Presented on The Lutheran Hour on February 1, 2015 By Rev. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour (Praying for and Against Your Enemies) Copyright 2015 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Mark 1:21-28
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Those familiar words, so easy on our ears, have changed the world, and by God's grace and the Holy Spirit's power, have redirected the eternity for all who believe on the Savior. Today we give thanks to the Lord for His Son, our Savior of power and peace. Lord, grant this complete Savior to us all. Amen.
As a writer, I have always admired the editors of Reader's Digest. I have always been impressed by the way they can take a giant book composed of a gazillion pages, single spaced, in real small print, and boil it down to a usable, carryable, readable size. The amazing thing is they manage to do this and still keep the personality of the characters, the style of the author, and the major plot lines recognizable and intact. Over the years I have encountered more than one person who, looking at the Bible, has wanted those Reader's Digest editors to reduce the plethora of pages, along with God's plan of salvation, into something they could easily and readily grasp.
If you have ever been one of those folks who wanted the condensed version of the salvation story, I have good news for you. You don't have to twist the arms of the Reader's Digest editors. The job of compressing the Bible has already been done and it has been accomplished by no less an individual than the Apostle Paul. It's true. In the first letter that he wrote to the Church at Corinth, in the 15th chapter (vs 3b-4a), he says, "in accordance with the Scriptures, Christ died, was buried, and was raised on the third day."
There you have it. Those words are, as the Apostle says elsewhere, of the first importance. If you hear nothing else about Jesus; if you know nothing else about the Savior, believe this: according to 1500 years of written prophecies, that is the promises of God which described and identified His Son, our Savior, Jesus was born into this world. He lived His life for us; He carried our sins for us; and He died for us. Then, and this is also according to prophecy, on the third day Jesus did something only our heaven-sent Substitute and Savior could do: He rose from the dead and He showed to all the world that His Sacrifice had been accepted. From that moment on, all who believe on the Christ as their Savior and Lord are forgiven of their sins, freed from Satan's power, and are promised an everlasting place in heaven.
Years before, at Jesus' birth, the angels had said they had good news of great joy for all people. At the open tomb of the Savior, for the first time, the world began to understand just how good that news was. Indeed, our being moved from damnation to salvation is such good news that, later on in that same chapter of 1st Corinthians, Paul seems almost giddy when he tells us that because of Jesus' work, "...Death is swallowed up in victory....The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
We have the victory because Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day. Those words are the doctrine upon which all of Christianity and our salvation stands or falls, flies or fails, lives or dies. "And the third day He rose again." Some people might say, and some have, that those words are a lie. They might maintain those words are a made-up myth or they are a figment of the disciple's over-active, grief-motivated imagination. But if anyone says those words, or the Savior they describe, are boring, then his opinion, and his thinking, are plain and simply wrong.
If that sounds judgmental, well, it is. My friends, read through the Gospels and take a look at Jesus' enemies. Listen carefully to the things they said about the Redeemer. Let me tell you what you will find. If you zero in on the people who hated our Lord; who persecuted and crucified Him; you will quickly see they never, that's never, accused Him of being boring. They said He was a Liar, a Samaritan, a Charlatan, and Devil-possessed; they branded Him as a Party-goer, an Associate-of-known-sinners, a Blasphemer, and an Insurrectionist. This they said and believed about Him; but they never, ever thought of Jesus as being boring. On the contrary, they maintained He was too extreme to be safe, far too dangerous to let live. So that this 'dangerous' Jesus might be permanently put out of the way, He was raced through trials which were illegal, illicit, and immoral; He was condemned to death by a reluctant judge who only produced an acceptable guilty verdict after he had been blackmailed. After that Jesus was hung up to die; crucified on a rough Roman cross. All this Jesus endured because He didn't fit the religious leaders' expectations of what the Messiah would be; because He had swept away all the false, fake, and foolish additions they had made to God's plan of salvation; because He was fulfilling the Father's plan which called for Him to die so that all who believe on Him as Savior might live.
It has taken 21 centuries and generations of people who selectively read the Gospels to transform the committed Christ, the sacrificing Savior into Someone else, Someone different, Someone far less than God's Son who is shown to us in Scripture. The great tragedy of our age is that we have taken the Savior and wrapped Him in a cloak of dullness. We have declawed the Lion of Judah, pulled His teeth, and made Him into a household pet who considers Himself blessed to receive any scrap which might fall from our tables.
Charles Wesley wrote a wonderful children's hymn which says, "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild." Have no doubt, our Savior most certainly had and could show those attributes. Indeed, He did show them when He gently picked up and blessed the little children who were brought to Him; when He lovingly healed those sick which were carried and hobbled their way to Him; when He mildly spoke reassuring, restoring words of comfort and forgiveness to conscience-condemned sinners.
But never forget that this gentle Jesus who was meek and mild, could tell a ship-sinking storm to "Shut up!" He could take those who had deformed God's will and word and put them in their place. Gentle Jesus, meek and mild? Tell that to the Pharisees whom He called whitewashed graves which look good on the outside but are filled with dead men's bones on the inside. Gentle Jesus meek and mild? In the Garden of Gethsemane the Christ took your sin upon Himself. Imagine the weight of that guilt; the burden of every one of your sins was laid on Him. To that was added the heaviness of my sin, and your neighbor's sin; and the sins of the billions who are living in the world today, the billions who have lived before us, and all the souls that will be born before Jesus comes again. With all those sins, He rose up and willingly allowed Himself to be taken to the cross.
But make no mistake, neither His accusers, nor his judge, nor the mob robbed Him of His life. Looking at the grim picture of His upcoming death, Jesus said, "I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 1No one takes (my life) from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I received from my Father" (John 10:17-18). Jesus' words of prophecy were fulfilled and shared by the Apostle Paul when He wrote, "in accordance with the Scriptures, Christ died, was buried, and was raised on the third day." In His resurrection Christ shows a power which no great leader, no mighty army has ever been able to muster. God's Son, our Savior defeated death.
How is it then that so many churches seem to have all the joy of a funeral parlor and so many Christians have all the happiness of a bride who has been left standing alone at the altar? How is it that Jesus, His pastors, His people have become boring? Not so long ago, in the midst of a rather long-winded sermon, a small child, using a whisper which could be heard through half the congregation, asked his mother, "Mommy, are you sure this is the only way we can get into heaven?" For many, Christ, Christianity, and worship have become a boring cross they must carry to get into heaven.
How boring are we talking about? Well, there was a pastor, years ago, who bought a tape recorder so he might listen to his sermons and improve his delivery. The first Sunday he owned the machine he recorded the entire service. Later, after lunch, he rewound the cassette, sat on the sofa and listened to the tape. The opening prayer, readings, and hymns came through beautifully. Then came his sermon. When he awoke some time later, the congregation was singing the closing hymn. For many, Christ, Christianity, and worship have become that boring.
How boring? Well, here's a story which is made up, but not entirely too far-fetched. It begins with a pastor who rushed to his church building after he had been told that it had caught fire. Surprised to see the huge crowd which had gathered to watch his church go up in flames, he couldn't resist a bit of black humor. He went up to a person whose home was directly across the street from the church. He said, "Well, neighbor, I don't ever remember seeing you at our church before." The neighbor replied: "Well, Pastor, that's because this is the first time I, or anyone else, has ever seen this church on fire." The neighbor may be right. That's because, many people, many churches have allowed Jesus to become boring. How wrong they are. No matter what else is said, the truth is that being brought to Jesus Christ is an earth-shaking, conscience-cleansing, life-changing, eternity-transforming, soul-renovating experience.
If it's not that for you, it may be because you have followed others in trying to force Jesus into some ill-conceived mold. If that's the case, you should know, "Jesus isn't going to fit." Jesus says, trying to make me fit your preconceptions is like sewing a new, unwashed, unshrunk patch onto an old pair of blue jeans. It won't look right....more importantly, when the garment is washed, that new cloth is going to shrink, it will pull away from the material and you will have a mess.
Jesus says, "I'm not going to fit." He says, "nobody puts new wine into old wineskins." Think about that for a moment. Leather, no matter how well it has been cared for, will, over the years, grow brittle. Fermenting wine, on the other hand, is a pretty powerful concoction. Years ago, at Milwaukee, one of my friends tried to make hard cider. He added the yeast and the sugar. Then, so as not to be discovered in his illegal activity, he sealed the jar, and put it on a closet shelf to ferment. The wine fermented in that glass jar. It fermented real good. When the bottle finally let loose, it blew open the door of the closet and embedded pieces of glass in the cinder block wall. That's what Jesus was trying to say. Fill your old wine skin with new wine, and that skin will gurgle, and sputter, and flex, and it will eventually let go. The moral: a smart person doesn't put new wine in an old wine skin and nobody should try to put Jesus into a boring mold. He simply won't fit.
Try to make Him into a prophet, a teacher, a charlatan, He won't stay. Try to minimize Him, ignore Him, forget Him, He won't stay. Try Him, crucify Him, bury Him, He won't stay. He is the exciting, powerful, Savior of the world. He is the One whose blood has washed away our sins. He is the One whose presence comforts us in our losses, whose power strengthens the weak; whose grace reaches out to those who have no hope. Any description of Jesus which is less than that is wrong. Jesus is not boring... indeed, He ought to be the most interesting Individual you have ever met.
Of course, you might not feel that way. Perhaps, for you, maybe even some of you believers in this Lutheran Hour audience of the air, Jesus IS boring. Perhaps your entire relationship with Him is boring. Perhaps your relationship with the Lord can be summed up as getting up at the same time on a Sunday and going to the same boring church service. At that boring service you hear the same boring organ music and sing the same boring hymns. You listen to the same boring sermon and work your way through the same boring liturgy. You stand and sit at the same boring times. You hear the same boring prayers about the same boring people, and you leave with boredom in your heart. Little wonder you put the Savior on a boring shelf and forget about Him until you have to take Him down the following boring Sunday. Little wonder some of our children have found better things to do than to go to church.
Well, I used to feel that way myself....and I understand. But, I can tell you a secret, the problem was not that Jesus was boring, I was. I didn't expect anything from Him, I liked Him boring. That way I was in control of my life. It was like I was on a tandem bike. I was in front, Jesus was behind. All I wanted from Him was a little power as I went where I wanted, when I wanted. When the pedaling got difficult, when I had a problem, a need, a difficulty, I called upon Him for help. But I wanted Him in the back, me in the front, being directed by my wisdom, my goals, my direction, it is little wonder Jesus seemed boring. But that was my choice, it certainly was not His. I can tell you this, if you put Jesus in the front seat of your life; if you let Him set the direction and speed, most definitely you are going to see some interesting, inspiring changes.
This past week I met Steven and his father. Steven is a young boy monitoring classes at a Lutheran parochial school. Jesus is not boring to Steven. In the Sudan, from which Steven has just arrived, his family was under persecution. They had a choice...stay and deny Jesus, stay and be killed, or run for freedom. They ran. Actually, they walked. Letting Jesus lead, they walked100 miles to a boat, which took them to a plane, which took them to another boat, to another plane, to the United States. I doubt if Jesus will ever be boring to Steven. Not so long ago I spoke to some east-European leaders of the Lutheran Hour. They had personally seen the Savior kick down the Iron Curtain and topple an atheistic government. These men and women, who had been letting Jesus steer, know that Jesus is hardly boring. You will find the same... if you let God's Son steer.
Read the Scriptures. See the Savior of power and peace; the Christ of joy and gentleness. See Jesus, who, according to Scripture, died, was buried, and rose again. See the wonderful changes He has already brought in your life and be glad. Yes, be glad that the Christ has conquered and, with faith in your heart, you will, too.
One last story. The young boy complained to his father that most of the church hymns were boring, old-fashioned, with tiresome tunes and words that meant little to his generation. His father challenged him: "If you can write better hymns, why don't you?" The boy did. He went to his room and wrote his first hymn. The year was 1690, and the young man was Isaac Watts, the father of English hymnody. Inspired by a non-boring Savior, he wrote, "Joy to the world! The Lord is come Let earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare Him room And heaven and nature sing." But the man was not yet done. Knowing the joy of Jesus' leading, he penned: "Our God, our help in ages past, Our hope for years to come, Our shelter from the stormy blast, And our eternal home."
Now I can't promise believing in Jesus, who was gentle enough to be loved by little children and powerful enough to conquer death, will make you a great hymn-writer. On the other hand, I can promise you that when your life is being directed by the risen Redeemer, it will never, ever again be boring. If this is the life of faith you are looking for; if this is the Savior that you need, we are ready to help. Please, call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) forFEBRUARY 1, 2015 Topic: Praying for and Against Your Enemies
ANNOUNCER: Should we pray for our enemies-or against them? That'll be our topic for today's Q&A with our Speaker Emeritus, Pastor Ken Klaus. I'm Mark Eischer.
KLAUS: And hello to you, my friend. So what is on the table before us today?
ANNOUNCER: In Matthew, chapter 5, Jesus said we were to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. It's one thing to talk about that in the abstract, but let's put that into our current context. We've all seen and heard about these Middle East terrorists who are cutting peoples' heads off.
KLAUS: They've also desecrated and destroyed Christian churches, uprooted entire communities, and even murdered children in front of their parents.
ANNOUNCER: How then is it possible to love those enemies? I'm more inclined to echo the words of Psalm 139, where it says, "Oh, that you would slay the wicked, O God...do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?"
KLAUS: Interesting question. I'm pretty sure you're not alone in feeling that way. I've met an awful lot of Christians who feel that ISIS should be wiped off the face of the earth.
ANNOUNCER: Would such a prayer be appropriate?
KLAUS: It's a fair question that may be more difficult to answer than you might think. When it comes to loving our enemies, the first thing we need to remember is that is exactly what Jesus did through His earthly ministry. In our sinful condition, we are all enemies of God. Yet, He loved us and gave His life to save us. Instead of praying for our enemies' destruction, we pray that God would keep us steadfast in His Word and in the faith to which He has called us.
ANNOUNCER: I suppose that would be a more positive sort of prayer.
KLAUS: Then, I think we have to get inventive.
ANNOUNCER: Inventive? How so?
KLAUS: Actually, it might be better for me to first give an example. Mark, years ago the Bible scholar, Matthew Henry, got mugged. The thief took his wallet. Now, Henry knew that, as a Christian, it was his job to give thanks in all situations; but how to give thanks for a robbery? That was a problem.
He thought about it and then, in his diary, he wrote this: (Lord), let me be thankful, first, because the thief never robbed me before now; second, because although he took my wallet, he did not take my life; third, because although he took all I possessed, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.
That's a good example of what I mean when I speak about "inventive" prayer. It approaches things from a different perspective.
ANNOUNCER: Yeah, that is a different way of seeing things. So, how would an "inventive pray-er" tackle a terrible situation like what we see now happening in Iraq and Syria?
KLAUS: I can think of a number of possibilities. First, we might pray that the people of Islam really take a good look at the Quran.
ANNOUNCER: What would that do?
KLAUS: Well, we are told by many who report the news that Islam is a religion of peace and these terrorists represent just a few radical, nut cases. If that's true, the people of Islam should rise up and point out where ISIS is getting it wrong.
ANNOUNCER: And if Islam is NOT a religion of peace?
KLAUS: Then may the Lord open their eyes to see that any religion which has to use terror and murder to spread its message is a very weak and pitiful thing.
ANNOUNCER: Anything else we could pray for?
KLAUS: Absolutely. We might pray for the conversion of those who are persecuting and also pray for the courage of those who are now suffering for Jesus' sake. Centuries ago, the church father, Tertullian, said 'the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.' We can pray that the blood of these suffering brothers and sisters may touch the hearts of the persecutors and turn them in repentance to Christ.
ANNOUNCER: We might also consider what Martin Luther said when he was explaining the Lord's Prayer when it says, "Thy will be done..."
KLAUS: The Reformer wrote: "God's will is done when he breaks and defeats every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh, which try to prevent us from keeping God's name holy and letting His kingdom come." OR we could pray that this army which wages war on social workers might be blinded as was Saul on the road to Damascus. In his blindness the Lord enabled Saul to see Jesus as his Savior. There's more we could say, but I think we've made the case. Rather than hating, we can pray for those who are now enemies of the cross.
ANNOUNCER: 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.
"How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
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