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Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Day that Changed the World

Please pray with me.

Holy and almighty God, we humbly come before your throne of grace with repentant hearts. Cleanse us with the blood of Jesus that He shed on the cross – an awesome event that we remember this day. In this very hour Jesus hung on the cross, carrying our sin. The world was never the same after that day so long ago.

It is my prayer that we will once again be fundamentally changed by the death of Jesus Christ. Send your Holy Spirit to us in such measure that this day of days will once again bring change into our world.

In the name of Jesus Christ I pray, Amen.

Good Friday, the day that Jesus Christ died on the cross, is a day that changed the world forever.

It is not the only day that changed the world, however.

There have been many days that have changed the world.

The day that the “New World” was discovered – whether it was Christopher Columbus, Leif Ericson, or someone else. No matter who “discovered” it first, that North and South America were “found” (not that they were ever lost) changed the world. Today North America – the United States, specifically, is a, if not the, world power in the world. And South America is quickly coming into its own – being the birth home of the present Bishop of Rome – the first time such a man was elected from the Americas.

Another day that changed the world was when it was discovered that the sun did not, in fact, revolve around the earth. Polish scientist and priest Copernicus is credited with this discovery which led to our modern day science and technology.

Which led to many world changing days, including July 16, 1945 – the day the first atomic bomb was detonated. This day changed the world forever – leading to the end of World War II and the space race that culminated with landing a man on the moon in 1969.

Which might possibly lead to another world-changing day – the day humans make first contact with life from another planet or star.

But none of these or any other world-changing day can hold a candle to the day that Jesus of Nazareth died on a Roman cross nearly 2000 years ago.

Before I talk about why Good Friday is a day like no other day that changed the world, I need to make sure you hear about exactly what happened on the first Good Friday.

Simply put, Good Friday is the day we remember that God who became man died by crucifixion. Jesus of Nazareth was not just some prophet or preacher in first century Palestine. He was born of a woman – Mary – but was conceived by the Holy Spirit. He is the Son of God, the 2nd Person of the Trinity. He is “God Incarnate” – True and Fully God while at the same time True and Fully Man.

I cannot prove this “empirically” or “scientifically.” I can only point to what I believe to be overwhelming evidence: The Bible; the history of first, second and third century followers of Jesus who staked their very lives on the fact that Jesus Christ was both God and Man who died on the cross; and the billions of followers who live lives of faith in Jesus Christ today and have been for nearly 2000 years.

Good Friday was the day that Jesus – the God-Man – died by crucifixion. On the face of it, it would appear to be a mistake added to a political vendetta by religious leaders of the day added to the cowardice or ineffectiveness of the Roman governor.

But it was not. This day that changed the world forever was something else entirely.

As Jesus hung on the cross – at the end of six hours of agony – we are told this, from John’s Gospel:

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. – John 19:30

What, exactly, was “finished”? “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:19). All that was needed to forgive our sins was finished by Jesus on Good Friday.

St. Paul put it this way, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

On Good Friday, on this day that changed the world, your sins were forgiven.

All of them.

Do you believe it?

Many people have a hard time believing this. They want to believe that their sins are forgiven, but they just can’t get past the seemingly lack of any evidence that their sins actually are forgiven. The seemingly lack of evidence that Jesus Christ actually died for their sins and rose from the dead.

It fact, it seems to make more sense to not believe it.

Certainly there is more evidence that Good Friday and all that Jesus did on that day, didn’t happen, right?

May I remind you that there was more evidence that the world was flat – until Leif Ericson, Christopher Columbus and many others did not sail off the end of the world.

There was also more evidence that the sun moved in the sky – from east to west – than there was that the earth actually orbited the sun – that is until Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo proved otherwise.

Yet, in the 2000 years since the first Good Friday, there has never been any credible evidence to suggest that Jesus Christ did not die for the sins of the world. If fact, the evidence still powerfully suggests that Jesus is, indeed, the Son of God who died and rose again to reconcile the world to God.

The most powerful evidence, to me, is the fact that this day that changed the world still changes people – billions of people today.

The death of Jesus changes us. Remember, Jesus’ death was not an accident or an act of vengeance or cowardice. It was an act of love. God’s love for you and for me.

You know the Bible passages that speak of this:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Romans 5:8

This instrument of execution was forever changed on the day that changed the world into a symbol of the greatest love there has ever been or will ever be.

This day that changed the world is the day to remember:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:17

But why? And what is the big deal with changing the world, anyway? I think you will all agree with me that something in this world needs to change.

The truth is that the world is changing every day. Most of the time, not for the better either. In fact, the only unchanging constant is that there is change!

This world was once perfect. But sin changed all that, as you well know. Death got a death-grip on us and will not let us go unless something changes.

But that change will not come from within ourselves. That change will not come from a world leader. That change will not come from a court-ruling.

No, the only thing that will change death’s grip on us is the death of death itself. When Jesus died on the cross, our very lives where changed. The death of Jesus has freed us from the bondage of sin, death, and the power of the devil.

The death of Jesus on the cross made the most powerful change this world has ever seen. His death bought your heart back from death. His death gives you new life.

Now, what are you going to do with that life? Look to the cross to see how far God went to give you a new heart, a new life!

On my white board are these words, “How far will God go to get your attention? All the way to a Roman cross and a borrowed tomb.”

Jesus Christ died for you. Jesus Christ gave up His life to give you your life.

Don’t waste His death! Leave this sanctuary in a few minutes and live the life Jesus died to give you!

Love others as God loves! Serve others as Jesus serves!

Reach out to the person who is hurting. Lift up the person who is downtrodden. Guide the person who is lost.

At the end of the very powerful movie “Saving Private Ryan” Tom Hanks’ character, Captain Miller, tells Private Ryan – after so many men died in order to return him home safely to his family, “Earn this.”

Robert Rodat – the writer of the screenplay – meant, I think, “Ryan, don’t waste these men’s efforts and lives in order to save you. Live a life worthy of being saved. Make it your life’s goal and purpose to make a difference in the lives of everyone you meet.” But, of course, that’s too wordy! “Earn this!” sounds so much better!

Of course you can’t earn this (pointing at the cross). You can’t earn salvation. Like Captain Miller and all the other men who died to save Private Ryan, Jesus died before you could do anything to earn it.

St. Paul says it best, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

This is the day – Good Friday – to remember to live a life with the goal and purpose of making a difference in the lives of everyone you meet!

Jesus said, in the Gospel reading from last night, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13: 34).

That’s what Good Friday is for. That’s what we remember of this day that changed the world.

May God’s love for you in Christ Jesus, who died for you on Good Friday, change you forever to love and live for Him. Amen.

Journey to Calvary: “Death Is Destroyed”

 

“For your name’s sake, O LORD, preserve my life; in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble. In your unfailing love, silence my enemies; destroy all my foes, for I am your servant.” - Psalm 143:11-12

Christ is risen!

He is risen, indeed!

Alleluia!

For the sake of Jesus, because he died and rose again, God preserves our life forever.

The rising of Jesus from the dead destroyed all our foes – especially death. When we die, we will not really die, but will rest secure that on the last day, we will be raised to live forever in heaven. Our faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection gives us the free gift of eternal life.

Because of all this done for us by Jesus Christ, we respond by serving him constantly. We will tell others the Good News about Jesus. We will live our lives as ones loved by God.

Christ is risen!

He is risen, indeed!

Alleluia!

Application: Please pray for me, the author of these devotions, that I may never grow weary in serving Jesus Christ and his church. Pray for your own pastor for the same.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank you for raising Jesus Christ from the dead. You are my God and my Lord. I will serve you as long as I live. Give me your Holy Spirit so that I may tell others the Good News about Jesus. In his name I pray. Amen.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Journey to Calvary: "Falling on Deaf Ears"


“Answer me quickly, O LORD; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit.” - Psalm 143:7

The Saturday before Easter has always been kind of a quiet day for me. After worshiping on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, it is a day of personal reflection and devotion.

On that first “Holy Saturday” Jesus was dead and buried. This is quite an amazing thing when you think about it. Jesus is the Son of God – the Third Person of the Trinity – and he’s dead!

In the Psalms, the grave is referred to many times as “the pit.” Here is Jesus now. In the pit of the grave. A devastating thought for us who believe that it is only through Jesus that our prayers are heard by God the Father.

But Jesus didn’t stay dead. He rose from the dead on the third day. That’s tomorrow! And because Jesus lives, the Lord answers us quickly, he does not hide his face from us at all!

Application: Think of five people you know that do not know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Spend five minutes in prayer for each person. Include in your prayer a request that God use you to reach them by bringing them to worship tomorrow.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, on this day Jesus rested in the tomb and thus made the graves of those who die believe in Jesus a place a rest as well. May we rest secure knowing that when our last hour comes we will rest and be raised on the last day when Jesus comes back to take us to heaven. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Journey to Calvary: “How Much Do You Love Me?”


“I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.” - Psalm 143: 6

This verse of Psalm 143 reminds me of what Jesus did on the cross. He spread his hands and they were nailed to the cross. Why? Because he loves us so much he would die the death we deserve because of our sin.

One of the things Jesus’ said on the cross was “I thirst.”

In this world turned dry and dusty and parched by sin, our souls thirst for God. We seek out answers to our life’s problems. We try to understand the emptiness that consumes us, at times, in our lives.

There is some one who loves you very much. His name is Jesus.

“How much can he love me?” you ask.

He answers, “This much.”

And he spreads out his arms wide … as they are nailed to a cross and he dies for you.

Application: Take some time today to re-read the passion history of Jesus in the Gospels. Worship with other Christians at Good Friday services today.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, on this day I remember that Jesus died to save me from my sins. Please forgive me all my sins for the sake of Jesus’ death. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Journey to Calvary: "Remember"


Note: In 2003 I was asked to write the Lutheran Hour Ministries Lenten Devotional Booklet titled “Journey to Calvary.” Over the next few days, I’ll be reposting on this blog the last four devotions. – Ed

“So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed. I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done.” - Psalm 143:4-5

Jesus’ last week. Everything he had been doing for the past three years or so has been leading up to this last week. And now he was at the last night. So much to say, so much to do. It would not surprise me if this portion of Psalm 143 was going through Jesus’ mind on that last Thursday evening.

His hands broke the bread and passed it out to his disciples. His hands held up the cup and he announced that the wine it held was now his blood.

These hands that broke bread and held the cup would, 12 hours later, be nailed to a cross. Body broken by nails. Blood shed.

Why?

Love. Jesus gives the sacrament meal of his Supper to his Church out of love. He died on the cross because he loves us. Forgiveness of all our sins. This is what we receive in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. This is what Jesus gives us when he died on the cross.

“Do this in remembrance of me.”

Remember.

Application: Attend worship tonight. If you’ve never taken the Lord’s Supper at the church you attend, talk with the pastor beforehand (you may want to arrive a little earlier than usual).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, may I never forget the love of Jesus. On the night before his death, he showed great love to me. Help me to show love to others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

An Unusual Apostle

Shamrock CrossHis father was a deacon in the local parish. His grandfather was a pastor. They shared the Gospel of Jesus with him from the very beginning of his life. They modeled what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus.

When he was sixteen, he was kidnapped by a raiding party from across the sea. He was sold into slavery and languished in a foreign land far from home for six years.

But he never gave up his faith in Jesus. He prayed every day. He worshiped Christ as best he could where he was.

One night, he had a dream and in that dream he was told, “You will soon return home. I will give you safe passage on a ship on the eastern shore. I will come back again and tell you when.”

This gave him hope. This gave him strength to carry on.

He waited, worked “through snow and frost and rain,” and waited some more. Then one night, the dream returned, “It is time. Go, now!”

He ran away from his masters, made his way 200 miles across this foreign land to the eastern shore. He soon found a ship bound for the east and for home. Soon he was back in his father’s house. He had been saved. He was home.

Then one night, he had another dream. The voice was back. He would later write in his autobiography:

I saw a man coming as if from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: "The Voice of the Irish". As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Focluth, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.

This is the story of the early life of Saint Patrick, Apostle to Ireland.

While much of his life is the stuff of legend and, I suspect, much of it is mythological, it is nevertheless an adventure of a life based in the foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Every man, woman, and child who have been baptized into Christ are called by Christ to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. Baptized into Christ is to be a member of the Christian Church. To be a member of the Christian Church is to be on  a mission to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Like Patrick, we are called to share the Gospel. For most of us, we are called to share where we are. We don’t have to be missionary or a pastor or some kind of professional Gospel-teller. We simply have to accept the Gospel as it comes to us and then live the Gospel that dwells in us.

Many of us are looking for – at some time or another – some kind of adventure to live. The greatest adventure is the one God calls all of us to live: living in His Kingdom, going where He leads, and sharing the Gospel with those He leads to us.

I hope you’ll find that adventure to live today, remembering the adventure that is St. Patrick’s life.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Live in the Moment

DSCN4500The icicles are long but dripping. The sun is high in the sky and bright on the snow. Grass begins to show around the bottoms of the trees.

These are all signs that Spring is coming. The seasons are changing, moving forward, as seasons always do.

Time marches on. Nothing stops time. The future is something we never will reach. It will always been “out there,” just beyond our grasp. We live in the “now,” in the “present.”

It’s taken me a long time to realize that I will never reach the future. It has taken me a long time to learn to live in the moment. To live in the “now.”

I still haven’t learned that lesson fully.

I’ve wasted so much time, days, years even, looking ahead, striving to the future, making plans for “some day” that I’ve missed so much, so many blessings, so much of God in my life in the “moment.”

I’ve “worked for the weekend”; I’ve planned for the day that I would be married (even when I wasn’t even dating someone!); I’ve looked ahead to what “will be” someday; and I missed the beauty of a Spring thaw. I’ve missed the glory of wind-blown grass on a summer afternoon. I’ve missed the awe of a crisp Autumn evening.

I’ve spent nearly my entire adult life proclaiming the eternal love of God in Christ Jesus and yet I’ve missed the Truth of the “eternal moment” of God.

God doesn’t have a beginning. God doesn’t have an end. God is an eternal “now.” There is no future with God. There has been no past with God. Not for me. Not really.

Okay, yes, I have a past with God. I had confirmation classes, pre-seminary days, seminary life, and seventeen years as a pastor.

And yes, I must recognize that I will be in heaven “some day.”

But that is only because I’m trapped in a timeline. I’m trapped in a finite life.

But at the same time, I’m not trapped at all. I’ve been freed from this timeline, this finite life. Because I have given up my sinful human nature. It no longer defines who I am.

It is no longer I who live – the “I” that had a conception, birth, and will one day die. Who I am is now defined by Christ who lives in me.

I have been given eternity when water was splashed on me and a pastor said “Edward Albert, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Sometimes I look back into my past. And sometimes I wish I could go back to “then” with what I know now.

But I can’t. I can only live in the now. Sometimes I live in the “now” with regret over what I’ve done, said, or not done in the past.

But I am encouraged when God reminds me that I live in the “now” with a “tool box” of experience from my past. All the things I’ve done in the past – many of which I’m ashamed of, not proud of – those experiences I possess, I own, to help me to live now.

I can’t go back. I can’t change what I’ve done or not done. But I can live – really live – now.

I need to remember this. And remember it more often that I do at the present.

Someone else’s future may depend on it!

It will take deliberate action on my part, and it is something that I’m praying for and will try to remember to do.

Live in the now. Live in the moment. Enjoy the presence of God in the present of God.

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