The War is Won – The Battle Continues

A friend, who was not a Christian, once asked me to tell him the Easter story. It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? Here is a person, who has lived in America with so many churches, and is ignorant of the Easter story that most of us have heard repeatedly. It tells us that Christians cannot take anything for granted. We live in a society, which for the most part, is Biblically illiterate.

Well, speaking to a person in his 30s, I told him the Easter story as if he were 10 years old. Let me review the story with you, for it wouldn’t be Easter without telling it once more.

The first Easter began early on Sunday morning when the ladies went to Jesus’ tomb. They were going to anoint his body, but they had a problem Ð who would roll away the stone, for it was big and heavy. As they came near the tomb, their hearts rejoiced seeing the stone was rolled away. Hurriedly, they entered the tomb to find the body gone. A young man stood on the right side of the tomb and said, “Don’t be alarmed. You’re looking for Jesus. He isn’t here. He has risen! Now you go and tell Jesus’ disciples the good news, and especially make sure that Peter hears about Jesus’ resurrection.”

With this news those women made an about-face and ran as fast as they could to be the first heralds of the resurrection.

This is the story of the resurrection. Now here is the message of the resurrection:

Through His resurrection, Christ defeated sin. We know well that, many times during the day, we sin, but because of His payment for our sins on the cross and the resurrection revealing that God has accepted the payment, our sins have been forgiven, if we trust Christ as our Savior. It is with this good news we can sing, “Amazing Grace.”

Through His resurrection, Christ defeated death. We die, but those who trust Christ will live with Him forever in the Kingdom of Heaven. Perhaps you have buried a loved one since last Easter, but, as a Christian, you left the grave knowing your loved one lives with Christ. It doesn’t stop the tears, but it gives us a peace that is unexplainable.

Through His resurrection, Christ defeated the devil. Hearing this, my unbelieving friend said, “It doesn’t appear to me that the war is over. Look at all the terrible things that are happening in our world and even in the lives of those who call themselves Christians.”

One of the best answers to this remark that I have read comes from the writings of Dr. Jim Kallas, “The resurrection of Jesus Christ was not the end of the war with Satan. It was the turning point in the war. The war has been won, but the battle goes on. People continue to fall in sin, but Jesus does not tell us that Satan’s reign is over. He assures us that the devil is doomed. His immediate victories will not endure.”

Is this not the Christian’s daily experience?

Let me illustrate this teaching by reviewing a piece of history about the Civil War.

Benjamin Thomas, in his book, A Biography of Abraham Lincoln, writes, “The Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg marked a turning point in the war. Never again would the confederacy command sufficient power to invade in force, or to impose peace through military victory. The blockades squeezed more tightly as Union amphibious operations sealed off seaports one by one. Federal command of the Mississippi split off Texas, Arkansas, and western Louisiana, and largely ended Confederate trade with Mexico.”

“But the South was far from defeated. Village forges and foundries throughout the South pounded out guns. By remaining on the defensive, the South could still win victories, make the North pay dearly for every small success, and perhaps exhaust the Northern will to win the war.”

Now, let’s make the comparison. The resurrection of Jesus from the grave marked victory over sin, death, and the devil. It marked the turning point in the war with God and the devil. Never again would Satan command sufficient power to invade our lives and make us slaves to him if Jesus Christ lives in us. We possess the eternal Kingdom, which comes through Christ’s cross and resurrection. However, as we live out these years on earth, we do experience Satan’s attack and daily victories in our lives. We sin, but these sins cannot destroy us, for God, in His grace and love, continually forgives us. The spiritual battles continue, but the eternal victory has been won. It was an act in history, namely the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave.

This is the result of the resurrection and the central teaching of the Christian faith.

It is because of this Biblical truth St. Paul could sing in the first century,

“O death, where is thy victory?

O death, where is thy sting?

Thanks be to God!

He gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

John G. Whittier, in the 19th century, wrote his famous hymn, “We May Not Climb the Heavenly Steeps,” which includes these words,

“But warm, sweet, tender, even yet,

A present help is He;

And faith has still its Olivet,

And love its Galilee.”

But that’s not all! To this point in our conversation I have given my friend, who is not a Christian, a lesson in the history of dogma, as found in the Bible and the creeds of the Church. This is necessary, but it not will change his life. Jesus is more than a historical figure. He is the living Lord who wants to live in our lives. He meets my unbelieving friend when I am telling the story and asks, “May I come into your life and live there? If I do, your life will change, for my presence will guide you each step of the way and you will live with the assurance that, as Jesus was raised, so you will be raised to live with him forever.”

As William Barclay said, “Jesus is not a memory. He is a presence. Jesus is not someone whom we discuss. He is someone whom we meet.”

And so, in the twentieth-first century, we can sing the words of Alfred Ackley,

“I serve a living 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 gentle voice of cheer

And just the time I need Him, He’s always near.

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!

He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.

He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!

You ask me how I know He lives?

He lives within my heart.”

Where Do I Go for Help When . . . ?

Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

Where do I go for help when life confronts us with trying circumstances? No one knows the answer to this question better than Jesus.

Jesus knew there was a time to be with crowds, another time to be with his adoptive family, the apostles, and a time to be alone with His Father. Our text tells the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, which was His sanctuary.

Let’s stop here for just a minute. In our well-equipped church buildings, we have several kinds of rooms. There is a fellowship hall, a youth room, classrooms, committee rooms, and, in some cases, a gymnasium. And then there is the sanctuary or worship center. This has to be the most important part of the building. It has been dedicated as a place where the Word of God is preached, praises are sung, and we come to pray as a congregation. These are only my personal feelings, but it bothers me when the sanctuary is turned into some kind of an assembly hall. I find a need for a place where I sense that I am in the presence of God in a very special sense of the word. Again, my age is showing. In my youth, we were taught to respect the sanctuary to the extent that, if we happened to walk through that particular room, we were quiet and off came our hats. I personally believe we were the better for having this respect for the place where some of the most important events in the Christian’s life were observed. Enough of that.

Jesus went to His sanctuary Ð the Garden of Gethsemane. It was only a few hours before He would suffer the agony of the cross. Where do you go when your heart is heavy? Jesus was burdened, and He said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” What made his soul heavy? We must remember, he was a human being. He suffered pain as any person does. To face those excruciating hours was difficult, but there was more. Jesus had seen the indifference of the people to His message. They simply could not receive Him as their Messiah.

Today we might call this feeling depression. What causes your depression? Each person has to answer that question for himself or herself. The place to go is to our sanctuary, that particular place where, on a regular basis, you meet your Lord. I suggest that you select a place to have your special times with the Lord. It will become a holy place for you. It could be within your own home or your church. Often I used to enter the small chapel at our church for a few minutes alone with God, and there would be another person having his or her time with the Lord. No matter how well we knew each other, there was no conversation. We had come to talk with only One.

At our seminary we had a small prayer chapel. I recall it was used frequently by the senior students when they were considering their first call to a congregation. My roommate spent hours at the chapel before he applied to the World Mission Board to spend his ministry as a missionary in Japan. In the important hours of life, when our souls can be heavy, we need a sanctuary.

Where do you go when your mind is confused? Jesus said, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Terrullian is quoted as saying, “When Jesus was in Gethsemane, he was learning what He could not understand.” It didn’t make sense that he should suffer and die in this fashion, but if it was the Father’s will, He was on His way to the cross.

Where do you go for answers when your mind is confused? It is difficult to accept what we can’t understand. We need a sanctuary.

Where do you go when your body is exhausted? Jesus said it was in His sanctuary that He received new strength from His Father. Having battled through the hours before Him, Jesus’ heart was unburdened and His mind was clear. He left the garden with these words, “Rise, let us go.” His time in the sanctuary was something like the “time out” before the last minutes of the game were played.

This is Holy Week. Take your Bible and spend time reading the last three chapters of the Gospel of Matthew. Let God speak to you as you follow Jesus through His suffering, death, and resurrection. Find a sanctuary. You will receive a new peace, direction, and strength for the God-given mission you have been given.

Our Unique Heritage

The uniqueness of the Christian faith is its message that, in Jesus Christ, God is our Father, and He wants to live in a personal relationship with His children forever. No other religion has this emphasis.

The Christian Gospel tells us what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. God is the One who took the initiative and sent His Son into the world to be our Savior and restore us into fellowship with Him. It is an objective message telling us what God has done for us. He created us in His image, gave us a mind with which to think, a will with which to make a decision, and a soul that is eternal.

When we turn our back on God, and it happens many times a day, we sin. God does not forsake us because of that sin, but neither does He condone it, nor overlook it. He holds us accountable for our transgressions, until they are taken away. This forgiveness can only come through Jesus Christ, who has entered this world, died on a cross, and was raised again. Through these acts Christ has made atonement for our sins, and we are offered restoration with God through faith in Jesus Christ.

This salvation, which is offered to us according to John 3:16b, must be received, or God’s gift of forgiveness is not ours. Therefore, while the message of the Gospel must put the greatest emphasis on what God has done for us in Christ, there is also the subjective message that we must receive Christ. The Gospel is an objective message with a personal emphasis. With this proclamation comes spiritual awakenings and conversions. This is the type of message heard regularly in evangelical churches where we see fruits of this proclamation through lives that are being changed. This kind of church may have its weaknesses, but basically it is healthy and vibrant.

Recently I had the privilege of preaching at an evangelical church that was celebrating its 100th anniversary. I am acquainted with the congregation, having visited there many times. In my sermon I asked, “What has your church done for Christ during these one hundred years?”

The typical answer could have been, “Not enough.” This might be true, for none of us would be willing to say, “We have done all that we were asked by our Lord to do, and a little more.” However, it is incorrect to say “nothing.” This would mean that, through all of these years, the Holy Spirit had not been able to accomplish anything through these people. So I began to list what I knew God had accomplished through them.

“You have shared the Gospel with your community.” Each Sunday the worship services pointed people to God’s love in Christ. Children were not only baptized, but were nurtured in the faith. The Holy Spirit worked in the lives of these little ones as faithful Sunday school teachers shared the great Bible stories until the children could personally confess Christ as their Savior. The congregation gathered to build one another up in the faith. In good times and bad they, as members of the congregation, were there to help one another by pointing them back to God’s love and His presence with them. Then I went on to share with them how they had carried this Gospel to other people in different places.

One of my dearest friends has been a real witness to me. We met at college, and our friendship continues to this day. This man became an educator and was not bashful to tell his students and friends about Christ. Now that he is retired, he and his wife go to Mexico during the winter months, where they carry on a tape ministry as the people in that community gather each Sunday. It all started in that home congregation when he was a boy, sitting in the Sunday school and being raised in a home committed to Jesus Christ.

I went on to tell them that a woman, who had been raised in that congregation, moved to our town where she and her husband have a Christian home. In that home there is a young girl who has become a good friend of our granddaughter. What a blessing it is for us to know that our granddaughter has a Christian friend like this little girl! It all started back in that church when the mother learned to know Jesus as her Savior.

I continued by telling them of a woman who is a very close friend of my wife. They were classmates at college. Since my wife’s stroke, this woman, through her letters and visits, has been a real source of strength in difficult times. This woman might not have met Christ if she and her family had not been nurtured in the faith of that congregation.

In the congregation where I served for many years, we had some giants in the faith. One of these committed Christians came from this congregation celebrating its centennial. She has two daughters who have blessed our congregation with beautiful voices and artistic skills that have pointed others to the Savior. Another daughter from the congregation has also brought the Gospel of Christ to the worshiping congregation with her beautiful voice, and this woman’s daughter-in-law is one of the youth directors in our congregation, while her husband takes an active part in bringing the message of Christ to the people. I could have gone on, but time did not permit.

Perhaps I should have reminded them that, sitting in the congregation that morning, was one of the members of the U.S. Congress. A few weeks before, this Congressman had been flying over his hometown on Air Force I with the President. The President called the Congressman’s mother from his plane and thanked her for giving this country such a dedicated servant in the person of her son. It just about floored the mother to receive a call from the President, who was flying above their hometown with her son! It all started in the Congressman’s life back in the church where he had been bathed in God’s Word. Now he is a national leader rooted in the absolutes of the Bible.

Why don’t you sit down with paper and pencil and list what God is doing through your congregation. I find that it is easy for me to be critical of the congregation and feel like we are doing little or nothing for the Kingdom. A careful study will show that the Holy Spirit is at work among us. We have many sins and shortcomings. There are many things we should be doing that we are not doing; but at the same time, God works through our weaknesses, and many blessings come from the group. Satan has won a victory among us if we feel nothing is happening in our congregations.

Once again, here is the message we carry:

Jesus Christ paid the price for all people’s sins.

By receiving Christ this forgiveness and the gift of salvation can be ours.

This offer of salvation is for all people, but enjoyed by only those who trust Christ.

It was Augustine who said, “God loves each of us as though there was only one of us.”

Truly we have a story to tell to the nations that will turn their hearts to the Lord.

Open My Eyes, Lord

When bad things happen to us, it is easy to get depressed. We adopt an attitude of defeatism and express our feelings saying, “It’s all downhill from here.” It is easy to understand why the person feels this way. As we grow older, the body moves more slowly. The athlete retires. There are no 50-year-old people playing in the Super Bowl football game.

Some of us do not handle retirement well. We are told to go sit in the bleachers and watch the younger persons play the game. This is good advice, but it fosters the attitude in some that life is all over. It is all downhill from here. As we mourn the death of a spouse, the mate can be heard saying, “Life will never be the same.”

In our text Jesus says, “It doesn’t have to be that way.”

On this particular day, Jesus met a man who had been blind from birth. The disciples asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” Jesus answered, “Neither, but this happened so that God might be displayed in his life.” It is the old Biblical concept, “God can use evil for good.” With these words Jesus healed the blind man.

This miracle brought a lot of conversation as people asked, “Who healed this blind beggar whom we have passed by for years and years?” Finally the Pharisees came to the blind man who now was able to see. “Who healed you? It’s the Sabbath and no healing is to take place on that day.” The healed man replied, “The man they called Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I did and washed, and then I could see.”

Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”

Finally the Pharisees asked, “What do you say about this man?” The blind man replied, “He is a prophet.” Still not satisfied, the Pharisees went and asked his parents if he had truly been born blind.

The parents assured these Pharisees that their son had been blind from birth. But not wanting to become involved in the argument as to who healed him, the parents said, “We do not know who the healer is. Go and ask our son.”

Again they summoned the blind man who had been healed. The Pharisees then called Jesus a sinner, and the blind man spoke these words long remembered by millions, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know is once I was blind but now I can see.”

Accusing him of being one of Jesus’ disciples, the Pharisees threw him out of the synagogue.

When Jesus heard about the healed man’s excommunication from the synagogue, he found him and asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

The person replied, “Who is he that I may believe in him?”

Jesus said, “You have now seen him. He is the one speaking to you.” At that time he received Christ, and his spiritual eyes were opened.

The physical healing was very important to this man born blind. He could now see his parents, siblings, and friends who had been so kind to him all those years. This physical healing cannot be belittled. He now could live a normal life, but the second healing Ð when his spiritual eyes were opened Ð was the greater of the two miracles.

It is when our spiritual eyes are open that we meet Christ. He becomes our Savior, Lord, and dearest friend. We see our sins, and they disturb us, but we now know what to do with them. No longer do we ignore them, nor rationalize why we committed these sins, but we confess them to the Lord, and He forgives us.

We learn what our real mission is in life, to tell the story of Jesus to our children, parents, siblings, friends, and anyone else who will listen to us. It is a whole new world.

From a physical point of view, we reach a point in life where it is “downhill from this point on.” Our bodies wear out. Doctors can patch them up for a while. We get new joints, new heart valves, a new kidney, or whatever part we need. However, the time comes when you just can’t patch up any more. There is nothing left to patch up.

But here is the good news! From a spiritual point of view, this is not true. The longer we walk with Christ in His Word, the stronger we become. The more we express our Lord’s faithfulness, the more secure we are.

That’s the way it was with the healed man in our text. That’s the way it is with all who live each day with Jesus. Cheer up! With eyes wide open to see God’s love in Christ, life becomes more and more exciting.

When Will Joe Believe?

There were many times in my parish ministry that a concerned mother would ask me, “When will Joe believe in Christ?” She feared that her son would die as an unbeliever. My answer was not very comforting. All I could say was, “Only God can answer your question. Keep praying and trusting Him.”

Let me tell you two stories. The last one sheds some light on the first story. I have a favorite television personality whose program I enjoy. He gives the appearance of being a kind person. As he seeks to have his listeners better informed on the topic being discussed, his questions in the interview can become quite specific and personal, but not offensive. Some of his most interesting programs to me are when he is interviewing people like Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Robert Schuler, or celebrities in the entertainment, sports, or political world about their personal relationship with God. This television personality has had some great opportunities to hear first hand what God has done in the lives of his guests. It causes me to ask the question, “When will he come to faith in Christ?” If people could make a believer out of him, it would have happened long ago, for many have tried.

I have the feeling, though this is a personal opinion, that he is not indifferent to the Christian faith, nor does he belittle his guests on the program for their beliefs. He just has not come to that place in his life where he is willing to join those who confess Christ as Savior and Lord.

The second story is our text, and it gives the mother her answer. If Joe, or the television personality described above, becomes a believer, it will take a personal meeting with Jesus Christ in His Word.

Jesus was sitting by a well in Samaria. His disciples had gone to town for groceries. As he sat there, a woman came along, and he asked her for a drink of water. His request astounded the woman, and she asked, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) This led into a very personal conversation about water and living water. Much of it went far beyond the understanding of this poor woman, who likely had little education. This led Jesus to ask about her. “Go, get your husband, and we will have a discussion about Ôliving water.'”

The woman replied, “I have no husband.”

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is that you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” Then I believe Jesus might have said, Why didn’t you tell me about the other husbands? Can’t you stand your past? I can’t do much for you unless you come clean with your past. It is not very pretty, but I am up to forgiving the past and sending you on your way with a clean slate.

Wow! He knows me. He can see right through my facade. I do need spiritual help! He forces me to take a look at myself and confess my sins. “Who are you?” the woman asks. She goes on, “I know the Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus said, “I, who speak to you, am he. I can satisfy your spiritual thirst. I can forgive your sins and restore you into fellowship with God.”

Now the woman had to make a decision. She had a right to pick up her water pots and run. But she didn’t. She believed what He said Ð receive Him Ð and ran to tell her family that she had met the Messiah, and He told her everything she had ever done.

Here is where the second story helps us with the question, when will Joe believe. The answer from the Bible is clear. When people meet Christ, confess their sins and receive Him as Savior and Lord, they will believe. He will be their Savior and Lord, and they will be a part of God’s family. Their lives will be changed, and they will become new people in Christ.

Might this never happen? It is possible. God has given us the right to reject Him, and if that is our decision and all the way through life on our way to the grave we deny Him, we will die in our unbelief. It is not a pretty picture, but it is true. “But how does a person have this conversation with Jesus?” you ask. Christ speaks to us in His Word, the Bible. It is the same conversation

He had with the Samaritan woman. He focuses first on the question, “Who are you?” This leads to a second question, “Don’t you see your sin? Can’t you see your need for forgiveness? It comes only through me. You can’t buy your salvation. You can’t win God’s favor by living a good life. You have to confess your sins and trust me, the Lord Jesus Christ, as your Savior and Lord.”

It is this Biblical message that Christ has commissioned His Church to share with the world. When we have been faithful to this command of bringing the message of Jesus to our friends who yet do not trust Christ, we leave the rest to God, for only He can create faith in their hearts to trust Him.

Do not give up on Joe. God works in His own good time.