The Effects of Easter

How did Easter change your life?

One person replies, “It didn’t. It was a delightful day. We went to church and, as usual on Easter, it was full. The music was wonderful, and the sermon was excellent. Following the service we had all of the family home for a delicious dinner, and the kids enjoyed an Easter egg hunt in the afternoon. Yes, it was pleasant. I love Easter, but it did not make any drastic change in my life.”

Another person answers, “Easter did change my life. I come from a family where church attendance was important. We did not just attend church on Easter. We were there every Sunday – rain or shine. However, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the routine of my religion. It is not all bad, but I have been feeling that my relationship with God needs to be more than a habit. So I have been praying that God make the message of Easter come alive; and believe me, He answered my prayer. Jesus jumped right out of that old, familiar story. My eyes were opened in a new way to the truth that I have heard at so many Easter services: ‘Christ lives.’”

For many of us, Easter was a day of affirmation. To celebrate Easter is always a spiritual experience.

Our text comes from the inspired pen of John, our Lord’s disciple. He writes his letter about fifty to sixty years after Jesus’ resurrection. Easter was the day all things were made new for John. To have a risen Lord was even greater than to have a friend like Jesus who taught them so much about God’s love.

John had seen Jesus heal. He heard Him teach, watched Him die, witnessed His resurrection, and saw Him ascend into heaven. The Lord opened John’s world and gave him spiritual insights that brought a new understanding to life. Consequently, John wrote, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” Although John’s small mind could not comprehend it all, there was much he did know about how the Christian’s life should be lived. And he passed some of these revelations on to us who read the Bible.

In verse six of our text, we read one of these truths: “If we claim to have fellowship with him, yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.” A man told me recently that in the early years of his life he belonged to a very legalistic church. This group had many dos and don’ts that had to be kept or one’s Christianity could be questioned.

The past ten years this man has belonged to a church that places strong emphasis on salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. There is nothing we can contribute to our salvation. Jesus made the supreme payment for our sins. Now he says, “I am really enjoying life. One of my favorite pastimes is to gamble. Now, because I am saved by grace through faith, I can gamble every day if I so desire.”

The point of the illustration is not to deal with whether it is right or wrong for this man to visit the casino and pull the slots. John tells us that if we live in fellowship with Christ, we will want to live for Him. He will guide and direct us in our behavior. He will shed light on whether, as one of His children, there are better ways to use our money. There is not a list of dos and don’ts. God’s Law is our guide, and the Holy Spirit will be our counselor in all things. This is living in the grace of God, or to use John’s words, “Living in the light.”

This is the Sunday after Easter. Last Sunday many churches were packed. Today these same churches have many empty pews. God’s Word says, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” The Bible clearly teaches that God’s children will have a strong desire to attend worship services. There we will bring our prayers to the Lord and be fed by His Word. There we will fellowship with other believers as a part of the one Christian Church. That longing to come to God’s house every Lord’s Day is part of living in the light.

Some of the pictures we are seeing of the devastation from the war in Iraq break our hearts. There is no question that an evil dictator had to be taken from power. Our leaders believed it was our responsibility to see that this was done in one way or another. The efforts to accomplish the dethroning of Saddam Hussein is causing many to suffer. Now we are in Iraq ministering to these hurting people. I believe that binding up their wounds and providing them with the necessities of life is mandatory, and we will see our nation assume this responsibility. The light of God’s Word forces us to do this.

America has walked far away from God. However, some basic truths of the Christian faith continue to motivate us. Our leaders say we are not captors, but liberators. We have not come to capture the people, but to set them free. After destroying much of Europe in World War II to free Western civilization of godless tyrants such as Hitler and Stalin, we returned with the Marshall Plan to help the people restore their nation. May God grant that our Christian witness will cause us to do the same in Iraq. This is living in the light.

When we have met Christ and live in the light, we know what to do with our sins. No longer do we deny them or seek to defend them. We do not have to explain them, but instead confess them. Another of John’s insights passed on to us says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness” (vs. 9).

The Bible goes on to say: “We have one who speaks to the Father in our defense — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” This is divine light that the person outside of Christ has never experienced. He or she lives in complete darkness when it comes to their sins. It is to these people we must go with the message of Christ, who is the light of the world.

My wife and I were walking into a restaurant recently, and in front of us was an elderly woman with a beautiful little girl. I assumed that she was the lady’s granddaughter, and so I said, “What a beautiful little girl! I bet she loves to have lunch with her grandma.”

The lady said, “I am not her grandmother; I am just caring for her. Both her father and mother are in prison.” The woman was kind and showed much love to the little girl. She added, “I do not know what is going to happen to this dear child.”

Eunice and I did not enjoy our lunch that day; our appetites were gone. This is a part of the darkness in which we live. Christ alone can lighten up the path and show us the way if we will only let Him into our lives. Then little children will not have to grow up being cared for by strangers while their parents are in prison.

We spend much time cursing the darkness. Let us point people to Christ who alone is the light of this dark old world. That is the mission for everyone who has met Christ and walks in the light. Amen.

I”ll Meet You in Galilee

It was late one afternoon when a man came to my office with a question. “Can you explain the meaning of Christianity in fifteen minutes?”

I invited him to sit down and I assured him I could give him the core beliefs of the Christian faith in a few words.

“Tell me, “ he said, “I need to know if I can be helped. In the last few weeks I was arrested for drunk driving, my father died, and I have been offered a great professional opportunity. I need strength and direction.”

So I began. “The Gospel presentation is this: first, you are precious and important to God. He created you in His image. God gave you many talents and a wonderful personality. As a person created in the image of God, you have a will that is free to say, no, God, I do not want you in my life. This is what you did, and so did I. Our rejection of God throws us out of a relationship with God; we are lost. We are living this life on our own strength without God.

“But listen to the good news. God could have discarded us, but He did not. Instead He set up a plan of redemption by which we have the opportunity to be brought back into a personal relationship with God. Our Heavenly Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into this world. He suffered and died on the cross as a payment for our sins, and three days later He was raised from the dead. He made a full payment for the sins of the world, and through His resurrection has won for us victory over sin, death, and the devil.

This salvation is offered to us. God does not force it on us, but if we desire He will empower us to receive Christ into our lives.

I stopped. He looked at me and asked, “Is that it?”

“That is it,” I said.

“But it has to be more complicated than that,” he replied. “What about all these rules dealing with drunkenness, swearing, immoral living, and all the rest of these bad things many people do? You cannot continue to have this lifestyle if you are a Christian, can you?”

Getting a bit excited myself in sharing this good news with the poor man, I said with real enthusiasm, “My friend, if Jesus Christ is your Savior, you will not want this lifestyle. Christianity is not only giving intellectual assent to these core teachings. It is trusting Jesus as your Savior and walking through life with Him as your Lord.”

I tried desperately to help him understand that our faith grows as we live with God in His Word. For the confession (He was crucified, died, and was buried, and on the third day rose from the grave) to become a living truth that controls our lives sometimes takes years. The disciples walked with Jesus for three years. They heard Him expound on these teachings, but it was still difficult for them to believe. When Thomas was told that Jesus had appeared to some of the disciples, he struggled with the news. On Easter evening he made a strong statement: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my fingers where the nails were, and put my hands into his side, I will not believe it” (John 20:25).

The visitor to my study who wanted only fifteen minutes of my time was not like Thomas. He looked at me and said, “How do I ask Jesus to be a part of my life?”

The answer was simple: “Just invite Him in like you would invite some friend into your home.” In a few minutes we bowed our heads and this person asked Christ to be His Savior and Lord.

When he had finished his prayer, I welcomed him into the Kingdom as a babe in Christ. “Now your relationship with Christ needs to grow. We need to meet regularly to get a better understanding of who Jesus is, what He has done for you, and what the future has in store for you as one of His servants in your profession.” This was done. We had many wonderful discussions. Then came the day of his baptism. Members of his family were present in the chapel of our church as he was baptized into the name of the Triune God. This all happened years ago. He continues to grow and walk with the Lord. This good news was made possible because of the Easter story.

Matthew, in his Gospel, tells us that on the first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb hoping to anoint Jesus’ body. On the way they wondered how they could roll the stone away from the tomb, but God took care of that detail. “There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven. Going to the tomb, the angel rolled back the stone and sat on it. He said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know you are looking for Jesus, whom they crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me’” (Matthew 28).

“I will meet you in Galilee!” Jesus was making a divine appointment with them. The meeting did take place, and you can read about it in John 21.

Just before Jesus ascended into heaven, he comforted his disciples by saying, “I am with you always.” We, as believers, are given the same promise. We also experience those times when Jesus has a special appointment with us and speaks to us through His Word. Let’s see how we can apply this to our day.

A young person is graduating from high school and has decided to join the Marines. Little did this young person know he would be sent thousands of miles from home to fight the enemy and walk in harm’s way. As he leaves for the war zone, Jesus comforts him with these words: “I’ll meet you in Iraq.” Many times during those days He visited with this young person and spoke these words clearly: “I will never leave nor forsake you. You are mine. I bought you with a price.” A meeting with Jesus in Iraq! Wow! Who would ever have believed this would happen?

Another person hears the Lord say, “I will meet you in the doctor’s office as he tells you how serious your illness is. You will hear me say, ‘As your day is so your strength is going to be.’” That is a divine appointment Jesus has with a person who has never had a sick day in his life and has enjoyed a strong, athletic body.

A brokenhearted child sits at the deathbed of her mother and wonders how she could part with one who has been so dear to her. Jesus says, “I will meet you at the cemetery. There we will talk about these words: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he dies, yet he will live.’”

Here is His everyday presence. Those are divine appointments when we need Him in a very special way.

Are you like the man who came to my office and asked me to summarize the faith in fifteen minutes? There it is. Christ has died; Christ has risen. He is the living Lord who will make a special appointment with you whenever there is a need. For those of you who have experienced His presence for many years, you have quite a story to tell. You have not only enjoyed Jesus’ presence with you every minute of the day, but you have had many of those special appointments. Why don’t you share what happened in some of the special times with Jesus? It might catch the attention of someone who is walking through life alone without Jesus. Amen.

Why Did They Change Their Tune?

A mob of people can be frightening! One never knows how they will react. If they like what you are doing for them, they will praise you. If they don’t like what you are doing, they might turn on you and then – look out!

No one understood this better than Jesus. On Sunday the crowd praised Jesus as their king. On Friday they demanded His death as they shouted in anger: “Crucify Him!”

What did He do to anger them? Why did they change their tune?

It had been a full day. Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey. The crowd shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” as they spread palm branches and their cloaks on the road.

We could ask the question: why did Jesus let them present Him as a king? This was so out of character for Jesus. More often He tried to avoid the crowd. Now Jesus wanted to present Himself as the King who had come to set them free from spiritual bondage. Their most deadly enemy was not the Roman Empire, who ruled them politically, but Satan, who held them in spiritual captivity.

Now it was evening. After this busy day Jesus and the twelve disciples retired to Bethany. Jesus might have used the prayer of David (“My times are in your hands”) from Psalm 31:9-16 for this devotional thought with the disciples before they retired.

Tomorrow the battle would begin. One disciple would betray Him for thirty pieces of silver. Another would deny Him for fear of being arrested. He would be tried, beaten, and finally crucified. When the disciples saw how dangerous being identified with Jesus was, they would also flee.

Now the mob was shouting, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Why had they changed their tune in five days? What had He done to them?

The answer is clear. Before we can claim Jesus as the Lord of our life, we must know Him as the Savior of our soul. This is the point of the sermon.

The Jews wanted a king like David. This leader would defeat the political enemy and free them from captivity. Jesus became very offensive to them when He said, “My kingdom is not of this world. . . . But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Recall an earlier conversation Jesus had with the people. He said to them, “If you follow me, you will be free.”

“We are free,” they replied. “We are children of Abraham.” That means we belong to God. Our spiritual freedom was automatically taken care of at our birth. Now we seek political freedom.

Jesus tried again: “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know you are Abraham’s descendants. You are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word” (John 8:34-38).

This angered the Jews, and they demanded His death. He had nothing to offer them. They did not need a Savior. In fact, Jesus was their enemy, because He sought to crush their dream of a lifetime.

Jesus’ confrontation with the Jewish people on this matter of salvation is repeated in every generation. He has trouble convincing us that our real enemy is Satan, who holds us in spiritual captivity. St. Paul, who was a converted Jew, understood this well. He wrote, “The good I want to do, I do not do, and what I do not want to do, I end up doing.” He goes as far as to say, “While we were yet helpless, Christ died for the ungodly.” This sin separates us from our Father.

When we understand our spiritual state, we are ready for a Savior and His promise: “If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

Having experienced the forgiveness of our sins through faith in Christ, we now have an even greater need: we want a new life. One that leads us away from an empty, meaningless existence where life offers us only one challenge – to satisfy our appetites. We now understand that when we have everything that money can buy, our souls are still in captivity and are restless. How well Augustine expressed this truth when he said, “Our souls are restless until they rest in Thee (God).”

Only when Jesus is our Savior will we want him as our King.

Telling a Lutheran congregation that true Christianity is not based on emotions may not be necessary. However, the Palm Sunday crowd sends us a warning about how unstable our lives are when they are led by emotion. This crowd believed God was giving them a king like their ancestor David. He would be a warrior who would set them free from the political enemy. This gave them a good feeling on Sunday. However, by Friday they learned Jesus was not this kind of king, and so their emotions changed. God still had not given them the king they wanted. Jesus was just another fake, and they were anxious to have him killed. Thus their hymn changed from “Hosanna” to “Crucify Him!”

