When the King Moves In

Revelation 3:15-20

Dear friends:

Who would you say you most admire in this world? And if that person you admire so much were a person of power and influence, what would you do if they came to your home today and knocked on the door asking “can I come in? Can I move in with you and stay a while? Can I share the rhythms of your life and get to know you in a relationship of love?” Imagine how that would be if the person you love and admire so much began to share daily life with you.

Let me say that love never forces entrance, nor can love be forced. Love always invites, offers, waits, and gives. The Bible says that Jesus is the King of kings who is the “persistent suitor”, coming to us again and again to knock on the door of our hearts, seeking access to our lives in order that he might bless us with His power. Save us, forgive us, and reconcile us to His Father. King Jesus has another name, it is Emmanuel, which means “God with us”. Think about Jesus as King, coming to us as God as He really is to live with us as we really are. God comes to stay, to live in our neighborhood. That’s totally different than a visiting guest who comes for a few hours on a special occasion. Sometimes we think about Jesus as a repairman: we hope he leaves soon, and we hope he doesn’t cost us too much. Pause a minute now and think: Jesus is the King of the cosmos who will save us from our sins. The One who had all power emptied Himself of all power and glory as God in order to take on the weakness of human flesh. In the incarnation God was everywhere present, now becomes human living in a particular place. The God who was eternal now comes to live within time and history. It’s an interesting thought, but we who are human beings are relatively puny compared to the size and power and scope of an infinite, almighty God.

However God’s Spirit, though everywhere, will not dwell in one place uninvited. That’s within the heart of every person that He has created. When Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River in Mark 1, He says “the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the good news.” Well the Kingdom of God was at hand because Jesus the King had come to live with people He had created. The King moved into the neighborhood. And when a king ascends to power, there are only two responses: you either surrender on your knees to swear allegiance to the king or you rebel and run.

I once read a true story of a man was arrested for a crime, convicted, and sentenced to death. He was guilty, but people who loved the man went to the governor of the state, and the governor pardoned the man of his death sentence. But the man said “I will not accept it.” Well that took matters of the legal system, and the court ruled that the pardon was not valid unless the one intended to be pardoned accepted the pardon. The legal court system said that the man had the right to refuse mercy and refuse freedom.

When King Jesus comes to pardon us of all our failures and sins and give us new life and freedom, though it seems ridiculous, puny people can limit the almighty power of King Jesus. We can reject His love and reject His pardon.

So does your life have room for a King Jesus? In John 1:11 it says “Jesus came to His own people but His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, to them God gives the power, the authority, to become the people of God.” If Jesus came to your house and came in to live, would your ego let Him have the throne? If Jesus came to your house and shared time with you, is there any element of your attitudes and behaviors or speech, is ready thing within your household that you’d be embarrassed for the King to see?

Well what is the impact when King Jesus moves in? Jesus reigns wherever he is received. He has unlimited power and unlimited resources to bring about positive change, and he brings that change with a heart full of love and a heart-character full of wisdom. He turns our hovel into a home. When the King moves in He turns it into a palace. He transforms our lives into something beautiful, where we become everything that God intended us for to us to be when he created us and gave us life.

I once heard a story of a famous nightclub in an American city. And that nightclub had big-time entertainers and musicians come in to play music before packed houses, night after night. But there was a problem: the piano in the nightclub was out of tune. Terribly out of tune! And the “guts” of the piano were damaged so that notes would be missed when the keyboard player played the song. And so when the famous musicians would leave after playing in that nightclub, they tell the owner of the nightclub “you gotta do something about that piano!” So you know what? Finally the owner of the nightclub did. Do you know we did? He painted the outside of the piano.

When King Jesus comes into the life of a believer, He brings change in a gut-level to remove all that prevents us from playing beautiful music in harmony with the living God. Is King Jesus on the throne of your heart? There’s a song by musician Michael Card that attempts to capture the thoughts of Jesus’ stepfather Joseph. In the lyric of Card’s song he says “Lord, please show me where I fit into this plan of yours.” Now that’s upside down from how we sometimes think. We might invite Jesus in, but we squeeze Jesus into OUR plan. That’s upside down. The truth is if he’s the King of kings, and he rules over us and wisdom and love, then we ought to echo Joseph’s words in Michael Card’s song. “Lord please show me where I fit into YOUR plan.” Jesus takes the throne and the central access of our lives turned around; the presence of Jesus at the very heart of who we are as His people.

So why is it good news when King Jesus moves in? First, because he cleanses away all guilt and shame from our lives. He washes away all the wrongdoing to purify our hearts and renew us forever. Not long ago when our family was together for the holiday one of our grandchildren unfortunately became ill, and he “lost it” all over furniture and floor. There was much to clean up. Isn’t it an amazing truth that King Jesus, who has all power, is willing to become our servant and there is no stain that King Jesus cannot remove from our lives. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So we say with David in Psalm 51 “Create in me a clean heart, oh God”

he second powerful good news because Jesus the King moves in is that King Jesus heals our brokenness. He’s the gentle healer, using love to touch us tenderly in our wounded places, and to touch us even in those secret places in our psyche that no one knows about, but that haunt us in our thinking and our behavior. He heals of brokenness of destructive patterns of behavior. He heals of brokenness of stinking attitudes, cynicism, and bitterness, and low self-worth, and fear, and anxiety. He heals our brokenness to dispel the dark clouds of pessimism and depression. He heals our brokenness in relationships where there is conflict and estrangement.

The third reason that is great news when King Jesus moves in is that Jesus restores our hope for a different life. When I was in seminary many years ago at Luther seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, I worked downtown part-time at Metropolitan Medical Center in a geriatric psych ward for depressed people. At that time, to help those depressed people, they used electric shock therapy. The jolt of electricity forced the brain waves to find new patterns of thought. The idea was to “scramble” the brain waves and force the person out of the ruts of depression in their mind’s electric stimulus. Well Jesus’ spirit comes into us and brings the power surge of love that “reboots” our mind’s thinking. He stirs our hope for new possibilities. You see, when Jesus comes in, the future does not have to be a continuation of our past struggles or failures.

The fourth reason that is good news when King Jesus moves there to take the throne of our heart is that he fills our soul with joy. It’s not that we become happy all the time, with a plastic, fake smile, pretending to be happy. It’s true joy, based on the knowledge that we are deeply loved. That we belong to the King; that were the children of God. In an old gospel song it says “Joy is the flag flown high from the castle of my heart, for the King is in residence there.”

ave you ever taken a moment in prayer and faith to consciously invite Jesus to come into your life and reign as King? Not long ago I had a very strange dream: it was my graduation day from seminary, as I prepared to be a pastor. The other graduates were there with me at Central Lutheran Church in downtown Minneapolis, and all of them had on beautiful robes, blue robes, and they looked elegant as they formed the line to march into the worship space for the graduation ceremony. But I had no robe, I just had a sloppy, peach colored, short-sleeved shirt and Bermuda shorts. And when I entered the auditorium of the church the whole place erupted in laughter! I didn’t know that I was naked, and miserable, and clueless, and inadequate. I was exposed! Then Jesus knocks on the door of my heart and says “Can I come in? Can I cleanse you of guilt? Can I heal your broken places? Can I fill you with hope for a new future and a new beginning? Will you let my spirit give you joy that will bubble up each day as you walk with me in faith? That’s the type of God we serve.

I invite you now to pray with me that King Jesus would move in:

Dear Lord Jesus, we welcome you into our lives. We welcome You to take the throne of our heart, and by the power of Your spirit, cleanse us of all doesn’t belong. Heal our brokenness. Transform our attitudes. Change our behavior. Fill us with love. Thank you that you promise us that we are Your people forever. Thank you Jesus that all of life is transformed when you move in as King to rule forever. In Your name, Jesus, amen.

Jesus Is: The Lamb

John 1:29-34

Dear Friends:

About three years ago, I think it was, I read a wonderful book entitled “Grace” by Max Lucado, and in this book he tells a story.

It seems that there was this Chinese man named Li Fuyan, who tried every treatment imaginable to ease his headaches, but nothing helped. An x-ray finally revealed the culprit: there was a 4-inch rusty knife blade that had gotten lodged in his skull, and it been there for the past four years. You see, in an attack by a robber Li Fuyan had suffered lacerations on the right side of his jaw. He didn’t know the blade had broken off inside his head, and that’s what was behind the pain.

Lucado comments on this story: he says we can’t live with foreign objects buried in our bodies (or our souls). What would an x-ray of your interior reveal? Regrets over an earlier relationship? Remorse over a poor choice? Shame about a marriage that didn’t work, the habit you couldn’t quit, the temptation you didn’t resist, or the courage you couldn’t find? Guilt lies beneath the surface. It festers and irritates. It’s embedded in us. Guilt, shame, remorse…

On an episode of “This American Life”, a public radio show, host Ira Glass remarks:

Some regrets never go away. People tell us they forgive us, we try to forgive ourselves, and we still know like we did wrong, like we hurt somebody, it was real. And that feeling, it can immobilize you. If you’re lucky, it teaches you something you can take into other situations. But I think often it’s just like this pebble in your shoe. It teaches you nothing. It doesn’t slow you down, really. It just hurts. It just hurts in a way that does not stop hurting.”

Regrets, shame, remorse…

In a New York Times article, columnist David Brooks wrote a couple years ago he argues “religion may be in retreat but guilt seems as powerfully present as ever.” Regrets, guilt, shame…  Brooks has it right. What do you do, though, with your guilt and your regrets?

John the Baptist points us to Jesus in response to that question, and he says “Look! The Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world!” That got people’s attention. We’ve been doing a series, “Jesus Is”. This is the second message in the series and here we learn that Jesus Is: the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. That image of the lamb had to have stirred memories from the Old Testament for those that heard John speak. For instance, we remember Abraham and Isaac on the mountain in Genesis 22, where Abraham was about to sacrifice his only son Isaac, and just as he is raising a knife up God stops him. And they look up, they see a ram caught in the thicket. It had been provided by God for the sacrifice. We have described for us the sacrificial lambs that were used in the temple of Jerusalem. Leviticus 14 tells us “and the priest shall take one of the male lambs and offer it for a guilt offering for the sins of the people.” And then there’s Isaiah 53, where the prophet Isaiah describes the “suffering servant” who will come, “and He will be led away like a Lamb to the slaughter for His people.” And of course we don’t want to forget the Passover lamb from the book of Exodus. Remember that story, where the blood of the lamb protected the Israelite firstborn children when the Angel of Death swept over the land of Egypt. And each year as the Jews celebrate Passover that lamb reminds Israel of God’s goodness, His protection, as well as their deliverance and redemption from slavery under the Pharaoh.

 

But there’s more here than simply the image of a lamb. John said he’s a lamb *of God*. OF GOD. He’s sent by God. He’s of God, is provided by God, He’s the son of God. And He was provided for what? For our sin, “the sin of the world” John says. You see humankind’s greatest problem is sin, and it needs a solution. Scripture tells us that all of us has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We’re rebels against God. You don’t have to read scripture to understand that all of us has sinned. You just have to watch the news, don’t you? Notice John says here “sin”, not the plural “sins”. He says that because he’s pointing us to the reality of the spiritual condition that exists within us, that we’re born with and cannot cure ourselves. Paul talks about it in Romans 5, telling us that sin runs deeper than sinful actions and words or thoughts. He says “therefore just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Our sinful actions and thoughts and words and things that we leave undone are the symptoms of our sin condition that’s within us. The natural inclination to be selfish and egocentric and full of pride? That’s sin. It’s the cause. Sins are the effect. Sin is the tree. Sins are the fruit. Sin is the disease. Sins are the symptoms. Billy Graham said sin is “the cause of all trouble, the root of all sorrow.” The dread of every person lies in one small word: sin. It’s crippled the nature of men and women. It has caused humankind to be caught in the devil’s trap. And sin lies at the heart of chaotic world conditions as we know them. As we look around and say “what’s wrong with this world?” there’s a very simple explanation, it’s called sin and it’s existed through the centuries. And sin has eternal deadly consequences: “the wages of sin is death.” Death in this life, being separated from God, and death in the life to come, away from God.

Now as far as our symptomatic sins that we can see, we’ve tried all kinds of things to deal with them. You know what I mean. We try to cover them up, hide them, like Adam and Eve did in the Garden. Or try to ignore them, or narcotize them with drugs and alcohol. Or fix things ourselves to make things right with God. Or for transfer the blame to someone else or something else. Or explain them away with rationalizations: “everybody’s doing it”. But none of that works, does it? There is no peace within. Our guilt for us can crush us. King David tells us that in Psalm 32. He said, after he had adultery with Bathsheba, “when I kept silent my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long, for day and night your hand, Lord, was heavy upon me. My strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” He was depressed!

So there’s the human predicament: sin. Which brings about our regrets and our guilt and our shame, and a causes a great chasm between God and us. The relationship with God and with others, and with ourselves even, that was intended for us has been broken by this spiritual disease called sin. And the truth is we cannot fix this predicament ourselves. But here we have John the Baptist announcing the good news: that God has provided the solution. The cure. The healing for your soul: Jesus the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” That’s why Christ came at Christmas. He came into our world to take away everyone’s sin. And to “take away” means “to take up” or “bear”. Jesus took away our sin by taking it upon himself, and he bore it himself. Our sins were laid upon him. Our sin – he took. You see, we know where the story is headed, right? That Lamb, that John is pointing to, will go to a cross and suffer my punishment so that I won’t have to – for sin. He will pay the debt for my sin which I could never repay because of my spiritual bankruptcy. He who was rich became poor so that I might become rich in God. That’s how serious sin is to God. And that’s how much you are loved by God. Someone put this way, I like this:

How you measure the size of a fire? By the number of firefighters and fire engines sent to fight against it. And how we measure the seriousness of a medical condition? By the amount of risk the doctors take in prescribing dangerous drugs or surgical procedures. How do we measure the gravity of sin and the incomparable vastness of God’s love for us? By looking at the magnitude of what God has done for us in Jesus, His son, who died like a common criminal for our sake and in our place at the cross.

Hebrews 10 tells us that Jesus was carrying out God’s will at that cross, he says, and by it we have been sanctified, made holy in God’s sight through the offering of the body of Jesus.

And it’s once – for all – did you get that?  Once, for all, this sacrifice. We cannot add a single thing to what has been done for us by Jesus Christ. We’re covered! Peter witnesses in his letter that you and I were “ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” Paul describes the implications of this sacrifice on the cross in the 5th chapter of Romans: “therefore as one trespass led to condemnation for all people so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all people.” It‘s this Lamb’s perfect, once-for-all sacrifice for sin that provides the foundation of a renewed relationship with God. He is our hope as we sit in our regrets, in our guilt, in our Shane. He is our freedom as we look over our lives and wonder “what am I to do with these things?” Trusting in the Lamb of God, Jesus, we can repent and come to Him and receive forgiveness, cleansing, and a new start. There’s an old hymn that Isaac Watts wrote that really captures the truth of this. He says

Not all the blood of beasts on Jewish altar slain
Could give the guilty conscience peace, or wash away its stain.
But Christ the Heavenly Lamb takes all our sins away
A sacrifice of nobler name and richer blood than they.

It’s the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That’s our answer for our burdens, our sin, our guilt, and regrets. And how can we know this is all true? Because that Lamb, that died on the cross, was raised from the dead and exalted by God. He sits at the right hand of the Father. All authority has been given to him. The Lamb of God has the final word over us. We read that in John’s book of Revelation, chapters 5, 6, and 7. It says “I saw the Lamb of God” and he said “He was like a triumphant, victorious” individual. It’s an exalted title. John memorializes the sacrificial work of Christ, and he tells one day we will hear the angels singing with a loud voice “worthy is the Lamb who was slain! To receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! Worthy is the Lamb!”

Friends, this Jesus is so much more than a great teacher and a prophet. He’s more than a moral example to be emulated. In last week’s message we learned He’s the son of God, He’s God the servant King. Today we learned this life-giving truth: Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away your sin. In Him alone there is forgiveness for sin, and where there is forgiveness, friend, there is life. And you and I need that life. We need Him for forgiveness, and a right, saving relationship with God. Everyone needs Him. So I’m told in scripture what will I do with the burden of sin and guilt and shame? The dread of facing God’s judgment? I bring it to Jesus, the Lamb of God. We don’t need to be crippled or captive any longer to the disease of sin in our lives because God provided the cure through His Son Jesus Christ, Lamb of God. Place your trust in Him and what He’s done for you. Come to Him, come to the Lamb in faith. Bring your burdens, your guilt, your regrets, your brokenness, and receive forgiveness and a new life that’s free from sin, and death, and the power the devil. As you turn to Him in repentance, He will not turn you away. He will forgive you. For those who are already walking with Christ, the message is: come to Him daily. We’re not perfect by any means. Come to Him confessing those sins that still find their way into your everyday thoughts and words and actions and receive your daily baptism, the daily drowning of the old, egocentric person. Know this: Jesus the Lamb of God stands ready to forgive you. Let’s use this next hymn as our closing prayer, and we’ll sing that last line of each verse: “O Lamb of God, I come.”

Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Jesus Is: God’s Son, the Servant King

Matthew 3:13-17

Dear friends,

I’d like to have you complete this statement for me: “Life is…” Some of you may think ‘life is a bowl of cherries’. We think of Forrest Gump who said “life is a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” Someone else has said “life is a journey.” There are T-shirts out today that remind us “life is good”. There are a whole host of possibilities with which you can fill in that blank.

Now, how would you finish the statement: “Jesus is…” Again, there are a variety of answers to put in that blank. Some are true, some half true. Some are absolutely false. Some are versions of Jesus that simply reflect our own desires and our own leanings. I do want to you to know this though: that how you fill in that blank is really important. In fact, knowing Jesus and everything you can about Him is the most important thing you’ll ever have in life. The apostle Paul, who at one time was an opponent to the Christian faith but after meeting Christ had a different outlook, wrote “But whatever again I had I count as loss for Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” It’s an important blank to fill in. “Jesus is…” And for the next few weeks we’re going to let Scripture fill in that blank for us with a variety of truths about Jesus regarding His character, His purpose, and His vision for our lives on planet Earth.

So today we began at the baptism of Jesus. God tells us quite plainly “Jesus is…My Son.” He’s the Son of God, this Jesus. Like the hymn says in ‘Beautiful Savior’ “Son of God and Son of Man.” He’s God in the flesh. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” That’s the Christmas story: God has come to be with us. Max Lucado, one of my favorite Christian authors, tells a wonderful story which encapsulates this truth:

“Charlie was 10”, Lucado writes. “School was out for Christmas and the family had chosen to spend the holiday in the country. The boy pressed his nose against the bay window of the vacation home and marveled at the British winter. He was happy to trade the blackened streets of London for the cotton-white freshness of snow-covered hills. His mom invited him to go for a drive with her, and he quickly accepted. A halcyon moment was in the making. She snaked the car down the twisty road, the tires crunched the snow, and the boy puffed his breath on the window. He was thrilled to be out. Mother, however, was anxious. Heavy snow began to fall, visibility lessened. As she took the curve the car started to slide. It didn’t stop until it was in a ditch. She tried to drive out, the tires just spun. They were stuck. They needed help. A mile down the road sat a house. Off they went and knocked on the door. ‘Of course’ the woman told them, ‘Come in, warm yourselves, the phone is yours.’ She offered them tea and cookies, and urged them to stay until help arrived.” Lucado writes “An ordinary event, you think? Don’t suggest that to the woman who opened the door. She has never forgotten that day. She’s retold the story a thousand times, and who could blame her? It’s not often that royalty appears on your porch! For the two travelers stranded by the English winter were no less than Queen Elizabeth II and the heir to the throne, 10-year-old Charles.”

The word on the streets of Heaven and the lips of Christians is that something far grander has happened to our world. Royalty has walked on our streets. Heaven’s prince has knocked on our door. His visit, however, was no accident, and He did much more than simply stay for tea. He came to save us, didn’t He? Jesus is God in the flesh come to be with us, to save us.

Now since He is God in the flesh, that means he is sinless and perfect, right? Many people wonder, then, if He was sinless why was He down at the Jordan River getting baptized by John the Baptist, (whose baptism was a baptism of repentance for sins). Well the best answer that I’ve found to that question is that, first of all, His baptism day was like an inauguration day. It was the first day of His “salvation campaign”. It marked the beginning. We also, though, have Jesus saying it was “to fulfill all righteousness”. That’s what He said to John. It was the right thing to do, in other words, the obedient thing. It was His Father’s will, part of the plan. He would identify Himself with sinful humanity. We also see that when he emerged from the waters of the Jordan River, the heavens are suddenly ripped open and the Holy Spirit, like a dove, descended and rested upon Jesus. As if another affirmation. We’re reminded of Isaiah 42: “I will put My Spirit upon Him,” God says, “this One who is to come.” Here we are also reminded of a prayer in Isaiah 64 that was answered that day. A prayer that pleads with God: “Oh, that You would render the heavens and come down!” God seems to be saying “I have come down: this is My Son.”

But there’s more here than meets the eye. God’s words about Jesus happen to be special words. They’re loaded with meaning. They not only give us His identity but they also give us His job description, His purpose. When God says “This is My Son” His words are from Psalm 2 in the Old Testament. They are words that were used at the anointing and coronation of the Kings of Israel. And there’s a promise that goes back to King David in 2 Samuel 7, as God made His covenant with David. He said, “the King that is to come, this special King, I shall be His Father, He shall be My Son.” After the exile of Israel you know there were no kings, and so this Psalm began to be read with a future hope. Someday the Son would come, our King, that God promised. He is the long-awaited King God promised, this Jesus. What is a king’s job description? We’re not really sure about that in our democratic society. We don’t have kings. But a king is to provide and protect and care for his subjects, as well as a rule over them. He establishes his kingdom in the world. So these words are meant to be encouraging words for us, then. Jesus is our King who has come to care for us, to rule over us.

But there’s more! God also says He’s the “beloved with whom I am well pleased.” That’s from Isaiah 42, which is referred to as the “Servant Song”. It’s one of several servant songs in Isaiah. The servant song in Isaiah describes one, a messianic character, who will carry out God’s plan. He would be a servant, loving people, the people of God, to the end. Of course we see Jesus washing the feet of His disciples in John 13, taking the role of a servant. And He would love them to the end. In fact, in another servant song found in Isaiah 53 it says “He will suffer and die to rescue them (and us) from our sin”. All of us, like sheep, have gone astray. We have turned everyone to his own way, Isaiah says, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. And that He has, as Jesus goes to the cross later on to pay for the sins of us all.

By the way, in Matthew this is actually a public announcement from God Himself about Jesus. It’s not just to Jesus. In fact we hear John, in John’s gospel, John the Baptist say “I saw this, I witnessed this, I heard this.” It calls for response from us. We’re supposed to do something. What do we do with this Jesus, the Son of God, the Servant King? Well the first and most important thing is that we would believe in the Son. Jesus told us that He wants us to trust in Him, to follow Him. “You believe in God,” Jesus says, “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? When I go and prepare that place for you I will come again and take you to Myself, that where I am, you may be also.” We’re to believe in the Son. To bet our lives on Him and what He’s done for us. God testifies that Jesus is King.

So what does it mean for me to have Jesus as my King? Well, let’s go back to Psalm 2 for that answer, where the psalmist writes, at the end of the coronation, “kings of the earth be wise, be warned. Serve Him. Kiss the Son.” Which means give Him homage, bend the knee to Him. “And blessed are those who take refuge in the Son” he says. In other words, you submit yourself, every area of your life, to the King. You say to him “Jesus You’re in charge of my life from now on. You call the shots, and I will obey.”

A King is also meant to be a model to relate to, and to copy, in our lives. Which gets us to the next point: if Jesus is a servant, a Servant King, what are the implications of this if I am his subject? And it’s simply this: than I am to be a servant to others in His name. We go back to John 13 were Jesus has washed the feet of his disciples, and Jesus said to them when that was finished “you understand what I’ve done for you? You call Me Lord and Teacher, you’re right, I am. I have set for you an example. If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, I want you to wash one another’s feet.” Again as I said earlier, washing feet was the job of a servant. Jesus says “I want you to be servants to one another. Serve others in my name.” A few weeks ago I visited the Stillwater Prison to participate in a chapel service. I was asked to come and lead the singing that night, bring my guitar along, it was quite an experience. The two men that invited me, the friends of mine, they were the ones that brought the teaching for the inmates that evening. I discovered that they had been at this ministry for almost twenty years. Every other Thursday night they showed up to that prison to share the gospel, and worship with prison inmates, and befriended some of them. Some of them believers, some of them seekers. I was touched by their wholehearted commitment to serve, to walk in the footsteps of the One who said that the “Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Last Thursday two women from our church came by our home and picked up my wife Julie and they went down to a homeless shelter downtown St. Paul. They spent three hours preparing and serving lunch to homeless people. All these women there are retired from the workforce but not from the servant force of Jesus. So every week they drive downtown and give themselves to serve in Christ’s name. You see the servant of Christ the King never retires from serving others. So where can I get started? You don’t have to look far to find a person that needs your attention, your help, your service. Start seeing and hearing needy, hurting people. It’s a simple as that. Then go and serve them in Christ’s name. Mother Teresa, a real servant, said one time:

“I know you think you should make a trip to Calcutta and join me, but I strongly advise you to save your airfare and spend it on the poor in your own country. It’s easy to love people far away; it’s not always easy to love those who are living right next to us. There are thousands of people dying for a piece of bread but there are thousands more dying for a bit of love, and a bit of acknowledgment. The truth is that the worst disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, it’s being unwanted. It’s being left out. It’s being forgotten. The greatest scourge is to be so suffocated with things that we forget the next person.”

Let’s complete the statement now, according to what God’s word has taught us today: Jesus Is… the Son of God, the Servant King. Therefore, believe in Him, submit every area of your life to this King. Be a servant in His name.

Amen

Pastor Steve Kramer

Have a Happy New Year With Jesus

John 1:1, 14, 16-18

Dear Friends:

We ushered in a new year just a few days ago, so let me pause here and wish you a happy new year!

You know, each new year I can't help but stop and wonder about what the next year will bring to me and to this world. Maybe you do that as well. For some, in looking ahead, that can be troubling. There can be some anxious and pessimistic concerns. For some people, they can't help but notice there are so many things wrong in this world. For instance in our own United States we’re experiencing rough waters in our government and politics. People are worried about health care costs. Of course the warnings are coming more often now about climate change issues, and that's unsettling as we think about the future for our children. There seems to be a deep polarization in society today over so many issues. And there’s gun violence being on the rise and mass shootings in our schools and nothing but negative news on TV. And we can't help but notice an erosion of morals and values as well as a questioning of absolutes and truth all around us. And civility seems to be lost. Of course there is this thing called change; the world is changing faster and faster it seems. We typically don't like change - it means making uncomfortable adjustments, and that can be hard on us. I don’t know about you but I'm finding it harder and harder to keep up with technology. And then there are the daily insecurities of life as we wonder ahead. ‘Will my health hold up?’ ‘I’m not getting any younger!’ Or finances: “will have enough for the future?” So when someone wishes us a happy new year some of you may be thinking “Happy new year?! Fat chance! I don’t know how that’s ever going to happen for me!”

Well, I believe that you will find the John's statements in his gospel, which we read earlier, more than helpful to hold onto as you step into 2020. They contain some very good news for you and me.

First of all the statements make a wonderful announcement: God has come in the flesh! “The Word was with God, and the Word was God, and the Word became flesh.” The birth of Jesus. He dwelt among us, meaning literally He pitched his tent, He took up residence with us. He was God's gift of love to the world. God has come, but listen: He's never left. And He never will! In fact, Christ will be making another appearance again in the future to restore God's world once and for all, according to His plans. Everything is under control. Relax! You are in good hands, strong hands that will never let you go. This is not an abandoned planet. I may not know what my future holds, but I know the One who holds my future. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and is dwelled among us full of grace and truth.” Trusting in Him my future is sealed, no matter what the circumstances that come my way. And if you wonder if anyone knows how you feel as you face life, He does. As one of us He experienced all the hurts that life can throw at an individual: pain, and disappointment, and hunger, and thirst, and rejection, and hostility, and frustration, and discouragement, and human limitations. So when you turn to Him in prayer and approach His throne of grace, know this for sure: you do not have an unsympathetic high priest (as the book of Hebrews refers to Jesus) listening to you. He could very well be nodding His head in agreement, as if to say “I know how you feel. I've been there Myself. I know life's hurts.”

John goes on to testify “we have seen His glory, as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Christ has made God known to us. We've seen his glory, John says, which means God's manifestation, His person. “God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” No one has ever seen God, but the Son has made Him known to us. In other words, when you look at Jesus Christ you're looking into the face of God. You are seeing the heart of God. And what do we see in that heart as we look at the actions and words of Jesus in the Gospels? We see grace and truth, John says. We see gracious compassion for the hurting, the forgotten, the ignored. We see loving kindness for all kinds of people. We see power to change things and change people's lives. We see forgiveness for the condemned. And above all we see amazing love. Love that washes the feet of His disciples like a servant. Love that goes to a cross, laying down His life for His own. And He is truth. And He knows what makes our lives work. After all, He created it in the first place. So consider this: you and I enter 2020 with the God who is not only with us never leaves us, but He loves us more deeply than we can ever fathom. He has compassion for us and will never ever desert us. And He is truth. We can count on Him. He has integrity. He is faithful. As we follow Him in His word, He promises to show us how life works best.

So, are you feeling any better about the future yet? Okay then, try this next truth on for size!

The exclamation point of this beautiful writing from John is the testimony that in Christ God's grace is ours to experience day after day after day. Listen to these words: “and from Christ's fullness we have received grace upon grace” John says. Grace upon grace! That's a lot of grace! Just piled up grace. That grace in Jesus Christ never will run out, in other words. It would be like us trying to drain the ocean with a teaspoon. That's impossible! We can't do it. What is his grace that John talks about here? Well grace means, literally, ‘the unmerited favor of God toward you and me’. First there is God's saving grace. Someone once explained grace by using it is an acronym. Grace means this:

God's
Riches
At
Christ's
Expense.

It’s God's riches given to us at Christ's expense. We were lost in our sin and could not make things right in our relationship with God. We rebelled against Him. We became separated from Him. God is holy and just. Our sinfulness had to be paid for, covered in some way. So God in Christ came into this world to take our place and pay for our sinfulness through His innocent suffering and death at the cross. This Baby was whose birth we just celebrated at Christmas became a man and paid for our sins at a cross years later. And we are saved from sin, death, and the power the devil by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. You see, as we place our trust in Christ and what He has done for us, we receive the gift of these eternal salvation with God. We belong to Him forever. This Jesus who paid for our sins and rose again has broken the chains of sin and death for us and He has gone ahead and prepared a place in Heaven for his followers. Saving grace!

There is also God's all-sufficient grace to experience in Christ. That's grace that’s given to strengthen us along the way, with the power and presence of God Himself. When we’re feeling weak and overwhelmed, He fills us up. And no matter what 2020 may throw at you, know this: God is there for you with His all-sufficient grace.

So we have grace upon grace upon grace upon grace upon grace as ours when we belong to Jesus Christ. That's the good news today in this passage. And that leads to a deep-seeded happiness; a joy and a peace that no circumstance can take away from you. I want to share with you a wonderful little story I came across many years ago from Norman Vincent Peal. He writes:

I had a friend, a newspaper man, who used to be as irreligious a man as you could find. He was a lovable old pagan, in fact he claimed to be atheist. I never took much stock in that because he was so decent, kindly. Then all of a sudden he found Jesus Christ, and you should see him now! One of his former associates said to him “you must find life very dull now.” “Dull?!” replied my friend. Then he paid Jesus one of the greatest compliments I've ever heard in my life. “Why, I've been laughing ever since I met Him.”

“That's it!” Peale goes on to say. When a person has truly discovered Jesus he says ‘Merry Christmas’ because it means that he has been set free! He has an uplifted feeling. He feels a sense of conquest. He is happy!

So if you are someone who is anxious about the upcoming year, my New Year's appeal to you is this: take seriously what John has shared with us today. Turn your eyes upon Jesus and experience a year full of His grace upon grace and His truth. Walk through this new year with Jesus at the center of your life. If you haven't done this, you simply ask Him in to take over your life, to be a Leader, your Savior, your teacher in every area of living. And then walk with Him daily and experience the grace He wants to place in your life. There really is no special trick to having a close walk with Jesus. This comes about by taking on some ordinary habits that you work with each day. Like this: take 15 minutes a day and open your Bible, and let Jesus speak into your life. Use the year to slowly read through the Gospels of Matthew and Mark and Luke and John. Just a few verses each day. Then do some reflecting about what you learned about Jesus and God and living life with Him in His kingdom. Next, and I can't emphasize this enough, participate in the community of faith. Make weekly worship a priority if you can get out. Connect with other Christians in acts of serving inside and outside the church community. You’ll be walking close to Jesus in that. Finally, pray. Never miss a day to spend time with your Heavenly Father. You’ll be glad you did.

So my friend, here's wishing you a happy new year with Jesus, your Lord and your Savior.

Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer