"A God-Pleasing Purpose" #73-39
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on June 11, 2006
By Rev. Ken Klaus, Speaker of The Lutheran Hour
Copyright 2013 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: John 3:17
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! At the Bethlehem manger, on Calvary's cross,before the empty resurrection tomb, we see the grace of God most clearly. This day we give thanks that God's Son has not come to condemn us, but to win salvation for all who would believe in His gracious sacrifice.
Not so long ago I came across a story about a little boy; a little boy who, at the age of five, decided he wanted to go and meet God. Now this was a wise little boy and he knew that going to meet God would entail a long trip. That's why he had the foresight to pack his little suitcase with two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and, in case he got thirsty, a couple of cans of root beer. The little boy who wanted to meet God started out boldly. Four blocks took him to the city park. There, in the park, he saw an old man sitting on a bench. The boy sat down next to the old man and, parched from his travels, opened his suitcase and retrieved a root beer. He was about to take a sip, when out of the corner of his eye, he saw the old man watching him.
Now, this five-year-old boy knew that he was not supposed to talk to strangers, so, without saying a word, he took one of his root beers and offered it to the man. The old man smiled a big smile, took the root beer, opened it, and drank deeply. They sat in silence, just drinking, until the boy remembered his sandwiches. He was hungry; perhaps the old man was hungry, too. The boy reached into his case and took out the sandwiches - one for him, one for the old man. The old man smiled again. So they sat eating and drinking, without either saying a word. The boy went home. It had been a good day, and his mother inquired about her son's positive attitude: "And what has made you so smiley, young man?" The boy said, "I went to the park today and I had lunch with God. And you know what, Mom, God has the biggest and best smile I've ever seen." Even as the boy was telling about his visit with God, the old man returned to his son's home. That's where he had been living since his wife of 53-years had died. The old man walked in, beaming from ear to ear. His daughter-in-law noting the broad smile, asked, "It looks like you've had a good day. What happened?" And the old man said, "I went to the park and had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with God. You know, God's much younger than I had thought."
I like that story. It's a nice story. Of course, there is a problem with that story... a fairly major problem. You see, the old man with the wonderful smile, he wasn't God. And the boy, the boy with the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches - he wasn't God, either. Oh, I'm not saying that they weren't godly people. They were that; but they weren't God. You see, there is a difference between being godly and being God. Over the years I've met more than a few very special, godly people. Like the young boy and the old man in the story, these godly people didn't know they were special. In fact, if you told them how special they are, they would be embarrassed at the thought. "Me? Don't be silly. I'm not special at all." That's what they'd say.
We are surrounded by many people who, having seen the Savior's love for them as shown on Calvary's cross and in the empty tomb, reflect that love to others. They are godly people, but they are not God.
If you want to really see God, it's necessary to turn to His Holy Book. True, in the vast, uncharted distances of the universe, you may learn that the Creator is far greater than His creation. In the great forces of tide, tornado, and tsunami, in the controlled thermonuclear explosion of the sun, you may get a small inkling of His power; in the beating of your own heart, 72 times a minute, continuing without any thought on your part, day in and day out, you may learn how constant and continuous is God's care for you. In the beauty of a scarlet sunset, in the tasting of a Thanksgiving turkey, in the musical miracle of a baby's first laugh, you may begin to believe that the Lord continues to bestow upon this unappreciative world one blessing after another. These are all godly gifts to us, but they are not God. If these things are all you see of Him, your view is terribly, tragically incomplete.
You see, God is more, far more than greatness and power, much more than consistency and physical caring. To know God, you must see His grace, His unmerited, undeserved kindness. In the first pages of the Bible you will meet Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - the Triune God - who at the beginning of time, graciously gave humanity a perfect world in which to live and laugh. It was a perfect world which was lost when our first ancestors, in a rebellious act of disobedience and defiance, rejected God's law and turned their backs upon His love. When Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit, they said good-by to God's ongoing graces and welcomed into this world sadness and sin, transgression and terror, death and damnation. Their legacy is with us now as we see all around us a world filled to overflowing with hatred and horror, injustice, inequity, hurt, heartbreak, tribulations, and troubles. Think of the sadnesses you have seen in your life; the crosses that you carry; the hurts that lie buried deep within your heart. These things have become so much a part of the fabric of our lives that humanity as a whole, and you as an individual, may sometimes find yourself wondering, "Does God even exist; and if He does exist, does He care? And if God does care, does He care for me?"
"How can I get God to care for me?" That's the question humanity has asked since the fall. In every century, on every continent, people motivated by a fervent desire to appease God's anger and reinsert themselves into His good graces, have tried to find the answer. Eventually and tentatively they conclude: "If I do this, or give up that, maybe, possibly, it will buy God's favor and He may grant me some peace." Which is why "This is what we think you must do" is the common denominator of every religion, every faith, and every philosophy. Only in Christianity is the speculative: "This is what we think you must do," been replaced by the divine verity: "This is what God has done." Scripture is clear: God has done all that was necessary to save you from your sin; God has done all that was required to grant you eternal life.
Look in Holy Scripture and only there will you see God's grace given without any merit or worthiness within us. Only in the Bible will you see how, when sin-struck Adam and Eve had been reduced to helplessly hiding from divine retribution, God came and unexpectedly, unpredictably, promised them a Savior. God had done it all. When the Children of Israel were helpless in Egyptian slavery, the Lord sent Moses, who with God-given words and wonders, brought freedom out of bondage. God had done it all. When sightless Samson stood helplessly chained in an idol's temple, providing amusement for those who hated him and his Lord, God gave him strength and brought down that wrongful house of worship. God had done it all.
Read through Scripture and you will learn that if we are to be saved from our sin, delivered from our dreadful deeds, it will only be - can only be - because God, with unmerited grace makes it so. Nowhere is that truth more clearly stated, more perfectly put, than in the third chapter of the Gospel of John: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him." So we might be saved, God sent His Son. In the person of the Christ, condemnation was replaced by compassion, and damnation was exchanged for deliverance. God had done it all.
In the pages of Holy Writ you will see God's love come to earth in the person of His Son, your Savior. By the Holy Spirit's inspiration, the Bible lets us look into the Bethlehem manger, stand before Calvary's cross, gaze into Christ's empty tomb. Let the Gospel writer Luke lead you into the stable so you might see a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. Look. Go ahead, look. See your Redeemer, born true man, since He had a human mother, and true God, by the Holy Spirit's conception. True man, so He might be one of us; so He might live for us and die for us; but also true God so His life, perfectly fulfilling the law and totally rejecting Satan's temptations might be perfect; so His victory over death might be shared with every repentant, believing heart. In Jesus, God has done it all. By the Holy Spirit's power, through the Gospel's call to Christ, you can believe. Yes, you can believe, but many, many listeners to my words today, simply don't. In every age people have refused, or been unable to see Jesus' person and purpose.
In the French seaport city of Marseilles there is a legend about an old man, a man who was given the unwanted nickname, "The Miser of Marseilles." The miser had the ability to make cash, but not friends, and as a result he was never invited to people's homes; when he walked the streets, children mocked and made fun of him. Eventually, the miser died. The miser's demise would have gone almost unnoticed if it had not been for some serious speculation as to who would inherit his wealth. The answer to the question became apparent when the miser's will was read. It said something like this: "From the time I was young, I noticed the poor souls of our city had difficulty in getting drinking water. That is why, when I was yet a young man, I made a vow to the Lord. I told Him my life would, from that point on, be dedicated to the single-minded goal of accumulating wealth. In that endeavor, God has blessed me, I am a wealthy man, and now so is my city. For in this will, I gladly give my worldly goods to Marseilles - with this single stipulation: that the money be used to build an aqueduct from the lake to our community. I wish the poor to drink clear, clean water. This is my last will and testament." Well, after the will was read, the people of Marseilles all sadly said, "We have misunderstood our miser. If only we had known."
I am afraid many people today misunderstand the Savior as much as the people of Marseilles misunderstood their miser. Certainly the Savior and His mission of grace were misinterpreted when He walked the dusty roads of Galilee, Samaria, and Judea. Read the Gospels and you will hear how His hometown friends misunderstood and tried to murder Him; how the citizens of other communities misunderstood His mission and tried to make Him an earthly king. Jesus' disciples misunderstood Him by thinking He was going to establish an earthly empire; and scholars misunderstood when they tried to confine Him to the role of Rabbi. In His three years of ministry, Jesus was called a liar, a devil, a blasphemer, a rebel, and a madman. Everyone misunderstood. If only they had known; if only they had understood: He was their Savior.
Today, the Savior is still misunderstood and maligned. Look around the globe and you will encounter communist countries which consider the Christ to be competition. They misunderstand Him; for He is, as He has always been, the Savior of souls. Other world religions fear Him, condemning and persecuting those who have been turned to acknowledge Him as Redeemer. They, too, misunderstand our Lord. Jesus is not a rival for their man-made divinities. Rivalry implies a reasonable choice between two equally good and satisfactory paths, both leading to heaven. But Jesus is the only Truth, and the only Way which leads to eternal life. Jesus is the only name, given among men which offers salvation. Yes, Jesus is misunderstood. Comedians misunderstand Him and try to make Him the object of their humorless jokes; politicians misunderstand and try to use Him as a pal who can produce results at the polls; the blasphemer misunderstands and uses His holy name as punctuation at the end of a sacrilegious sentence. Jesus is misunderstood as He is regularly reduced to the rank of being only an educator, only a philosopher, only a reformer of society, only a moral watchdog. Jesus remains misunderstood, and on some unknown day, all who misunderstand Him, will, with too-long delayed repentance, sorrowfully say, "If only we had known."
Today I encourage: On Judgment Day don't you be among those who have misunderstood Jesus. Don't be among those who consider Him unimportant, inconsequential, and insignificant. To do so is dangerous and damnable. The day is coming for each of us when we will helplessly look death in the face. On that day only Jesus' nail-pierced hands will have the ability to pull us from the brink of hell and place us into heaven. No, don't be among those who misunderstand Jesus. Don't think that having Him as your Savior means you will be compelled to follow commandments numbered beyond counting. It is true that when Jesus is your Savior, your life is changed. But those changes are made gladly and not under duress. With Jesus as your Savior, life is changed as you, wishing to thank God for His great grace, will gladly try to refrain from your old and sinful ways. When Jesus is your Savior, your life is changed as you live your days freed from sin, from condemnation and damnation.
Don't misunderstand Jesus. See Him for who He is: your Savior from sin; your Deliverer from damnation; your Hope of heaven. See Jesus for who He is. Centuries ago, the forces of Islam lay siege to the capital of Spain. The city was defended skillfully and bravely by King Alphonso, but by some circumstance, the enemy captured the king's son. Knowing the king's love for the lad, the attackers built a gallows in full view of the king who watched from the ramparts of his castle. The Islamic leader ordered the prince to stand on the gallows under a sign which read, "Alphonso either the city or your son!" What a heart-rending decision for a father to make! Anxiously Alphonso's advisers and officers watched the face of the king. Would he give up the city and allow the enemy to enslave the people? Would he let his son die? They did not have long to wait for Alphonso quickly decided what he would do. Back to the Sultan came this message: "Let my son die, so that my people may live."
Now, there is no question that Alphonso was a noble king. But his nobility and love for His people stand as nothing compared to the love of God. Alphonso's son had to be captured, but our God willingly gave His Son to die. If Alphonso's son could have escaped his sentence, he would have; but Jesus went to the cross willingly. When the people of Spain saw Alphonso's willingness to sacrifice his son, they rallied behind him. That is a proper reaction when you have been unexpectedly, undeservedly saved by someone else's sacrifice. It should certainly be the reaction of the world as it looks at the Christ. It most certainly should be yours. My friends, God's Son has died for you. Don't misunderstand or minimize His sacrifice. Do you, like the five-year-old boy in our story; do you like the old man, want to see God? Look to the cradle, the cross, and the empty tomb. Believe on Him who has come not to condemn the world but to save it. Do you want to see God? Let us help you. Call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for June 11, 2006
TOPIC: The Gospel of Judas - part 2
ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Ken Klaus has more to say about the so-called Gospel of Judas. I'm Mark Eischer.
KLAUS: Hi, Mark. If you don't mind, would you bring people up to speed.
ANNOUNCER: OK. The Gospel of Judas is an ancient papyrus that was discovered in Egypt and it throws a different light on some of the things we've read about in Scripture.
KLAUS: Good job so far.
ANNOUNCER: The major differences between the Bible and the so-called Gospel of Judas is that in the Gospel of Judas, Judas is the only guy who really understands what Jesus is all about. He doesn't really betray Jesus, he's following Jesus' orders. And it also has a creation story that says the world was created by an evil under-god. How's that so far?
KLAUS: Very good. I feel downright unnecessary.
ANNOUNCER: Well, the impression has been given in the media that if The Gospel of Judas is correct, then the Bible isn't. And if the creation story isn't right, then the fall into sin didn't really happen that way. The Savior's death for us didn't accomplish what the Bible says it did. Should Christians worry that their faith has somehow been disproven?
KLAUS: Yeah. And we said last week the apostles were all aware of false gospels like this, and they wanted to make sure that the church was faithful to the true Gospel.
ANNOUNCER: And what do false gospels such as The Gospel of Judas all have in common?
KLAUS: Mark, do you remember, just a minute ago when you mentioned how The Gospel of Judas talks about the world being created by an evil sort of under-god? Now that idea tells us where this gospel came from. The concept of evil under-gods and evil creations came from an early church heresy called Gnosticism. The Gnostics believed that they had the inside track on salvation because they "knew" the real, secret truth. Gnostics believed that the average Joe Schmo wasn't going to make it into heaven because he wasn't part of the inner circle of the informed.
ANNOUNCER: Where did this Gnostic heresy come from, and what did they say they "knew"?
KLAUS: They said The Bible should be understood in a non-literal way; indeed, it can be understood by only a select few who are privileged to understand the new revelations. They said since God is perfect, and the world isn't, God can't be the Creator of what we see around us. They said since God is perfect, any idea that Jesus is really God and really human is impossible to accept. And they also said that there is no resurrection of the body.
Now there were a lot of other doctrines, not the least of which was an overly-flexible morality. But you get the idea. So did the church. Last week I talked about Irenaeus, one of the early church fathers. He shared that one of the reasons that John wrote his Gospel was to refute the views of the early Gnostics. When the Gnostics said God would not enter our world, John said, in his Gospel that is exactly what happened.
ANNOUNCER: So, the apostles knew about the Gnostics? And they spoke out against them?
KLAUS: Yeah, you've got it. Saint Paul said to Timothy, a young pastor: "The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths" ( 2 Timothy 2: 3-4). The apostles dealt with this heresy. That's why, I'm really amused when I hear that this Gospel of Judas is something new, something hidden, it's a big church cover up. Anybody who says that doesn't know church history. The church dealt with Gnosticism very openly and Gnosticism mostly disappeared.
ANNOUNCER: Why was that?
KLAUS: Because Gnosticism and Christianity can't live together. They can't both be right.
ANNOUNCER: And how do we know that Biblical Christianity is correct?
KLAUS: For a number of reasons. First, a loving God wouldn't say: here is salvation just for a few that I'm going to tell secrets to. Second, if God can give a hidden revelation to one person, He can give it to another. You could never be sure that God hadn't changed His mind. Third, the Bible verifies its doctrines. Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled. The Bible is internally verifying itself. Fourth, because ultimately Gnosticism couldn't survive.
ANNOUNCER: So, to sum it up: The Gospel of Judas... what would you say?
KLAUS: It's an actual historical document written by people who were trying to reshape the Gospel... something that still happens 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 John Leavitt. Concordia Publishing House/SESAC
“Holy, Holy, Holy” From Favorite Hymns and Anthems by the Westminster Choir (© 1990 Westminster Choir College)
“Sanctus” by J.S. Bach. From Te Deum by the Kantorei (© 2000 Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN)
“Holy, Holy, Holy” by David Cherwien. From Hymn Interpretations, vol. 1 by David Cherwien (© 1992 Summa Productions)