"Keep It Simple and Straightforward" #82-08
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on October 26, 2014
By Rev. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
(Q&A Topic:Jesus Is The Same Yesterday, Today, and Forever)
Copyright 2014 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Romans 3:22-25
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Dear Lord, today we give thanks that, no matter our age, the Savior's simple, straightforward story of salvation can and does change lives and eternities. Grant faith in that story to us all. Amen.
For decades a story has circulated around Detroit. That story tells of how a man's old Model T sputtered and had to be pushed to the side of the highway. Shortly thereafter, a sleek chauffeur-driven limo pulled up and a white-haired old man got out. Speaking to the stranded driver he asked, "Do you need some help?" The driver replied, "All help is appreciated." With that the old fellow took off his jacket, did some of this and that under the Model T's hood and, in less time than it takes to tell, had the jalopy purring. Amazed, the once-stranded motorist wondered, "Amazing, how did you do that?" The old fellow smiled and said, "I ought to be able to fix it. My name is Henry Ford and I built that car."
That's a great story, but it's a story which probably couldn't be repeated today. If Henry Ford were still alive, I doubt if he could pop the hood of one of his computer-controlled, electronics-filled, supercharged Mustangs and come up with the same results. That's because Ford, like every other car dealer, doesn't subscribe to KISS, that is Keeping It Simple And Straightforward. Henry would be baffled because Ford, like every other motorcar manufacturer, keeps reforming their autos and making them more complicated.
As I said, that is a great story, but there is some doubt as to whether it ever happened. That is not the case for what I'm going to tell you next. This story is true and it centers around Ford's good friend, the inventor Thomas Edison. On December 6, 1877, Thomas Edison leaned forward and shouted a poem into a very large horn. Cleaned up a bit from the original recording, this is what Edison said more than 135 years ago. Edison's words, "Mary had a little lamb" caused a crude stylus to make marks on a piece of tin foil which had been placed around a cylinder. When the needle was put down again, the machine played Edison's words back to an amazed group of onlookers. Of course, that was 135 years ago and the recording industry has never believed in KISS, Keeping It Simple And Straightforward. I have no doubt that if Edison were to wander through a modern-day electronics store, he would be staggered by seeing a digitally encoded CD; he would be flabbergasted by the recording capacity of an iPod, and left slack-jawed when confronted by the technology involved with WIFI, Bluetooth, and Dolby.
Truly, this world is a complex, fast-moving place which is getting faster, more complex, and more confusing. It is little wonder that Leonardo da Vinci once said, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication," and other philosophers joined him by commenting: "Less is more" and "Perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." Even Einstein hopped on the simplicity bandwagon when he urged, "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler."
Now you may wonder what all this "Keep It Simple And Straightforward" has to do with a message on The Lutheran Hour. The answer is an easy one: today is Reformation Day. In many churches that means we remember the reformer Martin Luther who rejected man-made doctrines and returned to the fundamentals of the faith. He reformed much of the church and taught salvation is based solely on the story of God's grace producing saving faith through the teachings of Holy Scripture, In short, Luther returned to the Biblical concept of Keeping It Simple And Straightforward.
Now I know that many of you, having heard that last thought, have suppressed a snicker. Well, maybe you didn't suppress it. For you the idea of religion being simple and straightforward seems both comical almost ludicrous. If so, it is primarily to you that I am speaking today. If you don't mind, let me see if I can identify some of the reasons which might have caused your amusement.
Let us begin by saying: 'With all your heart, you believe religion ought to be simple and straightforward. If saving faith can only be received by those who are rocket scientists or are charter members of Mensa, something is wrong with that religion. That is why, when you drive around town, you are shocked, surprised, even saddened to see so many different Christian churches. You don't know what all those churches believe, but you do know the one on this block is different than the one on the next block and both think they are incompatible with the new church built on the outskirts of town. Those many churches and many denominations are an ongoing reminder that you believe a simple, straightforward religion ought to make those differences disappear.
But there are other reasons why you laugh when I speak of the Christian church keeping things simple and straightforward. Throughout your life you have had questions about God, haven't you? When you were young, your questions might have dealt with topics like, "Where did the dinosaurs go,' or "If God made flies, why do people swat and squish them?" As you got more sophisticated, so did your questions. You wanted to know: "How come some people die when they're young?" and "If we sent a rocket far enough into outer space would it land in heaven?" As an adult, you really got down to brass tacks. You knew, before you would ever consider a church, they would have to answer, "Are all gods the same?" and "How come there are so many hypocrites in church?" and "If God really is a God of love, how come He lets bad things happen to good people?"
More than likely, when you asked your question, somebody responded with the unsatisfactory reply: "I don't have an answer, we just have to believe that on faith." Now it is true, there are times when our limited minds cannot grasp the infinite. That being said, most of the time there are explanations to the vast, vast majority of your queries. Over the years the Lutheran Hour, in her Question and Answer segment, has responded to thousands of these questions submitted by listeners like yourself.
Of course, it is quite possible you did receive an explanation to the questions of your heart, soul, and mind. Regrettably, many of those answers included big, 25-cent words which weren't part of your vocabulary. You didn't know the meaning of sanctification, or synergism, or objective justification. You didn't know, and quite frankly, you didn't care. You just wanted a simple, straight-forward answer to your questions. When those answers weren't forthcoming or understandable, you simply quit trying.
Of course, you may be among those brave souls who actually decided to give church a try. Let me ask, "How long did you spend looking at your closet, trying to pick the right clothes so you would fit in?" After you finally made your decision about attire, you walked through those great, intimidating church doors and faced the folks inside. Most seekers who have taken that step say, "When I entered the church, I felt I was invisible." True, people were talking and smiling, but they didn't talk or smile at you. During worship everybody seemed to know what to do; everybody, that is, except for you. People got up and then they sat down, but you didn't know why and nobody told you. That day you left the church feeling unwanted, unneeded, and unnoticed. You left and decided not to come back. No, you weren't going back to any denomination until you found one which would Keep It Simple And Straightforward.
So, have I covered or touched upon the reason why you have not hitched your wagon to any Christian church? I think not. There is at least one more major difficulty which stops many people from making a commitment to the Christ. I have, quite deliberately, kept this big problem till last. Many unbelievers stay unbelievers because they think the church is so negative about everything... that we have a gazillion rules about doing, saying, or thinking anything... that all the church does is complain and condemn, condemn and complain. To you, Sunday worship is a boring preacher speaking to a boring congregation about a boring Savior. Worst of all, this message always seems to center on the pastor urging the people to be more boring.
If that is where you are coming from and if that is where you are, I give thanks that today is Reformation Day. I give thanks, because today the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Trinity, is going to take a shot at reforming your thinking, and if God grants that grace, reforming your heart at the same time. To see that possibility become a reality, we need to Keep It Simple And Straightforward and we need to do so by speaking about Jesus. Let me ask, "When you think of Jesus, do you find Him boring?" If so, you will be surprised when I tell you Jesus was hated and eventually crucified because the people in His day found Him too dangerous to let live. Does that surprise you? Then be even more surprised when I tell you, when our Savior walked this earth, people called Him names. For example, they said He was "a sinner." This they said because Jesus loved all those whose actions made them rejects of society.
Back then they had other names for Jesus. When Jesus did miracles in a way they found unacceptable, they said He was a "devil." They called Him a 'party-goer' because He laughed and felt caring for others was more important than following man-made laws. They said He was an "insurrectionist" because He seldom supported the establishment or the status quo. Finally, they crucified Him because they thought that, in doing so, they could stop people from following Him.
Boy, were they wrong about stopping people from following Him. Today, Christianity remains the largest movement in the world. Jesus has touched more people, changed more lives, redirected more souls than anybody else. And if you wonder how a dead Man could do such a thing, I can tell you. The story of Jesus has changed the world because Jesus who was crucified, died, and was buried, didn't stay that way. Having shouldered and carried our sins to the cross, Jesus did die. Anybody who says differently is full of baloney. Among the tens-and-hundreds-of-thousands of people the Romans crucified, not one of them ever escaped. Forensic medicine will tell you that when Jesus was stabbed and "blood and water" came out, it was a sure and certain sign Jesus had been dead for some time.
No, Jesus died and was buried, but He didn't stay that way. Three days after Jesus' lifeless body had been placed into that tomb, days after a guard had been set at His grave, and a seal placed upon His not-so-final resting place, Jesus rose from the dead. The guards at the tomb saw Him; some women who had come to take care of His corpse saw Him; His closest disciples saw Him numerous times; hundreds of others saw Him, ate with Him, touched Him. Let's keep it simple and straightforward: there can be no doubt that three days after Jesus had died, according to prophecy, Jesus was alive and better than well.
Now here is where all that information becomes pertinent to you. You, my friend, are a sinner. You may be a good person, but you, like the rest of humanity, are a sinner. Your thoughts, your actions, your words confirm Ecclesiastes 7:20 where God states, "Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins." That is a truth which has some negative repercussions. The Bible is simple and straightforward about what happens to sinners. Ezekiel 18:20 says, "The soul who sins shall die." Now other religions may tell you, and you may believe that you might: "Do a bunch of good things and balance out the scale to escape judgment."
It is a noble idea... and you can try... but you will fail. Once again the Bible keeps it simple and straightforward when it tells us: (Romans 6:23) "The wages of sin is death." The things you have done wrong are a dark blot of indelible ink upon your soul. There is no man-made soap or solution which can remove any of those sins. But Jesus does what we cannot. Throughout His life Jesus kept the laws which our sins have broken and He resisted the stumbling blocks of temptation which have tripped us up. Finally, and most significantly for us, with His third-day resurrection, Jesus defeated death and grave.
And if you're thinking, "Good for Jesus! What does that have to do with me," there is an answer. The Bible keeps it simple and straightforward when it tells everyone who is concerned about eternity: "The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord." In another place it says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God" Ephesians 2:8 (ESV). My friends, in times past you may have avoided reading the Bible because of its size and its unfamiliar vocabulary. If that is the case, you should know, God understands. That's why there are places where He keeps it very simple and extraordinarily straightforward. Look at the sixteenth verse of the 3rd chapter of John. There it says, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." John 3:16-17
You see, when humankind fell into sin, God loved us with a sad love. His justice demanded we be punished for our misdeeds, but His gracious love provided a means by which we could be saved. His Scripture alone tells us how we can be saved by faith alone, through God's grace alone. That is the message which reformed the church 500 years ago. That is the message which can reform your life and eternity today. With Holy Spirit-given faith in Jesus Christ, you can be moved from being a condemned sinner to being a rescued saint; your eternity can be spent in heaven, and not hell, and your soul can be redirected from damnation to salvation.
Keeping it simple and straightforward: Jesus' life, death, and resurrection is an incredibly joyful thing. The angels knew it when they proclaimed Christ's birth in Bethlehem. They said, "We've got good news of great joy which is for all people, for unto you is born a Savior." The women who met Jesus on Resurrection Sunday knew it. That's why, after they saw Jesus, they were filled with joy. Again and again the Scriptures record how Jesus changed the way people felt about life, death, and eternity. It was God's good news, the greatest news, which made it so, when the disciples came to a town, the people would say, "Those who have turned the world upside down have come here also" (Acts 17:6).
And if you're still worried about all those laws and things which you have to do or not do, let me explain it this way: once I knew a wonderful Christian lady who had a husband who made lists. The vast majority of those incredibly detailed lists were for his wife. He told her what to do, as well as how and when to do it. Her life wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. Well, her husband died and she eventually entered into an incredibly loving and supportive marriage. One day, after she and her new husband had been hitched for a while, she came across one of her first husband's old lists. Looking down the things he had ordered her to do, she realized, she was still doing all those things for her new husband. But now, because she loved her husband and he loved her, she did all those things with joy. That's the attitude which shapes a Christian's life. We try to glorify our Redeemer by avoiding that which is bad and pursuing that which glorifies Him and benefits our neighbor. And that my friends is KISS: Keeping It Simple and Straightforward.
And here's one other thing which is also simple and straightforward. If you know someone who needs to hear this message, won't you make sure it gets there? And if the message in which we have kept God's story of salvation simple and straightforward, appeals to you and you need to know more, please won't you call us at The Lutheran Hour? Amen.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for October 26, 2014
Topic: Jesus Is The Same Yesterday, Today, and Forever
ANNOUNCER: We are back once again with our Speaker Emeritus, Pastor Ken Klaus. I'm Mark Eischer.
KLAUS: Hi, Mark. What's before us today?
ANNOUNCER: In the Lutheran Church, the Rite of Confirmation provides a way for instructing young people in the faith that was first given to them in their Baptism.
KLAUS: It also invites a public confession of their faith.
ANNOUNCER: One of our older listeners remembers his pastor had him memorize hymns, Bible verses, even entire sections of the Catechism. After that, he and the other students stood up in front of the entire congregation and were examined. They answered questions about faith and doctrine. However, nowadays the pastor just has the young people write and then read a brief statement about what they believe.
KLAUS: Okay, I'm following you. And the question is?
ANNOUNCER: Our listener sees this as just one more example of how Jesus has changed in the view of many people. The Jesus he learned about some sixty plus years ago seemed to expect a lot more from us. Today, though, we act as if Jesus should just be content to take whatever He gets. So, why the change in attitude?
KLAUS: Wow! Good question. Okay, let's set one thing straight. The Bible keeps it simple and straightforward. In the book of Hebrews it says, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" Hebrews 13:8 (ESV).
ANNOUNCER: Is that all there is?
KLAUS: No, we should say more. Although Jesus Himself doesn't change, the way people think about Him does. It changes all the time.
KLAUS: The simple message of salvation through faith in Christ spread quickly after Jesus' resurrection, but in Revelation, chapter 2, we hear that the Church in Ephesus had already "abandoned the love they had at first." In the 2nd century, Christ was considered the enemy of Rome, but by the year 500, Christianity was sanctioned by the government, had become the official religion of the Roman Empire. Jesus was now the friend of the establishment.
ANNOUNCER: What happened next?
KLAUS: More change. 500 years later, the Church called for a crusade to reclaim the Holy Land. Armies marched off to wage war in the name of the Prince of Peace. By 1500, the Crusader kingdom had been won and lost. There was a terrible plague that decimated Europe. It was the kind of illness where people could be well at breakfast and dead by lunch.
ANNOUNCER: And since they didn't understand what had caused the disease, they thought God must be very, very angry with them.
KLAUS: Yeah, it was a change. So, instead of speaking directly to Jesus, they prayed to some of His good friends and family members. They were so fearful of God's wrath, many tried to cover their bases by buying indulgences on the side.
ANNOUNCER: Now, that's when Martin Luther came on the scene. He showed people once again the Jesus of the Bible.
KLAUS: Yeah, probably the most important part of his work.
ANNOUNCER: But that didn't stop Jesus from changing even further in the minds of people, did it?
KLAUS: Nope. Jesus got changed in people's minds again. The super-angry Jesus of the 1500s has now become the Super Nice Guy of the 21st century.
ANNOUNCER: And what's He like?
KLAUS: He's gentle and meek, soft and squishy. Let's not forget, this is the Fellow who forcibly overthrew the money changers. People think of Jesus as always accepting. Sounds good, but He also called the Pharisees "the brood of vipers and whitewashed sepulchers, full of dead men's bones."
ANNOUNCER: Today people say Jesus is therapeutic, supportive, and doesn't judge anyone.
KLAUS: Well, the Bible says differently. Jesus judged. He judged Herod and John the Baptist, and His arguing disciples, and Pilot, and Martha who was overly concerned about hospitality. And He did accept everybody just as they were, just the sinners they were, but He never left them as they were. He changed them. How many times did He say, "Go--and sin no more?"
ANNOUNCER: Now what does this have to do with the Rite of Confirmation?
KLAUS: Pastors have a tough time of it. There was a time when parents thought Confirmation was really important. Nowadays, for many parents, confirmation is something that gets squeezed into the schedule after sports practice.
ANNOUNCER: Do you have any closing words of advice?
KLAUS: Yeah. If our children are going to survive spiritually in this world, they need to know the entire Jesus, the real Jesus, the Jesus who calls sinners to repentance, Jesus who gave His life for their redemption. And parents... some of them need to be reformed as well, and do what they can to support this incredibly important instruction.
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.
"A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" arr. Paul Kretschmar. From Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice by the Concordia Seminary Chorus (© 1993 Concordia Seminary Chorus)
"Salvation Unto Us Has Come" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)