Take Up Your Cross and Follow Him!

2nd Sunday of Lent

Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, there are some things in life that simply go together.  There are some things in life that go hand in hand.  A church has pews.  A school has children.  A grocery store has food.  Northern Minnesota normally has cold and snow.  Some things simply go together.  Well that’s also true for something else: suffering and salvation.  In Jesus’ case it was necessary that He suffer in order to win salvation for us.  Well the fact is that Jesus’ sufferings actually spill over into our lives as well, we call them crosses.  Our crosses serve a different purpose than Jesus’ cross.  Jesus’ cross paid for sins once for all, it’s done, and it’s completed.  God uses our crosses or sufferings for His Name to focus us and keep us focused on Jesus’ cross for our strength in life, for the forgiveness of our sins, and for the assurance of final victory in heaven with Him.

At the time of our text Jesus is in His later ministry, likely in His final year.  The opposition to Jesus and His message has been increasingly mounting.  During this time Jesus spends more time privately teaching and repeating key truths to His disciples.  The first part of Jesus’ ministry made it clear to people by both what Jesus said and what Jesus did (all the miracles) that Jesus was really the Son of God who was promised from the Old Testament.  So just before our text Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?”  And their answers varied: John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets.  And then Jesus asked them, “but what about you?”  And Peter spoke up for all of them as said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Wow!  They got it!  Right on!  And yet, just like in our lives there are high points, points of strong and living faith, there are also low points and struggles, the same is true of Peter.

This is where our text picks up.  Jesus first spells out for the disciples and for us the essence of the Gospel: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected (literally “cast aside as useless”) by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.”  There we have it: no cross, no crown, no cross, no glory, no suffering, no salvation.  Jesus must suffer, Jesus must be put to death, Jesus must take the punishment of all sins upon Himself and bear the full load upon the cross in order to save sinners from their sins.  And you can almost picture Peter take Jesus aside and say things to him like, “Now, now, it’s really not that bad, you shouldn’t talk that way, nobody is going to arrest you, and you’re not going to be put to death if I can help it.”

And there is really a part of us that wants what Peter wants too.  Who of us wants to see our God, our Savior suffer, be abused, mistreated, arrested by people, and crucified and say, “That’s our God, that’s whom we follow!”  Perhaps there’s a part of us who would like to see Jesus ride into Jerusalem on a blazing white stallion with a sword flashing and 72,000 angels showing His power and might and glory by decimating every one of his enemies before they can even lift a finger.  But, what an awful thing for us had he done so!  If Jesus didn’t carry the cross and suffer, then we wouldn’t have a Savior.  If Jesus didn’t suffer for us, we’d be hopelessly lost having to pay for our own sins with an eternity in hell!  So Jesus suffered for us.  He took the road that was fraught with trouble and suffering, He carried the cross because through it He bought people from their sins and opened up eternity.

After rebuking Peter, Jesus called the crowd, and His disciples, and part of that crowd is you and me, (and note well that Jesus is talking to Christians, believers here) and said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Can you imagine being there and hearing these words for the first time?  Notice that Jesus does NOT say, “If you want to follow me, take up your great popularity, your luxury yacht, your calm, peaceful, easy, happy and painless life, and follow me.”  Rather, what does He say?  If you want to be counted as one of my followers, you must DENY self, deny your wants and your desires and your things, deny that you’re the #1 important thing of your life, and pick up your instrument of torture and follow me.  If you want to follow me, be ready for what that means.”  A servant isn’t above his master, if the Master suffers, His servants will also.

Jesus continues, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”  If someone loves their earthly life, the pleasures, the things, the toys, an easy life free from being confrontational, free from being attacked for their faith, free from a connection with Jesus, they will lose their eternal life.  On the other hand, anyone whose life is crucified with Christ, whoever can say, “‘I no longer live, but Christ lives in me,’ and there is nothing in this life that can make me deny my faith or deny my Savior, be it death itself,” that person’s life is saved for eternity.  How precious is one’s eternal life, their soul?  “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?  Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”  Permit the impossible for a second.  Even if you could have the whole world, everything in it is yours, all yours; it doesn’t even come near how precious your eternal soul is and how precious eternal life is!

Just as Jesus was serious about His work and was not ashamed to set aside his glory in order to save humans, so He’s dead serious about people not being ashamed to be connected with Him: “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”  One of the most dreaded things for any person alive is to feel ashamed, to feel dumb, to be looked down on.  But this makes sense to even human standards: if someone is ashamed of Jesus, ashamed to be a follower of Jesus, ashamed of what Jesus says, then it makes perfect sense that in the end when Jesus returns as King of kings and Lord of lords that HE be ashamed of them for being so foolish.

These are certainly hard words from our Savior to swallow.  But before we start applying them, notice a couple things.  These words are coming from our Savior, who came to save us from our sins completely on His own and did not leave one thing left for us to do, He did it all, and these words are coming from our Savior who loves us and wants more than anything for us to stay in the faith and enjoy eternal life with Him forever.  So he tells us some things we need to hear about our life on earth.  This is the fact: you believe in Jesus, you will bear a cross.  What is a cross?  It’s not all suffering; rather, it is anything and everything that you suffer because of your connection to Jesus.

If we don’t think we bear the cross today, then we’ve only fooled ourselves.  Don’t think that the world around us is going to get any more accepting of God’s Word or for us Christians who follow Christ.  Gay marriage and the acceptance of homosexuality are only going to become more mainstream, abortion and the lack of respect for human life is only going to be more and more tolerated.  As people in our world move further away from God and His Word they will move further away from you as well.  For standing up for your faith you will be marginalized, labeled “old fashioned,” “intolerant,”  “out-dated,” and “out of touch.”  Yet, that’s not it.  There are also inward crosses that we bear inside of us.  We bear an inward struggle against sin and temptation that the unbeliever simply does not.  There’s that old, unconverted sinful flesh that sits inside of me until the day that I die which tempts, harasses, and causes no end of trouble.  How could your loving God allow this medical trouble to happen to you?  If God really loved you, would He really say it’s wrong to sleep with your boyfriend or girlfriend?  If God really cared about you, wouldn’t you be very successful at work, popular, and enough money to do the things you’ve always wanted to do?  If God really has forgiven you, would you still be haunted by all those horrid sins and failures of your life?

But why?  Wouldn’t it be so much nicer to not have to bear a cross now?  To get glory now?  Wouldn’t it be so much nicer to be free from all the troubles that plague me?  To be successful, courageous, free from problems, to enjoy all the things of this world.  That Christianity would dominate the world, that we would be the respected ones, the popular ones, the ones in power!  That people would look to me for the answers in life!

Why doesn’t God allow that to happen?  Why?  Because He knows us all too well.  If He were to take our problems away we would have no use for Him, no reason to find salvation and strength in Him.  You see, without the cross as a constant in our lives we would break our arms patting ourselves on the back.  We would forget about God and our need for God.  We were conceived and born in sin and we’ll never run out of the desire to become God, to have things our way, to do our own thing.  But it is in suffering, in bearing the cross, that we begin to doubt our own strength, our own ability to save ourselves, we remember our sin, our frailty, our constant, total, absolute need of our Savior.  You know how it is.  When things are going great in your life, personal Bible study falls away, prayer becomes rare, worship also becomes rare.

So God uses crosses to drive us to our knees and say, “God be merciful to me a sinner”  “There is nothing good that lives in me, in my sinful nature…what a wretched person I am!”  And then God brings us to the glorious reality that He bore the cross first for us, He took upon himself the punishment we deserve, all our iniquities were laid first on Him, by His wounds we are healed, the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him!

Think about all the things that drive us to our knees today, that refocus our attention off of the things in this world, that cause us to look for peace and safety outside of ourselves and rather in our Savior Jesus, are we going to be complaining about them in heaven?  Are we going to be upset with those things that caused us to focus on our dear Lord and Savior in heaven?  Are we going to be troubled by all of the problems that made us give up our worldly security or self-security for hope and security in Christ alone, when we’re in heaven?

So we actually rejoice in our crosses, rejoice to suffer for our Savior.  Why? Because it is our sufferings that point us away from ourselves and to our Lord and Savior Jesus.  Sufferings point us to Jesus and the cross He bore.  They point us to Him who bore all of our sins upon Himself on His cross, who paid for us in full.  It is in Jesus’ cross where He gives us the strength to bear our crosses and it’s in His cross where we have the assurance of glory in eternity with Him forever.  So my fellow believers, take up your dear cross and follow Him!

Your Savior Struggles for You!

1st Sunday of Lent

Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, Ed Wardle is a Scottish TV producer, director, cameraman, and adventurer.  It was his lifetime dream to live all alone in the wild for 3 months, living off the land and surviving.  So a couple of years ago he was dropped off in the Yukon Territory of Northern Canada with as much food as he could carry, a camera, a gun just in case, etc.  His intention was to film a documentary discovering what it was like to live all alone in the wild.  But he found out pretty quickly how difficult it was to find food, he began to use up most of his rations, he lived in constant fear of the wild animals, and the solitude and loneliness just about caused him to lose his mind- he would talk to himself and cry.  Finally, he used an emergency phone and was rescued after only 7 weeks.  He had lost about 28 pounds and his heart rate had fell to 30 beats a minute.[1]  He couldn’t finish what he wanted to do.

I don’t know what it would be like to try to survive in the wilderness as Mr. Wardle did.  But I do know that our Savior did just that.  Like Mr. Wardle, Jesus was completely alone, no humans to associate with, only wild animals, and he did not eat for 40 days and nights.  Yet, unlike Mr. Wardle, our Savior’s struggle was far, far more intense.  Not only did Jesus struggle all alone, He also struggled against the temptations of the devil.  Jesus’ struggle wasn’t for vain glory, or to see if it could be done, or for popularity, His struggle was… for you!  Jesus struggled against the devil’s temptations for you!  YOUR SAVIOR STRUGGLES FOR YOU!  So let us (1) watch His battle and (2) hear His news.

(1) Jesus began his public ministry in Israel at His baptism.  It was there when the Father spoke commending Jesus, His Son, and the Holy Spirit descended as a dove on Him.  Now we might think Jesus would immediately get to work preaching and teaching, but He doesn’t.  What happens?  “At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert.”  Notice that Jesus does not put himself in temptation’s way, rather as He went out to the desert He did so according to God’s will and He gladly went along with it.  You see, Jesus came to disarm the prince of this world, to come in tie up the strong man and take his spoils.  He came not to flee from the devil, but to defeat him.  “And he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan.”  Satan seizes an opportunity, in utter wickedness and evil he thinks he may be able to destroy humanity’s connection with God by bringing down the Redeemer.  Satan is the enemy of people.  Jesus was “with the wild animals, and angels attended him.”  The wilderness Jesus is in probably more resembles what we may think of as a desert.  Being in the wilderness is one thing, add to that the heat, the hunger, and the only company He had were wild animals, perhaps snakes, foxes, jackals, leopards, hyenas, maybe lions.

But why?  Why is Jesus here in the desert being tempted in total isolation?  Jesus came in order to be tempted in every way that we humans are tempted, except with one exception, He never fell, He never gave into temptation.  Yes, His temptations were just as real and intense as temptations we may feel, but He never gave in.  It’s like the two ways of going grocery shopping.  If you go grocery shopping when you’re hungry, you can make all kinds of bad purchases simply because you’re hungry and not strong enough to resist the temptations.  Or you can shop when you’re full and those temptations of food are mastered and you don’t fall.  We are constantly faced with many temptations and fall, Jesus was faced with all of them, but He was full with God’s Word and never fell once.

There’s another way to look at the reason why Jesus is even here being tempted in the first place.  Why is Jesus actually and severely being tempted by the devil?  Why is Jesus alone and in danger and weak?  Is it not because of us?  It’s for all the times when we’ve given in to temptations, indulged our sinful flesh, willingly gave in “just this once” to a temptation, you see, it’s because of us and our sins that our Savior suffered, put Himself in a position to be truly and actually under Satan’s bony finger.  And isn’t that the glory of all of this?  Jesus didn’t have to be here, He didn’t have to be in the desert being tempted, He didn’t have to come to this sinful and corrupt earth in the first place.  Jesus had everything from eternity, what more could he possibly have?  He had the praises of the angels, and what more could we sinful people ever add to his infinite glory?  The answer?  Absolutely nothing.  So, if we couldn’t add anything to the Lord, why’d he do it?  Why suffer?  Why be tempted?  Why go hungry?  Why willingly go into the hands of sinful men?  Why be crucified on a cross?  Why?  The only explanation could ever be: grace!  The love of God you’ll never be able to figure out!  The love of God that will take an eternity to understand!  And yet still today this love is spit upon, laughed at, made fun of, Jesus is thought to be a big joke, a trivial matter, the “wise and learned” of our world mock God’s love and they mock anyone who believes it.  In their rejection they choose the fallen angel/ the destroyer/ the devil as their guide in life and end up with his doom as their future.  Let us not be like them.  Let us rather see the struggle of our Savior, see how He won our battle for us in our place and let us continue in the struggle.  We too have a struggle, a battle we undergo every day all around us.  “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but agains the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil” (Eph. 6:12).  So how do we struggle?  The devil’s temptations are all around us: flashing images on our computer screen, surrounding us with filthy language, getting us to crave things God hasn’t allowed us to have.  So how do we battle?  We put on the full armor of God so we can take our stand against the devil’s schemes.  We ready ourselves with God’s Word and we look for our strength in our Savior who struggled for us and since He did, “because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb. 2:18).   Not only did OUR SAVIOR STRUGGLE FOR US but He helps us by letting us (1) watch the battle He won and He further helps us by letting us hear His news.

(2) We’re told that after John was put in prison “Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.”  From Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness this is about a year or more later.  Jesus went around in Galilee, the northern part of Israel, as a herald from God, or as God’s ambassador, bringing to people a message straight from God’s own very heart.  What was his message?  “The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news!’”  Jesus made it clear that God’s kingdom is near.  What does that mean?  God’s kingdom is wherever God rules with his power and grace.  God’s kingdom is God’s doing something that affects people who have alienated themselves from him by their sin.   God’s kingdom is near because Jesus has come on the scene with the gospel in a very clear way and the next act of God is the end of all things.  So, Jesus’ message is absolutely vital.  And what does He say?  “Repent and believe the good news.”  What Jesus looks for is repentance, contrition, confession, which means acknowledging sin, being sorry for it and secondly “believing the good news” or trusting in the Gospel for salvation, redemption, and peace.

Both this repentance over sin and trust in God’s forgiveness are a constant, daily, regular thing in the life of a Christian.  It’s just like someone needs first to acknowledge that they are sick and need some help before they’ll take the medicine to make them healthy.  A person who doesn’t acknowledge that they’re sick won’t take a medicine to treat the sickness they don’t think they have.  In a similar way, sin is the fatal sickness we all have and we have to first admit our sin-sickness and then trust in the cure God has provided, the good news of forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

Yet we often struggle to hear the news Jesus has to tell us.  None of us like to admit our sinfulness, confess, repent, be sorry over our sins.  Repenting of our sins forces us to admit we were wrong, admit we deserve death, admit we ought to be cast out of God’s sight forever!  So, often we try to convince ourselves we aren’t that bad and don’t need to repent.  If that’s the case then the devil is making some major inroads into our lives.  Don’t be fooled we are constant victims of the devil’s schemes, devices, and tricks.  If he can get you to believe a lie, he’ll do it.  If he can get you to look at sin lightly, he’ll do it.  If he can make inroads in your life, he will.  How?  Well, who do you invite into your home when you turn on the t.v., pop in a movie, click on the internet browser?  What garbage is the devil getting you to swallow?  What news fills your ears?  The latest gossip, lies, filthy language?  YOUR SAVIOR STRUGGLES FOR YOU!  He wants you to hear His news!  “Repent!”  He says.  Acknowledge your sins, be sorry for them, and stop them!  That’s His news of repentance.  But that’s not all of His news.

His news also includes, “Believe the good news!”  This is the message Jesus came to bring and it’s the message of Lent: Hear the good news!  Jesus came to struggle against the devil for you!  Jesus came to struggle through bitter sufferings and death to take away your sins completely!  Jesus came to struggle on this earth so you might have an eternity free of all struggles and pains and temptations!  And Jesus continues to struggle that news into your heart to believe it and enjoy it!

Yes we still face struggles on this earth.  We struggle to make ends meet, we struggle to get our work done, we struggle to stay healthy.  But finally, there are only 2 struggles in this life.  The struggle inside of God’s kingdom and the struggle outside.  Which one will it be?  The struggle outside of God’s kingdom has the devil as guide and his dreadful fate for a future.  The struggle inside?  Through repentance of sins and faith in the Savior every day is a struggle against the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh.  You struggle not to fall into Satan’s traps and lies and deceptions.  You struggle to continually confess your sins and unworthiness before God and rely on God for salvation.  But in this struggle you’re not alone.  You struggle with the strength of your Savior who goes with you!  He builds you up and helps you as One who has met every temptation and never fallen!  You struggle with the support of God’s own angels who protect and serve you constantly!

No you don’t have to live out in the wilderness like Mr. Wardle to learn what it’s like to struggle.  You struggle every day against the devil.  But you have the support and the strength you need by seeing how YOUR SAVIOR STRUGGLED FOR YOU, winning your battle in your place and telling you the good news of forgiveness and salvation in Him!  Amen.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ed_Wardle

Lord, If You Are Willing!

6th Sunday after Epiphany

Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, Whistling Straits is a fairly prestigious golf course in Wisconsin.  It’s located north of Sheboygan and right next to Lake Michigan.  It’s a beautiful course and has some very scenic outlooks over Lake Michigan.  And if you’d like to golf there you’d better be planning on spending at least several hundred dollars.  Well, about a year and a half ago the course was the location of one of the stops of the PGA tour.  It was well over a year in advance that the course began planning and making preparations for this prestigious event.  Well, it so happened that the course contracted with the company that I was working for to provide the cleaning for the couple hundred portable restrooms for the several day event.  One of my jobs was to drive about an 8 ton truck out on to the course to clean out a few on the course.  This wasn’t the place and I wasn’t in the vehicle that could simply be driven all over the greens.  Trying to follow a golf cart path with a truck that size was not an easy thing!  I had to be very careful to try to stay on the road so that I wouldn’t mess up the grass or the lawn with the truck a little overturn one way or the other could have made a mess.  I also remember at one place there was a bridge over a small creek and although it was a wood bridge I was assured the bridge could handle my truck.  But I was more concerned with the fact that the bridge was made for a golf cart and my truck had about 6 inches or a foot of room to spare on either side, with no guard rails.  A little turn to the left or the right could’ve been a disaster!  When driving on a road there are usually two wrong ditches you can fall into- one on one side and one on the other.  It’s very important to stay on the road!

In our lives it is often the case that there are two dangerous ditches on either side of us that we don’t want to fall into.  Last Sunday we talked about how God uses suffering and hardships to actually draw us closer to Him and help us to rely on Him and teach us to pray to Him.  Today we’re going to look a little more closely at God’s answers to our prayers.  As with many things there are 2 dangerous ditches we can fall into.  When we are faced with some ordeal of hardship on one side of the road is falling into despair should God choose not to answer our prayers the way we wanted him to or not in our timetable.  In this ditch we’re tempted to throw in the towel and give up on God and think that God has abandoned us and doesn’t care about us.  Yet, there exists on the other side of the road another dangerous ditch.  We fall into this ditch if when God answers our prayers in the manner we asked, then we are tempted to get so caught up in the gifts of God that we forget about Him and forget who it is that gave them to us.

We get some glimpses of these two ditches in our text.  Jesus is currently on a preaching tour around Galilee in the northern region of Israel.  While he was going about “a man with leprosy came to him.”  Now it’s important to understand something about having leprosy (or any skin disease for that matter).  A person who had a skin disease like leprosy (the word for leprosy can include many diseases and not just what is called today “Hansen’s disease”) was in a very sorry state.  Some have described this disease as including skin sores – whitish scabs would appear and spread over the body and eventually consume the bones, it would eat away at the flesh causing nerve damage, muscle weakness, it would be accompanied by a violent fever, sleeplessness and nightmares, etc.  In a very real way the person with leprosy would be experiencing death while still alive.  Not only was there the physical pain of having such a disease but also what was required of people who had it.  Apparently this disease was very contagious.  The Old Testament law required people who had such a skin disease to actually live outside of the city and away from people.  They were not allowed to have any sort of contact with people who did not have the disease.  They were to live by themselves with disheveled hair, clothes torn apart and wearing mourner’s clothes covering half their face.  If anyone without the disease were to walk near them they were to throw their hands in the air and yell, “Unclean, unclean!” So that you would stay away from them and not become unclean yourself.  There are actually documents indicating how Rabbis during this time would brag about how they had never been within so many feet of a leper (you didn’t even want to be downwind of one) and others would brag about how they would throw rocks at them to make sure they didn’t come too close.

Now imagine being this leper.  Not only are you suffering a painful disease of which there is no cure, but you also have to live without being able to even associate with your family, your friends, and the majority of people!  And if that were not it…you were unclean and couldn’t worship and many falsely believed that contracting the disease was a punishment for having committed some heinous sin in your life.  The Hebrew word for “leprosy” actually means something like “scourge”- leprosy was viewed as a scourge from God Himself.  So very likely this disease of leprosy could negatively affect someone physically, socially, emotionally, and even spiritually.  This leper was indeed suffering miserably, perhaps in ways much greater than you or I have suffered, and yet notice that he doesn’t fall into the dangerous ditch of despair.  He doesn’t throw in the towel, give up on life, give up on God, give up on church, give up on religion, give up his faith, and give in.  He goes to Jesus; takes his problem to Jesus.

Falling on his knees before Jesus he begs him, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”  What a beautiful little prayer!  First, he falls on his knees in humility, he’s not going to stand over Jesus and tell Jesus what he should or should not be doing.  He also shows his trust in the Lord’s almighty power to help him and he trusts in Jesus’ divine mercy to come to his aid.  All the while he submits himself to the will of the Almighty.  He prays, “If you are willing.”  Implied in that short prayer is the possibility that it may not be Jesus’ will to heal him or answer his prayer the way he is asking it.  Perhaps he couldn’t quite bring himself to say the other part, “If, however, you don’t want to, I will gladly bear the burden of this leprosy around my neck for the rest of my life.”  But whatever the answer is he is ready to accept the divine will of the Almighty God.

Then Jesus “was filled with compassion and reached out his hand and touched the man.”  Jesus was literally “gut-wrenched” with compassion for this man.  And did you catch it?  He touched him!! It was totally unheard of for a Rabbi to touch a leper, but this isn’t just a Rabbi, it’s Jesus, the Son of God, the Almighty!  Then Jesus said, ‘I am willing, be clean’ Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.”  Immediately his paltry white skin returned to a healthy color, he was healed!  Made whole!  Cured!  A simple word from Jesus healed an incurable disease- certainly this is no ordinary man, but truly the Son of God!  Then Jesus sent him away with a strong warning not to talk to anyone but go straight to fulfill the requirements of someone who was healed of a disease.  Why Jesus didn’t want him to tell anyone we’re not totally sure: Did he want him to first worship the Lord?  Did he not want opposition from his enemies?  Did he not want the man sharing the miracle without the Word and people see Jesus as simply a miracle worker?  Finally we’re not 100% sure, but we do know that the man didn’t do what he was supposed to do.  He disobeyed Jesus.  He fell into the other ditch.  He so focused on the answer Jesus’ gave his prayer that he forgot about what Jesus wanted.  He now preferred his own will and wants over what Jesus wanted.  We aren’t told he followed Jesus’ direction at all and as a result Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed in lonely places.  Even though Jesus knew this man’s actions would hinder his work Jesus still granted his prayer.  “Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.”  Even in this man’s disobedience Jesus still worked it for good since people still came out to him and he preached the good news to them.

Are we guilty of this?  Of falling into ditches?  Are there times when we’ve prayed to the Lord about something and He doesn’t seem to answer the way we wanted him to?  Or have we questioned God’s ways and wondered why He should be allowing this or that to happen to us?  Have we doubted God’s wisdom in ruling things, doubted his love and mercy in dealing with us?  If so then we’ve driven our lives into the dangerous ditch of despair.  Then are there other times when God does answer our prayers and give us the things we ask for and then we forget about him.  We long for something and when it comes we forget to thank the Lord who gave it to us, we begin to enjoy the gifts God gives and neglect the Giver!  We find ourselves glued to the things God gives instead of Him!  If we were to look back at the “tracks” of our life, what would we see?  Would they be swerving from one ditch to the next?  Or would they be following the road?  If we’re honest with ourselves, each one of us has to admit the answer isn’t one we’re proud of.

“If you are willing”- This is the Christian’s approach to life- in every aspect to submit our will to his, to immerse ourselves with God’s will, to offer up our will to Him.  God wants us to have the proper attitude to the things of this world.  If God gives us health, wealth, good things, and joy our hearts remain focused on the Lord and are ready to give them up without questioning God if he should take them from us.  If God should send us trouble, tribulation, trials, sicknesses, and need we again will keep our focus on the Lord and gladly endure all things until the end of our lives. Our will is shaky, waving, and unreliable, God’s will on the other hand is perfectly calm and reliable.  When we immerse ourselves in God’s will we will have true peace of mind.  We immerse our will in His will and trust that whatever God does in our lives is for our best and we look for God’s blessings.

Even though we are constantly prone to sin, constantly tempted to fall into one of two dangerous ditches in our lives, notice something else.  We see in this a far greater miracle than a leper being cleansed or healed, there’s something else going on here.  Notice what Jesus did?  This leper came to him and Jesus didn’t repel him, turn away, throw rocks at him, or keep his distance…he touched him!  There is an ailment or affliction far worse than leprosy that each one of us has living inside of us.  This sickness will lead to death.  Each one of us ought to be an outcast and shunned by the One who is clean and sinless and not like us.  Yet the wonder upon wonders and miracle upon miracles is the fact that he didn’t do what he should have done, he didn’t turn his back on us and let us die in our sin.  No, He chose to come to us, to live among us, to not shun us, to cure us.  We see a small glimpse of Jesus’ compassion in this account yet the greater picture of His compassion is written all over his word.  He didn’t think it too menial and degrading of a thing to be beaten and mocked and treated like an outcast himself and to die a miserable death, it wasn’t menial or degrading because of what He was doing, by His blood he cleansed the world of its sin, took upon himself the suffering of the world and paid for it in full.  He picked us up and cleansed us from the mud and dirt of falling into the wrong ditches in our lives.  With his death on the cross he washed us clean and made us His own.  He doesn’t deal with us from far away, He deals closely with us, he washed you in your baptism, he touches you in a real way in His Supper, and he continually feeds you with His words of good news, of sins forgiven, of new life on earth, of a certain future life in heaven with Him.  That’s what your Savior wills for you!  Amen.

Jesus’ Call Overcomes Your Obstacles!

5th Sunday after Epiphany

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, How do you enjoy being sick?  I don’t think there is a person here that thinks being sick is actually fun.  Yea, you might be able to miss a day of work or stay home from school for a day, but being sick is just plain not fun.  Take a moment with me and remember a time when you were sick.  How’d you feel?  Lousy, miserable, irritable, cranky, sore, uncomfortable, down, discouraged, agonized, frustrated, fatigued, perhaps your stomach turned, your throat ached, your body had the chills and you couldn’t stay warm, perhaps your head throbbed…no, not fun at all!  It’s at those times when about the only thing on our mind is getting better.  So we usually try to sleep and try to rest, perhaps visit a doctor for a prescription, but it all involves waiting, waiting to get better.  There isn’t any magical thing we can do to immediately cure ourselves.  In that sense we are helpless and simply have to wait it out.

Finally, all sicknesses, diseases, and health troubles of any kind that cause us suffering and pain are the result of sin being present in us and in our world.   In heaven there will be no more pain or sorrow or sicknesses for the old order of things will have passed away and new will have come.  But while we are here on this earth we are faced with these problems.  And sometimes, as was the case with Job from our first reading, these sicknesses are sometimes sent by the devil.  In our Gospel, as well, we heard about how many people in Jesus’ day were possessed by demons.  And yet as terrible as these problems may be God remains in control and as we heard in our 2nd lesson this morning God can and does use all things in a believer’s life for his/her good.  This is what we see Jesus doing in our text this morning.

This is early on in Jesus’ ministry.  On one Sabbath day (Saturday) he went to the Synagogue in Capernaum where he taught the people and drove out a demon using His words.  After leaving the synagogue he went to Simon Peter and Andrew’s home in the same town.  Likely it was towards the evening and just before the main meal of the day, but there was a problem: Peter’s mother-in-law, his wife’s mom, was down sick with a fever, which prevented her from serving the Lord and hearing His message.  In fact the word for “fever” literally means “burning heat.”  If you’ve ever had a fever you know how miserable it is.  In short order Jesus went to her and saw her and gently touched her and raised her up and immediately the fever left.  She was so fully recovered from it that she was immediately able to serve the Lord and the others that were there.  The terrible fever was gone completely and totally at the touch of the Savior.

Later that evening Jesus continued to show His power to reverse the painful effects of sin.  No doubt many people were telling others about how Jesus had just cast out a demon from a man in the synagogue that morning.  The news spread fast and soon, after sunset, when the Sabbath day had ended (their days were about from 6 in the evening to 6 in the evening, whereas ours’ is 12 midnight to 12 midnight).  After the Sabbath day was over they were able to carry and bring their sick to Jesus.  Perhaps parents, children, husbands, wives all came bringing their sick ones to Jesus.  So much so, that the whole town was gathered outside the door of Peter’s home.  Jesus didn’t turn anyone who came to Him away but healed all of them.  There were even some who came that were possessed by demons.  At a word Jesus forced these demons to leave the people they were abusing.  Jesus didn’t even allow them to speak- would you want a demon confessing who you are?

The next day very early in the morning, we’re told that it wasn’t even sunrise; yet, Jesus left the house and went out to a place all alone to pray.  Not only has Jesus come to serve people in their need but he does so keeping His eyes upward toward God the Father doing all things as an act of worship to God.  Jesus found it important to often set aside time on His own to spend in prayer with God.  But when they couldn’t find Him, Simon and the others went in search of Jesus.  No doubt many people returned to Peter’s home the next day in order see Jesus do some miraculous sign and Peter was at a loss as to what happened to Jesus.  So they searched for Him and when they found him you can almost hear the reproach in Peter’s voice, “Everyone is looking for you!” In other words, “What are you doing here when you should really be entertaining the people?”  But Jesus didn’t come in order to set up a clinic in Capernaum to heal sick people.

So Jesus responded, “Let us go somewhere else- to the nearby villages- so I can preach there also.  That is why I have come.”  Jesus didn’t come in order to heal people, he came to preach the Gospel to people, to seek and to save the lost, to proclaim freedom and release for those caught in sin’s prison, to preach the good news of the kingdom, to forgive sins and give eternal life.  So Jesus went throughout Galilee, the northern part of Israel, preaching in their synagogues and driving out the devil.

So what is God teaching us in this portion of His Word?  How does this apply to us?

What are the obstacles in our lives that hinder Jesus’ call and His words to us?  Notice all of the obstacles and hindrances to Jesus’ message in this text.  It seemed like the whole town was down sick and even Peter’s mother-in-law had a fever that prevented her from hearing Jesus and serving Him.  Yet each one of them was actually a blessing in disguise, wasn’t it?  So many people suffering the results of sin in the world, so many people helpless on their own to cure themselves, and without hope…until Jesus shows up.  He makes use of each problem to show His glory and power over sin, its effects, and the devil.  The One who has the power to do miracles also has the power to be what we need Him to be: the Son of God; and to do what we need Him to do: forgive sins.

So many problems turned out to be actual blessings in disguise in Jesus’ hands.  But is that the way we view our trials, troubles, problems, sicknesses, hardships?  Do we view them as blessings in disguise in our Savior’s hands or curses as if God doesn’t care about us?  No one here is immune from suffering trials and hardships.  When we do get sick or have health trouble isn’t it often the fact that the last thing we do is to take it to the only One who has power to do something about it?  “Ugh!  The last thing I need is to get sick now!”  “What am I going to do about this…what medicines can I find…should I schedule a doctor visit…should I research my symptoms and figure out a remedy…should I do this, should I do that?”  Not that any of those things are bad or wrong, but the priority list is wrong.  When anything happens to us, is our first course of action to take it to the Lord?  To seek Him for help and healing?  To place our troubles and hardships in His hands?  But, what is perhaps even worse is when we think that our lives are going so well that we forget our need to rely on the Lord and pray to Him constantly.  If that’s the case, then we’re in a very dangerous position.  One of the first indications of getting spiritually “sick” is when our prayer life disappears.  “I just can’t simply seem to find the time”  “I have more important things to do.”  “I’m not sure that it’s worthwhile.”  “It doesn’t seem very effective.”  If those are our thoughts, how helplessly sick we are!  How desperately we need a Savior!  How desperately we need someone who woke up early in the morning, who put first things first, who went out by Himself and prayed to the Lord perfectly.  You see, Jesus didn’t just do this as an example for us…He did it in our place.  Jesus perfectly relied on the Father at all times, Jesus perfectly prayed to God and He did this for you!  He did that so that God now looks at you and He doesn’t see the times you and I have failed to pray, failed to keep God our #1 priority, instead He sees Jesus’ perfection covering you!

And notice something else.  When Peter’s mother-in-law was helplessly sick in bed there was only One person who could do something about it: Jesus.  And notice that she gets the point of Jesus’ help immediately: She needed Jesus’ help and Jesus’ help led her to serve.  What an illustration for us!  Finally, Jesus has helped us in the most profound way: He went to the cross and rescued us from our sins and gave us eternal life.  That’s help!  He’s rescued us not so that we can sit around or curl up in the sick bed, but He’s rescued us so we can serve.  He’s rescued us to serve Him and serve those who are around us.  Just like after recovering from an illness you want to get out and do things not lay around in the hospital bed any longer, so also Jesus’ saving us leads us to want to serve Him and others and not continue in the very sins God saved us from!

And sharing this soul-healing message of Jesus is best way to serve Him.  Our mission and purpose in life is not so much to make the world we live in a better place to live.  If that were the case, Jesus would have gone back and started a clinic at Capernaum.  But he didn’t.  Those people Jesus healed in our text aren’t still walking around today; they eventually died.  But notice what is far more important to Jesus.  It’s not so much miracles that Jesus did that are important, but their meaning, how Jesus is the Son of God.  Most often when Jesus did a miracle it was because someone came to him, it wasn’t Jesus’ habit to go out of his way to heal someone.  However, we do see Jesus often go out of his way in order to preach the good news, the Gospel, the life saving message of sins forgiven to people.

If a doctor found a cure for cancer, what would he do with the information?  Keep it to himself?  No, he’d share it and probably become very famous.  Well, Jesus has cured you in a much greater way, He’s cured you of your sins, made you eternally healthy, freely given you a heaven free of pain and disease, and He’s promised to use all things in your life to guide you there.  Wow!  And He’s entrusted that message of eternal life to you!  He’s given it to you to enjoy and to spread, to relish and to share, to keep and give away! It is this message that gives us meaning for life.

I don’t know, maybe you came here this morning with troubles of life on your mind, maybe you suffer from some medical condition, maybe you’ve prayed time and again that the Lord might take it away.  Why doesn’t Jesus heal us when we want him to?  Indeed He does heal us.  Without God’s help no doctor could achieve anything nor would our own bodily immune system be able to defeat any sickness.  God does often heal us and yet, for His own purposes, he may not relieve the suffering that we ask of Him.  Why?  Well, some things we may have to wait until we get to heaven to fully understand- then looking back we will have clear vision and specifically see how God did all things right- and at other times we see how our trials make us despair of ourselves, give up on ourselves and our own abilities seek help in our Lord alone.  Then the Lord Jesus comes to us, places his hand on us and says, “My child, don’t be afraid, for I have dismantled fear, take courage, I paid for everyone of your sins with my own blood on the cross, I took upon myself the worst suffering possible- suffering hell itself- for you!  You have been healed from your greatest disease, that of your sin.  In God’s eyes you are perfectly healthy, white-robed with my perfection, washed and cleansed with my own blood, I know your pain I’ve been there, I’ve felt it, but know this: that pain and suffering you feel now there is a cure and I have healed you, perhaps you’ll have to wait until your short life is ended, but the glory I have won for you beyond your grave is far more than your earthly mind can imagine, the eternal gift that awaits you with me in heaven will be so great that you won’t even remember the suffering you are enduring right now.  That’s my promise to you!  When obstacles come, see my love and grace that has overcome them all!”  Amen.

Listen to God’s Forerunner!

2nd Sunday of Advent

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all, dear friends in Christ, how would you prepare?  Where might you start?  Imagine someone important coming to Bemidji.  Imagine the president of the United States decided to visit Bemidji.  What’s going to happen?  All kinds of preparations, right?  Perhaps the city would be decorated, the streets swept, heightened security across town, garbage would be removed, eyes sores would be taken away, lawns mowed or snow shoveled.  I’m guessing city officials would be operating at peak performance, Mayor Dave Larson would be dressed in his best suit; many residents would probably rearrange their schedules in order to get a glimpse of the president in person, perhaps even a handshake, so much preparation involved, right?  So much preparation for a political leader whose term usually lasts a mere 4 or 8 years and then is almost all but forgotten about as we look on to the next president or leader.  Or maybe a little more closer to reality, perhaps you’ve invited family or friends over to come for the Christmas celebration.  There’s all kinds of preparations, aren’t there?  You’ve got to clean your home, dust the pictures, vacuum the carpet, sweep the floors, put up your Christmas decorations, remove any clutter that’s lying around, go to Luekens or Marketplace and stock your fridge, you make a plan of things to do while you have company, etc.  There’s so much preparation for someone’s arrival!

Well there’s someone else who’s coming that we have to be prepared for.  No, it’s not grandpa and grandma, mom or dad, or even President Obama, rather it’s God.  God has made it very clear to us that He’s coming.  He came once and He’s coming again.  When He arrives there will be no second chances, no quick sweeping the dirt under the rug, no quick covering the eye sores of sins, no time for last minute cleaning.  And since we heard last week that He comes in judgment for those who are unprepared but for mercy to those who are, then it is absolutely essential for each one of us to be prepared!  Well, we are properly prepared when we’re obeying what God wants us to be doing and cherishing the Word that He tells us.  When Jesus comes there will only be two kinds of people that He’ll find: those who are prepared and those who are not.

So it is due only to the amazing graciousness and love of our God that in His great mercy He sends us forerunners who help us be prepared for both His first coming as a baby in Bethlehem and His second coming on the Last Day.  The Old Testament people had forerunners whom God sent in order to prepare them for the coming Savior.  One of those was the prophet Isaiah another was the prophet Malachi.  In their writings the Lord said, “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way, a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”  God sent messages like these to His people in order that they might be ready, that they might be on the lookout for the one who would prepare the way for the Lord.  God sent this prophecy from Isaiah in order that there would be no mistake when John the Baptist came on the scene there would be no trouble recognizing him and recognizing the fact that the Messiah was soon coming after him.  Isaiah’s message was first to Israelites who were being held in captivity off in the foreign country of Babylon.  Off in Babylon they were geographically separated hundreds of miles from their homeland and from God’s temple.  What separated them?  A massive desert.  More importantly was not the geography but the reason they were off in a different country: it was because of the massive desert they had constructed in their hearts between them and God because of their sins.  The massive hindrance like a desert that needs to be removed is not so much geography as the massive hindrances inside the human heart.  The hindrances of sins and impenitence or unrepentant sin- they need to be removed so the Lord can build His highway into the human heart.  And that was exactly John the Baptist’s message.

In God’s great love and mercy He sent John the Baptist to the people before Jesus came on the scene in a full way.  God wanted people to be prepared, to realize their sins and absolute need for a Savior so that when He showed up they’d be ready for Him and welcome Him.  “And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”  John was the unmistakable fulfillment from the OT prophecy.  Notice that Isaiah had said, “A voice of one calling in the desert,” not a person, not even a mouth, why?  The messenger is not important, but the message is.  John was exactly that.  Everything he was and did pointed not to himself or his own gain, but to the message he carried.  He didn’t wear fancy clothes, he didn’t wear Abercrombie or Macy’s latest suit, and you wouldn’t find him eating fancy food, rather he wore rough camel’s hair and ate the poorest of poor man’s food: locusts.  Since he’s so lowly and modest, who would be scared to listen to him?  Who would be afraid to go and hear what he has to say?  If you’re going out to see him, you’re not focusing on him, but on His message.  You won’t be looking at his fancy clothes but listening to what he’s saying, that’s what’s important!

And notice something else, the people had to leave the comfort of their homes to go out and see him.  They had to travel 20 miles out into the desert in order to see him.  There was no restaurants or rest areas on the way.  No cars to jump in and go.  They had to rearrange their schedules to make the trek.  Why?  To refocus on what is most important- the matters of the heart.  And look at all the people who went!  “The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem.”

We too have the tendency to get distracted with our creature comforts and forget our real need.  What is it that is separating us from God this Advent season?  For the people at John the Baptist’s time it was any number of things and they literally had to separate themselves from their lives in order to hear God’s message from John.  What are the roadblocks in our lives hindering the work of the Holy Spirit on our hearts?  Distractions in our world that cause us to find every possible excuse to not hear or read God’s Word, instead of cherishing every opportunity to hear God’s message?  Is there a sin that we clutch so close to us that we refuse to let go even though it pushes us further from our God?  Do we hold some resentment against God because of some past life experience instead of trusting in God’s goodness to us?  Finally these are all obstructions in our hearts, mountains and valleys and deserts in our heart that separate us from our God.  Is our house in order for the King to arrive?  Are we prepared?  Are our hearts ready for the most important person this world has ever seen to arrive?

In the midst of people whose focus was primarily on matters of food and drink or house and home here came God’s messenger who was different.  He appeared in the most lowly manner- wearing a rough garment made of camel skin hair with a leather belt and he ate the most primitive poor man’s food: locusts and wild honey.  If you’re going out to see him you’re not focusing on the person, but on His message.  You won’t be looking at his fancy clothes but listening to what he has to say.

And what a message he had to bring!  “After me will come one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.”  The one coming after John is so great that he’s not even worthy to perform the job of the lowest of slaves.  John’s whole message pointed to the one coming after him.  Yes he baptizes with water but the one coming after him will baptize with the Holy Spirit.  Indeed the Holy Spirit was at work creating faith but after Jesus came He would send the Holy Spirit in a much fuller and broader way to work miracles of faith in people even down through today.  John’s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins was made possible by the redeeming work of the one coming after him to which he pointed.

After God’s last prophet Malachi it was about four hundred years of waiting until God sent his forerunner, John the Baptist, to prepare the way for His first coming.  Today we are still waiting for Jesus to come again.  We’ve been waiting a couple thousand years.  One day God will keep His word and come again.  Are we ready?  We thank the Lord that He has sent His forerunners to us to help us prepare for His 2nd coming!

He has sent forerunners, our forefathers and mothers who have faithfully passed down the message of salvation through the years down until today.  In mercy He prepares us for when He comes again so it will be in grace for us and not judgment.  He sent us parents who brought us to the baptismal font where we received the forgiveness of sins through the washing of water with the Word.  He sent us parents who trained us in the way of the Lord.  He sent us parents who made sure we heard the message of God’s love through teachers and pastors so we’d be ready for his 2nd coming.  He sent us these forerunners, not that they were worthy or mighty on their own, but they came to us in lowliness, like John who wore camels hair and ate meager food, God’s forerunners aren’t even worthy enough to untie the sandals of the Lord, but since they are so lowly, we didn’t have to fear them or dread them, but they brought to us a powerful message- the message of the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

We thank the Lord for all of those forerunners He has sent in our own lives that have prepared us so that when He comes again it won’t be for terrible judgment, but to receive mercy, grace and peace.  He has prepared us through His awesome message of repentance and grace.  Like John’s first listeners we confess our sins, acknowledging our complete unworthiness of anything good from God.  We acknowledge our complete inability on our own to save ourselves.  We acknowledge our desperate need for a Savior.  And repentance includes something else as well.  It includes trust.  Trust in God that He has provided the Savior we need.  Our Savior Jesus came into this world for one purpose: to give us the forgiveness of our sins.  That was John’s message and that’s the message that we’ve heard from the forerunners God has sent into our lives: forgiveness of sins.  In the Greek “forgiveness” is a very picturesque word.  Literally it means “sending away.”  And that’s what Jesus did for everyone of your sins, He sent them away, how far?  As far as the east is from the west, He blotted them out, He cast all your sins in the depths of the sea.  Jesus sent away every sin, every bad or wrong thing you’ve ever done, every evil thought, every wrong deed, he sent them away so far that when He returns again on the Last Day, He won’t be able to find them, they’re gone, completely, you stand before God as right, as though you never once sinned in your life, your sins have disappeared all because of the work of the one to whom the prophets pointed, John the Baptist pointed, and all the forerunners in your life pointed to as well, Jesus.  Thank the Lord for His forerunners, listen to their message, trust in your Savior, and confidently wait because He has made you prepared, yes, come Lord Jesus, Amen.

 

Jesus Comes. Be Ready!

1st Sunday of Advent

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all, dear friends in Christ, He wasn’t focused; He wasn’t ready.  I remember hearing a story about someone who worked at one of the jobs I had growing up.  For quite a few years the company had a contract with an outdoor Renaissance Fair during the summer months.  Many people would come from all over Southern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois to see people dressed in medieval garb and act out medieval plays and buy medieval souvenirs.  Our company provided over 100 portable restrooms for this event which lasted all summer long.  Every weekend about 3 or 4 trucks had to go there early Sunday morning to service and clean these units before the fair opened.  Most of the workers didn’t mind doing this since they got double time pay to do it.  One particular Sunday one of the guys got done with his work early and usually then the person who got done early would go and help out the others.  Well this guy decided instead of helping out everyone else that he’d park his truck in the parking lot and sit back, relax, and take a nap.  And he did.  But this particular Sunday something very unusual happened.  The boss decided to drive to the fair and see how his men were doing.  Needless to say this worker was woken up in the most startling and embarrassing way of his life.  He wasn’t ready.  He wasn’t focused.  He wasn’t prepared.  One of the worst things that can happen to an employee is to be found by the boss not doing one’s work and sleeping on the job.  The same applies to us as Christians.  Don’t let the Lord find you sleeping on the job.  Be ready!  Be focused!  Be watchful!

Jesus spoke the words of our text during Holy Week, a few days before He’d be nailed to the cross.  His disciples had asked him about when the end of the age will occur and about the signs of the end.  Jesus described the signs of the end but His answer as to the time was always: Watch!  Be on guard!  Be alert!  Why?  Because “no one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”   No one knows when the Lord will return.  There is no hidden code to decipher, no magical formula, and no superstitious clue to figure out in order to discover the date of Jesus’ return.  Perhaps at first glance it surprises us to see that even Jesus Himself says that He doesn’t know the time of the Last Day.  How can this be?  Isn’t Jesus one with the Father?  Isn’t Jesus a person of the Triune God?  How can He not know the time of His return?  In order to live on this earth to suffer and die for our sins, Jesus set aside the full use of His divine power for a time.  Jesus didn’t make full use of His divine power while He lived on this earth.  He set aside His omniscience and used it only when it was essential for saving people.  Jesus never spent one thoughtless second speculating about the time of the Last Day and He purposely didn’t tell us because He knew it would be detrimental to our faith if He had.

So no one knows when Jesus will come the 2nd time.  What’s the purpose?  “Be on guard!  Be alert!  You do not know when that time will come.”  The very fact that no one knows when Jesus will return makes it imperative for everyone to be on guard, alert, and watchful.  We may be uncertain about the exact time of Jesus’ return, but there is the absolute certainty that it will happen.  Observe the signs of the times and how Jesus’ words have been fulfilled: Be prepared.  Be focused.

To illustrate His point Jesus told a short parable.  “It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.  Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back- whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.”  A man leaves to go on a journey and it’s not his duty to tell his servants exactly when he will return.  It’s the duty of all the servants to be actively engaged in their master’s work should he come home suddenly. One special direction is given to one of the servants: the doorkeeper is to keep watch so he can be ready to open the door when his master returns.  God has given to each of His children on earth tasks that He wants them to be doing.  God wants each to carry out their tasks as doing it for Him.  He’s given everyone tasks: A father, mother, husband, wife, child, student, employee, employer, a citizen, a member of a church, etc.  Let each servant of the Master be found actively going about the Master’s tasks when He returns.  Because He may return at any unexpected hour, like any unexpected hour of the night.

“If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.”  The worst possible scenario for any Servant of the Master is to be found sleeping on the job.  Let no one stop watching for Jesus’ return and grow spiritually dull and unresponsive.  Don’t be sleeping on the job when God’s given every person the task of watching for His coming.  What Jesus told His disciples is also meant for us 21st Century disciples of Jesus as well, “What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

God wants us to watch, to be ready, to be focused.  The fact is that Jesus is coming.  He wants the world to be focused and be watchful.  The world at the time of Noah was not focused.  In great patience God sent Noah to preach God’s Word to the world for 120 years.  God in love and patience did everything He could to rescue people from the coming judgment.  For 120 years God waited…but the people focused on themselves rather than on God, they were too busy seeking their earthly treasures and pleasures.  But then God kept His Word and came with waters to save His Church, Noah’s family, and waters to judge the unfaithful servants.

So where is the world’s focus today?  Where do people today focus their attention and their ambition?  How can I serve me?  How can I get what I want?  How can I build my paradise here on earth?  Oh the glitter the world has to offer!  There’s no time for that silly church stuff!  How can I please me?!!  How can I get people to like me?!  What can I do for me?!!  And if you have any doubt that this is the Christmas culture of our world, you need only look to that thing that comes around every year and every year is exactly the same: Black Friday.  Every year we see thousands and thousands of people line up for hours and hours to be the first ones inside some store.  This year we even saw how thousands and thousands of people would line up for hours in the cold AND in the middle of the night!  What focus!  What determination!  What excitement!  And for what?  A good deal that 2 years from now will be completely forgotten, out-dated, and collecting dust.  Now picture the thousands of people lined up outside of stores on Black Friday or the crowded malls this Christmas season and now look inside the church.  No lines of people waiting to get inside.  No people lined up hours ahead of time to get inside.  Still open seats.  Still room left for more.  Where did everyone go?  Where are all the people hungering for heavenly treasure?  Where are all the people alert and watching and excited and determined and focused on the day when Christ will return?  Are they ready?  The Master could return at any moment: “If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.  What I say to you, I say to everyone: Watch!”

What about us?  Where’s our focus this Christmas season?  Are we ready?  Do we live with one eye on Christ’s first coming and one on His second coming?  How easily it is for us to get caught up in the glitter and sparkles of our world!  How easy to lose our focus and look forward to the mere festivities of the Christmas season!  How easy for each one of us to forget the real reason for Jesus’ first coming.  There was a reason why Jesus had to come the first time and it’s one that doesn’t make us smile.  The reason Jesus had to come was because of our need.  Each one of us is corrupted with thoughts of greed, covetousness, and selfishness.  Each one of us on our own would be totally lost forever.  Each of us has an incredible need for a Savior!

In a world that focuses itself often the farthest away and with people like you and me who’ve often focused our attention on the things of this world, where’s God’s focus?  God’s focus has always been and will always be on one place: rescuing sinful people like you and me.  In boundless love God came to this earth.  He set aside the full use of His glory and humbled Himself to be born in a barn and placed in a manger.  In selfless love Jesus came to this earth to give Himself for sinful people who could never add anything to His infinite glory.  In amazing love God came to this earth focused on one purpose: to go to the cross and pay for the sins of people who would rather focus themselves on anything but Him.  It’s knowing the amazing love of God and why Jesus came the first time and what He did when He came the first time that makes you and me prepared and ready for when Jesus will return the 2nd time.

How can we be focused and ready today?  How can we keep watch and be on guard today?  How can we be prepared for when our Master returns?  Let us not be found sleeping on the job.  He’s given us tasks to do in His house: husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, children, employees, employers, relatives and friends.  In whatever situation we are in let us work at the assigned tasks God has given us with diligence and devotion.  Let us recognize our need for Jesus’ first coming- He came because of our sin, but He came in order to save us from our sins.  And let us keep watch for His coming again.  It’s easy for us to get distracted especially in the midst of holiday preparations, Christmas gifts, parties, and celebrations.  But let us each take to heart the words of our Savior and keep watch.  Let us each keep watch by focusing on God’s Word and the reality of Christmas and Jesus’ first coming: our God coming to save us.  Let us also keep watch and be ready for Jesus’ second coming.  Let us store up heavenly treasure and not earthly pleasures.

When Jesus first came He came to save us from our sins, when Jesus comes again He will give us the full reality of what He won for us the first time: eternal life.  Jesus is coming and you are ready!  Amen.

 

Behold the Power of Jesus’ Words!

Maundy Thursday

Mark 4:35-41 Jesus’ Words are Powerful

Who is this Jesus?  Who can do such a thing?  Who can change the forces of nature with a single word?  Imagine the disciples.  They were experienced fisherman.  Certainly they had experienced fierce storms in the past.  However, this one was so furious that they thought they would certainly drown.  And yet, what needless fear; what little faith in Jesus.

With a little word Jesus controls the uncontrollable.  His word saves from certain death; makes fear unnecessary; makes the impossible possible.  His word changes everything.

And so, when life’s problems loom large, when the path of life looks impassable, when things happen that you can’t understand, when your eyes see nothing more than a mere morsel of bread, only a mere swallow of wine, when impossibility is all you see… look at whose words these are.

Look to Jesus, whose words make all the difference.  Look to Jesus, whose words far surpass our limited reason.  Look to Jesus whose words say, “This is my body, this is my blood for you, for your forgiveness.”  Whose word has such power?  Whose words can give so much?  Jesus’ mighty words.  Just look at that calm sea.

Matthew 8:5-13 Jesus’ Words are Worthy of Trust

If Jesus’ words are so powerful to calm a fierce storm then we can certainly trust them.

Whom did this centurion trust?  He knew how it worked.  He was a commander.  All he had to do was say the word and it would be taken care of.  If his words, mere human words, had that authority, how much more authority does the words of the ruler of all things, Jesus, have!  He knew that all he needed was Jesus’ word and his request would be granted.  Jesus’ words were worth every bit of his trust.

But is it a gamble?  I mean can we trust anyone?  We’ve failed to keep our word; we’ve been let down by others.  Talk is cheap.  We hear things like, “I’ve discovered this great investment scheme to make thousands, trust me!”  “Trust me, you’ll be just fine.”  Who really means what they say anymore?  How can we be sure Jesus meant it when He said, “This is my body, this is my blood, this gives you forgiveness of sins”?  Why put much stake in these words?

Why?  Because these are Jesus’ words, God’s words.  If Jesus’ words have the power to calm a storm and to heal someone from a distance, then His words are worth every bit of our trust.  Jesus means it when He says, “This is my body, this is my blood, this gives you forgiveness.”  You can be confident that Jesus’ words accomplish absolutely whatever He wants them to.  Just look at that centurion’s healed servant!

Matthew 26:26-30 Jesus’ Words are Glorious!

He had nothing in this world.  No estate.  No investments.  No inheritance.  He’s about to leave His disciples and what will He leave them when He goes?  What could He possibly give them to replace His physical presence?  And what about us, His followers in the year 2010, what has He left us?

Although He “owned” nothing, He leaves us something far better than we can ever imagine!  He leaves us Himself!  He gives us Himself in the Lord’s Supper!  He gives us Himself not only to remind us of His suffering and death for us, but to actually give and seal to us the forgiveness of all of our sins!  He actually gives us in His Supper the forgiveness of all of our sins, a new life, and the assurance of an eternity in heaven with Him!

How can we be sure this is true?  His words say so.  His words which are so powerful that they can calm a furious storm say so.  His words which are so trustworthy they can heal from far away by just saying the word say so.  His words which are so loving that they give us our very Lord and the very forgiveness we need say so!

Yes, Jesus “owned” nothing, but He gave us everything!  In the Lord’s Supper He feeds us with Himself giving and confirming in us a status of “not guilty” before His throne.  His words say so.  And His words are glorious!