"Shut Down the Shame" #74-14
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on December 17, 2006
By Rev. Ken Klaus, Speaker of The Lutheran Hour
(Q&A Topic:Did the Church suppress other equally valid gospels?)
Copyright 2013 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Zephaniah 3:19b
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! The Babe of Bethlehem, the Christ of the cross, the Lord of the empty tomb, comes to us today. The baby's hands of Christmas, the nail-pierced hands of resurrection, reach out, calling us to forgiveness and faith, telling us that in Him, God has shut down our shame.
In little more than a week Christmas will be upon us. That is why, as a public service, we want to share with you part of an Internet article written by Coral Nafie (http://interiordec.about. com/od/cmastreetips/ht/choosecmastree.htm). Wanting to make sure your Christmas is respectable, she tells her readers how to have a perfect Christmas tree.
She starts out: "Dig your Christmas tree stand out of your storage area and set it where you want to locate your tree. Measure the diameter of the opening in the bottom. This will determine the maximum size of tree trunk that will fit into the stand. Second," Coral says, "Decide if you need a tall narrow tree, a tall wide tree, or a short tree. Measure from floor to ceiling for height (remember that you'll put a star or other decoration on the top.) Then measure the floor space that you can use to determine the diameter of the base branches. The better the tree fits in the space, the better it will look in the room. Third," she suggests, "before going off to the Christmas tree lot, collect gloves, a tape measure, an old blanket or plastic for the top of your car, rope (some places provide this), and a wood saw (if you're going to be cutting your own tree)."
Can I tell you, in crafting the perfect Christmas tree, Coral has eleven more steps on how to do the job right? Understand, we're not talking about the decorations which have to be put up; the lights which have to be strung; the cards which have to be sent; the parties which have to be planned for; the travel plans which have to be made; the food which has to be prepared; the... well, you get the idea. Still, many people will find that after the tree is trimmed, the decorations are put up, the lights are strung, the cards are sent, and the parties have been attended, that Christmas just doesn't seem to have been as fulfilling, as satisfying, as rewarding and gratifying as they thought it would be. As people survey the carnage which was Christmas; as they wade through the wrappings, as they detinsel the tree, they won't be able to escape the gnawing, nagging feeling that something, an unknown something seems to have been missing. Going over their checklist of Christmas, they see they've done everything right, but the whole thing hadn't come out right.
Now I wouldn't have bothered to bring up the subject at all, if I didn't have an idea as to what that missing commodity might be. My suggestion is this: the missing thing you need for Christmas, (are you ready for this?); the thing you need is shame. I bet you didn't see that coming, did you? And for those of you who are wondering if you heard me right, the answer is: Yes, I said, "The missing thing for most people at Christmas is shame." You know, like your mother used to say, "shame on you." Let's begin by talking about shame. Shame is a commodity in pretty short supply. You can't order shame out of a catalog; you can't buy it at the mall; your Aunt Martha can't knit it for you, and you won't find it on Ebay. I know, I looked. Shame is in short supply because shame, especially in regard to sin, is something nobody wants.
If you doubt me, talk to a policeman. He'll tell you. When he pulls somebody over for speeding, it's a rare day when that person says, "Yup, I was going over the limit. I'm sorry. I deserve a ticket." Policemen don't hear that; they do hear things like, "Hey, why don't you chase down some real criminals?" or, "I was just blending in with traffic," or "I normally don't speed, but I'm late for a root canal," or "Don't you have anything better to do?" There is not a drop of shame in any of those excuses.
Go to a judge and talk to him about shame. You may have to explain the word to him, because most judges haven't seen shame, at least not in their courtrooms. In September, in Tacoma, Washington, a 24-year-old man, his name is Ulysses Handy pled guilty to killing three people, three people who were his friends. Killing three friends is a bad thing. A worse thing is what Handy did when he had a chance to speak to the families of the people he had killed. He said, ""I feel there's two types of people in this world, us and them, predator and prey. Well, I'm sure not a prey. So, I know there's people up in here hurt. Well, pain's a part of life, deal with it, get over it." When the families talked to him, Handy laughed at their pain.
There was no shame in that Tacoma courtroom, and most of the time, there's no shame in our lives. That's because we all like to think we're OK just the way we are. If Christmas is to be all God intended; if His Son is to be received as the Savior the Father sent Him to be, then shame for sin should be part of our Christmas preparations, part of our daily deliberations.
Let me tell you what I mean. Jesus Christ, God's Son, our Savior, was sent into this world to seek and save the lost. His Bethlehem birth that we remember at Christmas was the implementation of God's plan to save us from our sins. That promise was first made to our original parents, Adam and Eve. After they had sinned, after they had violated the one commandment which God had given them, the Bible says they were filled with shame. They were ashamed, not only of their nakedness, but they were ashamed that they no longer could look each other in the eye without flinching. They knew what they had done. They knew they had let God down. They knew the promised punishment that awaited them. They were ashamed; so ashamed that they hid themselves from the Lord. Hiding or faking innocence or pretending ignorance are natural, albeit silly, responses from a sinner who is ashamed. He knows he has done wrong, and God cannot abide his disobedience.
Which is why, after God had found Adam and Eve; after they were done pretending to be innocent; after they had presented their excuses and explanations; after they had shifted the blame from one to the other; when they finally got to that point where they had to acknowledge everything they had said was feeble and futile; as they stood there, heads bowed in sad and silent sorrow for their sin, it was then they heard God say something they never expected, to hear. They heard God say He would send His Son to save sinful souls. He would send His Son to become one with humanity; to live for us, to pay sin's demanded ransom for us; to die for us and to rise from the dead for us. They heard what God said and their lives were changed by God's promise. Death, devil, and damnation were conquered; sin and sadness were crushed. Life, even with its pains and problems became livable, endurable, bearable.
Adam and Eve found out that God's light could dispel darkness; His grace could defeat their dark and damnable deeds. It was a lesson that God's people have learned again and again. Read through the Old Testament and you will see how, when God's people were being punished for their spiritual wanderings; their verbal mutterings, the Lord came to them, called them to repentance and, in grace restored them. That is the message of books like Judges; it's the story of people like King David. It is the proclamation of prophets like Zephaniah. Read his short book of prophetic predictions. It will take less than ten minutes to scan the three chapters of his book. In those 53 verses you will be confronted by inescapable condemnation and denunciation; by inevitable criticism and dissatisfaction. But always, always, to those who are ashamed for their sin, God gives a promise of hope and grace. The prophet concludes his book with the Father's promise. He says the day will come when God, "will rescue the lame and gather those who have been scattered;" when He, "will give them praise and honor in every land where they were put to shame." God promises, to those who come to Him with repentant hearts, that He will shut down their shame.
Of course, if we have no shame, if we have never been driven to our knees in despair for the things we have done wrong in our thoughts, our actions, and our words; if we have no awareness of how dark and despicable, how depraved, decadent, and degenerate we are; if we constantly deny and disavow any sin or wrong doing, Jesus' birth, life, suffering, death, and resurrection have no meaning. It is only when we take a good look, an honest look, at who we are and consider the fate that awaits us; it is only when we helplessly come to the end of our rope and cry out in utter helplessness; it is only when we have shame for sin, that we will be able to see the Savior for who He is. Only when we, by the Spirit's power, acknowledge our sin, and are ashamed of who we are, can we see, and believe on Jesus as our suffering substitute; our loving Lord, our royal Redeemer who has come into this world to take our place and rescue us from the punishment that our sins have deserved.
In was during the dark days of the depression, when people's spirits were just as cold as the weather, that a night court judge in one of New York's poorest districts was surprised by an unexpected guest. The mayor of the city, Fiorello LaGuardia, entered the courtroom, dismissed the judge for the night and sat at the bench. The courtroom was filled with many common criminals, and one old lady dressed in tattered clothing. She had been charged with having stolen a loaf of bread. She confessed with shame: "My daughter's husband has deserted her. She is sick, and her children are starving." Every heart in the courtroom went out to the little old lady and the sad situation which had motivated her. Still, everyone also understood the difficulty being faced by the shopkeeper. He felt he had no choice but to prosecute the woman. After all, he explained, "It's a bad neighborhood... and she's got to be punished to teach other people a lesson."
LaGuardia had been confronted by two needs, both legitimate and justifiable. It was the kind of decision that called for the wisdom of Solomon. The mayor turned to the old woman and said, "I've got to punish you; the law makes no exceptions. Ten dollars or ten days in jail." The lady's face turned ashen. Ashamed of her sin, she didn't protest. She never noticed how, even as the mayor was speaking, he reached into his pocket, took out a ten-dollar bill, and threw it into his hat. He continued, "Here's the ten-dollar fine, which I now pay for you, and furthermore, I'm going to fine everyone in the courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant." The reporter who was there that day submitted his story. In part, it said: "Forty-seven dollars and fifty cents was turned over to a bewildered old grandmother who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren. Making forced donations were a red-faced storekeeper, 70 petty criminals, and a few New York policemen."
Now I tell you that story because, if you understand it, you will also understand what I'm saying about shame for sin being necessary at Christmas. If that lady had protested her innocence, if she had said, "I have a right to take what I want, when I want, from whom I want," she would have spent ten days in jail. But that lady knew she was guilty; she didn't pretend to be anything but guilty. Because she was ashamed of her sin, she was given forgiveness and freedom; she was handed overwhelming riches, and a changed life. She had gone into the courtroom guilty; she left excused. When she left the courtroom, the winter's night had been transformed; when she returned home, she did so as the recipient of a gracious gift.
My friends, next week is Christmas and you will, once again, in remembrance, be entering the stable and seeing Jesus Christ, God's good news of great joy. The question I put to you is this: "How will you enter that stable?" Will you enter that barn with your head held high in self-sufficient pride, disregarding and dismissing your sin?" If that is the way you stand before the baby, all you will see is a baby. You will turn away from the manger in which He sleeps, unmoved, untouched, unforgiven. Yes, you will be able to remember His birth; you will be able to celebrate Christmas, but your festivities will be empty and void of the true meaning or purpose for which He was born. You will think upon the day of the Savior's birth as a celebration with family, or a time for earthly giving, or a vain and endless hope for peace on earth. And, if you forgive me for saying it, your Christmas, your life will be a poor and shabby thing.
If, on the other hand, you, like that grandmother, appear before the manger, filled with shame for sins committed, you will see this baby quite differently. You will see in Jesus, not just a baby, but a Savior. You will see not just a child, but a Redeemer; you will find not just a cute and cuddly infant, but the Messiah, the Son of God who has become one of us, so He might grow into manhood and save us. No, He will not reach into His pocket, produce a ten-dollar bill, and throw it into a hat. There is no pile of cash so large, no pot of gold so full that it could pay the punishment price for our sins. No, Jesus will pay the price by taking our punishment upon Himself. For us He will keep every commandment perfectly; for us He will live His entire life innocently; for us He will resist every temptation successfully. His is an act of love that no reasonable, rational soul could expect; but it will be done so our shame might be shut down.
But I have not begun to tell you what an ashamed heart will see when it looks upon Jesus. In the manger you will see a baby whose future is filled with sorrowful suffering. Although innocent of all sin; He will carry our sins. Although He has come to save the entire world, much of that world will turn against Him. Although He has nothing for which to be ashamed; He will be deserted by His friends; accused and condemned by leaders within His church; betrayed by a judge who knows Him to be innocent, yet nails Him to a cross. On that cross, the all-powerful, eternal Son of God, will give up His life as the ransom price for our salvation. Look into the manger with a heart that is filled with shame, and you will see all this; and you will see still more. You will see a crucified and dead Savior rise on the third day so that you might know the ransom for your redemption has been paid; the price for your forgiveness has been accepted; the punishment of death eternal has been destroyed. God has in the person of His Son, shut down the shame.
Now, let me ask, if you had been that grandmother who appeared before, and was forgiven by, Mayor LaGuardia, what would have been your response? Would you not have been filled with great joy at the punishment from which you had been delivered? Of course you would. How much more then should be your joy this Christmas at the news that the Babe of Bethlehem, the Christ of the cross, the Savior of the empty tomb, has paid the price for your forgiveness and freedom? That is the joy that makes Christmas worth remembering; it is the joy that makes every Christmas special. God has shut down the sinners' shame.
Over 150 years ago, an English merchant by the name of John Bowring was on a sailing ship headed toward Macao. As they passed an island, he spotted a bronze cross, standing above some ruins and silhouetted against the sky. Bowring found out the cross was all that stood of a Portuguese mission which had been established there more than four centuries earlier. It didn't take long before Bowring wrote words of a hymn that millions know and love. He wrote: "In the cross of Christ I glory, towering o'er the wrecks of time." Now Bowring, who was fluent in 22 languages and could make himself understood in more than a hundred, was a very special man. In his life, he became a wealthy Member of Parliament, he was knighted by the King of England. Still, on his gravestone is not a list of his great accomplishments, a litany of his skills. On his marker is carved the words, "In the cross of Christ I glory." Bowring knew, as you should know, that Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, shuts down the sinner's shame.
As this message draws to an end, I wonder if Bowring would much mind if I, this week before the festival of Christmas, changed his lyrics to reflect what has been said in the message today. Might he not allow me to say, "In the manger is my Savior, Conqueror o'er sins shame of mine." My friends, if the Spirit is calling you to the manger with ashamed hearts, and you want to know how to get there and receive the forgiveness the Lord offers there, call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for December 17, 2006
TOPIC: Did the Church Suppress Other Gospels?
ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Ken Klaus finishes up our series of questions generated by Lutheran Hour Ministries' Equipping To Share workshops. I'm Mark Eischer.
KLAUS: We've enjoyed talking about these topics.
ANNOUNCER: And we thought we were done a couple of weeks ago; but, well, as they say, enquiring minds want to know.
KLAUS: And what do the enquiring minds want to know this week, Mark?
ANNOUNCER: They want to know, "Did the church suppress many other equally valid "gospels" or biographies of Jesus in order to make Jesus into a Divine Savior?"
KLAUS: That's a great series of questions there.
ANNOUNCER: Series? I thought there was only one question.
KLAUS: No, a lot more than just one. Let's take them in order. First, did the church suppress other so-called "gospels"? The answer to that question is, "yes." There were purported biographies about Jesus that made the "banned-in-Boston" list.
ANNOUNCER: Why was that?
KLAUS: Well, that takes me to the next question. Did the church suppress many other equally valid "gospels" or biographies of Jesus? You see, when you add the words, "equally valid", the answer is, "no." The church eagerly, gladly, happily accepted biographies of the Savior that told the truth about Him.
The books that were rejected were set aside precisely because they weren't equally valid. They were false gospels. For example, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Judas. These were written centuries after Jesus' resurrection and they present an entirely different Jesus.
ANNOUNCER: Can you explain further?
KLAUS: Be glad to. Mark, do you know who J.K. Rowling is?
ANNOUNCER: Yes, she's the author of the Harry Potter books.
KLAUS: Did you know she has, almost from day one, said that Harry is not absolutely, positively guaranteed to survive the series? Now, before I cause a panic, I don't have any inside information on whether Harry lives or dies. That is just what the author is saying.
ANNOUNCER: I understand.
KLAUS: Recently, J.K. Rowling explained why she considered laying Harry to rest in the last book of the series.
ANNOUNCER: And why would she do that?
KLAUS: So that nobody messes with the character. She didn't want some hack writer resurrecting the character and making him into some kind of nut.
The early church had much the same desire when it came to the Savior. They wanted to make sure that nobody made Jesus into somebody other than who He is-the resurrected and victorious Savior, the Son of God.
ANNOUNCER: Was that a danger?
KLAUS: Absolutely. It was a danger back then. It is a danger now. It wasn't so long ago that we heard some of the principals from the movie The DaVinci Code at a press conference saying: It's only a movie. It's a piece of fiction.
The early church didn't want anyone, anywhere along the line to write a book about Jesus and pass it off as a legitimate telling of His story. Jesus isn't fiction. He is real.
ANNOUNCER: But still, the doubters would say He wasn't real.
KLAUS: Well, most of the apostles went to their martyrdom believing He was real. The citizens of Jerusalem thought He was real; His death was real; His resurrection was real. They had seen the miracles; they had seen Him die; they had seen Him rise. It really wasn't open to discussion. It was only when people got further away in miles and in time from Jesus' life and resurrection that people started passing their books off as the real thing.
ANNOUNCER: And that's when the church got together and said, "No way."
KLAUS: And that's when the church said, "no way." But there is another part to that question.
ANNOUNCER: That's right; you said this is a whole series.
KLAUS: It's a part of the question which asked if the church did this to make Jesus into a Divine Savior. You know, Mark, of all the questions I've ever answered here, that probably has to be the harshest. Nobody made Jesus into a Savior. Self-proclaimed saviors back then came and went. They were a dime a dozen. Jesus is the real and only Savior because He fulfilled all of the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. He is the Savior because He did the work that only God could do. He is the Savior because the Heavenly Father said He was. He is the Savior because He rose from the dead. The early church didn't have to make Him the Savior. The early church wanted to prevent others from trying to demote Him from being the Savior.
ANNOUNCER: I guess that says it all.
KLAUS: It does.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Klaus. And with that we come to the end of our broadcast for another week. We thank you, the listener, 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
“O Jesus Christ, Thy Manger Is” by Paul Gerhardt and Ken Kosche. Used by permission
“O Jesus, So Sweet” arranged by Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
“The King Shall Come” by Charles Ore. From From My Perspective, vol. 2 by Charles Ore (© 1995 Organ Works Corporation)
“Fuga sopra il Magnificat” by J.S. Bach. From Organ Music for the Church Year, vol. 1 (© 1995 Japan Lutheran Hour)