"A Serious Look" #72-33
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on May 1, 2005
By Rev. Ken Klaus, Speaker of The Lutheran Hour
Copyright 2013 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Acts 1:9-11
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Listen to the words of the resurrection angel and then take a serious look into the empty tomb. Take a serious look at Christ's nail-pierced hands. Take a serious look at the living Lord and know, this day, God has done all that is necessary for you to have salvation and the security of eternal life.
In the Civil War, the actions of one army nurse became the subject of considerable concern. After a battle, she was often inclined to wander away from the medical center and go out onto the battlefield. Quite often she would come back with a soldier who was in special need of medical attention. It made no difference to her if the wounded was wearing blue or grey, the nurse went out and brought them back. Now, in a time when women nurses were not overly appreciated, this lady's actions ended up earning her a gentle reprimand. Then, after the next big battle she was, once again, seen wandering around in the combat zone, searching among the wounded. An officer came out and began to scold, "You have been instructed. What do you think you're doing on the ...." Before he could finish, she stopped him short with an icy stare and snapped with a voice that wasn't going to tolerate any further conversation: "What am I doing? I'm looking for wounded. Looking for the wounded is what I do."
That lady knew what she was looking for. That can't be said for all of us, can it? Every era and every age of life finds most people looking for something. As young children, we're looking to get older. We can't wait until we reach the age when we can stay up later, stay out longer, graduate from movies that are rated "G"; when we can go to parties; and the day we pass our driver's test. As teens we're looking for friends, acceptance, understanding, people who will challenge us or are compatible with us, a college which will fulfill us. As college students we're looking for the ideal job, the perfect mate, the highest income. After we break into the working world, we're looking for success, family, the ideal home in the perfect neighborhood. When we hit middle age, we're confused as to which direction we want to look. One part of us looks back to when we were younger, the other part looks forward to retirement and doing the things that we would like to do. In our senior years we're looking for the kids to visit, for the activities which will keep us active and vibrant. We're always looking, and very seldom do we find what we're looking for--probably because what we're looking for, what we think we want, is just beyond our grasp.
In the course of Jesus' earthly ministry, He ran into more than a fair share of people who were looking for things they didn't get. After He fed the 5,000 with a few loaves and fishes, He had a whole crowd of folk who looked at Him like He would be their free meal ticket. That's not surprising. If Jesus could do this kind of miraculous multiplication on a regular basis, their lives were going to be made much easier. A free meal ticket, that's what they were looking for, and Jesus was disinclined to play that role. He had come to feed the world, but not with barley loaves and fishes. He had come to feed souls with God's Word of love and grace.
There were others who looked to Jesus for things they didn't get. There was the Samaritan woman at the well. She asked Jesus to give her water that would permanently slake her thirst and help her avoid daily walks to the well. She drank from Jesus' spring of living water that forgave her sins, gave her faith and eternal life. Then there were the people of Jesus' hometown of Nazareth. They wanted to see the local Boy do some miracles amongst them. You know, just like the kind of miraculous workings He had done in some of the other places He had visited. They certainly didn't want to hear Jesus tell them that He was the Messiah who was bringing salvation to their little town. As Jesus was crucified, suspended between heaven and earth, one of the thieves looked to Jesus for deliverance. Wanting to go back to his life of sin, he challenged: "Jesus, if you are the Christ, save Yourself and us." That thief didn't get what he was looking for. He died, lost in his sins. But the other thief, the one who saw Jesus as his Hope for heaven, was blessed. He, like millions since, prayed, "Jesus, remember me when You enter into Your kingdom," and he was assured by the Savior that he would be with the Lord in paradise.
Even Jesus' disciples didn't always see what they were looking for. They wanted to keep Jesus all to themselves, without the nuisance of mothers with their crying, whiney children. Jesus didn't let that stand. The Lord wanted then, as He still wants today, to have children brought to Him. The kind of faith children have, an accepting, unquestioning, trusting faith is the kind of faith for which the kingdom of heaven always looks. James and John wanted to see fire fall from heaven and consume a Samaritan village that hadn't rolled out the red carpet for them. That didn't happen either. Peter wanted to see Jesus veer off the road which would take Him to Jerusalem where He would die the death we deserved. Jesus put an end to that idea when He said to the big fisherman, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men" (Matthew 16:23).
Of course there were other things, surprising things, miraculous things which the disciples never imagined, never expected, never looked for, but which they ended up seeing. They didn't expect to see their nets rip from an overabundance of fish that Jesus had called to their catch. They didn't expect it, but they saw it. They didn't expect to see Jesus walking to them across the water in the midst of a storm, but it happened, and they saw that, too. They didn't expect to see Jesus turn water into wine or cast out devils or heal lepers or raise people from the dead. And they never, ever expected to see their Master, the crucified Jesus, the nail-pierced side-slit-by-a- spear Jesus, come to them in a room which they had locked and barred. Not you, not me, not nobody, sorry about that, not anybody, would expect a dead person to show up, but Jesus did. It was an impossibility, but the disciples saw it. They had been privileged to see Jesus' active ministry from start to finish. They saw Him dead, and they saw Him resurrected. Then they saw the resurrected Jesus again and again and again.
Which takes me to the last time the disciples saw their Lord in this world. I say, "in this world," because the disciples, like all who believe on Jesus as Savior, saw the Lord again when they died and went to heaven. The last time, though, was on the mount of Ascension. There Jesus instructed the disciples to go into all the world. He told them they were to teach, preach, and baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He told them that they would, in this divine expedition, not be alone, for He would, by the Holy Spirit's power, be with them always. And then He was lifted up. He didn't ride a cloud like a heaven-sent surfboard. That's what some of my students used to say. He just went up until a cloud hid Him from view. I don't know how far He went up. I don't know where He ended up because I don't know where heaven is.
I do know the disciples, who had seen so many unexpected things over these last three years, realized they were seeing something totally new. As Jesus ascended, they watched--and they kept watching as He went up. They kept watching as the cloud hid Him. They kept watching when there was nothing left to see. With necks bent and faces upturned, they kept watching. For what? They didn't know. But at that point, not much was going to surprise them.
If you don't mind, I would like to leave the disciples frozen that way - with them staring intently into the heavens. We'll come back to them, but before we do, I want to speak to those of you who are unchurched; who have not yet been led to acknowledge Jesus as your Savior. You, too, are looking, aren't you? Sadly, when you've taken a serious look at the church or the Christ, you may not have always liked what you've seen. When you describe Christians, words like legalistic, hypercritical, prejudiced, and narrow-minded quickly pop up. You picture pastors pounding on their pulpits as they reproach, reprimand, and rebuke--all of which, of course, can be true. Christians have not always lived in a way that reflects their Savior in a positive way.
Some pastors can get pretty pumped up in their proclamations. I know it may be hard for you to believe, but these men of God really don't want to see you die in your sins. Yes, they want you to acknowledge that you are a sinner, but they also want you to know that in Jesus, there is forgiveness, faith, an eternal future. Please don't forget Jesus' intentions for His people. He said, "By this all men will know you are My disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35). That is what Jesus wanted, and that is the way it really ought to be. No, we're not there yet, but are you? We're not there yet, but the Lord is trying to take us there, and we would like you to join us for the trip.
What do you see when you take a serious look at the Savior? Forget the crude comments of the comedians, and the criticisms of the skeptics. Instead, see God's omnipotent Son who left heaven to live His life in a sorry, sinful world so you can be saved. See a Savior who, even when He was exhausted, still had a heart that cared for and healed those who were sick. See the Savior who wrestled with the temptation of the devil and renounced the false pleasures of the world so you might be blessed with an eternity of peace and joy. Take a serious look and see a Savior who could have defended Himself, Who could have avoided the pain and suffering; who could have destroyed His detractors; Who could have come down from the cross, but who chose to give Himself, His life, and His future, as the ransom which needed to be paid for our deliverance. Take a serious look and see a Savior who sets you free and bestows on you eternal life.
If you remember, some time ago we left the disciples who were continuing to stare heavenward. I do want to get back to them before my time is over, so I'll move quickly now. I want to talk to another group of people who are hearing me today. You are the many listeners who have seen the Savior, but who aren't so sure you've seen the right church for you. You've been seriously looking, hoping to find the perfect church, haven't you? Just how would your describe your perfect church? Would your perfect church maybe be a mega-modern, ultra-mammoth facility built just around the corner from where you live? Of course, distance is probably unimportant since your perfect church will send a limo to pick you up and drop you off. Would you say that your perfect church has all kinds of extras, like a knitting class for future mothers; a mechanics class for would-be tinkers; a course on etiquette for the debutante; and an athletic program which guarantees your son will be the starting quarterback of an Ivy League college of his choice? Does the perfect church you're looking for have a choir that makes the angels in heaven jealous? Or a perfect pastor who preaches a profound, moving, yet inoffensive sermon which lasts the proper period of time? Is your perfect church a place where you can go, but don't have to do? Where you are gently confronted, but don't have to be committed? Where you can be informed without being involved? Where you don't need to hear big, religious words like repentance, redemption, scripture, sacrament, salvation and Savior to feel good about yourself? For some folks that might be the perfect church that they're looking for.
Now there may not be anything wrong with some of those things that I've mentioned. But if those things are the only things that your perfect church offers, you should know that there is something which is lacking, and that Something which is lacking is the Lord. You see, the pretty perfect church is that group of believers which points its people clearly, unerringly, and accurately to the Son of God who gave His life to save them from themselves. The pretty perfect church is the one that points to sin and follows immediately with the Savior's forgiveness. The pretty perfect church brings worshippers down, so the Lord, in Word and Sacrament, can lift them up. The pretty perfect church is one which doesn't add to, or subtract from, God's inspired, inerrant Word. The pretty perfect church is the one which condemns that which God condemns, allows that which God allows, and promotes those things to which God has given His blessing and approval. This pretty perfect church will acknowledge its dependence upon the Holy Spirit, and filled with the power and peace which God has given them, will go out to share with all around them, the story of God's good news of great joy which has come to them in the Person of the Babe of Bethlehem, the Christ of the Cross, the Conqueror of the empty tomb. This pretty perfect church will not just be found looking to the sky; it will be found and living for the Lord and reaching out for the lost.
Way back in the 1830s, there was a preacher by the name of William Miller. After making considerable calculations, he concluded that Jesus was going to return to earth in March of 1842 or 1843. People were impressed by Miller's figures; many became his followers. You may not be surprised if I told you: Jesus didn't show up. There was great disenchantment and disappointment amongst Miller's followers. Their disillusionment lasted until another man said God had told him that the first set of figures was wrong. Jesus was coming on October 22 , 1844. As the date came near, followers and doubters found themselves looking frequently toward the heavens. People quit their positions, farmers left their fields, and shopkeepers closed their stores. Hundreds clothed themselves in white robes. Some went to cemeteries where they could be present for the resurrection of their dearly departed; others went to high hills where they would be amongst the first to see the Redeemer's return. October 22nd arrived, Jesus didn't. They were left looking into the sky.
Standing around, endlessly looking into the sky is not what God wants His people to do. He didn't want it for the Millerites in 1844. He doesn't want it for you now. He certainly didn't want it for the disciples. Do you remember a little while ago, we left the disciples still staring into the sky, watching the Savior's ascension? God didn't leave them that way. Not for long. Two men appeared to the disciples and asked, "Why are you standing here looking into the sky? Jesus, Who has been taken from you will come back ..." That reminded Jesus' friends that He had given them work to do. With rejoicing, they went back to Jerusalem. There they awaited the arrival of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of God's work of witnessing. And to paraphrase the Civil War nurse at the beginning of this message, "Witnessing is what Christians do."
Some years ago 4,000 people were asked what first brought them to church. Two to three percent of them said they just walked in; the same amount said they came because of the churches' programs. Five to six percent were attracted by the preacher, and one to two percent came out of a special need they had. A similar percentage, one to two percent, said they had been reached by an evangelism program; four to five percent came because of a Sunday school class, while less than one percent were touched by a public evangelistic crusade. Somewhere around 75 to 90 percent had been brought to the church through the influence of friends and relatives who didn't spend their days looking intently into the sky. Witnessing is what we do. It's what I'm doing right now. It's what The Lutheran Hour has done for almost three-quarters of a century. We're glad to do so because we've taken a serious look at the Savior. If you would like to know more about the Christ and His church, we at The Lutheran Hour are ready to help you. If you want to know how to share the Savior, we are glad to help with that as well. For those of you who are still looking; for those of you who want to watch and witness at the same time, please give us a call. Amen.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for May 1, 2005
Topic: The Resurrection Of The Body (Part 2)
ANNOUNCER: How should the resurrection affect what we hear at Christian funerals? I'm Mark Eischer, and here to answer that question for us today is my guest, Dr. Jeff Gibbs from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.
GIBBS: Well, it affects it greatly, and this is something that, to be frank, distresses me, that I have attended a number of funerals in recent years; not just as a mourner and a worshiper, and I have heard no mention whatsoever of this great hope. It's almost as if the fact that a believer's body has now died, and that sin has temporarily but nevertheless had its way with this person, this beloved child of God. This body which was baptized--it's almost as if that death isn't significant. God doesn't really care about it, so all that's said is that the soul is with Chris. Then sometimes things are said that aren't exactly true. Yes, it is very good news when suffering is over and rest has come. But you know, Mark, that only tends to work with an older person. You can't say such things when the casket is three feet long. So, at funerals, let's not only talk about this blessed rest, but the Good News of Jesus is even better than that. We can hold out for God's people, the hope of the resurrection of the body and a happy reunion in heaven. This is the hope that honors Christ, because it not only trusts what He's already done on the cross and in His own empty tomb, but it looks forward to what He will do on the day when He empties our tombs.
ANNOUNCER: What does Christ's resurrection say about this resurrection?
GIBBS: His resurrection shows us our future. His victory, His personal victory over death is complete. He died once; He can die no more. Easter morning shows us our own future, and the future for all who are in Christ; again, this simply means baptized into Him and trusting in His promise. When the pastor commits the body to the ground, at least if he uses the agenda, he says words to this affect: "May God the Father who created this body, may God the Son who by His blood redeemed this body together with the soul, may God the Holy Ghost who through baptism sanctified this body to be his temple, keep these remains until the day of the resurrection of all flesh." So Jesus' resurrection shows us our own future and the promise that one day, in Him and because of Him, death will completely be conquered also for us.
ANNOUNCER: As we're talking about the resurrection of the body, what does this really say about who we are, or who God has created us to be as human beings?
GIBBS: I suspect, again, this might be an influence of some philosophical ideas. I'm not sure where they come from, but it's the idea that our bodies are kind of irrelevant or secondary in who we really are--our essential being or something like that, is a soul. Now again, this is not a biblical idea. You don't baptize a soul - you baptize a person. When Adam and Eve were first created perfect before sin, they weren't souls - they were people. God means us to be body and soul together, and that's reflected in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, and also in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Where with my mouth - in order to have a mouth, you got to have a body - I eat the very true body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
ANNOUNCER: So in contrast to worldly notions of spirituality, when God thinks of spirituality, it is real physical ...
GIBBS: Stuff. He does not distain "stuff."
ANNOUNCER: 'cause He made it ...
GIBBS: He made it. He came down into it, and He redeems it.
ANNOUNCER: We've been talking with Dr. Jeff Gibbs, professor at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.