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

Prince of Peace

Luke 19:29-38

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus is our Prince of Peace. Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg

His Death Is Like No Other

Mark 15:16-20, 22-37

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Kramer

Jesus Has Power Like No Other

Mark 4:35-41

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what is our takeaway? Two things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Kramer

 

 

A Birth Like No Other

Luke 11:26-38

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Kramer

God’s First Marriage

Genesis 2:18-25

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

Would you associate the words “paradise” and “marriage” in the same sentence? In American culture, we grew up listening to Snow White from Walt Disney’s 1937 animated movie classic singing the song, “Someday my prince will come” It creates a utopian idea of love, a longing of the heart for a euphoric, romantic connection that will last forever. This is natural. In fact, it is how God created us.

Today I want us to look at Genesis 2, the story of God’s first marriage joining Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the garden of paradise. What can we learn about the lifetime covenant of marriage from this story?

The first thing is, God says it’s not good for man to be alone. He has created us to be relational and to love one another. Adam named the parade of birds and wild beasts but no soul mate was fit for him. It’s difficult to cuddle up with a giraffe, share your mind with a monkey, or think of a loon as your soul mate. So God made a helper suitable for Adam.

Scriptures teach that God created us in His image. The essence of God’s character is to love. God created this world and the people in it so He could give His heart to us in love and share a relationship with us in a joyful way.

It’s not good for man to be alone. When you and I give and receive love in our relationships, we are reflecting the very image of God.

Second, God said He would make a helper suitable for the man. In our culture we think of the word “helper” as meaning inferior, subservient, or of lesser value or status. In the Old Testament this particular Hebrew term is used twenty-one times – twice for Eve in the garden, three times for other helpers, and sixteen times as a description of God Himself. If the term describes God’s action and heart, it can’t possibly imply someone who is inferior or subservient.

The term literally translates, someone who is vitally, powerfully, important. A person who is essential in support within a relationship. An individual who brings strength to another and seeks to bless them. No wonder God describes the woman as a helper, a strong, essential, powerful helper vital to Adam in his paradise life.

We can conclude that the gift of love – particularly married love – is God’s treasure given from woman to man and from man to woman. Love in this sense is something beautiful. The lover sees the gifted potential in the spouse and draws the best out of them by encouraging and affirming them. Love builds the other up and cheers them on to live for God’s glory.

Scripture goes on to say God fashioned the woman for the man. He designed the woman for the man, and we might imply that God designed the man for woman. In our society today there is a promotion of the idea of gender confusion, a blurring of the lines. I’ve even heard people say, “Pick your gender.”

In Genesis 2, the Bible tells us something vastly different. It tells us that God, as the Creator, the source of life, designed man for woman and woman for man. Though they’re integral in their connection and made of the same flesh, they are distinctively, delightfully different. Male and female are harnessed together in a way that is a beautiful enhancement of both. As they come together in partnership and companionship, they are stronger together. That is marriage at its best! God fashioned a companion for the man, and she was a wonderful friend and partner to the man.

When I think of how God must’ve presented Eve to Adam, I can imagine Adam saying, Wow! At last I have a soul mate. Someone who will resonate with my heart. Someone who will dream dreams with me about our future together. It says the man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and the two become one flesh.

Through the years, I have known many wives and children who were left behind by their husbands. They had higher priorities in life than the commitment, care, and love for their wife and children. This is not what God planned. I’ve also known young couples who ran to their parents the first time they had some fight or disagreement, and the parents resonated with the perspective that their young person had married a monster.

The term “leave father and mother” suggests the new marriage creates a new family, a new circle of relationship, and that new marriage has to have the highest priority of love of any other relationship in life.

The idea that they cleave to one another also suggests that they cling tenaciously to one another in the ups and downs of life. When the storms come and when the sun shines, they cling to one another and find a way to make it work. Marriage, you see, is not based on a utopian feeling of the prince coming to create some romantic sensation within the heart. It is a commitment of the heart, man to woman and woman to man. Further, it is God binding them together by His power into an integral oneness that cannot be separated. The man leaves his father and mother. His new highest priority is to cleave to his wife. The commitment they make to one another is for life.

In becoming one flesh, the two become one. An intimacy is experienced that is beautiful. It is God’s gift. Intimacy is defined as an interpersonal relationship, which is emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual. In married love, the intimacy is romantic and sexual to give pleasure to both and further deepen their bond to one another. But it’s more than that. Married intimacy is the closest of friendships with deep personal trust. Intimacy always has honesty, trust, vulnerability, unconditional love.

Intimacy is an acceptance of one another within the construct of mutual respect. The promise made to one another invites trust and freedom within the love.

That is the difference between living together and marriage. Living together by definition is conditional. A big question mark is put over the whole relationship. We even use language like, “Let’s try it, and see how it goes.” Living together is performance-based. I’ll stay with you if you continue to please me. I’ll live in this relationship as long as I am pleased by all you do. It is performance-based.

In contrast, marriage promises the heart in devotion to the other for life. The covenant promise frees the couple to relax in their relationship trusting that, with God’s help, they will journey through life together. The covenant promise means they share mutual values, dreams, and goals. There is a oneness.

When couples in their faith journey draw closer and closer to Jesus Christ, they also draw closer and closer to one another. That is the power of the spiritual component of marriage at its best.

As you are listening to me, you may think, My marriage isn’t anything like that. That idea may haunt you. Notice that the Bible is full of stories where God heals broken hearts and resurrects people to new beginnings. So if you have been in a marriage that ended against your will or by your will, know that God still loves you and invites you to receive His love. Trust Him to raise you up to new beginnings again.

Perhaps some of you are in a marriage where painful moments have wounded your heart and seeded sadness and distrust. I encourage you to ask Jesus to forgive you for your failings and empower you to forgive the other the wrong that was suffered so there may be healing in love. Jesus, in John 15, said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. As you abide in me, love will flow. As you abide in me, you will have great joy. As you abide in me, you will enjoy fullness of life.” Bring the needs of your marriage to Jesus Christ and ask His Spirit to maximize the wonderful potential of your love.

Some of you may have developed patterns of relating to one another within the marriage that are not healthy. You spend your time bickering, nagging, and being hypercritical of one another. Again, I ask you, as by faith you abide in the grace of Jesus, to ask His Spirit to break those negative patterns and empower new patterns of loving each other that are filled with mutual respect, sensitivity, and compassion.

Some of you, in the course of your marriage, may feel like you now live with a stranger. You’ve grown apart. Ask Jesus’ Spirit to rekindle your love and affection, heal the breach, reconcile your hearts to one another, and restore your joy in the marriage.

The oldest couple I ever had the pleasure to marry was Ralph and Gina. Ralph was ninety and Gina was eighty-four when they spoke their vows to one another in God’s presence. At the end of their ceremony, I invited them to kiss, and it lasted more than thirty seconds. When they parted, Gina announced, “That’s just a foretaste of the feast to come!” They were filled with joy. Their faces were beaming. Even though both of them had been through some rocky moments in previous love and marriage relationships, in faith they believed that the love of God in a marriage would fill them with joy, hope, and a new beginning.

May the Lord Jesus bless all your love relationships, strengthen your households and families, and rekindle the fire of love and passion in your marriage. Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg

He Was Promised Like No Other

Isaiah 53:2-12

What’s so special about Jesus? This question has been asked down through the centuries by many people, and it’s still being asked today. It is asked by the person, who sees all the various faiths of the world around him, then scratches his head and asks, What makes Jesus so special from the others? It is asked by the husband whose wife insists on going to church on Sunday for worship and giving away some of their hard-earned money for the church offering. Who is this Jesus? What makes Him so special?

How do you answer that question? We have to admit, He has made quite a splash in this world.

I came across an article that points this out. The author, Philip Yancy, writes, “When I switched on my computer this morning, Microsoft Windows flashed the date, implicitly acknowledging that, whatever you may believe about it, the birth of Jesus was so important that it split history into two parts. Everything that has ever happened on this planet falls into the category of before Christ or after Christ.

“Richard Nixon got carried away with excitement in 1969 when Apollo astronauts first landed on the moon. ‘It’s the greatest day since Creation!’ crowed the president, until Billy Graham solemnly reminded him of Christmas and Easter. By any measure of history Graham was right. This Galilean, who in his lifetime spoke to fewer people than would fill just one of the many stadia Graham has filled, changed the world more than any other person. He introduced a new force field into history, and now holds the allegiance of a third of all people on earth.

“‘More than 1900 years later,’ said H. G. Wells, ‘a historian like myself, who doesn’t even call himself a Christian, finds the picture centering irresistibly around the life and character of this most significant man . . . The historian’s test of an individual’s greatness is ‘What did he leave to grow?’ Did he start men and women to thinking along fresh lines with a vigor that persisted after him? By this test Jesus stands first.’ You can gauge the size of a ship that has passed out of sight by the huge wake it leaves behind.” One has to admit, Jesus Christ has left a HUGE wake.”

What makes Jesus like no other, so unique? This is what our sermon series until Holy Week is going to answer.

Today, first of all, we say Jesus like no other because He was promised like no other. The entire Old Testament points to Him. God promised Him long before Jesus even entered this world of ours. We see this pointed out again and again in the Gospels, which were written about Jesus – how He fulfilled the Old Testament promises. When He began His ministry, He said in His first sermon, “The time is fulfilled! The kingdom of God is at hand,” as He pointed to Himself. In the Sermon on the Mount, He said, “I have come to fulfill the law and the prophets.”

Throughout the Gospels, especially in Matthew, we hear editorials – “This happened to fulfill the prophecy of (so-and-so).” Near the end of Luke, when Jesus has been resurrected and is with His disciples, He explains how the entire Old Testament pointed to Himself. Beginning with Moses and the prophets, Jesus interpreted all the things about Himself in all the Scriptures. All of the Old Testament, you see, points to Jesus.

I came across something by Pastor Timothy Keller that I thought really makes a good point here for us. “The Bible is not a series of disconnected stories. It’s a single narrative pointing to one person – Jesus Christ.”

Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden (His garden, the Garden of Gethsemane, a much tougher garden). His obedience is now imputed to us.

Jesus is the true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar and go into the void not knowing wither He went . . .

Jesus is the true and better Isaac who was not just offered up by his father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us.

Jesus is the true and better Jacob who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserved, so we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us.

Jesus is the true and better Joseph who, at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his power to save them.

Jesus is the true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant.

Jesus is the real Passover Lamb. He’s the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the true light, and the true bread.

Jesus is true and better. All of the Old Testament points to Him.

When you examine the Old Testament, you find three kinds of writings. The first is what we call the Law, the first books of the Old Testament. They describe how the world got to be in such a sad shape because of our sinfulness and then the covenant God made to restore us to Himself. In those books, we read the stories of the beginnings of Israel and their calling to be the people of God. Even in those writings, the Law points us to Jesus.

Next we find the writings called the Psalms, the wisdom sayings. Many of them, as well, talk about Jesus long before He ever came.

Then we come to the prophets. Their prophecies given to Israel are about a Messiah who would come and fulfill the promises of God to His people. We find three hundred thirty-three prophecies in the Old Testament about the coming Messiah, and all of them kept by the coming of Jesus.

I tell the people in my congregation again and again that Christmas really is all about kept promises. He is the Promised One.

Today we look at Isaiah. He says some wonderful things about the Messiah at the beginning of his book. The Messiah is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (9:6). Near the end of this book, we find writings as in today’s text. Isaiah 53 is called the servant songs. It tells about the suffering of the Messiah who would deliver His people from their sins.

It says He was very ordinary looking. No one thought that much of Him.
Can anything good come out of Nazareth?
Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?
Why should we listen to him?

He was despised and rejected by the religious authorities.
Who gave you the right, Jesus, to forgive sins?
And they began to plot to kill Him.

He was a man of suffering.
He bore our infirmities and carried our sorrows. He was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. Upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, and the Lord has laid upon Him the iniquity of us.
Isaiah is talking about the cross.

He was oppressed and afflicted but did not open His mouth as He was beaten by the Roman soldiers. By a perversion of justice He was taken away.
We think of the kangaroo courts as He stood before the Sanhedrin on Thursday night before His crucifixion.

He was killed, and they made His grave with the wicked. He was crucified between two thieves and buried in a rich man’s tomb, Joseph of Arimathea. No deceit was in His mouth, and He did not defend Himself – all the way through.

Near the end – I will allot him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong. By His righteousness, He will make many righteous.

Let me ask you, who and what does this sound like? It describes Jesus and His passion to the tee. It is Jesus. The same Jesus who was promised wants to have a special place in your life. This is the call today, the appeal. His promises are as good for today as yesterday. They are good for today as well as all the way into eternity. This One, who came to be our Savior, is still available to all who call upon Him in faith.

If you have done some things in the past and are wondering where you stand with God, if you think that maybe even God would never be able to forgive you – Jesus offers pardon for our sin. He points us to the cross. Our relationship with God was broken. Yet God intended for us to live in a personal relationship with Him.

At the cross, the Suffering Servant, Jesus, gave His life. He poured out His blood, to make our pardon happen. On Him our iniquity was laid, and the promise is He will make many righteous in God’s sight as sin is covered by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Now the door is open to have a relationship with God that will last all the way into eternity as we receive His forgiveness.

To the individual who might be feeling overwhelmed by life, who is facing so many obstacles and hardships, this One, the Suffering Servant, offers the peace of His presence. He promises, I will never leave you orphaned or on your own. I will walk alongside of you. I will carry you through the roughest of times. You can count on me. It gives a person peace to know, I am not alone.

To those who struggle with prayer . . .
Sometimes I feel like I’m just talking to the ceiling, a person might say.

Jesus tells them, I am interceding for you. I am at the right hand of the Father. I am connected with Him. I bring all of your groans, all of your hurts, before Him. You are being heard. I am interceding for you.

Turning to Jesus for help is the wisest thing you will ever do. He’s like no other.

I’m reminded of a story from the book of Acts, chapter 8. It’s the story about a fellow named Philip, who was known to be a real evangelist. One day the Spirit nudged him to go out to the countryside and wait by a road. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a chariot coming down the road. As it got closer, Philip realized it was not a local person, but an African. As the chariot came even closer, he heard the person reading our passage from Isaiah 53. The Spirit nudged Philip to approach the chariot where an Ethiopian from the royal court sat. Phillip asked, “Do you know what you’re reading about?”

The Ethiopian answered, “How can I understand unless someone explains this to me? Come on up and talk to me about this.”

Philip, using Isaiah 53, told the story of Jesus and His sacrificial death. He told how Jesus fulfilled the promises He gave to His people as He went to the cross and rose from the grave. He is the fulfillment of God’s promises. All who trust in Him shall have salvation and a new life with God.

The Ethiopian was so taken by this Good News message that he asked, “What does it take to get in on this?”

Phillip replied, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.”

The Ethiopian asked, “Well, I see a pond over there. What’s to prevent me from being baptized?” Then he pulled the chariot over, and Philip baptized him in the water. When the Ethiopian came up out of the water, Philip had a new brother in Christ. God had a new sheep for His flock as the Ethiopian jumped back into his chariot and headed home with the Good News of Jesus Christ ringing in his ears. Even today, a great Christian church exists in the country of Ethiopia.

I want to use the Ethiopian’s statement made to Philip – What is to prevent me from being baptized and receiving these promises? My question is, What is to prevent you from receiving these promises? The answer is this: Absolutely nothing! The only thing that could possibly prevent you from receiving all this is your self and your own foolish pride. Jesus stands ready to give you life – His life – a life like no other.

This our Good News for today. Receive Him. He will give you a life like no other. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer