"Easy Directions" #73-25
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on March 5, 2006
By Rev. Ken Klaus, Speaker of The Lutheran Hour
Copyright 2013 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Mark 1:14-15
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! The living Lord has carried our sins and saved our souls. His blood-bought victory is ours. This Lord's day, with repentant, forgiven hearts, hear God's good news and rejoice.
Not so long ago a friend sent me a story about a professor who taught at a great state university. With classes being rather large and impersonal, the instructor began each semester with the students introducing themselves. The girls in the class paid special attention when one young man, whom my daughters would describe as "a hunk" stood up. He began by sharing his name. The professor noticed many of the girls wrote down the boy's name. The lad told the name of the town where he lived. The girls wrote that down, too. The student gave other pieces of information, casually mentioning that he loved family life. The girls smiled at that one. He was simply too good to be true. The young man continued, "I guess that's because of my mother. She's a very special woman. I hope to find somebody just like her someday." If the boy had sat down then, he could have dated every girl in the freshman class. But, he didn't sit down. He said one more thing. He said, "I hope to find somebody just like my mother. She did a great job of raising sixteen children." The girls stopped writing. One after another they crumpled up their paper. The girls liked what they saw in that young man, but he was asking them to make a change they weren't ready to make.
That is, I imagine, how a great many people feel about Jesus. From what I've seen, most people enjoy Him. "After all," they say, "what's not to like?" Jesus loved little children, picked them up in His arms, and He blessed them. Some listeners can recall how Jesus was always reaching out to people who were hurting and helping others who needed healing. Some have heard the sermon that Jesus preached on the mount by the Sea of Galilee. He didn't use 25-cent words that nobody could understand. He didn't pound on a pulpit and shout at those who were gathered around Him. On the contrary, Jesus said things like: Blessed are the meek, the peacemakers, and those who are poor in spirit. Words like that make us realize that Jesus is a really nice fellow, a good guy who thought about the underdog and stood up for what was right, good, noble, and true.
Among the qualities that many people like about Jesus is the fact that He didn't get carried away by the glitz and glitter of popularity. On the contrary, He seemed to enjoy being with common folk: shepherds, fishermen, and farmers. He did not spend a lot of time shouting about how people ought to give more money. I've been told that some parish pastors and priests have a reputation for doing that. Quite the opposite. Jesus seemed to ignore people who counted out their big buck contributions to the church and chose to compliment a woman who put a few pennies into the collection box. Jesus is a kindly character, a Mr. Rogers kind of guy; always supportive, never negative, never judgmental, and certainly never rebuking, reprimanding, or reproaching. We like Jesus. We like Him because He accepts us just the way we are.
If that is the Jesus you know, I'd like you to hear these words taken from the first chapter of Mark. The disciple wrote: "Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the Gospel of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.'" Did you get that? Jesus came saying, repent and believe the Gospel. If you're listening with half-an-ear, I can almost see you sit up a little straighter and look at the radio as if you're not quite sure you heard me right. You did. Jesus said we should repent? Shocked? I'll bet you are. People hear all kinds of sermons about believing, but very few about repentance. Since people don't like to hear sermons about repentance, preachers aren't overly eager to preach about it. Preachers know that most people like to think of Jesus as a person who's never going to rock anybody's boat; who is committed, even obligated, to taking all of us just the way we are.
Some of you might even be ready to challenge me, saying, "That's not the Jesus I know, Reverend. Reverend, didn't you just say that Jesus is non-judgmental, never rebuking, reprimanding, nor reproaching?" Nah, I never said that. I'd never say something like that. People believe that, but I can't say it, because the Bible never says Jesus was non-judgmental. Yes, the Savior said we weren't supposed to judge, but that doesn't prove that Jesus accepts everything from everybody. You can't rip His words out of context and force them to say something quite different than what Jesus was teaching. When Jesus talked about not judging, He kept going. He said: be careful how you judge other people because the rules you use on others are the rules others are going to use on you. And if you think Jesus never judged anybody or anything, listen to just a few excerpts from the 23rd chapter of Matthew.
Jesus, talking about, and to, the Pharisees said, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces... Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are." Jesus not judge? He was just getting warmed up. He continued, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. ... "You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you ever escape being condemned to hell?"
Did Jesus judge? You bet He did. And He told His people to make judgments, too. Not just random, arbitrary, haphazard, man-made judgments; but judgments which begin and end with what God tells us in His Holy Word. When God says, "Don't do this!" Christ's church must say, "Don't do this." When God says, "That's OK!" His congregations must also say: "That's OK." Because the church is to share God's judgments, on the first Pentecost, in the first Christian sermon, when the crowd asked, "What should we do to be saved?" they heard the clear reply: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins..." When Paul spoke to the scholarly Greeks on Mars Hill, He told them, "God now commands all people everywhere to repent." Later, to King Agrippa, Paul said that the preaching of repentance was a necessary part of the preaching of the Savior.
Right now, if I listen carefully, I can almost hear people stutteringly say, "But... but... doesn't Jesus take me the way I am? Won't He accept me the way I am?" And the answer is, "Yes. Absolutely. Positively. Unequivocally, yes!" As proof of what I'm saying, I point to the Apostle Paul, a confessed persecutor and murderer of believers. After He met Jesus-had been claimed by Jesus-he was able to confess, "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-of whom I am the worst."
Paul says those words are a trustworthy saying. They are. And here is another saying which is just as trustworthy: "Jesus will accept you the way you are; but He will not leave you the way you were."
When Jesus met a hated tax collector by the name of Zacchaeus, He accepted the man as he was. But before the evening was out, Zacchaeus had been changed. The Holy Spirit worked faith within that tax collector's heart and led him to repentance and the Gospel. Jesus accepted Zacchaeus as he was, but did not leave him as he had been. Jesus met a promiscuous and shunned Samaritan woman at a well. He accepted her as she was, but during their visit, during her time with the Savior, the woman was changed. She repented of what she had been, and with joy having replaced the pain in her heart, she ran back to the people in her town, the people that only hours or minutes previously she had been avoiding, and told them about the Savior. Jesus had accepted the woman as she was, but He did not leave her as she had been.
As Jesus, God's innocent Son, was being crucified to take away the sins of lost humanity, there were two men hanging on crosses by His side. These men were career criminals. These were men who had, as their life's work, stolen and murdered. These were men who were so tough that even as they were dying, they found the ability to hurl insults at the man who was hanging between them. Jesus accepted those men the way they were. He was dying to save them, and those who are worse than them. Still, during the course of his dying, one of those men took a good look at Jesus. He listened to Jesus. And he was changed. The next time his fellow criminal opened his mouth to mock the Messiah, this man, with a repentant heart, shouted a defense of the Savior. He confessed his sins and, turning to his Lord pleaded, "Jesus, remember me when you enter into your kingdom." His request was granted and today the repentant, forgiven, Good News-believing thief lives in paradise. Jesus had accepted him the way he was; but did not leave him as he had been.
Jesus wishes to make the same promise, give the same gifts to you. If this Lord's day you do not know the Christ as your Savior and Lord, I share with you the trustworthy saying: Jesus will accept you the way you are, but He will not leave you as you were. Today, Jesus invites you into His family; He wishes to make His forgiveness, your forgiveness. Do not let Satan's snares and the world's whispers drown out the call of the Holy Spirit who wishes to take you from where you are now to God's place of repentance and forgiveness. Repent and believe.
Of course, you should know, repentance is not just spitting out the word, "Sorry." Do you remember back in the days when you were growing up and you picked a fight with a brother, sister, classmate, enemy? You gave them a shot and then they went crying and tattling to a parent, teacher, babysitter, or some other authority figure? Do you remember what happened next? Do you remember what the adult did? If your infraction was big enough you might have been the recipient of a spanking, a time out, or whatever other punishment was in vogue at the time.
But, if the authority figure couldn't figure out who was the guilty party; or if he was tired of refereeing fights, or if he was occupied was something else, he would have said something like, "I won't have you two fighting any more. It's simply not Christian. I want you both to make up right now." Then he'd turn to you, the guilty party, and command: "I want you to tell him you're sorry." Knowing the authority figure was bigger and stronger than you, you wisely mumbled, "Sorry." The authority figure demanded, "Tell him it won't happen again." "Won't happen again." Tell him, "I love you." "I won't!" "Tell him you love him." Through clenched teeth you said, "I love you." Did you mean it? You did not! Before you shook hands you were already plotting your revenge. You knew that you didn't love him, and you knew just as certainly that vengeance would happen swiftly and silently... as soon as you got the chance. Of course, next time you'd make sure there were no authority figures around to catch you.
Folks, that's not repentance. Being sorry you've been caught is not repentance. Trying to figure out a way to get around the rules is not repentance. Pretending that you're a different person is not repentance. Figuring out new ways to do old sins is not repentance. Just feeling bad is not repentance. Judas, the man who betrayed Jesus, managed to get that far. Repentance happens when the Holy Spirit lets you see that you're a sinner, a stinker, a scallywag, and a skunk. Repentance is realizing God is always right and you're going to quit trying to make excuses, offer explanations, and expect exemptions. Repentance is when the Holy Spirit turns you away from what you've been, and with faith in Jesus, begins to remake you into what God wants you to be. The Holy Spirit does all this because Jesus accepts you as you are, but He doesn't leave you as you were. He makes you into something better, something you couldn't have been without Him.
Now, my Christian friends who are listening out there know what I've been saying is true. They've already heard Jesus. They are already well acquainted with the idea of repentance and they believe. But some of you do not. Some of you are saying, "Look, I'm not so bad. Sure, I'm not perfect, but who is. I know plenty of people who are worse than me." If that's what you're thinking, you don't get it. God's not talking about a contest to see who's good enough for heaven. The point is, none of us, on our own, is good enough for heaven. Look, a few months ago I flew to my old school, a great school, Concordia University, in Mequon, Wisconsin. The plane was, in the language of the layman, a puddle-jumper. Inside the cabin there was no room for storage, so all of us had to check all of our luggage, including our carry-ons.
One fellow didn't like that idea. He said, "My carry-on's legal size." He argued, "I'm not going to check it. There's stuff in here that's too important to be left out of my sight." He said all kinds of things. Eventually the lady at the check-in table said, "Here's the choice. Either you go to Milwaukee and give me your carry-on, or you and your carry-on can stay right here." Folks, that's the way it is when it comes to repentance. If you want to keep your sins; if you think your life is OK the way it is, you're not getting to heaven. Either you repent and turn your sins over to Jesus, or you keep your sins and stay right where you are. Well, actually, if you choose to keep your sins, you get a one-way ticket to a place you don't want to go.
That's not what God wants. Jesus came into this world saying, "Repent and believe." He wants you to repent of the past and believe that He has given you something far better than that which you have left behind. He wants you to believe that He loves you so much that He was willing to live for you, suffer for you, be beaten for you, be lied about for you, condemned for you, crucified for you, and rise for you. He wants you to know that He has made it possible for you to be forgiven, free, and saved. He wants you, by the Spirit's power, to acknowledge that He is your Savior. That is the Gospel. Jesus is your Good News. He is the best news you will ever hear. Jesus has come for you. Repent and believe.
There is a story which comes from the Middle Ages. It talks about an angel who wanted to give God the gift that He valued the most. The angel went to earth and brought back drops of blood from a martyr who had died in his Savior's service. Precious though these drops of blood were, they were not the gift God valued most. The angel collected coins that a poor widow had given to those who had even less than she. Those coins were not the thing that God valued most. The angel brought back the tattered pages of a Bible which had been used by a great preacher; the shoes of a missionary who had walked in a heathen land; and the laughter of a child who was loved by Christian parents. "These are wonderful gifts," the angel was told, "but they are not the gift that God values most." One more time the angel returned to earth. There the angel saw two men sitting by a fountain. One of the men bent down to drink and in the water he saw his sin-ravaged face. Overcome by all he had done wrong, and who he had become, the man wept. The angel, ever so quietly, moved up and collected a tear of repentance. But the angel did not immediately return to heaven. The angel listened as the second man spoke of the Savior and the hope which comes from sins forgiven. Once again the man cried. But this time he cried with joy at the good news of the Gospel. He had been given faith in Jesus as his Savior. His sins were gone. He was forgiven. He had eternal life. The angel captured one of those tears as well. The angel brought the tear of repentance and the tear of faith to heaven. Those two tears, mixed together, were presented to God, and God smiled. Tears of repentance, tears of Gospel joy. According to the story, that was the gift that God loved the most. I know they are what you need the most. That is why Jesus came preaching repentance and faith in the Gospel. It is why I am preaching it to you, today. If you need to know more, call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for March 5, 2006
TOPIC: Organized Religion
ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Ken Klaus answers questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer.
KLAUS: Hi, Mark.
ANNOUNCER: I think you might enjoy responding to this e-mail from a listener who says he enjoys listening to The Lutheran Hour; he really likes your messages; and he likes this idea of having a church service without all of the negative "duties," he says, that go along with being part of an organized church. He admits he hasn't been to church in many years, other than the occasional wedding or funeral. And he thinks that if he were to join a church, all they'd do is ask for money.
KLAUS: I don't know if I heard a question there.
ANNOUNCER: Well, there really isn't a question. But how would you respond to this comment concerning organized religion.
KLAUS: As opposed to disorganized religion?
ANNOUNCER: And we're not talking about those who can't go to church, are we?
KLAUS: No, we're not. We're talking about people like our listener who chooses not to be part of a congregation. Now, I know there are shut-ins, and hospitalized people, and jail, people who work, and a host of other situations where, for a while, The Lutheran Hour can serve as a poor substitute for church. I remember an especially bad winter in Minnesota when some of my people couldn't make it to town for a month. The Lutheran Hour was a Godsend back then. I pray it still is. But the truth is, The Lutheran Hour has its limitations. We always need to remember that there are many things that media programs can't do.
ANNOUNCER: At the risk of putting ourselves down, could you list for us all those things this program can't do?
KLAUS: I would be glad to. Sitting behind this microphone, I can't look into the eyes of a listener and see what's happening in his or her life. I can't give Communion, I can't perform a baptism. Our caller said they haven't been to worship except for an occasional wedding or a funeral. Well, I don't do weddings and funerals over the air. Only an "organized" church can help at times that are of special need. I'm not there to make a sick call; I'm not there to hold somebody's hand when death seems to be stalking a child; I can't listen to the heartfelt hurts of a husband and wife who are having difficulties; I can't help a teenager who has questions about his faith.
Organized churches, organized congregations are there. They do those things as part of their regular operations. They do that and more. They preach the Word in a personal way to the people. They take care of individual needs to strengthen and build up their people. They are there when disaster strikes a community or a household. They do it in a personal way; they share the Gospel with their next-door neighbor as well as people around the world.
ANNOUNCER: That's a pretty good list.
KLAUS: And I'm not even done. This broadcast is sponsored by some of those organized churches. Entire cities and areas weekly hear the story of the Savior's love because, year after year some church, some Christian, has decided bringing Christ to their hometown is part of their ministry. If I haven't said it before, I'll say it now: if it weren't for some solid Christian pastors and parishes, organized religion, this broadcast would not be being enjoyed by the person who emailed us.
ANNOUNCER: Is that it?
KLAUS: No. You know, when I was in the parish, I was always amazed that so many people talked, some of them for a long time, about how bad organized religion was. But, when it was time for a wedding, they wanted their daughter to walk down the aisle of an organized church-the aisle that somebody else paid for. They wanted a minister-whose salary was being paid for by an organized church-to say something sort of religious-like. When they had a family member at death's door, they had no problems calling the pastor of an organized church to the hospital at three in the morning. When a loved one died, they asked for the funeral director to call the pastor of an organized church and ask him to hold services at his organized facility, where volunteers would help out and make sure everything was in order, and probably prepare lunch, too.
ANNOUNCER: Did that ever upset you?
KLAUS: Do you think so? All I'm saying is, if somebody doesn't like organized religion, fine. But then be consistent. Don't badmouth us one day and the next ask for organized religion to bail you out of life's tough times. No, that's not right. Do ask us to bail you out of life's tough times. Call your church. Call a pastor. Ask them to help you. And they will. And then, after they've helped you, won't you please give thanks for what the Holy Spirit is doing through organized religion?
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Klaus. And with that we come to the end of our broadcast for another week. We thank you for making this program part of your day. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music selections for this program:
“A Mighty Fortress” arranged by John Leavitt. Concordia Publishing House/SESAC
“Kyrie” by Orlando diLasso. From Agnus Dei by the Concordia Seminary Chorus (© 1996 Concordia Seminary Chorus)
“Return to the Lord” by Henry Gerike. From Blessed by the Concordia Seminary Chorus (© 2000 Concordia Seminary Chorus) Concordia/SESAC
“O Dearest Jesus, What Law Have You Broken?” by John Behnke. From For All Seasons, vol. 3 by John Behnke (© 2004 John A. Behnke) Concordia/SESAC
“Durch Adams Fall (BWV 637” by J.S. Bach. From Orgelbüchlein & More Works by J.S. Bach by Robert Clark and John David Peterson (© 1997 Calcante Recordings, Ltd.)