In the same way we can build our form of Christianity around a God whom we have created in our own image. This God is supposed to give us a carefree life. We expect to be blessed with good health for many years. Our children will be the kind of kids we want, although we might have done little through personal testimony and example to bring them into a living relationship with God. When God delivers these blessings, we praise Him. Yet when a premature death takes a family member from us, or one of the kids causes us trouble, we ask, “Where is this God who is supposed to protect us?” These are the remarks of one whose Christianity is based on emotions.

Like any intimate relationship, our relationship with God is emotional. However, it is not built on feelings. Those feelings are the fruits of our faith. Our faith is based on Christ, the Rock and our foundation. That is why we can sing, “On Christ the solid Rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.” And we join the hymn writer, Lina Sandell, and sing, “Though He giveth or He taketh, God His children ne’er forsaketh; His the loving purpose solely to preserve them pure and holy.”

Pray this will be a week of spiritual awakening for our nation, our church, and us. Then it will be climaxed next Sunday as we celebrate the glorious Easter. Amen.

The Seriousness of Sin

As our culture becomes ever more comfortable with relativism, sin becomes less a factor in our mind-set. If objective rights and wrongs do not exist, people give little thought to sin. With no absolutes, sin does not exist. This logic gives people a great amount of freedom to live as they please with no guilt. This can be quite appealing to the natural man.

The philosophy of humanism teaches that human beings are basically good people Ð it is the way we were born. Our objectionable traits have been learned, and we can best label them as immaturity (not sinfulness). Education and counseling enables the person to heal himself, which he has the capacity to do. Much of what has been labeled as sin in the past should not be taken seriously in today’s world.

This is the culture in which we live. However, now let us look at how the Bible deals with sin. It teaches us that we are not born “good people”; we are born with a sinful nature. This means it is more natural for us to gravitate away from God than toward Him. Paul puts it this way: “Just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).

This sinful nature causes us to commit sin. Paul says, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” He continues to warn against the seriousness of sin by saying, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). And in still another statement Paul says, “While we were yet helpless, Christ died for the ungodly.”

These are strong statements. We are helpless; we can do nothing about our sinful state. The Bible does not agree with humanistic philosophy, which says we can correct any wrong found in us. In reality we cannot pick ourselves up by the bootstraps and become better people.

While this is heavy news, there is a brighter side to the Bible’s message concerning the sinfulness of the human being. It is called the Gospel. While God can have nothing to do with sin, He has made it possible for the human being’s sin to be forgiven, that they may be brought back into a personal relationship with Him. Out of love our Heavenly Father gives us His Son to become the sin-bearer. This gift is summed up in these familiar words: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

These words so impressed St. Peter that he put it this way: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver and gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (I Peter 1:18-19).

That pretty much says it all. Christ is our sin-bearer. “He bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed (I Peter 2:24).

In spite of what our post-modern culture says about sin, it is so serious to God that it cost His Son. God can have nothing to do with sin. Either I must pay for my wrongs, or Christ must pay for them. Therefore, the appeal of the Scriptures is that, in faith, we receive Christ as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Then, and only then, are these sins forgiven and we can therefore stand before God made righteous through the merits of Jesus Christ.

Now let us look at the results of sin from a sociological point of view. So often we hear people say, “We are not interested in all this theology or a relationship with God.” Some go as far as to say, “How do we know there is a God to whom we are accountable?”

Look at our society. We have advanced so far in technology, yet we cannot make the home more stable, even with all of the education, psychology, and counseling available today. Millions of children are growing up in homes with only one parent. The father and mother had these children, either in or out of wedlock, and now they do not want to provide a stable home for them. They consider only their own welfare, not that of the children, when they walk out and leave the children to grow up as best they can. Now when some of these children develop behavioral problems, we wonder why.

Walk through our prisons and learn the background of some of these men and women. Most of us would have to agree that they never had a chance. This is the seriousness of sin. “Oh, but these are uneducated people,” is the response from some who have become uncomfortable even talking about sin. Who are you kidding?

I think of a woman who graduated from one of America’s most prestigious colleges on the East coast and is now in her third marriage. Two of her children have been arrested on drug charges. Is this not the product of a life where sin has reigned and God has had little consideration in the family?

Then there are subtler sins, such as gossip. Remember that God not only said, “Thou shall not steal (or kill, or commit adultery),” he also said, “thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

I visited recently with a woman whose family has been hurt seriously by idle gossip. Her comment was, “It has to be one of the worst sins.” The Biblical writer James asked how to tame the tongue. The most brilliant mind has not come up with the answer to that question, for what is in the heart comes forth from the tongue; only God can change the heart.

Once again we are reminded of sin’s seriousness. Christ alone is the answer. Amen.