Prince of Peace

Luke 19:29-38

We can hear the melody of Handels’ Messiah as we listen to the words of Isaiah 9. “His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” The country prophet named Jesus bounces on the donkey’s back as he enters Jerusalem gates. The crowd sings praises.
“Peace in heaven,” they cry.
“Glory to God.”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
They wave their palm branches and throw their cloaks on the dusty trail before the donkey as He comes down the road. Jesus came through the gates of Jerusalem to fulfill the purpose for which God had sent Him to the world. God’s plan for peace was being realized as Jesus, the Prince of Peace, came through Jerusalem’s Gates.

Are you at peace? Are you at peace with God?

There once was a king who offered a prize to the artist who would paint the best picture of peace. Many artists tried. The king looked at all those paintings, but he really liked only two, and he decided to choose between them.

One was a painting of a calm lake. The lake was a perfect mirror for peaceful mountains all around it. Overhead was blue sky with fluffy white clouds. Every one who saw this painting thought it was a perfect picture of peace.

The second painting had mountains also, but these were rugged and bare. Above them was an angry sky from which rain fell and lightening flashed. Down the side of the mountain tumbled a foaming waterfall. This did not look peaceful at all. But when the king looked closely, he saw behind the waterfall a tiny bush growing in a crack in the rock. In the bush, a mother bird had built her nest. There in the midst of the rushing, turbulent waters sat a mother bird on her nest in perfect peace.

Which painting do you think won the prize? The king chose the second painting. Why? “Because,” explained the king, “peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. The real meaning of peace is to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart.”

How do you define peace? At any level of life, in any of your relationships, in our world, what would you say? Peace is perfect tranquility, an absence of conflict or fighting or war. Peace is a state of rest. Peace is harmony. Experientially I might feel at peace as I float in a boat watching sunlight dance on the waves of a lake. I might feel peace as I look at the snow-capped mountains stretching across the valley before my eyes, or have my family gathered around the feast at the Thanksgiving table with laughter and love. I might define peace as freedom from all anxiety and fear. The ancient Hebrews in the Old Testament, with the word we translate shalom, talked about peace as prosperity, an abundance of everything, victory over all enemies, living by faith in harmony with God. The Hebrews’ understanding of peace was inseparable from a relationship of love, trust, and harmony with God.

Faith welcomes God to His proper place of ruling our hearts, minds, and lives. Then we can experience lasting peace.

With all the craziness of our lives and our world, what makes for peace? Why is it so elusive?

I once knew two brothers who inherited the family estate. One was a farmer. The other worked at a local elevator and rented his share of the estate to his brother. Well, the farmer brother was a big operator, and one fall he experienced a tremendous crop failure. The prices for crops were way too low, and he couldn’t make his obligations. The second brother forced payment for the rental of his ground, which flipped the farmer brother into foreclosure at the bank, and he lost everything. To their very death beds, these two brothers lived estranged from one another and bitter to the end. What would peace look like for them?

I know of a man who has fought bravely with cancer. He was terminally ill for years of treatments, surgeries, hospital stays, testing, suffering, and pain. The illness was so difficult and the diminishment of the quality of his life so significant that, though he was a man of faith, he longed for physical death. What would peace look like for him?

A husband and a wife lived in a marriage with constant turmoil. The lack of peace was so significant, they would go through periods of days and weeks living in silence. When they were speaking, they were clear in expressing mutual loathing. Their words cut one another to the heart. They knew just how to go for the jugular. To explode the marriage and make it end, one of the marriage partners had an affair with the other’s friend. The spouse, who was the offended, pursued the spouse to beg her to come back and prayed for God to help. How would they think of peace?

Jesus told the story of a father who had two sons. One was a rebel who ran off to waste all of dad’s money. The other son stayed home and was faithful, yet his favorite expressions were, That’s not fair, or I don’t care, or I don’t want to. The brother who remained home was offended by the father’s forgiveness and mercy to the rebel brother. When the rebel brother came home, the faithful son did not want to reconcile with his brother, though his father loved them both.

Peace has different applications in different life contexts. Jesus comes in all of our life circumstances to offer us peace – a peace that passes understanding. Truly, don’t our hearts yearn for peace? Not some resignation or capitulation to the conflicting circumstances of our life or the estrangement of our relationships. Not an ostrich with his head in the sand, but things that make for peace, which are true, honest, and real relationally. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons and daughters of God.”

So Jesus comes through the gates of Jerusalem with the courage and a wisdom that is willing to address what it takes to make peace between the broken, rebellious world and God the Father. He faces the reality of the problem. He could’ve been seduced by the praises of the crowd to accept an earthly appointment to power, but He does not settle. He knows He has come to go to a cross, to sacrifice His life to reconcile the world.

In Luke’s Gospel, when Jesus was born, a sky full of angels sang,”Peace on earth, goodwill to men.” Because Jesus had now come to the cosmos, to the earth He created, He took on the limits of our humanity in order to do what was necessary for peace.

Now on Palm Sunday, on the donkey’s back, Jesus rides into Jerusalem knowing He is going to the cross. He is going to suffer. He is going to taste blood. He is going to be executed. The crowd sings, “Peace in heaven,” “Jesus is the Prince of Peace.” He was jilted and rejected, betrayed and abandoned, abused and blasphemed, whipped bloody and nailed to a tree, lifted between heaven and earth. The King of the cosmos was executed in my place. He submitted to it in order to fulfill justice’s demands.

The perfect Prince of Peace sacrificed Himself for each one of us in love in order to declare the forgiveness of our sins, the erasing of our faults. Jesus from the cross, as the Prince of Peace, as the King of Glory, had the power to declare that our sins were forgiven. In the cross of Jesus, God was reconciling the world to Himself – not only into the opportunity of a relationship with God, but to live in the intimacy of the Father’s love. Jesus willingly went to the cross because His passion was for peace.

The tragedy is Jesus, the Prince of Peace, paid the price so peace might be ours only to have it rejected by so many of the world’s people He created and loves to this day. The heart of Jesus pulsates with a desire that we would live with Him in peace. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” Jesus said. “How I long to gather you, but you would not.” Jesus is the Prince of Peace who pursues you wherever you are, whatever you have done. His passion for peace is so strong He will not rest until you are His. Jesus is the perfect Prince of Peace, and He deserves to reign in our hearts.

Are you at peace? Are you at peace with God? Jesus who rode the donkey’s back knowing He was going to the cross, did everything necessary so you could know the arms of Christ are still extended toward us in love as a standing invitation. Those hands, with nail prints still in them, invite us into His embrace so we might experience His grace and love, and we might know the life God intended for us. Romans 5 says it this way, “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him, we have access to this grace in which we live.”

Today is another day for you and I to confess simply in faith that Jesus is our Savior who went to the cross to make peace between us and God. We can thank Him for dying for us. We can, in a simple prayer, invite Jesus to come into our lives by faith so we may know we are one with God, we are forgiven, and we are His forever.

Jesus is our Prince of Peace. Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg

His Death Is Like No Other

Mark 15:16-20, 22-37

For the past 31 years at my congregation’s Good Friday worship services, we read the entire Passion story of Christ’s suffering and death with hymns interspersed between each scene. It is a meaningful experience for us. The reason I insist on doing it this way is I believe it is important to be reminded of the cruelty, brutality, evil, and darkness Jesus went through for us.

One has to agree, it is a dark, gruesome story as we observe humanity at its worst. Jesus suffered greatly at the hands of sinful, mean spirited men. We look at the beatings, the humiliation, the crown of thorns, the flogging, the mockery, the spit, the nails in His hands and feet, the injustice, and the desertion and betrayal of friends, and it makes us cringe.

However, I always make a point during my message to emphasize to the congregation that what makes the death of Jesus unique (like no other) is not these gruesome details, as important as they are to solemnly review. Death on a cross and the cruel treatment of prisoners was not unusual. But something else was happening at that cross – you might even say it is in the behind-the-scenes – that no one could see but Jesus. His death was different from all others. What makes it so different is the purpose behind it. It was a lifesaving mission of mercy and grace planned by God for our good.

In his first sermon, the Apostle Peter told the crowd on Pentecost, “This man, Jesus, was handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). This plan began – as God told the serpent in the garden of Eden – after Adam and Eve’s disobedience in Genesis, “He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15b). This is a fulfilled promise to Abraham of a Descendant who would be a blessing to all the nations of the world (Genesis 22:18). This is the One whom Isaiah the prophet described would be led like a lamb to the slaughter and by His wounds we would be healed (Isaiah 53:5-7).

The death of Jesus was more than a martyr’s death. Look at who is on that cross – Jesus, true man but true God. As the Nicene Creed says, “Very God of very God.” He was utterly innocent and had done no wrong. Yet, here He is on a cross – suffering and dying. In fact, Scripture tells us He was sinless. Peter says in one of his letters in the New Testament that Jesus was without sin. Paul talked of Him as one who knew no sin. He willingly died on the cross.

By the way, Jesus didn’t to be dragged to the cross. He actually embraced His oncoming death with authority saying, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:17-18). He chose the cross out of obedience to His heavenly Father who ordained it.

Ultimately what made Jesus’ death like no other is, it had to happen. It was a necessity. It was God’s gracious plan to save a perishing world. Jesus told His disciples three times, “I must go to Jerusalem and be rejected and suffer and die, and then on the third day rise again.” I must, He said. It’s that necessary.

Why? It is easy to answer. In one word – sin. Sin. All of us have sinned, and we fall short of the glory of God. There is an emphasis on the word all. No one is excluded!

What is sin? We’re not just talking about murder and robbing banks here. Our thoughts, our words, our actions, and sometimes our lack of action break God’s commands. We are self-centered. Our thoughts are oftentimes impure. We continually fall short of the mark.

To break one commandment is to break them all. Each of us is stained with sin. Guilty! In God’s sight, we are deserving of punishment and cannot save ourselves. We cannot erase the stain or make ourselves right again before God any more than we could long jump the Grand Canyon. We will always fall short, no matter how hard we try to live in total obedience to God and do great things in order to earn our way into His favor. All our good deeds, Scripture tells us, are nothing more than filthy rags in His sight.

Remember. God is holy and just. He loves us. After all, He made us in His image. But He is holy and just, and our sins must be punished, paid for in some way. In Scripture it says the sins of the guilty will not go unpunished. God cannot have a sinful humankind in His heaven, which is pure and unblemished. The wages of sin is death. We are spiritually dead in our relationship with God in this world, and we have nothing but eternal death waiting for us in the next. We are away from God.

Here is what God did out of love – the Good News for sinful men and women like me and like you. Jesus came into this world. He lived the perfect, sinless life I could not live. He was absolutely righteous. Then He suffered and went to the cross to pay for our sinfulness. He took the judgment for our sin upon Himself. As the Apostle Paul writes to the Colossian Christians, “And you who were dead in your sin, God made alive together with him having forgiven us all our trespasses by canceling the record of death that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside nailing it to the cross” (Col 2:13-14). When Jesus was nailed to the cross, our sins were nailed to the cross. He took our place. He who knew no sin became sin and experienced God’s wrath and judgment on our behalf as we hear Him cry out, “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?”

What makes His death like no other is He was a substitute for our atonement. He told His disciples He came to give His life as a ransom, a payment for everyone. Later on, Paul wrote of Jesus’ death saying He died that we might be justified. Justification is a legal term from the law court meaning we might be declared not guilty by God. His death was for the forgiveness of our sins.

Jesus’ death was not the final word. It ended in RESURRECTION, which was part of the plan. God affirmed His sacrificial death on Easter morning when He raised Him back to life.

His death is like no other because His death rescues us from sin and death and the power of the devil. It is the way, the only way, back to a restored relationship with God and eternal life.

Why did Jesus go through this? Why did God give us His Son like this? Simple. Out of love. Our Father desires for all to be saved from sin and death. Jesus’ death calls for a response from each of us who hear it. Just hearing about it and knowing about it doesn’t help. A person is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is simply trusting Christ for what He has done for you, receiving the free gift He is offering you (eternal life), and following Him the rest of your days as you build your life upon His Word and His promises.

Perhaps you are someone listening today who has not yet received that gift. You haven’t understood that God wants to give it to you. If you were to die today, perhaps you don’t know where you would be spending eternity. It eats away at you wondering.

Here is some good news for you. You can know! There is a statement in I John – “All these things have been written so you may know you have eternal life.” Near the end of the New Testament in Revelation chapter 3 is the statement, “Here I am,” says Jesus. “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person and they with me.”

William Holman Hunt, the Pre-Raphaelite artist, illustrated this verse with a painting that has become quite famous. It’s called The Light of the World. Perhaps you’ve seen it. It is a picture of Jesus standing outside a house. He is knocking on the door. It is the door of your life, and he is saying, Here I am. I stand at the door and knock. I’d like to come into the house of your life and be a part of it. To eat with you, which was a sign of friendship.

In the picture, the door is kind of overgrown with thorns and thistles and weeds. It’s like this person has never opened the door to Jesus. Holman Hunt was once told by some that his painting had a terrible flaw. The door does not have a handle. In response he said, “The door in the painting has no handle, and can therefore be opened only from the inside, representing ‘the obstinately shut mind.’” Jesus is not going to force His way into a person’s life. He knocks and leaves it up to you to decide whether to ask Him in. He waits for your response.

Have you responded? If not, why not open the door to your life right now to Him? It’s simply a matter of asking Him to come and, as you talk to Him in prayer and tell Him you want to receive the forgiveness and eternal life He wants to give. Tell Him you are sorry for how you’ve tried to run your own life and you want to follow Him from now on. He promises to come in and be your friend. Your Savior, whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light, will give you rest for your soul.

Perhaps you have lived with Jesus Christ in your life for quite some time. You’ve enjoyed the free gift of salvation with Jesus. This assurance is yours. You know how costly the gift was and what His death on the cross accomplished for you. But you’ve wondered how to say thanks and show thanks for the things He has done for you.

I am reminded of a verse from an old sacred hymn. It’s like a prayer.

“What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest friend,
for this thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end.
Oh make me thine forever, and should I fainting be.
Lord let me never, never outlive my love to thee.”

I invite you to consider and act upon a statement made in Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, the second article. After describing who Jesus is and what He has done for us on a cross, Luther says, “All this he has done that I may be his own, live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he has risen from the dead and lives and rules eternally.”

There you have it! Live under Him and let Him take over your life. Live the rest of your days doing life His way according to His Word. Be a doer of His Word. When you open the Scripture and see things like Forgive as you’ve been forgiven or Love as I’ve loved you or Turn the other cheek, instead of just studying it and thinking about it, do it. This is what it means to live under Him. He calls the shots! After all, remember you now belong to Him. You have been bought with a price – His precious blood.

Serve Him. Serve Him – not yourself, not the things of this world – but Him. Service to Him means throwing caution to the wind and telling others in your sphere of influence what He has done for them so they can get in on what you’ve received. Then nurturing them in their newfound relationship with Christ. Compassionately serve others in His name as He has called us to do so all may get in on the life God wants us all to receive – eternal life.

O, how He loves you and me. Is there any doubt? Just look at that cross. His death is like no other. It saves. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Jesus Has Power Like No Other

Mark 4:35-41

A number of years ago I was visiting one of my congregational members who had invited me to tour his workplace and have lunch with him. As he was giving me a look around the place, we ran into one of his coworkers. He introduced me as his pastor and asked this man if he had a church home. This person smirked a bit and said, “No. I don’t see what difference a dead guy on a cross can make for anybody,” and then he walked away.

A lot of people like him ask, “What’s the big deal about Jesus Christ?” We’ve been answering this question for the last couple weeks in this sermon series entitled, “Like No Other.”

Jesus was promised like no other. Hundreds of years before He arrived, the prophets talked about what He would be like. He was described to a tee, and those promises were fulfilled by Jesus.

We also see He had a birth like no other, a virgin birth. He was true God and true man. When we look into the eyes of Jesus, we are looking into the eyes of God.

Today, we see He has power like no other. We see His power in a story about a storm. Mark has been describing Jesus for us. Mark is an excellent storyteller as he reveals Jesus bit by bit. The disciples were discovering more about Jesus after He called them to follow Him. He began training them as they witnessed His miracles, His power to heal, and His authority to cast out demons.

They also get a wonderful teaching from Jesus prior to this storm. He gives them parables, which He explains to them: the parable of the sower, the parable of the mustard seed, the parable of the farmer who planted the seed. In each of these parables, the seed starts out small but soon grows into something big, and the story ends well. Jesus explained these stories by saying: I know this enterprise of mine looks rather small right now as I announce the kingdom of God and God’s plans to rescue this world. But it is going to come to fruition and will make a big splash in a lot of people’s lives.

Now Jesus and the disciples are in a boat. It’s the same day they had heard these parables but the teaching is done and Jesus wants to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. He goes to the back of the boat and takes a nap. When they get out into the center of the sea, an unexpected storm hits, swamping the boat! Even the fishermen Peter, James, John and Andrew are panicked. What’s going to happen to God’s plans, His promises? The boat is sinking!

The disciples look at Jesus who is still asleep. They had to have wondered how He could be sleeping through the storm. The forces of evil were aroused, and it was an angry and threatening storm!

Have you ever wondered how Jesus could remain sleeping? Was He so confident in God’s presence and power that He could sleep even in the middle of a storm? Someone once remarked that the disciples had some faith in Jesus, but they didn’t have the faith of Jesus in His heavenly Father.

The disciples wake Jesus up asking, “Teacher, don’t you care? We’re perishing!” Look at this statement. First of all, they call Him Teacher! Not, Lord. We get a clue about their relationship with Jesus. He’s still basically a great teacher in their eyes. Furthermore, they think He is uncaring and doesn’t love them after all. After all, He is letting them go through this deadly storm, and He’s not doing anything to help them. They hadn’t figured out an important fact yet, a fact we all need to be reminded of, as well: No one escapes storms in life, even when Jesus is in your boat. You are not untouchable when it comes to hardships, if you are a follower of Christ. This fact had not hit them yet. When pressures came and the storm happened, we see their courage and assurance that Jesus cared or could do something quickly faded.

Fear leads to despair that God doesn’t care. It brings about another storm, deep within, a doubt storm, a faith storm. When a hurricane sweeps into our lives, Jesus may seem indifferent to our plight like He’s asleep or even absent. When we lose our health or our job or a loved one, it may feel like Jesus is ignoring our fate and has no concern for us. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.

We learn here that, even when Jesus is in the boat, we are not exempt from facing storms. Jesus stands up, and with three words stops the storm. “Peace. Be still!” He rebukes the storm. The wind stops immediately. The water is as smooth as a mirror – immediately. The have witnessed a great miracle.

The word “rebuke” is the same word used when Jesus exorcised demons who possessed people. Could it be Jesus is insinuating the storm was a satanic attack to finish off this mission early on? Perhaps. Satan had already done battle with Him out in the wilderness. Satan works not only through subtle temptations, but also with an onslaught of hardships and evil attacks.

Notice what Jesus says to the disciples as He turns to them. Why are you afraid? Have you no faith? Believe the promises I shared with you in those parables. God has plans and they will not be thwarted. We are going to bring His kingdom into this world and “thy kingdom come” will happen. We are safe with Him. Nothing can snatch us from His hands. Believe in me and know I care about you. What about the miracles you have already witnessed, and my compassion for people? Jesus seems to be saying, Even the people I care about, I allow them to go through storms. Storms come, even when I am with you. Don’t doubt in the dark what you have heard in the light from me. Trust my promises.

A second lesson to be learned from this passage is a reminder even Christians experience problems. However, Christians have the “Problem Solver” living within their heart. The disciples are filled with even more fear at the end of the story than when they were in the middle of the storm. Who is this, they asked? They knew their Psalms, I imagine. In Psalm 89 God is described as the One who rules the raging sea. When its waves rise, He stills them. Psalm 107 describes God stilling the storm for the sailors who were in the midst of it. The sea was uncontrollable. The Jewish people didn’t particularly like being out on the water, unless they were fishermen, because it was so unpredictable. They believed it was a place where evil actually lurked with sea monsters and so on. Yet they also believed it was under God’s control.

Here we see Jesus was able to exercise a power only God has, and they wondered if they were standing in the presence of God. How frightening that must have been!

So what is our takeaway? Two things.

Number one, Jesus has power like no other. This story identifies who this Jesus is. It is a sign, a lesson of His great power, greater than any storm. It’s not about how He rescues fretful disciples from danger when they call out to Him. One cannot expect a miraculous intervention in every storm of life. Storms are a part of living from which no one escapes. Chaos can hit and happen quickly. One moment all is well, and then in a flash all is chaos. We can trust in a Savior who may not always deliver us from storms, but He always will deliver us through the storms. While following Jesus Christ may not be a refuge from the uncertainties of life, one can certainly find security with Jesus and a serenity, a peace this world does not know and cannot give because He is like no other. He is the Lord of the storm.

As Christians, we know Jesus has already done the ultimate battle with the strongman, Satan, at the cross and the empty tomb – HE HAS WON! He has beaten down the storm, and no one has reason to fear anything from nature or the supernatural, from life or death – because when we trust in Jesus Christ, we belong to Him.

We are invited then to lift our eyes above the storms of life to the One who rules all things knowing He is Lord of the storms. Even when our faith is not so strong, it is not the critical factor, for we have a strong object of our faith – Jesus Christ.

Does He really care? Look at the parallels of this story and the Old Testament story of Jonah and the whale. There is a storm in each story. The main characters – Jonah and Jesus – are asleep. The sailors are afraid the ship is going to sink so they wake up the main character and ask, What’s going on? The storm gets calm in each story, followed by the awestruck fear of the sailors at the end. Jonah is thrown into the water, and it calms the storm. Jesus simply orders the storm to be quiet, and it obeys. This appears to be the difference – but maybe not. A little while later, Jesus makes the remark, “You know one greater than Jonah is here (this Jonah who stilled the storm by jumping in the sea)” (Matt. 12:41).

As we look at the rest of the story of this Jesus, we find He is thrown into the ultimate storm. Near the end of the story when Jesus goes to the cross to save us, He experienced the sense of abandonment, separation from God’s care when He cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Why did He do it? He did it out of love for you. If He will do something like that for us, surely we can trust Him in the smaller storms of life and know in the bottom of our hearts that He cares.

You know, we’re kind of hard on those poor disciples. We ask ourselves the question, Don’t they get it? How slow can they be? But I sometimes think I might be just as slow, and I have to give them a little break. I also have to give them a little credit. They knew where to turn when the storm hit. I hope you know that too. Later, Peter will write to folks who are being persecuted, “Cast all your anxieties on Him because He cares about you” (I Peter. 5:7). Paul, the apostle, will say “I am hard-pressed on every side but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; struck down but not destroyed” (II Cor. 4:8-9). Paul points to Jesus, the Lord of the storms, who is getting him through life’s storms.

The stories go on. I think of a friend of mine, a young lady who was engaged to be married. Her fiancé was tragically killed weeks before the wedding, in an avalanche. As I sat with her, she was devastated. I walked through that experience with her. She felt destroyed, but never defeated. She seemed to be able to live by these words, “Yay, though I go through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me” (Psalm 23:4). One day the sun did come up for her, and through it all, she experienced the power of the Lord of the storms.

A friend of mine named Irv lost his wife. He said it felt like losing his arm. They had been married more than fifty years. I’d have breakfast with him, check in with him, and some days he would just walk around with a cloud over his head. One morning, though, when I asked him, “How are you?” He smiled and said, “I get it. Jesus is seeing me through this.”

He will see you through as well, if you are facing a storm. An important verse each of us should memorize and keep tucked away in our heart is this: “I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor rulers nor things present nor things to come nor powers nor heights nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39). Memorize it. Take it to the bank.

Jesus is Lord of the storms. He has power like no other. Know this – He cares about you. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

 

 

A Birth Like No Other

Luke 11:26-38

Quite a few years ago, as I was getting ready to lead a late-night Christmas Eve service, I saw a young lady who was home from college approach me with a young man in tow. After she introduced us, he told me how excited he was to be there, and he was a Muslim. He said, “You know, pastor, we’re brothers! We really do believe the same thing, as far as I’m concerned.” It stunned me for just a moment, but then I responded, “It’s so good to have you here tonight, but we’re not brothers. However, I have some great news to share with you during the worship tonight!”

Have you noticed that in the name of open-mindedness, not wanting to be offensive, or perhaps the result of a sheer lack of knowledge, people will try to lump all the religions into one? They are all pretty much the same – love God, love neighbor. Why can’t we get along? The thing is, nothing could be further from the truth. An honest examination of them shows they are not even close to each other. One of the major sticking points is Jesus Christ.

What makes Jesus is so unique, like no other? This is what we have been talking about these days. In the first message of the series, we talked about how Jesus was promised like no other by the prophets. Today we see He had a birth like no other. This is the main idea we learn in Mary’s encounter with the angel, Gabriel, in today’s passage. Listen to what the angel said to Mary: “You will conceive in your womb a son . . . He will be great.”

In what ways will He be great? First of all, His name will be Jesus, meaning “God will save.” In other words, this child has a mission, and He seems to be connected to God.

Second, He will be called the “Son of the Most High.” This is how people will know Him. “Most High” is a term used for God in the Old Testament. “He will be the Son of God,” Gabriel says, “and He will reign over the house of Jacob (Israel) forever. Of His kingdom there will be no end.”

We’re taken back to the promise God made to David that from his descendants kings would always be there to take care of Israel. Now we hear of a great King who is greater than any earthly king. He is forever, an eternal King, a King who has come to take over, to challenge the kingdoms of this world. He is the King above all Kings. All are to kneel before Him and pay Him allegiance.

“He will be called Son of God,” Gabriel continues. His birth will be unusual, a miracle! He will be born of a virgin, as we say in our Apostles’ Creed. It’s difficult to comprehend, isn’t it. We know how babies are made. So did Dr. Luke who recorded this for us. So did Matthew who also recorded the virgin birth. They knew full well how babies are made. Mary certainly knew how babies were made, and she asked Gabriel how this was going to happen. Listen to his answer: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, Mary.”

In the Old Testament, when people were called upon by God to do great things that were way beyond their capabilities, things only God could do, God would fill them with His Spirit – the prophets, the judges, even some of the kings. You’re going to be spirit-powered, Mary. “The power of the Most High will overshadow you.” We get a picture of the creation story as the Spirit of the Lord moved over the waters, over-shadowing it. God is going create something wonderful within you by His power, not by nature’s power.

C. S. Lewis made this wonderful statement about the virgin birth. “Jesus was conceived when God took off the glove of nature and touched Mary with His naked finger. Thus, Jesus did not evolve up and out of history.” Someone once said, “Jesus is infinite and infant.”

“Therefore,” Gabriel continues, “this child to be born will be holy,” which means He is set apart for a purpose from all others. He is like no other. Gabriel finishes off by saying, “He will be called Son of God.” Amazing!

I love this statement by Peter Larson: “Despite our efforts to keep Him out, God intrudes. The life of Jesus is bracketed by two impossibilities: a virgin’s womb and an empty tomb. Jesus entered our world through a door marked ‘No Entrance’ and left through a door marked ‘No Exit.’”

Then, as Gabriel is tying this all up, he says, Look at your cousin Elizabeth, Mary. She was unable to give birth, and now she’s six months pregnant. You want to know why? Because nothing is impossible for God!

I love that statement – Nothing is impossible for God! Think of the implications of this announcement, this story. Jesus Christ is like no other in that He is a unique event in history. Muhammad and all the other founders of other religions were born and pointed the way to God, but Jesus points to Himself. “I am the way,” He says. He is God, not the product of purely natural forces as we are. He is actually the intervention of God, our Creator, in history.

In the Christian faith, we talk about Jesus as being true man and true God. It’s important for the world to understand the way in which He is fully God and fully man. He’s not part man and part God. No. He’s true God, true man.

First of all, He is true man. He was a human being born of the virgin Mary just as our Apostles’ Creed says. This means He is like us in every way except He didn’t sin. He shared in the wholeness of life – its joys, its limitations, its pain, its frustrations, its frights, its tiredness, its growing up, its desires and instincts, and its life with God. He was born into this world as a baby and grew up in a home with all the trials of family life. He learned life through experience. He suffered and died just as we suffer and die. The writer of Hebrews says, “We have a great high priest in Jesus who sympathizes with us in our weaknesses” (4:15). He knows and understands what you and I go through as human beings. I find comfort in that knowledge.

A seminary professor once explained to me that Jesus is more than simply a man. He is so much man that in a sense, He is the only true man who ever lived. He exhibited the fullness of what God had in mind for humans as He lived out perfect obedience in a fallen world.

Jesus is true God – God in the flesh. “I and the Father are one,” Jesus said to His disciples. John said in his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14). He is talking about Jesus! Jesus is not just like God or imbued with the Spirit of God or someone behaving as a god. He is God – true God. He shares in the very being and reality of God. In Him we have God robed with humanity. God in the flesh.

Jesus reveals a truthful picture about God that we didn’t have. The invisible God has now become visible in Jesus. To look into the eyes of Jesus is to look in the eyes of God. To look into the heart of Jesus is to know the heart of God. Now we can know God – no more guessing. We can experience Him to the full because of Jesus.

Being true God then makes Jesus a perfect, sinless sacrifice for our sins. It had to be a perfect sacrifice. Sin had to be paid for – our sin. We were separated from God, hopeless and helpless until Jesus came along.

Matthew tells us the name Jesus means He will save His people from their sins. He is the new Adam, the apostle Paul says. “For, as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience – perfect obedience – Jesus – many will be made righteous before God” (Romans 5:19). He is the sinless sacrifice as our true God – true man.

By the way, Jesus was born not only to save us from our sins, but also to reign over us as our King, to take over our lives, to rule over us that we might follow Him and live life according to His ways, His kingdom.

Put it all together – the wonderful conception of a baby from a virgin and the power of God, the titles and challenges of this King to all human empires – and you can understand why this story is so challenging and explosive. It is an amazing story! So the question is, What do we do with it? Luke put it in his Gospel account for a reason.

This announcement pushes the uniqueness and exclusivity of Jesus right into our faces. This is the Good News! God has stepped in our world to save us in Jesus. He is the one above all others. Now respond! Will you reject Him or receive Him as your Savior and your King? What will you do with this Jesus and the story we talked about today? He’s looking for a response from us.

As you are trying to figure out a response, I suggest using Mary as our model. After all, she is just like us. She has not met the earthly person of Jesus and neither have we. She is wondering about this as we would, and she receives a message about Him. It is the Gospel message telling who Jesus is and what He will do. Look at the wonderful way in which she responds.

First of all, she ponders. She uses her powers of reason. The Greek word used for pondered means, “logistical,” to use one’s logic and reason intensely. She thinks about it. She uses all her reasoning powers to figure out how this can be true. She ponders the evidence, weighs the claims being made. You can do the same thing! God has given you a good mind to think this through.

Mary had some doubts. She expressed them openly. She asked, “How can this be since I am a virgin.” She is leaving herself open for more answers. While there are different kinds of doubts, like dishonest doubt like when someone minimizes your statement calling it stupid and then walks away. They are being intellectually dishonest. There is also honest doubt. This person really wants to know, so they ask questions. The seek more information humbly. This type of doubt can actually grow you in your faith and make you stronger. I have people confide to me once in a while when they are having doubts. I tell them, That’s okay. As long as you pursue the answers to your doubts, God is more than able and willing to show you the answers. You will be all the stronger.

Finally, Mary surrendered in trust and in obedience. She said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according your word.” Her response is quite trusting and very courageous!

The society of her day wasn’t going to take Mary’s pregnancy very well. Her reputation could be trashed. She could face many hardships ahead and so many unknowns. She didn’t have the whole road mapped out for her, and yet she trusted.

Not only did she surrender and trust, but she also surrendered in obedience. She said, “May it be to me as you have said.” In other words, I am God’s instrument. Use me according to Your will, Lord.

She pondered her thoughts, she expressed her doubts, and she surrendered in trust and obedience.

This story is asking people like you and me to do the same thing. Think the news through (use your head) and ask your questions (information will be given; God will answer). Then surrender to Him in trust and in obedience. He who was born in this world wants to be born in you. He wants to give you a new birth with new life, a life run by His wisdom and His ways. A confident life that knows you are His forever and you can trust Him with your future.

It is a life that not only says I trust Him, but also I will obey Him in everything.

• Jesus, if you say I need to forgive as You have forgiven me, then I will be a forgiver and let go of my grudges.
• Jesus, if you say I need to be a person of integrity, a shining light in the darkness, no lying and cheating, then lying and cheating is out of bounds.
• Jesus, when You want to use me to touch someone else’s life, I will go.

Last month was the Super Bowl. The MVP of the game was Nick Foles, the quarterback for the Eagles. An amazing story came out about him the weekend after the big game. He had signed up to begin classes at a seminary after football is over. God had put it on his heart to be a pastor to high school kids. He sensed a nudge from God, and he is obeying it.

This is what God is looking for from each and every one of us – that we would trust and obey as followers of Jesus Christ. When you do, you will be blessed. You will be glad as you think this through, ask your questions, and surrender to Him. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer