GCI Equipper

The Faith Venue

Living and sharing the gospel

One of the most famous Christian misquotes is attributed to Francis of Assisi. In some variation it sounds like this: “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”

At face value, this seems to make sense. We are to be lights in a darkened world—and lights are basically silent. We are to show ourselves to be a model of good works (Titus 2:7). We are to be imitators of God (Eph. 5:1). We are to love as Jesus loved (John 13:34). And we are to be humble, not domineering, setting a right example, etc. While these are all good things, they don’t justify the quote. Let me suggest three major problem with this quote.

  1. Francis of Assisi didn’t say this.
  2. Francis of Assisi wouldn’t have said this because it is contrary to what he taught and practiced.
  3. The quote is contrary to many scriptures in the Bible.

I’m ashamed to admit I’ve used this quote on more than one occasion. The quote served to justify my own reluctance to share my faith, both inside and outside the Christian community. My reasoning was as follows: For those who are believers, I just needed to love people. Living the gospel was simply being present, being positive among fellow believers and serving. For those who are not yet believers, the idea was that if I live out my faith by loving people, and those people notice there is something different about me, maybe they will ask what is different and then I can tell them about Jesus. Just typing these words make me cringe about the arrogance, the wrong focus, and the misinterpretation of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

In GCI, we are focusing our congregations on the three venues of love (outreach), hope (inspiring worship services) and faith (discipleship). In the last six issues of Equipper, we’ve given overviews of the love venue and the hope venue. This month we begin to address the faith venue. In the faith venue we want to focus on intentional discipleship, small groups and missionary activities. Discipleship is the process of growing closer to Christ and more like Christ, and into deeper Christian community with other believers. The concept behind the faith venue is to create spaces where disciple-making and spiritual growth can occur and be nurtured.

So let’s go back to the erroneous quote. It’s not enough to just demonstrate the gospel with our actions—though this is vital—we also need to use words. Discipleship includes both—living AND sharing the gospel. By living out what we believe, we can inspire others to see what it looks like to live in participation with Christ. By verbally sharing with each other, we learn from each other. I learn from you and you learn from me, and together our faith is strengthened. This is why being in a small group is so beneficial. Small groups not only offer an atmosphere for learning together, they also provide a safe environment for a small group of people who want to become more Christlike to pray together and to openly discuss our faith experiences. And in doing so, the members of the group experience a deeper sense of what it means to live in Christian community.

In this issue of Equipper, we address a few topics related to the Faith venue. Tim Sitterley and I look at both sides of living and sharing the gospel. Tim addresses the importance of living our faith in his article, “Faces of Hope,” and I address Peter’s admonition to always be ready to give an answer. In addition, Bill Hall has written an article about being Jesus to others, titled, “What About Evangelism?” My prayer is we never stop learning to preach the gospel in every aspect of our lives, using words and action.

Still learning how to live and preach,

Rick Shallenberger

Faces of Faith

Do our lives inspire others to say, “I want what you have”?

By Tim Sitterley, US Regional Director, West

When I was an assistant pastor, one of my responsibilities was coordinating our worship services. This was early in the worship wars, and there was still a great deal of resistance to contemporary choruses and instrumentation other than just a piano. In an effort to establish more credibility to what we were doing each week, I invited the senior pastor to bring his guitar and join us. He argued that he only knew four chords well, but I pointed out that was one chord more than he needed to play most of the contemporary music of the day. I also assured him we probably wouldn’t patch his guitar into the sound system anyway, so he had nothing to lose.

At the end of his first service as a musician, our pastor shared with others in the team how disheartening it was to look out on congregants who were simply going through the motions. The next week he did something I’ll never forget. He opened his message with the question, “How many of you have the joy of the Lord in your heart?”

A majority of the congregation raised their hand. He then continued “Judging from what I saw last week from the stage during worship, I have a suggestion. You might want to ask your heart to have a conversation with your face.”

We have all heard the expression, “Actions speak louder than words.” And nowhere is that more evident than when new and potential believers encounter the more seasoned members of a congregation. The Christian writer Brennan Manning put it this way. “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle.” In essence he was simply expanding on Titus 1:16, “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him.”

The apostle Peter tells us to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). Pastors give sermons highlighting the hope of glory. Small groups will focus on the scriptures pointing us to a future better than we can imagine. But the real test of whether these messages are hitting home will be in the behavior, words and lifestyles of all of us who call ourselves believers.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Do we believe this? More importantly, is this belief evident in our words and actions?

Or, as the old saying goes, do we live in hope for tomorrow or as if there is no tomorrow? Do we spend most of our time focusing on the reality of our identity in Christ or on the challenges of today? Do we continually seek the hope of the kingdom, or the rewards this life can offer? Are our words full of hope and affirmation, or words of despair and discouragement? Do new believers see Christians living with the full assurance of a glorious tomorrow, or caught up in the worries and woes of today? Let’s not let them see the same thing inside the church that they see outside the church—people simply going through the motions?

There was an expression of my generation when we saw someone who seemed happy and content, in spite of whatever their situation appeared to be. We would jokingly say, “I want what they are smoking.” As a pastor I’ve been privileged to sit at the bedside of many a seasoned saint facing the final moments of this life. I’ve heard them speak with hope and anticipation of what would come next—even in the pain and weakness they were suffering in the now. Their faith was so evident there are many times that old phrase would come to mind, “I want what they are smoking!”

Their faith is the hope we all should hold onto as believers. But more importantly, it should be the hope that is evident by our lifestyle. By our actions. By our words. If not, then all I can say is this: Don’t worry about being ready to give an account. If that hope is not apparent, new and potential believers won’t stay around long enough to ask for an explanation.

But when that hope is evident, our words and actions will speak far louder than any sermon a pastor can give from the pulpit. May we be a church that inspires the unbelieving world around us to ask a politically correct version of my generation’s statement. Let’s pray we hear others say, “I want what you have. Where can I get it?”

What About Evangelism

By Bill Hall, National Director, Canada

The seminar on Small Group ministry was nearing a close. The attendees had heard about having an “empty chair” at a small group meeting, creating a safe place for sharing and about the “life cycle” of a group. When I opened the floor for questions and comments, one person put his hand up and asked, “What about evangelism?”

His question took me back several years. I was raised in a church that counted on media to bring in new people. My denomination had a television show and several publications that we believed were responsible for bringing most of the members to the various churches. I still recall the meeting with our leading pastors when we were told we would no longer be airing a national television program or printing and distributing a free magazine. My first thought was expressed by another pastor who asked, “Then how will we reach people to attract them into our church?” The response was, “That will now be your job and the job of your congregation.”

Talk about a shift in paradigms! This was uncharted territory. My Newfoundland-turned Californian friend—Neil Earle—likened the process as being told to place our nets on the other side of the boat (John 21:6). It was a daunting proposal, but we also knew what happened when the disciples followed Jesus’ instructions. It was time to stop hiding behind our media platform and be the face of our denomination. More importantly, we were to represent Jesus in our own little worlds—or our “circles of influence.”

So…“What about evangelism?”

In the past several years, I have attended a number of seminars, seminary classes, and workshops on the subject of evangelism. One of my favorite authors is Anglican Michael Green, who writes extensively on the subject.

The great irony in my home country of Canada is that many churches are seeing a decline in attendance while about two thirds of Canadians continue to tell polling firms that they believe they “have forgiveness through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” It’s not just that society is becoming more secular (which it is), but many are now claiming their spirituality is more personalized and less corporate in nature.

As a pastor, I have felt a little inadequate as a “spiritual leader” when I continue to minister to about the same number of people that I did five years ago. The reports I was sending the Home Office each month contained the same information as the previous month. I felt like I was in a funk.

Then one day, while preaching about evangelism for the 99th time, something struck me as I looked out at the members of my congregation. It wasn’t a blinding light like that experienced by the apostle Paul; it was simply the realization that this group of people are following my lead as their pastor as they try to follow Jesus.

In following Jesus, they do try to be a positive influence in the world. Perhaps we were closer to realizing the paradigm shift that we faced so many years ago. I realized the people were becoming missional—they were willing to live out their faith.

A while ago I was invited to attend a poverty forum a family friend was giving in Saskatoon. He started his presentation with a short video featuring a poem written by a grade four student in Ontario that explained what poverty felt like. Then he shared why he was driven to speak up about poverty. Before entering politics, he had worked for a Catholic social service agency that helped the most vulnerable people of his city. But then he made an interesting commentary about the state of the Church in Canada that hit close to home. He said the Church seems to have lost an important aspect of its mission. The Church is now known for the energy it expends on taking stands on moral issues rather than for the care of the poor. It has relegated many of those past important issues to the state or other secular agencies.

This ties in with what I’ve been reading in media and what my friend, Equipper editor Rick Shallenberger, has written on a few times. The church is more known for what it is against than for what it is for. Somehow the message of the gospel is lost in all the rhetoric.

What does this have to do with evangelism? At the end of the Ottawa small group seminar, I asked the question, “How many of you are here because of the actions of someone else, and not because of the media efforts of this church?” Over half of the group put up their hand. I raised mine as well because I am a believer because of the influence of family members.

A lot of us are more missional than we realize. As Christians we have been given the unique gift to be the “hands and feet” of Jesus in this world. The post-moderns I know aren’t that interested in “absolute truth” or biblical debates, but they do respect and will give an ear to someone who lives out what they believe. I’ve had a number join me when I’m involved in a project to help the less fortunate. They often ask, “Why do you do this?” I reply, “I follow the example of the master, Jesus, who also cared for those who were disenfranchised in his society” (Matthew 25:31-45). That’s evangelism. I am who I am because of Jesus. I do what I do because of Jesus. Evangelism is giving credit and glory to our Lord and helping others get past the many lies and misrepresentations of who Jesus is.

Missional—evangelistic—work can be tiring and sometimes thankless. The results of our efforts are not always seen and often don’t result in more people filling seats on Sunday morning. But that is not the point. We are missional because of who we are and what we have become—the redeemed people of God, the followers of Jesus.

There is a story about a downtown soup kitchen located in the church basement that was run by an order of the Jesuits. One day a young seminary student came to the soup kitchen as a requirement for his evangelism class. He spent the entire day helping an elderly Jesuit provide assistance to the street people who lived around the church. It was a particularly busy day and he was exhausted by the time the kitchen was scheduled to close. He tidied up the kitchen and went to the main door of the facility to close and lock it for the evening. As he was closing the massive wooden door, he glanced down the deserted street to see a disheveled man stumbling down the street trying to get to the soup kitchen before it closed. Under his breath he uttered, “Jesus Christ…” Behind him the elderly Jesuit commented, “Could be, son, could be.”

May God bless us as we share his life and his love with others so they can participate in the relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

A Reason for the Hope You Have

By Rick Shallenberger, Equipper Editor

For most of my life I wasn’t sure how to deal with Peter’s admonition, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” The sad reality is no one asked me for the reason of my hope because I never gave them reason to ask. I didn’t talk about my hope, and people didn’t see that hope in me. Part of the reason is because my hope wasn’t on the right thing. Another reason was because I attended a church that believed and taught that sharing the gospel was the responsibility of only a few.

As I grew in my faith, I was still not sure how to give a reason of the hope in me. I wasn’t sure how to explain my faith to others; I wasn’t even sure I could explain it to myself. Then something happened: I started realizing it wasn’t my faith that gave me hope—it was Jesus’ faith that gave me hope. Let me explain.

In this portion of Peter’s letter, he is telling believers how to treat each other. He reminds them that we often suffer for doing good. He tells them to not fear any threats from false teachers, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.” This made me stop in my tracks.

The emphasis here is on Christ. Jesus Christ is the reason for the hope in me. It’s not about being the only true church; it’s not about what theology I know that others might not know; it’s not about following a religious way of life. My (our) hope is in Jesus—knowing him and knowing he knows us.

Once Peter establishes where this hope comes from, then he tells us to be prepared to talk about our hope. And why wouldn’t we? We didn’t do anything to receive salvation; Jesus did it all. He revealed himself to us, accepted us just the way we are, forgave us of our sins—even the ones we haven’t committed yet—paid the price for those sins, and died for us. Then he rose from the grave telling us death is no longer the great enemy and he ascended to the Father, telling us he took us with him and we already have eternal life in him.

What did we do in this process? Believe. That’s it. This brought new life to Peter’s instructions for me. So what’s next? How do we give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have?

We’ve already established that the hope Peter is talking about is Jesus. So how do we get people to ask about this hope? Let’s ask a couple questions:

Who is most likely going to ask you to give a reason for the hope you have?

Someone who knows you, and knows you are approachable. Someone you are in relationship with. It could be a personal relationship, a work relationship, a community relationship. Often it’s a family member or close co-worker, someone who spends a lot of time with you. This doesn’t negate the times a church guest might ask you, or you may get asked in a small group environment or when someone points out that you are a Christian. When we have an answer, I believe God provides numerous opportunities to give that answer to others.

Why would someone ask you to give a reason for the hope that you have?

More times than not, the person will ask you to talk about your hope because they have heard you talk about it. They have seen that what you say is in alignment with how you act. You are genuine, you are sincere, you are approachable. They are aware that this hope is important to you. They’ve watched you listen to others and offer to pray for them. They’ve seen you face suffering and still have hope. They’ve seen you go through trauma without losing your sense of peace. They have watched you repay evil with blessing. Your life is filled with expressions of love for others. They want to know what makes you the way you are.

In what manner do you give a reason for the hope that you have?

Peter has one more part to his admonition: “But do this with gentleness and respect.” When our motivation is to love others as Jesus loves us, we will respond to questions about our hope with enthusiasm and love. We don’t pull out the Bible and give a list of scriptures. We don’t list all the dos and don’ts of our belief system. We don’t tell them what we used to believe and how thankful we are that we don’t believe that anymore. We don’t tell them to go see a minister. Rather, we give a reason. We share what Jesus means to us. In other words, we share our personal testimony.

Wait! Don’t panic. Let me explain how easy it is to put together your personal testimony by sharing one I sometimes use.

The reason I give for the hope I have—my testimony

I’m often asked, “How can you be so positive with all the trauma you’ve faced in your life?” Note something about this question: it’s based on relationship. For someone to know I’ve faced trauma, they have to know me. This means we’ve already shared time together. This means I’ve already asked them a lot of questions to show my interest in their life. (Remember, you have to be interested, before others find you interesting.) This likely means I’ve heard a lot about their story and they’ve come around to asking me about my story.

So going back to their question, “How can you be so positive…” I simply respond, “Without knowing that Jesus has my back, I couldn’t be.” That answer brings out a lot of responses:

  • Oh, I believe in God, but don’t really think he is that involved in day-to-day life.
  • I wish I believed in God, but I don’t.
  • I’m glad that works for you; it wouldn’t work for me.
  • No really, how do you handle the trauma?
  • I used to believe in God, but that didn’t work out for me.
  • I wish I had your faith.
  • Tell me more.

I have answers for all these and any other response that can come up. They aren’t profound answers—they are usually turning the answer around into a question.

  • So what do you believe about God?
  • Did you ever believe in God? What happened?
  • Why do you think it wouldn’t work for you?
  • Do you think believing that Jesus has my back is silly?
  • Why can’t you believe in God? Did something shake your faith?
  • What didn’t work out?
  • Do you think I have faith? What do you think of when you hear the word faith?
  • What do you want to know?

I don’t have to prepare for more than this. I let the questions guide the conversation, and I always make it clear my hope is in Jesus.

When Peter says “be prepared…” he isn’t asking you to write down your testimony and keep a copy in your pocket or purse. (Though writing it down will prove to be an amazing exercise for you as you start to write down why you hope in Jesus.) I suggest he’s asking you to be prepared with a simple answer. It might include a simple illustration, or an answered prayer, or something personal to you, but the key is to keep it simple. And then allow the Holy Spirit to direct the rest of the conversation.

Jesus is our hope; that is something to talk about.

Sermon for November 3, 2019

Watch video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ab-ELptXDB0

Readings: Isaiah 1:10-18 • Psalm 32:1-8 • 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12 • Luke 19:1-10

This week’s theme is the joy and transforming power of grace. The prophet Isaiah points out to the sinful people of Sodom and Gomorrah that God is not interested in burnt offerings; he is interested in seeing change—seeking justice, rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphan, taking care of the widow. He gives forgiveness, he wants us to let it change the way we live. The Psalmist talks about confessing our sins and living in the joy of forgiveness. Forgiveness changes us. In Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica, he tells them he boasts about how their living in grace has increased their love for one another. The sermon focuses on the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19. Zacchaeus displays the joy and transformation of receiving God’s grace.

The Transforming Power of Love

Luke 19:1-10

One of the songs that is part of the soundtrack for the classic 1980s movie Back to the Future is “The Power of Love,” by the group Huey Lewis and the News. The lyrics point out an important truth about love:

            The power of love is a curious thing

Makes one man weep, makes another man sing

Changes a heart to a little white dove

More than a feeling, that’s the power of love.

You’ll notice that the lyrics talk about how love is “more than a feeling” and that love can actually create change in people. Love is a force that can transform a person. We can see this transformational process at work in the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector, which we find in Luke 19:1-10.

If you did not play “Speaking of Life,” read, or have someone read, Luke 19:1-10.

First a bit of background: Under the Roman system, tax collecting jobs were given to people who purchased the right to collect taxes. In other words, tax collecting was a business. As a business owner, Zacchaeus could set taxes at a rate that covered what he had to pay to Rome, cover business expenses, and pay himself a handsome salary. Add to that, Zacchaeus was a “chief tax collector,” which meant he presided over other tax gatherers, adding to his profit status. Luke tells us Zacchaeus was a wealthy man—he had done well in business.

Contrary to popular opinion, the Bible does not state that Zacchaeus was dishonest. Zacchaeus’ statement to Jesus was, “If I have been dishonest, I will pay back four times as much.” The Bible does let us know Zacchaeus was considered a sinner because of his business choice—and his greed. One can determine Zacchaeus was more concerned about wealth than reputation simply due to the fact he chose to work for the enemy, and he chose a career he knew his fellow countrymen despised.

Jews not only hated being governed by Rome, paying taxes to Rome was just another thorn. Then to have some of their own countrymen collecting those taxes just added fuel to the fire. Tax collectors (publicans) were not liked by the people in any community and were presumed to be dishonest, corrupt and they were pretty much despised. So for Jesus to call out Zacchaeus and then say he wanted to share a meal with him was more than many people could handle. “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”

Let’s consider some interesting ideas found in this passage:

  • Zacchaeus was desperate to see Jesus. He was short, and he had to climb a tree to see. Zacchaeus may have even been putting his own safety in jeopardy by showing up in the crowd trying to see Jesus. People despised him because of his profession.
  • Jesus called him by name. Jesus honored Zacchaeus by calling him by name. This implies that he knew him and his story, how he was excluded because he worked for Rome. Jesus knew his reputation, and he knew the truth about Zacchaeus’ business practices—whether or not they were dishonest.
  • Those who grumbled did not understand why Jesus came. Many assumed that Jesus was going to break the control Rome had on Judea and that he would become the new king. Hanging out with a tax collector implied approval. They didn’t realize Jesus’s mission was to show that God’s kingdom operated with different rules, and that love and grace were at the top of that list.
  • Zacchaeus’s offer of restitution was more generous than required by the Law. He was only required to restore the original value plus one-fifth (Lev. 6:5). Only premeditated and violent robbery required fourfold restitution (Ex. 22:1). Zacchaeus shows that he is willing to go above and beyond if he has cheated anyone, but he goes further and says he will give away half of his possessions. This is a bold move of a wealthy person, indicating to us that Zacchaeus is changed by Jesus’s loving acceptance.
  • Jesus makes it clear that everyone belongs, regardless of their career choice or any mistakes they make. Jesus says that Zacchaeus is a “son of Abraham,” reminding the others that he has a place with them. He may be a brother who chose a despised career, but he is first and foremost a brother.
  • Jesus states his mission. Contrary to what the crowd thought, Jesus’ mission was not to become a king and create the type of government they were familiar with. Jesus’s mission was to “seek out and save the lost” by showing how all people were valuable in God’s sight, not just the “cool” ones, or the rich ones, or the religiously perfect ones. He was ushering in a system that was based on grace, not merit. He chose to spend time with those marginalized by the culture they lived in—women, the poor, those who were despised by others, those had made mistakes. He honored those the culture said were nobodies because in God’s economy, there are no nobodies.

