Presented on The Lutheran Hour on March 11, 2018
By Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: John 3:19-21
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Dear Lord, this day we pray for all those who do not acknowledge the Redeemer as their own. For them we ask an extra measure of the Holy Spirit so they may be moved to follow Jesus Christ who is the Light of the world. Grant this Lord, unto them all. Amen.
The Bastille was built like a castle so it could help Paris defend herself against invading English armies. Over the years, the purpose of the Bastille was changed. Rather than defending the city from the British, it defended the aristocracy against all the common citizens who wanted to do away with the royal ruling class and set up an American type of democracy. Locked away in the underground dungeons, political activists were rendered incapable and ineffective, since they weren't able to reach out to, or influence, the masses. Without their leaders, the masses became more complacent and easier for the monarchy to control.
Understandably, this new use of the Bastille didn't sit very well with the general populace. Indeed, the Bastille quickly became a symbol of royal corruption and injustice, a prime target of the Revolution. That explains why, on July 14, 1789, the people made a move toward freedom and attacked the fortress-prison. The revolutionaries' primary goal was to commandeer the great supply of gunpowder which was stored there, and their second objective was to free any and all remaining political prisoners. Searching through the cells, the crowd liberated seven men. One of those men who was set free was a now-forgotten fellow who, many years earlier, had been confined to a dark, dank cell. The joyful crowd shouted and danced as they escorted him out of the prison's darkness and reintroduced him to the blue skies of freedom.
The liberators stopped dancing and shouting when the man let out a howl of pain. Opening his eyes for the first time in the sunlight in years, seeing God's beautiful world was, for him, a painful experience. Things were simply too bright. Yes, the man tried to look. He really did, but the brightness was too much for him. His eyes were accustomed to the years of darkness, and now his only desire was to be taken back to that unrelenting shadows where he could finish out his days in the gloom. More than anyone else, I think that poor soul from centuries ago serves as the poster boy for our world, where people regularly express their preference for sin's darkness over the blessed, brilliant life won for them by the Savior.
There was once a man who, for some time, had been suffering from various illnesses. Over the decades, he had spent fortunes going to see countless doctors who had performed countless tests on him and prescribed countless, ineffective prescriptions. In spite of all the doctors had tried to do, the man's overall condition never really improved. After he had run through an exhaustive list of physicians, he went to the internet and began to experiment with home remedies which had brought about some level of healing in others. The man drank gallons of herbal tea and took mega-doses of vitamins along with his prescriptions. Once again, there was no change in his condition.
Then, one day, out of the blue, on his commuter train he overheard two strangers talking about an MD who was supposed to be an outstanding diagnostician. Hundreds of people reported that this doctor could cure diseases which had bewildered and bamboozled others. The man's hands actually shook when, later that day, he called that doctor and made an appointment with her. "At last," he said to himself, "I will be given a cure for all that ails."
The day of the appointment came. The physician was patient and she was thorough. Nobody could say she wasn't thorough. Then, after the doctor had completely examined the man and had reviewed his tests, she sat down with him and began sharing her diagnosis. She said, "My friend, you are quite right. You are not a healthy individual." Outside, our fellow nodded his head in understanding, but inside, he was saying, "Yes! I knew it." The doctor continued, "But, if you will follow my advice, you will be well again. What you need to do is this: first, lose about 60 pounds; second, get involved in a regular program of exercise, and third, eat more grains, fruits, and vegetables. Lastly, go through your medicine chest and throw out your prescriptions. You don't need them."
When the man heard his review, he was indignant. He suggested that the doctor might need to look again, that she might be able to prescribe some new medication, possibly some experimental drug not yet on the market; some kind of prescription which might cure all that ailed him. Anticipating these objections, the doctor smiled patiently and repeated her advice. "You don't need to change prescriptions," she insisted. "You need to change you and your lifestyle." The man muttered a curse, got up and stomped out of the office. For the rest of his sickly life, he hated her and told everyone he could that she was an imposter, a charlatan who didn't deserve to be called a "doctor."
You do see what happened, don't you? The doctor had tried to bring the man into the light, but the man preferred the darkness. The darkness was easier, the darkness was what he was used to; the darkness was more comfortable. Translating that into the spiritual realm, the apostle John said, "The light has come into the world, but many people love the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed."
Once there was a woman who was in serious trouble with the law. Her gambling had left her with a considerable-and unpayable-debt. Feeling she had no other alternative, she embezzled some money from the place where she worked. She was a worse thief than she was a gambler. The company soon found out what she had done, and they pressed charges against her. Looking for a way to calm her inner turmoil, she began to drink. It was one more thing she wasn't good at. Within two months she was arrested several times for driving under the influence. Her most recent arrest occurred when she was involved in an accident during which a passenger in another car had died. Beside herself with worry, she didn't know where to turn. Then a friend told her of an outstanding defense attorney. From all reports, this fellow was a real Perry Mason, in that he seldom lost a case. She called him immediately, and he agreed to see her. She was delighted and relieved. "At last," she said to herself, "I have a lawyer who will get all these charges dropped. Then I'll be able to get on with my life."
But when she saw the attorney and explained her situation to him, he shook his head and said, "What you did was wrong, and you will probably spend some time in prison. After you are released, you will need to get into an ongoing program of recovery from alcohol abuse. You will also need to get a steady job and repay the company the money you stole. If you will do this, you may be able to put your life back together again."
The woman was outraged at the attorney. "I don't need you to give me a lecture," she snapped. "I need you to defend me against these charges and get them dropped. Whether I drink or not is my business, not yours!" And with that she dismissed him and began a letter-writing campaign to have him disbarred for refusing to help a client. In the meantime, she resumed her search for an attorney who would do for her what she wanted.
This lady's story is a repeat of the first. Yes, the problems are different, and she is hurting others and not just herself, but the attorney, like the MD in our other story, had tried to bring her into the light. He tried, but she preferred the darkness. The darkness was easier. The darkness was what she was used to; it was more comfortable. If the woman had bothered to read the third chapter of John's Gospel, she might have felt he was talking to her when he wrote: "For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed." Since the fall into sin, the Lord has been trying to get humanity back into the light, and since that fall, humankind has procrastinated and postponed; we have wavered, faltered, dithered, and hesitated. We consider, we calculate, we evaluate, we assess and appraise, and then, all too often, we go back to the dark.
That's the way it once was for a small, deeply troubled nation. For centuries, the people had been oppressed by foreign armies who controlled and dominated. Many of the citizens of this nation had become cynical about life, and as a result they cheated their own friends and neighbors in the marketplace. It was a dog-eat-dog society. There was no peace, no prosperity, no integrity in the land. Reform movements arose from time to time, but they soon failed for lack of support. But then there appeared a tiny ray of light in the midst of the darkness. Little by little, people began to read the Scriptures and identify those passages which spoke of a Messiah who would dispel the darkness and fix that which was wrong. He would bring freedom, hope, peace, and prosperity.
It was a great dream, and many individuals came forward, claiming the title of "Messiah" for themselves. Yes, they claimed the title, but somehow, they never were able to keep the title. They and their followers usually ended up losing their lives, and the people, the people became frustrated and discouraged. But then, something changed. Word-of-mouth stories began to circulate about the Son of a carpenter from Nazareth. People said He was special because He did things which just couldn't be done. What kind of things? Things like the blind received their sight; the lame were able to walk; lepers were cleansed; the deaf could hear; the dead were being raised up, and the poor were hearing God's Good News.
If what the Man did was incredible, what He said was no less so. Great crowds came to hear Him, and they were spellbound by His words. All who listened realized this Man spoke with authority and not like others who claimed wisdom, but just didn't have it. Soon enough the overawed people started asking, "Is it possible that this fellow is John the Baptist, or Elijah, or Jeremiah? A select few even were given the wisdom to know this Man was "the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world."
Most people chose to remake this Man into that which they most wanted Him to be. The thousands whom He had fed with a few loaves and fishes saw Him as the provider of a free and never-ending banquet; those who had been healed imagined a nation where He would make pain a thing of the past; still others were ready to run the risk of Rome's anger and make Him a king. Little wonder that when He entered the city of Jerusalem, the crowds welcomed Him and cheered His arrival. Their shouts reflected the hope in their hearts. They called out, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!" That day it seemed to almost everyone that a new day had dawned and light was shining in the darkness.
After the great Palm Sunday parade the people waited to see what this incredible Man would do next. They must have been disappointed. He didn't feed thousands; He didn't heal all those who were sick. He didn't give moving speeches to rouse the people to revolution. He did keep busy that week, but He didn't do anything which made people feel He was deserving of all their support and enthusiasm. By the time Friday came, His light had dimmed and the people were ready to listen to the temple priests who said He should die. They called for His crucifixion, and the Roman procurator allowed that-although the Man was innocent-His death would probably be for the best. "After all," Pilate might have asked himself, "100, 1,000, 2,000 years from now, who will ever remember the death of Jesus of Nazareth?" And so it was, Jesus the Son of God, the Light of the world, was nailed to a Roman cross, and He died.
The world has a bad history of murdering messiahs who don't meet their expectations. You see, when it comes to having a Messiah, the world prefers to have a slave it can command rather than a Savior it must worship. It most definitely does not want a Savior who calls them from sin's dark shadows into the Lord's marvelous light. You see, the world doesn't want a Messiah who will be a bright and brilliant light that shows our sins to be an ugly, rebellious rejection of God.
Today it is fashionable to think of Jesus as being a rather "dim bulb" who never judges anyone, but always accepts sinners just the way they are. If you look at Jesus and see Him as that kind of Savior, then you need to look again; you need to listen to Him again. Your belief is contrary to Scripture's facts. In Luke 5, toward the beginning of Jesus' ministry, He says He had come to call "sinners to repentance." Matthew's Gospel shares how Jesus told people they should "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!" At the end of His ministry, the Christ was equally clear when He commanded "that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His Name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem."
Wherever Jesus went, He was the Light who showed sinners the way to forgiveness, hope, and heaven. Read and you will see those whose lives were transformed by the light. We just spoke of Matthew, the publican turned to evangelist. There was the many-times married Samaritan woman at the well, the Gerasene demoniac, the Samaritan leper. The list of those who were saved is not a short one; but that list is nowhere near as long as the Lord wishes. Which is why the Holy Spirit is still out there calling people to faith. It is why this broadcast has gone out over the airwaves for over 85 years. Eight and a half decades with only one message: Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, and He is your Savior, too. He is the only One who can forgive, the only One who can bring light to our sin-darkened lives.
Many years ago, while I was studying for the ministry, I worked nights at a halfway house for alcoholics. Watching these folks battle alcohol was sometimes inspiring, occasionally saddening, and always educational. One of the first things I learned was that the physical addiction to the bottle was not the hardest fight these folks had; it was not the battle they feared the most. That which scared them more than anything else was the fear they would go back-that they would return to their friends, their familiar haunts, their old habits. They had all seen the light and they all wanted a new life, but they were terrified of that one old pal who would offer to buy them a drink and pull them back into the darkness. To help them, to give them time to make new friends and develop new routines is why I was there. To give you a new life in the light, a life in this world which is bright with hope and a life in the perfection of the next world is why Jesus is here.
The work of bringing people out of darkness did not end when Jesus rose from the grave or even when He ascended. It continues on, even now. This is why I am obligated to say if you are tired of the dark, and the Lord is calling you to a new life in the light, we are ready to help you. All you need to do is call us at The Lutheran Hour
Reflections for MARCH 11, 2018
Title: CONDEMNED ALREADY
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. That was Pastor Ken Klaus. Joining me
here in the studio now is Dr. Dale Meyer. Dr. Meyer, let's talk about one of those last things Pastor Klaus said just now.
Dale Meyer: He said, "If you are tired of the dark," and that struck me, and it gives us a clue of the strange way that God works to bring us closer to himself.
Mark Eischer: How does He do that?
Dale Meyer: Generally speaking, God lets people do whatever they want to do. He does not strong-arm us into obeying His commandments or walking in His ways. That's taught in Romans chapter 1, verse 26, where St. Paul says, "God gave them up to dishonorable passions." In other words, God lets people do what they want to do, and pursue their own selfish way.
That reminds me of a story from years ago when I worked here full-time, when I was the Speaker of The Lutheran Hour. A woman called in who was concerned about a young single mother that she knew. This young single mother had two children, and a very social life. Now, any parent knows that you can't be a parent, even a single parent, with two small kids and have an active social life, or you shouldn't. But when she was going to have a date with a boyfriend, she gave these two kids Nyquil, drugged them up, put them into bed, and then, she went off with her boyfriend, for whatever. So, the concerned caller said, "What can I do?"
The answer is, well, you can talk to her. You might want to have someone set up an intervention but, ultimately, this woman can do whatever she wants to do, and we know it's only going to get worse. But that's what it says in Romans 1:26, "God gave them up to dishonorable passions." He lets sinners do what sinners want to do.
Mark Eischer: What would His purpose be in that, though? Why does He let that happen?
Dale Meyer: The answer is that when we eventually come to the end of ourselves, when we see that, hey, there's no way out, then we look for someone to deliver us. That's why I liked Pastor Klaus saying, "If you are tired of the dark." He used two illustrations: one was about a man who became indignant when the doctor said he had to change the way he was living. The other illustration was about a woman who got angry with her lawyer who told her she would go to jail.
There's a deep religious truth in those stories of anger. We get angry when we are threatened, or when something we hold dear is threatened. When that happens, anger wells up in us. In both those illustrations, the anger revealed that the person, the one who visited the doctor, the other one who visited the lawyer, those people thought that they were above reproach. In other words, they were their own gods. I will do whatever I, my own little god, decides to do, and God let them go their own way. It's a First Commandment issue.
Sooner or later, that tires you out, and you find out that "I have no way out." God lets us go living that way, but sooner or later you come to a dead end and you say, "Man, I need a Savior."
Mark Eischer: It's like people who might be addicted to drugs or alcohol. They might end up saying, "I'm sick, and I'm tired of being sick and tired." That's kind of what you're saying here.
Dale Meyer: Precisely, Mark. In Galatians 3:24, the Bible says, "The Law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith." The Law. That is all the "Thou shalts" and the "Thou shalt nots" in the Bible. They show us that, of ourselves, we have no future, except to bottom out, sometimes physically, sometimes in our understanding that we have no way out. That's the language of addiction.
That's why life is so hard. We're sinners, and repentance means we bottom out. We know that we need a deliverer. That's why St. Paul says, "The Law is a guardian." We live under the Law and its terrible effects until we come to salvation through faith in Jesus.
Mark Eischer: Does faith then eliminate our being tired?
Dale Meyer: Oh, I wish it did. Oh, I wish it did. You know, and some day it will when Jesus takes us to heaven, but the answer now is "No." What faith in Jesus does is to give us strength for the day, and then, hope for the future.
A passage many people know is at the end of Isaiah, chapter 40: "They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength." When you've come to the end of yourself, when you realize that you're at the bottom, not as able as you'd like to think, then turn yourself to God. Wait on Him. The promise is that in a way He only knows He will give you the strength you need. That strength comes from the word of Jesus, and that's the word we share on this broadcast. It's a word you read in your Bible, and as I get older, I find that that word actually does renew my strength when I'm tired out.
Mark Eischer: Do you still get tired?
Dale Meyer: I still get tired, more and more. You know, we get tired. Sometimes it's age. We certainly get tired by the effects of sin all around us, and it makes us yearn for the heavenly home. This is a beautiful thing, how God walks with us on the journey through life and toward eternity. I mean He lets us get tired. He lets us bottom out in our problems so that we will look to Him more and more for deliverance.
This is an interesting thing which we want to understand fully. The Bible describes salvation as something that is here and now. John 17 says, "This is life eternal, to know Thee and Jesus Christ whom Thou has sent." But the salvation is not yet fully realized, and that will happen when God takes us to heaven. So being tired of the dark is really filled with spiritual insights for our lives. Appreciate it when you're tired. Look to God.
Mark Eischer: Dr. Meyer, we might have listeners who are praying every day for someone they know, a loved one, that they might be turned to God. But when I hear you talk about people coming to the end of themselves, this might be a case of be careful what you pray for because you might be asking God to take that person down that road where they do come to the end of themselves.
Dale Meyer: Interesting. Just the other day, I got an email from a person in exactly this kind of situation: very worried, very concerned about a person dear to her. I wrote her back and I said, "This isn't your burden to fix. Give it to God and trust that in His own way He is going to be at work for this person's good."
There's an interesting passage, Mark 11:24, where Jesus is talking about prayer and He says when you pray, "believe that you have received it," and it will be done for you, believe that you have received it. Now that's not talking about you have to have enough faith to make it happen. It's not that. Jesus is saying when you take your petition to God, just trust that He's already acting on it and, in time, He'll let us in to see what He has done.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"God Loved the World So That He Gave" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)