Jesus Is: Mighty

Matthew 8:23-27

Dear friends:

I live in the upper Midwest of the United States and every once in a while during the summer months the sirens will go off outside warning us that there is a severe storm headed our way, and we ought to take cover. It might be a tornado or a serious thunderstorm; it can all be a bit unnerving. Some of you might live in areas where there are other kinds of natural storms, such as hurricanes, and those can be very frightening as well. These storms of nature are just a part of living on planet Earth. We know that storms happen. But there are other kinds of storms we will experience in life as well that sometimes catch us by surprise. There are relational storms, as marriages struggle or we find ourselves in the midst of a divorce. It could be a lack of friendships in your life or feeling cut off from people and all alone. That’s stormy weather. Or there are health storms: a cancer that’s eating up your body or chronic illness that won’t go away. Or financial storms: a loss of employment, unexpected losses in your investments, or healthcare costs. There’s the storm of loss, and the storm of transition. And if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ you’ve learned that following Jesus doesn’t exempt you from facing those storms in life.

How do you handle the storms? I mean let’s face it, it’s so easy for us to get scared, and panic, and doubt. Such is the case with the disciples in today’s story. This episode we read follows a conversation the Jesus had with some admirers who said they were interested in following Him. He and the disciples were just about ready to get into a boat to go over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and these admirers, along with the disciples, had witnessed Jesus doing miraculous healings earlier on, and they wanted in. Well Jesus warns them not to expect easy, smooth sailing if they follow him. It’s a high commitment thing. Then Matthew says “when Jesus got into the boat His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm.” No easy sailing with Jesus. The Sea of Galilee was known for its sudden storms. It would come up out of nowhere, and they could get nasty. And this one must of been a doozy, because even the seasoned fisherman in the boat were among the panicked as the boat was being swamped by water. And as a whole, Jewish folks didn’t really like the sea – they were afraid of it, they were landlubbers. They saw the sea as a dark, evil, power of fear. So this storm had to have made the disciples’ stress level skyrocket all the more.

Now amazingly, Jesus is sound asleep in the back of the boat as they’re trying to keep it afloat. But when things look out of control, they wake Him up. “SAVE US, LORD, WE’RE PERISHING!” There appears to be some faith here on their part, right? But Jesus responds in an interesting way. In the midst of the storm, before He even addresses a storm, He uses it as a teachable moment. He speaks to them. “Why are you afraid, oh you of little faith?” In the midst of the waves filling the boat, the wind whistling around them, Jesus seems to be scolding them for being afraid. He calls them people of little faith. And notice: He gets after them not for “un-faith”. He doesn’t say “you’re all out of faith.” He gets after them for their little, wavering faith in the face of a frightening storm. They seem to have forgotten His power and authority that they had witnessed earlier in the chapter. Their faces show sheer panic as they wake Him up, not confident belief they still haven’t figured out who He really is. And they don’t know the plans that God had for Him: to go to a cross, to pay for the sins of the world, and rise again. They didn’t realize He was the Son of God. They don’t have the advantage that we have of reading the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They don’t have the big picture. Even though, I have to admit that even in knowing the big picture, I still can sometimes find myself panicking and despairing when storms hit in my life and things are overwhelming. How about you?

Anyway, back to the story. After the rebuke towards the disciples, Jesus stands up in the boat, and he rebukes the wind and the sea. And there is immediately a great calm. With only a word He stills the storm. Can you imagine the feelings of those disciples sitting in that boat, now on that calm, still sea? There had to have been awe and holy fear and wonder. It would take your breath away, wouldn’t it? Matthew says “they marveled, saying ‘what sort of Man is this, that even the wind and sea obey Him?’” As if they didn’t expect Him to be able to stop the storm.

This story is another epiphany of Christ’s power and authority. He’s much more than He appears on the surface. He’s more than a teacher, miracle healer, prophet, or earthly-type of Messiah. He’s more than that – only God can do something like this, according to the stories and songs from the Old Testament. I wonder: were the disciples beginning to catch a glimpse of light regarding His identity? Perhaps. Of course, later on it will become very clear as they witness His death and His resurrection from the dead. Then they won’t be able to be still about Him, even in facing the worst of storms, like rejection and persecution for their faith and mission.

It does make me wonder, as I read a story like this: was this story saved for us, to reassure us, that even those first disciples struggled with faith and fears? And if it takes time for them to grow in faith, then maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised that it takes us time as well. And maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves (and one another) when we‘re struggling with our fears.

So, let’s talk about you. How would you describe your relationship with this Jesus? What do you think of Him, believe about Him, plan to do with Him? Are you trusting Him with everything in your life? I hope so. This story from Matthew, you see, reveals two things we need to seriously consider. First, it tells us who Jesus is. And next, it teaches us what He expects of His followers. First, He’s God in the flesh. He’s the Lord over all creation, even over storms. He is mighty, He has all power and authority. Ultimately, He defeated the greatest storm that humanity faces: death, when He rose from the dead as the first fruits of the resurrection. Just listen to this description of our mighty Jesus in the book of Colossians. Here’s what it says about Him: He is the image of the invisible God, the Firstborn of all creation, for by Him all things were created in Heaven and on Earth. Visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities, all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. In Him, all things hold together. In this story, when they call on Jesus they addressed Him as “Lord”, being God. I don’t know if they meant that, but… Friend, have you called him “Lord” in your life? Have you entrusted your whole life to His direction and care? Because Jesus is Lord over all creation, even the storms. He is our Savior, our rescuer, our powerful leader worth following and trusting in all circumstances. He’s definitely the One you want in your boat.

A Christian sailor named Gorman Foch once wrote in a letter to his worried parents “If you hear that our ship went down don’t worry. The sea is but a puddle in my Savior’s hand, and nothing can snatch me from that hand.” After his resurrection, Jesus will announce to His disciples that “all authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to Me” by His Heavenly Father. That He is sovereign and holds all of us in the palm of His hand. He has the final word over this world, and we see in the Gospels that He actually cares about us, He loves us. The palm of that hand that holds us is a nail-pierced palm, for our sake. He is mighty.

Next, Jesus says “why are you afraid?” which communicates to us that He wants us to trust Him in every situation of life, even in the storms. Storms will come our way, it’s part of living in a broken world. We are not exempt as followers of Christ Jesus, as we see in the story today. But know this: we are not abandoned. He is with us. He’s in the boat. Don’t panic! He’s Lord, and He will deliver us through the storms of life. Trust Him. He’s promised that nothing can snatch you from His hand. You are His forever, as you follow Him. As the sometimes beaten up, imprisoned, and tortured, and threatened  apostle Paul assures some Roman Christians with these words: “for I am sure that neither death nor life nor angels nor rulers nor things present nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Friends, Paul is not simply waxing eloquent here. These wonderful words of assurance come from years of personal experience with Christ Jesus in his boat. When he says “I am sure”, he’s sure of it because Jesus has been in his boat. He’s “convinced”, as some interpretations of that statement put it. And He is with you. If you are His follower,  the risen Jesus is in the boat with you. Believe this, rejoice and be glad. The King of Kings and the Lord of Lords and sovereign over the universe, Who knows you and loves you and went to the cross to rescue you and rose again for you is with you. When the storms hit, He’s whispering in your ear: “be still, and know that I am God.” When everything seems to be falling apart, as the winds of adversity blow into your life, you can confidently pray “Jesus help me. I surrender this to you.” When your sin and guilt weighs you down because you’ve messed up again, and you feel far from God, you can confidently confess “for the sake of Jesus forgive me. Cleanse me. Renew me.” and forgiveness will come your way. When death, perhaps the greatest storm of all, comes knocking at our door, you can confidently pray with Jesus “into your hands I commit my spirit.” For Jesus has conquered the power of death, and has promised his followers, saying

Let not your hearts be troubled, you believe in God, believe also in Me. In my Father’s house there are many rooms, if it were not so would I have told you that I go and prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare that place for you I will come again, and take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.

I would like close with a story I came across about someone facing a storm. Kara Tippetts, an author and mother of four with her husband Jason, went home to Jesus on March 22, 2015 after a long struggle with breast cancer. As the cancer spread, she courageously embraced her situation, trusting God. She believed that cancer was not the point, but Jesus was. Near the end of her life Kara wrote this:

My little body has grown tired of battle, and treatment is no longer helping. But what I see, what I know, what I have is Jesus. He has still given me breath, and with it I pray I would live well and fade well. By degrees doing both, living and dying, as I have moments left to live. I get to draw my people close, kiss them and tenderly speak love over their lives. I get to pray into eternity my hopes and fears for the moments of my loves. I get to laugh and cry and wonder over Heaven. I do not feel like I have the courage for this journey, but I have Jesus—and He will provide. He has given me so much to be grateful for, and that gratitude, that wondering over His love, will cover us all. And it will carry us—carry us in ways we cannot comprehend.

Friend, if you are His follower, aren’t you glad that the mighty, powerful, faithful Jesus Christ is in the boat with you? Don’t be afraid. Believe me, He cares for you and you can trust Him in all things.

Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Jesus Is: Calling

Matthew 4:18-22

Dear friends:

A number of years ago, Chan Gailey, football coach for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, told how he learned a little lesson in humility. He was the head coach of Alabama’s Troy State, and they were playing for a national championship. The week before the big game he was headed to the practice field when a secretary called him back for a phone call. Somewhat irritated, he told her to take a message because he was on his way practice. She responded “but it’s Sports Illustrated.” “I’ll be right there” he said. As he made his way to the building he began thinking about the upcoming article. It would be great publicity for a small school like Troy State to be in Sports Illustrated. As he got closer, he realized that a three-page article would not be sufficient to tell the whole story. Coming even closer to his office he started thinking he might be on the cover! “Should I pose, or go with an action shot?” he wondered. His head was spinning with all kinds of possibilities. When he picked up the phone and said “hello”, the person asked “is this Chan Gailey?” “Yes it is” he replied confidently. “This is Sports Illustrated, and we’re calling to let you know that your subscription is running out. Are you interested in renewing?” Coach Gailey concluded his story by saying “you are either humble or you will be humbled.”

You know, we receive all kinds of calls in life, don’t we? Junk calls, usually an automatic robotic voice: “congratulations, we have picked you to go on this trip.” Or a voice offering to update your car warranty. There’s spam and scam calls. “This is the Social Security office, and we need your Social Security number to get your account straightened out.” Fundraising calls: “this is your alma mater, we’re doing a capital campaign and we need your financial help.” Of course there are personal calls from family and friends who are checking in with us. Then there those bothersome calls from people you don’t really want to talk with because they’re irritating and interrupting your day. Surveys, for instance. Or crank calls, or prank calls, or business calls from customers, bosses, or colleagues. Some calls, though, we receive are quite memorable and important to us. I remember when my congregation called me up, said “Steve, we just voted and we want you to come and be our pastor.” Or a call from my grown-up son or daughter, “dad, we just had a baby boy!” Important calls.

Today I want to talk with you about the most important call you will ever receive in your life. Because, you see, in our passage for today we come across the calling of Andrew and Peter and James and John by Jesus. He saw these fisherman with nets in their hands by the sea of Galilee and He called out to them “follow Me.” To follow someone means to come after them. Start going, moving in their direction. Get behind Him. And they responded, amazingly. They dropped what they were doing, left behind their businesses, and followed. Everything: business, family left behind. And they traipsed after Him in faith. They had some previous exposure to Jesus according to John’s gospel. Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist. He told Andrew that Jesus was the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. Andrew was intrigued by this, and so he followed Jesus home and spent some time with Him and was convinced! He went home and told his brother Simon Peter “we found the Messiah!” And then Andrew brought Peter to meet Jesus, and then he stayed on, learning more. So later on, when Jesus comes to them and calls them by the Sea of Galilee to follow Him, they went with Him. They’d had some time, I suppose, to think about what they’d learned. They followed. They didn’t know where He would lead them, but they went in faith. And their lives were never the same after that, were they? They began following Jesus, and that involved living with Him 24/7. Getting to know Him. Learning from His wisdom as He taught them. Observing Him as He went throughout the villages, teaching and preaching and doing a miraculous miracles like the healing of people and casting out demons. They watched His compassion towards all kinds of people, and His faith in His Heavenly Father impressed them every step of the way. They were excited about Him and growing in faith as they lived with Him. After a while they experienced the thrill of even serving Him in His kingdom cause, when He authorized and sent them out on their own, two by two, to preach the good news of the kingdom of God in the villages, heal, and cast out demons. Now, it wasn’t very easy following Jesus. They would watch him face off day after day with hostile opponents from Israel’s religious establishment. And later on they would actually have to watch him die a horrific death on the cross. It was also eye-opening and life-changing that three days after that crucifixion they saw Him alive again. They also saw Him ascend to His Father in power and authority after they were given a commission by Him to go make disciples of all nations. To be His witnesses. At Pentecost they experienced the promise of the Holy Spirit being poured out upon them, just as He said, empowering them to turn their world upside down as they spread the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection. And they were changed men. Big-time changed! Their lives would never be the same after being with Christ, now filled with the Spirit. Their lives were better, more satisfying, very significant. And just think: it all began with an obedient, positive response to a call along the sea of Galilee. “Follow Me.” And from there, the adventure of a new life with Jesus Christ began for those men.

Friends, that same call has never stopped coming. That call comes to us today from risen Jesus Christ – He’s alive. He’s still calling people to follow Him. To follow Him involves stepping into a living relationship or a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. A person, you see, can still have a close walk with Jesus as those disciples did. Oh, you may not be able to see Him, but You can learn from Him and His word. Talking, listening to Him in prayer. Praising Him in worship. Serving the needs of others in His name, you’ll encounter Him. And that’s how you come to know Him in a very personal, dynamic way, and learn more and more to trust Him and believe that He really does know what is best for your life. And let me tell you what following Christ leads to: it leads to salvation. God wants all people to be saved, according to scripture. And the means of being saved is entering into a relationship with Jesus Christ, who died on a cross to pay for our sins, and rose again. He is the means to enter God’s kingdom of light, of receiving God’s forgiveness for sin, and the promise of everlasting life. He’s the Way, the Truth, the Life God wants for us, and no one comes to the Father but through Him. He told us that Himself. Following Him also leads a person to positive personal changes in one’s life. Life with Jesus is life-changing. The apostle Paul describes for us the fruit of the Spirit that God wants to put in our lives through our relationship with Jesus: love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and gentleness and generosity and self-control. Boy, that’s going to make for some rich relationships with other people besides, isn’t it? I mean, as someone once said, Jesus loves you just as you are, but He refuses to leave you that way.” He wants to make you like Himself.

We learned in this story that to follow Jesus also leads to new adventures, beyond your wildest dreams, as you receive a new eternal purpose which is challenging and satisfying. You know when He said “follow Me” he also added on “I will make you fishers of men.” As we follow Jesus and actually obey His command to be His witness to everyone, and tell everyone we know about Him with our words and our actions… As we step out in His name and fish for people right alongside of the risen Savior… As we experience the joy of being used as His instruments in this world, bringing others into a saving relationship with Christ… Let me tell you, life does not get any better than that! I can tell you that from my own personal experiences leading people to Jesus. And let me tell you whenever people have responded positively to Christ’s call to follow Him, their lives have always been changed for the better. Now I’m not saying it’s an easier life that Jesus is offering you and me. Jesus never promised that. In fact, the follower of Jesus Christ will find that he or she is not immune from the hardships of living in what we know is a sinful, broken world. And Jesus Himself tells us that following Him will involve “carrying a cross”. There will be some suffering, some sacrifice in this hostile world that rejects Him, as we bring the good news message who He is and what He has done for the world. It’s not easy, but still, it’s a much better life… No, wait a minute, let me correct myself: it’s the best life a person can have. Jesus called it “the abundant life” He came to give.

Isn’t it interesting that those first disciples that Jesus called (except for one: Judas) stayed the course in following Jesus. I mean they actually put their lives on the line for Him. They were imprisoned and beaten and martyred for Jesus. Why did they do that? Why they stick with Him? The answer to that is they had found the life they were looking for in Jesus. There were no regrets, only rejoicing in Christ.

I think of another disciple who came onto the scene later on named Paul, who was [once] a great persecutor of the faith, and he wrote these words: “for me to live is Christ.” He said there’s nothing compared to knowing and serving Jesus Christ, the rest is just garbage in comparison. He said in his life could be expressed a simply being compelled by the love of Christ working in him.

I’d like to ask you a personal question today: have you responded positively to the most important call you will ever receive? The call from Jesus to follow Him? Oh, I’m not talking about some sort of “easy believism”: say “yes” and say a prayer and go on with our life as if nothing has changed. No, I’m asking have you given your unqualified trust and obedience to the Lord of the universe, Jesus Christ? Does Jesus have the highest priority? Is your relationship with Him the supreme relationship, out of which every other relationship and activity is defined and directed? How would you answer that?

My appeal is that you not ignore or reject His call to follow, as so many do. Follow Him! I know that in life some calls I get on the phone I don’t answer because I reason with myself “I’m too busy with something more important, I don’t want to be interrupted.” Well this call is way too important for any individual to ignore. Follow Jesus with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. This is one call you do not want to miss. With the lack of good, trustworthy leadership in our world today there might be for you a certain amount of reluctance to entrust your life to anything, or to anyone, or any kind of leader. But I want you to remember this: this call comes from One who died for your sins and rose again victorious over the power of sin and death and the devil. And He sits in authority over this world, and He loves you very, very much. He died for you, He rose for you, He is the leader you can trust with your life and he has your best interests in mind. He’s been teaching me that again and again and again as I’ve walked with Him. To follow Jesus Christ and have a personal relationship with Him is life to the max.

You know, I do a lot of reading and I recently read an inspiring testimony by Dr. Rosalind Picard, a renowned professor at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). She writes that her first 20 years of life were spent thinking that religious people were ignoramuses, and that she was too smart to buy into this “God thing”. But through a series of encounters with some Christians that she admired, she came to realize her arrogance and that she was being a fool, snubbing “the greatest mind in the cosmos” as she put it. She asked Jesus to be the Lord, the leader of her life. She followed Jesus. She writes:

Have you ever tried to assemble something mechanical, and it only kind of works?  Maybe the wheels spin, but not smoothly.  Then you realize you were missing a piece.  When you finally put it together correctly, it works beautifully.  This is how it felt when I handed my life over to God: I thought it had worked fine before, but after it was ‘fixed,’ it worked exponentially better.  That’s not to say nothing bad ever happened to me – far from it.  But in all things, good and bad, I could count on God’s guidance, comfort, and protection. So the day I walk humbly alongside the most amazing companion, Jesus Christ, the most amazing companion anyone could ask for, I am filled with desire to keep learning and exploring.

Do you have that kind of relationship with Jesus? You can. As Jesus called Peter and Andrew and James and John and the apostle Paul, and millions of others since, and Rosalind Picard, Jesus is calling you. “Follow me, I’ll make you fishers of men.” Commit yourself to follow Jesus. Trust Him. Obey Him. Serve Him. And you will discover for yourself that He is the way to go, that He is the truth to believe, and He is the life that God wants for you.

Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Jesus Is: The Light You Need

Matthew 4:12-17

Dear friends:

When I was a little boy my family visited the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park out in Montana where I’m from. Of course, we wanted to do a tour of the limestone caverns, which are considered the largest and most spectacular in the northwestern part of the United States. Now what I remember about the tour, first of all, is that I was a little nervous and scared at the thought of going down deep into these underground caves. It was scary enough seeing the bats flying around at the entrance to the cave as we prepared to go in. Then we descended deeper and deeper and deeper into the earth. It got chillier, and damper, and darker. The guide at one point turned off the lights just to show us how dark it could get. We couldn’t see anything – you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face! The blackness was disorienting and paralyzing. We didn’t move, and I was scared. Then suddenly he turned on his flashlight. One tiny flashlight lit up that huge cavern. The tour group let out a big sigh of relief as this one small light dispelled the darkness. We went through the rest of the tour and I breathed a sigh of relief when it was all over and we stepped back out into the warm, beautiful, Montana- “big sky country” sunlight. I don’t know about you, but I prefer light over dark.

Matthew, in our passage for today, talks about light and darkness. He tells us that as Jesus made His headquarters for His ministry in the village of Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee, that this was actually a fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy. Listen to his words again:

The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.

This passage comes from Isaiah 9. In Isaiah’s time God’s chosen people were living in the darkness of their sin and God’s judgment. They had turned to idols for their security instead of the God of Israel. Darkness prevailed. In fact, all of God’s commandments were being brazenly broken by His people, again and again. And now God’s judgment was looming upon them – a world power was about to take away their land. They were looking for answers in the wrong places, and now are stumbling around in the dark trying to fix things, according to Isaiah, who spoke on God’s behalf. They were lost! The future looked bleak for them. They would be invaded, deported, and live in exile as punishment, Isaiah told them. But in Isaiah 9, there’s a great announcement from Isaiah about a hopeful future for them. There would come light! God’s saving light. Isaiah goes on to describe the promised one from God – a King – coming Who would be their Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. Their light would be given them. As Isaiah predicted, as you know, they lost the land just as he said and they were exiled. God’s punishment was carried out, and they lived in exile for many, many years. Eventually they were allowed to return home, thanks to God’s help. But after they returned to their land, there was still no Messiah King yet to rule over them. They lived under the domination of various world powers, so they looked forward to the day when the Messianic King God promised would arrive and make things right for Israel, just like was described in Isaiah 9.

Now, in today’s story Matthew announces:

The time you’ve been waiting for has arrived! Here is that light that Isaiah was talking about. It’s Jesus! He has come to overcome the darkness of the world. A new day is dawning, even in the region of the shadow of death itself.

We learn in this statement that Jesus is a light for all kinds of people, not just Jewish folks. This area, where Jesus was beginning His ministry, was Jewish and pagan. It lay aside the international trade routes, with all kinds of people with all kinds of beliefs and religions walking around. Jesus, you see, had come for all people sitting in the darkness of this world. Everybody needs the Light. It’s worth noting also that the rabbis back then used “Light” as a name for the Messiah that was promised to come, and “Light” was used to describe God Himself. For instance, Psalm 27 begins with the line “the Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear?” And God’s glory is described as a great light.

So now we have this announcement: the Light has come. Old Testament prophecies fulfilled, and Matthew finishes this text “so from that time on Jesus began to preach saying ‘repent for the kingdom of Heaven,’” Matthew’s way of saying the kingdom of God, “’is at hand.’” In other words, God’s promised Light of salvation has arrived. “Turn to me,” Jesus says, “and enter into the kingdom of God’s light.” You see, God did not create you and me to live in darkness, but in His light. Darkness is talked of negatively in this passage for very good reason.

Everyone knows that we need light physically. Without the sun we’d freeze to death in the darkness. In the darkness, crops can’t grow, plants can’t go through the process to give off oxygen for us to breathe. We also know that we need light emotionally. We human beings become depressed when we’re living in darkness, when it’s gray out, in the gray and darkness of winter. Many of us have a “sad lamp” to try to overcome the depression. And isn’t it interesting that when things are bad or feeling bad we talk of them as “dark times”. Fear comes with that darkness as well, as we think of children being afraid of the dark. Light gives confidence. And we need light from an intellectual standpoint as well. We talk about it in that way. Light shows us the truth. For example, it shows us the bend in the road when we’re driving at night so we don’t go off the road or hit something that’s in the roadway. And we talk of then being “enlightened by the truth” in books and in science and so on. When something is revealed to us, we discover something, we talk of “the light goes on in our head” and how good that feels.

So that’s why darkness serves as such a good metaphor for humanity’s spiritual predicament. And it shows how important light is for us. Darkness represents (in the Bible) evil and ignorance and helplessness and hopelessness and lostness and death itself. When we live apart from God we’re living in the dark. We’re operating under the Prince of darkness, Satan. We stumble around in the darkness of sin and death, and we cannot get ourselves out of it even if we try. We are totally in the dark, ignorant, about how to fix it. Oh, we try artificial means to bring some light into our personal lives: money and possessions and relationships and success and doing good and being good, moral people and earning God’s favor. But these attempts don’t really work. They’re only temporary, fleeting, and they fall short. And when we look into our world and we see how dark it has become some days, we might turn to the government, or to economics, or education, or technology for the light, but they fall short as well.

As human beings created by God we need real Light, we need God’s Light to survive and live spiritually. That’s how we’re wired. Without His Light, we’re in a mess. We’re in a terrible predicament. And Matthew’s gospel announces to us “Light has arrived, His name is Jesus!” One day later on this Jesus will even refer to Himself as the “Light of the world”, that whoever comes to Him will not need to stumble around in the darkness. Jesus, you see, is the Light we need. His teaching and healing brings light. His suffering and dying and rising will give light and life to all who come to Him. You get around Jesus and His light exposes the truth of our sinfulness. It’s like sitting under the dentist’s lamp when going for a checkup: all the flaws in our face show up. His light turns us and leads us to the truth, not only about ourselves, but about God and God’s heart. He tells us when you’ve looked into His face you look into the face of God. And he talks to us of our need for God; that we’re incomplete without God in our lives. His light reminds us of what is good and true. It can be trusted for what is safe and what is unsafe. What is hard for us, what is good for us, life-giving. His light brings us a steady stream of joy, even in the midst of darkest circumstances, because His presence is with us and also in us.

Think about this: when Jesus died on the cross for our sin, darkness fell over the land, didn’t it? He was descending into darkness at that time so that we could be brought into His marvelous light, God’s eternal light. Someone once said “without Christ we’re like a ship lost in the open sea in a dense fog, groping around for the eternal shore, waiting with beating hearts for someone to dispel the darkness with the light of salvation.” And this is what Christ has done for us: He’s our light. The apostle Paul in Colossians describes believers in Christ as “saints who live in Christ’s light” and he says “Christ has delivered us from the domain of darkness. He’s transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Delivered, transferred from darkness into light. Christ is that Light.

I have a personal question for you today: are you living in the darkness or in the light? Have you been delivered and transferred out of darkness into the marvelous light of God? If your answer is “no, I’m in the dark,” there’s no need for you to sit in the darkness any longer. Let me assure you of that. There’s no need to be away from God and His Light. There’s no need to go through life fearful and scared and nervous and lost and hopeless, because the good news that’s announced to us today is “the Light has come!”

And how do we get in on the gracious gift of this light? Jesus tells us in his first sermon that was read in the passage: repent. To repent is basically to admit you can’t save yourself and come to the light of Jesus Christ. Turn to Him and believe in Jesus and what he’s done for you at the cross and the tomb. Don’t just come the Light though – walk in the Light. Follow Him the rest of your days. Listen and obey Him. You do that by daily opening those Gospels to let Him speak to you, to teach you. It’s the way to go. It’s a wise way to live, Old Testament scripture tells us, “God’s word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.” And share the Light with others. He shone the light of His love on you, now reflect His love to others with your own kind words and actions. And, of course, tell people about what He’s done for all of us; let that Light shine so that others might come to the saving light of Jesus Christ.

Oh friend, Jesus is the Light every one of us needs. God wants to light up your life and give you a brand new day. God wants to put this old gospel song in your life:

I wandered so aimless, life filled with sin
I wouldn’t let the dear Savior in
Then Jesus came like a stranger in the night
Praise the Lord! I saw the light!
Oh, I saw the light, I saw the light
No more darkness, no more night
Now I’m so happy, no sorrow in sight
Praise the Lord! I saw the light!
Praise the Lord! I saw the light!

Come to the Light of Jesus Christ! Come now!

Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

When the King Moves In

Revelation 3:15-20

Dear friends:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus Is: The Lamb

John 1:29-34

Dear Friends:

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

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

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

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

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

Regrets, shame, remorse…

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Jesus Is: God’s Son, the Servant King

Matthew 3:13-17

Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

Pastor Steve Kramer

Have a Happy New Year With Jesus

John 1:1, 14, 16-18

Dear Friends:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God's
Riches
At
Christ's
Expense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

The King’s Return

Matthew  24:27-42

Dear friends:

I pray that the wonder of Christmas fills you with joy in your life of faith as we celebrate the truth that Jesus has come to the world. Jesus has been born to be our Savior!

But I want to remind you today that the same Jesus whose birth we celebrate was born to be our Savior, has promised to return for us someday. Someday the King Jesus Christ will return to establish His kingdom forever. Billy Graham once was quoted as saying “I read the last page of the Bible; it’s going to turn out all right.” Jesus taught us to pray the Lord’s Prayer “Thy kingdom come,” so as often as we pray that prayer we’re praying for Jesus to come again, to establish His kingdom. Did you know that there are 380 verses in the Scriptures about Jesus’ second coming? King Jesus is returning to Earth someday to establish His kingdom forever. And the Christian believers living in the world at that moment in time will be raptured, will be called up with Christ in the air! That’s what we read in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4. That Jesus, when that trumpet blast happens, will bring with him all the believers who have fallen asleep in the faith through the centuries of time. What a day that will be!

Can you imagine how bewildered the disciples were immediately after Easter? They had just watched their Lord die on a cross, bleeding until He breathed His last. The one they believed to be God (and the Messiah) now died and was laid in the tomb, buried behind a sealed stole. Then they rejoiced that He was raised from the dead, that He conquered death, that He was alive forever; only, on a certain day, to have Jesus float up into the sky out of their midst. And an Angel appears and says “why are you staring at the sky? Jesus, Whom you watched ascend, will come back again!” “When will that be?” No one knows the time or the day – not the Angels, not the Son of God, but only the Father.

When I was a boy I feared the rapture. I worried that I wasn’t good enough, that my faith wasn’t strong enough or sincere enough. I worried that I wasn’t obedient enough and that I would be “left behind” when Christ returns. My faith had not yet fully understood the Gospel promise. I didn’t live with the assurance of salvation – with the joy and peace of knowing that I was forgiven and saved because of what Jesus did. You see, the second coming of Jesus Christ should not be something we fear, it should be an event of great thrill! It will be a day of excitement! The first time, Jesus was born in humility and vulnerability; a little infant, powerless, lying in the manger. He was born to die on a cross to be our redeemer. But the second coming of Jesus Christ… He will come with power and great glory and every eye will see him! He’ll come in victory and triumph. So my hope is that each of us affirms our faith and lives with the assurance of our salvation and peace with God.

So there are some truths I want to unpack with you about the second coming of Jesus. When the King returns the Father has given Him authority to be judge of the world. Not everyone will go to Heaven, not because God wills it, but because they reject His love offered in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ will come as judge not with vengeance as if His patience was exhausted or He was punitive in His judgment or retaliatory. But He knows those who are His. Jesus knows those who believe in Him and those who don’t. So it says in Matthew 24 “one will be taken and one will be left behind”. In Philippians 2 it says “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess Jesus Christ is Lord.” Some will meet Jesus on that day as their longed-for Savior. But some will meet Jesus that day as their judge. Jesus said some will beat on the door and say “let us in!”, and Jesus will say “sorry, I never knew you.” So Jesus comes as judge because not everyone is a believer in Him and not everyone believes His promises to be true, so not all will go to Heaven.

Second, when the King returns it says in the scripture it’ll be like the days of Noah. Noah was a preacher of righteousness. But imagine what it was like when he began to build that big honkin’ boat (the ark) in the middle of a grassy meadow, and people would come up and ask him “why are you building a boat in the middle of this meadow?” And he, the preacher of righteousness, would say “because God is going to judge the world with a flood. But it is still a day for you to come back to God, to ask for His mercy and affirm faith.” In the days of Noah it will be a time of anarchy and violence. There will be no respect for life. Life will be cheap. We know that throughout history there are wars, but in our time period there’s terrorism – the senseless slaughter of lives of innocent people designed to induce fear in all the culture. There are more abortions committed today than ever before and it’s a tragedy in our cultured world. Life is cheap; violence is perpetrated throughout the world through human trafficking. Life is cheap; great violence, if you listen only to the news and were not a believer in Jesus as the Lord of history you’d be a pessimist. But as in the days of Noah it’ll also be a time of great apostasy. Many people falling away from the faith. Many people denying the Jesus is God. Many people abandoning the church and forsaking their faith. Worse than that, becoming mockers of our faith. It says in the time of Noah in Genesis 6:5 “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was so great on Earth that the intent or imaginations of human hearts were for evil continually.” It wasn’t just the people were weak and falling into sin, but that they were creative in their evil; that their imaginations led to crafty immorality and wickedness. The days of Noah were also times of apathy to spiritual life. The Holy Spirit calls and calls but people turn a deaf ear to the invitations of God to come and receive His love. Scoffers reject the love of Jesus Christ totally and live as their own masters. Time passes, even centuries, and the doubt grows. “Where is this Jesus you say is coming?” Many are seduced into unfaithfulness and unbelief. I remind you what it says in 2 Peter 3:8-9: “For God, a thousand years is as a day and a day as a thousand years.” You see, God is not slow. Rather God is patient, not wishing anyone to perish but hoping and longing that all would repent. It’s like Jesus’ parable of the waiting father in Luke 15: “with open arms he searches the horizon longing for his prodigals to come home.”

Third, when the King returns, when Jesus comes again, scripture says it will be suddenly, like lightning flashes across the sky. It’ll be so fast you will not be able to get yourself ready in the moment. One of the favorite lies of the devil is “you have plenty of time.” I say today is a day to come back to God. We need to live ready, trusting in the promises that Jesus offers us. So I ask you, if Jesus returned today are you ready? Are you living ready with faith in Him? I love the simple prayer that Pastor Nicky Gumbel in the Alpha Series teaches us. It has three parts to it: first “Jesus I thank you for dying on the cross for my sins.” Second, “I am sorry for my sins and rebellion and I ask you to forgive me.” Third, “come into my heart and life by your Holy Spirit and be my leader and my Lord.” The truth is that when Jesus came that first Christmas He came and accomplished our redemption. He did go to the cross! He did rise from the dead! He has completed the work of our salvation. Jesus has already made us ready. Like the words of the old hymn “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less”:

When Christ shall come with trumpets sound
Oh may I then in Him be found
Clothed in His righteousness alone
Redeemed to stand before His throne

When the King returns, when Jesus comes again, for Christians it is a thrilling day of great victory! He returns in power and glory, and His reign of love and peace will be forever! He will give life to all His people. Christ’s light and power will dispel all darkness. No more sin, no more sickness nor sorrow, no more death nor grief, no more hatred nor killing. Jesus will transform everything and make it beautiful. He will heal all that is broken; not only the world but the individual hearts and souls of people. It will be like a wedding day – a day of joy when we who are the bride of Christ will be united forever with Jesus the Lord, our King, our Bridegroom. What day that will be!

When I was a freshman in college at Wheaton College outside of Chicago, Illinois, my girlfriend Denise (who is now my wife) rode the train to downtown Chicago train station and this Iowa boy from the rural areas drove to downtown metro Chicago to meet her at the Chicago train station. I remember what joy was in my heart as I saw her get off the train and embraced her in love! I might’ve even given her a kiss. It reminds me of a story told by preacher Adrian Rogers who told of an old preacher who went down to the train station and saw a parable of life. As the train pulled into the station and the people began to get off the train from the travels, there were loved ones they are to greet them with hugs and kisses, and it was a time of rejoicing. But in the same moment, the preacher saw another man handcuffed to a law enforcement officer. The man was soon to be departing for prison. This prisoner was also hugging his wife and children, but he was weeping in sadness because they would soon be separated permanently. Wonder of wonders – the same train which brought such joy and happiness to one group brought great sorrow and separation to another. That’s what it will be like when the King returns. When Jesus comes again, it’ll be just like that. For we who believe it will be a moment of great joy! But for those who have renounced Christ or lived as if God does not exist it’ll be a day of great sorrow, when the truth of His coming will be revealed. I ask you: are you at peace with God? Jesus has come and accomplished our salvation. Jesus was born to be our Savior and someday He’s going to come again to pour His mercy and grace out to all believers. Today is a wonderful day to ask Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and with assurance still more sure to affirm that your faith believes in Jesus Christ as your Savior and your God. So together we pray amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

 

Pastor Lee Laaveg

He Will Rescue You

Matthew  1:18-25

It’s only three days until Christmas. During these past few weeks, people all around the world have been preparing for this day by shopping and cooking, baking, decorating, attending Christmas programs and concerts. All this activity has been happening around a 2,000-year-old story. It is the story of the birth of Jesus.

For some, this story is meant for children to re-enact in a pageant and nothing more. It is cute and charming. Others view it as a made-up folktale, a legend of sorts, or a myth not to be taken seriously. Others will listen with a sympathetic ear hearing it as a sad story of social injustice about a poor couple forced to leave home by an oppressive government. There was no place for poor Mary to give birth except in cattle stall.

But for the believer in Jesus Christ, the Christmas story is so much more! The Christmas story is a rescue story. It is Good News of the power of God for salvation. In Matthew’s version of the Christmas story, after a lengthy genealogy revealing Jesus’ family tree, it begins this way:

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way . . .”

The story in Matthew is not as glitzy as Luke’s version of the birth. There are no shepherds, no choir of singing angels, or a stable scene with animals. Yet it is every bit as profound and loaded with good news for you and me.

We find Joseph center stage in this episode. He’s troubled because he just learned Mary is pregnant, and he knows he is not the biological father. Joseph is a good person. Matthew describes him as just, righteous. So Joseph was going to quietly divorce Mary to save her the embarrassment and condemnation from the rest of the village of Nazareth. But just before he follows through on this, he has a dream in which he receives a message from God. An angel speaks to him.

Some people wonder if God speaks in dreams. My response is, according to Matthew and elsewhere in Scripture, He does. Remember Joseph and his coat of many colors in Genesis, God speaking to Abraham in a dream, and several other places as well.

“Do you believe in angels?” people ask. Absolutely! Angel stories, or angelophonies as they are called, are present throughout Scripture. More importantly, Jesus talked about angels as being real. The message Joseph heard from the angel is so central to our story. Hear these words again:

“Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to move ahead with this marriage. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.”

“Joseph, son of David” tells us Jesus is from the line of King David. He was ultimately the One promised by God as a King to reign forever in David’s lineage.

“This child is conceived by the Holy Spirit.”

What? Joseph must’ve initially thought. This is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard! This baby in Mary’s womb is God’s child? She’s still a virgin? Impossible!

This kind of reaction, by the way, is still given to this day by those who are skeptics of the Christian faith. This is outrageous thinking they say. Scientifically impossible!

I believe God can do anything He wants to do, don’t you? The God who created everything, who threw the sun and stars and the moon into space, who created this beautiful, awesome complex world can make a virgin birth happen as well.

A pastor, Peter Larson, one time wrote,

 “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.’”

The name this angel talks about – Jesus – is really the Good News here. It means, “God saves,” for He will save His people from their sins. Jesus is the Savior. He’s not here to save people from the power of Rome or another exile as in the past. He’s here to save people from something bigger, much deadlier – their sins. Jesus is the only one who can do this.

Many people find it difficult to accept that there is only one way to rescue us from sin and judgment. Listen to a Christian apologist, Greg Koukl, use the following analogy to show how Jesus is the one and only solution we need.

“Most ailments need particular antidotes. Increasing the air pressure in your tires will not fix a troubled carburetor. Aspirin will not dissolve a tumor. Cutting up credit cards will not wipe out debt that is already owed. If your water pipes are leaking, you call a plumber, not an oncologist. But a plumber will not cure cancer. Any adequate solution must solve the problem that needs to be solved, and singular problems need singular solutions. Some antidotes are one-of-a-kind cures for one-of-a-kind ailments. Sometimes only one medicine will do the job, as much as we may like it to be otherwise.

“Humankind faces a singular problem – people are broken, and the world is broken because our friendship with God has been broken, ruined by human rebellion and sin. Humans – you and I – are guilty, enslaved, lost, and dead. All of us, everyone. Everywhere. The guilt must be punished, the debt must be paid, the slave must be purchased. Promising better conduct in the future will not mend the crimes as of the past. No, a rescuer must ransom the slaves, a kindred brother must pay the family debt, a substitute must shoulder the guilt.”

There is no other way to escape. Jesus is our one and only solution, our Savior.

Matthew inserts at this point,

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet Isaiah. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son. They shall call his name Immanuel, which means, God with us.”

The Lord’s identity is confirmed as well. Who is this Jesus? He is “God with us.” God in the flesh. God has not abandoned His world, even though we may deserve it. Instead, He steps into the world to be with us. He experiences everything we experience – the limitations, the pain, the suffering, and so on.

This story teaches us two wonderful truths, which are meant to shock us and throw us at the same time. This is really good news for you and me.

First of all, Jesus is Immanuel. He is God with us. God has entered our world to be with us. He understands us. We have a great high priest who sympathizes with us, who can say I know exactly what you mean. I’ve been there.

But Jesus is also God for us. He came to save us from our sins. We have all sinned against God. We have fallen short of the glory of God. We are rebellious and self-centered, which keeps us separated from God, for the consequences of sin is death. On our own, we are helplessly, hopelessly lost. We cannot solve this by ourselves. But God in Christ has come to rescue, to save us, to break the chains of sin and death, and set us free to live in a saving eternal relationship with our Creator.

Jesus will later go to the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. He who knew no sin became sin and endured our punishment. He bore God’s wrath for sin and bridged the gap between God and humankind once and for all.

This, my friends, is why Christmas is such Good News meriting great celebration. God has come to rescue you and me. Forgiveness and eternal life have arrived through Jesus Christ. We are not on our own. We have a Savior. He is Immanuel. God has come to be with us, to save us.

I like these words from Pastor Tim Keller, which summarizes my thoughts well.

“If Jesus didn’t come, the story of Christmas is one more moral paradigm to crush you. If Jesus didn’t come, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere around these Christmas stories that say we need to be sacrificing, we need to be humble, we need to be loving. All it will do is crush you into the ground considering that.

“But if Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh, you are going to know much more about God. If Jesus is who He says He is, we have a 500-page autobiography from God in a sense, and our understanding will be vastly more personal and specific than any philosophy or religion could give us.

Because of Christmas, look at what God has done to get you to know Him personally. If the Son would come all this way to become a real person to you, don’t you think the Holy Spirit will do anything in His power to make Jesus a real person to you in your heart? Christmas is an invitation by God, which says, Look at what I’ve done to come near to you. Now draw near to me. I don’t want to be a concept. I want to be a friend. What good news that is!

The climax of the story is Joseph’s response. He trusts. He obeys. He will dedicate himself to raising and protecting this child, as we see a few verses later when he has to quickly take the family to Egypt.

Hear these words again:

“When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel commanded. He took Mary as his wife. He did not have sexual relations with her, and when the son was born, he called his name Jesus.”

The rest is history.

We are reminded that the Christmas story calls for a response from us. We respond. Joseph responded. We’re not to simply listen, nonchalantly nod to this story, and then put it back on the shelf until next year as if it didn’t happen. We are to do something with it, do something about it. One might have any number of responses to this Jesus who came humbly and helplessly the first time around but will come again someday in power and majesty once and for all to rule as Lord over the world.
• Some will reject the story. They will reject the offer God is making as preposterous.
• Others might respond with repentance and faith. They will turn around and come home to Jesus Christ and trust their life to His care and leadership, saying ‘yes’ to Him. They will trust in what He did for them at the cross and the empty tomb.
• Believers in Christ will respond with praise and thanksgiving, a grateful heart, much like the Apostle Paul who wrote, “Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift.” On Christmas we say, thank you.
• Other believers in Christ will experience a renewed trust in Him and a renewed commitment to being a great-commandment and great-commission person – loving God, loving neighbors, telling everyone they can about Jesus.

What will it be for you?

You’ve just heard the greatest story about the greatest person who ever lived, who did the greatest thing anyone could ever do for you. The greatest thing you can ever do with this story is to believe and follow Jesus.

May the words of this Christmas carol be our prayer today:

♬”O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray.
Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels, The great glad tidings tell.
O come to us, abide with us our Lord Immanuel.”♪

Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

A Blessed Promise to Hang Onto

 Matthew 11:2-6

Second thoughts are something we all experience from time to time in life. For instance, I remember a woman saying to me in my office, I’m having second thoughts about marrying this individual. Someone else said to me along the way, You know, I’m headed toward retirement but I’m having second thoughts. I’m not sure what I will do with my time. Someone else might say, I’m having second thoughts about this relocation I’ve made in life or a purchase I’ve made.

Have you ever had second thoughts about Jesus? I wouldn’t be surprised if you are nodding your head to this question. Second thoughts can even happen in our faith life. Someone might have second thoughts about Jesus because He isn’t meeting their expectations. They say, My life isn’t going all that well. It is filled with problems. I have pain in my life. I thought Jesus would prevent that. Or perhaps you’re having second thoughts because someone you admire has rejected Jesus and their rationale is challenging your own belief in Him.

Second thoughts can happen as the result of unexplained suffering and evil, which can cause intellectual doubts. It’s not unusual. The important thing though is what you do with second thoughts when they come.

We have a story before us today I think is helpful. A preacher named John the Baptist is having second thoughts about Jesus. John is in prison for preaching a repentance message and pointed people to the coming kingdom of God. He also publicly denounced King Herod’s marriage as illegitimate, which angered Herod, so he had John arrested.

In our story, John is sitting in prison waiting and wondering if he will ever get out, and if not, was he wrong in his thinking about Jesus? Why isn’t He helping me? John wondered. Jesus had been baptized by John, and John told his disciples that Jesus is the One they had been waiting for. There goes the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. John was quite excited about Jesus arriving on the scene.

But now we find him in today’s passage feeling confused and puzzled, struggling a bit. Disappointed. What he has heard about Jesus’ ministry so far hasn’t been very exciting, and he is having second thoughts about Him. Jesus isn’t acting according to John’s expectations. John had predicted the wrath of God – the ax is being laid to the tree, fire and brimstone and judgment. But John is not hearing any wrath of God in Jesus’ message. There is no judgment or ax or fire and brimstone. Other than a few miracles here and there, not much success or momentum has occurred as John had expected. He must have wondered, If Jesus is the One, why am I still sitting here in prison? I’m one of the good guys!

Have you ever asked that question when life isn’t going well? Why doesn’t Jesus get me out of this?

Frederick Buechner, a wonderful Christian writer wrote about John the Baptist’s thoughts in his book, Peculiar Treasures, a Biblical Who’s Who. His words might help us understand John’s questioning. Listen to this:

John apparently had second thoughts about Jesus later on, however, and it’s no great wonder.

  • Where John preached grim justice and pictured God as a steely-eyed thrasher of grain, Jesus preached forgiving love and pictured God as the host to the marvelous party or a father who can’t bring himself to throw his children out even when they spit in his eye.
  • Where John said people had better save their skins before it was too late, Jesus said it was God who saved their skins, and even if you blow your bankroll on liquor and sex like the prodigal son, it still wasn’t too late.
  • Where John ate locusts and wild honey in the wilderness with the church crowd, Jesus ate what He felt like in Jerusalem with as sleazy a bunch as you could expect to find.
  • Where John crossed to the other side of the street if he saw sinners heading his way, Jesus seems to have preferred the company of the stewardship committee and the world Council of Churches rolled into one.
  • Where John baptized, Jesus healed.

John is troubled. He is struggling. Am I wrong about Jesus? He needs confirmation of some sort. So he decides to get to the bottom of it by sending a couple of his followers to ask Jesus this question: Are you the one who is to come – Messiah of Israel – or should we look for another?

When you think about it, this is a loaded question. John is being very blunt. He is communicating his second thoughts and personal doubts about Jesus to Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t miss a beat when He hears this question. He is not angry or resentful. He doesn’t write John off saying, I’ve had it with him. How dare he question me! Instead, He responds,

“Go back and tell John what you hear and see. The blind see; the lame walk; those who have leprosy are cleansed; the deaf hear; the dead are raised back to life, and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor.”

Jesus’ response is actually meant to be words of reassurance and encouragement for John. First Jesus says, Listen to the report from your men, John. The day you and the Old Testament prophets have been pointing to is actually happening. There are the signs! The kingdom has begun to arrive! Kingdom miracles are taking place. Good News is being preached. Kingdom news is delivered to the poor in spirit. Lives are getting blessed and changed for the better.

Jesus is pointing to the fulfillment of verses in Isaiah 35 and Isaiah 61, which Isaiah used to describe what will happen when the new day of the kingdom and the Messiah comes. The blind will see, the lame will walk, the dead are raised, Good News will be preached to the poor. This is meant to be reassuring evidence for John. There is your evidence, John.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He follows this word of reassurance with a word of promise, maybe tinged with a gentle bit of chiding of John the Baptist for his doubts. Jesus says, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” It’s a promise of blessedness. God’s blessings are a promise of joy actually.

First, we look at the word, blessed. This language is found in the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew chapter 5. Jesus says,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

These statements are referred to in church circles as the Beatitudes.

Blessed can also be interpreted as happy. Happy are the poor in spirit. But Jesus is talking about more than a temporal or circumstantial feeling attached to happiness. Being blessed is the state of well-being, which belongs to those who respond in faith to Christ. It’s a joyous state of favor in God’s eyes.

Joy! Jesus says Blessed is he who takes no offense. The word “offense” is the Greek word scandalon, from which we get the word scandalized. It is also used as a stumbling block. Jesus says Blessed is the one who takes no offense on account of me. In other words, blessed is the one who doesn’t reject me or turn away from me, isn’t scandalized by me, who doesn’t trip over me. Instead, they do just the opposite. They trust me even though they may not always understand everything about me, or I don’t quite fit into their own personal expectations. Blessed is the one who sticks with me.

Faith. The person who doesn’t fall away from me will have blessings from God. Joy. Jesus is saying, Trust me, John. Hang in there with me. Perhaps your expectations of me need to be reconfigured or reconsidered. There’s no need to look for another. The truth is, there is no other. I am the one. So stick with me and you will have blessedness from God. I promise.

Jesus is basically asking us to stretch our understanding to fit a different model of the Messiah from what we may have believed – a magical problem-solver and giver of good things. We need to change our expectations and simply believe Him as He is.

We don’t know what John the Baptist did with his message from Jesus. We are not told. But I have to believe Jesus’ words gave John reassurance and the strength and comfort he needed as he lingered miserably in a dungeon until his dying day when he was beheaded. Trust me, John, Jesus says, and you will be blessed.

But enough about John the Baptist and what he did with this promise from Jesus. Let’s talk about you. How is your relationship with the Lord Jesus these days? Are you trusting Him with your life for your very salvation? I hope so. Or are you having second thoughts and getting to a place where you’ve followed Him for a while in your life but you are struggling right now? Your expectations have been disappointed. You feel a little beaten up, a little shaky. It can happen to anyone.

Satan, by the way, loves to play with your mind to destroy your faith. So if you are having second thoughts today, this story is especially for you. I can’t help but appreciate the story because it reminds me in my own moments of second thoughts, that even John the Baptist, who was described by Jesus as the greatest man born of woman, a Hall of Famer of the faith and loved and served God faithfully to the end, had his moments – just like me.

Second thoughts and doubts come. It’s not unusual. Here’s the big idea we learned.

Don’t walk away from Jesus. Instead, walk toward Him as John did. Ask your questions, check the evidence in His word, listen to the testimonies of other believers around you. Let them build you back up again. Go to worship and get the big picture of God’s plan again and again and again. Jesus wants us to believe in Him, no matter what circumstances we are experiencing. He wants us to know today that He is the One sent from God that first Christmas to be your Savior and Lord and friend, and there is no other one by whom you will find blessedness and the joy of salvation with God.

This story speaks to our troubled souls and says, Keep following, keep serving, keep trusting, for in Him is the blessedness and inner happiness your soul is thirsting for. In Christ alone is a right eternal relationship with God possible.

Blessed is the one, joy-filled is the one, who trusts in Him. And know this – in the end, you will not be disappointed.

One last word for you to consider today about the blessedness Jesus promised. A right relationship with God didn’t come about easily or cheaply. Jesus had to suffer the curse of my sin so I might be blessed. In fact, as the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 3, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” We were, by our sinfulness, cursed people. But Christ became a curse on the cross. He suffered our punishment so we might be blessed, restored to a right relationship with our loving and holy God through faith in Christ. God raised Him from the grave three days later as His endorsement that Jesus is the One. You don’t need to look for another. Christ became a curse so you and I might become blessed. What love!

He is the one who is calling out to you today to trust Him in all circumstances. Bring Him your doubts and your second thoughts. Don’t run away from Him but run toward him.

What blessedness, what joy awaits those who trust in Jesus Christ whose birth we will be celebrating just a couple weeks from now. He is the One our hearts are thirsting for. And dear friends, there is no other. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer