Presented on The Lutheran Hour on September 7, 2014 By Rev. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour (Our Forgiving) Copyright 2014 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Matthew 16:24-26
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Unloved, unwanted, unheard, and misunderstood Jesus carried His cross of obedience which has won our salvation. His open tomb is salvation to all who believe and His invitation to carry His cross is the life of thanks to which He calls us. God grant we glorify Him by denying ourselves, picking up our crosses, and following Him. Amen.
It is a wonderful thing when you are washed of your sins and are given faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior. It is a wonderful thing because you know, from that moment on, Satan is no longer master of your fate and eternal death no longer is controlling your eternal destiny. It is a wonderful thing because, when you are saved by Jesus, your days are brighter and you have a peace which the world cannot give. When you are saved by Jesus, you feel a sense of success because you know the Savior will always remain at your side, helping you with whatever terrible tragedy this sinful world may send your way.
It is a wonderful thing to be saved by Jesus and today this broadcast offers you that wonderful thing. No matter what you have been in the past; no matter what horrible and hurtful things you might have done before, the Lord Jesus, with His nail-pierced hands is ready to welcome you to the transformation which He gladly offers and graciously gives.
Now you may feel, as many others before you have felt, that you are beyond the scope of Christ's invitation, excluded from His care and His capacity to love. If so, let me take you back 2,000 years to the city of Jerusalem and the day the first sermon proclaiming God's grace was preached to a sinful world. Imagine if you were a spectator in the crowd which was listening to the disciples preach. During a break in the message you see a man pushing his way through the crowd. He asks, "I was one of the court who, at Jesus' unjust trial, voted for Him to die. Can salvation be given to me?" To that Peter, or one of the others, would have replied, "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that if anyone believes on the Savior, he will be given eternal life. Yes, salvation is for you." Hearing that, another in the crowd is emboldened to speak. "Peter, do you think there is hope for me? I am the man who made that crown of thorns and jammed it down on Jesus' brow. Will He save me?" To that question, Peter would have said: "The Master, through the prophet Joel, taught us, 'whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.' You are part of 'whosoever'; Christ wishes to save you." From the back another man calls out to the Apostles, "I'm the man who struck the Savior and spit into His face, do you think He can save me?" "Yes," Peter would have said, "Jesus told us to go into the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. You are not left out; salvation is for you. Jesus came for the most terrible of sinners and, having forgiven them, takes them to heaven."
One after another troubled people would have come forward, each would have been burdened by things he had done wrong. One man might have elbowed through, looked Peter in the face and said, "I am the Roman soldier who took his spear and jammed it into Jesus' heart. Do you think there is salvation for me?" "Yes," says Peter, "your spear once touched Jesus' heart, but your unforgiven sins wound His heart even more. By the Holy Spirit's power repent of that sin and all others; believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior and be given eternal life." And when one person shouts out, "How can I be sure?" Peter would gently have said, "You can be sure, because I am sure. You see, Jesus forgave me for trying to talk Him out of coming to Jerusalem and dying. I know because He forgave me for falling asleep when He had asked me to pray. I know because He forgave me for running away the night He was arrested. I know because He has forgiven me for swearing that I never knew Him. I know because He forgave me for hiding behind locked doors rather than standing at the foot of the cross as He died. I know I am forgiven, because, after He rose from the dead, Jesus told me so."
My friends, if the Lord would have heard the cries of those who were so closely connected with the Christ's crucifixion and assured them that forgiveness was theirs, you can be confident He will forgive you. If He can forgive the murderous sin of the persecutor Paul and make Him a proclaimer of the Gospel, He will not be put off by that which you have done wrong. Jesus remains ready to forgive. The question is, 'Are you ready to be forgiven?" Believe me, believe the hundreds-of-millions who have been washed of their sins by the Savior. Believe me when I say, 'It is a wonderful day when you are saved.'
Having extended that invitation from the Savior, it is my prayer that some of you have been touched by the Lord and are ready to be brought into the family of faith. Yes, that is my prayer and my hope. If so, I encourage you to call us at the number which will be given before the end of this broadcast. Still, past experience has told me that there are many of you who would like to believe; who feel a tug, but who will let this day end with the status of your salvation unchanged. This day will end as it has begun; it will conclude with you watching, waiting, wondering, and unsaved. There are a number of reasons for that. One of those reasons was addressed by the Savior, Himself, when He said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."
Yes, a great many folks would think those words of Jesus are deal breakers. After all, who wants to deny himself? We live in a world where we've been told we deserve happiness; where we ought to have nothing but the best. Even more, we deserve these things twenty-four-hours-a-day; seven-days-a-week, 365-days-a-year. Indeed, if you listen to some of today's more popular preachers, you could easily come away with the idea that God's greatest concern is your savings account and not the saving of your soul.
And if the idea of denying yourself seems like something which ought to be avoided, you will be positive that the concept of picking up a cross and following Jesus is downright dangerous. Has it ever occurred to you to offer God a counter proposal? Maybe, just maybe, you might be willing to pick up a teeny-tiny cross. A teeny-tiny cross is something you could probably carry, especially if you could put it in your pocket or purse and forget about it. A teeny-tiny cross, maybe one which is gold or platinum-plated wouldn't upset your lifestyle so very much or disturb your sleep. A teeny-tiny non-obtrusive cross, perhaps with a bit of padding to prevent chaffing might be acceptable. Some people might consider carrying a cross which can be easily put down when the fancy strikes them.
The other day a parish pastor sent me a list of suggestions on what a church might do if they wanted to hold Sunday worship services which would appeal to the teeny-tiny-cross-people of the parish. His first idea was to have part of the parking lot be set aside for a driving range so folks could practice their golf swing before worship. He thought reclining chairs should replace the last six rows of pews so those who need Sunday for a day of rest might be comfortable. Clickers would be handed out at the door for those who like to keep track of the number of hypocrites who come to church; a stopwatch would be provided for those who time his sermon. Relatives would be imported to satisfy those who believe Sunday is for family and eye drops would be available from any usher for those who had stayed up too late watching TV on Saturday.
The pastor did draw the line at providing steel helmets for those who said, "The church will cave in if I ever came to worship." But the pastor did not think it excessive to offer blankets for those who said the church was too cold or fans for those who consider it too hot. The preacher said they already had hearing aids for those who think he speaks too softly; but they were now going to be offering cotton balls for those who think he's too loud. Shrubs and small trees were being set up near the altar for those who want to find the Lord in nature and his congregation now had a standing order at the local hot house to make sure the church would be decorated with Christmas poinsettias and Easter lilies to make the facility seem more familiar for those souls who had never been to church without those plants being in place. His final offering was to provide apps which will, at the appropriate time in the service, broadcast hymns to their smart phones in different music styles. He felt most would be pleased to know their hymns were being broadcast in jazz, blues, classical, country, folk, electronic, hip-hop, funk, Latin, reggae, new age, R&B, and heavy metal. "It is," he facetiously said, "a small price to pay for those folks who are committed to keeping their worship commitment small and their crosses unobtrusive."
Still, I wonder if that is what Jesus meant when He said, "If you want to follow me, you need to deny yourself and pick up your cross." Was He speaking about teeny-tiny crosses? The simple answer is, "No." The truth is, when God hands out crosses to His people, they are tremendous, not tiny; they are massive, not miniscule, they are inconvenient, inopportune, and uncomfortable. Understand, that's not just my opinion, that's what the Bible says and shows. You know the story of Noah and the flood. Noah preached to people for years. Nobody responded to his message. That was a cross. He built an ark which people must have found amusing. That was a cross. But the heaviest cross he had to carry must have come when he realized that everybody was going to die. The fellow who sold him pitch for the ark was going to die; the supplier of gopher wood was going to die. Everybody was going to die. Knowing that when you entered the ark and God shut the door, everybody not in that boat was condemned, that had to have been a heavy cross indeed.
The patriarch Abraham lived in a world where family and children were blessings. Yet, when God called Abraham, He said, "Leave your family." That was a cross. He and his wife didn't have any children. They carried that cross for a lot of years. Childlessness, that was a cross shared by Hannah, who finally became the mother of Samuel, and by Elizabeth, who eventually gave birth to John the Baptizer. Joseph was hated by his jealous brothers who sold him into slavery. That was a cross. Unjustly convicted of a crime he was forgotten and spent years in a prison. That was a cross. Moses was God's pick to lead the Children of Israel out of slavery and into the Promised Land. That was a good thing; but Moses spent 40 years listening to those folks worry, whine, and complain. That was a cross. For David to become King of God's people it was necessary for his best friend to die. The fact that both he and that friend knew what was coming had to be a cross.
Daniel did what God asked and got thrown to the lions; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did the same and ended up in a super-hot furnace. Those fellows carried some serious crosses. Understand, I haven't mentioned Job who lost all his possessions, all his children, and was left with a grumpy wife and some friends whose advice was consistently bad. Look at the Old Testament prophets. Not many could claim success in having their warnings acted upon. If you read through the pages of the Bible, you will find the Lord doesn't seem to know what a teeny-tiny cross is. All of the crosses He distributes out to His people seem to be both serious and severe. Of course, no cross can compare to that of the one He gave His own Son. No, I'm not speaking here of JUST the cross which Jesus carried to Calvary. I'm speaking about the greater cross of being born into a world which didn't want Him; the cross of escaping to Egypt when the babies left behind in Bethlehem were murdered. There was the cross of being rejected by His Boyhood home; the cross of being challenged by the pillars of His church; the cross of being rejected by His church leaders; the cross of being betrayed by a dear friend and deserted by those who had once pledged their loyalty.
Should I speak about the cross of being lied about at unjust trials; of being crowned with thorns; of having His back torn apart by the Roman whip, or the mockery of those He had come to save? Should I speak of the taunts thrown at Him by a thief who was dying by His side; or watching the heartbreak of the woman who had borne Him more than 30 years before? I dare not forget the cross of our sins which God's sinless Son carried to His death. My friend, you are just one of billions of people who are alive right now. Consider all of the wrongs you have done. All of them, even those secret sins which make you most uncomfortable and over which you are most ashamed. Although Jesus prayed the cup of suffering, the carrying of those sins to the cross, might pass from Him, His heavenly Father decreed it was necessary for His Son to die so we might be forgiven and live.
And so it came to pass, the nails were pounded into His hands and feet and His cross was put up along one of the roads leading into Jerusalem. Please understand, it was not the nails, but His love, which kept Him on that cross. And when Jesus died, so did the sins of humanity. When He rose on the third day, the doors of death were opened to all who would be given faith in Him as Savior. To have that happen Jesus had continued to carry His cross. That is why we should know when He said, "Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me," He wasn't joking and He wasn't talking about a teeny-tiny, gold-plated, portable, disposable cross. He was talking about a big, ugly beast of a cross.
You see, Jesus knew that some of the people who would follow Him; some of those who would be called "Christians" would have it hard. This year, in the Sudan, a pregnant woman was told by a judge that he would commute her death sentence if she would deny Jesus. She refused. This year, in North Korea, numerous Christians have been arrested for their faith. This year, in Nigeria, Christian girls have been kidnapped, raped, and sold into slavery because of their faith. This year, in North America, Christian college students have been berated, downgraded, and laughed at because they follow Jesus. In spite of suffering these all remained committed to carrying their crosses for Christ.
But our list is not yet complete. I know business men who have lost promotions because they carried their Christian cross; I know a young man who chose to walk away from his fiancée rather than the Christ. I know seniors who are living in poverty, still, they will not deny Christ so they can take advantage of tax laws which encourage people to live together rather than being married. Crosses. They will come... and some will carry them...not because they have to, but because they have seen the Savior's sacrifice and cannot imagine a life which does not thank Him for rescuing them from hell.
Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me. That is what Jesus asked of His people and there are some of you who are willing to humbly do as Jesus asked. If you are, you should know the world will not praise you or pat you on the back. But you will be doing as your Savior asks and He will take notice. He will take notice just as He did 20 centuries ago when a widow took up her cross, denied herself, and dropped two small coins, all she had, into the temple treasury. On the Temple's balance sheets those coins went unnoticed and were inconsequential. But Jesus noticed and He praised her faithfulness, just as He will praise all those who take up their crosses in thanks to Him who carried the greatest cross for them.
Take up your cross. In sharing this, I would not drive you away from your Savior... but I cannot spare you from the truth. Nor will I spare you from the knowledge that those who follow the Savior, no matter what the cost, will, for all eternity, be glad they did. This is the joy we have in Jesus.
If the Lord has made you ready for such a cross, and you are prepared to glorify Jesus who has saved you, I give thanks and extend this invitation: if you need to know more about Jesus and the joy which comes from knowing Him, I encourage you, please, call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for September 7, 2014 Topic: Our Forgiving
ANNOUNCER: And we are back once again with our Speaker Emeritus, Pastor Ken Klaus. I'm Mark Eischer.
KLAUS: And hello to you, Mark. I would assume you have another profound question for us today?
ANNOUNCER: I guess we'll see about that, it is a question that I think could resonate with many of our listeners. It comes to us from a man who is experiencing a family dispute.
KLAUS: Yeah, those are often dangerous.
ANNOUNCER: Possibly. He writes, "Our 23-year-old son has done some things against us which are scripturally wrong. He has sinned against us and done so repeatedly. My wife says we must forgive him, while I say he first needs to show some repentance before we extend the olive branch of forgiveness. My wife and I regularly listen to The Lutheran Hour; we'd appreciate what you folks have to say." So, Pastor, is an apology necessary before forgiveness can be offered?
KLAUS: I can answer that question two ways.
ANNOUNCER: And what are the two ways?
KLAUS: I would say the answers are: "No, it is not necessary" and "Yes, it is necessary."
ANNOUNCER: And would you please elaborate?
KLAUS: Glad to. First, the answer is, "No, it is not necessary for their son to repent before Mom and Dad can forgive." When Jesus hung on the cross and He looked down upon the people who had put Him there, what did He see?
ANNOUNCER: At the foot of the cross He could see some people who loved Him-He saw His family and friends. He also saw the Roman soldiers who were there to carry out the execution. And then He also heard and saw those people that were jeering and mocking Him.
KLAUS: And what did Jesus pray concerning these folks?
ANNOUNCER: He said, "Father forgive them, they don't know what they're doing."
KLAUS: Is there anything in any of the Gospels which indicates that those soldiers or the ones mocking Him all of a sudden had a change of heart? Did any of them show any signs of repentance?
ANNOUNCER: Except for the centurion who said, "Surely this was the Son of God," there's no sign of remorse or contrition.
KLAUS: Even so, Jesus forgave them all. All right, let's expand on that. When Jesus died, who did He die for?
ANNOUNCER: He died to take away the sins of everyone.
KLAUS: Not just those who had or would repent?
ANNOUNCER: No, the sins of every human being were carried to the cross and Jesus' blood has paid the price for those sins.
KLAUS: Okay. Since all our sins are forgiven, everybody will then go to heaven--is that right?
ANNOUNCER: Sadly, no, that's not right.
KLAUS: Sad, but true. In order for that general forgiveness which Jesus won to become my forgiveness, I need to be given a few things. I need to be given faith; I need to be given a repentant heart. On the day of Pentecost, after hearing the first Christian sermon ever preached, the people asked, "What must we do to be saved?" And Peter told them, Acts 2:38 "Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins."
ANNOUNCER: So, Jesus forgave those who crucified Him, but that forgiveness only becomes individually and specifically applicable when a person receives it in repentance and faith. Is that what I'm hearing you say?
KLAUS: Actually, that's what the Bible says. John the Baptizer had preached repentance and then forgiveness. Shortly before Jesus ascended into heaven He said in Luke 24:47, "repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem."
ANNOUNCER: Now, how would we apply all of this to this couple who's having this dispute with their son?
KLAUS: Well, we would say you should forgive the boy. Forgive him completely and totally. You offer this forgiveness so that you don't carry the burden of anger against him. Understand, Mark, forgiveness doesn't mean that they let themselves be put in a situation where he can continue to sin against them again and again. They can forgive but still act wisely in the future. Still, for their sakes they ought to forgive him.
ANNOUNCER: But that forgiveness will not be of much help to the son unless he repents. Do I have that right?
KLAUS: You have that right. The boy needs to recognize the errors of what he has done; he needs to come to his parents and say, "Mom, Dad, I'm sorry. I shall try to straighten out the past and not repeat this in the future." That would be repentance and could lead to restoration and reconciliation. May God grant that happen for Jesus' sake.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Klaus. And we thank our listener for that question and we thank you for making this program part of your day. We hope you'll join us again next time. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"God's Word Is Our Great Heritage" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
"When I Suffer Pains and Losses" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
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