"A Hero? No, a Savior!" #81-32
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on April 13, 2014
By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Why Can't My Good Deeds Earn My Way To Heaven?)
Copyright 2014 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Philippians 2:5-11
Jesus, the suffering Servant, is risen. He is risen, indeed, and our lives together with each other can be transformed by faith in Him. Amen.
Last year on August 4th, Katie Lentz began her drive from Quincy, Illinois to Jefferson City, Missouri. The nineteen-year old had just finished an internship in Jefferson City and wanted to visit some friends she made at church during her time there. She and her parents made it a custom to pray before every trip. They prayed together and Katie began her journey. But after she entered Missouri, disaster struck. A drunk driver crossed the median and plowed into Katie's car head-on. The crash was devastating. Katie was trapped inside her nearly overturned vehicle, pinned in place by the steering wheel, bones crushed by the twisted metal wreckage. When rescuers rushed to the scene, they doubted anyone could survive such an impact.
But Katie was alive. She asked the first sheriff on the scene to call her mother. He couldn't believe she could speak, let alone was alive. When firefighters arrived with the jaws of life to cut through the mangled vehicle, the equipment failed. They radioed for replacement tools, but had to wait. That's when a man in a clerical collar walked up the highway to ask the sheriff if he could bless the injured young lady in the car. He seemed to appear from nowhere. He had an Irish accent, which was a bit odd in these parts; but, the sheriff said yes.
Gently reaching inside the car, the mystery clergyman placed his hand upon Katie's forehead and prayed for her. He stepped back and continued to pray until first responders could remove her and transfer her to a waiting helicopter. Then, suddenly, he was gone. No one knew where he went.
Firefighters wondered who this mystery person could be. They checked sixty-three photos taken at the scene and not one contained an image of the pastor in black. Word started spreading about the Irish priest who appeared out of nowhere to help give God's assurance when all hope seemed lost for Katie Lentz. Many people wondered if it was an angel. One thing everyone knew; the mystery man was a hero as Katie survived the devastating crash.
Miracles do happen today, no matter what people say. But we're not always sure what to do with them or what to say about them. People knew that Jesus performed miracles. He healed people. He restored sight for the blind and hearing for the deaf. He made the lame walk and cured the terrible disease of leprosy. He cast out evil spirits and even raised people from the dead. But some still wondered who He was. Jesus even asked His disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" (Mark 8:27) The disciples replied: "Some say John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets" (Mark 8:28).
To many, Jesus was a Hero, but some still considered Him a mystery Person. To others, He was even a nuisance because of the works He did for people.
I think the same could be said today, don't you? Not everyone has heard of Jesus. In fact, today, knowledge of the Bible has been steadily declining. According to a recent survey, the majority of adults do not connect Easter with the resurrection of Jesus. Fewer than half of all adults can name the four Gospels. Sixty percent of all Americans cannot name five of the Ten Commandments. And twelve percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife!
Even for people who have heard of Jesus, they can be as confused as the disciples. Some think He was a just a Jewish Religious Leader. Others think He was merely a wise Prophet. Others believe He was a kind Person in history. What many people don't know is that Jesus was and is a real Hero, even greater than a Hero, He was this world's Savior; the true God in the flesh who came to earth to save us.
Philippians 2:6 says this about Jesus, "Though he was in the form of God, [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped or held onto" (Philippians 2:6). In other words, the true and almighty Son of God gave up His power and authority. He let go of His high position and became a human being in order to save us. Verses seven and eight continue: "But He, Jesus, emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:7-8).
Dear friend, my prayer for you today is that I'd like you to meet this Jesus. I'd like you to meet the Savior who came to help and to rescue you. He's no apparition. He's a Hero of heroes; even more, He's a Savior of sinners; Hope for those who struggle; Life for those in need. He is real.
So was the mystery clergyman who appeared to Katie Lentz during her time of need. His name was Father Patrick Dowling. Father Dowling was driving his white Toyota to make a visit in the Jefferson City area where he ministered to prisoners and Spanish-speaking residents. He said about his ministry: "You go from door to door with empty hands. You have nothing to offer them except the love of God." That's what he tried to do for Katie. When he saw the accident, he stopped about 150 yards away and he walked to the site. He asked the sheriff if he could pray for the young girl trapped in the car. Dowling insists, "You mustn't be ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. You have His Word, His blessing to offer. You have to be available."
After Katie was airlifted to a hospital, Dowling got in his car and drove away. He didn't think anything of it until his colleagues told him that everyone was looking for him. He came forward and the world saw that a simple and caring man could make a tremendous difference.
That's what Jesus did. He took the form of a human being and humbled Himself to the point of being punished for your sin and mine on the cross. He stepped into the wreckage of our lives and took the brunt of our failures, rebellion, brokenness, and sin. The humble Son of God on the cross saved your life. He saved my life. He atoned for the sin of the whole world.
Dear friend, I'd like you to meet Jesus today. If this is the first time you're hearing about Him, listen carefully to meet your Savior. He's a Rescuer unlike any other. If you've known Jesus for a long time, listen carefully to receive renewed hope and strength in Him.
The first thing I'd like you to know about Jesus is that He is approachable. On the Sunday before Jesus gave His life on the cross, He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. The day is called Palm Sunday. For thousands of years, the church has celebrated that entry into the city of Jerusalem as God's victory ride for the world. But, Jesus came riding a donkey instead of a warhorse. He came in peace and humility. Many welcomed Jesus by waving palm branches and shouting, "Hosanna!" which means "Save now!" The people knew they needed to be rescued. But Jesus didn't come like the political conquerors or the military conquerors of the day. (Have you ever noticed that their victories never last?)
No, He came as a humble Servant to save people He loved so deeply--people exactly like you and me. That donkey He rode showed how approachable Jesus is. Even now He says to you, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). He invites you to come close with every burden you have.
You can say a prayer to Him. You can read His Word. You can receive the blessing of the Lord's Supper. Jesus is approachable. Just as Father Dowling sought only to help and not to be in the limelight; Jesus draws close to you to be your help in time of need. He is approachable. That's amazing!
I want you to know this Jesus because there is no One else like Him in the world. He is approachable, but He's also self-sacrificial. At the end of February a movie was released called "Son of God." It's all about Jesus--His life, death, and resurrection. This isn't the first movie about Jesus. You may remember "The Passion of the Christ" released more than a decade ago. Some say that more than 1000 movies have been made about Jesus. Why have so many films been produced about the Son of God? Was it because He fed 5000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish? Was it because He walked on the water and calmed the raging sea? Was it because He opposed religious hypocrisy and reached out to the poor and the outcast? Was it because He raised the dead to life?
All of those reasons would motivate a lot of movie making, but the most compelling reason for the production of Jesus movies is that Jesus gave His life up because He loved us. He was completely self-sacrificial. As the Bible said, "But Jesus emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:7-8).
That's a big deal. Powerful people don't do this for anybody, let alone people who have nothing to give in return. But that's exactly what Jesus did. The One who had angels at His command became a Servant, willing to give up His stature, even His life, to give you your life back. That's how much He loves you. Do you know Him?
You see, Jesus grew up and faced temptations just like you did. He overcame them all and suppressed every desire to lash out or veer into selfishness. He did what none of us could do: He was completely obedient to God--perfect in our place. Then He suffered the greatest injustice: He was put to death as a common criminal and was abandoned by God as He hung on the cross. Jesus paid the price for our sins and failures. It was total sacrifice for you and me.
You may be familiar with billionaire Warren Buffet. Buffet lives in Omaha, Nebraska. His house is the one he bought fifty years ago for $31,500. Warren Buffet could afford a lot more. Instead, he gives billions of dollars to people and organizations in need. It's called self-sacrifice.
But the Son of God, Jesus Christ, did so, so much more. He risked it all for you, sacrificing the privilege of His position; He carried your sins and mine to the cross. He did it to save us. He did it because "God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
Because of His sacrifice, you have been given a special and lasting gift. Would you like to meet Him? Would you like to meet Jesus?
Katie Lentz knew Jesus as her Savior; and she wanted to meet her hero, too. On her 20th birthday, just six weeks after the accident, the Lentz family invited Father Dowling to their home. Katie's mom pointed out that the priest wasn't even supposed to be on the road that day to pray for her daughter. Father Dowling was filling in for a priest who was ill. That's why he was at the right place, the right time for Katie. She said that "God put him there."
God puts Jesus in your life, too. The Son of God is alive and well. Philippians, chapter two says it this way: Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11)
How does Jesus visit you? He steps into your life through His living Word, the Bible. He calls you His own through the waters of baptism. He forgives your sins and lives in you through His Holy Communion, His Lord's Supper. He hears your prayers. He is with you always. Risen from the dead, Jesus walks with you. He promised to be with you always. Your Hero of heroes, your Savior is as close to you as the gifts He gives for you to receive. He is your Help, your Strength, your Friend, your Listener, your Leader, your Hope, and your Eternal Life.
Last fall the Reverend Billy Graham, now ninety-five years old, launched a campaign to reach the current generation with the Good News of our real Hero, Jesus Christ. His effort was called, "My Hope America." Why did he go to all the effort to start another ministry campaign at ninety-five? Why step back into the fray of writing and preaching and filming? Why didn't he just rest and take it easy; because seven out of 100 of your neighbors struggle with depression; because seven out of 100 of your neighbors deal with addiction to drugs or alcohol; because fourteen out of 100 of your neighbors are crippled by fear and anxiety; because too many people are crippled by grief, unemployment, and other struggles. And most of them do not know Jesus as their Savior. They need help--not just for now, but help that will go deep into their soul and last forever. They need to meet Jesus.
One person featured in Billy Graham's campaign is a hip-hop artist named Lecrae. This young man grew up without a father and craved a sense of worth. So he sought the attention of the people who seemed the most powerful and commanding to him: gang leaders. Lecrae began a life of drugs, alcohol, and crime. He was arrested in high school and put on a gang list. That's when he began asking himself what he was doing with his life. He felt like a misfit. He didn't know where he belonged.
While his mother and grandmother tried to tell him about Jesus, get him to read the Bible, and take him to church, Lecrae rejected their attempts at help. He remembers tearing pages from the Bible and throwing them on the floor. "How could this be real?" he wondered.
When he was nineteen years old, a friend invited him to a conference which featured rappers. It was a Christian conference, but Lecrae didn't care. He was more excited to go into the city to hear some great hip-hop artists. While he was there he heard something that changed his life. He said,
"[The speaker] told me the story of Jesus, and Him carrying the cross and bearing all my sins, all my lying, all my cheating, all my escapades, all my drinking and drugging; He put it on His back. He said I was bought with a price. It made me think, 'Man, someone thinks I am significant enough to die for me. Someone thinks I am significant enough to climb up this mountain with a cross on his back and take nails in His wrists and His feet for me.'"
A seed was planted. Not long after the conference, Lecrae was in a major car accident. He not only survived, but he wasn't even injured. He walked away realizing that he was being freed from the twisted wreckage of his life. The prayers of people who loved him were working. He knew he needed Jesus. He also knew that he needed to use his music to reach people and give them the hope of God the Father and His Son, the Savior Jesus Christ.
Today Lecrae is a Christian rapper, performing all over the world. At his concerts, when he sees kids just like him hearing his lyrics about how empty life can be, being moved to tears about their brokenness and pain, he says, "I just need to keep holding onto that because it's something that would keep reminding me that I need Jesus."
Today, my friend, Jesus reaches out to you, too, and He calls you to trust in Him. He's telling you that you are precious to Him. He doesn't want to be merely your Hero; He wants to be your Lord and Savior. Trust in His love for you. Trust in His forgiveness. Trust that in Him your life is brand new. Here's some good news; the Lord of the Universe, He came for you. As it says in the Bible, "being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." That's a hero's Hero worth meeting; that's a Savior who can change your life!
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for April 13, 2014
Topic: Why Can't My Good Deeds Earn My Way To Heaven?
ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, one of our listeners says he's a very kind person. He hasn't done anything all that bad in his life. Why can't his good deeds, his good intentions, earn his way to heaven?
SELTZ: You know, Mark, it's true, there are a whole lot of nice people who think God would never exclude them from eternal life with Him because they've been generally good people.
ANNOUNCER: But aren't we making an error in judgment here when it comes to how good we perceive ourselves to be versus what God's actual requirements are for heaven?
SELTZ: That's right. Perception, that's the key. Are we really seeing things as they are? For example, there are things today that don't bother us at all, but would have been very offensive to our grandparents. Think of the vulgarity today; the crassness, the sexualizing of our young people, divorce used to bear a sense of shame, having children out of marriage caused scandal; but, many people today aren't bothered at all by these things. In their perception, no matter the pain, it all seems just fine.
ANNOUNCER: So first of all, we've got to find a better measurement of what we define as good.
SELTZ: Exactly. Think about going to the doctor. There are times when we feel great, and then we have one of those Cat Scans, X-Rays, or MRIs, and the doctor says, "Well, you feel fine, but you've got a serious problem." We don't say, "That can't be right." We start to look for the solution, for the antidote.
ANNOUNCER: Okay, how does the Bible help us then with our perceptions?
SELTZ: The Bible gives us that "X-ray" of God's holiness as the standard for all discussions about goodness, badness, evil, salvation, and judgment. It doesn't play human perception games. The Bible tells us something we know deep down in our hearts: we're all flawed. We're sinners. Romans, chapter three tells us the brutal truth: "None is righteous, no, not one;...All have turned aside;...no one does good, not even one." Even when doing some good things here and there, the truth is that no one can look in the mirror and say, "I have been perfect today." Just try doing the Ten Commandments perfectly in thought, word, and deed, and you'll see.
ANNOUNCER: And if the standard is perfection, that smashes our false notions of goodness.
SELTZ: Yes, but that's for our good. Jesus reiterates that, saying, You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect". This isn't an arbitrary measurement that God uses to mess with your minds or plays games with us. God is perfect and holy. There is no selfishness or evil in Him. He wants that reflection of His holiness in our lives, too, for our sakes! God's holiness and perfection are what we need today so desperately. But, on our own, that perfection also means we can't fit into His presence if we are left in our sinful condition.
ANNOUNCER: Now, can anyone do enough to be accepted in God's presence?
SELTZ: A human being would have to be completely perfect--and that's just not possible for us. Human rebellion is in our system. Psalm 51:5 says, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me."
ANNOUNCER: But the Bible also tells us there was One Person who lived a perfect life.
SELTZ: Right, Jesus. Jesus is truly and completely God. He became a human being for a reason: to rescue us from our separation from God and from the impossibility of spending eternity with Him. He came to save us from the hellish alternative.
ANNOUNCER: How did He accomplish that?
SELTZ: He did what we could never do. First, He lived a perfect life for us. Then Jesus did something amazing. Even though He never sinned, He received punishment for all our sins--for the sins of the whole world.
ANNOUNCER: That's what He did on the cross!
SELTZ: Exactly. Jesus cried out as He hung on the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46 ESV) All of our sins were placed on Jesus, so He was cast out of God's presence and literally suffered hell in our place.
ANNOUNCER: We read in 2 Corinthians: "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV).
SELTZ: And that's what happened, Mark. Jesus was covered with our sin, receiving our punishment. And we became the righteousness of God--fully forgiven people whose sins have been completely removed in Him. It's an amazing gift.
ANNOUNCER: Think of that as good news that we don't have to rely on our deeds in order to get to heaven.
SELTZ: Not at all. Our deeds don't get us to heaven. Christ and His good deeds alone do that. Our good deeds, though, are important, by doing good we won't get to heaven, but we can bring a little bit of heaven to someone's life here on earth.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Ride On, Ride On, in Majesty" sung by the Kammerchor, Concordia University-Wisconsin. Used by permission.
"All Glory, Laud, and Honor" arr. Michael Burkhardt. From Hymn Improvisations, vol. 1 by Michael Burkhardt (© 1993 MorningStar Music Publishers)
"Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)