"Will Jesus Find Faith?" #79-51
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on August 26, 2012
By Rev. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
(Q&A Topic:Love 'em When You Don't Even Like 'em)
Copyright 2013 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Mark 7:8-13
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! To a world of hardened and disobedient hearts the Savior has come. His suffering and sacrifice stand as a powerful witness of God's love and grace. His resurrection is God's sure and certain sign that all who believe on Him as Savior have been given eternal life. God grant this life to us all. Amen.
The good old days. If there's anything which is absolutely guaranteed to drive people nuts, it is when they have to listen to someone else reminisce about the good old days. A few years ago, I was telling a bunch of Pennsylvania pastors about a snowstorm I had driven through. I'd really just started talking about my good old days when a retired preacher stood up and interrupted with a reminiscence about his good old days.
He said something like: "You think that was a storm; son, you don't know what bad weather is. When I was young, we had weather. It was so cold I chipped a tooth eating soup. It was so cold when we milked cows, we got ice cream. It was so cold the politicians had their hands in their own pockets. It was so cold when you turned on the shower, it hailed. He concluded, "Yup, those were the good old days."
That was a few years ago. Today I'm the old guy who straps the grandchildren into their car seats and when they're a captive audience, I tell them about the good old days, the days before television, penicillin, frozen foods, photocopiers, contact lenses, Frisbees, and the pill; the good old days when there were no credit cards, air conditioners, dishwashers, clothes dryers, and unlimited texting. The good old days before yogurt and... well, you see how easy it is.
Which is a roundabout way of saying, "Times change. The world in which our children will live will be different than was ours." The only question is, what kind of world will it be? Not necessarily a good one, I would guess. When Jesus walked among us, He asked, "When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on earth?" 40 years ago, I thought His question was dramatic, rhetorical; today with North America being the only continent where Christianity is not growing; with less than 18% of people attending church regularly, with 85% of churches plateaued or declining, and only 12% of children raised in the church staying in church, I'm pretty sure Jesus was dead-on serious.
He was being serious because, as the all-knowing, all-seeing Son of God, He could see the twofold obstacles of over-enthusiasm and under-enthusiasm which would be put in the path of potential believers; which would prevent people from knowing the Lord and His Son who had entered this world to offer His life as the price to save them. In Jesus' day the problem was over-enthusiasm and that obstacle was provided by a group of fine, upstanding men called the Pharisees. These were men who had a great deal of respect for God's law. If God said, "Thou shalt not do this or that," the Pharisees took Him very seriously. Indeed, in order to make sure they didn't do "this or that", they backed up and built a fence of their own laws to encircle God's original rule. Then to make doubly and triply sure they had it right, they did it again. This they did so they could feel safe and secure, so that on Judgment Day they could look God in the face and say, "Hey, Lord, I did good. Excuse me for saying so, but I was pretty near perfect."
Now you should know respecting God's law is a good thing. The problem was the Pharisees got carried away. To increase their chances of heaven is why they put up all those laws. Then, when they were done, the Pharisees went to other people and said, "Thou shalt keep our laws... our laws which are as good as God's laws... indeed, they're the kind of laws God might have made if He had thought about it long enough." They were over-enthusiastic. You see, nobody, not even these good deed doing Pharisees could keep God's law perfectly. They, like you and me, were sinners. I know I'm a sinner because my conscience keeps pointing out my flaws, failings, my disobedience concerning the many ways I disappoint the Lord. The Pharisees' sinfulness showed up when they said, "Not only do you have to follow God's laws; you have to follow ours as well."
Now, Jesus, who was God's Son, knew what God really wanted and didn't let that stand. There are those who say Jesus was always meek, mild, and accepting. They won't keep that opinion long if they read the seventh chapter of the Gospel of Mark. There Jesus condemned those Pharisees, and He did it with words stronger than I have ever used in my 40 years of preaching. Quoting Isaiah the Savior said, "You influential fellows honor God with your words, but your hearts aren't engaged. You worship me, but it's in vain. Your teachings are doctrines you make up as you go along."
Jesus was trying to tell these guys that the Lord has a plan of salvation and nobody should mess with it. You can't throw out God's thing and put your thing there in its place. Jesus wanted these over-zealous souls to understand that if they were going to be saved, it will only be because they have been given faith in Him, God's Son who came to this earth to offer Himself as humanity's sin-destroying, Satan-defeating Conqueror of death. He wanted them to understand that it would only be through His blood, His innocent blood, that their sins would be washed away and they could stand before God forgiven and ready to be welcomed into the eternal home which they had never earned or deserved.
Over-enthusiasm was the sin of Jesus' day, in that age when people took God seriously, which we might refer to as 'the good old days.' But centuries pass and times change. In our age the over-enthusiasm of the Pharisees has been replaced by a general under-enthusiasm for all of God's directives and plans. If God condemns a sin, and He most definitely does condemn sin, people say, "That was for back then; it's not for now." If the Lord says, "Those who do such things won't make it into the kingdom of heaven", we say, "He didn't mean it." If Jesus says, "I am the only way to heaven and you must believe in Me if you are to have eternal life", we say, "He never said those words, they were added later."
You know, when people first started getting spiritually bucky, they were very gentle as they moved good, old God off of His throne of judgment. Now they are quite proud and vocal as they banish Him from His position of authority and usurp it for themselves. His laws are made into suggestions; His condemnation becomes commendation, and His Son is demoted and His sacrifice demeaned. Little wonder that Jesus, seeing what was to come, prophesied, "False prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect." Matthew 24:24 (ESV) Speaking by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul concurred. To his friend Timothy he wrote, "for the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths." (2 Timothy 4:3-5 ESV) Seeing the days to come were not going to be all that good for those who followed Him, Jesus sadly said, "when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (Luke 18:8 ESV)
Understand, Jesus' question is not rhetorical. By no means is its answer guaranteed. Now, it's important to realize what Jesus is NOT asking. Jesus wasn't asking if He would find a church. Jesus will find churches in abundance when He returns. He will find churches like the one which on Ash Wednesday, applied crosses to the heads of the worshippers made from a mixture of human blood, olive oil, and burned tax forms. He will find churches like the one in California which took down its cross less it offend those who drive by. Yes, Jesus will find churches when He comes again, but Jesus wasn't asking whether He would find churches. He wants to know if He will find faith.
Nor is Jesus asking if He will find pastors when He returns. There will be pastors in plenty. He will find pastors like the revivalist who said, "Do you know when God is saying to move on to the next town? I'll tell you: when you turn people on their heads and shake them and no money falls out. That's when God is saying: 'Move on, son!'" Jesus will find pastors like the one who decreed: "Never pray, 'Thy will be done.'...it is a sin to say that, and it is a sin to be poor, when Jesus came to make you rich.'" Jesus will find pastors, who deny Jesus is the Son of God; who contradict the resurrection and who claim the ability to heal disease and raise the dead. It was just a few months ago that a blind lady asked her pastor: "My friends told me I could have my sight back if I have faith. Pastor, is that true?" The pastor asked: "Your friends told you that?" "Yes." "Do you always carry a white cane?" "Yes." "Next time they say that, hit them with your cane and tell them if they have faith enough, it won't hurt." Jesus will find pastors when He returns, but He wants to know will He find faith.
Jesus is not asking whether He will find church bodies when He returns on Judgment Day. He will find all kinds of them. He will find a major denomination celebrating Communion at their convention by putting clown paint on the people before they receive the Sacrament. He will find church bodies which ordains homosexuals and another which sees no problems with abortions. He will find Christian denominations who aren't afraid to break into government offices; churches that play with poisonous snakes, and churches where, if you want to get married, the pastor picks your mate. Jesus will find churches when He returns, but will He find faith?
There are forces at work which might make you wonder. In my library sits a book which was given to me. Although I won't share the title, it's widely available. One of the reviews says, "This is a lovely and unique book which explains how to....make your own statue. You make your goddess (out of clay), read one of the devotions, and if she doesn't work out for you, you soak her overnight in some hot water, and the next day you begin again." No longer is God the Giver of truth, the Bringer of salvation. If you don't like your god, that's OK, make and mold one you do like.
Jesus wants to know if He will find faith. If you watch television for any length of time, you may have noted that generally when you see a Christian father on TV, he is most often shown as being slow, shallow, stupid, or all of the above Christian mothers are disturbed, discouraged, depressed, or all of the above. Pastors are dull, dim-witted, perverted, prudish, or all of the above. All gods, if there is a god, are the same; all faiths are the same, all truths are the same. It's a theological smorgasbord where you can go through the line and pick the religion you want. Advertisers work hard at teaching audiences there are differences in tennis shoes, blue jeans, under-arm deodorants, and laundry detergent, but all religions are supposed to be the same and every path supposed to lead you to where you think you ought to go.
Will Jesus find faith? A person might wonder when he sees the commitments which are being made by the forces of evil. Consider the website pornographer who has made a commitment to getting filth into every search made on a computer. Look at the recording industry, the movie industry which are committed to making money by appealing to the base, the crude, the vulgar. Don't forget the drug dealer who is committed to making a sale at the cost of someone's future. Will Jesus find faith? Comedians are committed to making sure no one takes the Christ seriously; colleges are committed to removing Jesus from history, science, mathematics, and their campus. The forces of evil are committed to telling anyone, everyone that there is an easy way, a wide path, a smooth road.
Jesus waits and wonders. Will He find faith? Will His people rise up and take a stand against those who put their word in the place of God's Word; their desires to replace the Savior's sacrifice?
A few people, committed to a cause can change the world.
Wonderful and wondrous things can happen when God's people are committed to Christ's cause and move forward in faith. Remember your Bible. When the world was filled with sin, God gave Noah a cause. God said, "Build an ark, save humanity." Noah moved forward in faith and the world was changed. Centuries later the Hebrews were enslaved and God called upon a murderer, an exile, a Sinai shepherd to free them. Committed to God's cause, Moses moved forward in faith and changed the world. Such stories are not confined to the pages of the Old Testament. Come to Nazareth and see a Galilean girl named Mary. After an angel's announcement she humbly moved forward in faith and declared herself the handmaid of the Lord. Stand on the banks of the Jordan with the Baptizer and hear him move forward in faith when he said: "Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world."
On the Mount of Ascension, Jesus told a tax collector, some fishermen, a vine tender, and a political activist that they were, by the Holy Spirit's power, to begin a harvest which would change the world. They were to bring light where there was darkness; healing and hope where there was desolation and despair. You are listening to this message, churches in your neighborhood stand today because those few men moved forward in faith and God used them to change the world.
Understand, moving forward in faith is not work for the cowardly or cowering. It is for the courageous, the committed, the confident, and uncompromising. The cause of Christ cannot be accomplished in retreat and the world can never be turned upside down for Jesus when God's workers are wracked by retreat, defeat, indecision, and indecisiveness.
Will the negatives, the nay-sayers, the reinterpreters of God's salvation have the final word? Will Christianity leave the battlefield for men's souls without ever having engaged the enemy? God grant that not be the case. May He bless those who are willing to come together to take a stand; who are willing to take a stand like... like the friends of Herman Ostry who lived near Bruno, Nebraska. From what I was told, a number of years ago Herman purchased a piece of property and put up a barn. Things went well until the nearby creek flooded and put the floor of Herman's new barn under 29 inches of water. Those of us who hail from the city may not know this, but 29 inches of water on your barn floor is not a good thing.
Inspecting the mess, Herman joked to his family that if they only had enough people, they probably could lift the barn and carry it to dryer footings. Herman's son, Mike, took him seriously. Using his calculator, Mike estimated the barn's weight at 19,000 lbs; further, he guestimated that in order to move the barn they would need 344 people who could lift 55 pounds. 344 people seemed a doable number. Mike moved forward in faith and devised a web of steel tubing which he nailed, bolted, and welded to the inside and outside of the barn. On June 30th Herman had his 344 volunteers. 344 people ready to lift that barn and move it. Herman shouted, "One, two, three -- lift!" To everyone's astonishment, the barn went up. Then, moving as one, they, with shuffling steps, took that barn 143 feet, uphill, and, three minutes later placed it on its new foundation. A few people, committed to a cause went forward in faith and made a change.
I believe with all my heart that the same kind of change can be made in the hearts of men when God's people, committed to the cause of Christ take a stand for God's Son and the risen Savior's story of salvation. Sinners will be forgiven and sins will be washed away, and souls will be saved if we, even a small number of Christians, take a stand. Can I promise unparalleled success? No, I cannot, but the results are not n my hands. What comes to pass is in the hands of the Holy Spirit. But, Jesus wants to find faith and I must do what I can and then entrust the results to the Lord.
In the year 1493, while in the Indies, Christopher Columbus tossed a bottle overboard which contained a message for Queen Isabella of Spain. It was his hope that the currents would take the bottle back to Spain. The message was found by the captain of an American ship and delivered to Queen Isabella II of Spain 359 years later. In a similar way, we have no guarantee that when we start any of the work the Savior has entrusted to us, that it will be delivered the way we want, in the timetable we want, received the way we hoped. No, our job is to share the message and preach the word to all people. Our job is to keep the message of salvation alive for the generations which follow us. If we do, we can only believe the answer will be "Yes," when Jesus returns, He will find faith on earth.
To that end if we can help you meet the Savior, please, call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for August 26, 2012
Topic: Love 'em When You Don't Even Like 'em
ANNOUNCER: Stay with us now to learn how Christ enables us to love people we may not even like all that much. I'm Mark Eischer, here with our Speaker Emeritus, Pastor Ken Klaus. Hello, Pastor.
KLAUS: Hello, to you, Mark.
ANNOUNCER: Question today comes to us from a listener who is, I believe, speaking for a great many people.
KLAUS: And what does this individual want to know?
ANNOUNCER: I'll give you the abbreviated version first. There's someone our listener doesn't love. She doesn't even like them all that much--but she thinks the Bible says she should.
KLAUS: And the long version, if you don't mind?
ANNOUNCER: Our listener has a cousin. When they were young, the cousin was nasty to her, picked on her, called her names, lied about her, and got her into trouble.
KLAUS: That was years ago... how about now?
ANNOUNCER: Things haven't gotten all that much better. When they're together the cousin gossips, whispers, complains, embarrasses her, and causes all sorts of problems
KLAUS: This, I assume the cousin does in front of other relatives and friends.
ANNOUNCER: Relatives, friends, whoever's around.
KLAUS: And we don't think our listener is imagining all of these things?
ANNOUNCER: No, this isn't imaginary. It's a very real problem for our listener.
KLAUS: We probably ought to begin by saying, "I'm sorry that our listener has had to bear with this problem for so many years." Second, congratulations on trying to do what the Lord would have her do."
ANNOUNCER: What exactly would that be? What does God expect?
KLAUS: There are a number of passages in Scripture which give us an indication of God's expectations. One from Ephesians 5. It says: "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us."
ANNOUNCER: Godly imitators who walk in love, even if it involves sacrifice.
KLAUS: Matthew 5; there things get pretty specific. Jesus was talking about the differences between the way He and His followers lived vs. the way the world does things. He said, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Indeed, that is just what Jesus did when He hung from the cross. He asked the Father to forgive those who were killing Him out of ignorance.
ANNOUNCER: Once again, let me summarize. We're supposed to love our enemies and also speak to God on behalf of those who are persecuting us.
KLAUS: That's what the Good Book says. Do you need any more?
ANNOUNCER: How about one more.
KLAUS: Matthew 18, Peter comes to Jesus and asks, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I say to you not seven times, but seventy-seven times."
ANNOUNCER: That's a lot of times.
KLAUS: And it's harder than anyone would imagine. Think... somebody comes up to you and kicks you in the shins. You forgive him. The next day he comes up, kicks you in the shins. You might forgive him. The next day he comes up to you, kicks you in the shins. You aren't so eager to do so, but you forgive. The next day...
ANNOUNCER: Well, the next day, I'm going to wear a shin guard and then I'm going to deck him!
KLAUS: Yeah, you will note that you did not quite reach the number 77.
ANNOUNCER: Well, it seems the Lord is asking us to do the impossible! We can't love our enemies the way Jesus did. We won't sacrifice for them; it's unlikely we'll pray for people we dislike. And even though I know Jesus forgives me every day, I have a hard time forgiving someone else for a week. What can we tell this lady?
KLAUS: We can say this: Christians have been given new hearts. Yeah, they are still sinners, but they are forgiven sinners. God asks perfection of us, something they can't deliver. Still, in response to Jesus Christ and what He has done for us, by God's grace and with His strength, we do our very best to live our lives in a way which glorifies Him.
ANNOUNCER And in a way that will also bless those around us. Is that all?
KLAUS: One more thing. This lady has suffered for a long time. The next time one of these situations occurs, she can turn to her cousin and genuinely say to her, "Have I done something to offend or hurt you? If so, won't you please talk to me about it, so I can change? And if I haven't, then why do you say all these cruel things about me?"
ANNOUNCER: That may or may not work, but it most definitely will surprise. 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.
"Lord Jesus Christ, Will You Not Stay?" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
"Lord Jesus Christ, With Us Abide" arr. Henry Gerike. From Heirs of the Reformation: Treasures of the Singing Church (© 2008 Concordia Publishing House) arrangement © 2006 Henry Gerike
"Oh, Praise Ye the Lord" arr. Robert J. Powell. Concordia Publishing House/SESAC