Jesus, Friend of Sinners

Luke 5:27-31

Grace and mercy and peace are always for you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Friendship is a true gift. Who is in your circle of friends? Would you consider Jesus to be one of your friends?

The Bible begins with the assertion, it is not good for man to be alone. We were created for companionship, for love, for relationships. Someone has written, “A friend is one to whom you can pour out all the contents of one’s heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that gentle hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.”

Here are some other thoughts about friendship:
• A friend is one who multiplies joy and divides grief.
• A friend is one who understands my silence.
• A friend is a volume of sympathy bound in flesh.
• A friend is one who walks in when everybody else walks out.
Helen Keller said, “I would rather walk with a friend in the dark than alone in the light.”

Here is another quote:
“I love you not only for what you are but for what I am when I am with you.”

Perhaps my favorite . . .
“A friend knows the song in my heart and sings it to me when my memory fails.”

Profound thoughts about friendship. Friendship is truly a gift of God.

The Old Testament Hebrews understood friendship. They had three words for friend.

The first is Rayah. It means an associate. Somebody you keep company with, an acquaintance. It would be somebody you know fairly well. The relationship is perhaps superficial. Maybe you work alongside them or are back fence neighbors.

The second word for friend in Hebrew is Alooth. It means to be gentle with, to be familiar with. This takes friendship a step further. These friends would be close, people you talk with about really significant, personal issues. You might take a vacation with these friends, go fishing, go to a game, go out to dinner, or perhaps study the Scriptures together. They are close friends. You might not see them for a year or two, but when you do see them again, you pick up the conversation right where it left off.

The third Hebrew word for friend is Ahave. It means an intimate, close companion. Proverbs 18:24 uses the word “Ahave” when it says, “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” It is an intimate friend.

Remember the Bible story in I Samuel 18 describing the relationship between David and King Saul’s son, Jonathan? It reads, “The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved David as his own soul.” Jonathan and David had a love that surpassed the love of a man for a woman. They enjoyed a deep, profound love – not a sexual love, but an intimate, devoted love.

It also says in Proverbs 27:6, “Faithful are the wounds of an ‘Ahave’ (a friend).” An intimate friend not only loves you, but would also speak the truth to you, even if it hurts.

Another element in intimate friendship is found in John 15 where Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends.” The truest-of-the-true friend is one with whom there is an intimacy holding love closer than a brother. It’s a relationship with such honesty and devotion that the friend speaks the truth to the other, even if it wounds the person. Yet, for the truth spoken, it’s for the good of the other. Intimate friendship holds such love, one would even die for the other. Do you have friends like this? If you do, you are blessed, very blessed.

So against this backdrop of friendship’s value, let’s consider the story of Jesus calling Levi to be one of His disciples. Jesus came up to Levi, the tax collector, at his tax booth on the street and said simply, “Follow me.” Immediately Levi got up, left everything and followed Jesus.

Now tax collectors were among the most hated people of Jesus’s culture. They made their living by using their position of power to overcharge their fellow countrymen for self gain. It was extortion, pure and simple. Some say tax rates at that time were up to 50% of a person’s annual income.

Tax collectors were also hated because they were traitors. They had sold out to the Romans, who were cruelly oppressive to the Jews. In effect, tax collectors abandoned their faith in God for financial gain. So when Jesus called Levi – this hated, immoral tax collector – to come follow Him as one of His disciples, it must have been a shock!

It’s very striking to me that when Jesus called Levi, he immediately left everything behind. He didn’t pick a rendezvous spot for later after he could pack up his money and belongings. In a moment he left it all, right where it was. If we press the idea a bit, still today when Jesus calls a person to come follow, the individual leaves behind their past, leaves their position of power, leaves their old purpose, leaves the hold gripping their possessions, leaves their prestige. When we hear Jesus call us to trust Him and follow, we are to leave it all, too.

Do you know what else the follower of Jesus leaves? He leaves his guilt, his unhealthy rhythms, his immoral behaviors, his rebellious spirit, his egotistical attitudes. Why? Because when Jesus calls us to follow, we discover a new Lord who is our friend.

Why do we leave it all? Because Jesus loves sinners, and He calls us to a whole new way of life, a life lived in His love, His friendship, and His grace. We, too, hear the voice of Jesus call us to walk with Him in faith and friendship.

I once heard a pastor presenting at an alcoholism recovery conference. This pastor was himself a recovering alcoholic. He said: “The greatest compliment anyone can pay me is to call me a sinner!” He was discussing how powerful God’s grace is to the healing and hope of a recovering person.

Do you know why it’s a compliment to call him a sinner? Because Jesus Christ loves sinners. Jesus Christ came to save sinners. Jesus is the friend of sinners. Truly Jesus Christ came to love and save immoral, broken, flawed people. It’s not the healthy who need a doctor. Jesus is the friend of the sin-sick soul. Broken, immoral people have no pretext of being spiritually sufficient by themselves in life. They know they need God’s mercy and grace to rescue them. Sinners know they need a Savior.

May I be blunt? Dear listener, you are an imperfect sinner, not because I know you but because the Bible makes it clear that every one of us falls short of God’s glory and holiness. We are all sinners. We miss the mark. We sinners are attracted to the beauty of Jesus because He befriends, loves, and forgives sinners. However, there is more to this story.

Jesus was not deterred from befriending sinners nor pushed off His mission of love by the hypercritical judgment of the religious leaders of His time. In fact, the Pharisees sadly missed the revelation of His identity. They missed understanding His mission because they were spiritually arrogant and couldn’t admit their imperfections or confess their sins. Ironically, in their religious fervor, they missed the true essence of the heart of God. They missed Jesus’ free gift of salvation to sinners. Their arrogance blinded them.

However, the religious leaders did have a point of truth. To say Jesus is the friend of sinners and He came to seek sinners shows clearly a universal dilemma. How does God harmonize justice and mercy together? How can the law of God in the Bible be fulfilled, and, simultaneously, guilty people be forgiven?

We find the answer in the cross of Jesus. It is because Jesus is a friend of sinners who came to seek and love rebels that He had to die on the cross. In John 15:13 & 14, Jesus tells us, “Greater love has no one than this, than he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends . . .” In Isaiah 53:6 it reads, “. . . the Lord God has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” When Jesus, the Son of God, sacrificially died on the cross, He took the punishment of the judgment I deserved. In Jesus’ death on the cross, God harmonizes justice and grace.

Who could be a better friend to us than Jesus? Is Jesus your friend?

Levi, the tax collector, now is a devoted follower of Jesus, and because he is Jesus’ ambassador, he wants others to meet his new friend. So he throws a party for his friends and all the tax collectors. He invites Jesus to meet them. It is a banquet of undesirables. Imagine Jesus Christ as the life of that party, mixing with everyone, bringing laughter and joy. Levi’s relationship with these people opened the access for a whole new circle of people to meet Jesus and experience life with God. Jesus became their friend because His arms are open to all.

Who today would be in that party? Who do religious people in today’s culture love to loathe? The amazing truth of Jesus is, He invites everyone to be His friend because He loves us all – no exceptions.

Just a short time after this story, in Luke chapter 7, Jesus finds Himself at another party. This time it was not with immoral people on the fringes, but rather with the upper crust of society – the rich, the powerful, and the religious at the home of Simon the Pharisee. Here we read another moment of Jesus’ tender love shown as a friend of sinners. In this formal banquet, as all the guests reclined at the table enjoying the food, into the party comes in an uninvited guest. It’s a woman of the street, a prostitute. She sets a jar of expensive perfume at Jesus’ feet. Then she weeps, and her tears wet His feet. She wipes them off intimately with her hair, kisses His feet in adoration and gratitude, and pours perfume over them.

This woman has found love and acceptance at the feet of Jesus. She is a sinner who has fallen in love with her Savior. The pain of her guilt and her difficult way of life now find healing in the acceptance of Jesus, friend of sinners.

So also Jesus calls me His friend. I, too, am an imperfect sinner needing what only Jesus can give. As my friend and your friend, Jesus calls us by name and gives us His forgiving love. Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg

Jesus Revealed: The Authority

Luke 5:17-26

How do you respond to authority?

As human beings, we respond to authority in a variety of ways. Sometimes we respect it; we recognize it; we obey it; we trust it. We turn to authorities with our questions needing solutions. As parents, it’s our job to teach our children respect for authority.

Sometimes, however, we question authority. We balk at it; we chafe at it; we challenge it. We may even rebel against it. Something deep within us doesn’t like being told what to do. We like to maintain control over our lives, be in charge of our own lives, be our own bosses. When you think about it, authority is a major issue of life.

Another question: Have you ever considered Jesus your authority? It is what He came to be in your life, as the Gospels tell us. When Jesus taught, He spoke with authority. People marveled at His authority for He didn’t teach as the other rabbis taught. He taught without footnotes, without quoting others. He challenged the system. You’ve heard it said this way, but I say to you . . . The people were mesmerized and sometimes challenged – even angered – by how He spoke with such authority. His message got Him into trouble.

Today we see Jesus exercising authority with a man who was paralyzed and was brought to Him. Jesus was in a house in Capernaum teaching. The place was packed with all the teachers and Pharisees in surrounding villages. It was a literal “who’s who” of religious authorities of the day. They had heard about this new rabbi who was drawing a great following amongst the people of their own villages. Even teachers from as far away as Jerusalem came to hear Him speak. Jesus was getting a lot of attention, raising eyebrows, stirring things up a bit for everyone.

While He was teaching that day, “The power of the Lord was with him to heal.” It’s almost as if Luke is setting us up to expect something big to happen.

Then some men came carrying their friend who was paralyzed. The crowd was so big, they couldn’t get him close to Jesus, so they somehow got up on the roof, tore away some tiles, and lowered him down in the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus.

Can you imagine the scene as the tiles are falling to the ground and people are wondering what in the world is happening? I can imagine Jesus smiling – although He may also be wondering what the interruption is about – for He sees the faith of these men lowering their friend and of the man lying there. Jesus took everyone by surprise as He unexpectedly said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” Their faith was welcomed by Jesus. As little and as uninformed as it may have been, Jesus welcomed it. He wasn’t just talking about intellectual assent to some proposition, but a faith that moved toward Him believing He could do something, moving toward Him in repentance with a change of mind.

Jesus’ statement really raised some eyebrows. The scribes and Pharisees questioned it. They were quite upset as they thought to themselves, He doesn’t have authority to forgive sins! Who does he think he is? He is speaking blasphemy, which means profaning God Himself because only God can forgive sins.

When it comes to who He is, Jesus has, in effect, raised the stakes by closing down the options. He is either God or a blasphemer. Either He is the author and bringer of truth, or He is living and proclaiming a total lie deserving of death. Their take on Jesus was, This guy is blaspheming against God!

Jesus perceived their questioning minds. He asked, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? But that you may know the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”

Isn’t it interesting! Jesus knew their thoughts, which must have totally blown their minds. And it must have been more than a little unsettling because it is a godlike quality as well. God knows our minds. Jesus was basically saying to them, Let me verify all I said to this man so you may know who I really am and where I get my authority to forgive sins.

Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up! Pick up your bed and go on home!” Immediately the man got up, picked up his mat and went home glorifying God in faith. With a word, Jesus made the man walk. The power of God’s Word is at work here. God said it, and it happened.

Amazement seized all the people in the room, and they glorified God. This is a God thing. Amazing! The people were filled with awe, which means literally “fear,” saying, “We have seen strange, extraordinary things today.” It was a shock-and-awe experience.

In the end, this story has turned into another divine epiphany, a manifestation, a revelation of the power, presence, and authority of God at work in Jesus’ words and actions. The awesome and fearsome glory of God has once again been glimpsed just as the Apostle Peter glimpsed it when Jesus provided a miraculous catch of fish in Peter’s boat.

Along the way as a pastor, I’ve been asked if I really believe in miracles or does science disprove them. My response has always been, Absolutely yes! I believe in miracles. First, because I’ve seen some amazing healings. But also because some great minds also believe in them.

I think of Christian physicist and MIT professor Ian Hutchinson. When he talks on university campuses, Hutchinson sometimes begins his talks by jokingly saying, “Can scientists believe in miracles? We can answer that question pretty easily—I’m a scientist, and I believe in miracles. So the answer is yes.”

He goes on to say that most of us don’t understand the Bible’s view of miracles. “We tend to view God as mostly hands-off, standing on the sidelines, letting nature look after itself, but then on rare occasions reaching in to tweak things by the odd miracle here and there.”

Hutchinson argues, however, that “. . . according to the Bible, (God) continuously holds the universe in the palm of his hand. . . . It exists because of his continuous creative power and will.” He sustains it. “If he were to stop exerting that upholding power and stop paying attention to every part of the universe, it would instantly cease to exist.”

Thus, Hutchinson defines a miracle this way: A miracle is “an extraordinary act of God” by which God “upholds a part of the universe in a manner different from the normal.” He says, “We know more today than people did long ago, but what we know today makes the universe seem, if anything, even more open.”

“I believe in miracles. So can you.”

Another question I run into from skeptics is this: Jesus, never really claimed to be God, did He? Isn’t this just an idea cooked up by man?

According to this story, nothing can be further from the truth. Jesus is not only speaking with God’s authority, but He is also revealing His authority as He heals the paralyzed man with just one word from His lips. He will claim His authority again and again in the Gospel of Luke as He teaches about the kingdom of God, as He casts out demons, as He controls the storms, as He continues to heal and forgive others. He will turn His face toward Jerusalem – now enemy territory, the opposition’s home base. He turns with the authority of God, as if He is in charge. He turns without fear, in charge of carrying out God’s plan for rescuing sinners like you and me from God’s wrath.

See how He rides into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on a donkey declaring His kingship and authority without a word, a silent sermon on authority.

See Him on Passion Week exercising calm, Godlike authority as His opposition schemes to make Him look bad and tries to make Him look terrible before others. See Him silently go to the cross obediently, stand calmly before Pontius Pilate with kingly authority knowing pain and suffering awaited Him at the cross, but determined to carry out God’s plan of salvation. Kingly authority!

See Him announce after His resurrection from the dead, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Now go make disciples of all peoples.”

And He has told us that someday He will appear again to claim this world as His own for eternity, to judge the living and the dead with authority. He holds eternity in His hand. As Jesus is revealed to us in Luke again and again, He is not just one authority among many, but the authority over all creation. This all-encompassing authority of His comes from God the Father.

So, if Jesus is the authority over all creation, the question becomes, What kind of response does He look for from you and me? I have two words for you to consider today.

The first word is faith. Faith is held up as a value in this story. Jesus welcomes it. Faith means trusting in His authority, in His promise of salvation, trusting that your sins are forgiven because of what He has done for you at the cross. Because of the resurrection, God’s affirmation, you have a living hope and an inheritance awaiting you in heaven.

Some people really struggle with that. Can I really trust that I’m forgiven? It sounds too good to be true! That’s not the way the world works. I’ve been taught you get what you deserve. You have to work for what you get. There must be something I have to do to make things right with God, to have forgiveness.

Christian writer and pastor Stephen Brown tells this story to encourage faith.

“Once in seminary, I got an A on a directed study course, an exegesis on the Sermon on the Mount. I should have gotten a C. Let me tell you why.

“Somebody told me that, since I hadn’t seen this professor in the directed study, he was going to flunk me out of the class, and I got scared. I put a bunch of books on the subject on our dining room table and wrote an 80-page paper in five hours. It was thick. I handed in the paper. The professor was so busy and so impressed with 80 pages, he didn’t read it. He just gave me the A. When he gave me the A, did I go back to him and say, You ought to read my paper; I really wasn’t that good. It was a lot, but it wasn’t good. No, I didn’t. I accepted the A. Why? Because the one in authority had given me the A.

“It’s the same way with Jesus Christ. If I, as a pastor, tell you you’re forgiven, it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. But if He tells you you’re forgiven, you’re forgiven. He’s the King at the right hand of the Father with His enemies at His foot stool.”

The second word is obedience. Submit to His leadership, His lordship in your life. This means to make His word your authority in all matters – not just faith – but in all of life. Be ready to do what He says. Forgive those who have hurt you just as He forgave you. It is what He instructs us.

Do it! Jesus tells us to be a doer of the Word. Love your neighbor as yourself, no matter who your neighbor may be, whether he’s a Samaritan, an enemy of your nation, or a person of another faith. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Love God with all your heart and soul and strength and mind. Keep Him at the very center of your life. Seek first, centrally, His kingdom program. Do everything you possibly can to bring others into His kingdom as you point them to Jesus Christ. Make disciples.

You see, my dear friends, Jesus is not just some authority among many. He is THE authority over heaven and earth.

This is our lesson today. Stories like this in Luke were written and saved in order that you and I might be moved to trust Him with our very being and obey Him in all matters of life, knowing in our heart of hearts that Jesus holds your eternity in His hands. This is our Good News for today. Jesus is Lord. He is our authority. Trust Him and obey Him. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Follow Me

Jesus Revealed: He’s After People

Luke 5:1-11

Recently, a fellow pastor, who I was getting to know, asked me how I came to know Jesus. So I shared a bit of my story and asked him to share his story with me.

How would you answer that question? How did you come to know Jesus? Some might say it began at their baptism as a child. Their parents brought them to the baptismal font, raised them in the faith, and they have always known Jesus. Others might say it was through a Bible camp experience as a kid or a retreat as an adult like Cursillo. I know of others who were awakened spiritually at an evangelistic crusade. My clergy friend told me it all began for him when he received a personal witness from someone who told him of what the Savior had done for him.

Someone might describe these awakening experiences as a personal epiphany. An epiphany is a sudden awakening. The light goes on to who Jesus is and who I am in my need for Him. It’s an “aha” moment of revelation about Jesus, and it changes the outlook and direction of one’s life.

Today’s passage tells us of Simon Peter’s epiphany and how he came to know and follow and serve Jesus Christ. We must keep in mind that this was not Simon Peter’s first encounter with Jesus. Earlier in the book of Luke, Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law in the town of Capernaum. Peter had heard Jesus teaching with authority in the synagogue about the kingdom of God and the Good News of God’s salvation being fulfilled.

According to the other Gospels, Peter had already received an invitation from Jesus to follow. However, it all came together for him at a particular moment on the Sea of Galilee in his fishing boat, of all places. Peter saw the light. Jesus was at the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and the crowds were gathering around Him to listen to this exciting preacher and miracle worker. They were pressing in on Him, wanting to hear the Word of God. Jesus had developed quite a following early on, and so it seems there wasn’t enough room for Him to effectively speak to a crowd like this. He needed more space and some amplification in order to be heard by the large crowd gathered around Him.

Jesus saw fishermen – Simon Peter, James, and John – taking weeds out of their nets after fishing all night. He recruited the use of Peter’s boat. One could even say He commandeered it. He invited Himself into it, stepped into it, and then asked Peter to take Him out a little way so He could teach from the boat. Peter was agreeable and motioned a couple hired hands to join them. As they pushed the little 16 footer out from the shore into shallow water, it provided room for Jesus to sit, and it gave Him natural amplification as He spoke to His audience. Peter and his mates actually got front-row seats to hear Jesus preach.

One has to wonder if something stirred in Simon Peter as he listened. Perhaps. We do know that, when Jesus was done teaching, instead of asking Peter to take Him to shore, He told him – He didn’t ask, but told Peter – to go out a little deeper in the sea and let down his nets for a catch of fish. I am sure those experienced and tired fishermen, who had been up all night, weren’t very excited to go to all the trouble. We hear Peter respond, “Master, we toiled all night and did not catch a thing. Still, he obeyed. “At your word, I will let down the nets.”

Perhaps this deference on the part of Peter came from having witnessed Jesus’ authority earlier when Jesus healed his mother-in-law. Maybe it was a message from the day or days before. Who knows? In any case, they followed orders, went farther out, and let down the nets to see if this Amateur knew something they didn’t know. (Everyone knows it’s best to fish at nighttime when the fish are near the surface. The fish would be too deep during the heat of the day to net.)

Suddenly a huge school of fish swam into those nets – so many fish that the nets began to break. Peter signaled the other boat to help them, and they filled up both boats to the point of almost sinking. Water was coming over the edge of the boats. Can you just picture the scene? It must have been just wild out there! Simon was now up to his knees in flopping fish. But instead of dancing around and celebrating the greatest catch of his life, Simon sank to his knees and cried out, “Depart from me. I am a sinful man, Lord.” Why did Simon say that?

When we turn to the Old Testament and examine stories such as Isaiah’s vision of God in the temple, we find that, as he became aware of God’s presence in holiness, he also became aware of his own sinfulness. Isaiah was afraid of being destroyed by God’s holiness. The same sort of thing happened in the calling of Moses, Gideon, and Ezekiel. When confronted by the holiness of God, they were afraid.

It is also true for Peter. He was totally astonished at how this Amateur could have known where the fish were. It was almost like He had control over those fish, over nature. Only God has that ability. Peter was suddenly awakened to the fact that he, an unclean, imperfect, sinful, ordinary man, was standing on holy ground, in the very presence of God the Almighty.

Notice, Jesus didn’t go away. Instead, He said to Peter, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be catching people.” That, my friend, is forgiveness. An unspoken, wordless absolution on the part of Jesus. Instead of condemnation, Peter received an unexpected, undeserved invitation to have a relationship with Jesus, the Son of God, and participate in His kingdom enterprise. Peter brought absolutely nothing to the table as he humbly admits his sinfulness before Jesus. But Jesus says, You are in. The past is behind you. From now on, you’re mine. I am going to use you to catch people. It is what we call amazing grace.

When they came ashore, Peter and the others were so overcome by what they experienced that they dropped their nets, left their boats – their very livelihood – and followed Jesus. One commentator writes, “The miracle of faith (the astonishing catch of fish) was so overwhelming that the practical matters of boats, business, family, and fish were left behind by Peter and his friends.”

So begins the adventure for Simon Peter. Just think of all that lay ahead for him. He witnessed great healings and a deeper knowledge of God. Christ’s power was displayed in miracles over nature, death, and the devil himself. Peter walked on water with Jesus, witnessed Him on the cross, and after the resurrection. He experienced forgiveness after failing Jesus, and a renewed call to feed Christ’s people by the Sea of Galilee.

“Feed my sheep,” Jesus said that first day in the boat. Peter saw Jesus’ vision fulfilled on Pentecost with a catch of 3,000 converts and thousands of others in the days following, which we read the book of Acts. His missionary duties went way beyond that in the months and years to follow as he wrote letters, which have brought others closer to Jesus.

This story is classified by biblical scholars as a combination epiphany/call story, like the calling of Moses and Gideon, prophets of the Old Testament. It is not just an amazing fishing story, for it holds an important truth for us. It answers the question, Who is Jesus? This story identifies Him as the presence of God. He is God in the flesh, Immanuel – God with us.

Attached to this epiphany is a gracious, promising call to an ordinary, sinful fisherman.

Hey Pete, how did you get to know Jesus?

Well, it all began when we went fishing together, and we never stopped. We moved from fishing for fish to something more important – fishing for people to save them. What a great life it has been with Jesus!

This story was saved, passed on, recorded by Luke, and inspired by the Holy Spirit for a deep purpose. It is more than a fishing story, which causes us to marvel and scratch our heads. It is actually meant to move us toward Jesus.

First of all, it is an announcement from heaven above. It reveals to us that Jesus is the Son of God and has power and authority over this world. He calls sinful persons like you and me to place our lives in His hands and fall in behind Him in faith. He can do amazing things in our lives. Millions – even billions – of people testify that knowing and trusting Christ means living life to the full.

Yesterday, I was listening to a story about a man whose life had fallen apart. He had become involved with crime and drugs. He was busted and went to prison. During his time in prison, someone introduced him to Jesus Christ. His life has never been the same since! He smiles and often reflects on the new direction Jesus has given him.

This is Jesus, the holy One of God, the One we see in the story, given for the unholy. He was the perfect sacrifice for humanity’s sin, for He went on to give His life as a payment to cover your sin. And He rose from the grave, triumphant over the power of sin, death, and the devil to rescue you forever. He is the first fruits of the resurrection. Those who trust in Him will follow. As Paul says, “He who knew no sin became sin (at the cross), that we might become the righteousness of God” II Cor. 5:21. He promises to always be present with those who call upon His name and go fishing for others with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

We in the Church of Jesus need to be constantly reminded of this calling upon our lives. We live in a broken world filled with broken people who need what Christ came to give – new life, healing for the sinful soul. The Church has the mandate to fish. It is our number one mandate.

A few years ago, James Kennedy said, “One of the saddest statistics of our day is 95% of all church members have never led anyone to Christ.” This was years ago. I have to believe the statistic is probably even higher today. And the sad thing is, it doesn’t have to be complicated and as scary as some people have made it.

I read a little story awhile back that touched my heart. Greg tells of a stop at a McDonald’s drive-through for lunch. He said, “After placing my order, I came to the drive-up window to pay. I noticed an attractive, hand-carved cross hanging from the woman’s neck. So I commented, “I like your cross.” Her reply was a lesson to me in how simple it is to share one’s testimony. “Thank you. I like the Person who died on it for my sins, and I love the Person who rose from the grave after having died on the cross.” She could’ve easily left it at thank you, but her faithful witness touched another life and drew him even closer to the Lord that day.

Sharing your faith doesn’t have to be complicated. Remember, you are powered by the Holy Spirit Himself. We are not meant to be aquarium keepers, but fishermen and women for Jesus Christ who are committed to bringing others to Him so they might receive the same grace that enriches our lives.

One last story.

The Mercedes-Benz company had a television commercial, which showed one of their automobiles colliding with a cement wall. The commercial demonstrated the energy-absorbing car body all Mercedes-Benz automobiles have. In the commercial, a company spokesman was asked why they didn’t patent the car body design to prevent it from being copied by other automobile companies. The company spokesman said, “Because some things in life are too important not to share.”

Some things in life are too important not to share – like the Good News of Jesus Christ. Church, it’s time to fish. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Jesus Revealed: The Truth

Luke 4:21-30

I would like to do a little sanctified imagining with you today as we begin this message.

Picture two men walking down a dirt road in the city of Nazareth. They’ve just been to a worship service at the synagogue. Their brows are furrowed and one of them is very animated, waving his arms around, anger in his eyes saying, “That preacher made me so mad!” His friend responds, “Yeah, me too.” “He started off fine. He seemed like a nice young guy, but by the end of his message, I could have killed him!” “Yeah,” his friend said, “He’s lucky he got out of town alive! I wonder, by the way, how he avoided getting thrown off the cliff. It was the strangest thing I’ve ever witnessed. Kind of a miracle.”

If this preacher was a friend of yours, would you advise him to move on and start looking for a new call? The preacher those two men were talking about was Jesus. He had just preached in His hometown of Nazareth. He’d read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue service and then expounded on the text announcing He is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. The new day God had long ago promised through Isaiah had finally arrived. The release is here. Help has arrived. The year of the Lord’s favor has come. Good news! Good things ahead.

Look at their response. “All spoke well of him and were amazed at His gracious words . . .” You can almost hear it:
Oh, He read that well.
• I like that passage. It’s my favorite.
• It is really good news, all right – a King, a Redeemer from God coming to help us. Wouldn’t it be something?

At the same time, though, they were asking themselves: But Him? Jesus? Isn’t this Joseph’s son, the carpenter? We watched him grow up in this town. They were skeptical and hesitant to buy into this news.

Maybe we shouldn’t be too hard on them, though. Other so-called “messiahs” had come and gone. They had promised uprisings against the power of Rome, only to fail disastrously and bring their whole community down with them. It is the reason they questioned if they should risk following Jesus. Perhaps they would wind up destroyed just like their neighbors down the road in Sepphoris.

True, they had heard through the grapevine about His preaching and miracles in other towns like Capernaum, but He had not shown any of those signs in His own hometown of Nazareth.

This is not the reaction Jesus was looking for in response to His Good News. His own hometown didn’t respond in faith. They listened to His nice words, then questioned His pedigree. So Jesus didn’t stop there. He kept on preaching to overcome their unbelief.

The second part of His message was actually quite courageous when you think about it. He knew their thoughts and went on to quote two familiar proverbs – “I know what you’re thinking, ‘Physician, heal thyself’. You are waiting for miracles from me like I did at Capernaum.”

Then He continued with another proverb: “Truly I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his hometown.” He seemed to be referring to Himself as a prophet. A prophet, remember, is one chosen by God to speak God’s truth to His people.

Jesus then used two illustrations from a very dark time in Israel’s history of unbelief and spiritual apostasy against God as the people worshiped idols. “(Speaking of prophets) remember Elijah.” The people were suffering a famine as punishment for their disobedience to God. He chose to feed a non-Jewish woman when everyone else was starving.

Then Jesus told the story of Elisha, which we find in Second Kings. “There were a lot of lepers in Israel, but God chose to only heal the non-Jewish soldier, Naaman, who acted in faith and did as Elisha told them.”

Suddenly the crowd was stirred up! They were angry, up in arms! Hostility filled the room with rage against Jesus. He got a response but not what He was hoping for. Although He was attempting to awaken them to truth, to repentance, and belief, instead He got rage!

Why all this rage? Well, first of all, they hated gentiles, non-Jews. Prejudice ran deep against their enemies. They believed God would destroy the gentiles and elevate Israel to a position of power in the world. They had come to believe God only cared about the people of Israel. So when Jesus talked about God caring for non-Jews, in their minds Jesus is talking crazy, giving false prophecy, and they won’t hear of it. They were right and He was wrong. Let’s get rid of Him. Shut this false prophet up, as scripture says.

They were insulted as well. Jesus seemed to be comparing them to the evil ones, the dark ones who had turned away from God back in history. How dare He say something like that! We are good people, God-fearing people. Not a very happy ending to the story.

They rejected Him so greatly that the congregation became an angry mob and drove Him out of town. They even tried to throw Him off a cliff. Fortunately they didn’t succeed. Why? Because the only miracle they saw that day was Jesus passing through the mob unharmed. How it happened, I don’t know. Did He become invisible? Did everybody just freeze while He walked through? I don’t know. But we do know this: God protected Him, for it was not His time yet.

This episode is actually a witness from God to His people affirming the identity of Jesus. What He said was true. Jesus left them behind in their unbelief and anger, never to return. I would classify this as a tough day in the pulpit, wouldn’t you? And yet this episode is only a preview of what’s to come for Jesus, and eventually His Church. God’s Good News announced, then rejected with hostility and violence. As John, the Gospel writer, says, “He came to His own and His own received Him not.”

So, as we think about our sermon theme, Jesus Revealed, what is being revealed to us about Jesus today?
• Jesus is the appointed Messiah from God, the fulfiller of Old Testament promises.
• He wants us to receive His truth from God; He has come like the prophets of old. In fact, Jesus is the Messiah and says of Himself, “I am the Truth.”

What are we to do with this truth? Receive it! Sometimes the truth can upset and disturb us. Jesus’ words in today’s story challenged people’s prideful and prejudicial assumptions in Nazareth, His own hometown! They had come to believe God didn’t care about anybody except them. They were sure He hated everybody but Jews, even though God had told them in the Old Testament to be a light to the nations, a blessing to the nations of the earth. Somehow, in all their hurt and disappointment over time, this truth had gotten set aside in favor of the idea that God hated those who oppressed them. He hated them as much as they did, and it became the truth they lived by. When Jesus came along and said otherwise, their response was Kill the preacher!

Sometimes the truth can be very upsetting. Jesus’ truth can still upset many even today. Let’s look at some of the assumptions people carry around, which Jesus might shake up a little bit with this truth.

We love Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” It is good, comforting news. We like the idea that Jesus is here to take care of us. Some might even believe life is going to be pain-free and happy with Jesus.

However, later Jesus says, “If anyone would come after Me and be My disciple, let him deny himself and take up His cross and follow Me. It’s in losing your life for My sake that you find it” (Matthew 16:24). This passage is a little more upsetting and challenging to us. That’s not what I was looking for! Some people say, It sounds difficult, sacrificial, inconvenient. I want comfort, not the cross. God wants me to be healthy and wealthy. That is His plan for my life. These words are upsetting, and so I don’t buy it!

Jesus also told us “God so loved the world He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). We like inserting our name in the statement: God so loved Steve, God so loved Mary. But then the same Jesus goes on to say, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” even if your neighbor is someone who’s not like you, someone you might even consider despicable.

And oh, by the way, pray for your enemies who hurt you. This upsets us because we want to believe there are some people even God can’t love. So we don’t have to love them either. Love that person? You’ve got to be kidding, Jesus! We are more comfortable with our prejudices and judgments.

We read these lovely words in John 14: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go and prepare a place for you?” We like this news. It’s comforting to us, especially in our funerals. But then Jesus goes on to say, “(Remember) I am the Way, the Truth, the Life. Nobody comes to the Father but by me.”

These words upset people. Wait a minute! I don’t like that! I’m tolerant, open-minded. I’ve always believed all roads lead to God. I just happen to be on the Jesus road. My non-Christian neighbor is on her road. Who am I to question her beliefs?

Someone else might respond, If Jesus died for everybody, then everybody is saved. He never intended to be so narrow and exclusive. Maybe He didn’t really say these words. It’s upsetting.

Sometimes people hurt us. We carry our grudges and our bitterness. We long for revenge and think someday they’ll get theirs if we have our way. But Jesus tells us to “Forgive as I have forgiven. If you do not forgive, God will not forgive you.” I’ve seen this kind of talk upset many people. They want their pound of flesh. They want to get even. They believe revenge is sweet.

Jesus can really be upsetting. But here is some good news from the truth-teller Himself:

“If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples.
You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” John 8:32.

His truths are given not to hurt, but to help. Listen to Him. Trust Him.

As the citizens of Nazareth tried to throw Him off a cliff that day, little did they know He truly was speaking the truth from God. It was early in His ministry.

You and I, however, live on the other side of the resurrection. God affirmed every word Jesus said as truth when He raised Him on Easter. Jesus is the One who has the words of eternal life.

He has come to save us from ourselves, to expose us to our pride, our false assumptions, our sinfulness, and put us on a new path of freedom with His Gospel, leading us to the way of life God intended for us – eternal life. You see, Jesus didn’t come to soothe you in your sin; He came to save you from your sin. He didn’t enter this world to tell you what you want to hear, but what you really need to hear and believe. Out of love for you, He went to the cross to pay for your debt of sin and rescue you. He rose from the grave proving once and for all He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by Him. His way, His truth is life.

Some reject Him in His truth, while others receive Him. To reject Him is to reject life with God. To receive Him is to receive life. Millions upon millions have discovered He is the One who sets us free from our sin and its consequences of death. He is the One who lights up a life with His love, grace, and constant presence. He is the One who has the words of life, which we need to listen to and follow.

I thank God for this disturbing, truth-telling preacher Jesus, for this Savior has spoken into my life and changed it for the better. I don’t even want to think of where I’d be without Jesus in my life. I hope He is in yours, too.

One last word for those who have received Him, who serve Him in His Church and in the world. Remember that, according to chapter 1 of Luke, this story was written for a believer named Theophilus. The story is not only meant to reveal Jesus’ identity to us, it’s also meant to reassure and encourage followers to stand strong on the truth of Jesus Christ.

Don’t be surprised if you face some rejection and take a hit of some sort for the truth of the Gospel of Christ. According to this story, you stand in good company if it happens: Jesus Himself. He promises, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer