"Seek the Lord" #70-38
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on June 1, 2003
By Rev. Ken Klaus, Speaker of The Lutheran Hour
Copyright 2014 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Acts 1:1-11
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Almost 2,000 years ago, two of Jesus' disciples raced to the Savior's empty tomb. There they saw nothing other than some collapsed grave clothes. They saw nothing else because there was nothing else to see. Jesus was alive. The truth of those soul-saving, history changing words was brought home to them that night. On Resurrection evening they saw and talked with the living Lord. Today, see Him as He waits with nail-pierced hands wishing to welcome you into the family of God.
Around 1900, when the world was a little less pseudo-sophisticated than it is today, groups of teenage boys from Chicago liked to play tricks on the folks who had come from the country, seeing the big city for the first time. If there was a group of these visitors, identified by their dress and their general look of confusion, the Chicago boys would suddenly, at an agreed upon spot on the crowded street, stop, tilt their heads back as far as possible and stare at the top of one of the skyscrapers. Not wishing to miss anything, the visitors would also stop, tilt their heads back as far as possible, and start staring, too.
The visitors didn't know what everybody was looking at, and they certainly weren't going to embarrass themselves by asking or admitting they didn't see anything. So there everybody stood, looking at, well, nothing in particular. Sometimes, the Chicago boys would take the joke even further by giving a "ho-ho-ho-hoooo" sort of chuckle to themselves while they looked up. You know, it didn't take too long before the other folks would be " ho-ho-ho-hooooing," joining in the chuckle, too. The spell was broken only when some stouthearted individual would naively or honestly throw caution to the wind and ask, "What's so interesting up there, anyway?" On the day the risen Lord Jesus ascended into heaven, I think the disciples pretty much felt like those long ago Chicago tourists. There the disciples stood, heads tilted back, staring up into the heavens at....well, they really didn't know what they were staring at. But they did know, since they knew Jesus, it was going to be pretty interesting. Before I tell you that story, let's turn back their clock to about three years earlier. Three years before, Jesus had called these men away from doing whatever it was they'd been doing and asked them to train as His disciples. Some of them left their fishing boats. Another walked away from a lucrative government job collecting taxes, and yet another from his self-appointed position as a political activist (Mark 3:18). The next three years of education gave these 12 men ringside seats to see things that boggled their brains and strained their capacity to comprehend.
They had seen Jesus turn water into wine at Cana. Unbelievable? No, very believable and tasty (John 2:1-11). They were stumped when Jesus challenged them to feed thousands of people on the spur of the moment. "It can't be done!" they said. Then they watched Jesus do what couldn't be done. They saw Him feed thousands of people with a few loaves of bread and a few fish (Matthew 14:15-21). They didn't know how He did it. All they could do is say, "It had been done." They wondered after they had seen Him speak to a storm and muzzle its force (Mark 4:37-41). They watched as Jesus walked across the surface of an unsettled sea to calm their concerns (Matthew 14:23-28).
Yes, the disciples had seen some spectacular sights as the Savior placed them in some unique situations. When they had been accosted by a tomb-residing, chain-breaking demoniac, Jesus hadn't headed for cover, but healed the man instead (Mark 5:1-15). All their previous learning had taught them a person with leprosy should be avoided. That's what normal people did. Normal people left lepers alone. But Jesus would stop for a leper. He would talk to a leper. He would touch the leper and heal him (Matthew 8:1-4). The disciples had seen all this. They had also had seen Jesus stop a funeral procession, tell a grieving mother to, "Stop crying," and then with a touch and a command, bring the dead boy back to life (Luke 7:11-15).
The disciples had seen many spectacular things. But, in the spring of their third year with Him, the disciples saw things take a turn for the worse. In spite of Jesus' words of love, His actions of concern, His message of repentance and salvation, there had always been groups which had detested Him and tried to short-circuit His work (Mark 12:13). Schemes and strategies had always swirled around the Savior. But at the last Passover, Jesus' enemies had been successful with their plots. They had bribed Judas, one of the disciples' own, and persuaded him to betray the Lord. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus had been arrested. Some of the disciples saw the Savior tried on trumped-up charges. When the crowd called for His crucifixion, the Roman representative of justice had crumbled and Jesus had died. Disciple John had seen it. John had seen Jesus' blood flowing from the cross. John had seen and shared how the Roman soldiers made sure Jesus was dead with a spear's swift slice into His side (John 19:34).
Years before, when Jesus had called him, John thought he would see many things, but he never thought he would see this. He never thought he would see Jesus die. But, with many others that day he stood head back, eyes fixed on Christ's cross unable to tear his vision from the horrible sight, as the clock ticked off the final seconds of His Master's life. It was an end to Jesus' teachings, Jesus' miracles, Jesus' love.
But I misspeak myself. I should say, "It should have been the end of Jesus' teachings. It should have been the end of Jesus' miracles. It should have been the end to Jesus' life and Jesus' love. It should have been, but it wasn't." The disciples would see more. Three days after the crucifixion, some of them ran to the place where Jesus had been buried. They looked inside the tomb and saw...well, they saw nothing, other than empty burial shrouds. Jesus' body was gone. That night they saw why. A living Jesus appeared to them in their locked room. A week later, they saw Him again, and again after that. What they saw was not imaginary. He suggested that they might want to touch His hands, His feet, His side. They saw Jesus, the Son of God, was really, truly, beyond any shadow of a doubt, alive. They saw God's gracious promise of a Savior, who would take away all the sins of humankind, had been fulfilled right before their very eyes. And now, after they thought they had seen it all, they saw one more thing. Jesus had gone away from them. He hadn't walked away. He hadn't been carried away. He didn't run away and hide. He just went away; rose up into the air-no wires, no tricks, no shenanigans. He went away back to heaven and His Father. He went away. The disciples saw that, too. Years ago, I heard a first grader come home from Sunday school, very excited. When his parents asked him how he liked his class, teacher and lessons, he replied, "I like it a lot. I just love God. You never know what He is going to do next." Well, the disciples never did know what Jesus was going to do next, what they would see next.
On the Mount of Ascension they stood. They stood like Chicago tourists, their heads tilted back as far as possible, their eyes staring at...well, they didn't know what. That's how the angels found them that day. And the angels asked, "Men of Galilee, what are you doing standing around looking into the heavens?" Can I tell you, the disciples didn't stand around gazing in an aimless sort of way for very long. According to Jesus' command, they returned to Jerusalem, and in a short time, the Holy Spirit came upon them. From that moment on, their witness to the world began. They told anyone who would listen, and many who would not, about the things they had seen. They told how the Savior had been born to save sinners. They told how Jesus spent His entire life loving those who seemed to be unlovable; how Jesus reached out to those the world considered unreachable, He gave hope to the hopeless and forgiven those people, like you and me, whose sins seemed so great, so ponderous as to be unforgivable. They spent the rest of their lives lifting up the eyes of the discouraged, the despondent and depressed so that they too might see the cross of Christ. They asked the world, "What are you looking for?" Then they told the world what it needed to see: God's Son doing for us what we could not, so that by His blood, we might leave behind past sins and previous horrors. They asked, "What are you looking for?" and then they showed all of humanity what it needed to see: salvation that comes only through the Savior's sacrifice. Under the great persecutions of Rome, when Christians were led away to die for their faith, they went singing, praying, laughing. Unbelievers wondered, "What are these Christians seeing? What image can so hold the gaze of these believers that even the sight of the tormentor's tools and the executioner's equipment, could not turn their eyes away?" For decades, the Communist elite wondered, "What do these Christians see? What revelation can hold their eyes so they are unafraid of the gulags and Siberia?" Today, the forces of Islam understand our armies and our bombs, but they are confused when they see confessing Christians "fixing their eyes on Jesus, who is the Author and Perfecter of their faith." Islam is prepared to fight, with a great vengeance against invading infidels, but how can anyone fight against the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world? Wherever and whenever Christianity and the Gospel has been presented in its truth and purity, the skyward gaze of the Christian has caused amazement, argument, antagonism and anger among atheists and agnostics. They cannot see that which is the most beautiful sight that heaven has ever produced. Those of you who don't know Jesus, look. Look to your Christian neighbors. See how the Christian widow hurries off to church every Sunday morning. What is she looking at? I can tell you that in worship her eyes are lifted up to see her Savior. He has promised a resurrection reunion for all who believe. See the Christian family come together. All through the week they've been going their separate ways. But on Sunday, they stop. What do they see? They see a Lord who has brought strength to a mother and father; a unique love and direction to a son and daughter. See the sick, the elderly, the cancerous wend their way to worship. It can be a painful trip for them, but they go. What do they see? They go so their eyes may be lifted up to the Lord who is their refuge and strength, a very present help for them in time of trouble (Psalm 46:1).
You fellow believers know what I'm talking about. The Lord has turned your eyes heavenward. You have seen the cross and the crucifixion. You have seen the resurrection and the redemption. You have seen the ascended Savior who 2,000 years ago saved you from your sins and today is with you, supports you, and helps you carry the crosses of life.
Over the last year or so, our son, Kurt, has been calling us with old news. To find out about our heritage, he has been making sporadic trips to the Internet home page of Ellis Island (http://www.ellisisland.org/). Every time he finds some of our history he calls us with the old news. His calls got me thinking about Ellis Island. For those of you who don't know, Ellis was the processing spot for more than 22 million immigrants to America, thousands every day. Those folks left behind everything they had, and for a myriad of reasons came to seek their fortune, their freedom, their future in America. Although they had never seen the promised land, they still believed and that belief was enough, enough to bring them here. In New York harbor, they tilted their necks and gazed for a long time at the statue called "Liberty Enlightening the World." Then they would go through the lines of immigration and inspection.
On occasion, the newcomers might be compelled to stay in a dormitory room while they were being processed. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the immigrants, having lived in utter poverty, thought the place to be a palace. Some might have thought, "It can't get any better than this. This must be all there is." If they felt that way, they might eagerly have unpacked their few possessions and settled in. A foolish thought, isn't it? What they were seeing was a small room on a small island. There was more, so much more to have, to experience, to see.
Such a sad immigrant would be very much like any of the listeners today who think the material stuff of this world is all there is. If you don't know the Lord of life or if you despise the Savior or have been a detractor of His suffering and His sacrifice, let me tell you, there is much more to see. Until you've really seen Him, you can't dismiss what He can do for you. You need to see Him. Understand, I'm not asking if you've seen churches or organized religion or ministers. I'm encouraging you to see the Savior.
"What are you looking at?" Today, this day, where are your eyes fixed? Are they drawn downward to the dust at your feet? Are they cast down because of a love that is lost or wandering children or insecure finances or unsound health? All of these problems and so many other pains can cloud your vision. They can drag down your gaze so the sight of your soul is misted over with discouragement, difficulties, depressions. Is your head bowed down with shame and sin you believe can never be forgiven? If so, look up. The Lord, who showed the disciples wondrous things, can show you magnificent miracles (John 1:48). The Lord, who forgave His enemies, can forgive you. True, you may not be an eyewitness to the Savior's crucifixion and resurrection. You may not, like the disciple Thomas, see the Savior stand before you with His hands, feet and side ready to be touched. You may not personally hear Him speak the words of forgiveness to you, as did His first followers. But because you cannot see these things or hear these things in person, that makes them no less real.
In Istanbul (formerly Constantinople) there is a great church called " Hagia Sophia." It is named for the Holy Wisdom of the Savior. Its builders painted a huge fresco of Christ in the dome so worshippers could look up and see Jesus looking down upon them. Centuries after the church was built, the church was converted from its purpose as a church. The beautiful fresco of Christ was plastered over. Eventually Hagia Sophia became a museum. Hundreds of years of time had erased the memory of what was on the dome. It would have stayed that way until repairs began and a worker chipped the plaster away and revealed the face of Christ. With the plaster gone, everyone could see the beauty of Jesus' face.
Today, I wish to say to unbelievers and believers alike: Look up and see the face of the Savior. Whatever life has plastered over that face of divine love, the Lord wants to scrape it away so you can look up and see the love of God. Look up and see Jesus who shows us hope and purpose for this life, heaven and joy for the next. Look up and see Jesus who puts our needs, our necessities, our agonies into their proper perspective. Look up and see Jesus. Let Him show you the peace you long for, which has proven so elusive. Look up and see Jesus, your Savior and your Lord. Amen.LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for June 1, 2003
ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Ken Klaus answers questions from our listeners. I'm Mark Eischer. Today's question is: "If someone who has been baptized and confirmed in the Church commits murder or some other crime, will they go to heaven?"
KLAUS: That's an interesting question. Will they or can they? Maybe we ought to try and answer it this way. We know the Lord Jesus died on the cross to take away the sins of the entire world.
ANNOUNCER: Of course. That's the Gospel!
KLAUS: And we also know this includes any and all sins. For example, Jesus promised the thief on the cross he would be saved. We know the Apostle Paul, who had been a murderer and persecutor of Christians, was forgiven and is saved.
ANNOUNCER: Well, I agree with all that, but I think the listener is asking, "What happens if you commit a sin AFTER you've become a Christian?"
KLAUS: I was getting to that Mark. Without being too personal, let me ask, are you a sinner?
ANNOUNCER: Yes, but I'm also a forgiven sinner.
KLAUS: So am I. In the church, we call that by a Latin phrase, " simul justus et peccator." Simply translated, it means that while Christians remain sinners, they are also because of Jesus, forgiven saints.
ANNOUNCER: So if we apply that to the question...
KLAUS: We end up right along with St. Paul. He said, "The good that I want to do, I don't. The evil I want to avoid, that I end up doing" (Romans 7:19).
ANNOUNCER: Saint and sinner.
KLAUS: Right. As sinners, Christians break the Commandments. They may not commit murder or adultery, but they certainly break the spirit of those Commandments by harboring hatred or lust in their hearts. Are such Christians going to go to hell?
ANNOUNCER: Well, I don't want to speak for God, but I've heard it said the only sin that ultimately condemns is the sin of unbelief. KLAUS: So how do forgiven sinners get to heaven?
ANNOUNCER: By trusting in Jesus and all that He has done for us. He took our punishment upon Himself. He forgives us and God declares us righteous for the sake of Christ. But is that true for a sin as big as murder?
KLAUS: We've already said God can forgive any and all sins. He daily and richly forgives all sins to me and all believers. The question is, "Can a Christian turn his back on Jesus and deliberately do something like that?" Saint Paul, by the Holy Spirit's inspiration, wrote: "Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" (Romans 6:1). All of the New Testament points out that in Jesus we are new creatures, adopted into a new family and given new lives.
ANNOUNCER: Does that mean once we're saved, we're always saved?
KLAUS: Jesus said, "No man can pluck His people out of His hands" (John 10:29). Saint Paul added: "I am persuaded that neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities nor powers nor things present nor things to come nor height nor depth nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8: 38-39).
ANNOUNCER: That makes it sound like we can never fall away.
KLAUS: No. We can fall away. Although nothing can kidnap God's children from the family of faith, those children can walk away themselves. Christians can turn away from God and be lost. One of Paul's fellow workers, by the name of Demas, loved the world and fell away (2 Timothy 4:10). The church in Ephesus deserted her love of the Lord; the church of Laodicea turned lukewarm to the Lord. Many people in those churches had faith, but they turned away (Revelation 2-3). It is possible to fall away if you want to.
ANNOUNCER: So what can we do to make sure we're saved?
KLAUS: God does it all. Luther wrote, "I believe I cannot, by my own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and keeps me in the Christian faith." We can, however, live saved. That means we continue to receive God's gift of forgiveness that comes to us through His Word and Sacraments. The Apostle Peter wrote: "You are a chosen people....a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. He wrote, "Dear friends, I urge you.....to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that .... they may see your good deeds and glorify God...." (1 Peter 2:9).
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Klaus. The next Lutheran Hour message it titled, "Fitting into the Family."