The Mark of Authenticity

John 13:31-35

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love one another AS I HAVE LOVED YOU.

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

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

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

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

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

Love one another as I have loved you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love one another as Christ has loved us. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Security!

John 10:22-33

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I recently read this story by David Prince.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen to that!

Pastor Steve Kramer

Restored!

John 21:1-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poor Lena. ☺

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you love Him?

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

Is He your all in all?

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

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

Pastor Steve Kramer

The Eternal Now

John 5:20-26

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

How can we live forever?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Revelation 22:3, Jesus says,

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

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

Psalm 90:2 says,

“From everlasting to everlasting, you are God.”

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

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

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

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

He is the Lord of life!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Lee Laaveg

Re: Easter

Luke 24:1-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Kramer

 

Encounters: Our Promise

Luke 23:32-43

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He smiled said “Pretty big family!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Kramer

Encounters: Jesus Loves Short People

Luke 19:1-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I find two takeaways for us in this story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Kramer

 

If I Were a Rich Man

Luke 18:18-27

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

Most people dream of having more money. Have you ever dreamt of being wealthy? We could sing with the character Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof, “If I were rich man . . .” Would you like to be wealthy? If so, how much money would be enough. Would it make you happy? Improve your relationships? Be the basis of your security?

Harvard Medical School psychologist Steven Berglas has written a book called, The Success Syndrome. He has found that individuals who, in his words, “suffer from success,” have arrogance and a sense of aloneness.

Insider trader, Dennis Levine, was asked by his wife why he needed the money from insider trading, and he really had no answer. Levine says that when his income was $100,000 a year, he hungered for $200,000. When he was making a million a year, he hungered for three million. Berglas says that, oddly enough, people who find that $200,000 annually does not make them happy, never asked themselves why they thought $300,000 would make them happy.

When asked to prescribe a cure for the success syndrome, Berglas said, “What’s missing in these people is a deep commitment or religious activity that goes far beyond just writing a check to a favorite charity.”

Someone wisely said, “Money is a great servant, but a terrible master.”

All my life, I’ve dreamed of what it would be like to encounter Jesus in the flesh, face-to-face. To have the chance to unlock His mind, or hear the passion of His heart, or learn more personally about the kingdom of God. The person in our story from Luke’s Gospel is called the rich young ruler. He was a man living the dream, and he had a personal encounter with Jesus. What do we know about him?

We know he was rich, young, and a ruler. He was rich like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet of his time. The Bible says he was exceedingly rich.

We know money does buy power, freedom, influence. It draws the admiration of others. But Jesus said, “It’s harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle” (Mark 10:25). In old Jerusalem is a place called Needles Gate. It is a low entrance in the wall where camels can only pass through if they are stripped of their saddle and all of their packs. Then the camel can go through the Needles Gate on its knees.

It’s hard for a rich man to enter the place where God reigns without totally submitting to God’s authority and power, without being totally dependent upon God. As Christians we would say, without surrendering to Jesus as Lord. We need to strip off all that blocks us from trusting, following, and serving the Lord Jesus. To be a true disciple of Jesus Christ means we offer all our gifts, talents, and assets to serve Christ’s kingdom.

This man was rich, but he was also young. All of life’s dreams are ahead of him. Adventure and opportunity abound on the horizon. He is healthy. The youth have a sense of invincibility and a vitality of life that throbs with possibility.

This man was a ruler. He was blessed with a position of power, authority, and influence. He commanded others. This rich young ruler had it all!

Moreover, he was morally upright. He told Jesus he had obeyed and followed the commands of God since he was a boy. This rich young ruler does not know Jesus is God, but he does know Jesus is a good teacher.

He is a seeking soul on his knees before Jesus who has the answer to his problem. His life is so good, but he realizes it can’t last forever. All of us will die. So, on his knees, he pleads to know how his good life could last forever. “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

His understanding of eternal life was flawed. Eternal life, as the Bible describes it, is more than length of life. It is the quality of life. Eternal life also is not a flat commodity to be bartered for or to be earned. Nor is it an extension of our present existence, lasting forever.

Remember Jesus in John 17:3 said, “This is eternal life: that the world know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Eternal life is living by faith in a shared relationship of life and love with God Himself, walking by faith with God each day.

Eternal life is the mystery of the living, all-powerful Lord Jesus inhabiting our souls and transforming our lives by the presence of His indwelling Spirit. Remember Jesus said, “The one who believes in me has already passed from death to eternal life” (John 5:24).

The rich young ruler also was mistaken in his concept of the way to receive eternal life. His question said, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The answer to that question is nothing. No human being can do anything or achieve anything to merit eternal life. He was hoping Jesus would give him a task. He was used to making things happen. His self-sufficiency was at the highest level.

When Jesus looks at this rich young ruler, he sees the motivations of the young man’s heart. It says in another Gospel account that when Jesus looked at him, He loved him.

But Jesus also was very straightforward in speaking the truth: “You lack something.” When Jesus looks at us, He also looks at us with love. However, He also sees our deficiencies, our imperfections, our flawed loyalties. Jesus sees in the rich young ruler that his wealth, his youthful health, and his position of power were idols for him. Even his moral obedience was a source of spiritual security in his understanding of his identity. All these things are gods (with a small “G”) for the rich young ruler.

The rich young ruler is very successfully self-reliant, but his self-reliance and wealth prevented him from seeing his need for what Jesus alone could provide. It blocked him from seeing his total dependence on Jesus Christ alone.

So Jesus gives this rich young ruler a bold request: “Give away all you have to the poor. Give it away to those who have no capacity to reciprocate, and come follow Me.” Jesus is not giving him a new path to salvation nor suggesting a person has to live in absolute poverty in order to be His disciple. He is instead lifting up the first Commandment – You shall have no other gods – as the very area where the rich young ruler falls.

Scripture says the rich young ruler was sad, and he went away deeply grieved. Mark’s Gospel says his face fell.

This promising young man, with great potential for good, was not chased by Jesus. Jesus did not lower the bar. Jesus did not say, Wait, wait. Let’s negotiate. Jesus has now pierced the rich young ruler’s naivete.

Just last week, I was visiting with a woman in a nursing home who knew by the doctor’s prescription that she only had a few days to live in this world. She said to me, “You’re gonna tell me how great heaven is, and that I’ll see Jesus soon. The truth is, I don’t want to go. I don’t want to leave my things.” I looked around her small room in the nursing home with stacks of boxes of stuff, of trinkets. She was surrounded by her personal junk, and she didn’t want let go of it, even for the glory of heaven.

Perhaps Jesus’ words strike a raw nerve for us, too. Will Jesus ask something of us, which will cost us too much? Jesus’ call to discipleship always calls for everything from us. “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure in the field,” Jesus says. “When the man found it, he sold all he had to buy that field” (Matt. 13:44). Jesus also said, “The one who saves his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for my sake and the Gospel’s will find it” (Mark 8:35).

Faith is a total dependence on Jesus Christ alone. But discipleship – inseparable from faith – is offering myself totally to Christ’s service. I’m willing to follow Him wherever He leads. My life is in His hands.

If I were a rich man, the potential is I would be tempted for my wealth to become more significant for me than Jesus. The rich young ruler couldn’t let go of his wealth and all the benefits that went with it, so he went away. There is no neutral response when Jesus calls us to follow Him.

The disciples then asked Jesus, “Well, then, who could be saved?” Jesus says this poignant word, “With people it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Thank the Lord, God specializes in the impossible. And the impossible was accomplished for us by the cross of Jesus Christ, the free gift of salvation, forgiveness of our sins, and the open door to eternal life. It says in the Scripture,

“Jesus has broken down every barrier dividing us” (Ephesians. 2:14).
“(Jesus) gives us access to the grace of God in which we live” (Romans 5:2).

On the cross, Jesus let go of His personal power and His rights to give His very life as punishment for all our misguided priorities, sins, and failures. The cross is the grace of God opening the kingdom of God for us. It is never based on merit or personal achievement.

Dr. Dick Hardell once told the story of observing a father with two young children in a congested airport terminal. The father was carrying his youngest child in his arms while his four-year-old girl walked confidently beside him. All went well as they moved as one through the crowds. But then they arrived at the escalator. The father stepped on without missing a stride, but the four-year-old girl stopped, frozen in fright at the foot of the strange steps, which moved up by themselves in an endless stream. She stood paralyzed watching her father disappeared up the escalator. Then she cried out loud enough for the father to recognize that her voice was at a distance. Too long a distance for safety.

He shifted the youngest child to another arm and slowly turned his body to look for his daughter to see her trapped at the bottom of the steps. With great passion, he turned and began to walk down the up escalator speaking words that would bring comfort, encouraging her, and slowly closing the distance between them. He turned, reached out his hand, and said to his daughter, “We will make this big step together.” She grabbed her daddy’s hand, smiled as tears splashed off her cheeks, and bravely stepped onto those endless steps, which had brought her fear.

Dear friend, whatever creates fear within you or hinders you from hearing Jesus call you to follow Him and receive the treasures of heaven, let go of it and trust Jesus. Follow Him today. Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg

Encounters: Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There!

Luke 10:38-42

Have you ever wondered how Jesus and His disciples spent their evenings? Where did they eat and sleep? I think they did a lot camping. After all, Jesus said to a potential follower, “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20). It sounds to me like most nights were spent out under an open sky around a campfire. Sometimes, though, somebody would welcome Jesus and His disciples to stay in their home. Such was the case in today’s story as we see them in the home of Martha.

Luke begins our episode telling us Jesus and His disciples were “on their way.” This is Luke’s way of reminding us of the story’s context. Jesus had set His face to go to Jerusalem where He would suffer and die, and rise again to fulfill God’s salvation plan. This is where they were – on the way to Jerusalem – when a woman named Martha opened her home to them.

Now, think about this: thirteen tired and hungry men entering her home for the evening. I’d say Martha was not only hospitable, but generous as well. Unfortunately, an uncomfortable incident took place in her home, as we see in the story. As it turned out, Jesus used it as a teaching moment. It was an unforgettable lesson, which the disciples remembered and Luke passed on.

In my experience, people struggle a bit with this story. I’ve participated in Bible study groups where the argument has been whether Jesus was fair in His response to Martha. Groups have had the tendency to wrestle with the question, Am I a Martha type or a Mary type? What do I need to change? We tend to give Martha very low marks in this story.

I have to confess, though, I kind of like Martha. She speaks her mind! Where would we be without Marthas who serve? As a pastor, I appreciate the Martha types I have been blessed with in my congregation over the years. They really get things done!

Maybe we are being unfair to Martha. After all, hasn’t Jesus just held up service to our neighbors as a kingdom value in the story of the Good Samaritan just right before this little episode?

What do you think? Is this story really dissing Martha? Is it telling us not to be like her – serving Jesus – and instead be like Mary who sat there? I personally I think it’s a shame to play these women against each other. After all, they were both friends of Jesus. They both had excellent qualities in the eyes of Jesus, and I’m sure Mary had as much of a servant spirit as her sister.

So what is the point of this story? Let’s look at it again and see what really happened. After Martha welcomed Jesus into her home, she went all out to put together a lavish meal with all the fixings and get the place looking just right for Him. In Scripture it says, “Though she was distracted by all her preparations . . .” The word “distracted” means her attention was drawn elsewhere; it was not on her guest of honor. She was caught up in busyness to serve Jesus.

I’m reminded of a story Pastor Chuck Swindol wrote in a book entitled, Stress Fractures. “I vividly remember sometime back being caught in the undertow – too many commitments in too few days. It wasn’t long before I was snapping at my wife and our kids, choking down my food at meal times, and feeling irritated at those unexpected interruptions throughout the day. Before long, things around our home started reflecting the pattern of my hurry-up style. It was becoming unbearable for everyone.

“I distinctly recall after supper one evening the words of our younger daughter, Colleen. She wanted to tell me about something important that had happened to her at school. She hurriedly began, ‘Daddy, I want to tell you something, and I’ll tell you really fast!’

“Suddenly realizing her frustration, I answered, ‘Honey, you can tell me. You don’t have to tell me really fast. Say it slowly.’ I’ll never forget her answer. ‘Well then, listen more slowly.’”

I think Martha was a bit like Chuck. She was distracted and irritated in her busyness and not listening while her sister Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to what He is saying. Think about it – Jesus let her sit in and listen and learn like a male, as one of His disciples, which was unheard of for women in those days. It was quite a gift to Mary.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, Martha is feeling deserted and is growing more and more irritated with Mary in the midst of her dinner preparations. Can’t you just imagine Martha getting a little noisier out in the kitchen as she bangs things around a little harder, a little louder, sighing and moaning to herself, clearing her throat a little louder than usual to perhaps catch Mary’s attention. But Mary doesn’t budge. She continues to sit there at the feet of Jesus, taking in what He is saying, which angers Martha all the more! Who does she think she is? She doesn’t belong out there with the men, but in here with me working, serving.

Finally, Martha can’t stand it anymore. She storms into the room and has a meltdown in front of everyone. She takes her frustrations out – not on Mary – but on Jesus! “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself! Tell her to help me!” I’d say it had to have put a bit of a damper on things. One could feel the air being sucked right out of the room, I imagine. She kind of spoiled the dinner party, didn’t she. She spoiled it for Mary by embarrassing her, and she spoiled it for the disciples who are now feeling very uncomfortable, like they’d like to run out the door.

You could say she spoiled her relationship with Jesus a bit. She’s upset with Him and blames Him for her unhappiness and irritation. Everyone is just sitting there, staring at her open-mouthed, and then Jesus breaks the silence. He gently responds to her, “Martha, Martha . . .”

I have a daughter named Martha, and my poor Martha has had to hear this line quoted at least a thousand times, I’m sure.

Jesus goes on to describe for Martha what He is observing and the solution as well. He says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset by many things, but few things are needed, or indeed only one.” It doesn’t sound like Jesus is unappreciative of Martha’s service. However, He is concerned about the spirit which has developed in her because of the many tasks she has put on herself.

Martha, you are so worked up over all these things. Few things are needed – indeed only one. You are working too hard at your hospitality. It’s overwhelmed you and upset you. Even one dish would be enough. I’m not here to make your life more difficult and anxious. More importantly, I’m here to see you and talk with you. Keep it simple, Martha. Sometimes it is better to keep it simple.

Earlier in this 10th chapter of Luke, Jesus instructs His disciples, who He sends out two by two, to expect little and not be a burden on the households which welcome them. Have few expectations of them. Just eat what they put in front of you, Jesus said. Now He is living those words out in front of His disciples. Sometimes good service can get spoiled by a bad attitude which has developed.

You might be wondering how you can know when you are becoming dangerously overboard with hospitality and serving? Try this one on for size: when what you are doing drives you to distraction – makes you anxious, irritable, upset, judgmental, and difficult to get along with – it could be a good clue that you may be need to simplify things a bit. Serving a lavish meal is a fine thing, but we can tarnish the whole affair when we end up with a bad spirit because of it. It doesn’t do anybody any good.

This story isn’t instructing us to just sit around doing nothing and serve Jesus – the serving is appreciated. Sometimes, however, we need to keep it simple so we can do something even more important, which we see in the next statement of Jesus.

He goes on to say, “Mary has chosen that which is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” She has chosen the better part. What is this better part? It is to grab the opportunity to spend time with Jesus and allow Him to minister to you, to let Him do something in you before you do something for Him. Your soul needs His service, care, and time as He speaks into your life. It is time well spent. Don’t just do, do, do something. Sit there.

Shouldn’t I be serving Jesus? Absolutely! But remember, the One who said, “Pick up your cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24), also said, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28-30).

It’s so easy to get caught up in our busyness of serving Jesus and others and not sit with Jesus and let Him serve us. We get worn down by it. It leads to explosions and meltdowns like we see in today’s story. It leads to burn out, broken relationships with others including Jesus, and moral breakdowns. We make bad decisions when we’re so tired. It has the potential to create a troubled and lost soul, out of touch with God and doing life without Him.

How is your soul, your inner person, these days? Are you giving it the attention it needs? While Martha was preparing her banquet, another banquet was already being served by Jesus in her home, which He wanted her to have. She was missing out on His rest for her soul. Are you missing out? Life can get so busy. A banquet awaits you when you spend time with Him, take in His words of grace, love, and wisdom. A feast is prepared for you to enjoy as you worship Him on Sunday with the community of faith, and every day of the week. As you make time to pause, open His word to let Him speak into your life, talk with Him in prayer, praise Him in song.

We learned today, there is nothing wrong with serving. Keep it up; it’s a good thing! We are called to serve in Christ’s name. But we also are reminded in this passage that Jesus came to serve us. He put words to this later on in Luke: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Matt. 10:45).

We need precious time with Him. Our souls require us to quiet ourselves in His presence. We need His words of life to comfort, encourage, and guide us. We need to not just always be doing, doing, doing, but to just sit there and enjoy His company with us. Allow Him to put a song in our mouths.

♬”. . . and He walks with me and He talks with me,
and He tells me I am His own.
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
none other has ever been known.”♪

I want to close this message with a very touching story I read recently. It was written by a fellow pastor named Dan Meyer.

“This past week I stood at a grave side with a small circle of people as we laid to rest one of the great saints of our church. We told stories of how much better our lives were for the chance to know this man. Every one of us knew something of him. None of us knew all. But it was his marriage partner who knew the most. As we walked from the grave, she gave me an envelope containing a personal gift enclosed by a simple note. ‘Please enjoy dinner with your lovely wife,’ the note read. ‘Every minute together is precious.’

My first thought, I confess, was pretty self focused. What splendid timing! Amy and I are coming up on our 22nd wedding anniversary, and I’m going to take her out for a meal with this gift.

Then, as I sat in my car reading the note over again, the deeper significance of those words on the card started to settle in. The woman who had penned them had been with her own spouse on their 22nd anniversary. She been with him on their 32nd anniversary too, and on their 42nd, their 52nd, their 62nd, and their 72nd year of married life. For most of her more than 90 years on this planet she had built her life around the love of this man. She’d raised and buried children with him. She had faced storms and sun shines alike with him. She had soaked in and loved more of his heart, mind, soul, and strength than anyone else on earth. But for her, it was still not quite enough. ‘Please enjoy the opportunity,’ she had urged me with trembling pen, ‘and remember, every minute together is precious.’”

This, my dear friend, is our lesson, which Jesus wants to write upon our hearts today. Remember, every minute together with me is precious.

So don’t just do something, sit there. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Encounters: A Lesson on Love

Luke 10:25-37

When a new parent was asked by a friend what it was like having their first baby living in the house now, he replied, “Well, there’s never a dull moment.” How true that is! If you were to ask one of the disciples what life with Jesus was like, they probably would’ve said something like that. There’s never a dull moment. Just think of all they regularly experienced after they began to follow Him: amazing miracles; battles with demons; Jesus’ confrontations with the opposition; dinner parties with shady people; challenging assignments in some foreign, unfriendly territories; and fascinating conversations with all kinds of interesting people along the way. Such was the case as we read of Christ’s final expedition to Jerusalem in Luke’s Gospel.

Jesus had many memorable encounters in conversations with various kinds of people who came to Him. His disciples had the privilege of listening and observing them. Obviously, they were impacted by these encounters because they later remembered them and shared them with other people. Eventually, Luke wrote them down for our benefit.

These encounters served them well as part of their training to be Christ’s disciples. Jesus had called them with the promise of making them fishers of people, and they had a lot to learn. They needed to learn about the ways of the kingdom of God and how to attract people to repent and receive the kingdom so they might experience the new, abundant life Jesus came to give them.

Last week we observed Jesus’ encounter with three admirers who said they wanted to follow Him. From that encounter, the disciples learned about the high commitment involved with following Jesus. Today we see Him having an encounter with a lawyer. This is not an attorney as we know them today. He was more of a biblical scholar, an expert on the Torah, the Law of Moses. This man came to Jesus with a question: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Now we might wonder if he is sincere in asking that question. Does he really want to know? Luke would say, Not really. He was simply putting Jesus to the test. He’s thinking to himself, ‘Let’s see how bright this Galilean rabbi really is!’ I bet I could teach him a thing or two. Let the games begin!’

In all likelihood, this lawyer was affiliated with the Pharisees, who were working to discredit Jesus with whom they had some run-ins already. Maybe the man’s intentions were to make a public spectacle of Jesus by getting Him to say something heretical that would hurt His reputation.

Besides, it is a bit of a stupid question when you think about it. The nature of an inheritance is that you do nothing for it. You don’t earn an inheritance; someone gives it to you. Jesus patiently and kindly responds to this individual with His own question. “What’s written in the law? What do you read there?” (Notice, Jesus says He didn’t come to abolish the laws of God, but to actually fulfill them.)

The expert responds with the statement that every pious Jew recited daily. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind.” Then he added a statement from the Old Testament: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). The man’s response is sometimes referred to in Christian circles as the Great Commandment, and Jesus affirms him for it. “Good answer! Do this and you will live.” End of debate, now. Right? Nope. Not at all.

The law expert doesn’t want to end this debate, because he is kind of losing. He wants to justify himself, look good in front of the crowd. So he asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” And Jesus tells a story – a story, which has become very familiar over time, even to those who profess not to believe in Jesus. It has been entitled, The Good Samaritan story.

A traveler going down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was robbed and beaten and stripped of his clothes. The robbers left him half dead by the side of the road. Now by chance, a priest, and then a little later on, a Levite (an assistant priest) came walking down the road, saw the beaten man lying there half dead, but each of them crossed over to the other side of the road and passed him by.

These were very religious people of God. They knew the same answers that the expert quoted, but they did nothing. Quite disappointing. Jesus doesn’t tell us why they did nothing. Perhaps it was fear of being mugged themselves or a lack of time in their tight schedules. Maybe they were concerned about remaining ceremonially clean, not taking the chance of touching a dead man, which would make them unclean.

Jesus continued . . .

But, a Samaritan came near and saw him . . .

The listeners were at the edge of their seats. Augh! One of those half-breed, lowlife Samaritans. I bet he’ll crush in his skull. Finish him off. This isn’t good! Jews and Samaritans had a long history of hatred toward each other. No time for one another.

Jesus went on with the story.

. . . and when he saw the man, he was moved with pity. He went to the beaten man, did everything he could to help him. He bandaged his wounds after applying oil and wine on them for healing. He put the man on his donkey and walked into an inn. He took care of him there. He paid for the man’s stay from his own pocket, covering two months of lodging for him, and told the innkeeper to put any overrun costs on his tab.

Such extravagant love on a part of that Samaritan – over-the-top mercy and compassion.

Then Jesus turned to the law expert and asked him, “Which of these three was the neighbor to the beaten-up man?”

Biblical scholars, by the way, point out that there’s a bit of a surprise stinger in this parable. Jesus portrayed the hated Samaritan as the hero of the story. He carried out God’s great commandment better than the other two Jewish religious professionals. The thought was so horrifying, distasteful to the law expert that he couldn’t even bring himself to say the word Samaritan. Instead, with a scowl on his face, he spit out the words, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus gets in the last word: “Go and do likewise.” Instead of asking, Who is my neighbor? – Go and Be a neighbor. The right question is not, Who is my neighbor? but, How can I be a neighbor? Be a neighbor even to people like Samaritans, for they are your neighbors, too.

An important truth is being taught here. A neighbor is someone whose need you see and God has put you in a position to meet, no matter who they are. Jesus takes away the boundaries, the limits that the expert of the law (one of God’s own people) and people like us tend to put up for ourselves. We love people who like us and are like us. Jesus tells us to be a neighbor to those who are not like you and those who do not like you as well. According to this parable, your neighbor could be

• Someone who you don’t know, an absolute stranger. The Samaritan did not know the guy in the ditch. He only saw the need and responded with help.
• Someone who is unfriendly toward you – even an enemy. Like the relationship between Jews and Samaritans.
• Someone who rubs you the wrong way, who has done you wrong in the past.
• An unlovely person. The half-dead man lying in a pool of blood by the side of the road was very unattractive to look at.
Someone whose lifestyle you find unlovely, whose life situation makes you sick and uncomfortable.
• Someone who even worships another god than you do. You see them as unlovely.
• Someone who can’t reciprocate your love. Did you notice that there’s no paying back in this parable? No IOU being written out. In fact, not even a thank-you is found in the story. Just unconditional love and mercy on the part of Samaritan. Likewise, the person you help may not say thanks or make you feel good about your kindnesses. Jesus is saying, So what? Be a neighbor.

This is a difficult teaching, if you ask me. But Jesus is very clear. As God’s own people who have received His mercy and love through Christ, we are to love God and go out of our way to be a loving neighbor to others. We are to love them extravagantly and unconditionally.

Perhaps you’re wondering what this kind of love look like, and where a person gets started? First, you make yourself available. This is how you get started.

Bob Gough, a Christian author of the popular book, Love Does, tells of the importance of being available. He said, “We answer people’s questions about love every time we make ourselves more available. I’m trying to learn to be radically available. Every time my phone rings, it’s a reminder to me: Be like Jesus. Be available. There is something beautiful about stopping and really seeing people. Seeing their hurt, seeing their joy, seeing the whatever.”

After you make yourself available, be an intentional observer of people. Look at people around you, notice them, pay attention to them. Be interested. Be a student of them. Observe and listen. Ask questions and work at remembering what they say to you. Come to understand them so you can help.

Finally, get involved and lend a hand to those stuck in the ditch of life, like in the parable. Use the resources God has given you to help the hurting neighbor – resources like your time, your possessions, your skills, and your connections to help. Whether it’s a societal hurt or an injustice that needs healing. It has caught your attention on the news and is breaking your heart. You become passionate about it. Or perhaps it is an individual’s need in your sphere of influence, at a retirement home, in your neighborhood, at work, on the pickle ball course, or on the golf course. In the name of Jesus, do something. This is what He is telling us. Get involved. Love your neighbor.

Let me share a story I read recently that inspires me.

A man who had no interest in spiritual matters related casually to the Christian who lived next door to him. They talked over the back fence about power lawnmowers and stuff like that.

Then the non-Christian’s wife was stricken with cancer and died three months later. Afterward he wrote in a letter, “I was in total despair. I went through the funeral preparations and the service like I was in a trance. After the service, I went to the path along the river and walked all night, but I didn’t walk alone. My neighbor, afraid for me I guess, stayed with me all night. He didn’t speak. He didn’t even walk beside me. He just followed me. When the sun finally came up over the river, he came over and said to me, ‘Let’s go get some breakfast.’

“I go to church now – my neighbor’s church. A religion that can produce the kind of caring and love my neighbor showed me is something I want to learn more about. I want to love and be loved like that for the rest of my life.”

Jesus’ words to love our enemies sound like a tall order. We know ourselves pretty well – our built-in prejudices, our selfishness, our inattentiveness. So we naturally say it is impossible. How can I possibly do this?

The answer is, you can’t. Not on your own. However, I have an encouraging word for you today: With Jesus Christ in your life, you can grow in loving your neighbor. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are filled supernaturally. You are powered by the Holy Spirit. God is at work in you, developing what the apostle Paul refers to in the book of Galatians as the fruit of the Spirit, which basically is the ability to love people like Jesus. It means to have a heart of kindness that breaks for others in their brokenness and moves toward them to help. You are not on your own.

One final thought for today. Disciples of Jesus never walk in the footsteps of Jesus as much as when they operate like the Samaritan in this parable – being a loving neighbor. Remember, we were in the ditch, helplessly dying in our sinfulness, in need of rescue. We needed someone to bring us home to our heavenly Father. Jesus saw us in our need. He rescued us and healed our wounds with His own wounds at the cross as He suffered and died for sinners like you and me. He loves us extravagantly, without limits. Scriptures say while we were still His enemies, Jesus died for our salvation. When I trust Jesus as my Savior and Lord and enter into His kingdom, I am showered with His mercy, grace, and forgiveness. His agenda then becomes my agenda – to extravagantly love the wounded and needy of this world whom He daily brings to my attention. I do this out of love for Him who gave His all for me.

Go, be a neighbor. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer