Presented on The Lutheran Hour on August 27, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
(Q&A Topic:More like Jesus?)
Copyright 2017 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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This week on Action in Ministry Q&A MP3
Text: 1 Corinthians 15:14-19
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Dear Lord we live in an age when proud people judge You and decide You are worth absolutely nothing. Send Your Holy Spirit so all may see the great miracle of grace, which has come in the Savior, who can transform a life, a world, and an eternity for the better. Grant this, Lord, to us all. Amen.
When I was a junior in high school, my grandfather passed away leaving my father as the executor of his estate. I remember seeing my father bringing out a medium-sized black box. Inside were all kinds of important looking documents. There were birth, marriage, and death records from Germany. There were citizenship papers and records from military service. The greatest number of papers in that box was stock certificates from various companies. The one thing those stocks had in common was this: they had been issued before the stock market crash of 1929.
With the assistance of a lawyer friend, my father began to check out the companies named on the certificates. It took him months. Eventually, the work was done. My father showed me two piles of paper. The first pile, if it could be called that, held only one large official sheet. That stock was from a company that had survived and was still in business. It was worth a little over $200. The second pile was a few inches high. I can recall my father resting his hand on that pile and saying, "These stocks were once worth thousands. They were all issued by companies, which have since failed. They are worth absolutely nothing." With those words, he picked them up and threw them into the trash. That was the first time I heard the words "worth absolutely nothing." It has not been the last.
The most recent hearing came when I went to see how my competition was doing. Seeing the competition is what took me to a college lecture about a month and a half ago. Over the years, the guest speakers make a marketable name for themselves by attacking the Lord in His church. To be honest, speaking to a mostly supportive crowd, his attacks on Christianity were couched in words that were both polite and gentile. I was surprised to see him take credit for some criticisms on Christianity that are as old as the hills.
For example, he asked his college crowd, "If God is all powerful, can He make something so large and heavy He can't move it?" You know and I know it's impossible to take the infinite Lord and try to define or judge Him with the limited logic of a finite human brain. Of course, when pressed, the believer can answer that question, "Yes, the Lord can make something so large He can't move it, and then He will move it." The presenter was almost euphoric as he trotted out and was applauded for one critique of Christianity after another. He and his audience never realized every argument he made against the faith had been successfully countered in the first century after Christ. Quite falsely feeling he had won the day, our lecturer ended up his presentation by saying, "So, you see, there is absolutely nothing in Christianity to recommend itself to the modern mind."
Since that lecture, I have mulled over those two words "absolutely nothing." You know, usually when you hear those words absolutely nothing, it's a pretty depressing thing. I remember that pile of my grandfather's worthless stocks, and I thought of other examples.
Here's one: if the final minutes run out on an athletic competition and your team has scored absolutely nothing, it's a pretty sad and embarrassing situation. When the bank calls you up and says you have absolutely nothing left in your checking account, and they ask, "What are you going to do about it?" you'd better start scrambling to repair the damage. When a spouse turns to a mate and says, "There is absolutely nothing of our love left," those words are signaling the end of what was once a beautiful relationship. Absolutely nothing. How far would you parents go before you would admit to your children this Christmas there's going to be absolutely nothing under the tree? When the doctors examine your sick child and with a quiet voice confess to you, "We've done our best. There's absolutely nothing more that we can do," you will feel helpless, heartbroken, and overwhelmed by a mixture of desperate emotions. Absolutely nothing.
Under normal circumstances, if the examples I have just listed can be called "normal circumstances," the words absolutely nothing are discouraging, disappointing, depressing, and daunting, but if that college lecturer is right and there is absolutely nothing in Christianity for today's souls, then the ramifications for believers are devastating.
Approximately 2,000 years ago, the apostle Paul tried to describe those implications when he wrote, "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Jesus have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are, of all people most to be pitied."
Paul is stating the obvious. If the Christian church has nothing to offer, then we might as well shut our doors, sell off the property, and tell preachers and priests to get a real job. If Christianity has absolutely nothing to offer, we might as well forget the charities, the hospitals, the food shelves, the relief ministries, and live our lives as if it's every man for himself. If Christianity has absolutely nothing to offer, let's bring home the missionaries and shut down the printing presses. If the faith has nothing to offer, then everything the faith has said about abortion, about citizenship, about euthanasia, about sexuality, and family can be forgotten. Whoever searched the Bible for direction, guidance, comfort, hope, and forgiveness, you need to look elsewhere. If the living Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit have ever comforted you after the death of a loved one, then I'm sorry; we were wrong. If Christianity is absolutely worthless, there is no forgiveness; there is no salvation; there is no reunion in heaven, and nobody is going to wipe the tears from the face of anybody else. That is what would happen if the crucified and risen Redeemer had absolutely nothing to offer.
In that last line I can almost hear that college lecturer giggle, clap his hands, and say, "That's it. That's it. The Christians are to be pitied because they have absolutely nothing to believe in." Then, after a few days of mulling this over I thought-the man is absolutely right. As a believer, I have absolutely nothing to believe in. Yes, you heard that right. I have absolutely nothing to believe in. Please, allow to me to explain.
Nowadays, most believers and unbelievers who have studied history agree that there was a man by the name of Jesus who was crucified under the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate. Most don't have any difficulty with the events after Jesus' death.
Here's what the evangelist Matthew wrote: "The chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and, referring to Jesus they said, 'Sir, we remember how that imposter said while He was still alive, 'After three days I will rise.' Therefore, order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples go and steal Him away and tell the people, 'He's risen from the dead.' The last fraud will be worse than the first.' Pilate said to them, 'You have a guard of soldiers go, make it as secure as you can.' So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard."
Those Jewish leaders knew Jesus had promised that He would rise from the dead. They also knew that if the Christ's body disappeared things could get a bit dicey for them. People might believe on Him. They might trust Him. They might even claim He was the promised Messiah. To prevent that, these civic leaders asked for and received the Roman ruler's permission to lock down Jesus' grave. A great stone at the entrance of the grave made it difficult for Jesus' body to be stolen. The guards outside the tomb made any attempt a suicide mission.
A guarded and inaccessible tomb is what the women should have found that Sunday dawn when they went to finish preparing Jesus' body for His final rest. As they progressed to that borrowed grave, they would have had absolutely nothing to comfort them. Their Rabbi, their Friend, their Teacher was dead. Yes, He had talked about repentance, forgiveness, and salvation, but that kind of talk had ended on Friday's cross when a Roman spear had ripped into His heart. They had heard Jesus say "It is finished." They had watched when He breathed His last. All that was left for this sorry funeral procession is for them to pay their final respects to the memories, the hopes, and the dreams of what once had been. Yes, that's the way it should have been. Now, let me tell you the way it really was.
Sometime before the women's arrival, an angel from heaven came down to earth. Fear of his presence threw the armed guards to the ground after which they ran away to report to their bosses. Shortly after, the women arrived and were taken aback to see an angel sitting on the stone. Knowing what was in their hearts, the angel began: "Do not be afraid for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here for He has risen as He said. Come, see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples that He is also risen from the dead."
For the first time that Resurrection Sunday, people poked their heads into Jesus' borrowed tomb. Not long after, two disciples, Peter and John, also ran to Jesus' grave to see if there was any truth to what the ladies had told them. John waited at the entrance to the grave, but Peter raced right on in. John soon joined the big fishermen, and together they looked at-well, there's no other way to say it-they looked at absolutely nothing. Oh sure, the embalming cloths, which had wrapped Jesus' body and face were still there. Yes, they were there, but Jesus was gone. If there had been a traffic cop there that day, he probably would have said, "Move along. Move along. There's absolutely nothing here to see." That cop would have been right. On Resurrection Sunday there was absolutely nothing to see.
You see, when that college lecturer said, "Christianity has absolutely nothing to recommend itself to the modern man," he was far more correct than he could've imagined. The faith of today's Christian-like the faith of every believer of the past and the future-is based on the absolute nothingness of that borrowed sepulcher.
At the beginning of this message, I spoke of how when somebody uses the term "absolutely nothing," it usually means bad news. That's usually, but not always, the case. In World War II, a B-17 was sent on a bombing run over Germany. As was often the case on these missions, the aircraft ran into flack and anti-aircraft fire. On this particular occasion, the bomber's gas tanks were hit, but the plane didn't go up in a fireball. Leaking fuel, the bomber limped back to home base and landed. Since 20-millimeter shells in their gas tank always bring a plane down, they knew they had experienced a miracle. Indeed, so strong was that feeling that the plane's pilot, an officer named Bon Fawkes, went down and asked if his ground crew chief might be able to give him that shell as a souvenir of their amazing good fortune.
The crew chief gave a chuckle and told the captain he didn't know the half of it. Chief went on to explain that not one shell, but eleven, had ripped into the plane's gas tanks. The odds of eleven unexploded shells strained at the realm of believability. Astonished, Bon repeated his request and asked for one of the shells to be kept as a memento of his plane's escape. He was told all of the shells had been sent to the armorers to be diffused. Went he went to the armorers, they told him the shells had been confiscated by intelligence. Feeling himself every bit the detective, Bon followed up with inquiries-inquiries which eventually produced an answer.
When the armorers opened each of those shells they were found to be empty, devoid of any explosive, clean as a whistle and just as harmless. All the shells were empty except for one. That one shell contained a carefully rolled piece of paper with a note scrawled in Czech by a concentration camp worker. The note said, "This is all we can do for you now." You see, these shells with absolutely nothing in them proved that absolutely nothing can also describe a good thing.
It's true, you know. After you undergo a long and uncomfortable battery of tests and the doctor sums up those tests by saying, "We found absolutely nothing wrong," you were going to be mighty happy. When your child's teacher calls you in for a special visit and she begins, "There's absolutely nothing wrong with your child. In fact, I asked you in so I could tell you what a delightful child he or she is," you'll pop your buttons. When you check out your credit score and find there's absolutely nothing out of order, you are pleased. These things are all good news, but there is absolutely no news which is better than the news which says, "There was absolutely nothing and no body to be seen in Jesus' tomb."
Consider what that means. Because there was absolutely nothing to see in Jesus' tomb, we know that Jesus was not just another guru with wise teachings. He was, and is, God Himself, who came to earth to save us. Because there was absolutely nothing to see in Jesus' tomb, we know that all of our mistakes, screw-ups, and sins have been paid for and are removed. Every sin, both big and small, have been paid for by Christ's death on the cross and His victory over the grave. Because there is absolutely nothing to see in Jesus' empty tomb, those who been given faith know that the grave will not be their final and ultimate end.
Certainly, the unknown day is coming when the risen Redeemer will return to judge the world. On that day, our graves will be emptied, and we will spend eternity in heaven with a Triune God and all those who have been found in the faith. Because there is absolutely nothing to see in Jesus' empty tomb, our relationship with God, which was once broken and shattered, is now restored. Because there was absolutely nothing to see in Jesus' empty tomb, our lives are changed. True, our days may be completely empty of the things the world says are important, but because Jesus has left the tomb, we are not empty. We may not have wealth. We may not have loved ones around. We may not have health or popularity, but we are still full of the grace and love of God, given by the One who gave everything to redeem us.
You see, my friends, the thoughts of that college lecturer were wrong, but his words were right. Believers cling to the salvation which comes from Jesus' grave that had absolutely nothing in it. If that's a nothing you'd like to hear more about, please call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.
Action in Ministry for August 27, 2017
Guest: Rev. Ken Klaus
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. This is Action in Ministry, your call to action in response to all that God has done for you in Jesus Christ.
Greg Seltz: Mark, in honor of Archives August, Pastor Klaus joins us for Action in Ministry today. Listen, we're familiar with his sermons as guest Speaker here on The Lutheran Hour, but Pastor Klaus keeps us busy the rest of the month as well.
Mark Eischer: Today we're going to learn more about his involvement with our Daily Devotions. Pastor Klaus, it's always a blessing to have you with us here in the studio.
Ken Klaus: Dr. Seltz, Mr. Eischer, it is my pleasure.
Mark Eischer: Since 2007 Lutheran Hour Ministries has been sending out a free Daily Devotion to email subscribers. Currently, these devotions are read or heard about 135,000 times each week all around the world. How are you involved with these devotions?
Ken Klaus: I like that figure: 135,000 times. I like it, but I'm afraid it is a bit inaccurate. The 135,000 are the number of people we can count here. We don't have the ability to add in the number of times it is shared. I know of a number of churches which take those devotions and send them to all of their college students and people in the military. I know of military and prison chaplains who put them out in their offices and distribute them after services. People use them in family devotions, send them to folks for whom their especially applicable. Our denomination, The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, even has them on its web homepage.
But you asked how I'm involved. I write and record five devotions a week. I review and record for publication the sixth devotion, which comes from one of our international offices. The week is filled out by the seventh devotion, which is written by Dr. Seltz.
Dr. Seltz: Yeah, and I'm so pleased to be a part of the team, but all of you who've listened or heard those devotions, you know that Pastor Klaus has a knack for writing them in a clever way. Here's my question: how do you come up with all those ideas for these devotions?
Ken Klaus: In September of 1923 Will Rodgers wrote an article, which appeared in The New York Times. In that article he said, "All I know is what I read in the papers." I don't claim to have the abilities that great humorist had, but I agree. As long as the papers, TV, and radio stations carry the news, there's going to be something poignant, humorous, tragic, or spiritual to serve as the basis of a devotion. In short, the Lord's Word, written thousands of years ago, still has application to today.
Mark Eischer: Not only is this an opportunity for you to get a message out to others, people also relate back to you. For example, you received an email from a mother who'd lost her son to a drug overdose. She told you how your words made such a tremendous impact on her life.
Ken Klaus: When I write these devotions I have a specific type of reader in mind, a specific lesson I think that devotion ought to convey. That's what I think. I've been amazed at how the Lord has taken my thinking, set it up on the shelf so it's out of the way, and used that devotion to touch people in ways I never could have imagined. Because these are sent out for free via email, people have an immediate way to respond and share how the message touched them and, sometimes, how I missed the boat.
Dr. Seltz: Other notes you've received from readers tell how the Daily Devotions are a resource for them to share with others. Talk about that, too.
Ken Klaus: Dr. Seltz, I've noticed that most Christians have someone or a number of someones whom the Lord has placed on their hearts. These someones may be friends, family members, children-just about anybody. Often our Christians want to speak to these people about something in their lives; they don't know how to start or what to say. They most definitely don't want to lose someone who is precious to them.
More often than not, these devotions touch upon those relationships. Regularly I will have someone write to me and say, "When I read the devotion I immediately knew I had to share it with_____," and then they give me a name. More often than not, they told me how they read the devotion together, and it served as a launch pad for a meaningful conversation and a resolution of the difficulty.
Mark Eischer: How important is it that these are daily devotions?
Ken Klaus: Every day each of us encounters problems. Every day the devil gives us temptations. Every day the world sends us road blocks. Occurs to me that it's only fair the Lord gets a few minutes every day to help us put things back into proper perspective.
Mark Eischer: Listeners, you can subscribe to receive these Daily Devotions. It's a FREE resource that's available in both text and audio. I'll give you that information in just a moment.
Greg Seltz: Pastor Klaus, it's always good to have you with us. Thank you for sharing your heart and your godly wisdom with listeners and readers around the world.
Ken Klaus: Thank you.
Greg Seltz: That's our Action in Ministry segment today, to bless, to empower, and to strengthen your life in Christ, for others.
Mark Eischer: To read, hear, or subscribe to Pastor Ken Klaus' Daily Devotions, go to lutheranhour.org, click on Action in Ministry, or call 1-855-JOHN316. That's 1-855-564-6316. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for August 27, 2017
Topic: More like Jesus?
Mr. Eischer: A listener thinks we should be more like Jesus, but what does that mean? That's our topic today for our Speaker emeritus Pastor Ken Klaus. I'm Mark Eischer.
Ken Klaus: Hello Mark, and hello to all our listeners.
Mr. Eischer: Today, we hear from a listener who describes herself as a "lifelong Christian," but more and more she has problems saying that.
Ken Klaus: Why would that be?
Mr. Eischer: She's embarrassed by the way some Christians behave and by the way they treat others. For example, there was a story on the news about how the police had to be called to a church voters meeting to break up a fight between church members.
Ken Klaus: That is embarrassing.
Mr. Eischer: But mostly, she's upset because she thinks her congregation and others do a lot of judging. They judge other congregations that do things differently. They judge the pastor. The pastor judges the parishioners. She says, "Why can't our churches just be more like Jesus?"
Ken Klaus: What would that entail in her view?
Mr. Eischer: She says the Savior she knows promoted tolerance, and He accepted everybody.
Ken Klaus: We need to look at whether the Savior she knows is the same Savior we meet in the pages of Scripture.
Mr. Eischer: But I think she's on the money when she talks about people who have left the church because of the way they were treated by Christians.
Ken Klaus: I think we have to start at the beginning. Why can't we be more like Jesus? I can point out that Jesus, being God's Son, was perfect. We, being children of Adam, are not, but that begs the question. If we want to be like Jesus, maybe we should first see who Jesus is. Mark, what were some of the Savior's qualities she wants us to emulate?
Mr. Eischer: High on her list would be the attributes of being loving and non-judgmental toward sinners.
Ken Klaus: That would be a good starting point. Maybe it's possible to be both loving and judgmental regarding sin. Mark, do you remember what Jesus said to the woman who had been caught in adultery?
Mr. Eischer: First, He told her accusers that whoever among them was without sin could cast the first stone. One by one, they all slunk away. Then Jesus said, He didn't condemn her, He said, "Go, and from now on, sin no more."
Ken Klaus: He did consider her adultery to be a sin and not just a lifestyle choice.
Mr. Eischer: It would seem that way.
Ken Klaus: How about the Samaritan woman at the well as she said she didn't have a husband.
Mr. Eischer: Jesus didn't let that stand either. He pointed out to her that she'd had five husbands, and the one with whom she was now living wasn't even married to her.
Ken Klaus: Mark, there is no doubt Jesus loves sinners. His whole life was spent saving them, but His entire ministry was also spent in calling them out and away from their sin. Many people overlook Revelation 3:19 where Jesus said, "As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be committed and repent."
Mr. Eischer: Jesus also referred to Himself as "the physician who had come to bring healing." That suggests we have something wrong with us, something that needed healing or correction.
Ken Klaus: Was Jesus accepting of people's sins? Matthew would say no. Matthew would say no because he was able to sum up Jesus' ministry when he wrote, "From that time, Jesus began to preach saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'" Right before Jesus ascended into heaven He said repentance and forgiveness of sins would be preached in His Name to all the nations.
Mr. Eischer: Earlier, Jesus said He had come, not to bring peace, but a sword. His Word would bring division and a man's enemies would be the members of his own family. How is this reflected in the teaching of the early church?
Ken Klaus: The non-acceptance of sin has been part of the church from the beginning. That's why James wrote, "Whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins."
Mr. Eischer: True love tries to lovingly correct sin and doesn't just accept it or call it something else.
Ken Klaus: A parent doesn't show love to his child if he lets that child play in the busy street or drink from any bottle of chemicals she finds under the kitchen sink. A parent shows love by warning their children of danger and explaining to them the error of their ways.
Mr. Eischer: How would you sum this up for us today?
Ken Klaus: Our listener started out by saying we need to be more like Jesus. I agree. We need to be more like Jesus in calling people out of sin's darkness and into the Lord's marvelous light of repentance, forgiveness, and salvation-but to do so out of love of and concern for them.
Mr. Eischer: Thank you Pastor Klaus. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Built on the Rock the Church Shall Stand" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)