and said, “It is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of Passover. Do you want me to release Ôthe king of the Jews’?”

The people shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas.” So Pilate released Barabbas to them and handed Jesus over to be crucified.

This is a traditional telling of Palm Sunday. Children wave their palm leaves in church on Sunday morning. Somewhere in your community you could well hear a part of Handel’s Messiah where Jesus is described as the one who is wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. Your church will have many services this week including Thursday night (Maundy Thursday) when we remember Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper, and we will bow at the altar and receive his body and blood as token and given to us that we might truly know we are forgiven. We will have Good Friday services when we hear the same old story that, as we mentioned a few weeks ago, never grows old.

This story is absolutely important, and it needs to be told every single year in its traditional form. But I think that we need to go a bit further and ask ourselves a very haunting question: We say Christ is King in our lives today, but is he, friend? Is he?

If you know Christ as your Savior and Lord, you are a citizen of two kingdoms. Most of us who listen to this program today are citizens of the United States of America. We have our leaders, and the scriptures tell us to be loyal to them. In a democracy, we know it is important to be of benefit in whatever way we can be to our country. As we look at the chaos in our states and in our nation, we see a crying need for the church to rise and let the name of Jesus be known.

But that kingdom, as much as we love it, is temporal. One day it will come to an end. However, the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ will reign forever and ever. Above all, the kingdom of God makes Jesus my eternal king. We thank God that we still have the right to say what I have said these words, for we don’t know what tragedies are possible in this country. But of the kingdom of God we know there is no end.

The church has not always been able to make these statements. Men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer went to the gallows because he said, “My kingdom is the kingdom of God.” Nazism failed; communism also failed, but the kingdom of God continues forever. Jesus Christ is our eternal King. That is the way we are to address him. We address him as our great Prophet, our great Lord, our Savior and Redeemer of all mankind. But above all, he is the King for all time. And so we sing, “Beautiful Savior, King of creation, Son of God, and Son of man.” That is Christianity, my friend.

Many would agree that Jesus was a great teacher, then leave it right there and point to other religious leaders as being equally great. However, those other leaders could not establish a kingdom that will know no end. That is God’s plan, and it is why we hear John 3:16 so often Ð that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Wherever this Palm Sunday finds you, friend, if you belong to Christ by grace through faith, then have the comfort of knowing your eternal King stands by your side and will one day take you to your eternal home to live with him.

How Do You Define the Christian Faith?

How do you define Christianity? Strange as it may seem, many people who attend church are quite confused as to what it is. How does the Bible answer that question?

Many people are confused about the Christian faith because they listen to others who define Christianity as they understand it. These people are also quite confused, so it becomes the blind leading the blind. For example, say you are in a group that is discussing this question. One person explains his understanding of the Christian faith, which does not agree with the Word of God. Is it, perhaps, because the sermons on Sunday do not sound a clear note on a regular basis that God in Jesus Christ has come to die for the sins of the world? That He was raised on the third day so we might have the promise of eternal life and the assurance that Jesus walks with us on this earth?

Others have definitions of Christianity, which are applied in its own way, according to the circumstance.

Examining some of these beliefs, we find they have omitted some basic teachings and added some that should be missing. Let me give you some examples.

¥ Jesus could not have been born of a virgin, as described in Luke chapter 2.

¥ Jesus was a “God-intoxicated” man. His death on the cross of Calvary was not for the sins of the world.

¥ His resurrection was only spiritual, not physical.

¥ Jesus will not return.

¥ Salvation is for all people. Everybody is going to heaven (universalism).

So it is good for us to look at the Bible’s understanding of Christianity in order to remain true to the Word of God.

In today’s text, it was the first day of holy week and a lot of people were grouped together celebrating the Passover. The Greeks were always seeking after the truth, so some were there also. A few of them went to Jesus’ disciple, Philip, and said, “We would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to Andrew, and they in turn told Jesus.

Jesus did not reply at that particular time. Instead he began to speak: “The time has now come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” The climax to his ministry was close at hand. He had been ministering to the people for three years. He had proclaimed that he was the Messiah of the world, taught what God’s will was for their lives, and told how the kingdom of God would be extended to the far corners of the earth. However, he was ministering primarily to Israel, and most people turned a very dim ear to his words.

But now he says, “If a kernel falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed, but if it dies, it produces many seeds.” What he is predicting here is that, if he were to remain in that part of the world, his message would only reach the ears of those nearby. But Jesus was more than just a local religion, he was the Son of God and the Savior of the whole world. And so he would suffer, he would die and be raised again. Then he would ascend into heaven and inform the disciples that their primary mission on this earth is to proclaim that message. That is the core of the gospel.

And so, as Jesus Christ stood there talking with his disciples, a strong voice came out of the heavens saying, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.” The crowd that heard it said, “It has thundered.” Jesus replied that God gave them this message to help the people understand who he really was. He is saying, “You are going to have the light just a little longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.”

In verse 30, Jesus explains, “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world (Satan) will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.'”

Jesus will draw all people to himself Ð Jews to be sure Ð but all others as well. His Word will extend out into the world until he returns again. This means that the message he was proclaiming would find its way into the hearts and homes of people in 2012. It is the message that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.

When he finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them. These were his closing words. My friend, this is Christianity.

I would like to turn your attention to verse 27. “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ÔFather, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

I love this portion of scripture, because it points out that Jesus was human, but without sin. He knows his task is to go and make atonement for the sins of the world, but his heart is troubled by the real temptation. “What shall I say, ÔFather, dismiss me from this hour’? Or ÔFather, wait another 10 years, then we’ll have this hour’?”

But then he follows with this bouncing “No! It was for this very reason I came to this hour.” (Here he is defining Christianity.) God has come into the world in the person of Jesus Christ. He was God to be sure, but he was also man Ð the God/man. He was man in the sense that he understood what sin could do to an individual. He was man in the sense that he understood what temptation was all about. Yet he was also man who, empowered by the Holy Spirit, knew that God himself had come, the God/man, to suffer and then die in order to free man up to be one with Jesus Christ forever.

Biblical Christianity has Jesus Christ at the heart of its message. It is far more than a fine moralism or a general religion. It is the glorious truth that Jesus Christ has come as the God/man. When you give someone a definition of Christianity, don’t forget that Christ is at the center of it all.

Many of us who have heard this gospel through the years believe it is true. We believe Christ is all he says he is in the scriptures and we are the people of God. Others have been in the church for a long time and believe they are good Christians, but cannot believe everything scriptures say about Jesus. They have sort of a worked-over Christianity. They don’t take some of those doctrines as seriously as the scriptures do. So they chalk off some cardinal and ethical teachings until soon it is not a Christianity of the scriptures, but a Christianity according to human beings.

Perhaps you believe that, if you have more time to work through these beliefs a bit better, you will come to trust them. Jesus knows how tempting Satan can be. He knows it would be easy to say, “I am just out of college, and I’m not so sure I want to give my life to Jesus Christ now. Perhaps in a few years, after I’ve had a look at the emptiness of the world, I’ll know best. “

Jesus says, “Now is the day! Now is the day for you.” He will continue to walk with you. In the meantime, he is urging us to invite him into our hearts Ð by the power of the Holy Spirit Ð so we can know the glory of this gospel.

How do you define the Christian faith, is a very important question, and we need to give it a great deal of thought. Don’t put it off. Don’t let Christianity be confused in your mind simply because of what you might have read or what others might have told you. To not be sure about it is one thing. But to deny the Christian faith is unbelief, and that is sad.

There is no question that we live in a very confused world, and that confusion certainly extends into Christianity. One of the basic reasons for all the confusion is the world continues to deny who Jesus is and that he has the answers for our problems, no matter how serious and how big they are. Turn to your Bibles, and remember the words God has given us. If we want to be his followers, we are to take up his cross and walk with him, the light of the world. If you hear his voice, open your heart and let Jesus in today.

A Christianity That Costs Nothing Is Worth Nothing

In many ways life is much easier than it was years ago. It is therefore natural for us to also like a Christianity that is much easier too. But Bishop J. C. Ryle from England reminds us, “a Christianity that costs nothing, is worth nothing.” These are important words.

In today’s text, Jesus is predicting his death. He will be rebuked by many people Ð the teachers of the law, scribes, Pharisees, and the hierarchy of the religious order of his day. They were going to get him out of their way. He also said that he would be killed and three days later be raised from the dead.

Those were difficult words for the disciples to hear, and as a result Peter stepped aside to Jesus. I can imagine him saying something like this to Jesus: “You don’t know what turmoil your words bring us. Are hearts are heavy. We love you. We’ve walked with you now for nearly three years. And then to learn that you are going to die? That cannot happen! You are God. Don’t you remember at Caesarea Philippi when you asked me, ÔWho do I say that you are?’ and I turned and said, ÔYou are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And you blessed me for it. You said, ÔBlessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona for flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven!’ But now you are telling me and the others you are going to die.”

But then Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” What Peter was thinking is that if he just takes a little bit of the Christian message off here and a little bit off there, it might be palatable for the people and then they would let Jesus go on living. They had a comfortable little religion of their own. It could stay. After a few years they would die, and that would be the end of it.

But that was not the way it would be. It was God’s will for Jesus to go to Calvary to suffer and die on the bloodstained cross as a payment for the sins of the world. This was sin’s payment for Peter and everybody else who receives him as Savior and Redeemer. The world believes Jesus’ sacrifice may hold something for them, but it’s not a payment their for sin.

Then Jesus invites the crowd to go with them. And on this very day Ð March 18 Ð Jesus extends the same invitation to us. He says, “I need you. This is the way my kingdom is built. Will you come after me? Will you follow me?”

Jesus promised peace to the crowd peace in the New Testament Ð “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” The crowd has not changed much in the past 2,000 years. We have a mission. Whenever we find tension between what God wants and what the world wants, if we follow Him, we will have peace in our souls at the end of time, for we have chosen to follow the will of God.

However, following Jesus can sometimes cause a bit of suffering. Sometimes it can hurt a bit and for just a moment we want to be part of the crowd.

We will fall short when we come to Jesus. Peter fell short many times. However, because he confessed his faith in Jesus as the Son of the living God, he was granted the forgiveness of his sins until his dying day. God offers you this as well!

Sometimes we would rather cover up our sins and continue in them. I see it every day in my own life. But if you are a believer in Jesus, his spirit lives in you and you are forgiven. In the meantime, you must also forgive others, which can be difficult.

However, when we know God loves us and gave us the Lord Jesus Christ, we realize that we’ve never experienced a love like it, not even from the ones dearest to our hearts. Jesus Christ came with an everlasting love, he lived and died for us so we may live with him forever in the kingdom of heaven.

Paul said it well, “My grace is sufficient for you.” He received that message by divine inspiration and passed it on to us. God will never ask us to do something for which his grace will not be sufficient. It may cause us sorrow or death. It may even cause us to be disbarred from a group who does not want us around. Being a follower of Christ will not always be easy, but suffering of one kind or another is bound to happen as a follower of Christ.

In today’s text, Jesus gives us a few things to ponder as we consider the question, Do I really want to give him my all? These questions shape our life both now and for all eternity.

“What does it prosper a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?” Is life about gaining a lot of prestige and wealth? It is not wrong to be wealthy. Many people in the Bible were wealthy. But it all depends on what we do with our wealth. If we are greedy and worship our wealth, it is sin. All my wealth, all my possessions, and all the prestige of my position in society, in and of itself, are not bad. In fact, it might be used for some good. But if the wealth and prestige are my basic goals in life, then I am losing out. Then I have not taken up my cross and followed him.

I can want to be a good influence in society, but it should not be used to bring a great deal of praise to myself. Instead it should be used to bring people closer to God and make the will of God known in a society that can often be so far from him.

“If anyone is ashamed of me and my word in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” What does it mean to be ashamed of him?

Visualize a business meeting where an important decision is about to be made. That decision is legal, but is not moral. The decision could make you quite wealthy. When called upon for your vote, you respond as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, by saying, “I’m afraid I cannot go along with you, for I am a committed Christian. I live in a personal relationship with my Lord, and as I sit here now, the Christ who lives within me tells me not to do it, for it is contrary to his will.”

You could suffer for your stand and be excluded from the group. You could even lose some prestige.

Imagine our government officials having some burdensome questions to answer. Within the quietness of their homes they sit alone with their Bible and listen to God speaking. Then the next day they bear testimony as a follower of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world to those who are present and to the nation whom they are seeking to guide and to lead.

Just think of how it could be if those men and women would be willing to bear the shame. Whether it is the businessmen or the congressmen, the Senator or the President, whoever it may be. Even if it’s me in my own little community saying to my friends and family, “I cannot participate because I am a child of God.”

That is the message of today. A Christianity that costs us nothing is worth nothing, but a Christianity that gains my loyalty and my faithfulness is worth everything for both now and for all eternity.

Pentecost Then and Now

One of America’s best-known churches declares, “In contrast to many churches, which organize their year around the Christian calendar, we acknowledge only two Christian holidays, Christmas and Easter. We also have given special services for the cultural holidays of Thanksgiving, New Year’s Day, Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day, Memorial Day, and the Fourth of July.”

Two major Church holidays Ð what other one is missing? Let me tell you if you don’t know. It’s Pentecost Sunday. This is the festival that proclaims the Holy Spirit’s coming in a very unique way to work in people’s lives. Without the Holy Spirit’s work, there would be no Christmas or Easter, because it is the Holy Spirit who creates faith in our hearts whereby we can receive Christ who was born in Bethlehem’s manger, crucified at Calvary, and raised on Easter Sunday. No one by his own reason or strength can or will confess Jesus as God, who became man and walked among us. Only the Holy Spirit can create faith in our hearts to empower us to receive Jesus as the One who died and rose as a payment for our sins and promises us eternal life.

My question is, if no one can come to Christ without the work of the Holy Spirit, should not the Church festival that emphasizes His work in our lives be of equal importance as Christmas and Easter? The answer is obvious.

The New Testament places great emphasis on the Spirit’s work. The creedal statements of the Church emphasized the importance of His work. Martin Luther, one of the Church’s greatest theologians, said it well in his small catechism. “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; . . .”

This is Pentecost Sunday! I want to refresh our memories on the importance of the Holy Spirit’s work; and to do this we turn in our Bibles to Acts 2.

Pentecost was a festival that the Jews celebrated. Their purpose was twofold: to celebrate God giving the Law to Moses, and their offering the first of the crops to God. It was an international crowd, for people came from many countries to be in Jerusalem on that day. It was at that time the Holy Spirit came to the disciples. We read, “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (2-4).

This led the people to assume they were in the midst of a drunken brawl. At that time Peter stood up and began to preach. His sermon can be summarized in these words, “God has made Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (36). Peter wanted the crowd to know that people nailed Jesus to the cross and placed His body in a tomb, but God raised Him from the dead. He now lives.

The sermon brought amazing results. The Bible says, “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ÔBrothers, what shall we do?'” (37)

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off Ð for all whom the Lord our God will call.” You will become new people. In many ways, life will not change. You will do your work as always. You will be parents of your children and friends of your neighbors, but you will have a new spirit and a message to share with others that will turn their hearts to God. You will be God’s ambassadors, and He will appeal to this world through you.

On that day 3,000 people confessed their faith in Christ and received the Holy Spirit. The Church was born!

That is a summary of the first Pentecost. What about Pentecost today?

For 2,000 years, the Holy Spirit has been at work convicting, enlightening, creating faith, and changing lives. He has been using people to carry the message of Christ to all parts of the world. Men and women have asked the old question, “What shall we do?” The answer is the same. “Receive Jesus Christ.” The Church continues to grow. Sometimes we hear people say, “We are in the post-Christian age.” I imagine they mean that Christianity has really had its day and now it will gradually find its place in history and not be a dynamic force to consider. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Holy Spirit will continue to do His work in people’s lives as long as the earth stands. If people reject His work, He will move onto other places. This is evident when we visit places that once were Christian and today you have to hunt hard to find a Christian congregation. However, the Church is strong in other parts of the globe.

But let’s look at the Church in our towns. We have what is often called the Visible Church. In any given town, there will be churches of different denominations. Does this mean that all of the members of these churches are believers in Jesus Christ? The answer is no. People become members of congregations for different reasons. They have not yet received Christ as Savior and Lord, but the Holy Spirit is at work in them, awaiting the day when they will say, “What shall we do?” This is the time when you share in a new way the marvelous story of God’s love for them in sending Christ to be their Savior and Lord.

It was my experience that, in the preparation of the sermon to be delivered on a Sunday morning, I had to preach to those who were not yet Christian, but seeking to know more about Christ. I also had to preach to those who were Christian that they might grow in their relationship with Christ.

Seeing all of these churches of differing denominations, it would be logical for the non-Christian to ask, “Does Christ have many Churches on this earth?”

The answer again is no. There is only one Christian Church.

Why then all of these different groups?

God has given us His Word. Its message goes far beyond human understanding. Therefore, people have differed in interpreting the meaning of the message. The teaching on baptism is a good example. Some understand the Scriptures to teach that God is at work through the sacrament, establishing a covenant with the person being baptized. Since God is at work, the person can be brought to the baptismal font as an infant. After the boy or girl has been baptized, the parents are told to take their child home and introduce him or her to Jesus. This denomination believes that the child has become a Christian in baptism. However, this child can walk away from his faith unless he is confronted with Christ, and even then he may say, “I don’t want Christ.” At that time, the person is not a Christian, but stands in need of being brought back into the Kingdom of God, which he left on his own free will. His coming back is called a conversion.

Other Christian churches believe that baptism is a rite for those who now publicly confess their faith in Christ as Savior and Lord. This child hears the Gospel of Jesus. The Holy Spirit creates faith in his/her soul, and he/she confesses their faith in Jesus as Savior. On the basis of their confession, he/she is baptized. This is called a believer’s baptism.

Since this group of Christians cannot agree on which understanding of Scripture is correct on baptism, the one group constructs a building and is known in the community as the Lutheran Church. The other group has their building and is known as the Baptist Church in the town.

Are they one? Yes, their oneness is in Jesus Christ. Those who confess Jesus as the Son of the God and Savior of the world are Christian. Different interpretations of God’s Word separate them, but they all agree on the core of the Gospel, that through faith in Jesus Christ, they belong to the family of God and are brothers and sisters in the faith.

There is then in a congregation, the Invisible Church. These are the people who are baptized believers in Jesus Christ. To better understand, let me illustrate by depicting a congregation that has 1,000 members in its church membership directory. Let’s say that 600 are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior and the other 400 are not able to make that confession at the present time. In the same time, there is another congregation that has 500 members and 300 of them are believers in Christ. There are two churches in that town numbering 1,500 members. This is the visible church seen by the human eye. But in reality, there is only one Church that meets in two buildings, and there are 900 members who confess faith in Christ as Savior and Lord.

You may ask, “Who determines which people are believers, and who are not?” Only God and the individual can answer that question. It is not for us to judge. However, it is common for a person, yet to become a believer, who will tell his or her friend that he or she is not a Christian. These people are asking for help. They joined the congregation, made a public confession with a group of people that they believed in Christ, but really had not taken it seriously. Now, through the Word of God, the Holy Spirit is doing His work. A believer leads that person to faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. When he or she receives Christ in faith, he or she has moved into the Church Invisible, while yet remaining a part of the visible Church.

I began by mentioning a congregation that does not celebrate the Festival of Pentecost. Should we assume that other means could be helpful in bringing people to Christ? Can a good job of psychologizing bring the person to a more receptive attitude of hearing about Christ? This method is being tried, not only in the one church I called attention to in the introduction of this sermon, but in churches across the country. Many fast-growing congregations are placing great emphasis on creating the right atmosphere that will not offend the person who is seeking the meaning of life. Do not mention the word sin. This could be repulsive to the seeker. Be careful in choosing the right hymns. Eliminate the cross, for this deals with death, and the person is not ready to deal with such a frightening subject.

I have to leave the rights and wrongs of this method to smarter people than I, but the Scriptures, as I understand them, do not use this approach. Jesus said to those who were following Him, “If you want to be my followers, leave your father and mother and come. Take up your cross and follow me.” He was up front in telling those who followed him that, while salvation was free, discipleship could be costly.

It is my observance that many of us have relied far too heavily on what we can do to bring a spiritual awakening to the Church and have forgotten the Holy Spirit’s work in our own spiritual life and the life of the Church. Spiritual awakening is the work of the Holy Spirit, and our small part in it is to faithfully tell the story of Jesus and His love for the world.

Paul – God’s Grace Is Sufficient

Let’s face it. Life can be very rough at times.Ê

It is only natural to ask good questions like:

How do I face these dark hours of life?

How do I face my own death?

Paul, the last member of my cabinet, gives us the answer to the first of these questions when he said, “God’s grace is sufficient, for my power is

made perfect in weakness” (II Corinthians 12:9). To that you may reply, This is too easy an answer. Is it? Let’s see.

Kenneth Chafon, one of America’s great preachers, writes, “God doesn’t build a wall around us to isolate us from the risk of harm, but He does surround us with grace which enables us to transform anything that happens to us.” Paul would have said Amen to that statement for he had a “thorn in the flesh.” He had given a lot of thought as to why he had

this thorn. He concluded God was using it to keep him from being too elated. After all, Paul had experienced some marvelous times with the

Lord. No one had talked to the Lord as Paul did at the time of his conversion. God was directing him in a very specific way. There was a real temptation for Paul to become proud. This thorn would remind him that he was still a human being suffering as did the rest of humankind.

Paul also knew this thorn in the flesh had come not from God, but from Satan to bother him in his work. Satan was tormenting Paul and trying to

create doubt about the healing power of God. With all of these thoughts running around in his head, Paul asked the Lord to remove this affliction.

But the answer was, “No, Paul, my grace will be sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

I wonder if he didn’t swallow hard receiving God’s answer. However, time and grace gave Paul the power to say, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities, for when I am weak, then I am strong.

From that day to this, Paul has been teaching Christians that the hard knocks of life are too heavy for us to bear, but God’s grace is sufficient.

He will strengthen the believer and see us through whatever comes our way. Paul had seen God make good on this promise, and his witness was a great demonstration of God’s power in people’s lives.

Let’s see if we can make real this text by first showing how we live with our thorns.

My wife and I were eating in one of our favorite restaurants. The atmosphere was relaxing, the food was good, and our waitress that evening was especially charming. She had a great personality. I assumed she was a student working her way through college. I finally

began to ask her a few questions. In our discussion I learned she had recently graduated from college and would be taking a job in the mall. But right now she just wanted a less responsible job and was relaxing for a few months. The waitress also told us she had moved into a house and was having fun fixing it up just the way she wanted it to be. Soon she

told us that her boyfriend had moved in with her, and that made it extra nice.

In our visit, I learned she attended church regularly. She had been in a confirmation class, and memorized many Bible passages and parts of Luther’s catechism. This led to my pointed question, “Doesn’t it bother you to live with a person and not be married?” She replied, “No more than to break any of the other commandments.” It was as if her answer

had been rehearsed. She used the logic, Break one and you break them all. I had touched a soft spot and she reacted negatively.

Since she still wanted to talk about this subject, I told her that one sin did not justify another, and through all of this she could be hurt. This

young man with whom she was living had no commitment to her. He could walk out anytime he chose to do so. Typical of many, the young

lady replied, “No, not this fellow. He is genuine.”

As I was paying our bill, and because of her openness, I left her an extra tip. She still continued the discussion. “You know,” she said, “life is different today than when you were my age. About 60% of my friends live together before they are married. This behavior is accepted. My mom would not have done what I am doing, but my father was ‘naughty’

when he was young.” With that closing remark, she went on to the next customer after thanking me for talking with her.

Driving home, my wife and I concluded this woman is not very happy with her behavior. She knows it is wrong. Peers can tell her it is

permissible, but her training in God’s Word says such behavior is sin. However, she feels trapped. She has those sexual drives that are being

satisfied. There is security in having a man around. How did I get into this mess, and how do I get out of it? are bothering questions. She has a thorn in the flesh.

The Bible would counsel her to leave it with God. Accept His offer when He says, You don’t have the strength to break off the relationship, but I

will empower you to tell the young man that we either get married or he moves out.

Before we leave this illustration, I want to say that cohabiting is not just a sin of young people. Older people are also guilty, and then they justify

their behavior by saying they are lonesome, need a partner, and marriage will mess up their pension plan. Let me ask. Do you live contrary to

God’s Word just to enjoy a few extra dollars? Do grandparents teach their grandchildren by their example?

God’s grace is sufficient to deal with our thorns in the flesh. It also comforts us in facing our own death. Listen to these words, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” Let’s talk about our own death.

We know that, through faith in Christ, God has promised us a heavenly home. However, leaving loved ones behind is difficult. A mother who

was dying and leaving young daughters behind told me, “I don’t want to die. I know that I can raise those two girls better than anyone else in the world. They are mine.” She was right! When our children are raised, we grandparents enjoy the grandchildren. My wife and I are spending the

winter in Iowa with snow a foot deep and temperatures below zero to watch our grandson play basketball on the high school team. We don’t want to die. A friend of mine who is 80, has suffered a stroke and doesn’t want to die. He preaches each Sunday in a small church and is

excited about the challenge. Most of us hang onto life as long as we can. It’s the natural thing to do.

Christians know we are going to heaven, but for some there is a bit of nervousness in going. There are so many unanswered questions about

life on the other side. Will we know each other? What will it be like to live in a perfect state? The list of questions is endless. One 90- year-

old woman says, “I’ll be all right once I get going to heaven. It’s just waiting around that makes me a little edgy. It’s kind of like going on a

long trip. It’s hard to sleep the night before you leave.” God has promised us everlasting life. It’s a free gift by grace through faith in

Christ Jesus. This is our peace. We do not depend on good deeds to earn our salvation. Listen again, “For by grace you have been saved

through faith — and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God — not because of works, lest any man should boast.

Eight weeks ago we started this series of sermons. We have been building a Spiritual Cabinet, a Board of Directors to help us with our daily walk. Here are the names of my cabinet and what they tell me many times each day:

Abraham – Trust Him

Samuel – Listen to Him

Joseph – Forgive

Job – Be Patient

Moses – The Authority

Rahab – Availability

Mary and Martha – Differences

Paul – Grace

Who is on your list?Ê

Listen to your directors.ÊThey are God’s servants giving you spiritual help.Ê

Amen.

Joseph – Forgive

How do I learn to forgive? This is a question that all people must answer if they want to live a happy life. In a sinful, fallen world, we will be hurt by others. Some of these hurts will be intentional. How do we react to these hurts? If we let them lie in our minds and souls, they can make us bitter people carrying around a lot of spiritual garbage. Storing grudges is a savings program we cannot have if we want to be healthy, happy people. Just waiting for the day when we can get even with that person who has hurt us badly is not a good long-range-planning program.

Joseph is the person on my spiritual board of directors who teaches me what forgiveness is all about. The story of Joseph’s life is recorded in Genesis 30 – 50. Joseph’s father, Jacob, had twelve sons from two wives and two concubines. Rachel, the mother of Joseph, was his favorite wife, and there is no question that Joseph was the son he loved the most.

This favoritism towards Joseph made the other brothers jealous of Joseph, and the result was a dysfunctional family. The Bible tells us, “Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers realized that their father loved Joseph more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.”

Imagine what an unhappy life that was for Joseph. He was shunned by his siblings and not accepted as one of them. To put it in today’s picture, Joseph wasn’t invited to socialize with them. He was ignored and rejected. Can anything hurt more than rejection? It was in that environment Joseph lived.

For years the brothers lived with the dream of one day getting even with Joseph. They lived with vengeance and hate, which added to their unhappiness. Then came the day for which they had been waiting.

Jacob sent Joseph miles from home to check on his brothers who were tending cattle out in the hills. As they saw Joseph coming, they said, “Here comes the dreamer! Let’s kill him, throw him in to one of these cisterns and say that an animal devoured him” (Genesis 37:19-20).

Reuben, the oldest brother, did not want to kill Joseph and convinced his brothers to throw him into the cistern, but let him live. It was Reuben’s plan to return to the cistern, rescue Joseph, and send him back to his father. But while Reuben was absent, some Ishmaelites came along, and the brothers sold Joseph to these peddlers for 20 pieces of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt where he fell into the good graces of Pharaoh by interpreting a dream for the king. He told Pharaoh that, in his dream, God had revealed to him that, during the next seven years Egypt would have a bumper crop, but it would be followed by seven years of famine. He counseled Pharaoh to find a wise man who would collect some of the food during the good years to assure the Egyptians of plenty during the famine that was to follow.

Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you” (Genesis 41:40-41).

Joseph obeyed the king’s orders, and the grain was stored in preparation for the famine. When the famine became serious, people came from the surrounding areas to buy food. In the crowds were Joseph’s brothers.

They did not recognize Joseph, but he recognized them, and later told them who he was. The brothers panicked wondering if Joseph would pay them back for what they had done to him. After all, isn’t that the way this world acts? Maybe Joseph had lived with a grudge toward these brothers who had made life so miserable for him all the years he was growing up. They never spoke a kind word to him. Now it was his

time to make them miserable by letting them live with intense fear in their hearts. Why should he show mercy to these scoundrels who had sold him for 20 pieces of silver? But such was not the case. Joseph had experienced God’s loving and protecting hand over him. He knew that daily God had to forgive him, and now it was his time to show love and kindness towards these brothers.

When Joseph saw their fear, he said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good and to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So don’t be afraid. I will provide for you, and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them (Genesis 50:19-21).

With those words, Joseph’s brothers experienced what forgiveness was all about, and we simply have to believe that they became forgiving people.

The point of this sermon is to learn from scripture. You don’t learn forgiveness from a book or sitting in a classroom or church, no matter how talented the speaker might be. You learn how to forgive people who have hurt you only when you have experienced what it is to be forgiven yourself.

Jesus talks often about forgiveness. Remember the day Peter asked Jesus how often he had to forgive a person? The Law said he must forgive seven times, but Jesus said, “No, Peter. Not seven times, but seventy times seven.” In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Only when I see myself as a sinner who has broken God’s Law and experiences His forgiveness, can I become a forgiving person. God’s Law tells me to forgive, but only His grace can give me the power to forgive. This forces us back to the cross. There we see the price Christ paid that our sins might be forgiven. There we begin to understand how often He, in His boundless love, forgives us. The offenses of others might anger us. We might entertain thoughts of getting even with those who have harmed us, but to carry that spirit for a period of time is impossible if we walk daily with the Lord. So, as a person who is always anxious to be forgiven, but not always ready to forgive, I must add Joseph to my spiritual cabinet.

Now each day:

Abraham says, “Trust God.”

Samuel counsels, “Keep still and listen to God.”

Joseph emphasizes, “Forgive, forgive, forgive.”

With those mighty voices surrounding me on a daily basis, I become a new person in Jesus Christ. The old is passing away.