"God's Plan" #81-52
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on August 31, 2014
By Rev. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
(Q&A Topic:Bad Christians/Bad Marriages)
Copyright 2014 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Matthew 16:21-23
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! The resurrection of the Redeemer changes everything. It offers forgiveness and heaven; hope for tomorrow and peace for today. These are God's gifts to you; His plan for you. God grant we may see all this comes from the hands and heart of a gracious God. Amen.
Although this message is not a downer, it does begin with a downer statement. Let's see if you agree with me when I say, "While most of us think we should live happily ever after, in a sinful world life very seldom turns out like we planned, as we hoped, dreamed, as we wanted, or as we expected." The person of your dreams turns out to be a nightmare; your best-friend-forever shows they weren't your best friend today; the job of a lifetime sends you to the unemployment line, and although you feel fit-as-a-fiddle, the doctor solemnly informs you that your fiddle is sadly out of tune. No, in a sinful world life very seldom turns out like you planned, as you hoped, as you dreamed, as you wanted, or as you expected.
I can vouch for that. After twelve years of studying for the ministry, in 1974, at a very official ceremony, I and my classmates graduated from the Seminary. Part of that service was the extending of a Divine Call to the fellows who had completed the study and been judged acceptable material for the pastorate. Since none of us knew where the Lord and the Placement Committee was going to send us for our first position, the evening was filled with great anticipation. I can tell you honestly, it was my hope to be placed at a college campus as a chaplain. There was no doubt in my mind that a campus was the best place for my talents.
The service began with the singing of a rousing hymn; there were readings from Scripture, a sermon, and then, one-by-one, we candidates went up on the stage. The Dean of the School spoke our name, shook our hands, and announced where we were headed. Being a Klaus, with a K, my turn came in the middle of the placement proceedings. They spoke my name and said "Trinity Lutheran Church, Edgemont, South Dakota."
I thought, "Well, maybe there is a college in Edgemont, South Dakota." As I sat down, I looked to my wife and parents in the stands. My father mouthed the words, "Where the dickens is Edgemont, South Dakota." I could only give him a shrug and mouth back, "I don't have any idea." At home we got out the map and found that little community sitting as far southwest in the State of South Dakota as a person can go. There was no college, and to be honest, our first assessment told us there probably wasn't much of anything else. And there wasn't. Even so, Edgemont, South Dakota is where the Lord wanted me and it was to Edgemont, South Dakota that my wife and I went.
It was 100 degrees the day my now-pregnant wife and I drove into town. There was one grocery store, one bank, and you had to go to the Post Office to pick up your mail. Pam and I, both from Chicago and always residents of big cities, went into culture shock at what we found, or didn't find, in that small town. We drove to the parsonage, started to unload the few things we had carried in our un-air-conditioned Volkswagen and tried to settle in. That was when the phone rang. It was the movers. "Your furniture," they explained, "is in a warehouse and will not be delivered for at least two weeks. At least two weeks." That is what they said.
It was then that I realized my life was not going to end with us living happily ever after. I understood. In a sinful world, life very seldom turns out as you planned, as you hoped, as you dreamed, as you wanted, or even as you expected. In frustration, fury, and disappointment I turned to my wife and spat out, "This is not what you signed on for when you married me. If you want, we can quit right now. I've got other, better paying, non-ministry job offers." At that moment I was ready to walk away from my education, the new church, and the ministry. I was ready and would have, if Pam had given me the least indication that she thought it was a good idea.
Now you should know that I would not have shared so many details of my life if I wasn't pretty sure that most of you can understand. Indeed, a fair share of you are probably thinking, "What a whiner. If he thinks he had it bad, he ought to hear my story. My story makes his seem like a walk in the park on a sunny day." I wouldn't argue with you if you were thinking or even said that out loud. Most of us haven't lived happily-ever-after kind of lives. Long ago most of us came to realize in a sinful world life doesn't turn out like we planned or expected.
In those feelings we are not alone. When the Lord set the Children of Israel free from centuries of slavery in Egypt, they thought they had it made in the shade. A quick stroll through the wilderness and, TADA, they would take possession of the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey. That didn't work out the way they expected. The stroll turned into 40 years of wilderness wandering during which they complained about food, water, leadership, and just about anything people can complain about. Frequently they looked at each other and said, "You know, things weren't that bad in Egypt. What are we doing out here?"
No, things don't work out the way we expected and the way we had hoped.
That is a lesson which took the disciples of Jesus no little time to learn. When Jesus asked them to follow Him, it sounded like a wise decision. Since fishing and tax-collecting was an iffy proposition, following Jesus seemed like a wise choice. Indeed, during their initial time together they were impressed. How could you not be overwhelmed by a Fellow who turns water into wine; who heals lepers; gives sight to the blind; mobility to the lame, and restores dead people to life?
If the other disciples felt good about Jesus, Peter must have been elated... ecstatic. Jesus had taken them to the pagan town of Caesarea Philippi and asked them, "Who do people say I am?" They had told Him all the things they had heard. Some people think you are a Prophet, or Elijah, or even John the Baptist returned from the dead." Then the Savior had asked, "And, boys, who do you think I am?" There probably was a pause and eventually Peter ventured, "You are the Christ, the Son of God." Although Scripture doesn't say so, I think Jesus must have smiled at that response. It was, absolutely, 100% dead on right. In fact Jesus said to Peter, "Well done, Peter. You should know that you haven't figured that fact out on your own. Your statement is a product of the Holy Spirit." It was one of the highest compliments Jesus ever paid anybody.
But, in a sinful world life very seldom turns out as you planned, as you hoped, as you dreamed, as you had wanted, or expected. After Jesus had praised Peter, He began to speak of how they were headed back to Jerusalem. There He would suffer and He would die and on the third-day after His murder, He would rise from the dead. To put it mildly, the disciples were shocked. "Why," they thought to themselves, "would Jesus want to do that?" In the north, Jesus could pretty much write His own ticket; in the south, there were all those people who hated Him and thought they would be doing God's work if they shut Him up for good. "No," they thought, "from start to finish going to Jerusalem is a bad idea." Peter, flush from the success of his statement about Jesus being the Christ, put the thoughts of the others into words. With the very best of intentions, He took Jesus off to the side and said, "Look, Lord, You don't really want to do that. Going to Jerusalem is downright dangerous."
Peter probably would have continued with his reprimand, but Jesus didn't give him the chance. Jesus interrupted and, with words that had to scorch Peter's ears, said, "Get behind me. What you're urging me to do is coming from the devil and not from God. You may have good intentions, but they don't fit God's plan and I'm all about doing God's plan to save the world." Jesus' reprimand signaled the end of the conversation.
Jesus fulfilled the prophecy He made to the disciples that day. It took some time, but Jesus did end up in Jerusalem. His triumphal entry was regarded as dangerous by the religious authorities and they put into motion a plan to have the Christ eliminated. One of Jesus' disciples was bribed into betraying Him and when Jesus was arrested, His disciples deserted Him and went into hiding. During those hours, there is little doubt they spoke of how, in a sinful world, life very seldom turns out like you had planned, or hoped, or expected.
In contrast to the disciples who seemed shocked at the turn of events, things for Jesus went exactly as He had promised they would. Shortly before His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, all the sins of every sinner who has ever lived were placed upon Him. Jesus was the all-powerful Son of God, but the weight of the world's transgressions crushed Him to the ground and had Him sweat, as it were, great drops of blood. He met His betrayer calmly, prevented a battle, and allowed Himself to be lead to His unfair and illegal trials.
Witnesses were brought in to tell lies about Him, but their testimonies were disregarded because they couldn't get their stories to agree. Jesus was eventually convicted by the religious court for claiming to be the Son of God. Now in the mouth of anyone else, that claim would have been perjury. Coming from Jesus, that claim was the whole truth and nothing but. Knowing they didn't have the authority to put Jesus to death, the religious leaders brought Him to the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate. Changing the charges to insurrection, the ruler was threatened and blackmailed into allowing Jesus to be crucified. And so it was. God's Son was taken outside the city walls of Jerusalem and there, on a cross, He died for us. His life had ended as it had been lived: doing all which was necessary to save humanity from eternal death. Jesus had turned out exactly as the Father had planned and precisely as Jesus had expected.
Through it all the disciples remained in hiding. Afraid they might be next on the list of people to be disposed of, they kept themselves behind locked doors. That's where they were when Jesus rose from the dead. That's where they were when the risen Redeemer appeared to Mary Magdalene and to the other women who had come to finish the funeral rites their dead Friend deserved. True, Peter and John ventured to Jesus' empty tomb when the reports came back of His resurrection... but nobody put much stock in the story the women had shared. It took an appearance, numerous appearances, of Jesus to convince the disciples that Satan's hold had been broken, sin had lost it's power and death's hold had been destroyed. It took even longer for the disciples to receive the Holy Spirit and become the powerhouse witnesses who turned the world upside down with the story of the Savior who had given His life so that all who believe on Him would not perish, but have eternal life.
And from then on, you might imagine, they lived happily ever after. From then on, you might think, their lives turned out the way they had planned, as they had hoped, dreamed, and expected. You might think that, and you would be right if you understand that telling the story of salvation was so important to these men that everything else they had ever held valuable became unimportant and inconsequential. The others would have agreed with the Apostle Paul who said, "But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and... that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death." (Philippians 3:7-11 excerpts (ESV)
That is the story of the disciples. Did they live happily ever after? By human standards the answer to that question would be, "No." After all, they were, with the exception of one, martyred for telling others of Jesus' redemption. But if you asked them, they would tell you, "I wouldn't have had it any other way." And that, my friends, takes me to you and your story.
Right now I am speaking to some of you who have given up on God. Something has happened to you which has made you think He is unfair, unjust, uncaring, and cruel. Some of you have taken a look at the church and judged the Savior by the sorry state of the sinners who are there. I wish I could talk you out of your feelings and say your judgments are wrong. They are... wrong, you know, God loves you. He sacrificed His Son to save you. Today there is forgiveness and salvation for all who believe in the Savior. If you follow Him, will you live happily ever after? Will your life turn out as you dreamed, hoped, or imagined? Probably not. But it may turn out far, far better than you had ever thought. When your sins are forgiven by God, you also receive a peace which the world cannot give. When you become a follower of Jesus, you know that the difficulties of this world are nothing compared to the joy of knowing that after you shut your eyes for the last time in this world you will awake to an eternity of joy in the next.
And to those of you who are thinking, "But I want to see a change now; I want a better life now," I can tell you the rest of my story. At the beginning of this sermon I told you of how I ended up in Edgemont where I didn't want to be and in circumstances which were sad and sorry. In anger I asked my wife if she wanted me to walk away from the ministry. Now let me finish that story. Pam, who has a far stronger faith than I, told me that God wanted me to minister and he wanted me to begin that ministry in Edgemont, South Dakota.
Not so many minutes after that, the President of my congregation came calling. He heard our story and made some phone calls. The next few hours saw us answering the door as the members of our little parish brought us pots, pans, dishes, a bedroom set, and a bed. They carried in food, and sheets, toothpaste, and soap. Within three hours, those wonderful and most precious folks opened up their hearts, their wallets and purses, and gave us all that we needed. By day's end I stood shamed by my lack of faith and impressed by what God can do through His people. It was a story which I have seen and had repeated again and again.
No, my life didn't turn out as I had imagined, dreamed, or wished for. It turned out better. Looking back I can see God's plan and I know, from the bottom of my heart, it was a loving plan. Just as it will be for you when the Savior is your Savior. Which is why, I extend this invitation; if you are ready to hear more about God's plan, please, call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for August 31, 2014
Topic: Bad Christians/Bad Marriages
ANNOUNCER: We are back once again, answering questions with our Speaker Emeritus, Pastor Ken Klaus. I'm Mark Eischer.
KLAUS: Hi, Mark. Always a joy to be here. So, what's on the table for us today?
ANNOUNCER: Today's question comes to us from someone who is not a regular listener to the program and yet perhaps not even a Christian, although I think they want to be.
KLAUS: And that desire in itself is evidence of faith, but go on...
ANNOUNCER: Okay. The message reads, "Dear Lutheran Hour, I've heard your program twice. It presents Jesus, forgiveness, and salvation in a way that makes sense to me. It's something I think I long for. Having said that, though, there are some things holding me back from going to church.
KLAUS: And what might that be?
ANNOUNCER: She continues, "I've noticed that the Christians at the place where I work seem to swear, gossip, and sin just as much as everyone else. Shouldn't there be a difference if Jesus is really important to them? Also, is it true that divorce among Christians is just as common as it is with non-believers? Shouldn't that be different too?" So, what do you think?
KLAUS: I think I'm embarrassed. The folks at her office ought to be embarrassed too.
ANNOUNCER: And beyond that, what can we say?
KLAUS: It is a sad thing that the Savior is all too often judged and rejected on the basis of how people see His people living. Christians sometimes act as if they're living in a vacuum and nobody ever takes notice of what we do and what we say.
ANNOUNCER: Nothing could be further from the truth. The world is watching and they are judging us, as well as our Savior.
KLAUS: The Crusades took place 1,000 years ago. None of those people are alive today, but what they did back then is still rolled out as proof that Christians are just as violent and bloodthirsty as the terrorists we hear about today.
ANNOUNCER: And it's been 500 years since the Church condemned Galileo for his discoveries, but we still hear how that proves Christianity is anti-science.
KLAUS: Yeah, that's really strange. Nobody today condemns the medical community because doctors used to bleed people to let the evil humors out of the body. No, the people of this world are watching Christians very closely.
ANNOUNCER: All right. What do we say to this woman?
KLAUS: Maybe we ought to say this: I am really sorry the Christians in your office behave as they do. They shouldn't. By the same token, you should realize there are millions of believers who do try to live their lives in such a way that glorifies and gives thanks to the Savior. Watch the news and if you do, you will find, wherever there's a disaster, Christians will be among the first to respond. Wherever there is a need, Christians will rally to help. We are sinners, there's no denying it, but many of us are sinners who, in thanks to Jesus who has saved us, are trying to glorify Him.
ANNOUNCER: We can't whitewash our sinfulness, but we can confess it and then move forward in God's grace. Okay, now, what about divorce among Christians? I've heard that, statistically speaking, there's really no difference between the divorce rate of believers and non-believers.
KLAUS: But there is a difference. According to a recently published, 8-year study, much of what people think they know about marriage is wrong.
ANNOUNCER: Wrong? Really? For example...
KLAUS: We've heard the statistic that 50% of marriages end in divorce. Not true. The 2009 census says 72% of people are still with their original marriage partner and the 28% that are not includes those whose spouses have died. That's a staggering difference.
ANNOUNCER: Okay, how about Christians? Is their divorce rate the same as that for those outside the Church?
KLAUS: Mark, those figures about the divorce rate of Christians being the same as those of the rest of the world comes from the Barna Group. Well, this study asked them to take another look but to add one filter to their original question. They asked, "Had these Christians gone to church recently?" When that filter was studied, it showed the divorce rate of those who were in church the previous week dropped 27% of those who were not. By the way, this information we're sharing is from the book, Good News About Marriage by Shaunti Feldhahn, and it's published by Waterbrook/Multnomah Publishing Group.
ANNOUNCER: Well, it's a significant difference. So we're saying there is cause for hope and Christians aren't racing to divorce each other.
KLAUS: Yeah, and one other thing for our listener today. We're saying, "Don't wait. Jesus is the Savior and He is your Savior too. He calls you to be part of His family, the Church, to receive His gifts of life, forgiveness, and salvation. Don't let anybody hold you back from receiving Him today."
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.
"Son of God, Eternal Savior" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)