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Jesus Revealed: He’s After People

Luke 5:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey Pete, how did you get to know Jesus?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One last story.

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

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

Pastor Steve Kramer

Jesus Revealed: The Truth

Luke 4:21-30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Steve Kramer

Jesus, Fulfiller of God’s Word

Luke 4:14-21

Before the world was created, God already knew He would need to send His beloved Son to die, to spill His blood as a sacrifice to redeem and rescue a sinful world. He would lavish His grace out on all of us in Jesus Christ. This is His word of promise.

In the book of Genesis when God created, each day He looked at what He had made and said, “It is good.” When He looked at Adam and Eve, He said, “It is very good.” Paradise was beautiful, perfect, and humanity lived in a close, loving harmony with God. Adam and Eve enjoyed the most intimate of friendship and fellowship with Almighty God.

It was tragic when a serpent came into Paradise and seduced Eve and Adam into disobedience and unbelief of God’s word. Adam and Eve experienced guilt, shame, and fear for the very first time. They ran and hid from God. Paradise was lost.

However, God immediately spoke a word of promise in Genesis 3:15. He said to the serpent, “There will be enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed. He will crush your head, and you will bruise his heel.” This is the red thread of salvation’s promise, which weaves its way through the whole of the biblical narrative. It is the story of God and His people.

So begins a titanic struggle between God and the evil one. This struggle plays out in the hearts and history of humanity and the world. Eventually the offspring of woman would crush Satan’s head – in the birth of Jesus, the Son of God; in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus when He went to the cross and then was raised from the dead. Paul, in Romans 16:20, said, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”

This promise of God is true for every believer. When God makes a promise, He keeps His word, because God is true. He cannot lie. Every promise God makes, He will deliver. God will fulfill every word of promise.

In the Epiphany light, we believe God shines to reveal His heart to us in the person of Jesus, the fulfiller of all His promises and every word of Scripture. In Genesis 1, when it talks about God’s creative word, it says God spoke and reality came into being. God, by His word, initiated action within the created order. The unfolding of history began in the life of people and animals in the whole of creation. The Hebrew term is davar – God’s creative word brings reality to existence and action unfolds according to God’s will. God’s word will be done.

Later, when the prophets come on the scene, they speak to God’s people, “Thus says the Lord,” because it is God’s word – power that will unfold history. Prophets were not so much future tellers as they were speakers of God’s word, which transformed life by their word. In Luke 4, when Jesus speaks in the temple, He reads from Isaiah 61, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing because the Spirit is on me, anointing me.” He is claiming His anointing by the Spirit.

The key word – the anointed one – is the figure of the Messiah, God’s promised Deliverer. He will bring good news to the poor, heal those who are broken in heart, and free those who are captive. He will give sight to the blind and joy to the sorrowful. He is the outpouring of God’s grace in the fulfillment of His promises. Jesus claims to be the embodiment, the fulfiller of the Word.

All through the prophets, they painted images of this messianic expectation. Isaiah says in chapter 42, “This is my servant, my chosen. In him I delight. . . He will bring justice. He will embody a gentle strength. A bruised reed he will not break. A dimly burning wick he will not extinguish.”

In chapter 11, Isaiah describes a vision of peace where the wolf will lie down with the lamb, the leopard with a young goat, a calf with a lion, and a little child shall lead them.

It is the age of joy for the afflicted and liberation for the oppressed. All people will now see the light of revelation. Jesus is the fulfiller of God’s word. So in the messianic expectation, the Messiah would be a prophet like Moses revealing God’s wisdom, and establishing righteousness, freeing the captives. The Messiah would be a priest after the order of Melchizedek, mediating a new covenant by the shedding of His blood in the system of sacrifice. It will be once and for all – the atonement of sins for the forgiveness of all.

After the promise God made to King David, one of his sons would rise to the throne and rule forever in victory over the enemies establishing an age of peace and prosperity and restoring harmony between God and His people. So the people waited for this messianic expectation all through the millennias.

When John in his Gospel begins by speaking of the birth of Jesus, he uses the Greek word “logos” translated Word. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God, and he was the light of all men. The Word became flesh and lived with us, and we saw his glory, full of grace and truth.”

The “Logos” describes God coming back to a rebellious world to re-create the beauty and harmony of the broken creation. How? By the speaking of His Word, by sending Jesus to us. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus fulfills the word. So, when Luke tells the story, he speaks of the angel Gabriel coming to Zechariah in the holy of holies and promises him a child would be born to Elizabeth, his barren, old wife. This child born will be the prophetic forerunner to the Messiah (Jesus).

Then Gabriel goes to Mary, the virgin girl, telling her she will conceive a child. By the anointing of the Holy Spirit, a child born to be the Son of the Most High. This child will be the Savior of the world. Anyone who would hear a word from an angel (God’s messenger), would say, This is the one, the Fulfiller, whom people of all points of history have waited for.

Interestingly, Gabriel says to Mary, “Nothing will be impossible with God.” This could literally be translated, “no word” is impossible for God to fulfill. In Jesus’s life – His teaching and miracles, in His death on the cross, in the rejection of His people, in the ideological, unjust execution of Jesus, in the shedding of blood atoned for the sins of the world, and in the raising Him from the dead, Jesus was proven to be in the Son of God. Every promise of God made throughout all of history is fulfilled in Jesus Christ!

When Jesus hung bleeding on the cross, nailed between heaven and earth, He said, “It is finished.” In other words, It is complete. The Word is fulfilled. The promise of salvation is for you. Second Corinthians 5 tells us, “God was in Jesus Christ reconciling the world to himself.” So when God raised Jesus from the dead to vindicate Him, proving He was the Son of God, forgiveness is proclaimed in His name to all people in all places in the world. Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Word of God’s promises throughout all of history. In the fullness of time, He came, and He is the Savior of the world.

I’d like to tell you a story about a rich art collector who accumulated one of the greatest collections of art ever in the world. With all that beauty assembled in one place, you would think he would been one of the happiest men in the world. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. His only son had been tragically killed in a car accident when he was a young man, and the father never got over it.

He loved his son so much and was so proud of every accomplishment he had made. He had great plans for his son to join in the family business and to live in his love. But he died tragically, prematurely in the accident. The father was so devastated he really never recovered. So the father – this art collector – put all his energy into compiling the best art collection he could in memory of his beloved son.

When the father died, he left no heir. In the will, it was announced the man’s art collection was to be auctioned off.

The day of the auction was much anticipated. Famous art dealers from all over the world came from far and wide. The first item up for auction was a painting of a young man by an unknown painter. It was not a particularly good piece of art and definitely not a good painting. Frankly, none of the art dealers were interested in it and were waiting for the valuable pieces of art to come up for sale.

When the auctioneer called for bids, his request was made and there was silence. Not a hand was raised to bid. The auctioneer lowered his beginning amount. Eventually an old man in the back bid for the painting of the young man. He had been the art collector’s butler, and he knew the painting was actually a picture of the father’s beloved son, whom he also loved as one being raised in the house. It had been painted shortly before the young man was tragically killed in the accident. The butler valued the painting not for artistic value, but because he loved the son.

Well, the art dealers were sure happy to have that painting out of the way! Now for the real sale, and the real art items of great value! Then the auctioneer announced, “Ladies and gentleman, I’ve been required to read the following clause of the will. It reads, ‘Whoever buys the painting of my son gets everything else in the art collection as well.’ This auction is now over. The one who takes the son gets everything else as well.”

Jesus is the embodiment of every promise God has made. Every blessing God can give to us or pour into us comes from Jesus the Christ. So when we place our faith in Jesus Christ, every promise is fulfilled, and we become recipients of the promises of God. Or like Mary, we become participants in the actual unfolding of the fulfillment of all of God’s plan of salvation. We become children of God, people of God, and the people God uses to shine His love for all to the light of the world.

Jesus is the fulfiller of every promise in God’s word. I believe it. I invite you to believe it, too. We can stake our life on that promise. Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg

Jesus Revealed: The life of the Party!

John 2:1-11

A family was riding home from church one Sunday, and the mom asked her second-grade daughter about her Sunday school lesson for the day. The little girl said, “We learned the story about Jesus turning the water into wine at Cana.” Then she enthusiastically told the whole story.

When she was finished, her mom asked, “So what did you learn from the story?”

The little girl thought for a moment and said, “Well, if you’re going to have a party, make sure you invite Jesus!”

She’s right, you know. Today’s Gospel text affirms it. Let’s take a quick look at the story.

It begins with these words: “On the third day . . .” connecting it to the story before it. Jesus promised Nathaniel that if he were to come with Him, he would see greater things – heaven and earth intersecting with angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man, Jesus. This is exactly what Nathaniel and the others will start seeing at Cana, and at a wedding party of all things!

I love the fact that Jesus went to wedding parties. I love the image of Him being with people, celebrating with them in the joy, dancing, and joking around. It is a great picture!

I’m reminded of a statement made by Rick Christian, “Christianity isn’t for deadheads. At least not if you take Christ as the model. He was not so much a ‘man of sorrows’ (Isaiah 53:3) as a man of joy. We know he didn’t stifle his tears – but he also didn’t cover up his laughter and joy. He liked parties and fun and swarms of kids . . . The stories Jesus told were often of joyous feasts and celebrations. He likened the Kingdom of God not to a convention of blurry-eyed librarians but to a rollicking banquet and a wedding feast – tremendous times of joy. Joy was indeed ‘serious business’ with Jesus Christ.”

Christ was enjoying this wedding in Cana, but the party was sinking fast. It was headed toward a failure, for they had run out of wine. It was on the brink of being a social disaster, an embarrassment for the bridegroom and the families. It could even have been considered a bad omen by the newlyweds. Obviously, someone – perhaps the bridegroom himself – had miscalculated how much wine would be needed for this party, which would last four to seven days. Wine was the sign of joy. This party needed rescuing.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, must have had some connection with the host families for the celebration, for she knew the seriousness of the situation at hand. She turned to Jesus with the problem interceding on their behalf. “They’ve run out of wine.”

He answered, “Dear woman, what does that have to do with you and me? My hour has not yet come.”

Still believing in Jesus, Mary left the whole matter in His hands instructing the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” She was showing faith in her Son, which shouldn’t surprise us. After all, she had heard from the angel Gabriel thirty years earlier that the child she would bear and raise would be special. He would be called the Son of God.

So Mary not only asked Jesus for help, but she also instructed the servant to “do whatever He tells you.” She left it with Jesus. It was almost as if she was yielding her request to His will. That, my friend, is faith.

Jesus compassionately came to the rescue. He told the servants to fill six ceremonial jars used for the Jewish rite of purification – each holding 20 – 30 gallons of water. Then He had them draw some of it out and take it to the chief steward of the feast. When the chief steward tasted the water that had become wine, he didn’t know where it had come from, though the servants knew. He went to the bridegroom and said, You know, usually the best wine is served first and then the inferior wine when the guests have become drunk and don’t know the difference. But you, my friend, have done just the opposite. This is fantastic wine! Interesting isn’t it? The One who later would call Himself the bridegroom saved a bridegroom that day with His presence and power.

John editorializes at the end of the narrative. He says, “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

Notice, John refers to this miracle as a sign, the first of Jesus’ signs that would reveal His glory, who He is – heaven meeting earth. It was the heavenly reality of John 1:1, 14: “The Word was with God, and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

This sign reveals not only who Jesus is, but also what He brings to a life: rescue. He rescued a wedding party that day. How compassionate of Jesus. He stepped in to help, even with the little things.

This sign points to the last sign where His glory would really be revealed. When Jesus told His mother, “My hour has not yet come,” He was talking about the cross where the ultimate sign happened. The glory of God would shine as heaven and earth intersected a cross. He will be the sacrifice that takes away the sins of the world. The greatest sign of God’s love and compassion for sinful humanity – you and me – who stand as sinful and helpless before a holy God. He rescued us. God will raise Him up on Easter affirming Him and His sacrifice offering us forgiveness.

We also see Jesus has the power to transform. He brings transformation, a new quality to life. One hundred eighty gallons of wine is quite an abundance of wine, which is something the Old Testament prophecies predicted – abundance would come with the messianic age, when Messiah comes.

In this story we find not only quantity but also quality. The steward said, “You’ve served the best wine last!” I am reminded of John’s statement about Jesus, “From his (Christ’s) fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:16-17).

Could it be that those purification jars represented the ritualism of the law of Moses where people would need cleansing again and again, and this was a sign that they were being replaced with the new wine of the Gospel of grace and truth in Jesus Christ? This new wine of Jesus is for the relief of the guilty conscience burdened by failures. Soon Christ’s once-and-for-all sacrifice at the cross will once and for all save and completely cleanse those who come to God through Jesus Christ.

Jesus not only has the power to forgive our sins then, but to also change us. He cleanses us and changes us, making us new creations. Just as the Old Testament prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel dreamed of a new day, a new heart, a new spirit, a new covenant with God’s law written on people’s hearts, we are now empowered to walk obediently with God. Christ gives new life, new future, and new power.

I love the testimony of an ex-convict, Harold Morris, who speaks of his liberating new life in Christ. He writes, “The promise of 2 Corinthians 5:17 is that a person in Christ becomes a new creature. That included Convict 62345. Old habits and attitudes were replaced as the Spirit of God worked in my life. The vengeance that I had nourished for five years and the rebellious spirit that had been a driving force in my life relaxed their grip when Christ took control. Little by little he replaced my hatred by his love. Sometimes I lay in the prison yard looking at the sky and relishing the joy and peace that I’d found in Christ. The bars and fences were still there, as were the guards with their high-powered rifles. But I had an inner strength I’d never known before – the very presence of Christ.”

An event like this rescue party in Cana also points us to another moment to come, an eternal moment. The wedding is a foretaste of the great heavenly feast in store for God’s forgiven people, according to John’s heavenly vision in Revelation 21. Listen to these words:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a voice from the throne saying,

“. . . and God will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, . . . he will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death shall be no more; neither shall there be morning nor crying no pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

Jesus provides not only a new life in the here-and-now, but also an eternal life with Him in His heaven.

This story, then, is saved and written in the power of the Spirit to be a sign for readers like you and me. It points us to the truth that, in Jesus Christ, heaven intersects earth. He has come to be our heavenly rescuer – the Word became flesh – to be a transformer of our lives.

Jesus also said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (to the full)” John 10:10. People have been discovering the truth of this statement from Jesus for centuries since. They have discovered that Jesus was and still is the life of the party, the one you want to invite.

So I ask, why would a person not invite Him to their party and to their life? Why not believe in Him as His disciples did at the end of our story for today? Why not trust Him with your life here and now, and for eternity? Furthermore, why not put ourselves in the position of the servants acting on Mary’s instructions to do whatever He says? Obey His word, for He speaks to us from Scripture about how life works best for His followers as we follow His word?

Why not bring Him our petitions, our predicaments, and our problems, fully yielding ourselves, surrendering ourselves to His good and perfect will in faith. For He who was in the beginning creating the world, creating humanity, surely He would know what makes life work best for us. And He who laid down His life for us at a cross to redeem us and rose from the grave, wouldn’t He have our best interests in mind? Of course He would!

This is our appeal from God’s holy word today. Jesus Christ – heaven intersecting earth. Invite Him to your party, into your life. Experience for yourself heaven intersecting with your life. Experience His nearness, His faithfulness, His forgiveness, His grace, His compassion, and His joy as you trust and obey Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

If you’re going to have a party, you’d better invite Jesus. This is our message for today. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Jesus Revealed: Congratulations! It’s God!

Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

Though I received several Christmas gifts three weeks ago, I am just now discovering how wonderful some of these gifts are. Yesterday I started reading a new book I received, and I can’t put it down. It’s great! I’m so glad I opened it!

As we think of the greatest Christmas gift of all – Jesus – it’s important for us to take a close look at Him to discover (and perhaps even rediscover) the wondrous things about Jesus, in order to really appreciate Him. We can do that by examining the Gospel narratives, which reveal some great truths about Jesus – who He is, what He’s about, what He means for our lives.

Today we are going to take another look at Jesus in this sermon series entitled, Jesus Revealed.

Before we look at our text, I’d like to share a favorite Christmas story of mine. Some first-graders decided to write their own version of the Christmas story. It was more modern than the traditional drama. They had the familiar members of the cast: Joseph, the shepherds, and an angel propped up in the background. However, Mary was nowhere to be seen.

Suddenly, behind the bales of hay came some loud moaning sounds. Evidently Mary was in labor. Soon the doctor arrived dressed in a white coat with a stethoscope around his neck. Joseph, with a look of relief on his face, took the doctor straight back to Mary, and then began pacing back and forth in front of the scene. After a couple minutes, the doctor emerged with a big smile on his face and announced, “Congratulations, Joseph! It’s a God!” ☺

This is the real story of Christmas. Congratulations, it’s God! It is the main truth being revealed to us in today’s story about the baptism of Jesus. He is 30 years old. We know very little about His childhood from Scripture.

Jesus came to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist. Some people ask why Jesus would need to be baptized. John’s baptism was for the forgiveness of sins, and Jesus was sinless.

As far as I’ve been able to tell, Jesus is identifying Himself with sinful people. He is dedicating Himself to the mission God had for Him – to be the Savior.

After Jesus came up out of the water and was praying, the Spirit of God descended upon Him like a dove and the voice of God said, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” I am delighted.

Jesus is receiving God’s endorsement. His approval. It is true. You are My Son. Jesus is the Son of God. God in the flesh.

While His divinity has been announced, there is more here for us to consider as we look carefully at the words God spoke. This is also a coronation of a King. The first part of these words comes from Psalm 2:7, a coronation psalm for the kings of Israel as they are given authority.

It is also a commissioning. He is receiving orders concerning His mission. “With whom I am well pleased,” are words taken from the servant song in Isaiah 42, which speaks of one who will come and serve the people by suffering and dying for them.

Jesus is no ordinary person, but the Son of God who came to die for sinners so we might be rescued and restored to a relationship with God. As the Gospel writer John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. . . the Word became flesh dwelling among us full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14a).”

This text also reminds us that Jesus is a member of the Holy Trinity. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all in this story. God spoke, the Spirit descended upon Jesus, and Jesus was pronounced as God’s Son. As the Spirit descends upon Him, we are reminded that He is the powerful One who John the Baptist spoke of when he said, “One more powerful than I is coming. I baptize you with water; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

Once we have grasped the truth that Jesus is God, it’s every bit as important for us to grasp the truth that Jesus is also true man. Following His baptism, Luke gives a lengthy genealogy of Jesus, threading back to King David, to Abraham, even to Adam at the creation of the world. He was referred to as the Son of God. Jesus is “the second Adam,” as the apostle Paul tells us. The perfect, sinless man as God intended. The perfect sacrifice for humanity’s sinfulness.

What credentials this Jesus has! Son of God, sovereign King, commissioned servant King of God, true God, true man sent to save us from our sins. This was no ordinary baby born that first Christmas. Just as the angel said, “This is the Son of God” who would later say of Himself, “He who has seen me has seen the Father. The Father and I are one.”

The bottom line here is, Jesus is God taking the initiative, as He always does throughout the biblical story, to save us. He is the way of salvation for sinners, the only way God has provided for us to be rescued from our greatest problem: sin and death. Jesus, the Son of God, is the only one qualified to deliver us.

A great Christian author, John Stott, explains it this way: “So the divinity of Christ, the humanity of Christ and the righteousness of Christ uniquely qualified Him to be man’s redeemer. If He had not been man, He could not have redeemed men. If He had not been a righteous man, He could not have redeemed unrighteous men. And if He had not been God’s Son, He could not have redeemed men for God or made them the sons of God.”

Think of an air/sea rescue. Suppose you are in a little boat on the water, and you need to be rescued. You have a rope in the little dinghy but you cannot use it to climb up to the helicopter overhead. Salvation has to come from the top down. So someone who is secured at the top is lowered on the winch. By embracing him you are lifted with him to the position from where he came.

Salvation has to be from above. Only God can save. We cannot climb up for the simple reason that we have nothing to climb on.

The good news is this: Christ has come down to us! He went on this incredible journey from heaven to earth. In Him God is reaching out to every person on this planet.

We have seen who Jesus is. The big question is, what now are we going to do with Him?

We live in a pluralistic world. So many religions compete for our attention and allegiance. Some will talk of Jesus simply as a great moral teacher like other great teachers or prophets. The Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet, the Buddhists think Him an avatar, the Jews reject Him as a fraud. Others will try to convince us He is just one of many ways to God. Some people will twist Him, spin Him in order to make Him fit into their own world thinking.

Scripture, however, says (as did Jesus) He is the Son of God, the only way to a relationship with the heavenly Father. He is God’s only means of saving a sin-sick world. He suffered death on a cruel cross to pay for our sins. He is the bridge between God and humankind who have been separated by sin. We can say all these things with assurance as Christians because Jesus rose from the dead after His crucifixion, which was the final proof, the authentication of everything He said and did. He sits at the right hand of the Father, and all authority is His. He is coming again to judge the living and the dead.

My friend, are you ready for Him? Suppose He came today. Suppose today was your last day, your last breath. Are you ready?

Consider this statement from the great Christian thinker, C. S. Lewis: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon, or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that option open to us. He did not intend to.”

So what are we to do with this Jesus, who has been revealed to us? It’s really quite simple: Believe in Him. Trust Him with your whole being. Rest with certainty on what He has done for you at the cross and the empty tomb. This is the whole point of the Gospel narrative of Luke.

Go back to the beginning and see how Luke begins his Gospel narrative.

“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4 ESV).

Did you catch that? I wrote this that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught about Jesus Christ. All this was written so you may place your trust in Him.

Jesus is the help God has promised since the beginning of time. You can be confident that He is able to do in your life what no other person and no other teaching could ever do. He is the solid foundation upon which to build your life.

If you are holding back from Him, thinking someday maybe, I want you to consider these words of the Apostle Paul to nonbelievers in Athens, Greece. “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed. Of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31 ESV).

My friends, to know God, one must know and have a relationship with the appointed One – Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior of the world.

The appeal this day is this: By the power the Holy Spirit, having heard this Gospel, ask Him into your life today. Trust in Him for your salvation.

If you have received Him into your life, continue to rest in Him with a deep certainty that nothing can separate you from the love of God in Jesus Christ. For this One, affirmed by God as His Son, Jesus, there is no other on which we can stand. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Jesus Revealed: Behold, Your King!

Matthew 2:1-12

When Julie and I were married, I thought I knew just about everything there was to know about her. Forty-two years later, however, nothing could be further from the truth. My eyes are still being opened to new and wondrous things about my wife. More and more, I am convinced that I truly am a blessed husband.

In the same way, the longer I follow Jesus Christ, the more I find He still has plenty to reveal to me about Himself. Our special quest these next few weeks, which the Church calls the Season of Epiphany, will be to discover some revelations about Jesus, which are found in the Bible.

Now that Christmas has come and gone, it’s time to take a closer look at the central character of Christmas – Jesus Himself. Who is He? What does His arrival have to do with me? The title of our series is called “Jesus Revealed.” Our goal is to get to know Jesus better.

The first insight we learn about Him is found in Matthew chapter 2. After the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, perhaps several months after, some foreigners rode into Jerusalem, the capital city of Judea, with their entourage. They caused quite a bit of a stir among the locals. These men had come from the East, most likely some place like Persia or modern-day Iraq. They were Magi – Wise Men – who studied the stars and the movements of the planets. They had seen something in the sky, which caused them to make this very long trip to Jerusalem. One particular star stirred them into believing something big had happened: a king had been born, the King of the Jews.

So they asked, “Where is the child that has been born King of the Jews, for we have observed his star at its rising and have come to pay homage to him.” Upon seeing the star, they probably looked up some of the ancient Jewish writings and found a text about a special star, a prophecy of sorts in Numbers 24:17: “. . . a star will come out of Jacob, a scepter will rise out of Israel . . .” Their question caught the people by surprise for no one knew of the birth of a king. Herod was the only King they knew, and he had been in power for quite some time.

Soon the news of these Wise Men and their questions reached King Herod, and he was extremely troubled. A new threat to his throne had arrived perhaps. Some competition? Would there be a rebellion, would he be overthrown? If Herod ain’t happy, no one is happy. So the host city was troubled right along with Herod because this could mean trouble for them. What action would Herod take against the citizenry if he thought a plot to over throw him was being hatched? Everyone knew how paranoid, cruel, and violent Herod could be.

Herod called together the local religious experts – the priests and the scribes – and asked them where the promised Christ of Israel was to be born. According to God’s Word in Micah, they answered, the answer is Bethlehem, which is only about five miles down the road. That is the city of King David, his birthplace. Herod passed this information along to the Wise Men and cunningly asked when exactly they had seen the star rise so he might know how old this child might be by now. Then he asked them to return to him so he, too, could pay homage to this King.

Of course, we know that is not what Herod had in mind. He was already plotting to eliminate this threat. Later on, he would have all the boys in Bethlehem two years old and under killed.

The Wise Men went on their way with this information. As they stepped down the road toward Bethlehem, the star reappeared and directed them to the place where Jesus was. When they saw the Child, they knelt before Him and paid Him homage. They bowed in reverent obeisance to this King and gave Him gifts fit for a king.

What is the main thought being revealed to us about Jesus in the story? He is royalty! He is a King. Through their worship and splendid gifts, we see a signal that in Jesus is a kingship beyond all kingships, just as promised in ancient Scripture for the last times. This child, who was born in a stable, is the King. He is the King of Israel. As the Christmas Carol says, “Noel, noel. Born is the King of Israel.”

He is the Anointed One, the Christ, the One they had been longing for, waiting for, hoping and praying for, the Messiah from David’s lineage who would rescue them and rule over them. The Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.

We also learn He is King of the nations – all the nations. These men who, came to pay homage, were outsiders, foreigners, non-Jews worshiping Him as a divine King. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah talked of this event. He described the King as a light. All the nations and kings of the nations would come to Him, give Him gifts, and pay homage to Him.

He is the Shepherd King according to Micah 5:2. Born in Bethlehem, the birthplace of David, the first shepherd king. Bethlehem is now the birthplace of the last Shepherd King – Jesus – the One they had been longing for. Later He will declare He is the Good Shepherd who will lay down His life for the sheep (for His people). He will allow Himself to be nailed to a cross in order to rescue us from humankind’s greatest problem: sin and its consequences – death.

Finally, Jesus is the eternal King.

Note: there are two kings in the story: Herod and Jesus. Later on in the same chapter, Herod dies and is entombed somewhere. Yet the Babe of Bethlehem is alive and well. He is resurrected and seated at the right hand of God with all power and authority over this whole universe. He is enthroned as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is coming again in majesty, glory, and power to claim this world once and for all. On that day, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.

You have a King! Is He your King? What are you doing with this King?

Over the centuries, attitudes toward this King have been divided, just like in our story for today, which gives us a foretaste of the future to come as people respond to Jesus the King. Some have rejected Him, like Herod did who was threatened by Him. I don’t want anyone taking over, Herod thought to himself. Likewise, we have a little Herod in each one of us. I don’t want anyone telling me how to run my life. I want to be on the throne. I want control. I want to run my own life and be captain of my own destiny. Our hearts are naturally that way ever since the sin in the garden of Eden. We want to be our own gods, and so we’re hostile toward God.

Some are indifferent toward this King, like the priests and scribes in our story for today who didn’t even bother making the five-mile trip down the road to see Messiah. Can you believe it? Was it indifference? Was it unbelief that kept them at home doing the same old thing, basically ignoring what they had heard, hanging onto their familiar religion and ways?

Yet many treat Jesus as their King. (Do you?) They kneel before Him, submit to Him, yield control of their lives to His authority. They declare their willingness to not only trust Him with their lives, but to also serve and obey Him. They declare their allegiance and loyalty to Him. His word carries weight in their lives. What the King says is truth. What the King says goes for me.

For instance, Paul in his New Testament letters, would sometimes say of himself, “Paul, a servant of Jesus the Christ, the King.” Martin Luther, in the second article of his small catechism, writes about Jesus. “He has done all this (going to the cross and rising again) in order that I may belong to him, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.”

People struggle with the thought of submission to anyone, even to Christ. They are hesitant to give Him absolute sway and control over life. Can I really trust Him with my life? I’m afraid He’ll wreck it. I am doing okay without Him. He can be on my board of directors, but He is just one vote among many; that won’t hurt. But give Him control? Obey Him unquestioningly? I don’t know.

My response to those who say or think something like this is: Look at the cross with the Savior upon it, your King! See His love for you. Can’t you trust the One who would do something like that for you?

Treating Him as King, they not only submit to Him, they also give Christ their best. They give gifts fit for a King like those Wise Men did – their assets, their hands and feet, their voice, their skills and talents and energies – all for His purposes. These gifts are given not out of an obligation, but out of love and gratitude for all He has done for them at the cross and the grave, changing their lives for the better as they walk with Him. They live by the verse, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord Jesus not for men” (Col. 3:23).

A few years ago I came across an interesting illustration, which was shared by Howard Hendrix, a Christian educator. He had been sitting in a plane that was delayed for takeoff. After a long wait, the passengers became more and more irritated. Hendrix noticed how gracious one of the flight attendants was as she spoke with them. After the plane finally took off, he told the flight attendant how amazed he was at her poise and self-control, and said he wanted to write a letter of commendation for her to the airline. The flight attendant replied that she didn’t work for the airline company but for Jesus Christ. She said that just before going to work, she and her husband prayed she would be a good representative of Christ.

This is an example of someone giving their best to the King.

Our good news for today is simply this: you have a King in Jesus Christ. Treat Him as your King. Bow before Him. Trust Him with your life. Live under Him in His kingdom serving and obeying Him. Give Him your very best – not out of obligation but out of love for the King who first loved you. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Jesus, Soul Doctor

Isaiah 9:6-7

When a doctor tells a young woman she is going to have a baby, it stirs a mixture of emotions – joy and shock. Perhaps the timing is unexpected. Maybe dad and mom feel inadequate or overwhelmed by the magnitude of a life that’s now growing within the woman’s womb. I once had an expectant mother say to me, “The human gestation period is too short for me to be ready for this baby!” Pregnancy stirs joy, hopes, dreams of heart as we wonder about the potential of life and the personality this child will have. The moment a child is on his way, and especially when the child is born, life is changed forever for the family. Perhaps it is changed in even broader circles than that!

When the prophet Isaiah, 700 years before Jesus was born, said, “A child is to be born whose name will be Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” that promise fulfilled sets the heart to hoping and dreaming.

We live in wonder as we unpack the truth that God sent Jesus, His Son, to be incarnate into the human experience and to be our Savior. We might be wonder filled at Jesus’s origin. Just as a girl in a Disney movie sings, “Someday my prince will come,” believers in Old Testament homes sang, “someday Messiah will come” after centuries of suffering darkness and oppression from military entities in neighboring kingdoms. They may have experienced periods of despair as God’s people were unfaithful and wandered far from God. During one period, the word of God was lost in the temple. When the King Josiah discovered it, he implemented all kinds of spiritual reform for the nation.

A remnant prayed all through the centuries for Messiah to come. Isaiah says, Jesus will be born, and His name will be Wonderful Counselor. The Messiah, the King, literally translates, The Anointed One. Each time a king was crowned in Israel, the people would ask, is this the One? Is this the One who will usher in God’s will in a way that our life experience will be permanently altered according to the promise of Shalom?

Isaiah 7:14, says, “This will be a sign: a virgin will conceive a child.” So when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and said, A child will be born, and you, a virgin will conceive, the Holy Spirit came upon Mary. And when a sky full of angels, glorious and radiant, appeared to shepherds out in the hillside, they proclaimed the arrival of this Messiah. “Good news of great joy, for to you is born a Savior” (Luke 2:10).

Do you ever hear this news, even as we celebrate Christmas, and think, I wonder what God is up to in the twenty-first century? Do we still wait and hope for God to bring things into harmony with Himself? To bring peace on earth? The birth of Jesus and the story accompanying Him is incomprehensible, full of wonder beyond our understanding. Part of the wonder is that Jesus embodies God coming down to where we are to be with us as we are. The birth of the Son of God is Immanuel, God forever with us. The infinite takes on the finite so He might redeem us. The Creator comes to dwell among His created people. The One without limits willingly takes on self-imposed limits in order to make Himself accessible to us.

Soon after Jesus finished His mission by dying on the cross, being raised from the dead, and ascending into heaven, God sent the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the Counselor, who comes alongside us to help. Now God is not only with us, but He is also within us. Jesus comes down to where we are and even deeper. He comes within us to restore and heal all that is broken.

God sends Jesus down to where we are; He does not wait for people to come to Him. He never turns us away. Instead, Jesus seeks us where we are – out in the streets, at weddings, at house parties, by a lakeside, on a mountain, in the wilderness, in our darkness where, like He asked Adam, He also asks us, “Where are you, child?”

People in the life of Jesus were amazed and wonder filled with His teaching. How could an uneducated son of a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth know all the things that Jesus taught? The Scripture says they were amazed at His teaching! Like one with authority, Jesus taught us that the all-powerful God is actually our Father, our Abba.

Jesus taught us about the reign of God ushering in His kingdom. He used parables to help us picture what it might be like. It was counterintuitive, an upside-down vision of what ultimately has value. In the Beatitudes, Jesus redefined blessing saying,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .
Blessed are the meek . . .
Blessed are those who mourn . . .
Blessed are the gentle and the merciful . . .
Blessed are the pure in heart . . .
Blessed are the peacemakers . . .”

Jesus taught us that we should love our enemies and rejoice if the world hates us, for so it also hated Him.

Jesus was wonder filled because of His power. Crowds of people thronged around Him everywhere He went, on the edge of their expectation: I wonder what’s going to happen next!

He did miracles where He commanded creation. He spoke to storms, the wind, and the waves, and they calmed down like a dog coming to heel. Jesus showed flashes of His cloaked identity as He changed water into wine or multiplied fish and a few small loaves so a multitude ate and were satisfied. Jesus healed the sick. More than that, He restored and recreated those who were born with physical deformities. He sent demons back to hell, and He raised the dead back to life. People were wonder filled at Jesus’ power.

Perhaps most amazing and wonderful of all, however, is the law of Jesus that universally includes all people, every one willing to believe in His name. Jesus loves the irreligious, the rebels, and the sinners. Jesus loves the rejected and the unwanted, the people on the margins, those whose lives are broken. Jesus loves us individually; He looks into our soul and tells us, You are precious and important to me. So we say with the apostle Paul, “(Nothing) will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39). How wonderful!

We have another piece to His name in Isaiah 9 this day. He is a wonderful counselor. He holds wisdom like King Solomon. “His counsel is wonderful, his wisdom is excellent” (Isaiah 28:29). Jesus knows what is in each person’s heart (John 2:25b). In Him “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). “He (Jesus) is our great high priest who is able to sympathize with all our weaknesses, we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus can resonate with our humanness, yet He is perfect to show us the way.

Jesus is the counselor who is our confidant. He listens to our problems, speaks the truth without judgment. We have no need to hide our dark stuff from Him. Tell it to Him so He can lift your shame and guilt away. His love is so deep, it is beyond our ability to comprehend.

Jesus, our wonderful counselor, is ultimately the doctor of our soul. He restores our inner health and reconciles us to God.

Max Lucado, in his book, In the Grip of Grace, writes, “In Romans six it says, ‘When people sin, they earn what sin pays – death.’ Sin does to a life what sheers do to a flower. A cut at the stem separates a flower from its source of life. Initially, the flower is attractive, still colorful and strong, but watch that flower over a period of time and the leaves will wilt and the petals will drop. No matter what you do, the flower will never live again. Surround it with water, stick the stem into soil, baptize it with fertilizer, glue the flower back on the stem. Do what you wish, the flower is dead.

“A dead soul has no life. Cut it off from God, and the soul withers and dies. The consequence of sin is not just a bad day or a bad mood, but a dead soul. The sign of a dead soul is clear – poisoned lips and cursing mouth, feet that lead to violence and eyes that don’t see God. The finished work of sin is to kill the soul,” so writes Lucado.

Jesus came to be our soul doctor – to heal our sin-sick soul and rejoin us into a relationship with God as the living one. God sent Jesus as our wonderful counselor, the doctor of our souls.

Do you remember how Jesus, the Lord of the universe, stood before the blind man, Bartimaeus, a man who’d been pushed to the peripheries, who had no value, sitting in the dirt? Jesus asked, “What would you like me to do for you?” (Mark 10:46-52).

Jesus came to the woman at the well knowing her deep thirst. He also knew the complexities of her broken life, the stories of men who had used her and then rejected her. Jesus knew she was beaten down by shame and sin. She had been rejected and discarded. Jesus spoke truth, but also poured grace and love into her as well. He became for her the living water, and He healed her life with His love. (John 4:4:5-26).

Jesus came to the woman caught in adultery. He knew her circumstances as well and never excused her sin or her responsibility. Jesus did not reject her or condemn her. (John 8:1-11).

Jesus stood outside the tomb of Lazarus and wept with grief and frustration at the deadness of life in this world. “Lazarus, come out!” He said. The dead man heard His voice and came out of the tomb. (John 11:43-44).

Jesus is our soul doctor. He goes deep into people’s hearts to heal and forgive, to love and transform. He is the One who was born as our Savior. We rejoice in His birth as our Savior, the soul doctor, the Wonderful Counselor.

Where do you need Jesus, the soul doctor, to heal your life today? I encourage you to bring your brokenness to Him and ask Him to heal you in His love. Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg

Ready or Not, Here I Come: Present Yourself Available

Luke 1:26-36

Jesus once told a story to His disciples about a master who left his servants in charge of his house. Each had his own work and commands until the master’s return. They were to stay awake lest he come home and find them asleep. Jesus said, I want you to consider yourselves to be like those servants while you wait for my return, because the Son of Man is coming again.

The question for us is, What should God’s children, His servants, be doing as we wait for the return of Jesus? This is what we have been discussing these last couple of weeks. The answer from our story today is inspired by Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Throughout the centuries, Christians have wondered what to do with Mary. After all, she was the mother of Jesus, so she has some special status, right? She has been revered and venerated – even prayed to – in the Catholic Church. However, in the Protestant tradition, she has been somewhat passed over. Yet something helpful and important can be learned from Mary and her experiences with God, as we see in today’s text.

Mary was a teenager living in the village of Nazareth without any authority or power to call her own. She was betrothed to a man named Joseph, who was descended from the house of David. From this story we learn she was a virgin and an ordinary girl who was tapped on the shoulder to do something extraordinary for God.

The angel Gabriel’s announcement to her was, “Hail, oh favored one of God. The Lord is with you!” Favored means, grace. Gabriel was basically saying, God is showing you some grace, Mary. You are favored. You are graced by God.

He went on to say, “You shall bear a son and shall name Him Jesus. He will be called great, Son of the Most High. The Lord will give him David’s throne,” just as He had promised King David back in the Old Testament days. What’s interesting here is Mary’s response.

First, she asked a question inquiring how this could happen. “How can this be since I am a virgin? (I have had no sexual relations with a man.)” The angel went on to explain that the child would be conceived by the power the Holy Spirit. This would be a virgin birth, because nothing is impossible for God.

After hearing his answer, she responded with this marvelous statement that has been revered over time: “Here am I, a servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your Word.”

Mary was presenting herself as available for service to the Lord, not sure where this would take her in life. It was like handing a blank check over with her signature saying, Go ahead. Use my womb. Use my life to be a parent to this Savior. And God did use her for His purposes.

By the way, this was no short-term mission trip. It was a mission to last a lifetime. It would be difficult. Mary became pregnant and had to experience condemning looks and rumors amongst her fellow villagers of Nazareth, as well as the sadness and hurt in Joseph’s face when he heard of the pregnancy. And what about her parents? What kind of disappointed looks did she receive from them?

Mary gave birth in the most inconvenient and uncomfortable of circumstances. She ended up having to fear for His life and hers after His birth by the hand of King Herod. They were forced to run for refuge in order to escape the slaughter of the infants, which Herod ordered to get rid of Jesus. They lived as refugees in a foreign land.

She raised Him and took care of Him. That was no easy task either. She worried about Him as parents do. We even read of her experiencing the great anxiety of losing track of Him as a twelve-year-old in the city of Jerusalem. We know she went through the heartbreak of watching Him leave home to do ministry. She worried and perhaps was embarrassed as she heard people question His sanity. She herself may have wondered about Him a bit.

Then, of course, there was the horror and despair she faced on Good Friday as she watched her beloved Son beaten and humiliated, and then nailed to a cross. There was the grief she felt on Friday evening and Saturday as she remembered the words of the priest Simeon, “A sword shall pierce your own heart, Mary.”

Have you ever wondered if she felt it was all worth it?

She must have had great joy in her heart when she heard the surprising news of His resurrection. He’s alive again! Praise God from whom all blessings flow. It’s a new day! I’m going to see my boy again! How exciting to see this movement take off that first Pentecost as she experienced the power of the Holy Spirit with many others who were waiting in the Upper Room.

Did the song she sang right after the angel’s announcement play in her head after the resurrection: “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the loneliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;, for the Mighty One has done great things for me and holy is his name. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever” (Luke 1:46-55).

She felt the pain. She experienced the grief and the inconvenience of it all. Yet I believe in my heart of hearts, Mary would say, Yes! It was all worth it! I truly do see that I was favored. I was given God’s grace when He gave me the privilege of serving Him with my life as the mother of Jesus. It was a privilege, and I would do it all over again!

Back to my original question – What are we to be doing while we wait for Jesus to return? Mary is our example today. The answer is, We present ourselves available for service to God, who presented Himself available to serve us through the first arrival of His Son Jesus.

What about you? As you carefully examine your life, would you say you, like Mary, have presented yourself available for service to Him in grateful response for all He has done for you? After all, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you are a beneficiary of His service to you at the cross. He emptied Himself for you when He entered the world that first Christmas and became man. He went to the cross to pay for your sins. He is your servant King. It is He who said, “I came not to be served but to serve,” as He washed the disciples’ feet in an upper room before His crucifixion and instructed them to follow His example and wash other’s feet. Life in God’s kingdom is about serving others in His name. It is part of God’s overall redemptive plan for those He has favored, and He invites us to join Him in serving others.

Have you presented yourself on call for His bidding? Have you discovered, like Mary, that although serving God’s purposes in not always easy, it is a privilege and a joy? It is grace, and it’s worth it.

It is important to ask ourselves these questions because it’s so easy, as followers of Jesus Christ, to get mixed up and lose our way. We live in a day when people bounce from one church to the next asking the consumer question, What will you do for me? The question God longs to hear His people ask is, What can I do to advance God’s cause in the world through this church and other venues as well? Have you committed yourself to being the Lord’s “yes” woman or “yes” man, to say Use me. Have you committed yourself to be a “yes” person in the church? Have you committed yourself to do His bidding, to be available for ministry in His world, like . . .
• Sharon and Dave who work with the children’s ministry so kids can grow up with the best chance of connecting with Jesus and following Him?
• Ralph, a retiree, who still works with youth ministry alongside of parents to bring up young people to know Christ?
• Julie who has taken on the responsibility of leading a women’s Bible study group?
• Duey who leads a men’s group and made the commitment to study, prepare, and pray for the people they are leading?
• Dick who gives 20% away to support the ministry of our church reasoning, The Lord has blessed me so! I trust Him. I love Him. How can I do anything less?
• Brian, a busy dentist, who makes time to mentor young adult men in their walk with Jesus Christ within our church?
• Ingrid who uses her cooking skills to serve meals for adults taking a course on the basics of the Christian faith on Thursday nights?
• Deb who faithfully goes to the food lines, preparing meals and serving them in downtown St. Paul?
• Heidi who sends cards and notes to those who have lost loved ones letting them know they are not forgotten, but are being remembered in prayer?
• Kathy and Carol who make quilts for Lutheran World Relief and pay for them out of their own pockets?
• Keith who uses his carpentry skills for Habitat for Humanity?
• Elaine who serves food on the midway to those who are hungry?
• Dave and Claudia who work a food pantry among the low income?
• Rick who does dentistry in Honduras?
• Dick who works with the Gideons by handing out Bibles and sharing the Gospel in other parts of the world?
• Deb who runs the Teens that Serve meals?
• Larry and Pam who volunteer with the Union Gospel Mission serving homeless men and women?
• Phyllis and Hans who visit and serve in nursing home ministry?
• Carrie who sees her home as a lighthouse in her neighborhood, where kids can visit and experience God’s love and hospitality?

Opportunities for service abound. I have barely scratched the surface.

There is a world around us in need of people who, like Mary, are dedicated to being God’s “yes” people – always ready for service, to love others into a saving relationship with Christ Jesus, the servant King. Jesus once commented to His disciples, rather sadly, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Each of us is a missionary on call. If you are in a relationship with Jesus Christ, you are a missionary right where God has you. You don’t have to travel to other parts of the world. God has placed you in a mission right where you live. Look around! The fields are white, and God can use ordinary people, like those in our story today, to do extraordinary things for His glory and His honor.

This is the appeal from God’s Word today to you. Present yourself available to Him for service starting right now. Tell God, Here I am, Lord. I am your servant. Saved by the servant King Himself, Jesus Christ. Saved for serving His purposes in this world. Reporting for duty, Father. Use me. Help me to see the people around me whom I can serve in Your name.

I promise you this: when God hears you offer yourself in this way, He will gladly honor your request. Present yourself available for God’s service. This is our message today. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Ready or Not, Here I Come: Proclaim!

Luke 3:1-6

As children, many of us played a game called, “Hide and Seek.” Whoever was “it” would count to a certain number while others would hide. When the count was done, he or she would proclaim, “Ready or not! Here I come!” It was now time to seek.

The season of Advent reminds me a bit of this game. As we approach Christmas, Advent serves as a countdown to once again preface for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. I just bought my grandson, Henry, an Advent calendar with stickers to count the days before the birthday of Jesus. Some families will do daily Advent devotions with an Advent wreath as a countdown to the great celebration of the birth of the Christ Child.

When you think about it, the Christ Child’s arrival ended the countdown. The countdown for a Savior (from God’s Old Testament promises), was fulfilled with His coming at Christmas. God basically was announcing, Ready or not; Here I come! The apostle Paul, describing Christmas in one of his letters, wrote, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son . . .” (Gal. 4:4).

Like the game of hide and seek, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, arrived in the flesh to seek us out. Jesus told His disciples, “I came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). He not only came to show us what God is like, but to also carry out a rescue mission. Jesus would go to the cross for the sins of you and me. He would rise victoriously from the grave so we might have eternal life and be saved. Jesus’ coming was a heavenly invasion to conquer the power of sin and death and the devil.

This is the good news we gratefully think about in these Advent days before Christmas. But there is so much more for us to consider as we observe Advent.

Advent brings to remembrance the fact that Christ is coming again. We need to constantly be ready for His arrival. The One who arrived as a baby will arrive again in glory and power. We live in the in-between times. A theologian once wrote, “The Christian is always living between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet.’ He or she is one for whom something has already happened and for whom something still has to happen.” We are people in waiting.

As Christians, we confidently wait to see Christ coming again in power and glory to establish a new heaven and a new earth where people love God with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind, and love one another as themselves. Where there is no more sin, no more pain, no more mourning, no more death, no more suffering. Only living in the light of God’s love, which was God’s original intention when He created this world. This is what lies ahead.

We know this to be true, because Jesus told His disciples – and even His opposition – these things. At His trial, He told them “the Son of Man will come again in power to rule over all” (Matt. 16:27).

An important question for us to be asking is What do we do in the meantime while we wait upon the Lord? This is what we began exploring last in Sunday’s message entitled, Watch and Pray. We will continue to explore the question for the next two Sundays.

As we again turn to Scripture for guidance, today’s reading about John the Baptist’s ministry has a vital word of instruction for us. The word is PROCLAIM. John’s job was to prepare people for Jesus, who was coming, by proclaiming the Good News of a rescue about to happen. All flesh will soon see the salvation of God, just as the prophet Isaiah had spoken of in the Old Testament. Central to John’s proclamation was a call to repentance, a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

In calling for repentance, John pointed out that we need a Savior. We are not okay with God. We are in need of forgiveness and cleansing. We are sinful and unworthy to have a relationship with the God who created us. We are rebels in His sight with our thoughts, our words, and our actions. We have made a mess of things and are unable to make things right in order to save ourselves and restore a relationship with God.

Through the years, human beings have tried all kinds of ways to deal with our sinfulness.
• We rationalize it. I had a good reason to do this or that.
• We minimize it. It’s really no big deal; everybody tells a little white lie once in a while.
• We project the guilt. It really isn’t my fault. It’s the way my parents raised me.
• We deny it altogether. I really didn’t do anything wrong. Why should I feel guilty about it?
• We anesthesize it with alcohol, drugs, and pleasures of this world.
• We try to pay for our sins on our own by doing good things to get right with God.

However, all these efforts to take care of our sinfulness fall short. They just don’t work. We come up empty and miserable. John’s preaching reminds us that God is holy and just. He cannot and will not ignore our sinfulness. Sin does not go on punished. There are consequences, and the consequence for sin is judgment, separation from God for eternity.

When we come to the realization that we’re sinful and God is holy and just, we ask, Then who can rescue me from this body of death? John answers us: God will. REPENT!

To repent is to be sorry for, confess, and move away from the old ways of living. It means to return to God. Change your mind and direction, and surrender life to God. Tell Him you have made a mess of your life, and you need Him to take over.

John says his baptism in the Jordan River would be a sign of repentance. John’s baptism was a symbol of purification, cleansing back in those days. A pastor was only used for the cleansing of Gentiles who wished to enter the Jewish faith but needed to be purified. Yet John was saying everybody needs purification. Everybody needs to repent.

What awaits those who repent?
The forgiveness of sins, which is given us by God who sacrificed His right to get even.

How does He cancel our debt?
Through His Son, Jesus Christ.

John the Baptist went on to say, “There is one who is coming whose sandals I’m not worthy to untie. I baptize you with water. He will change your life and baptize you with fire and the Holy Spirit.” Forgiveness, purification.

Later on, he would say as he pointed to Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

By the way, this command of John to repent and be baptized is an important phrase, Jesus used it in His ministry as well. We especially see it in His commission to His disciples after the resurrection, with one exception – He added to it. They were to proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name to the nations of the world. This is why, on the day of Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus, Peter proclaimed, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ so your sins will be forgiven, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Forgiveness of sins comes through Jesus Christ, the perfect sacrifice for humanity’s sin. It is offered to all people to receive through faith.

So there you have it! John’s job before Jesus’ first arrival was to prepare the way by proclaiming the news of God’s rescue mission through Jesus. That, my dear friends, is the job given to each of us as Christ followers as we live out our days waiting for His return arrival in power and glory. We are called to be proclaimers, to tell others about Jesus’ first arrival in order to prepare them for His next arrival. Jesus Himself said, “You shall be my witnesses from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and the ends of the earth.” He clearly stated, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” He commissioned on the mountaintop, “Go, make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit teaching them to obey all I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19).

This is the Church’s purpose in this world – to proclaim the Good News of forgiveness through Jesus Christ our Lord! It is also why this broadcast called Christian Crusaders exists! We are here to proclaim the forgiveness of sins through Christ. It is the responsibility of the individual Christian as well. We are to be proclaimers, to help people see not only their need for forgiveness, but the solution for it – turn to Christ.

The whole world is full of people whom God loves and need Jesus. God is counting on you and me to proclaim the Good News of salvation to them.

When you think about it, believers in Christ have already experienced the blessing of a John-the-Baptist type of person pointing them to the rescuer, Jesus Christ. Someone who showed them their need for forgiveness and pointed them to the solution, Jesus. Perhaps you had faithful parents who brought you to baptism and then raised you up in the covenant of your baptism, brought you to worship and Sunday school, youth groups, confirmation, taught you the importance of prayer, and modeled what it looks like to be a faithful follower of Jesus. Faithful parents who helped their children understand the basic doctrines of the faith. Maybe you were connected to faithful pastors, Sunday school teachers, or youth workers who patiently and lovingly brought the gospel message message of Christ’s death and resurrection for salvation to you and encouraged you to place your trust in Jesus.

Many of us have friends, relatives, and spouses who have played the role of John the Baptist in our lives proclaiming our need for a Savior and pointing us to Jesus. I invite you to take a moment and think about all the people God has used in your life who He empowered to bring you faith. You didn’t come to Jesus Christ on your own. You have people in your life who told you about Him, pointed out your need for Him, and called you to faith in Him. It might be a good idea to write a card during this Advent to thank someone for playing the role of John the Baptist in your life and pointing you in the right direction.

Today’s main teaching for those of us who are wondering what we do while we wait for the arrival of Jesus is simply this: Proclaim Christ. Just as someone did for you, go and do likewise. As the Word of God came to John the Baptist in the wilderness commissioning him to proclaim God’s message to all the people, today it is coming to you. Consider yourself called by the Word of God today to proclaim the Gospel until Christ comes again or until we breathe our last breath in this old world of ours.

I know some people shudder at the thought of proclaiming. How do I fulfill the Great Commission to proclaim the Good News? Will anybody listen? Will I be rejected? Jesus’ disciples had three years of training and learning, so why wouldn’t we, His disciples, also learn and train to get good at the art of Christian conversation? To be able to listen, ask good questions, and be familiar with what the Good News really is about: sin, grace, forgiveness, and faith.

I have found training classes to be very helpful for people in my own congregation. Classes such as Evangelism Explosion, Becoming a Contagious Christian, Irresistible Evangelism can be quite effective. Ask your pastor to train you. It will make their day because our main job is to quip the saints.

“Living Like a Missionary” by Jeff Iorg is a good book I have read and taught. I would recommend it to those who take this calling of God upon their life seriously.

And then pray! Pray for opportunities for God to use you. I know from personal experience that God loves to open doors for people like you and me who ask for the opportunity to be proclaimers.

You can do this! You can confidently proclaim and boldly trust in the promise Jesus gives: “I’m with you always you” (Matt. 28:20). As a believer, you have the Holy Spirit’s power working in you, with you, and through you as you proclaim. In fact, you can consider yourself armed and dangerous!

God is counting on you to be a John the Baptist in someone else’s life. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Ready or Not, Here I Come: Watch and Pray

Luke 21:25-36

This is a time of year when people say to one another,
“Are you ready? It’s coming.”
“Ready or not, here it comes.”
“Christmas is just around the corner.”

We talk about Christmas countdowns. We go to the stores, and we listen to Christmas carols. The Christian Church, however, traditionally calls this time of year the season of Advent, which means so much more than simply a warmup for Christmas Day. It is a time to remember that Christ has come, He is coming again, and we must be prepared for Him. The One who came quietly and humbly in the little backward town of Bethlehem will arrive again in glory and power and majesty one day. The One who humbly rode a donkey into Jerusalem and was hailed as a King on Palm Sunday will appear to us on a cloud.

The first advent was the birth of Christ. It will be followed by another advent – the reappearing of Christ. Where do we get this notion? Jesus told us so. As you examine the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, you find Jesus freely spoke in the parables about His second coming. In the Apostles’ Creed, we say we believe He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Some people feel a little uneasy when it comes to the subject of the second coming of Jesus. I am here to assure you, this need not be the case. For the Christian, it is very good news and should not frighten us. Instead, it is our confidence as followers of Christ. We have the big picture before us. History is not a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Followers of Jesus Christ know better than that. We know history is, in a very real sense, HIS STORY. All of history is headed toward a grand finale. Christ says, The world is mine. I have final word over it all.
• I am the Alpha and the Omega (Rev. 22:13).
• All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me (Matt. 28:18).
• Heaven and earth may pass away but my word endures forever (Matt. 24:35).

This is really good news!

The world, oftentimes, appears to be hopeless, dark, scary, and totally out-of-control. However, the second coming of Jesus reminds us, He has got this. We don’t need to worry. In fact, Jesus is reassuring His disciples of this when He describes the second coming.

While some are uneasy about the second coming, others go completely in another direction and obsess on trying to figure out when it will happen. They spend a lifetime conjecturing and speculating on it, to end up disappointed and looking rather foolish, as we’ve seen in past history. I am acquainted with people who are great end-times enthusiasts. A friend of mine said recently, “I am fascinated by the end times. I love to try to figure out when it’s going to happen.” It is a hobby in his Christian faith. We must remember, though, that Jesus said it will happen unexpectedly, suddenly like a thief in the night. He seems to be telling us that we are not to be simply sitting around, speculating about His return while we wait.

In our passage for today from Luke, Jesus is teaching His disciples about His second advent. He doesn’t tell us when He’s coming, He just assures us that it will happen and what it will be like. The stars will fall from the sky, the sun will refuse to shine, and the moon will turn to blood. He uses Old Testament prophetic language like in the book of Joel. There will be havoc, chaos on the earth, distress among nations, a roaring of the sea and the waves. There will be great fear and trembling – people fainting with fear and foreboding. Then the powers of the heavens will be shaken. The sky will be in havoc.

“Then they will see ‘the Son of Man’ coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” The Son of Man is used in the book of Daniel to describe a messianic figure from God who will come in power someday for His people. It was one of Jesus’ favorite titles to describe Himself. Jesus is a power figure, a deliverer. “Then they will see ‘the deliverer coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.

“When these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads.” This is a posture of hope and confidence.

“For your redemption is drawing near.” Redemption! It will be a great day! Christ’s return appearance is the Christian follower’s hope and confidence. Help has arrived! Redemption of the body will take place. Paul describes it:
Our spirits groan for the completion of His saving work: perfect, resurrected bodies (Rom. 8:23).

Jesus also talked about the redemption of the body,
“. . . I will come again and take you to myself that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3b).

Christ’s return will bring about a final deliverance, a final redemption. The book of Revelation says there’ll be a new heaven and a new earth. It will be perfect in every way, just as God intended in the beginning, in the garden of Eden – people loving God and loving one another. “The second coming of Christ will be so revolutionary that it will change every aspect of life on this planet. Christ will reign in righteousness. Disease will be arrested. Death will be modified. War will be abolished. Nature will be changed. Man will live as it was originally intended he should live.” – Billy Graham.

This is our grand vision as we live each day as followers of Jesus, serving Him and telling others about Him. When it appears the world is falling apart and out-of-control, we have this good news that Christ will make a second appearance, and all will be well. As Billy Graham once remarked, “I’ve read the last page of the Bible. It’s all going to turn out all right.”

It’s like a story about a man who saw some young boys playing baseball out on the field. He yelled over to the right fielder, “What’s the score?” The young boy said, “Seventeen to nothing!” The man replied, “It doesn’t look very good for you, does it?” The boy just smiled and said, “We ain’t been up to bat yet.”

My friends, joy awaits us. Unimaginable joy. Heavenly joy like we have never experienced on this planet! We will be with Him, and every knee will bow and every tongue confess in heaven and on earth and under the earth that Jesus Christ is Lord. Jesus tells us in his teaching today, Now in the meantime, be ready. Always be ready for that great day. He offers directions for His disciples to follow while we wait for the day of His reappearing. They don’t involve just sitting around and waiting. We are to be engaged in active, positive, healthy kingdom activity. Obedience, holiness, witness, and service in His name.

As Jesus sits down with His disciples and tells them all these things, I can’t help but be reminded of a parent giving a bit of caution and warning to his young teens for their first night alone at home. Knowing how much trouble they can get themselves into, they need some instruction. I remember my parents giving me those kinds of instructions when they would go away. He is basically telling them, This is what you are to do with yourselves.

It is important to note that Jesus is speaking to the disciple of Jesus Christ who has placed their trust in Him. I would be remiss to not ask you at this time, Have you done that? Have you come to a place in your spiritual life where you know for certain if Jesus came tonight, or you died tonight, you would be with Him forever?

Earlier I stated that the second coming of Christ is good news for the follower of Christ. It is our hope and confidence. However, this is not the case for those who stand outside of a relationship with Christ. It will not be good news for them, for Jesus is coming to judge the living and the dead. In the Christian faith, we do not believe in universalism (everyone is saved, no matter what).

Today is a day to ask Jesus Christ into your life, if you haven’t already done it. Surrender yourself to His care. Place your trust in Him and what He has done for you. He loves you! He died for you on the cross to pay for your sins. He rose from the dead, the first fruits of the resurrection so you can have a resurrected, eternal life with Him, and a restored relationship with your heavenly Father. Ask Him into your heart today. Now is the time!

For those of you listening today who already follow Jesus, you have placed your trust in Him, and receive forgiveness and grace in His promises, Jesus instructs you to watch yourselves. It is important to remain faithful, run a good race of faith, so you will be able to say, like Paul at the end of his life, “I fought the good fight. I have run the good race.” Do not be distracted, off on rabbit trails gradually getting yourself further and further away from Him. Jesus tells us to, “Watch yourselves.”

“Be on guard so your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation . . .” Dissipation is a word for wasted living or drunkenness, carousing, totally taken up with the cares of this world, of this life, as if this is the only life there is. It so easy, isn’t it, to make idols out of good things like family or finances or prestige, to lose sight of the big picture and walk away from Christ, to be unfaithful to Christ and His kingdom. Jesus says, “Watch yourselves!” Keep your eye on the ball. Focus on me. I am coming again!

Gordon MacDonald shares the following old story: “In ancient days when the King of Siam had an enemy he wanted to torment and destroy, he would send the enemy a unique gift – a white elephant, a live, albino elephant. These animals were considered to be sacred in the culture of the day. So the recipient of the elephant had no choice but to intentionally care for the gift. This elephant would take an inordinate amount of the enemy’s time, resources, energy, emotions, and finances. Over time the enemy would destroy himself because of the extremely burdensome process of caring for the gift.”

Our spiritual enemy uses the same strategy on us.
• Let’s say you buy season tickets to watch your favorite sports team. Because you still have a lot of games to go to, you no longer have time to serve in some area of ministry or to worship.
• Or perhaps you buy a summer cottage. Now you miss weekend worship services between the beginning of May and the end of September.
• Let’s say you buy a health club membership to get in shape. You used to get up early in the morning to read your Bible and pray, but now you don’t have time because you’re working out before work.
• Perhaps you buy a spot for one of your kids in a traveling sports team. Now you are too busy to join the community impact ministry of serving the poor.

What are the white elephants in your life? Do you spend money on things, which take your time away from God? Money isn’t the problem. The activities aren’t necessarily the problem. The problem is a white elephant gift has pulled you away from Christ-honoring pursuits. Watch yourselves!

Jesus then gives further instructions: Stay awake at all times! Be spiritually alert so you might overcome these temptations that destroy one’s faith.

By the way, remember this: Satan is prowling around seeking to destroy our faith and our lives. He is seeking to devour us, and he loves to use temptations like this. We need to keep our eyes wide open. Jesus tells us the best way to stay awake is by praying.

He once told a parable to encourage His disciples to keep praying. It was a story about a widow who kept after an unfeeling, unjust judge for justice until he gave in to her nagging. Jesus pointed out that when you approach God in prayer, He’s just the opposite of the judge who had to be nagged. He wants you to talk to him.

Then Jesus remarks, “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” It was His way of saying, Keep praying. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, beginning with me.

Jesus counted on prayer for vigilance, strength, and focus. He wants His disciples to do the same and lean heavily on daily prayer.

This is our good news of Advent. Christ has come. He is coming again. He is coming to take over once and for all. He loves you. He who died and rose for you has the final word over you, and nothing can snatch you from His hand or separate you from His love. Trusting in Christ, you belong to Him forever and ever. This is your hope, your confidence. Your future is bright.

Today, though, I appeal to you to recommit yourself this Advent season to trusting Jesus in all this. Use your days to further His kingdom’s cause by witnessing and serving in His name. Pray constantly for His kingdom to come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Live out the rest of your days to hear Him say to you when you see Him face-to-face at the end, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer