The Love of God Is Folly

Romans 8:31-39

L’amour de Dieu est folie! This French phrase translates, “The love of God is folly.”

Brennan Manning in his book “The Ragamuffin Gospel” says that on Easter morning in France you’ll see this phrase posted on the side of buildings, busses, and houses, and graffitied on sidewalks. The French sing it in their churches in worship and use it as a greeting when they wave to the neighbors. The love of God is folly. God’s love is extravagant.

In the season of Easter, we are remembering the profound truth that Jesus Christ, who was crucified and buried in a sealed tomb with Roman guards outside, is now risen from the dead never to die again. Death could not hold Him.

Is God’s initiative to send His Son into the world in love to save us and invite us to trust Him, a fool’s mission? It does sound a little crazy that an all-powerful God would be born taking on the limits of humanity. He then would live a perfect life, reveal Himself in signs and wonders and miracles, teach about the kingdom of God, then face false charges, be arrested and crucified, though He was perfect. It seems illogical to take on the sins of all humanity and then be raised from the dead in victory to proclaim the forgiveness of sins to all who believe and the invitation to reconciliation in the love of God.

Some say the love of God is folly. It is a fool’s mission because it’s illogical, irrational, and ill-advised. Perhaps even a wasted effort.

The psalmist says, “The fool says in his heart there is no God” (Psalm 14:1). Contemporary philosophers might say it this way: The value of God is dead. It’s as if some have concluded God is irrelevant. Could it be the German philosopher Feuerbach, who lived in the 19th century, was correct when he said God is the projection of human fears? That God didn’t create us, but men created God in order to placate our own fears because of our weaknesses and limits? Is God just a figment of imagination to comfort our terrorized souls? Is Jesus alive from the dead? The truth of Easter’s message is the heartbeat of God’s revelation to the world. Paul said, “If Jesus Christ has not been raised, than your faith is worthless and you’re still in your sins” (I Cor. 15:17).

Ken Davis tells the story of a woman who saw her German Shepherd shaking the life out of a neighbor’s pet rabbit. Her family didn’t get along well with the neighbors, and she knew this would be a disaster. So she grabbed her broom and pummeled the dog until it finally dropped the dead rabbit from its mouth. Seeing the dead rabbit, she panicked. She grabbed the rabbit, took it inside, gave it a bath, blow dried its hair to its original fluffiness, combed its fur until it looked alive again, and then snuck into the neighbor’s yard and propped it up so it looked alive.

An hour later, she heard screams from next door. She went outside and asked what was going on. The neighbor woman said, Our rabbit! Our rabbit! He died two weeks ago, and we buried him. Now he’s back!

This is a funny and absurd story. Everybody knows dead rabbits don’t come back to life. From a human logic standpoint, we’d also assert that when human beings breathe their last, they also don’t come back to life. But the truth of the message of Easter says, Jesus Christ, who was crucified on the cross for the sins of the world – for my sins – was raised from the dead never to die again.

In the message of Easter in Luke 24, the women went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. They found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. Two angels told them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? Jesus isn’t here. He is risen, just as he said.”

The disciples, when the women told them what they experienced and what the angel said, believed their words to be nonsense, foolishness. Luke, the physician actually uses a medical term for nonsense. It could be translated, the babbling words of someone who has lost their mind. The love of God is folly. The way in which God has revealed Himself to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ saving all who believe is foolish. It’s illogical. it’s irrational. Some people would say it is a wasted effort. But it’s our hope.

We know love can be risky. God loves us – God loves the world knowing the risks. Love can be rejected and not reciprocated. Love can meet indifference. Love might meet rebellion like a child who ungratefully disobeys and disrespects his parents despite the parents’ love for the child. This is a pretty clear picture of my own sinfulness. I ignore the love of God when I choose my own way. I fall into my own foolish ways like a rebellious child.

Love is risky because it can meet unfaithfulness in contrast to the beautiful faithfulness of Jesus Christ when He went to the cross and said, “It is finished,” then died. My life of faith is one of continual failure and unfaithfulness.

Love also can be risky because it can be met with unbelief. Then, even though God’s love and power and life are real, His initiative of love cannot lead to life shared without faith. I want to tell you again today, Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. The love of God is folly because it is extravagant as it is lavished upon us.

When my wife Denise and I were a young married couple, we visited my grandmother, Anna Laaveg, in North Dakota. My grandma would always try to make those who visited her a little fatter. So as we sat down at her kitchen table, she placed a plate with a large piece of cake, two doughnuts, and two cookies in front of Denise. My wife took a cookie off the plate, placed it on a napkin, and handed me the plate. “No, no, no,” my grandma said. “This is for you!” Way more than she needed. Extravagant. The love of God is like this. It is lavished upon us, poured to the brim, and filled over.

• God’s love is foolish because it gives up all power in order to take on limits and become a servant to us. Jesus’ blood on the cross washes us clean.
• God’s love is foolish because He invites us to bathe in His grace and begin life again.
• God’s love is foolish because He forgives every rebellious and immoral deed we’ve done and reconciles us back into His arms to share life. Remember Jesus said, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”
• God’s love is foolish because He takes on weakness and vulnerability and finds us in our darkness to embrace us in our brokenness.
• God’s love is folly because He descends to wherever we are, finds us where we have fallen and where we have wandered off and never gives up pursuing us until He holds us in His love.
• God’s love is folly because He heals our destructive attitudes and patterns of behavior. Often I get stuck in stinkin’ thinkin.’ I become hypercritical, and I can let my tongue wag around in gossip.

We are all addicted to something. We chase material things that cannot give us life. Yet the Spirit of Jesus was raised from the dead and can pour power into us to transform our distractive patterns into newness of life.

• The love of God is folly because it gives us hope for a totally new future. Our future does not have to be a continuation of our past failures.
• The love of God is folly because He brings life to all our dead places, to our broken relationships, to failed marriages, to jobs that ended, to dreams that died. Jesus raises us up to new life.
• God’s love is folly because it is undeserved and unconditional, not based on moral perfection, not changing. Even if we are less than we ought to be.
• God’s love is unconditional, not based on our zeal or our performance. Love always yearns for relationship.

I have heard it said, God is always a gentleman, so He never forces Himself on us, yet patiently waits, offering us His love with open arms so we can understand His heart, run to Him, and let Him embrace us.

John Ortburg tells the story of a friend who spent years of her life living far from God. Over time, she realized the limitations of her own self-sufficiency and pride. She felt she needed more information about God before she could commit her heart to Him. So she spent a year studying God and asking questions. After a while, she realized her issue was no longer a lack of information, but a commitment issue. She had never actually surrendered her life to God, because she knew that if Jesus was raised from the dead, that fact changed everything.

One day, as she stood in the kitchen of her home and looked across the threshold into the living room, she prayed out loud, “God, in a moment I am going to step across this threshold. As I do this, the step will represent my life totally surrendered to you. I commit my life to you, Jesus. From this moment on, in my periods of doubt or moments of struggle, I will remember that I have surrendered my life to you, Jesus, the source of life and the fountain of grace.”

• The love of God is folly because it is never-ending.

So today we again rejoice in the truth that God still comes by His Holy Spirit. I think about Paul’s prayer to the saints in Ephesus, “I pray God’s Spirit would strengthen you in your inner person so Jesus Christ might dwell in your heart by faith, and you, being rooted in His love, may know and understand . . . the love of Christ for you” (Eph. 3:16-19). Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg

I Know I Can Depend on Him

John 10:11-18

Christian author, Dr. Gerhard Frost, tells a wonderful story in his devotional book, Homing in the Presence.

“It was a concert in the park, and my friend and her little granddaughter were enjoying it together. The child was completely captivated by this, her first orchestra concert. She sat transfixed through each number. And then each time the music stopped, she’d move a little bit closer, forgetful of her surroundings, with grandma following each time she moved. At last she was as close as she could get. She stood at the very foot of the stage lost in the lights and sounds of the many instruments. When the concert ended, for a brief anxious moment, the child realized how far she had wandered away. She turned to see her grandmother standing behind her, and with a smile of relief she cried, ‘O, I knew I could depend on you, grandma.’”

As Christians, we have someone of whom we can say the same thing – I know I can depend on You. I’m talking about Jesus. You really can depend on Him! He is highly committed to giving you a full and abundant life with Him. This is the gist of His appeal in today’s passage. You can depend on Me. Trust Me.

There have always been people who have not discovered this truth, many who are puzzled by Jesus. They are not sure of what to make of Him. They are curious of Him, they find Him interesting, but choose to not take Him seriously. Some are put off by Him, even threatened by Him, so they stand ready to classify Him as a fraud or a lunatic to be rejected and ignored.

Such is the case in our story for today from John’s Gospel. Jesus, you see, is talking to a divided crowd. For a little context, Jesus had just healed the blind man. But the religious authorities condemned Him for it, saying, “He is a sinner because He healed on the Sabbath. He is not from God.” However, others in the crowd disagreed with the Pharisees. They weren’t sure about Jesus and thought the Pharisees were being a little rough on Him. Can a guy who heals like that really be a sinner? They hadn’t decided for themselves about Jesus. We also have the disciples of Jesus there who believe in Him. It is a very divided crowd.

In response to this, Jesus launches into an interesting talk which John describes for us in the tenth chapter of his Gospel. He begins describing who Jesus is and what life with Him can be like. He tries to help them understand Jesus. At first Jesus uses metaphors to describe Himself, people in general, and the religious authorities who are so opposed to Him. This imagery would have been familiar with anyone living in that agricultural society. He talks about sheep, thieves, a shepherd, a sheepfold, a gatekeeper, a gate, hired hands, and wolves.

Jesus first talks about thieves and bandits. It is His way of describing the opposition, the religious authorities who are after Him. He says they can’t get in the sheep fold. They’re not the real deal. They don’t have access. Jesus says people are kind of like sheep. Being called sheep is not all that flattering of an image when you think about it. After all, everyone knows sheep need a shepherd to care for them because on their own they are helpless and in need of guidance and care. They’re not all that smart and need protection against predators.

It really is, though, an apt description for people. We are like sheep, although we don’t like to admit it. We like to believe we are independent operators, quite capable of taking care of ourselves in this world. But then life situations happen and we realize the truth – we need help. We need a Shepherd to care for us.

This sheep thought is not really new. In the Old Testament, Israel was frequently referred to as the sheep of God’s pasture in the book of Psalms. They would scatter and go astray in some of the prophetic books and in the New Testament. When Jesus came along, He referred to them as the lost sheep of Israel whom He had come to rescue. In Mark’s Gospel, it says He looked at the crowds that came out to meet Him, and He had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus would take care of them and teach them. He had come to be Israel’s Shepherd and, as it turns out, to be our Shepherd as well.

Jesus talks about a Shepherd who has access to the sheepfold. He calls the sheep; they know His voice, and He knows their names. He leads them to pasture, which they need in order to thrive.

He talks of a sheepfold as well – a place of security and safety and rest. The shepherds in His day would bring their sheep to this place each evening to keep them safe from wolves and other predators. The Shepherd would actually sit at the entrance of the sheepfold acting as a gate to guard the sheep, keeping unwelcome visitors out.

Jesus could see the crowds listening to Him didn’t seem to be understanding His analogy. So, being a kind and patient teacher and wanting them (and us) to understand, He steps out of the analogy and begins to explain it plainly. He says, I am the gate for the sheep. I am the gate! Whoever enters by me will be saved and brought into a relationship with God. I am the only one who can give you access. I will watch over your comings and goings, and I will lead you to green pastures. He is taking us back to the book of Psalms.
Psalm 121 – “He watches over our coming and going.”
Psalm 23 – “He makes me lie down in green pastures.”

I am a life giver. “The thief comes only to steal and destroy,” Jesus went on to explain. “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Then Jesus goes into this closing summary of Himself, which is our text for today, in order to draw a response from them. He says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” It’s a rather wild claim for Him to make. After all, the words I AM would’ve taken His listeners aback because it is God’s name for Himself as revealed to Moses at the burning bush. He is saying, Tell my people I AM sent you. Jesus is daring to take on God’s name, making Himself divine.

And to call Himself “shepherd” would take them back to the Old Testament as well, because it was a description of God. Is He claiming to be God? It appeared that way. The word “good” actually can be translated “beautiful.” Jesus is making the claim that He is the only one worthy to be in charge of the sheep. His loving ways with His sheep are beautiful in comparison to all others. They are to be desired and attractive, compelling.

Then Jesus explains what makes Him the good (beautiful) Shepherd we should all desire to have in our lives. He says, First of all, I (the Good Shepherd) care about my sheep. I’m not just a hired hand. A hired hand sees the wolf coming and runs. He doesn’t care about them. He doesn’t own them. He doesn’t have any skin in the game. I care about my sheep, and I will not desert them! Jesus cares about you – each one of you who are with us today.

This Good Shepherd goes on to say, “I know my sheep and they know me.” You are not a faceless part of a crowd to Him. You are not simply a number. He knows your name and everything about you. When you come under His care, you get the privilege of getting to know Him in an intimate way, discovering for yourself that He loves you more than you love yourself. He is smart and really does know how to make your life work best.

Jesus is so faithful, never deserting you. He truly is a leader to be trusted. Jesus actually compares the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep as the one He has with His heavenly Father. “. . . just as the Father knows me and I know the Father,” such will be the case when you live with me.

The Good Shepherd says finally, I am willing to lay down my life to save yours. I’ve come to lay down my life for the sheep. This is why the Father loves me. That is why I have His stamp of approval on what I’m doing. His authority. I came to give my life voluntarily for the sheep. That’s what I am sent to do. “. . . I lay down My life (with His authority). No one takes it from me. I give it freely, and I have the power to take it back again.” He obviously is talking about Easter – the resurrection.

At the end of His talk, the people are still divided. They still are not moving toward Him. Some say it is a demon in Him. Others say they are not sure. These aren’t the words of a person with a demon. Can a demon open the blind man’s eyes? No one seems to believe. Only the disciples remain.

It brings to mind the beginning of John’s Gospel when it says, “Jesus was in the world, and the world came into being through Him. Yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and they did not accept Him” (John 1:10, 11).

We know where this story is headed, don’t we? Jesus, the Good Shepherd, will lay down His life for the sheep out of love for us, for we like sheep have all gone astray. We are lost in our sin, captive to death and the devil. Sin had a death grip on us. We were spiritually helpless, incapable of saving ourselves, and getting back into a relationship with the God who loves us. So Jesus, sent by the Father, laid down His life to pay for our sins. His last words on the cross announced, “It is finished.” Paid in full! Our sins are paid in full.

Jesus said, “I lay down my life in order to take it back again. No one can take it from me. I have the power to lay it down and the power to take it back up again.” He took His life back again when He was resurrected on the third day. He lives just as He promised! Easter is God’s affirmation of this Good Shepherd who is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the access to a relationship with God our Father.

Ever since His resurrection, people have been discovering they really can depend on this risen Good Shepherd. He really does care about us, and life with Him is like Psalm 23 – we lack nothing. “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want,” we say. He is with us in the valley of the shadow of death. His rod and His staff, they comfort us. He comes alongside of us in the darkest times and walks with us and walks us through.

He is wise and a leader we can trust. He knows where to find still waters and green pastures to lie down in, that we might have sustenance and grow and thrive under His care. When we are dried up inside, He leads us to still waters. He refreshes our souls. He leads us down right paths when we don’t know where to go on our own. He teaches us that His way is the best way, and life with Him is a life filled with abundance, love, joy, and peace.

Jesus is a healer of our souls. He restores broken souls and makes us new. We begin living for real with Him in our lives.

As I said earlier, this talk with the crowd had one purpose in mind, which was to bring the people to believe and trust in Jesus. I would be remiss as His servant if I didn’t pause to ask you today, have you placed your trust in Him and surrendered yourself to His care? Have you discovered for yourself this life with the good, beautiful Shepherd, Jesus?

Jesus said an interesting thing to those Jewish folks that day. He said, “I have other sheep who don’t belong to the fold yet. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. They will be one flock, one Shepherd.” What He was saying was He wants to be everyone’s shepherd in this world. Many more are to be brought in.

Is Jesus describing you today? Are you in His fold yet? This Good Shepherd came for you. Regardless of your personal history, your past and present beliefs, your nationality, your character, your successes and failures, He wants everyone (including you) in His fold. If you are not in His fold yet, He wants you. He came to be your life- giving, lifesaving Shepherd. Why not give yourself over to His loving care right now? He won’t turn you away. He knows you. He wants you. He laid down His life for you so you could have life.

If He has you already, I have a personal question for you that someone posed to me years ago and touched my life. The question is, Are you enjoying life in the Shepherd’s presence? Do you find contentment and fullness of life He gave to you? Are you able to say Psalm 23 is your personal psalm? If not, perhaps it’s a simple matter of placing yourself in the right places with the Shepherd where He has promised to meet you. He is ready to lead you to green pastures as you open His Word and He teaches you and nurtures you and feeds your soul. He will open up your life to His direction as you turn to Him in prayer and ask Him for His help. He is there to meet with you and strengthen you and grow you as you obediently serve others. He has called you to do likewise as you participate in the community of faith and regular worship and fellowship. He has promised to build you up and encourage you as you face your life!

The opportunities He offers His sheep for nurture and fullness are there. If you take Him up on those things, you will be able to say again and again, Good Shepherd, I knew I could depend on you. And you can. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

So What Now?

Luke 24:36-49

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.

Two Sundays ago, we celebrated the greatest day of the year for the Christian Church – Easter Sunday. All around the globe, church pews were filled with people singing glorious hymns and announcing to one another, “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!” We also reviewed the story of Easter – the empty tomb, the stone that was rolled away, the angelic news that Jesus, who was crucified on Friday, was now risen and alive.

We remember the implications His resurrection has for us. Death is defeated. Jesus is the first fruits of the resurrection. I have a promise in Him of eternal life with God. Death cannot hold me. Jesus’ promise – I am the resurrection and the life – is true! “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die,” Jesus said in John 11:25. So I place my trust in Christ and what He has done for me.

Not only that, but forgiveness is also mine now, a restored relationship with God. Jesus died on a cross as a sacrifice to pay the penalty for your sins and mine. God raised Him from the grave as an affirmation of that sacrifice. Jesus was vindicated. God’s stamp of approval was upon His ministry. By repenting and trusting in Jesus Christ, we have forgiveness and a restored relationship with our heavenly Father from whom we were separated.

By the way, because of the resurrection, not a single moment of my life has to be lived alone. Christ has promised, “I won’t leave you orphaned. I will come to you.” (John 14:18). “Lo, I am with you always to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). He is present to strengthen, comfort, and encourage, teach, and even change us. He loves us as we are, but refuses to leave us that way. He has plans for us, to give us a whole new life and a whole new outlook on life.

The good news of the Easter message is the linchpin of our faith. The resurrection of Jesus from the grave fills us with the promise of eternal life with God and forgiveness as we repent of our sins and trust in Jesus Christ. But now that we have celebrated this major event, next comes the question, Where do we go from here?

My question today is, So what now? A few years ago I was having a conversation with my father-in-law, Homer Larsen, about church and Easter celebrations at our congregations. We were sharing stories about the great attendance and what our sermon themes were that day. When there was a pause in the conversation, Homer said, “Well, Steve old boy, we’ve seen Him through His birth and ministry, we prepared ourselves for the cross and Lent, we watched Him get killed, and we celebrated His resurrection. So what now?” I think Homer was probably asking what my sermon series was going to be. But as I was thought more about it, I realized it is a great question for the Church and for each individual believer to ask. So what Now? Christ is risen. What’s next?

This same question, I think, had to be running through the minds of those disciples that first Easter. We see them in our reading today. They are discussing the events of earlier that same day – the empty tomb and His appearances. They are comparing notes and seem a bit overwhelmed, confused, surprised, afraid, and uncertain about all they had seen and heard. Some, like Peter, said they had seen Him. He has to be alive! Others had to have been thinking, Are you sure? Really? Maybe Peter saw a ghost. You know, our minds can play tricks on us, especially after such a trauma like we went through. Others may wonder, What are the Lord’s feelings toward us now? After all, we let Him down. Is He mad at us?

Others – maybe all of them – were thinking, So what’s next for us? What does this mean for us now? What are we supposed to do? Where do we go from here? What now? Jesus didn’t leave them – or us – in the dark as to the answer to the question. Let’s take a look at His answer.

It says that, as they were talking, He stood among them and declared His goodwill toward them when He gives a clear answer and said, “Peace be with you.” Obviously He wasn’t angry with them. He gives us a clear answer.

First He says, Put away your doubts and fears, and believe in Me now. I AM who I say I AM. I AM here for you. He lays out the evidence to help them believe He really is with them. Look at My nail-pierced hand and feet. It is me. Touch me and see for yourself! I can see Jesus walking around the room and standing in front of each disciple offering them the opportunity to see for themselves as He says, A ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones like I do.

He also ate with them. He had table fellowship with them not only as proof but also as a promise of friendship and intimacy that would never end. Table fellowship was a sign of friendship in those days. It was His way of saying to them, You have Me forever. Trust Me.

The risen Christ, by the way, continues to give us personal experiences like these, daily reminders that He is alive, He is with us, and we are not alone. I’ve had some tough funerals this past year. One in particular, a close friend of mine, was very difficult. I recall a widow said to me a while back, “I don’t know what people would do without Jesus. I’d be lost without Him these days.” She was experiencing the present risenness of Jesus.

Another guy, whose marriage had started to unravel, visited me a few months ago and testified, “It was falling apart, but Jesus saved our marriage.” Last Easter Sunday, twenty of our members gave their cardboard testimonies about how this resurrected Jesus resurrected their lives and made them new. It was a powerful moment in our service.

So Jesus says, First of all, believe in Me. I am with you. The second thing He says is, What now? Understand. Come to an understanding of what has happened. The Bible says He opened their minds to understand what had happened and what must happen. He wanted the disciples to understand what He had done for the world, which they had witnessed. So He conducted a Bible study with them using the authority of God’s Word, the Old Testament.

He wants us, by the way, to understand His Scriptures and be a constant student. He says, These are my words, which I spoke to you while I was still with you. Everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. Then He opened their minds to the Scriptures and said, “Thus it is written, Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and repentance and forgiveness should be proclaimed in his name to all the nations” (Luke 24:46-47).

Jesus was basically saying this – All this has happened is the fulfillment of what I said would happen. It’s all in the Old Testament Scripture. It all points to things you’ve witnessed in the Old Testament – My suffering and death and resurrection. It’s about God’s kingdom being established and the message of repentance and forgiveness being proclaimed to all the nations of the world. This had to happen to fulfill Scripture. Everything written about me, Jesus said, has now been fulfilled. Things are NOT out of control as it might seem to you. On the contrary, everything is going according to God’s plan. Now it is fulfilled, and it is a new day.

I did this not only for you – notice He says it needs to be proclaimed to all the nations – I did it for ALL the nations so they could turn away from their own ways and turn to me for a new start with God. Remember John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” All this was fulfilled in the Old Testament Scriptures by what Jesus did.

I like what Michael Wilcock, a Bible scholar, says rather eloquently. “Jesus says that all these great New Testament matters are to be found ‘written’ in the Old Testament, not in proof text in obscure corners, but as the very warp and woof of it. Christ and his gospel are the new hope promised in Genesis, the new life typified in Exodus and the new law foreshadowed there and in the books that follow. They are the ideal which all the judges and all the kings, either felt toward or rebelled against. They put flesh on the insights of David, they bring to life the pattern of Jonah, they fulfill the visions of Isaiah. The two Testaments are one, and the theology – which is the sap of the Church – can rise only from roots which run deep and wide through the whole of Scripture.”

Jesus told them Scripture said it would happen, and now it has. This is all part of God’s big rescue plan. He wants all people to have forgiveness for their sins.

Jesus then looks at them and says, This is where you come in. So what now? Not only do I want you to believe in Me, understand what has happened, and rejoice in that, but I also am counting on you to be witnesses of all these things. I commission you to testify to all I have done for the world. Tell other people who need to know and respond. Each person who has come to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord has an assignment from the risen Jesus Himself. You are my witness. You are a witness to tell others all that Jesus has done for all people. We are proclaimers, ambassadors, revealers of God’s forgiveness plan for the world! Not only are we to believe and understand all this, but we are also assigned to tell others about it so they might get in on this good news.

I am reminded of the words of the apostle Paul in regard to encouraging the believers to follow through with this witnessing assignment. Romans 10:13-15, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord (meaning Jesus) shall be saved. But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaimed him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”

We are not to keep this Good News to ourselves. We are not to hoard the gospel.

I found a story about a mailman who was caught hoarding mail. The story goes as follows: Everyone knows a letter carrier has one job – deliver the mail. Apparently a Brooklyn mailman spent a decade avoiding his job by intentionally hoarding over 40,000 pieces of mail over a ten-year period. In September 2014, Joseph Brucato admitted hiding over a ton of mail meant for customers in Flatbush since 2005 according to a Brooklyn federal court complaint. A postal supervisor became suspicious that Brucato was up to something weird when he noticed his personal car was stuffed with undelivered letters. Investigators pressed Brucato about the letters, and he admitted hoarding priority first class and regular mail that had once been headed for Brooklyn businesses and residents in Flatbush. It took five postal agencies five hours to remove the stash of stolen letters from his apartment. If convicted, Brucato faces up to five years in prison.

How absurd and how outrageous the mailman didn’t do his job! How absurd and how outrageous that the Church, believers in Jesus Christ, hoard the gospel as well. We are called to deliver it.

George Ladd, a theologian and author of the great book, “The Gospel, the Kingdoms,” says “God alone, who has told us that this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony unto to all the nations, will know when that objective has been accomplished. But I do not need to know. I know only one thing: Christ has not yet returned; therefore the task is not yet done . . . Let’s get busy and complete our mission.”

Is there someone God has place in your sphere of influence who needs to hear the Good News of what God has done for them in Jesus Christ, the good news of Easter? Christ is counting on you to bring them this Good News. Don’t be afraid. Just tell them in the name of Jesus about what our loving God has done for all of us through His Son. He doesn’t want anyone to miss out on it.

If all this witnessing talk scares you, the episode we have before us today ends with an encouraging word for us. Jesus promised, The Holy Spirit is coming to empower you to carry out the assignment. On Pentecost the promise was fulfilled. The disciples proclaimed the Good News. The world was shaken. More than two thousand years later we are worshiping the same Jesus Christ in all parts of the world. This is the Holy Spirit’s power.

Along with this assignment you have a supernatural power, One who will convict and convert unbelievers into believers as you simply and lovingly tell the story to the people in your life. As Jesus said at the end of John’s Gospel, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”

What’s next? Consider yourself sent. It’s time to go to work. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Ascended Like No Other

Acts 1:3-11

He’s like no other. Sometimes we will use that line as we’re describing someone by whom we’re absolutely impressed.

The star struck lover, for example, who is head over heels over a young lady –
She’s wonderful! I’ve dated so many women but this one! She’s like no other one I have ever met.

Or the sports broadcaster commenting on a promising young ballplayer –
I’ve been at this for many years, and this kid is the most amazing athlete I’ve ever seen! He’s faster. He’s got great instincts, quick hands, power. He’s got all the tools, and he’s different. He’s like no other ballplayer I’ve ever seen!

In the Christian faith, we say this about Jesus Christ – He is like no other. He is the way, the truth, the life. No one comes to a relationship with God but through Him. The world is filled with ideologies, theologies, choices, decisions, and options making various claims, but as a person who has met and lived with Jesus Christ, I’m convinced that He is like no other. Jesus is above and beyond all other options. One’s eternity depends on following Him.

Just think of His impact on the world. It is like no other. The historian Jaroslav Pelikan said, “Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about Him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost twenty centuries.”

We have been doing a close examination of this Jesus – Who is like no other – during the past few weeks. We’ve seen He was promised like no other. Prophets, hundreds of years prior to His arrival, talked about Him, and Jesus fulfilled those prophecies.

His birth was like no other. He was born of the Virgin Mary, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. He was true God and true man.

He taught like no other – with such authority – as if He knew God’s mind. He spoke truths that struck many as absolutely upside down and like no other from worldly thinking.

His death was like no other. It was not a martyr’s death but an atoning sacrifice to pay for the sins of people like you and me.

Jesus was resurrected like no other. He was dead, but three days later the tomb was empty, and He began to appear to many – the women, the disciples, to five hundred at one time. Muhammad is dead, Confucius is dead, Buddha is dead, Moses is dead, but Jesus is alive. He is like no other.

Today we are looking at one last earth shaking thought about Him. Jesus ascended like no other. Our text tells us Jesus appeared up out of nowhere, here, there, and everywhere for forty days. Wherever the disciples turned, it seemed, Jesus showed up. They were locked in an upper room, and there He was. It probably got to the point where they were afraid to even look around the corner; they were expecting to see Him. It was as if He was trying to teach them, I told you I’d never leave you.

During that time, Jesus is teaching them about the kingdom of God, which was His main message. God’s major project is to turn this world around, and He was the one who was bringing it. He taught about the Holy Spirit, who was to come, saying, Stay in Jerusalem. Power will come upon you. John the Baptist baptized you with water for repentance but the Holy Spirit will bring you power.

With all this talk about the kingdom and the Spirit, one day the disciples asked, Is this the time the kingdom of Israel will be restored? They were still thinking politically, establishing His role as a world power. Jesus just shakes His head and says, “Those things are not for you to know the times and places, but listen, the Holy Spirit will come upon you and you shall be my witnesses unto Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria – all the way to the ends of the earth. You will make a difference for the kingdom of God.” Then the Ascension happened, and Jesus disappeared. He was lifted up, and disappeared into a cloud.

The modern church tends to not make a big deal of the Ascension. We make a big deal about Christmas and Easter, as we should. Ascension tends to be treated like a poor second cousin so to speak. It could be we’re just not sure what to do with it or make of it.

The question arises, Where did He go? Is it like the song, “Up, up and Away”? Somewhere off to the far ends of the cosmos? Jesus, like the first cosmonaut, is now off to the far reaches of the universe sitting at the right hand of His Father? Being lifting up in the cloud sounds like a holy Cape Canaveral scene to us. We’re not sure of what to do with it, so we play it down a little bit.

The truth is, the Ascension is a very big deal for those of us in the Christian faith. It’s in our creed, and for no other reason should we take it more seriously. When understood, the Ascension becomes an irreplaceable, important resource for the living of our lives in this world now. It is a resource no other religion or philosophy can hold out to us.

I want to share three truths for your consideration about the Ascension.

The first truth is this: Because of the Ascension, I am not abandoned. How can I possibly say that? We remember God’s presence at Mount Sinai when Moses went up on the mountain to get the Ten Commandments. He was on that mountain forty days and the mountain was covered with a cloud, which was the presence of God. The cloud Jesus ascended into is no stranger to us.

We know the Transfiguration story when Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on a mountain to be with Him. Suddenly they were enveloped by a cloud and heard the voice of God saying, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

The Ascension story describes Jesus disappearing into a cloud. That cloud is no stranger to us. Jesus stepped into the presence of God. He is in God space, another space time continuum, another dimension. He is here, and He is in charge of all the heaven and the earth.

By the way, the word “ascension” isn’t a word we use very often. We don’t say, “I think I’ll go ascend the ladder.” No, we instead say, “I will climb the ladder.” Ascension is royal language. When Queen Elizabeth became the Queen, she ascended to the throne.

So we say Jesus ascended to the throne. He is sitting at the right hand of the Father. He rules over all, and He intercedes for us with our heavenly Father. In fact, we could say He has made Himself all the more available to us because He has transcended the limits of space and time with His earthly body. So His promise, “Lo, I am with you always,” can be a reality in our lives as His followers. His statement, “I will not leave you orphaned, but will come to you,” can be experienced in a very real way even today.

He can live within us, actually. As He says in John 14, “Those who love me will keep my Word, and my Father will love them. We will come to them and make our home in them.”

Two quotes I think are so great for us to consider. The first one by William Wilimond, “By lifting Jesus out of the first century Judea, the risen Christ of faith becomes personally knowable to every generation of believers in every place on this earth. The Ascension makes every person a contemporary of Christ.”

My favorite Bible scholar, Harry Wendt, says, “In His Ascension, Jesus withdrew His visible presence from one place that He might be present in every place with all His people until the close of the age.” This scene, you see, simply marks the end of the post resurrection appearances. That act of the drama is now over. Jesus now is really available, and I am not abandoned, no matter what may happen in my life, no matter how I may be feeling. I am not abandoned. He works in us, and He works through us through His Holy Spirit who speaks to us through the holy Scriptures teaching us.

Because Jesus is ascended, we can know His presence. He will actually help us, teach us, speak to us, pour His love into our hearts. Paul tells us in Romans through the Holy Spirit, “He is present to work in us, to shape us, to mold us into His own image through the working of His Holy Spirit.” He has never left us.

Jesus works through us as we become channels of His grace. We can say with the apostle Paul, “It’s no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” We actually can have a powerful impact in other people’s lives as the Spirit of Jesus works through us.

He works for us as He sits at the right hand of the Father. He is known as our advocate. He intercedes for us on our behalf. He is like our attorney before God. If anyone sins and comes in confession, Jesus the righteous One speaks in our behalf. He says to His Father, This person trusts in me and what I’ve done for him.

He represents me before the divine judgment seat. As God listens, He hears, then, not me but His Son speaking on my behalf.

He is busy making all things work for our good as His followers as far as the big picture is concerned. I’m not talking about looking for a silver lining in every cloud that may hit us. I am talking about the big picture in all that happens in our life, He is still working for our good.

Years ago a movie came out. We watch at our home still each Christmas. It is called, “Home Alone.” In the movie, little Kevin is left behind by his family to fend for himself over Christmas. They have gone off to Europe and have forgotten him. Kevin had to face the bad guys alone.

Nothing could be further from the truth for those who trust in Jesus Christ. He is present and drawing near to us.

I remember when my mother died. I was in a hospital room with her and my dad, and a pastor had come to pray with us as well. And when she took her last breath and the machine was turned off, I can’t explain it but I knew Jesus was with us in that room giving us His peace.

The second truth we find in the story is because of the Ascension, I am summoned to action by this King. This scene marks the end of act two in the divine drama of God and the beginning of act three. And guess what? You and I are in it! When we trust in Jesus Christ, we are called to be His witnesses. We are summoned to action. The last words He gives them before He ascends are, “You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.” Tell others of what God has done in you for the Kingdom and a restored relationship with God, which is possible through repentance and forgiveness for your sins. We are called to point to Jesus and the great thing He has done in our lives and in the lives of all people.

Even the angels affirm this in the story. “Why are you standing there looking up?” they said to the disciples. Now is the time to look out to the world around you. You have a mission. You will see Jesus again. No standing around for the people of God!

Jesus talked about this in His parable about the master who leaves the servants in charge and tells them he will return. But in the meantime, they have their assignments. They are to do their job.

You have what it takes and so do I because the Holy Spirit of God is in us. We can say to others, Can I tell you what Jesus has done for me? Let me tell you about the person who gives me peace like no other person can.

Finally, we know the end of the story. The third truth is we will see Jesus again some day. He’s in charge, directing history toward an end. History is His story, and He is coming again in the same way He left – suddenly and visible and glorious. He will have the final word all of world history. When it comes to an end and Jesus reappears, every knee will bow and every tongue confess Jesus is Lord. Some with great joy and others with a sense of terror because they missed it.

There is a story of an old guy reading the book of Revelations. A friend comes by and asks, “Do you understand what you’re reading? If so, tell me what it says.” The old man looks up from the Bible and says, “You know what Revelation is about? Simple – God wins!”

This is a summary of Revelation. It is what we know. It is our confidence builder. If you dream of a time when the earth will be free of evil and injustice, all will be perfect and people will be good through and through, then hang onto that dream. One day it will be a reality, because we know God wins when Jesus reappears.

My Jesus rules, and the great day is coming when He will come again to judge the living and the dead, and all will be well once and for all.

Our message to the world, my dear friends, is simply this: God has started something big in this world. You may not like it; you may even laugh at it. You may think it’s insignificant and try to ignore it, but YOU CANNOT STOP IT.

Someday God will close the last page in His history book. The trumpet will sound and the only important question will be, Whose side are you on? The time is now to decide because it will be too late then. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Resurrected Like No Other

Mark 16:1-8

An expression I sometimes will hear used is this idiom, “the bottom line,” which is someone’s way of saying the underlying truth of it all.

For instance, a traveler might say,
If our flight is late, we’ll miss our connection. That’s the bottom line.
Or a school board member may say,
A student with special needs can stress the school’s budget, but the bottom line is the state must provide for the child’s education.
A coach might say,
The bottom line is we’re here to win, and everybody here should have that mindset.
Or the starry-eyed lover who says to his sweetheart,
The bottom line is this, darling – I just can’t live without you.

What would you say is the bottom line of the Christian faith? I would suggest to you that it is these three words: Christ has risen! This is our ultimate underlying truth as followers of Jesus Christ. Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!

I want to begin today by saying, If Jesus was who He said He was, and if He really did come back from the dead, then biblical Christianity is true and other religions are false. Jesus Christ is like no other because He is resurrected like no other. Moses, as great as he was, is dead. Mohammed is dead. Buddha is dead. Confucius is dead. Joseph Smith is dead. Any and all other founders of the world’s religions are dead. Only Jesus Christ overcame death, establishing once and for all the truth of His deity. Thus, no other person who has lived can or should claim our allegiance as Jesus does, because He alone can offer us the gift of salvation and the assurance of eternal life. Christ’s resurrection, you see, is the linchpin of the Christian faith. Paul says in I Corinthians 15, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” But He is risen. He is risen indeed.

Someone might ask, as many have in the last two thousand years, Does the evidence really hold up? Let’s check it out.

In today’s story, we have an empty tomb. The women saw where the dead Jesus had been placed on the day He died. Now He’s gone. They hear the announcement of the angel – “He has been raised. He is not here just, as he said.” The women are confused and afraid as are the disciples. Hearing this news totally surprises them, and they are finding it difficult to believe at first.

But then resurrection appearances begin to happen. Jesus sightings. The women, the disciples, five hundred people at one time, the apostle Paul. Then there’s the lives of those disciples after the resurrection. Absolutely different! Once they were so full of fear and scattering like sheep when the pressure was on, but now they stand confident and willing to die for this message about Jesus. And all of them, by the way, did die for this fact of the resurrection. Would they do that if it were a lie? Would anyone die for something they made up?

Look at Jesus’ opponents. They couldn’t argue that the tomb was empty, and no one could produce a body. Later some of them even became convinced enough to become believers themselves. Now some may say, Can we really trust the accuracy of the Bible? Scholars of textual criticism say, Yes. It’s more accurate than any other historical document from classical history. Yes, we can trust Scripture.

So the bottom line of this evidence checking is, Christ is risen; He is risen indeed! This is our proclamation today. The bottom line means Jesus is the Savior of the world. His death on the cross saved us from sin and its consequences. He was the perfect sacrifice taking our place, our punishment for our sin, which separates us from God. He was God’s gift to us. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, as John the Baptist called Him.

God raised Jesus from the dead as His way of saying yes! to the sacrifice. He means forgiveness for your sins and a restored relationship with God. His resurrection is the first fruits of the resurrection. He has defeated death. Because He lives, we shall live also! He really is the resurrection and the life who promises that all who trust in Him have a place prepared for them in His heaven. Some of us have loved ones who have passed away since our last Easter. What a comfort it is to know that when we lay believers in Christ to rest, they are well-taken care of. Joy has become theirs, and it awaits all believers. It is joy beyond our wildest imaginations

For those of us who face our own mortality in this world, we can live with the confidence that whether I live or whether I die, I’m the Lord’s. His resurrection means Jesus is, not Jesus was. Jesus is. He is present to live with us and in us to the working of His Holy Spirit. He is available and approachable. He works in each one of us, changing us into a new person who can love God as God intended, who can worship God as God intended, who can love neighbors as God intended. He comforts and strengthens a person to live through life’s circumstances with confidence, even when those situations become difficult.

I’m reminded of the hymn writer who says,
I know that my Redeemer lives.
What comfort this sweet sentence gives!
He lives, he lives who once was dead.
He lives my ever-living head.

He lives to silence all my fears.
He lives to wipe away my tears.
He lives to calm troubled heart.
He lives all blessings to impart.

Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church and author of the book, “The Purpose Driven Life,” together with his wife Kay went through a devastating loss when their 27-year-old son, Matthew, took his own life after battling depression and mental illness for years. About a year after this tragedy, Rick said, I’ve been asked, “How have you made it? How have you kept going in your pain?”and I’ve often replied, “The answer is Easter. You see, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus happened over three days. Friday was a day of suffering, pain, and agony. Saturday was a day of doubt, confusion, and misery. But Sunday – Easter – was the day of hope and joy and victory.

“And here’s the fact of life,’ Rick says, ‘You will face these three days over and over and over in your lifetime. When you do, you’ll find yourself asking, as I did, three fundamental questions.
1. What do I do in my days of pain?
2. How do I get through my days of doubt and confusion?
3. How do I get to my days of joy and victory?”

The answer is Easter. The answer is Easter.”

That, my dear friends, is what the bottom line means for you and me. Forgiveness for our sins as we place our trust in Christ, eternal life with Him in His heaven, and an intimate relationship with the Savior who will never leave us orphaned, never leave us on our own.

Finally, here is what the bottom line is calling for from you and me. One word – faith. Let me say it again. One word – faith. Understanding is not the goal of the Christian proclamation. Appropriation is.

In the Gospel of John, he writes, “All who have received Jesus have the power to become the children of God.” Faith is simply receiving Him. He stands at the door and knocks. His promise is, Any one who opens the door, He will come in and begin a friendship with them. Faith is simply trusting in Jesus and what He has done for you.

Years ago it was pointed out to me that in this world there is the Christian faith and other religions. Other religions are spelled D – O. Do this and do that, and you will earn God’s favor and be saved.

But the Christian message is spelled D – O – N – E. Done. Jesus Christ has done it all for you, and God has affirmed it at the resurrection.

Simply receive Christ into your life and His promise of eternal life is yours to enjoy for the rest of your days, all the way into eternity. DO versus DONE. Which one are you following? Which one are you going to follow?

So there you have it, my dear friends – the bottom line. Christ is risen, and because He has been raised from the dead – the One who was crucified on the cross – He is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Him.

This truth was affirmed that day. The apostle Peter, in one of his sermons in the book of Acts, stated, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” Trust in Him. Trust in Him and what He’s done for you. Trust in Him with your life, with all your heart, because like no other, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! That is the bottom line. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer