Month: March, 2014

Watch and Pray

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

James, John and Peter await their Master who has gone to pray. This was not an uncommon thing. We can imagine that several times before this they had been witness to Jesus taking some alone time with His heavenly Father. From experience, they knew that these sessions were rarely short and that the wait would probably be very long. Countless times they have seen Him going into prayer determined and coming out refreshed.

But this time something seems different. There is a certain urgency in His voice and in His character that they haven’t seen before. This time He is more anxious, there is definitely something troubling on His mind.

We can only imagine all the things that were swimming in the Savior’s head as He prepared for His willing sacrifice. At this very moment, guards are on their way to arrest Him. He has been betrayed by someone He dearly loves and, because of this, He will be sentenced to die… a most horrible death.

In his human nature, His head is swimming in fear so He does as many devoted sons would when they find themselves in need. He goes to the one He knows He can put His full trust in, His Father.

At this time, as He is going for prayer, Jesus is mournful and troubled saying, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” The disciples aren’t used to seeing this side of Jesus. Always before, His sorrow was for others but now it seems He is sorrowful for Himself. He asks those who are closest to Him to remain with Him. He needs their support and He needs their prayers.

Jesus is riddled with anxiety at the prospect of what is to come. He knows that it was for this reason He came into the world, but now as this fateful day approaches he is distressed. He understands what is about to happen to Him. This is the beginning of the end.

Earlier Jesus had told His disciples that one of them would betray Him. One of His very own disciples who had walked with Him, talked with Him, laughed and cried with Him would now betray Him. One He had chosen to be His very own would turn His back on Him for mere money.

In fact, all of His disciples would betray Him that night. Jesus knew that all would turn and run, all of them. They would fear for their own lives first and the Savior would be left by himself to face His accusers. All of them, after all they have been through together, would let their Savior down. No wonder he faces this plea to His Father with concern. This is a sad day for Jesus. Not only does He know He is about to die but He realizes He will have to face this death alone.

Meanwhile, His disciples struggle to stay awake. Even when they know their Master is in distress, they cannot help themselves after a very hard and emotional week from falling asleep. They can see Him praying in earnest, they sense the battle He is going through, but they fail Him yet again.

In His prayer we hear His struggle as He asks His Father that if it is possible, “may this cup be taken from me.” In His humanity, He cries out to the only one who could possibly understand “Please Father, this is too much to bear.” But even though the flesh resists the cross, the Spirit goes willingly, “Yet not as I will, but as You will.”

Later He would show this understanding as He reminds His disciples, who could not even stay awake with Him, that, “The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Jesus shows His divinity in that the will of the Spirit wins over that of the flesh. The disciples show their humanity as they give way to the opposite.

To stand strong against the evils of this world, we need to pray. Too often the flesh is victorious and we end doing things our way. We don’t solicit help from the Father. Our Flesh is strong but our Spirit is weak. But our spirit knows the will of God and if we want to do things right we take the Savior’s advice to, “Watch and pray, so that you will not fall into temptation. That’s the formula, watch and pray, if this is our discipline, we will be less likely to gratify the flesh.

Yes, this struggle for Jesus was much more than a physical one, it was even more a spiritual one. Though He knew of the pain of crucifixion, He wasn’t just thinking of the nails that would pierce His hands and His feet. He was thinking of the unenviable task of taking on all the sin of all humanity.

Isaiah 53:5-6 says, …He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Can you imagine the weight on His shoulders which were to bear all of humanities failings. It wasn’t a physical weight, it was the spiritual weight of your sins and mine. It was our sins that sent Him to the cross and they bore much more weight than any physical dilemma could.

 

Max Lucado, in His book “And The Angels Were Silent,” describes the scene this way. “The final encounter of the battle has begun. As Jesus looks at the city of Jerusalem, He sees what the disciples can’t…He sees the evil one preparing for the final encounter….Hell is breaking loose…History records it as a battle of the Jews against Jesus. It wasn’t…It was the battle of God against Satan. And Jesus knew it.

He knew that before the war was over, He would be taken captive. He knew that before victory would come defeat. He knew that before the throne would come the cup. He knew that before the light of Sunday would come the blackness of Friday….AND HE WAS AFRAID!”

 

It was the knowledge of this that asked the Father to take from Him the cup of suffering, it was the importance of this that led His Spirit into submission saying, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may Your will be done.” Jesus experiences the Father saying, “No,” and he accepts it even though it will cost Him His very life. He shows for us a faith that He wishes us all to have, the faith to do the will of God over our earthly desires to satisfy our own will.

 

And the disciples continue their slumber. Jesus has to wake them up a second time. There is even more urgency in His voice as He says, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.” Despite their Savior’s perseverance, they drift off to sleep. Like us they could not stay vigilant. Like us, when they should have been acting in submission, they surrendered to their own wants and needs. Like us, they missed the opportunity to do the right by doing the wrong.

Jesus went through great sorrow that night but in the end He triumphed when others failed. He was totally submissive to the Father and He did this, not for Himself, but for all of us. He faced the cross with conviction at the end because it was His Father’s will to do so.

Hebrews 12:1-2 describes it this way, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Understand that your life has been bought for a very high price, treasure it. Offer to God all that you are and serve Him with all your heart, mind and soul. Consider what you can do for Him today remembering what He was willing to do for you.

Jesus is our example of a pure faith and He set a good example because He was willing to watch and pray. Follow that example and the Lord will come to you and strengthen you.

For some, you still need to accept the invitation that God is offering you to accept Jesus for who He is, your Lord and your Savior. Look closely at the life of Christ and all that He came to earth to do for us that, in no way, deserved such love and attention.

Jesus came for one purpose – to seek and to save you. He faced the cross because it was the only way to assure our salvation. He died on our behalf, to pay the penalty for our sin and our rebellion against God.

 

In the garden that night, Jesus faced evil and temptation head on by going to His Father in prayer and then He faced certain death as He followed the father’s will. In the end he redeemed us all. Don’t fall asleep on Him again. Listen to Him when he calls. Amen.

Bible Study Questions – Matthew 26:36-46

Jesus took only three disciples with Him and He had done this before Luke 8:49-51; Luke 9:28-30. Why do you think He chose these three?

By this time, Jesus had faced demonic opposition, satanic temptation, and the grilling of Jerusalem’s religious leaders, with total composure, why is this time in prayer so different?

If Jesus is God (and he is), why is he praying? Philippians 2:5-8

In this section, what do you learn about Jesus’ relationship with his Father?

What was “the cup”? What does this reveal about his inner struggle? Psalm 75:8;                 Isaiah 51:17,22; Jeremiah 49:12; and Ezekiel 23:31-34

What were the reasons for his deep sorrow? John 1:29; Matthew 27:46

What victory was Jesus about to win?  John 10:17-18; Matthew 20:25-28; Galatians 3:13;             2 Corinthians 5:21

Why was Jesus so upset with the three disciples? What battle were the disciples losing? What opportunities were they missing?

Contrast their actions here with their intentions Matthew 20:22; 26:31-35

How does his initial prayer in vs. 39 compare with his subsequent prayer in vs. 42? What is similar and what differences are there? What do you think has changed in Jesus perspective?

 

Are there times in your life that you have learned to pray something similar to Jesus’ prayer that you would put God’s will ahead of your will?  Anyone willing to give an example?

 

How do we find strength through prayer? Philippians 4:6-7; Hebrews 4:14-16, 7:25

What was Jesus’ decision in prayer?

Why do you think Jesus went to pray a third time?

In what ways do you think prayer works to help us from falling into temptation?

Jesus found comfort of sorts in the Garden of Gethsemane where He chose to pray. Where is your Garden of Gethsemane?

 

From Grace to Peace

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father….

Please pray with me…

You know, this is a pretty good vocation. I can’t think of another occupation that would be as rewarding as the one I am currently blessed to have. How many jobs encourage you to seek God at every moment and work to help others do the same. What other profession gives you more chances to have one-on-one time with the Father. What other trade gives you the opportunity to work so intimately with others. None that I can think of.

One of my very favorite things to do as the pastor here at Redeemer is to visit our shut-ins. Each and every one of them help in many ways to encourage me and prop me up as I attempt to do the same for them. At every visit we are blessed to share Holy Communion together one on one and it never gets old. We talk, we laugh and we pray together. It’s really a rewarding time for me and I hope for them too.

Every time I visit, we go through a little church service together and recently I noticed something about the service itself. It always begins with grace and forgiveness then ends with peace. In the beginning we are reminded of God’s great gift of grace and at the end, we are reminded of what that grace gives us, a welcome reminder in all our lives.

The Greek word for grace is “charis” at it means, among other things gift of kindness. Paul uses this word in Romans more than he does in any other book. For the people of Rome who had grown up focused on law, for Rome was an empire with law as its very foundation, he emphasized the free gift of grace that no law abiding citizen could ever earn. To Paul’s followers in Rome, his message would have fallen on eager ears towards the promise that with God, you get His gift of grace, His gift of kindness undeserved.

Our New Testament lesson for this morning is yet another reminder of this grace which we all share. So what is grace to us? Martin Luther says that grace is the gift of God that “signifies that favor with which God receives us, forgiving our sins and justifying us freely through Christ. This kind of grace is not a quality of man but of God.”

Who but God could see us as blameless even in repentance? Who but God would be willing to forget our sins, even as we repeat them time and time again. Who but God would sacrifice His only Son so that this grace could be given to all who look to the cross. Only God is willing and, therefore, only God can provide the purest form of grace.

You and I, we could never hope to share this kind of love. We were born into sin and because of this curse, we deserve nothing but damnation.

We are not capable of this kind of pure love because the old Adam works so hard to lead us to our own destruction. For every righteous act within us, there are 100 acts of unrighteousness fighting to be heard. For every loving action towards our neighbor, there are 100 loving actions that we turn our back on. For every attempt at purity, there is something that Satan uses to blacken us. For every promise to do better, there is a broken promise that follows. We, by ourselves, have no hope. We are broken, battered and bandaged. Our sin has left us desolate and undeserving of any kind of forgiveness. Our broken promises deserve nothing but deaf ears.

But, thanks be to God, that is not where it ends. Thanks be to God that He showers us with His grace despite our unrighteous behaviors, our lack of respect for our neighbors and our unpure thoughts and broken promises. Thanks be to God that He is not like the world but instead chooses to provide us unmerited love and undeserved forgiveness just in the asking. Despite their grumbling, God provided water from a rock when Moses struck it and despite our many blemishes, God has provided us with living water so that we will never thirst, a water that, to us, is like a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

The grace of God has been with us from the very beginning. Adam and Eve deserved nothing, but God gave them life.

Abraham himself lived in grace and we witness it in Genesis 15:6 where it tells us that “Abraham believed God, and God counted it to him as righteousness.”  In our Old Testament lesson the people complained but God provided anyway.

And this same righteousness is extended to us, through the same faith that they shared, not because of that faith, rather it is our faith that reaches up and receives the grace that God has promised. Grace, like faith, is a gift from God to us and not from us to God. That is why we Baptize infants, because it’s not about what we can do, it’s about what God can do.

Together, we stand in the grace of God and that means we have found favor with Him because of that grace which He shares. Through this we all can find the peace that is beyond our own understanding. It starts with grace and it ends in peace. Because of this gift of kindness, we have our peace and security not only for today but for all time and we have a quality of life beyond anything we could ever hope for on our own.

Living in grace changes the way we think as Christians. It changes how we see things and interpret things.

 

Paul says in our New Testament lesson, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith (through grace), we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

God Himself provides us with this grace in which we stand and, because of His grace, our hearts have been changed and our response to suffering has been changed. No longer does suffering defeat us because now we have cause to  “rejoice in our sufferings knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope which does not put us to shame, because God’s love has poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

If our attitude is different than this it is because of the sin that lives within us. Rather, we should understand that all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28) As Christians we no longer have to live in a state of panic and depression, which only serve to destroy our health and ruin our relationships. Because of the grace that God offers us, we can live with the assurance that our sins will be forgiven and our everlasting life has been secured.

God doesn’t wait for us to clean up our lives on our own because we are simply not capable. He doesn’t wait for us to fulfill our promise to be a better person because He knows that this is beyond our capability without Him. He doesn’t wait for your invitation, He waits for you to accept His.

We are rightfully dead in our trespasses and because of this Christ died for us. It is a rare thing for one person to die for another. It takes an incredible love that is hard even to understand. It might be that you would die for someone who is dear to you like your spouse or children but there is a very short list for people who would even do that. Many have stepped up to defend this great nation and preserve our freedom but their desire is never to die.

No, what Christ did was remarkable because He knew the fate that was His and He willingly died a most horrible death so that you and I could be free of the sentence that our sins deserve. It’s amazing because Jesus died for His enemies. He died for us when we did not love Him, when we were on the other side.

And, because of the grace of God, we have a future to look forward to with eager anticipation. If the Lord treated us that good while we were enemies, think of how great He will treat us when we claim our inheritance in heaven with Him.

Verse 10 in our Romans passage says that we have been saved through His life. It’s just a little ways past our lesson for this morning but it bears noticing. We make a mistake of we only notice the word, “saved,” because that’s not the climax of the sentence. We have only been saved because Christ was willing to give up His life. Because of this we have been delivered from death to life, from damnation to salvation.

Whatever you have in life that you need to be delivered from, Christ is the answer. Ephesians 3:20 reminds us that, “To Him who is able to do immeasurably more then all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Jesus Christ throughout all generations, forever and ever.”There is nothing too big for God, no problem that cannot be covered by His grace.

The word grace and the word gift can be used interchangeably. In this chapter alone, Paul uses it 20 times. It’s true that every good thing that we enjoy is because of God’s grace. Every victory, every joy, every happiness is a gift from God to us. That is God’s gift of kindness towards His people, even those who turn their back on Him. That is a gift that can only come from a God-sized love.

 

2 Corinthians 9:8-11 says, And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”

 

If any season in the church year tells the story of God’s grace, it is most certainly the one we are currently celebrating. Lent reminds us of God’s grace every time we hear of the savior’s sacrifice. Every time we reminded of the new life we have found in Him, God’s grace shines through as the very reason we enjoy such a gift.

You can really do two things with the gift of kindness that can only come from a loving God, you can accept it or you can reject it. One might not take it because of procrastination or neglect, another might reject it because of unbelief, but the reasons don’t matter. To fail to receive this greatest of gifts is to fail to be a child of God and to fail to have life. To accept the gift, one must come to God in repentance and faith in the finished work of Christ.

Will you accept His gift to you? Will you claim the prize? God sent His Son to die on a cross in the hope that you would. How about your neighbors? Could they benefit from this gift of grace that only God can give? If so, are you willing to tell them it’s waiting for them?

Lent is a time we remember God’s grace and what He was prepared to do in the name of grace for all who come to Him but this message was never intended to keep to ourselves. Lent is for all of God’s people, even those who deny Him. Christ died even for His enemies of which we, regretfully have to claim a membership in.

Due to the grace of God, we were blessed with the perfect sacrifice for our sin. So what does the death and resurrection of His son give us?

A love that can never be fathomed
A life that can never die
A righteousness that can never be tarnished
A peace that can never be understood
A rest that can never be disturbed
A joy that can never be diminished
A hope that can never be disappointed
A glory that can never be clouded
A light that can never be darkened
A purity that can never be defiled
A beauty that can never be marred
A wisdom that can never be baffled and
Resources that can never be exhausted.

Share the message of Lent, proclaim the promise of Easter, claim your inheritance and help other’s to claim theirs.  May the grace of God be with you now and always and give you peace. Amen

 

 

Bible Study Question – Romans 5:1-8

Give a definition for the word “grace.” How does your definition fit into 1 Corinthians 15:10?

See the definition of grace on page two. In light of this, what does Paul mean when he says in verse 2, “this grace in which we stand.”

What does faith do for us? vss 1,2; Psalm 9:9-10; 1 Chronicles 20:20; Matthew 17:14-20; Hebrew 11:1-3; Ephesians 2:8, 6:16; 1 John 5:13-15

What terms does Paul use to describe our condition prior to salvation? vss. 6,8,10

In your own words, summarize what these terms tell us about man’s condition apart from Christ.

What are the benefits that this passage tells us we receive through Christ? vss. 1,2.9,10,11

 

Paul speaks of the sufferings Christians encounter in vs 3. Where else do we hear of these tribulations? Matthew 13:21; John 16:33; Acts 14:22; 2 Corinthians 4:17; 6:4; 7:4; 8:2; Colossians 1:24; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; Hebrews 10:33; 2 Timothy 3:12. What, therefore, should we expect?

 

An end to suffering is NOT one of the things we are promised. How is it possible to rejoice in suffering?

 

According to Paul, what does the Holy Spirit do in this new relationship we have? Verse 5

 

What does it mean to be “reconciled” to God? VSS. 10-11; Ephesians 2:14-16; Colossians 1:19-20

 

What is the “hope of the glory of God” that Paul refers to in vs. 2? Matthew 16:27; Romans 8:16-19, 23; 1 Corinthians 15:42-44; Colossians 3:4; 1 John 3:2

 

How is God’s love for us so amazingly different than any human love? VSS. 6-8 (Expand on this)

 

Other versions translate the word weak in verse six as powerless, which is a more common translation. What are we powerless to do?

What does it mean that Christ died “at the right time”? vs. 6; Galatians 4:4-5; Hebrews 9:24-26

 

The work of Jesus Christ on Calvary is the basis of all spiritual blessings as mentioned in verse 6-8. What does this do for us? 1 Corinthians 1:30-31; Ephesians 1:15-23, 3:14-19; Colossians 1:17-22, 2:1-3, 3:1-4

 

The word that is translated “grace” in the New Testament comes from the Greek word “charis,” from which we get charity.  Here is how Zondervan’s NIV Bible Software Library describes this word:  “The biblical concept of grace is much greater than is suggested in the common definition of “unmerited favor.” “Grace” is a word that expresses a radical view of life and of relationship with God.  Grace teaches that God’s attitude toward us is one of acceptance and love; knowing God’s heart, we can “approach the throne of grace with confidence” (Heb 4:16) with every sin and need.  Grace is a dramatic statement about the human condition. Each person is helpless, trapped in sin and incapable of pleasing God or winning his favor.  Grace is a proclamation. It is the triumphant announcement that God in Christ has acted and has come to the aid of all who will trust him for their eternal salvation.  Grace is a way of life. Relying totally on Jesus to work within us, we experience God’s own unlimited power, vitalizing us and enabling us to live truly good lives…grace is not simply a basic orientation to relationship with God. It is also a practical approach to living the Christian life. This aspect of grace helps us to understand the warning found in Gal 5:4, that those “who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; [they] have fallen away from grace.” Any attempt by believers to struggle toward a life of goodness by works of the law means a return to the futile way of religion. It involves reliance on ourselves and an abandonment of reliance on Christ, who alone can enable us to live righteous lives. We cannot approach Christian experience from the old perspective, for grace and religion are contradictory. We can only live by full commitment to the way of grace and all that grace involves.”

 

 

You can have a new life

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

Often when I’ve finished writing my sermon, I wonder how many people will actually get what it is that the Spirit is telling them through my words. How many will listen, maybe even be entertained for 15 or 20 minutes but then largely forget what it is that was said. I wonder how many people look at me with wide eyes, looking as if there are soaking in every word but who are actually thinking about other things. How many are planning their day or thinking about their rotten boss or reflecting on a new song they have just heard. I know it happens, I’ve done it.

My concern is not that everyone will understand everything I have to say, some things are meant for you, some are not. No, I worry that the words of each sermon will be lost on many because of how they might approach them. Is it truly God’s Word spoken through His servant or is it just a nice oral study written by a guy who can occasionally tell us good stories.

I worry that so many people won’t understand the whole picture that God is trying to paint through the word’s he has given me and because they don’t understand the message they miss the point.

 

In our Gospel lesson in John 3 this morning, we have the familiar story of a religious leader named Nicodemus. In this story we see Nicodemus coming to Jesus under the cover of darkness. He has heard Jesus speak and it has got him thinking. I can imagine him hearing Christ’s words over and over in his head but not quite getting the message, so he comes when others can’t see him to ask Jesus a few questions. Just like the night, Nicodemus was in the dark and he wanted a little light on the subject.

Nicodemus was taking a great risk. By this time, the Pharisees and Sadducees were already discussing this new threat to their power. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, he heard the discussions of how this, Jesus of Nazareth, was making trouble and he knew to be seen in public with him could be very damaging to his status, even his life. Nicodemus was a man who had committed himself to the study and following of the law. He was doing everything a member of the Sanhedrin was asked to do, but somehow, after hearing Jesus speak, he might have realized that maybe he wasn’t getting the whole message.

You see, Nicodemus had lots of head knowledge, but he was lacking heart knowledge. He knew all about the law but he knew little of relationship. He had a lot of religion but he had no real connection in a personal way to God.

That’s what scares me the most. How many are hearing the words but missing the message? How many are trying to do everything they can by coming the church and hearing the words but, through it all, they miss the point? Right now, this very morning there are millions of religious people sitting in church who are as lost as Nicodemus was because they have head knowledge, but no heart knowledge.

This phrase, “heart knowledge,” once landing me in some hot water. Cheryl and I were very blessed to have the top two student worker jobs at the seminary. I supervised the student workers in property and maintenance and Cheryl ran the food bank. Because of this, the seminary magazine that all churches receive, ran an article on us, our history, why we were at seminary and other things.

The reporter asked me what I liked about seminary and, among other items, I mentioned that I was happy that most of the professors felt that the heart knowledge was more important than the head knowledge, meaning that we can cram our heads with lots of information but if we cannot apply it, it does us no good.

Wow, you’d  have thought that to some I had said that Jesus was just a man.  As soon as it was delivered, a group called John the Steadfast, a group of ultra conservative LCMS pastors, started lambasting me as just another touchy feely pastor to come out of Concordia St. Louis.

 

They called me all sorts of names, my favorite was a glorified playground assistant. Of course, no one called me to find out my real intent or to get to know me in any kind of a personal way, they just hung me out to dry saying all sorts of false things about someone they didn’t even know. They even sent a member to come and spy on me to see if I could provide them any more fuel for their fight against the seminary. He actually confessed his intent and admitted they were wrong about me.

To me this says, that even today, we have Pharisees among us. Thankfully, the president of the seminary and a few professors, who actually knew me, came to my defense. But that incident shook me. I knew there were those who lived by the law, proud of their own accomplishments, but I didn’t know it was so rampant.

Too many people, pastors included, get involved with their church, but they miss out on the beauty of a relationship with Jesus Christ. To some even saying relationship with Christ makes them feel uneasy. People need to understand that the church cannot save you – only a relationship with Jesus Christ can.

Now, religion has its advantages. It will clean you up a bit, it will make you look good and it can even make you feel good about yourself.

But that’s only the head knowledge. Religion is about doing the right things. It’s necessary, but it’s not what saves you. If a person is to be saved, his or her heart has to be changed and that can only come when you understand the message of forgiveness and reconciliation. That can only come when you have a personal relationship with Christ.

That’s the message that Jesus is giving to Nicodemus. Nicodemus came seeking because he wanted to know more. He came searching for more head knowledge, but Christ was looking for his heart. Jesus was telling him, “Dear Nicodemus, it’s not about what you know, it’s about trusting in what I have come to tell you. To find the kingdom you must be born again to understand that it’s all about the grace of God, not the grace of man.”

Still today, people are shocked to hear that their entrance into heaven is not about them. At a comparative religions conference, the wise and the scholarly were in a spirited debate about what is unique about Christianity. Someone suggested what set Christianity apart from other religions was the concept of incarnation, the idea that God took human form in Jesus. But someone quickly said, “Well, actually, other faiths believe that God appears in human form.”
Another suggestion was offered: what about resurrection? The belief that death is not the final word. That the tomb was found empty. Someone slowly shook his head. Other religions have accounts of people returning from the dead.
Then, as the story is told, C.S. Lewis walked into the room, tweed jacket, pipe, arm full of papers, a little early for his presentation. He sat down and took in the conversation, which had by now evolved into a fierce debate. Finally during a lull, he spoke saying, “what’s all this rumpus about?”
Everyone turned in his direction. Trying to explain themselves they said, “We’re debating what’s unique about Christianity.” “Oh, that’s easy,” answered Lewis. “It’s grace.” The room fell silent.
Lewis continued that Christianity uniquely claims God’s love comes free of charge, no strings attached. No other religion makes that claim. After a moment someone commented that Lewis had a point, Buddhists, for example, follow an eight-fold path to enlightenment. It’s not a free ride. Hindus believe in karma, that your actions continually affect the way the world will treat you; that there is nothing that comes to you not set in motion by your actions. Someone else observed the Jewish code of the law implies God has requirements for people to be acceptable to him and in Islam God is a God of Judgement not a God of love. You live to appease him.  At the end of the discussion everyone concluded Lewis had a point. Only Christianity dares to proclaim God’s love is unconditional. An unconditional love that we call grace. Christians boldly proclaim that grace really has precious little to do with us, our inner resolve, or our lack of inner resolve. Rather, grace is all about God and God freely giving to us the gifts of forgiveness, mercy, and love.

Romans 11:6 says, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” James 4 says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.* Jesus was telling Nicodemus that it wasn’t about what he knew, it was about what he had yet to learn. It wasn’t about what he could do, it was about what had already been done. Grace goes beyond our human understanding. By our nature we assume we must do something to earn salvation. We want to be the ones who get us to heaven. If you think like this, start paying better attention to what God is telling you every week.

Jesus said in verse 5 and 6 of our text, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit. He cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Nicodemus cannot fathom this. How is one to be born again?

2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

This is what it means to be born again. It’s not about turning over a new leaf or finally sticking to a diet. It has nothing to do with keeping resolutions or telling yourself to clean up your morals.

Nicodemus was all about good morals. If anyone deserved eternal life based on being a good person, he could probably been first in line. But what he had not done was to distinguish between religious position and saving faith. Being a regular church attender will not get you to heaven. Teaching Sunday school will not get you to heaven. Heading up a committee will not gain you admittance. Being a pastor doesn’t guarantee anything. Being born again is not about positions. It’s about the relationship you gain with Christ when you trust in His Words and follow Him with your heart.

Popularity does not save you. Prestige is of no help. Nicodemus had both of these things but he was still severely lacking. Being born again is not about our human efforts, it is about a personal relationship that is born out of God’s love and grace. New birth is not about anything we do such as giving God a life that was never ours in the first place. New birth is something that only God can give us through the power of the Holy Spirit working within us. It’s a miracle of God’s creation born out of His love and nurtured by His grace. It causes us to be changed. This is the message that God is telling you every week. Are you listening?

To many, this sounds too easy. There has to be more to it. There has to be a catch even though the bible says in Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift from God.” Even the faith we have is from the Holy Spirit and it is available for all those who are willing to be born again.

The Gospel message is not about being good enough, it’s about how we could never measure up without Christ. Nicodemus was there with Jesus as He told him that …”God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus told him these words because he was lost and He wanted him to be found.

You and I have been born into a world of sin, a world that promotes the opposite of what Christ is telling us we need for salvation. We are under the bondage of sin and death in a world that doesn’t have a clue, for the most part. But we have been given the opportunity to change all this and leave behind this world and everything we were born into. We are being offered a new life, a chance to be born again and to claim our inheritance in heaven.

So, have you been born again? Don’t tell me how good you are or how hard you’ve been trying. That’s all born out of head knowledge. Start thinking with the heart to become a new creation.

God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. That’s the message of salvation. Stop worrying if you’re doing enough or nice enough or generous enough of busy enough. Surrender the fight for control and listen to Him. Being born again is not about religion, it’s about relationship. Let God shed His light on you.

This Lenten season, strive to be different than the world. Listen to the messages that God is bringing your way in Scripture, song and sermon. He wants to make you a new creation. He wants you to know Him in a personal, everlasting life saving way. You have been born again through Baptism, You have found new life in the Spirit, rejoice that you have a God who would love you enough to want to make you one of his very own. Amen

Bible Study Questions – John 3:1-17

What important group was Nicodemus part of? Why did he visit Jesus at night?

If Nicodemus had been caught talking to Jesus in this way, he could have lost his position in the Sanhedrin and possibly worse. Why do you think he took the risk? Verse 2

In verse 5 Jesus says we must be “born of water and Spirit,” what does that mean?                Isaiah 44:3-5; Ezekiel 36:24-27

How does it benefit us? Titus 3:3-7

Where else in Scripture do we hear of new birth? Romans 6:1-11; 1 Corinthians 3:1-2; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:14-16; Ephesians 4:20-24; Titus 3:4-6; Hebrews 5:11-14;                  1 Peter 1:3, 22-23

How does this differ from the belief of many who say they are “born again?”

Nicodemus is confused, he thinks he is saved because he has already been born a Jew. What does Scripture have to say about that? Matthew 3:9John 8:39Romans 9:6; Matthew 23:13-15

What does the comparison to wind (which is the same word for spirit) and a born-again believer mean? Verse 8

Why must we be born again? Job 14:4; Romans 7:18; Psalm 51:5

New life has often been equated to be the same as having a new heart. What does Scripture have to say? Genesis 8:21Exodus 7:14Deuteronomy 5:28-29; 8:14Isaiah 29:13Jeremiah 17:9

What does God do to hearts in this condition for all who come to Him? Deuteronomy 30:6Jeremiah 31:31-34; 1 Samuel 10:6-13: 1 Corinthians 2

In verse 14, Jesus speaks of Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness, what does this have to do with Jesus? Numbers 21:4-9; Verse 15

Why would verses 16 & 17 have been shocking to Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin?

Where else do we hear of Nicodemus in the story of Christ? John 7: 40-52; John 19:38-39. What can we assume from this?

What does darkness represent? Why do people love it?

 

“Pay Attention!”

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father….

Please pray with me…

Waiting to be interviewed for a job as a wireless operator, a group of applicants paid little attention to the sound of the dots and dashes which began coming over a loudspeaker. Suddenly one of them rushed into the employer’s office. Soon he returned smiling. “I got it!” he exclaimed. “How did you get ahead of us?” they asked.
“You might have been considered if you hadn’t been so busy talking that you didn’t hear the manager’s coded message,” he replied. “It said, ‘The man I need must always be on the alert. The first one who interprets this and comes directly into my private office will be hired.’”

It is wise to pay attention. The man in our story benefitted because his mind was alert to the signs that were being given him. With so much stimulating our minds every day, it’s easy to lose our focus, so many things to get accomplished, so many issues to think about, so many events demanding our time. It’s no wonder why so many have taken their focus off of Christ for worldly things.

The devil knows time is precious to us and that we can concentrate on only so much at a time, so he does his best to preoccupy our day. God knows this too and he wants us to keep our minds sharp through worship, prayer and Bible study. We’re so easily led astray aren’t we?

Here in Matthew 17, we have the familiar story of the transfiguration. It’s a rather unique event in the life of Christ. He was more about sharing His human nature with us, but now, He has decided to show  Himself to a few of His disciples in His full glory.

I believe He chose to do this because, up until this time, things had been relatively easy for His followers. They have been witness to miracles, they have heard Jesus speak words of infinite wisdom, they have experienced a love like never before. But now, the challenges would begin. Now the threats would come. Their own faith will begin to be challenged, their very lives will be put to the test.

Christ needed His disciples to be focused for the trials ahead and I believe Jesus gave them this opportunity to strengthen their resolve. He is trying to shock them, in a way, into a saving faith. They would certainly need it.

Other times Jesus had simply taken’ them aside to teach them and guide them, but this time it’s much different. In fact, this time, not all of the disciples were ready, only Peter, James and John. Before, Christ was seen in His humanity, now a chosen few would get to see His divinity and they would get to hear God the Father Himself declare, “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.”

As we would have done, the disciples are freaking out a little bit. Notice what Peter says, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” I think these words deceive us a little bit because they sound so calm. We know Peter from Scripture and we can imagine he is probably losing his mind trying to do the right thing. His heart is racing a thousand miles per hour and I am sure these words were anything but calm. He is still speaking and God the Father himself has to settle him down. I can relate.

Now when God the Father starts speaking, one would have a tendency to focus on it and the disciples are no exception. When they heard the voice of God it says they fell on their faces and were terrified. But then the love of Christ shines through as He gently touches them telling them that there is nothing to fear. As they look up, Jesus is back to the one they have seen before. Moses and Elijah are gone but Christ remains.

Jesus wanted to get their attention so He got their attention in such a dramatic fashion that they would never forget it. Several times God is telling us to pay attention. “Listen to Him,” He tells Peter, James and John. God puts a very high priority on His followers paying attention because He knows how easily we are led astray.

Isaiah 28:23 says, “Give ear, and hear my voice; give attention, and hear my speech.”  Proverbs 2:1 tells us, “…If you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.”  and in Mark 4:24-25 Jesus says, “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear…Pay attention to what you hear; with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you.”

So why is this so important to God? We hear it in Deuteronomy 7:12,  If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the Lord your God will keep His covenant of love with you…”

Jesus wanted His disciples to pay attention because He loved them enough to make sure they understood what they needed to know. His covenant of love was with them and He wanted to make sure they received a full measure of it. He knew that the only way they were going to get the full benefit of His blessings was if they learned to pay full attention. The future will be full of challenges and they will need stay attentive to completely understand the fear of the Lord and the full knowledge of God.

If we stay the course and pay full attention to what God is telling us as we follow His commands and desires for us then God will declare as He did to Jeremiah, “I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11).

The choice is given to all of us, do we want God’s plans for our lives or are we content with our own? If you are paying attention, then the choice is obvious.

You see, God wants us to focus solely on Him and His plan for our lives because He knows how easy to be led astray as we follow the wrong things in life. God wants our attention but it is so easy to be distracted by other things. As one preacher said, we all suffer from spiritual ADD.

And no one in Scripture knew ADD like Peter. He was a walking example. When he should have been focused on what was happening, his mind wandered to accommodations. When he should have been focused at the master’s feet, his mind was off in a different direction. When he should have seen the prominence of God, He only tried to bring Christ up to their level by offering Him the same things.

But then God sets things straight by singling Christ out. In the end, it would be Jesus who would still be with them. The prophets of old were gone but Christ remained and He would be all they would need.

It’s so easy to get distracted with the “good” things in life and miss out on the greatest things from God.  In a speech made in 1863, Abraham Lincoln noticed this about the people and said, “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.”

Jesus didn’t want His followers to forget what was truly of most importance. It wasn’t the miracles or the teaching, it was that He was the Christ sent to save the world. He wanted them to know that He was different than the world and that if they were to follow Him that they would have to be different than the world also. And He’s telling us this same thing this morning. To follow Christ, we must not get distracted by the world. To commit to Christ means a lifelong focus on the truth and Jesus Christ is the truth.

Do you love your job? I do too? But if your job takes over your life and you lose focus on Christ, then you have a problem. Do you love you down time? Me too. But if we love our downtime so much we stop going to church or reading our Bibles then we have lost our focus on the greatest of things. Do you love your family? Me too. But if our family distracts us from our responsibility to God, then our attention is not where God would want it.

Mark 8:35-38 says, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Do you know it is possible to go to church all your life and never listen to Jesus? I’ve seen people who have done it. They might get perfect attendance rewards, they might serve of church committees, they may even serve as a Sunday School Teacher or as an elder, but its other things that take precedence in their lives. They go through the motions and they say all the right things but they never make the choice to listen to what God is telling them.

Billy Graham said, “The strongest principle of life and blessings lies in our choice. Our life is the sum result of all the choices we make, both consciously and unconsciously. If we can control the process of choosing, we can take control of all aspects of our life. We can find the freedom that comes from being in charge of our life. So start with what is right rather than what is acceptable. “If you don’t make a decision, then time will make it for you, and time will always side against you.”

I want you to listen to Jesus as He speaks to you. I don’t want any of us to be content with simply going through the motions. My greatest wish for you is that you would pay attention to what God wants from you. It no secret, He tells you every time you take the time to listen. And how do we know what He is saying?  It’s all in His textbook. Every word in this book belongs to Him and is given to us for our benefit. That is why it is called the Word of God.

We hear Jesus when we come to worship as He speaks to us in creed, hymn and sermon. We are provided the message of forgiveness and redemption every time we come forward for the Lord’s Supper. He started His conversation with us at our birth and His Word to us is eternal.

 

So find times to hear Christ speak to you. He shouldn’t have to get your attention like He did the disciples. Get involved with the church, participate in Bible study, teach Sunday school, make sure to do your daily devotions, go to church every Sunday. None of us are above the need to get involved in this way.

The attention we give to Christ will change our lives forever. The more we focus on Him the less we are distracted by the world. Andy Stanley says we need to turn our ADD into

Attention to God – which will lead us in our

Direction of life – which will lead us to our ultimate

Destination – Heaven

That’s the kind of ADD we all need.

 Proverbs 4:25-27 says, Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.”

We have many goals here at Redeemer and some of them will have to be done if we are to survive. Our attention to Christ is foremost among them. God has given us all we need to do just that and He even sent His Son so that we wouldn’t lose our concentration. His greatest wish is that we follow Him and listen as His Spirit guides us to the places He has already laid out for us. If we can do that, then blessings of love and grace will abound. Amen

Bible Study Questions – Matthew 17:1-9

Why Were Only Peter, James, and John Invited to Have This Experience?

Why do you think the Transfiguration was necessary?

 

Why do you think Moses and Elijah appear on the mountain with Jesus? What are the connections between these three figures? Exodus 34:4-9; 1 Kings 19:11-14

 

What were they there to communicate? Luke 9:30-31

 

Imagine if you were there seeing this marvelous event; how would you have felt? What would you have done and said?

 

At this stage of Jesus’ ministry, why do you think it is important for Jesus to hear these words from his Father?

 

Which is more important – Jesus’ identity or his activity?

 

Why is the statement, after six days, important? Matthew 16 13-19; Exodus 24:15-18

 

How do you think the transfiguration affected the Disciples’ faith and purpose?

 

Why did Peter want to build a tent? What would you have wanted to do?

 

Jesus’ face, “Shone like the sun.” Where have we heard that before and what causes it?   Exodus 34:29

 

Where else has God revealed Himself in a cloud? Exodus 40:34-35

 

Why do the Scribes say Elijah must come first? Malachi. 3:1; 4:5-6

 

Where else in Scripture do we read about this episode? 2 Peter 1:12-18

 

What is redeemer doing to recognize God’s presence?

 

God warns the Hebrews many times not to be distracted; yet, they did become distracted, and in so doing became lost and wandered for 40 years. Why did they not listen? What ideas or beliefs prevent you from listening to God or to other godly advice?

 

Why do you suppose that in the Bible, virtually every encounter a person had  with God or an Angel was met with that person experiencing utter terror? How does this affect your mindset of God’s Holiness?