"Never to See Them Again"#83-47
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on July 24, 2016
By Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
Copyright 2016 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Luke 9:51-62
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! This is the day the Lord has made; it is the day the crucified and risen Savior comes; it is the day God's invitation to salvation is extended. God grant the Holy Spirit allow us to receive with gratitude God's gracious summons to salvation. Amen.
Listeners who are as old as me will remember a fellow by the name of Art Linklettter. For those of you to whom that name may be a mystery, I can share that he was a broadcast star on radio and television from the 1930s through the 1950s. I'd like to tell you a story about him and another fairly famous friend of his, a fellow by the name of Walt Disney.
The story begins with Walt taking Art for a drive into the countryside. Walt took his friend off the main road, through groves of trees to a large, bare, plot of ground. The only things visible on the property were a few grazing horses and a couple of old shacks. It was there that Disney stopped the car, got out, and started to describe with great detail the wonderful things he was going to build on that land. He ended up his presentation by encouraging his friend to buy some of the adjoining land. Disney called it "getting in on the ground floor."
Art, surveying the land and knowing the logistics of the project were staggering, thought to himself, 'Who in heaven's name is going to drive all those miles for Disney's crazy project?'
Thinking back on that day, Linkletter muses, "What could I say? I knew he was wrong. I knew that he had let this dream get the best of his common sense, so I mumbled something about a tight-money situation and promised that I would look into the whole thing a little later on." "Later will be too late," Disney cautioned Arthur as they walked back to the car. "You'd better move on it right now." And so it came to pass that Art Linkletter turned down the opportunity to buy up all the land which surrounded what was to become Disneyland. The opportunity passed him by and never came again.
Missed opportunities. You may never have had a chance to buy property around Disneyland, but, surely, you can remember a missed opportunity, can't you? I most certainly do. The year was 1977. Pam and I were living in South Dakota and we heard that Elvis was going to be in concert 45 miles away, in Rapid City. Well, I knew that Pam had always had a "thing" for Elvis and taking her to that concert would cover a lot of missed "honey-dos" and smooth over a forgotten anniversary or two. I rushed to buy some tickets and ended up taking just about the last ones in the auditorium. Understand, they weren't cheap tickets... they were ridiculously high-priced tickets... at least for a newly graduated Pastor.
Well, I gave those tickets to Pam and she was elated. She got out a diagram of the facility to see where we were seated. Let me tell you those seats were so high up, the section came with its own Sherpa guide; there were oxygen canisters under every seat and cumulus clouds sometimes blocked out the stage. To make matters worse, we were behind a post... a post which not only blocked the performance area, it blocked off everything but the backside of the post. "No matter," we said. "We will make the best of it." And we started weight training to prepare our legs for the climb. Soon I noticed that Pam was slacking off in her 10K runs. The explanation she gave me was simple: "I'm pregnant." Yes, she was pregnant and the baby was due two weeks after the concert.
To make this already overlong story a bit shorter, I will tell you that between the altitude, the post, and the pregnancy, we decided to sell the tickets with my promise, "I will take you to see Elvis sometime after the baby comes." I would have made good on that promise except for the fact that, less than two months later, Elvis was dead. The opportunity to see him was over. The opportunity had passed us and never came our way again.
Missed opportunities. Toward the end of the 9th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, God speaks to us about missed opportunities. No, not missed financial opportunities such as that which haunted Art Linkletter and certainly not missed opportunities to see Elvis. No, this reading talks to us about missing the opportunity to see the real King, the King of all creation, Jesus Christ, God's perfect Son, our all-sacrificing, all-conquering Savior.
The text begins by telling us Jesus had set His face to go to Jerusalem. Now the Savior had always known how His life was going to end. The knowledge that His people would reject Him; one of His closest friends would betray Him; His disciples would desert Him; and His church and government would condemn Him had always been known as God's plan to save lost humanity. To fulfill the law for sinful humanity and to conquer death by offering up His life on a cross was why Jesus had been born into this world. As Jesus walked with His disciples, often He would give them a glimpse into what His final days would be like. So they might be prepared, He shared how He would die... and He also told them of how He would, three days after He was crucified, come forth from His borrowed grave. Yes, Jesus told them, but either they didn't listen or they didn't believe Him. Either way, when Resurrection Sunday arrived, they were afraid and locked away behind closed doors.
As I said, the text tells us Jesus had set His face to go to Jerusalem. No longer was His suffering a matter which could be put in the back of His mind; no longer was His death an event which could be relegated to sometime in the distant future. The time had come for Him to give up His life so those who believe on Him might have life. That's why He set His face toward Jerusalem; and that is why He was traveling through the province of Samaria.
Now over the last few years, Jesus had performed some pretty impressive miracles. He had raised a dead boy and girl; He had healed lepers; He had silenced storms and fed thousands with a young boy's happy meal made up of a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. Along with that, His teachings had shocked some, amused some, and had touched many others with the immensity of God's love toward sinners. Having Jesus come to your community was a pretty big deal. But it was a big deal at least one of the Samaritan cities was glad to forego. You see, Jesus was headed toward Jerusalem and the Samaritans did not worship at Jerusalem, they didn't like Jerusalem and did everything they could to undermine the Jews that worshipped at the Jerusalem temple. That's why, when Jesus indicated He might stop there, the Samaritans said, "Don't bother, you can just keep on going."
Two of Jesus' disciples, James and John, went ballistic at the insult. They wanted to call down fire and brimstone upon the place. That's what they wanted. Me, I just feel sorry for the place. You see, their Savior, the world's Savior, our Savior was passing by, and they didn't get it. Jesus did pass by that village and He would never come there again. The opportunity to see Jesus was gone; the Spirit's call to faith had passed. Yes it is possible that later on Christian missionaries telling about the death and resurrection of the Redeemer might have shown up, but that is conjecture. We don't know. What we do know is that day Jesus passed by and He never came back that way again.
In the fourth act of Shakespeare's play, Julius Caesar, Brutus says, "There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyages of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea we are now afloat and we must take the current when it serves or lose our ventures." Shakespeare is saying there are moments in our lives when we stand at a crossroad... a crossroad which will have ramifications for the rest of our lives. The Samaritan village which rejected Jesus had been at such a crossroad and the Savior never passed their way again.
As Jesus traveled, a wise fellow seems to have the right spirit. He approached Jesus and said, "Here I am. I'm ready to go wherever You lead." Big, bold words and spot on as far as what the Lord likes to hear. Although Jesus stands always ready to receive sinners, He does remind the man that this is not an adventure which is going to end up in an all-expense paid super-luxurious resort in Cancun or Cozumel. In light of the Samaritans inhospitality, the Lord says, "Look, that Samaritan village back there just hung out a "Jesus Move On" sign. I don't even know where I'm sleeping tonight." And that is the last we hear about the fellow who promised to follow Jesus. He never followed anywhere and simply disappears from the Bible narrative. Jesus went on by, never to return.
With His face still set toward Jerusalem, the Lord spied a likely follower and did something He didn't do all that often. He went up to the fellow, looked him in the eye and said "Follow me." It was to such an invitation the Lord's disciples had positively responded a few years before. This time there was every indication that history was going to repeat itself. The man replied, "Great idea and I'm going to do just that... but, Jesus, if You don't mind, I have to go and bury my father." To our western ears, that sounds like a reasonable request and Jesus sounds like a hard-nosed Cad for not being sympathetic. That's the way it sounds... until you realize that in the Mid-East funerals were conducted on the day a person died. What the man really was saying is this: "Lord, I will follow You after my father dies, whenever that might happen to be. You understand, I've got family obligations and once those are all taken care of; I'll get around to You. Probably." Well, that man never got around to following and Jesus went on toward Jerusalem. He did not return and He never saw that man again.
Missed opportunities. The text lists one more. A man who came up to Jesus and said, "I'm going to follow You, Lord. Yes, I am. And You can be sure I'll be doing that as soon as I say goodbye to my family at home." Now you might think Jesus would have been all kinds of grateful, but the scene didn't play out that way. The Savior knew what was in the man's heart. The Lord knew he probably had good intentions, but good intentions didn't count. Still don't. Gently Jesus told the man, "You have to decide whether you are going to look forward and come with Me or whether you are going to keep looking over your shoulder at the things you've left behind. Tell me, my friend" Jesus probably continued, 'which is it to be? Where is your heart going to be?" The Bible records no response of the man, which, of course, means he responded by going home. And Jesus went on to Jerusalem. He did not return and He never saw that man again.
In the 1940s, Nazi Germany had a desire to dominate the western world. For a while, almost alone in that struggle against such a conquest, stood Great Britain led by Winston Churchill. After the war, a reporter asked the great statesman, "Sir, what is it which most prepared you to take Great Britain through this terrible conflict?" Churchill thought for a moment and said, ""It was the time I repeated a class in grade school." Somewhat shocked the reporter blurted, "You mean you flunked a grade?" Churchill said, "I never flunked in my life. I was given a second opportunity to get it right."
Now Churchill may have been given a second chance to get things right but that's not true for everyone. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is brimming with stories of people who had a chance to get it right but didn't... and they didn't get a chance to do things over. They had one shot and that was it. Adam and Eve messed up and never got a second chance at running the Garden of Eden. Read through the book of Judges and you will constantly be told of how one generation after another got it wrong and were punished. In the New Testament, in just a few verses, you've heard of how these people, good people, well-intentioned people, didn't get it right and they didn't get a second chance at following the Savior.
As a pastor, I have often visited Christians in their homes. Observation has told me two of the most popular pictures of Jesus are Sallman's Head of Christ and Jesus standing and knocking at the closed door of a person's heart. Christians like that second painting because there is comfort in the knowledge that Jesus is there. In spite of their many transgressions, Jesus is there offering His blood-bought forgiveness to all who have sinned. Jesus is there wishing to bring comfort and peace, hope and courage to those who need it. Goodness, even unbelievers like the painting. For them, knowing that Jesus is always there, gives them a secure feeling. But they also think, 'There's no rush, there's no need to hurry. After all, Jesus is always there; ready to come in anytime I get around to throwing that lock and opening the door."
Right now I'm primarily speaking especially to you folks who aren't believers. I want to say, "If I have accurately described your feelings, you are doing an incredibly dangerous thing. It is dangerous to put Jesus off to the side. It's dangerous thinking He'll always be there. He will always be there. He will be, but you won't. The time will come for you, like it comes to everyone, when your opportunities will be no more. Jesus won't move on but you will. You will breathe your last and the opportunity for forgiveness and salvation will be permanently past. At that moment if the door is still shut; if the call to faith has gone unheeded, if the lock is still thrown, it will be too late. You will be lost and that, dear friends, would be a terrible thing, an unnecessary thing. It's not what God wants, and those who are lost will spend eternity agonizing how they foolishly said 'No' to God's great love and forgiveness; His gracious salvation and peace.
Years ago I was driving down a bumpy county road and saw a bag of cement on the shoulder. It appeared to have fallen off a delivery truck as it drove over the washboard gravel road. Being the kind of guy who does not like to see anything wasted, I pulled over to recover the lost bag of cement. When I stooped to pick up this heavy bag, I just about popped every vertebra in my back. To my surprise, I discovered the bag was not soft and pliable, as I had imagined. On the contrary, sitting out in the rain, the concrete contents had solidified into an almost immovable rock.
May I suggest that the human heart is often like that bag of cement? Hearts can become something which God never wanted or intended. The longer hearts are exposed to the world and are away from the Lord Who ought to work with them the harder those hearts become. My friends, do not let the opportunity for salvation pass you by. Don't let the tomorrow come when the salvation call cannot be heard. This is the day the Savior Who has conquered death is speaking to you, calling you. I don't know if He will ever come again with the same invitation. Which is why I encourage you: believe, be baptized, be saved. To that end, if we can help, please, call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.
Action in Ministry for July 24, 2016
Guest: Chaplain Stephen Hokana
ANNOUNCER: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. This is Action in Ministry. Pastor Gregory Seltz joins us now. Pastor Seltz, it is always good for us to hear that there is hope for us in Christ.
SELTZ: As devastating as life can be sometimes, we are not alone. That's the message. There is help and there is hope.
ANNOUNCER: Joining us today is Dr. Steven Hokana. He is a retired military chaplain with 30 years' experience with the U.S. Army. He has written a resource for us titled: Victim, Validated, Victorious.
SELTZ: Chaplain Hokana, thanks again for joining us.
HOKANA: Thanks for having me. It's great to be here.
SELTZ: Having been on active duty with the U.S. Army for 30 years, I can't help but think that you've seen it all as far as difficult life circumstances.
HOKANA: Yeah, they say that as a parish pastor, after about five years you would have heard and seen it all. In the United States military, as a chaplain, it is multiplied and intensified.
ANNOUNCER: Where do you start and what do you say?
HOKANA: One of the things that's most important; when someone comes to you, you have to acknowledge to them that they are in a safe place and they have to feel safe. If they don't feel safe, then you can't go on in the conversation, you cannot facilitate, you can't support or care, love, pray for them, so, it's important that they know they are in a safe place. Probably the next thing that is just as important is that as we bring God into the disaster, into the traumatized event, is to have them acknowledge that it was a traumatic event. Being sexually assaulted, going through an earthquake; those were horrible, terrible events. It's important that we remind them that what they went through was horrible. Let's not play deniability. Let's not play "drive on, soldier". It was tough. It was a disaster.
SELTZ: It's hard to imagine how life can be so dark and how cruel people can be to those who are innocent and vulnerable. It does. It brings about a flood of emotions; so what is a victim to do with all these feelings?
HOKANA: As we go through the process of acknowledging, natural catastrophe people tend to recover faster than a physical assault. So if you are assaulted by another human being, it's going to take a lot longer. So, there is already a differentiation. But the important thing is to move away from the victim's status as fast as you. can; and let me repeat, as fast as you can. There are resources. There are facilitations. There is help. And there is God's Holy Word.
ANNOUNCER: We should recognize here there is a big difference between humanity apart from Christ and humanity in Christ.
HOKANA: One of the things that is interesting is when we look at trauma, bad things happen. To acknowledge that this is a fallen world, it's a cruel world, tough things happen. In addition, though, if you're victimized by another human being, your trauma is intensified, it's made much worse than if it were a natural catastrophe. I know it's hard to admit that but it is true. When you are assaulted by another human being, it's going to be a lot harder to come back, but you can come back.
SELTZ: It's amazing. This world is sinful. It is destructive; sometimes even worse than we can imagine. But what continually amazes me is that despite our fallen dark world, God still loves us and He makes His love available to us and despite our brokenness He promises to restore us. Let's get to the good stuff. What is the good news for those who are out there struggling with trauma? What's the flipside of these traumatic life events?
HOKANA: It is absolutely important to understand that God credits us for righteousness. He gives it to us and He gives it to us through His Son Jesus. It doesn't matter where you are: emotionally, physically, spiritually; that justification by grace through faith is yours won by Jesus. So you can go through a horrible, awful event and you may not feel it. It doesn't matter. God still loves you.
ANNOUNCER: As you realize this redemption of Christ, how does that enable you, as a victim, to move ahead?
HOKANA: To understand that God became incarnate, that God became earthy for us, that God reached down for the sole purpose of rescuing and saving us; it's absolutely important. If I can add another thing too, one of the phenomena that occurs with natural catastrophes is that about six months after the event suicide, suicidal ideation tends to rise, so those of you who look out for people who have been traumatized and hurt, please remember them in prayer and remember them about six months after the event.
SELTZ: Traumatic situations; they can be life altering. What an amazing thing to hear; that Jesus not only came into the flesh, He came in and faced these head on and then gave us His promises that we will make it through because He has made it through for us. I know this resource is going to be valuable to those of you who are out there, someone that you might know. Chaplain Hokana, thank you for writing it and thank you for joining us to talk about it here today.
HOKANA: It's always an honor to be here.
SELTZ: That's our Action in Ministry segment today, to bless, to empower, and to strengthen your life in Christ for others.
ANNOUNCER: The title of this resource is Victim, Validated, Victorious. For your free copy, go to lutheranhour.org and click on Action in Ministry. That's lutheranhour.org. Or call 1-855-john316. That's 1-855-564-6316. Our email address is email@example.com.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for July 24, 2016
Topic: Faith's deal breaker?
ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Ken Klaus responds to questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer.
KLAUS: Thank you, Mark. Glad to be here.
ANNOUNCER: Today we have one of those questions that make me wish we knew more about the intent of the questioner.
KLAUS: How's that?
ANNOUNCER: It might help us to know, for example, if this comes from someone who believes in Christ or is it from someone who's antagonistic to the Redeemer and His Church.
KLAUS: I'm intrigued. Let's hear it.
ANNOUNCER: Our listener says, for more than 80 years, "The Lutheran Hour" has been on the radio every week, preaching about Jesus. At the end of your messages, you always invite people to call in for more information about Jesus. Our listener assumes you do this in hopes that others would also be brought to faith in Christ.
KLAUS: Generally speaking, that is the ultimate goal of my invitation... although, occasionally it has been extended for other purposes.
ANNOUNCER: And now comes the question: "You seem to be very sure of your faith. Is there anything that would cause you to lose your faith?"
KLAUS: They want to know if there is anything that would make me an unbeliever.
KLAUS: Honestly, that takes me somewhat aback. It's not anything I've ever really considered, so I'm going to have to process that some more. Let me ask you, for what reasons do people start disbelieving something they've believed in?
ANNOUNCER: They might say they lost their faith because of some personal calamity, like the death of a loved one, perhaps.
KLAUS: No, that's not going to do it for me. You see, I expect death to someday come calling for me and for those who are close to me. I actually think a great loss like that should draw a person closer to the Lord... not drive that individual further away.
ANNOUNCER: Other people would say they lost their faith because of the way they were treated by other Christians... or because they have seen believers act in ways contrary to what they claim to believe.
KLAUS: I've seen that, too. It's unfair to judge the perfect Savior by His imperfect followers. If we were perfect, we wouldn't need Jesus. The Savior came into this world to seek and save sinners like you and me. So, that's not going to cause me to renounce my faith.
ANNOUNCER: Sadly, others have fallen prey to teachers who delighted in planting the seeds of doubt in the minds of their students.
KLAUS: I think here of Romans, chapter 1, "Claiming to be wise, they become fools..."
ANNOUNCER: So, is there anything that could separate you from Christianity?
KLAUS: Mark, as we've been talking, I've been thinking, kind of in the background. I have come up with something that, without doubt, would make me doubt.
ANNOUNCER: What is that?
KLAUS: I would leave the faith--if they found Jesus' body.
ANNOUNCER: You mean if it were proven Jesus didn't really rise from the dead?
KLAUS: Yes. That's what I mean... although I would have to add--if they were to discover Jesus hadn't risen from the dead, I wouldn't be leaving the faith-
ANNOUNCER: --the faith would be leaving you. In fact, there would be no faith, since all of Christianity hinges on the resurrection of the Redeemer.
KLAUS: Exactly so.
ANNOUNCER: Some years ago, Dr. Paul Maier even wrote a mystery novel based on that very idea. He imagined what it might be like if someone were to come forward and claim they had found the body of Jesus. He called it A Skeleton in God's Closet.
KLAUS: As you said, all of Christianity is based on the bodily resurrection of the Christ. And I really feel a need to add a few more qualifiers to my answer.
ANNOUNCER: Okay. Such as...
KLAUS: There are all kinds of people out there who hate Christ and His Church. Jesus said it would be that way so that's not like any big surprise to us. I suspect some of them are not above trying to cobble together a supposed Jesus' corpse in some twisted, malevolent desire to destroy Christianity.
ANNOUNCER: So you're saying even if someone were to produce a body and say it's the body of Jesus, you're not ready to accept that without further proof.
KLAUS: Exactly. We're not talking about something like it sort of looks like Jesus or it might have been Jesus or it could have been Jesus. That proof is going to have to be 100%. It would have to be such that it could not be disputed, argued, or debated. And one other thing, Mark...
ANNOUNCER: What's that?
KLAUS: It ain't a-gonna happen. If it was going to happen, it would already have happened a long, long time ago.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Klaus. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Our Father, Who From Heaven Above" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"By Grace I'm Saved, Grace Free and Boundless" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)