A Refreshing Offer

Christ is risen! Repent!

What an interesting Easter greeting. Not quite what we expect to hear during this season as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. But there it is in Peter’s sermon. Repent!

But Peter was just saying what Jesus told him to say. After all, Jesus explained the scriptures to his disciples after the resurrection. He gave them the directive to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins to all the world.

Peter and John had been heading to the temple in Jerusalem. Pentecost had happened a few days before, and they had been filled with the Holy Spirit Ð the Spirit of the Living God. When they arrived at the entrance of the temple, they noticed a man being carried up the steps. This man, who had been lame from birth, would be left at the entrance of the temple and each day beg for people’s spare change.

When Peter and John walked by this individual, they looked at him, and then Peter said, “Look at us!” The man looked up expecting some coins. Instead he got the surprise of his life as he heard Peter say, “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Then Peter took him by the hand and raised him up. And as he was being raised up, he felt something surging through him. He jumped to his feet and began to walk.

He entered the Temple with Peter and John, dancing and leaping about, shouting praises to God. What a sight it must have been! Imagine them walking arm in arm with one another as this man, totally out of his mind with joy and wonder, smiled and said, “Look what God did for me. Praise God, I am walking!”

Of course the crowds already in the Temple murmured in absolute astonishment because they recognized this man as the one who had been lame as far back as they could remember. “What’s going on here?” they must have said to one another.

As everyone ran to see this miracle and wondered about these miracle workers, Peter went to work and began to preach an Easter sermon. It was a powerful sermon with both law and gospel.

He told the crowd,

This isn’t about us. Don’t give us credit for this. This is just a sign from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who is glorifying his servant, Jesus. This man was healed in the exalted name of Jesus.

JESUS! You remember him, don’t you? It was not that long ago that you handed him over to Pilate to be killed. You rejected the Holy and Righteous One of God. You killed the Author of Life who came to give you life.

But God raised him from the dead! And we’re witnesses. We saw him in the days that followed again and again, and we know that he is risen from the dead. This man’s healing is just a sign to get your attention that God had something big in store for you. This man was healed in Christ’s powerful name.

In your blindness, in your ignorance you killed the Son of God. But it was all a part of God’s plan. All that the prophets like Isaiah had said about the suffering servant and so on, was fulfilled at that time. They said that the Messiah would come and suffer and die. And now it has happened. And God raised him. He is risen. Therefore, repent! Turn to God, for forgiveness and times of refreshing in the presence of the Lord are waiting for you.

As I said earlier in this message, Peter’s talk had both law and gospel. He convicted them with the words, “You killed the author of life. You killed the Holy and Righteous one of God, even though you didn’t know what you were doing. But God raised him from the dead and vindicated him.” But then he adds, “Repent for forgiveness and the times of refreshing God wants to give you.”

Peter called for a response! We hear this word repentance and are not quite sure what to do with it. It’s not a word that’s used often enough, even in the church today.

When the Bible talks of repentance, it’s talking about doing a U-turn. When you drive down the road and come to a realization that you’ve been traveling in the wrong direction, you turn around. That’s what repentance is Ð doing an about-face in life.

As Martin Luther said, “To do so no more is true repentance.” It’s turning away from what you have committed your life to and turning to God’s way. No more running your own life, but instead yielding to His control and surrendering your life to the conquering King of heaven, Jesus Christ.

General Douglas MacArthur was the official representative of the United States when the Japanese surrendered to the US at the end of WWII. He and a highly decorated Japanese admiral met on the deck of the battleship Missouri for the surrendering ceremony. As the ceremony came to the actual moment of surrender, the Japanese admiral extended his hand in the familiar gesture of friendship and peace. However, General MacArthur refused to take it and kept his right hand at his side. Sternly he said, “Sir, your sword first, please.” Then, when the defeated admiral handed over his sword, he extended his hand and grasped the Japanese officer’s hand.

Why did MacArthur ask for the sword first? Because the formal disarming of the enemy was the symbol of surrender. Until the weapon was handed over, hostilities had not formally ceased.

God is seeking a similar response Ð it’s called SURRENDER. Repentance is more than simply feeling sorry for what you’ve done. It’s recognizing Christ’s authority and bowing to him.

Peter was telling the people that it was time to turn away from the direction they were going and follow Jesus Christ. God made this clear by raising Jesus from the dead.

Peter then goes on to make a refreshing promise to those who turn to Christ. Forgiveness for your sins is the picture of something being erased, wiped clean. We have a clean slate to start over again.

A popular toy when we were kids was a thing called Etch A Sketch. When you made a picture that just did not seem quite right, you would shake it and the picture would be gone. The slate would be wiped clean to start over again.

It’s like the old repentance hymn, “Just as I Am” says:

Just as I am and waiting not

to rid my soul of one dark blot.

To thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,

O lamb of God, I come, I come.”

Christ’s sacrifice for sin wipes the past clean for the sinner and gives a start-over in your relationship with God. It opens the door of heaven for us. We have no hope of entering heaven without being made clean by Jesus, which leads to times of refreshing.

What a wonderful promise!

When I think of refreshing, I often think about images such as a cold drink of water on a blazing hot summer afternoon, a quiet afternoon on the beach listening to the ocean’s roar, or a warm shower after being out on a cold day. Refreshing images.

It is interesting to note that, oftentimes when Jesus described himself to people, it was with refreshing images: “I am the bread of life. Come to me, you will never hunger.” To the women at the well he said, “If you drink of me, you will never thirst again.” At the feast of tabernacles he said, “If any person comes to me, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” Jesus was talking about the spiritual refreshment the person receives when they are involved with him.

Why would I want to be involved with him? Because, according to Jesus and Peter, times of refreshing are waiting for us when we repent. What does that look like in a life?

I am reminded of a story about the famous sports announcer, Pat Summerall, who overcame alcoholism and became a follower of Jesus Christ in his late sixties. After he came up out of the water during his baptism, he wrote that it felt like a 40 pound weight had been lifted from him. He has been living a happier and healthier life and feels more positive about life than ever before.

Another story is from Rob, a friend of mine at church. He testifies to the fear that plagued him most of his earlier years until he met Christ. He writes, “The fears that have plagued me for years have left, and I can say that God has given me a full and abundant life. His grace and forgiveness have become real and freeing.”

Pat and Rob have experienced times of refreshing in their lives!

Christ is risen. Repent! Ask him to take over your life. Get involved with him and you will see for yourself that refreshing times are waiting for you.

Claim Your Forgiveness

How do we rid ourselves of guilt, when it is so pervasive in our society? This is an important question for those of us who bear the name of Jesus Christ as well as those who do not know Christ as their Savior and Lord.

Some may say they don’t experience guilt. They do not believe in absolutes of right and wrong. Or, if they do experience guilt, they think that is just the way it is. This is a denial of guilt and one human way to deal with it.

Others might believe that, although they are guilty, God is automatically going to forgive them. They do not believe he will damn them or punish them for their wrongs. We are all his children and will be saved. This is a type of universalism.

And then there is the old idea that, if you do more good things than bad, you will come out ahead. We are climbing our way to heaven, and every rung of the ladder gets us higher. Salvation is attained through our good works.

All three of these schools of thought are used by various people, and some say they get along with them quite well. Yet I believe we have to admit that we not only have guilt, but also a great deal of confusion over how to deal with our guilt.

The Word of God speaks to this matter as well. In 1 John 1:9 we read, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” John 3:16-17 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

In the passage from 1 John we learn that we must confess our sins. God says sin must be acknowledged by the sinner and confessed before the throne of grace. Then we must turn to Jesus, who died on the cross of Calvary, as a payment for our sins. Jesus tells us to trust him, and he will forgive us. If we simply confess our sins but do not put our faith in Jesus Christ, our sins are not forgiven according to God’s Word. Confession of sin and faith in Jesus Christ brings peace and salvation.

When Jesus said to Peter “Follow me!” Peter’s heart was opened and he was forgiven. He no longer had to live with guilt over his denial and abandonment of Jesus. Peter could say, Yes, I am a sinner, but I am a forgiven sinner.

Our Lord used the law to confront Peter. It caused him to confess that he had failed and sinned. Because Peter confessed his sins and placed his faith in Christ, he was forgiven of all his sins. Jesus then called Peter to claim that forgiveness and be Christ’s servant by following Him.

Many people have had the same experience. The writer of the great hymn “Rock of Ages” said it so well: Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling. The cross is the only place I can go with my guilt, for without forgiveness, we have no relationship with Christ. In Christ Jesus we walk with God day by day.

When we hear Jesus say, I forgive you; come now and follow me, we need to claim that forgiveness. The guilt is gone; Jesus paid the price for it through his sacrificial death on the cross. By receiving him, we have the assurance that guilt is gone from our lives. Although I am a sinner, I am a forgiven sinner, and that makes a great deal of difference. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

This world, burdened with guilt, does not know much about the unearned favor of God based upon the sacrificial suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord. They do not know that it becomes ours when we have confessed and turned, in trust, to that Savior.

As I examine my own life, I realize how often I have not claimed that forgiveness. I have learned from the scriptures, and believe in my heart, that Christ atoned for my sin. However, I sometimes fail to accept forgiveness. Let me share an example with you.

I have a dear friend who lost her husband. She had been, according to her husband, a marvelous wife. One day I said to her, “You were a good wife.” However, she replied that she was a poor wife. She began to share things she had not done for him, things I would have called quite menial, but were important to her. She was tormented by them. I told her again that she had been a good wife. I also told her I didn’t think her husband went to his grave feeling any other way. I went on to say, “I know you have asked the Lord Jesus to forgive you. You know what he has said: ÔIf we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins.’ Now why don’t you go the next step and enjoy your forgiveness?”

There is much confusion about forgiveness. The Bible does not say we can continue doing what we want to do because God is going to automatically forgive us. The Bible also does not say that because God loves us all, forgiveness means everyone is going to be saved. However, it does say very clearly that we must confess our sins in order to be forgiven.

Look at Peter in our text for today. Jesus is using the law to point out to Peter his inadequacy to forgive himself and his need to confess his sins. If Peter continually denied Christ, he would not be forgiven. Jesus took him further into his guilt until He could announce to Peter, “Follow me.” By claiming that forgiveness, Peter became a new man and was willing to go anywhere and speak to anyone about Jesus Christ, even if it meant his death. And that is indeed what it cost him.

This is the message Jesus wants us to have today: If you confess your sins, I will forgive you because I came to die for you. It is the gospel and the motivating power of our whole life. It was God’s relationship with man from the very beginning and was finally made clear in the coming of Jesus Christ.

The people of the Old Testament did not live with the details we have in the New Testament era. However, they certainly lived with this promise: “ÔCome now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ÔThough your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool'” (Isaiah 1:19). The prophet was painting a picture with words of how they could be forgiven for all their sins. Isaiah 55:7b says, “Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” That is the gospel in the Old Testament.

God is anxious to forgive us. We live in a world full of people living with a lot of guilt and not knowing what it is to be forgiven. Our forgiveness comes when we confess our sins and believe Jesus did it all for us. This is the good news I want to share with you today.

If you are repentant and have faith in Christ, then you are forgiven. Now, because it comes from God, claim your forgiveness and rejoice in it.

The Effect of Easter

What effect did Easter have on you?

If you have not yet received Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, I ask you: Did Easter cause you to do some serious thinking about what a difference Christ’s presence would make in your life? If so, and I pray it did, and you are ready to talk to someone about it, seek out a pastor or good friend who knows the Savior in a very personal way. If you went to Sunday school and church as a child, you know what happened on Easter. However, if it never affected your life, then Easter is the same as any another day. However, as you grow older and give the Easter story more thought, you see how, even with material wealth, life can be very empty. You realize you need Jesus Christ to give your life meaning.

If Easter has affected you in that way, it was a marvelous day. I hope you will continue to live with Jesus in his Word and grow in your relationship with him.

Many of us who went to church last Sunday are confessing Christians, and Christ Jesus lives in our lives. What effect has Easter had in your life these past few days? Have you found yourself drawn closer to him? Have you wanted to get into the Word just a little bit more? Have you picked up a good book on the resurrection and begun to read it? Have you discussed it with friends who are further along in their Christian life?

Let us see what Easter did for Peter and John in today’s text. Pentecost had come and gone, and Peter and John were going up to the temple to pray. As they got there, they saw a man sitting by the door collecting money. This man had been crippled from birth. Peter said to him, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:6). The man got up and walked away. The people in the courtyard knew who the man was, so when they saw him walking among them, they were filled with wonder. When they asked Peter and John how it happened, Peter made it clear that it was not by his power that the man was made to walk, but by the power of Jesus Christ. When the report of this incident made it to the high priests, Peter replied with the words of our text.

Peter and John could have been put in jail. However, when they saw the living Christ on Easter morning, they began to understand that “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Peter and John were in jail more than once after that. History tells us that Peter died as a martyr, and John lived in exile all because of their strong conviction to the Easter message.

We must obey God, rather than man; that is a fruit of Easter. This conviction should be deepened in the faith of those who claim the resurrected Lord as their Savior. Those who do not believe in him should be contemplating this if they are interested in bringing Jesus into their life.

The Gallup Organization has polled Americans for more than thirty-five years about their level of trust in institutions. Congress, banks, big businesses, public schools, etc. are evaluated. In 2008, trust in nearly every institution was at an all-time low with Congress being the least trusted institution of all.

Something needs to be corrected. We cannot correct it ourselves; God has to work in our lives. We have a God who has been raised from the tomb to guide and direct us along life’s way. Therefore, we look at the effect of Easter on you and me today.

Do those of us who claim Jesus Christ as the resurrected Lord feel our commitment growing as a believer? Do we claim him in a greater way? Are we more motivated to talk to others about him? Have we come to the place where we can say with great conviction that no matter what happens, we will obey God rather than man? Do we feel the need to share that word of salvation with others in a very pointed way?

Deuteronomy 6:5-7 talks about a father teaching his children what the Word of God has to say about life and how God wants to draw close to us. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children.” Are you letting your children down by never talking to them about Christ, never revealing to them that he is the crucified and resurrected Lord, and never letting them see you really trusting in Christ?

As you gathered with loved ones, family, and friends, did you take the chance to speak about the message of salvation? If Easter has done that for you, it has been more than just an ordinary day.

We need to have the spirit of obeying God rather than men in this world. Temptations are always with us, but our resurrected Lord walks with us empowering us to speak God’s Word. When we fail to do that and instead follow the crowd, Christ will forgive us if we will repent.

Peter fell into sin the night Jesus was betrayed. One would think Jesus would have discarded him forever. But that did not happen. When Jesus saw him on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, He spoke with him as a person who could change.

That is also true of you and me. We may not always be the best witnesses pointing others to Jesus Christ; in fact, we are often the opposite. However, if Easter has really worked a change in us, God will use us in a very important way. Things will be entirely different if we will only spread this message wherever we go.

Because of Easter, the message is different. Christ does not forget us when we do wrong. Instead he loves us, knowing what our nature is, and forgives us when we repent. This happens when Easter has made a real mark in our lives.

The Easter story is a wonderful story. However, it is more than a story. It is the truth. No matter what your sins are, Jesus Christ will forgive you. He is the living Lord and will walk with you. Take this with you, not only on Easter, but every day. Get into your Bible and see what a blessed life you will live with Christ when you have heard the message that Christ is alive and lives today!

Christ Is Risen – An Epiphany Story

Recently I read a letter written by Abraham Lincoln to a mother who had lost five boys in the Civil War. The President wrote, “I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to comfort you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming.”

When I read these words, I think how applicable they are to a preacher. Therefore, I borrow these words from the President on this Easter Sunday morning as I preach the Easter Gospel. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to elaborate on what happened that first Easter morning when the angel announced to the women who had come to the tomb, “He is not here. He has risen!”

David Tiede, a former president and professor at Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, has given me some help in his commentary in the preparation for this sermon. Tiede calls this portion of St. Luke’s Gospel an epiphany story. Heavenly messengers (angels in this case) confront mere mortals, reveal that Jesus has been raised in accordance with his words, and send these witnesses to go and tell others.

The term “epiphany story” might be new to you. It simply means the story being communicated does not come from a human being but from a heavenly messenger.

There are other epiphany stories in the Gospel. The angel Gabriel came to Mary and Joseph regarding the birth of Jesus. Gabriel said, “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:31-32). That is an epiphany story. It comes from the heavens by a divine messenger to humans who are then to spread this message around the world.

This makes this revelation unique and, I believe, a bit more authoritative coming directly from God through special means.

Those who believe Christ has been raised and lives today have experienced an epiphany story. God, the Holy Spirit, has confronted us and revealed through the Scriptures that Jesus was raised on the third day after his death and came forth from the tomb. The Scriptures have been fulfilled. The Holy Spirit gave this message to Luke, who, through his Gospel, gives it to us on this glorious Easter Sunday.

The understanding of how we receive this glorious truth gives us authority to proclaim it to our fallen world. As Lincoln wrote, “These words of mine are inadequate.” However, these words which we proclaim have come in a very special way from God. They are more than adequate. The message of the resurrection is the foundation for the Gospel.

Therefore, I proclaim this Easter message to those who know Christ and know what it is to walk with the living Lord Jesus on a daily basis. I also share the Easter Gospel with those who do not know the Savior, for he loves them too. He loves all of us, and he wants us to know that he is not a dead martyr, but a risen Lord.

This marvelous epiphany Gospel is recorded in Luke 24.

When the women went out to anoint Jesus’ body, they found two men dressed in clothes that gleamed like lightning. Mark called them men, angels. These heavenly messengers were confronting ordinary people with the news that Jesus had risen from the dead. This is an epiphany moment.

When the women ran to tell the remaining eleven disciples what had happened, the disciples did not believe them and had to see for themselves. They had to have their epiphany moment.

Likewise, the two men later walking on the road to Emmaus had their epiphany moment as they heard the Easter story, not from an angel, but from Jesus himself. It is the greatest story ever told for it determines not only our future but also our eternal destiny.

History books and our memories recall how people have responded to this message throughout the years. Millions of people have believed that Jesus died for our sins and was raised from the dead. The Church and the fellowship of believers are constituted by those in the past who have lived and those who live today as believers in the Savior. We gather today to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and to be reassured that he walks with us through this life and one day will be with us in heaven.

A few days ago I visited an older lady who has been my friend for more than fifty years. She is very sick. As I visited with her about days gone by and the wonderful experiences we have had, she told me she has enjoyed this life immensely. Then I had a prayer with her and thanked God for all the good things he has given her during her eighty-seven years on this earth. When I had finished praying, she looked at me and said, “Yes, I am thankful, but oh how I long for my heavenly home.” She has a strong faith in the Savior. But there is another interesting part of this story.

In the early 1950s I visited this woman’s grandmother, who was a member of our congregation. Her family told me that she was very sick. Even though she was in a coma, they asked me to visit her. I read St. John’s Gospel where Jesus said, “I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2b, 3).

I elaborated on those passages and told her that Jesus was the only way to heaven. It was silent, and I finally said to that dear old soul, who was supposedly unconscious, “Mrs. Nielsen, do you understand that promise that Jesus has given to you? He has gone to prepare a place for you.”

The silent woman opened her eyes and said, “No, I don’t understand it and neither do you, but we believe it.”

That was fifty some years ago and now I was sitting with her grandchild, who by this time is eighty-seven years old herself. We talked about what will happen after death. Then the granddaughter, now an old lady, said she longs for her heavenly home.

These epiphany moments are passed on Ð grandmother tells her daughter, who tells the grandchild. In our closing moments we have the resurrection of our Savior to which we can cling.

Some in this world feel that only the uneducated can have a faith like this. Many would say that, at first, even the disciples thought it was pure nonsense.

And then I pick up a commentary like David Tiede’s from which I quoted at the beginning of this service. This man is exceptionally brilliant and well-trained. He attended prestigious schools of Harvard and Princeton Ð and is a visiting professor at Yale. He has spoken to many of the most intellectually elite. And yet he can open Luke 24 and say in the words of his writings that Jesus Christ lives.

Jesus Christ lives. This message has come from the heavens into the hands of people and passed down to David Tiede, who was willing to share it with his students. These students then proclaim it around the world today.

Yes, my friend, Jesus Christ lives! If you wrestle with that, it is understandable. So did the disciples. But remember that, even though it doesn’t make sense to the human mind, God’s voice can break through to our hearts and let us know that we do not walk alone for Jesus Christ walks with us.

This truth is the foundation of the Christian faith and the cornerstone of the Gospel. Without it, the Church has little to proclaim. Hold it high and celebrate it, not only today, but also in the days to come. We have a crucified and risen Lord.