Jesus is the King

Luke 23:35-43
The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at [Jesus]. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Jesus is the King

It can be difficult and disheartening to navigate through a political campaign and election. Have you ever gotten the feeling that some of the people involved are self-serving? That they care more about themselves than those they hope to represent? They aim to win at all costs. They will promise anything. They tear down their opponent with half-truths and lies. During an election does it ever feel like some of the candidates, the media and even the general public are simply being self-serving?

Jesus is the King. However, Jesus steered clear of politics. He wasn’t interested in overthrowing the government, winning a popular vote or saying things just to get big headlines or people’s approval.

An interesting thing Jesus, the King, said: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” This wasn’t a campaign speech to score popularity points. This was Jesus’ holy, sincere and loving mission. Jesus came to live, suffer, die and rise for sinners like you and me.

As the King, Jesus was suffering and dying, while people watched, mocked and taunted him. They said: “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

They had missed the point. Jesus, the King of the Jews (and of all people), hadn’t come to escape pain, win votes and rule an earthly kingdom. Jesus came to live, suffer, die and rise for sinners like you and me.

Many of the people and the rulers just did not get it. But a criminal crucified right next to Jesus did. Before he died, the criminal turned to Jesus and made a request: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus, his King, responded: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Jesus, your King, came to serve and give up his life for you. He rose and now rules for you. Do you know this? Do you trust your King? Those who do will be with their King forever in paradise.

Soar through Life like Eagles

Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:31

Life can get pretty heavy at times. A person can begin to feel like an overburdened pack mule plodding along with the weight of the world on your shoulders. Perhaps you can picture the packages you are carrying. There is the package of overdue bills on one side and the package of strained relationships on the other. Then there is the package of worries at work and the package of overdue projects at home. You may also be carrying the package of meeting the endless needs of your young children or the package of caring for an aging parent. On top of all these there can be chronic illness or clinical depression. And, as if all of these are not heavy enough, there is the guilt of thoughtless words you have said and kind deeds you did not do. You struggle from one day to the next with no relief and the weight getting heavier and heavier. Plod…plod…plod…

Now, listen to God’s Word: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” God in heaven knows all about your burdens—your work and worry and guilt. He can carry the loads of life—whatever they are. He is the almighty Lord who never tires or grows weary. Rather than relying on your own wisdom or strength to see you through, put your hope in the Lord. He lifts your burdens off your back and frees you so that instead of plodding like a pack mule, you soar through life like an eagle.

Justice in Due Time

How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. – Habakkuk 1:2-3

Was God’s prophet preaching this 2,500 years ago or just last week?

When Habakkuk looked out his front window, he saw violence and injustice. The bad guys just did whatever they wanted to. All of Habakkuk’s neighbors seemed OK with injustice and violence. They took advantage of evil to advance their own cause without any concern for the people getting hurt. Habakkuk could not understand how God allowed all this wrong to happen. Wasn’t he a just God? Wasn’t he a loving God? Habakkuk prayed and prayed the Lord would set things right, but nothing happened.

Sound familiar? Today people abuse their authority to take advantage of others. People disrespect authority to hurt others. People jump to conclusions and ignore facts just to prove their point. No one seems concerned about the people getting hurt. Most people just want to win the argument and advance their personal agenda. Why doesn’t God punish the evil doers? Why does God tolerate all the destruction and violence we see in this world? Why doesn’t he bring an end to conflict and peace to strife-torn hearts?

God answered Habakkuk’s prayer by explaining he would bring justice in his own time and way. God told Habakkuk to be patient and trust that God would do the right thing at the right time–which God did.

Do we really want God to bring justice in our time? Think about it. Have I lost my temper? Have I cut people down with my words? How concerned am I really about people getting hurt by others? What am I doing to help relieve the pain of the suffering? If God pays back people what they deserve, will he be paying me a visit? Do I really want to beg God to bring justice to the world?

Our God already has. On a cross outside of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, God brought justice to this world. He blasted Jesus with all the punishment deserved by all the violence and evil and wrong committed by the human race. God’s Son unjustly suffered in our place. Jesus took that burden because he did not want us condemned. He wanted us forgiven.

On the cross, God’s justice collided with God’s love. On the cross, God punished all wrong-doers by punishing Jesus. On the cross, God forgave all wrong-doers by punishing Jesus. Relying on Jesus as our Savior, we can look forward to meeting God without any fear. Because of Jesus, God will welcome us into heaven.

God will also take care of justice here on earth–in his own time and his own way. Sometimes we will have to wait patiently for God to act. Most importantly for us, we know God has already acted to forgive our sin. We never have to fear that he will punish us. Jesus took our place!

 

When the Words Don’t Come

 The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. Romans 8:26

When the Words Don’t Come

Give some careful thought to the following statement: The times we find it hardest to talk to God in prayer are often the times we need to talk to him the most.

If you have lived more than a few years in this difficult place, you know how true that statement is. What words do you speak to God, exactly, when you walk out of a doctor’s office with the news that your spouse has stage 4 cancer? What words do you speak to God when your finances are on the verge of collapse? What words do you speak to God when you can no longer process how stressful your place of work has become? What words do you speak to God when it feels as though a member of your family has run a sword through your soul? What words do you speak to God when your marriage begins to implode? And what words do you speak to God when all the regrets from your past begin to smother you like a heavy shroud?

These are the times when the words don’t come. These are the times when coherent thought disappears. These are the moments when you and I cannot even articulate a simple cry to the Lord for help.

Enter the Holy Spirit. He knows. He knows very well how the wreckage of this sinful world can overwhelm us, paralyze us to the point of stunned silence. In those moments he comes to us. He intercedes for us. On our behalf he speaks to our heavenly Father “with groans that words cannot express.” And to such groans God listens and responds.

You are a forgiven child of God through faith in Jesus Christ. That means you possess the exclusive privilege of talking to the Lord in prayer. But when you set aside time for him and the words do not come, take heart. The Holy Spirit knows exactly what you need. What he says on your behalf will go beyond human words. God will listen. And he will answer.

Jesus Knows How You Feel

Remember when you were so tired that all you wanted to do was sleep, and instead your baby with an ear infection woke up every time you tried to lay her down? When you wanted to get some extra tasks done at the office, and fell farther behind? When you looked forward to the leisurely Saturday filled with college football, and ended up fixing the garage door?

Know this about God: Jesus came down to our world, and he knows how you feel. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.” Jesus was willing to deal with the poison, the sin of this world, so that he could win you for an eternity of heaven. He willingly lifted up and carried your sins to the cross. Suspended between heaven and earth he felt the white-hot anger of his Father for your sins. Filled with life—because he had no sin and paid for yours—he rose from the dead bringing with him your unconditional forgiveness.

Rejection? He knew it. Temptation? He felt it. Loneliness? He experienced it. Death? He tasted it. Stress? He could write the book on it. When you tell God you’ve reached your limit, he knows what you mean. When your palms sweat at the impossible deadline, when your plans are interrupted by people who have other plans, he nods in sympathy. There is something extraordinarily comforting in knowing that Jesus is like you in every way, just that he had no sin. It brings calm to the most frayed nerves, the most frenzied and frazzled days.

So use this Bible truth! When you hurt, go to Jesus with confidence. He will help you in your time of need. Jesus knows how you feel.

Hebrews 4:14-16
Since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens. Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we might receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

The Pain of Loneliness

A few years ago, the magazine Psychology Today had a fascinating article about the function of the human brain. Our diagnostic equipment is now so good that we can actually map the human brain. As we do, we can see what area of the brain becomes active when a person is facing a certain situation. For instance, one area of the brain becomes active when the person is facing danger. Another area of the brain becomes active when the person sits down to a favorite meal.

Researchers decided to try an experiment. They placed someone in a situation where the person had to face loneliness. Their diagnostic equipment lit up. What it told them was a bit jarring. It told them that the area of the brain that becomes active when facing loneliness is the same area of the brain that becomes active when facing physical pain.

Think about that for a moment. According to this experiment, our emotional makeup is such that we process loneliness the same way we process physical pain.

Then again, maybe we don’t need researchers to tell us what we already know. Loneliness hurts. Loneliness brings real pain.

Jesus knows this. He knows this from his own turn at living in this fallen world. More than anyone else, he knows what agony it is to feel isolated, abandoned, alone.

But Jesus doesn’t just feel our pain. He’s done something about it. At the cross his blood washed our sins away. He removed the wall of our sin between God and us. That means by trusting in Jesus we will never be alone again.

The pain of loneliness is real. But it’s no match for Jesus.

I need a break!

Once the kids are born the time demands never seem to end. It starts with the 3 am feeding. Next we have teething and earaches. We run the daily rat race from home to daycare to work to daycare to home to bed. And that’s a slow day without tee-ball, soccer or dance class! My life revolves around my children. I don’t have any time to myself.

Do you feel this way? Have your family concerns and obligations sapped your strength? Take heart, you are not alone!

One of the toughest lessons for me to learn as a parent was that taking quiet time for myself does not mean that I don’t love my children. As a matter of fact, taking time to be alone can be one of the best things I can do for my family. I learned this truth from Jesus.

Many times in the Bible, like in Matthew 14:13, we see that Jesus took time for himself. This verse says “Jesus withdrew privately to a solitary place.” Jesus is the perfect Son of God who gave his life on the cross for mine, yet he took time on this earth be alone and pray to his Father in heaven. We don’t need to feel guilty when we do the same.

I understand now that I need to take time alone. I am a parent, yet I am God’s child. I need time to be held by him. I need time to hear how much he loves me. I need time to talk to him. I need time to listen to him. Spending time alone with my Father in heaven gives me strength. He is my perfect parent and a model for me to follow. Spend time alone with him you will find the same.

Can God Help Me Be Safe?

One summer night during a severe thunderstorm a mother was tucking her small daughter into bed.  She was about to turn the light off when the little girl asked in a trembling voice, “Mommy, will you stay with me all night?”  Smiling, the mother gave her a warm, reassuring hug and said tenderly, “I can’t, dear.  I have to sleep in Daddy’s room.”  A long silence followed.  At last it was broken by her daughter’s shaky voice saying, “That big sissy!”

All of us have fears.  And they don’t always end with a chuckle.  Our fears may be rational or completely irrational, but when we experience them, they are definitely real.  At times we are afraid and may wonder, “Can God help me?”

On another night, Jesus Christ’s disciples were caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee.  Their fear was very real too.  Jesus came to them and said, “Take courage!  It is I.  Do not be afraid” Mark 6:50.  Jesus was there, and they didn’t need to be afraid any longer.  He displayed his almighty power by calming the wind and waves.

Jesus can help us with our fears as well.  He controls all things and promises to use his power to help those who trust in him.  When Jesus is in our lives, we can take courage and not be afraid.

While his promises are true for all kinds of fears, they are especially true for our spiritual concerns.  Many are afraid of dying and having to stand before a perfect God and answer for their imperfect lives.  Jesus encourages us even in these great fears.  He said, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” John 11:25-26.  Life on this earth will end for all people, but Jesus promises that those who believe in him will live with him in heaven eternally.  Jesus died on the cross to take our sins away, so that God will not condemn believers in judgment but will give them eternal life in heaven.  This is the comfort and courage that God gives to those who trust him. The Bible is filled with examples of God’s power and his many promises to help us with our fears.  Take courage and don’t be afraid; God can help you when you’re afraid.

Purpose for Your Life

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” – Jeremiah 29:11

“Why did God allow…?” “What will my life be like…?” “Does anybody else know…?”

Questions from the lips and hearts of human beings have started with such words for long ages past, and many of our own questions still do.

“Why did God allow my grandma to die?” “What will my life be like after my kids leave home?” “Does anybody else know what it feels like to be this lonely?” “Why does God allow this disease to ravage my body?” “What will my life be like after we settle in to this new home in this new community?” “Does anybody else know what it’s like to battle this addiction?”

We would like to be able to connect the dots, wouldn’t we? We would like to be able to look into the future and see what it holds for us. We would like to be assured that others do know what we’re going through and, more importantly, that others care. But we can’t always connect the dots; we can’t ever look into the future. Many times others don’t know what’s going on in our lives, and sometimes they don’t even care.

So what are we to do when answers to those questions remain a mystery?

The declaration of God recorded by the prophet Jeremiah point us to God’s answer. We look to the Lord. The answers to all of those questions are not a mystery to him. Nothing happens in this world that he doesn’t see. Nothing happens in our life that does not concern him. Everything has his divine purpose in mind.

His purpose is “to prosper you and not to harm you.” His purpose is “to give you hope and a future.” Far beyond mere earthly prosperity and a hope-filled future on earth, the Lord works for our spiritual prosperity and the sure hope of an eternal future in heaven. Everything he plans and does is with this purpose in mind—through faith in the Son of God whom he sent to be our Savior, we will one day live with him in heaven.

What comfort that is when we aren’t always able to connect the dots of life. What security that gives us when we can’t see the specifics of the future. What peace that provides when others just don’t seem to know or care.

The Lord knows. The Lord cares. The Lord plans. The Lord controls. All of it, with your soul’s best interests in mind.

Crime

Are you worried about a rise in crime in your area? Have you been a victim?

Crime is a serious matter in the eyes of God. He wants us all to be under the rule of law, so that “we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:2). God invites us to respect and to pray for our government and for our judicial system (1 Timothy 2:1). He expects us to obey the law ourselves (Romans 13). He expects the government to punish those who don’t obey the law (Romans 13:3-5).

Jesus understands what it is like to be a victim of crime. He was wounded and beaten and mocked and spit on. He was accused of things he didn’t do. He has sympathy for those who are suffering in a similar way today (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

But Jesus’ reaction to criminals is a little surprising. When he was being punished for crimes he did not commit, he said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Two criminals were hanging on crosses next to Jesus when he was crucified. When he saw that one of them trusted him, he said to that criminal, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

How could Jesus say such things about bad people and to bad people?

Jesus could say those things because as he hung on the cross, he was willingly taking the punishment for the sins of all of the criminals who ever lived. In fact, he took the punishment for people who aren’t even criminals. On the cross Jesus suffered the eternal punishment that all people deserve (Matthew 27:46) so that he could tell everyone in the world that their sin is forgiven (2 Corinthians 5:19,20).

Because of what Jesus did, God can say to sinners, “I forgive you.” God forgives them, even criminals.