Application:

  • Transformation can only happen in the context of loving acceptance of a person where they are at right now. Jesus didn’t tell Zacchaeus he needed to make any particular changes. He said, “I’d love to spend some time and get to know you better.” In our relationships, we must put loving acceptance first and leave the job of transformation to God and his perfect timing. Consider how this impacts your relationships with family, coworkers, and other church members.
  • Everyone is somebody in God’s kingdom. Everyone matters. Everyone has a place and purpose. We cannot judge a person’s contribution or value because all are invaluable in God’s sight. All are included and loved.

As we consider the transformation of Zacchaeus’ heart, we are reminded that love and acceptance create the conditions for transformation to occur, and this transformation will come from God, within a person, not from concerned onlookers. “The power of love is a curious thing,” say the song lyrics, but the effects of loving acceptance can be far-reaching and life changing.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life and the sermon
  • We observe that Jesus’s first words to Zacchaeus were not about the type of business Zacchaeus chose—knowing it was a business that was despised—but he asked to spend time with Zacchaeus. How do you think Zacchaeus felt when Jesus said he wanted to stay at his house? How would you feel if you were in his place?
  • Those who were watching, who had probably felt they had been defrauded by Zacchaeus, grumbled against Jesus because he was choosing to spend time with someone who clearly benefited from the Roman occupation of their land. They thought Jesus was going to break the control of the Romans and become king; instead, he was hanging out with a tax collector. Share a time you expected God to work in a situation in a particular way, and he chose to handle it completely differently. Were your feelings and thoughts quick to change and adapt, or did it take a while?
  • Jesus’ love and acceptance for Zacchaeus made him want to live differently, to be a better person, to be more generous. Share a time when someone’s belief or confidence in you made you better or stronger than you would have been by yourself.
  • Jesus makes the point that Zacchaeus was part of the “family” (i.e., “a son of Abraham”). How can we convey that same loving acceptance to our own family when they make choices we don’t agree with? How can we convey that loving acceptance to our church family?

Sermon for November 10, 2019

Watch video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsmJrtaznpw

Readings: Haggai 1:15-2:9 • Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21 or Psalm 98 • 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5. 13-17 • Luke 20:27-38 (more…)


Small Group Discussion Questions

From “Speaking of Life” and the sermon.
  • What could possibly unsettle your faith or belief? Share a time when you were “shaken or alarmed” in your faith or beliefs. (2 Thess. 2:2)
  • Discuss what the Thessalonians might have been thinking, experiencing and feeling concerning the “news” (teaching) that Jesus had already returned.
  • In Haggai we see that Zerubbabel, Joshua and the Jews were commissioned and called to rebuild the temple, yet they lost focus. What things in life can cause us to lose focus and let down on our purpose and calling?
  • Psalm 145 and Psalm 98 are Psalms of comfort and encouragement. They are great reminders of God’s faithfulness—even in times of our doubt and distraction. What are some other scriptures that help keep you grounded and steadfast?

Sermon for November 17, 2019

Watch video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gt99mrWxcmw

Readings: Isaiah 65:17-25 • Isaiah 12:1-6 • 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 • Luke 21:5-19

This week’s theme is created for eternal relationship. The prophet Isaiah talks about our eternal relationship—a time of no dying or weeping or pain. The former things are not remembered. In chapter 12, Isaiah reminds Israel that God is our salvation; he comforts; he brings joy. In his letter to believers in Thessalonica, Paul gives details about how to live in that relationship. The sermon, from the passage in Luke, talks about how people get caught up in signs and the destruction of the temple, but these things aren’t what life is about. Life is about being in relationship with Father, Son and Spirit.

All Shook Up

Luke 21:5-19 NRSV

This sermon is intentionally long. It covers the entire passage of Luke 21:5-19, and could easily be made into back-to-back sermons, or a sermon and a Bible study. We left it long so you could determine if you want to focus on the four negative commands and make reference to the relationship statements or focus on the relationship statements and make reference to the negative commands.

Introduction: You might want to play the very beginning of Elvis Presley’s song, “All shook up.”

“A well’a bless my soul; What’sa wrong with me?”

Those are the opening lines of the lyrics to Elvis Presley’s famous song, “All Shook Up.” Elvis connects with our own souls with the surprise we often feel when something is wrong. On one hand, we seem to intuitively know that our souls are made for blessing. But on the other hand, what do we make of things when everything seems to be going wrong? This doesn’t add up. For Elvis, the crisis taking place has everything to do with his beloved. His refrain simply states:

“I’m in love; I’m all shook up.”

For Elvis, and I think we would agree, being in love with another tends to shake things up, especially in the beginning of a budding relationship. When we are drawn into a relationship with someone else, we inevitably experience a crisis in our lives. It can be perplexing. We are wooed and called to another that we can’t see ourselves living without. But at the same time, this “call” is very costly. Everything will have to change. Sacrifices will need to be made and schedules will need to adjust. Things will need to shift around and be reordered to make room for this new relationship.

And do people notice? You better believe it. Ever seen a young man start taking a keen interest in his clothing and hygiene when years of parental coaxing barely produce matching socks? Or what about the young lady who unexplainably cleans the entire house before a certain someone picks her up at the door. You might even ask, “What happened to you? I feel I barely know you anymore!” “Hey, are you feeling ok? Should I take you to the doctor?” It does not escape the attention of others when someone is adjusting their lives to make room for another. Sooner or later the question is going to come up. “So, who is this person that is bringing about all these changes in you?”

 

You may be wondering where I am going with this. Today’s passage from Luke is about Jesus predicting the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. What does being “All Shook Up” have to do with Luke 21? Perhaps Elvis’ lyrics can provide a fresh approach to this passage. Let’s begin reading the passage:

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” (Luke 21:5-6 NRSV)

Jesus is giving his disciples a heads-up on an upcoming “shake up” with cosmic, political and personal implications. We may be tempted to look at this passage as a straight warning about end-of-the-world events before Christ returns. But Jesus wasn’t concerned with predicting the end of the world and even warns against going down that road in this very passage. However, Jesus did want his followers to endure to the end regardless of the crisis that was inevitably coming. Jesus wants them to understand that a relationship with him is going to be a shake-up of their entire existence.

If Elvis, the king of rock and roll, was “all shook up” because of the love of his “buttercup,” what crisis should we expect when the love of God the Father takes hold of us in the King of all Kings, Jesus Christ? Let’s take a look!

When people spoke of the temple, they spoke of its beauty—how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God. This gives us a window into the values and mindsets of “some” in their words about the temple. These disciples were expressing a worldview that was proud of what was “dedicated to God.”

The temple was an impressive structure. It was visibly beautiful and seemingly unmovable. And it was all for God. Any good Jew would be proud.

Jesus responds to their self-satisfied preoccupation by letting them know it’s all going to be shook up, or down in this case, where “not one stone will be left upon another.” That’s a pretty thorough shake-down, to say the least. Jesus says these words, by the way, while standing near temple.

In our day and time, we may not have a decorated temple to boast about, but we can easily confuse dedication to God with images of success. These images of success are the “things that you see” that Jesus says will not last. How often do we pride ourselves in our latest “success” while claiming it to be all “for” God? Who are we kidding? Everything we have and accomplish is a gift by God’s grace. When we peel back the layers of our heart, we may find we are more dedicated to all the temples of beauty and power that makes us feel secure and significant than we are to God. If Jesus told you that everything you are proud of would not last, how would you respond?

Here’s how these disciples responded:

They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” (Luke 21:7 NRSV)

They respond with a question about timing. They seemed to gloss right over the main take-away from Jesus’ words. The temple has no staying power. It’s going away. Why ask about when? Maybe these disciples want to know how long they can remain enjoying the temple. Maybe they are hoping it won’t occur on their watch. Whatever their reasons, their focus is still on the temple. If I told you your house was going to burn down next week and for some reason you believed me, you probably would start packing and looking for a new home. Why be concerned with the exact day and how the blaze begins? There’s no future in that house. Move on…and quickly!

Jesus shows little concern for their concern about timing:

And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!’ and, “The time is near!’ Do not go after them.” (Luke 21:8 NRSV)

It seems Jesus wants to redirect their question from “When?” to “Who?” Who are the disciples going to follow? Who are they dedicated to? The fear of losing what we treasure most will create a crisis for us and we will search for a replacement. For the Jews, losing the temple would be an undoing of life as they knew it. They would be sorely tempted to follow some other promise of life. Jesus is standing there in the temple, the only true Life that has any lasting beauty and power for them. Jesus wants to turn his disciple’s eyes away from the temple and to himself. There is no other place to put our trust and our hope.

In this verse, we encounter two of four negative commands in our passage.

  1. “Do not be misled!” The disciples are already misled in looking to the temple for their significance and dedication to God. Jesus knows we are tempted to follow things that appear beautiful and powerful. We are success-driven people. Can we hear Jesus speaking to us in our time? Do not be misled. The “success” we find in life will not last and it does not give us a better standing with God. Pursuing success-driven agendas in the name of God misleads us into a dedication to ourselves, not God.
  2. “Do not follow false leaders.” When Luke wrote this, the temple had already been destroyed. His readers were facing some false prophets who were claiming an imminent doom because of this specific current event. “The temple has fallen! So, the world is coming to an end! Follow me!” Using Jesus’ warning, Luke encourages his readers to remain patient in their time of crisis. Faithfulness and longsuffering are the way of following the Lord, not knee-jerk reactions to crisis. When we know God as the one who is faithful to us, then crises are events that come and They do not define us or sway us from one extreme to another.

The third negative command is in the next verse:

“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” (Luke 21:9 NRSV)

  1. “Do not panic.” Jesus wants to turn their ears to listen to him rather than to all the fearmongering that comes from fighting. He indicates to them that “wars and insurrections” are unavoidable before the end comes. The word “end” here is telos, which refers more to the end purpose of something, not the cessation of something. So, wars and insurrections in some way “must take place” before the goal of what God is doing in our world is complete. Wars and insurrections create instability. We never know how things are going to turn out—who will win, who will lose and how it will affect us. “Wars and insurrections” is a strong way to express the thought of crisis. It’s here that Jesus says, “Do not panic!” How can we not panic in the face of such a major, shall we say, shake-up? We panic when we don’t know what’s going on or how it will turn out.

Maybe for a moment we can return to Elvis’ refrain:

“I’m in love; I’m all shook up”

Jesus is the Father’s love made visible in our world. This creates the greatest shake-up of all time. Things are going to be thrown into crisis as God’s love woos people to himself. In Jesus, the world is coming face to face with the one who is too beautiful and powerful to be ignored. In Jesus, we are all called into a love affair that we were created for. But things must change. The beginning of this relationship will produce some serious shaking-up of priorities, ways of thinking, talking and acting. There is no room for a self-centered life in this other-centered relationship. We can fight it, and we do. We can resist, and mount an insurrection, and we do. But for the true “end” or full purpose of being human to come about, Jesus must bless us by shaking loose what’s wrong with us. (To channel Elvis one more time.)

Why shouldn’t we panic? Because Jesus has won the war and put down the insurrection. These things can play out in our lives and in our world without us losing hope. We can participate in the breaking loose of all that gets in the way of us being blessed in this relationship found in Jesus. The “end” is coming, but for now we make room for this new relationship in our lives in hope. And as we do so, we become witnesses to the rest of the world of who God is.

After Jesus tells these disciples “not to panic” over all the crisis coming their way, he then gives them a comprehensive picture of what this crisis will look like. It is the desire of the Father to “shake up” every facet of our lives to make us whole. He is in the business of making us a new creation. Jesus is not a part-time Redeemer. He’s the fullness of time bringing us to an end-time full-fill-ment. C.S. Lewis once said, “Dozens of people go to Him to be cured of some one particular sin which they are ashamed of…or which is obviously spoiling daily life…Well, He will cure it all right: but He will not stop there. That may be all you asked; but if once you call Him in, He will give you the full treatment” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone), pp. 174).

“The full treatment” is what lies within the next 8 verses. There’s a lot packed in here and it’s not a chronological prediction of events. Rather, it’s an overview of all that gets “shook up” when God’s love breaks in. We will look at four relationships that are in crisis. These four relationships we will see are what makes us fully human. To be whole is to have each of these relationships brought into crisis, shaking up everything that’s wrong with us so we can live as the Father’s beloved children.

Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name.” (Luke 21:10-17 NRSV)

  1. Relationship with God

Let’s start with the first relationship that shakes up all the others. We see this expressed in verse 12:

“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you…because of my name.” (Luke 21:12 NRSV)

It’s our relationship with God gone astray that has led to the unavoidable crisis in every area of our lives. As we come to see in Jesus who the Father is and who we are as his children, we are called, or wooed back into the relationship we were created for. We are brought to a point of crisis where we choose to enter this relationship with our whole heart. It’s living in this relationship, living in his name, that reorders everything in our lives. A life of repentance begins where we turn from all that turns us from the beauty and power we see in the face of our beloved. We find in this relationship more and more that we were made to be blessed and to be a blessing, to be loved by the one who created us for himself, and to love this one with our whole being. This is a love that completely reorients everything else. We find out who we are and what our purpose for existence is. Everything else now finds its proper place and order from this primary relationship. Like the young couple that falls in love, because of their relationship with one another, they begin to relate to everything else differently.

  1. Relationship with self

The next thing that gets shook up in our love relationship with the Lord is how we relate to ourselves. We find ourselves in the eyes of the other. This was one of the first things that went wrong in the Garden after the Fall. When Adam and Eve turned their eyes from the Gardener and onto what looked good for them in the Garden, they decided to trust in themselves rather than the Creator for what was good. In this way, we decided for ourselves what was right and what was wrong. We ceased trusting the goodness of the Creator and trusted in our own judgment instead. This did not lead to any inner peace or contentment. Rather, Adam and Eve were full of shame and guilt, and this resulted in hiding from their Creator whom they once walked with in peace.

We see in this section a return to the trust relationship with the Father which shakes out our self-reliance:

“So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom…” (Luke 21:14-15 NRSV)

This brings us to our final negative command.

  1. “Do not prepare your defense beforehand.” Instead of deciding for ourselves what to say and do, all our words and actions flow out of trusting what the Lord “gives.” We cease talking to ourselves and return to listening to the voice of another. We have a way of self-understanding that operates by going out on our own to “find ourselves.”

Ever heard that sentiment? “I just need to get away from everyone and find out who I really am.” Or, “I’m going to do some soul searching and get in touch with my true self.” The problem with this is we are listening to the wrong voice. It makes sense that if we really want to know who we are, we must listen to the one who created us. We are at a distinct disadvantage of knowing ourselves from ourselves since we didn’t create ourselves. And what’s more, we are persons created to be in relationship with the Father. We will never truly know who we are by listening to our own voice outside of this relationship. We can only tell ourselves what we already know. So, we need answers that must come from another voice.

  1. Relationship with others

The third relationship that gets “all shook up” is our relationship with others. In this section we see this played out on both personal and public stages. When our primary relationship with the Lord regains its proper center in our lives, we shouldn’t be surprised that our other relationships may need some realigning. In this realignment, we may experience “relatives and friends” who “betray” us. Some deeply personal relationships may have been taking center stage in our life and to lose this standing probably won’t come without a fight. We see this fight escalate where “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.”

Jesus is clear that, “You will be hated by all because of my name.” Our other relationships are being shook up by our relationship with the Lord. Everyone wants to be number one. When Jesus moves into that place, people may not move over so easily. But ironically, it’s only in this alignment that our relationship with others can be healed and made whole. We were not created to worship the ground others walk on. We were created to worship together on the same ground we walk on with the Lord.

It’s here in this shake-up that Jesus says we have an “opportunity to testify.” People will take notice of the change in us. It may not be well received at first. “…they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors…” It seems from this passage that the main opportunity here is to grow in our trust and relationship with the Lord a little further as he promises to give us his words and wisdom in response to this reaction from others. The more we walk with him the more we grow to trust him. Our witness to the world will be a natural response that flows from knowing the Lord, rather than reacting to people.

  1. Relationship with creation

Our final relationship that undergoes a shake-up is our relationship with creation. Notice the cosmic and natural turmoil that unfolds as God’s kingdom of love breaks in:

“…there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven” (Luke 21:11 NRSV)

As our relationship with ourselves and with others undergo a realignment to our relationship with the Lord, the place in which these relationships are engaged is affected. Relationships do not take place in a vacuum. A simplistic picture of this is a bar fight scene in a Western movie. When people start fighting, the place gets destroyed. The cosmos does not exist in some detached way from the humans who live in it. It’s all connected. So naturally, our environment and forces of nature undergo a seismic shift in reaction to the shake-up taking place between God and his people who were created to be stewards of his good creation.

With these four relationships being “shook up,” we may need to hear the Lord’s final words in this passage for encouragement:

“But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” (Luke 21:18-19 NRSV)

We can engage in all this struggle, this crisis, on all four fronts of our relationships, because we are promised that in the end, we will be made whole. God intends to save our whole being with all our relationships that make up who we are – what Jesus here calls our souls. We will find in the end that we haven’t lost anything—not even one hair.

Why should we endure? Because through the process, “the full treatment,” we are gaining who we are: Souls being shook up by God’s love. The complete you, from the hair on your head to the last cell in your foot, including the ground you walk on and the people you walk with. It is all being healed and made whole in the love of the Father poured out in Jesus the Son by the Spirit.

 


Small Group Discussion Questions

From “Speaking of Life:”
  • Share a remodeling project that took more time and cost more than you anticipated.
  • Do you think Jesus’ remodeling project in you is taking too long? Explain why or why not.
  • Are you asking Jesus to remodel (change) you? What do you think that might look like?
From the sermon:
  • Discuss how we can confuse being dedicated to our own “success” with a true dedication to God. Can you think of ways we ascribe dedication to God with outward appearances of beauty and power?
  • Discuss how God calling us to himself will create a crisis in our lives. Can you share any experience where your relationship with the Lord created a “shake-up” in other areas of your life?
  • Discuss Jesus’ command about not being misled or following false leaders. Can you see how a crisis in our life can tempt us to follow someone who presents themselves as a “savior” to our situation? Share any examples you may have experienced.
  • What did you think of C.S. Lewis’s quote about “the full treatment”? Can you think of times with your walk with the Lord where he was doing more in you than you may have bargained for? Share any experiences you may have.
C.S. Lewis quote: “Dozens of people go to Him to be cured of some one particular sin which they are ashamed of…or which is obviously spoiling daily life…Well, He will cure it all right: but He will not stop there. That may be all you asked; but if once you call Him in, He will give you the full treatment” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone), pp. 174).
  • Discuss the four relationships that make up being a complete person.

Sermon for November 24, 2019

Watch video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wgW2HpDpx4

Readings: Jeremiah 23:1-6 • Luke 1:68-79 • Colossians 1:11-20 • Luke 23:33-43

This week’s theme is Christ the King. The prophet Isaiah talks about our eternal relationship—a time of no dying or weeping or pain. The former things are not remembered. In chapter 12, Isaiah reminds Israel that God is our salvation; he comforts; he brings joy. In his letter to believers in Thessalonica, Paul gives details about how to live in that relationship. The sermon, from the passage in Luke, talks about how people get caught up in signs and the destruction of the temple, but these things aren’t what life is about. Life is about being in relationship with Father, Son and Spirit.

Kingship Redefined

Luke 23:33-43 NRSV

Today is the last Sunday of the Christian calendar—a mere month from Christmas. Next week we enter the season know as Advent—a time of expectant waiting and preparation for both the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas and the return of Jesus at the Second Coming. But let’s not rush forward to a new year, let’s be reminded who the Christian calendar is all about—Jesus, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Today, this last weekend of the Christian calendar is called Christ the King Sunday.

The text for today’s sermon is Luke 23, where we find Jesus—our King—on a cross. This truth was missed by those surrounding the cross. You might think Luke 23 a bit out of place for a sermon on Christ being King, but I believe by the end of the sermon, we will see that Jesus isn’t just King, he redefines what a King should be.

  • They were looking for a king—he came as a lamb.
  • They were looking for a warrior—he came as a peacemaker.
  • They were looking for a ruler—he came as a servant.
  • They were looking for glory—he displayed humility.
  • They were looking for status—he spent time with the broken and the poor.
  • They were looking for judgment—he came with forgiveness.
  • They were looking for liberation from Rome—he submitted to the Roman stake.

Let’s read the text:

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:33-43 NRSV)

Throughout this past year, most of our congregations have gone through Christ’s birth, his life, his teaching, his suffering. We recall the sequence of events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus, the last supper, his betrayal by Judas in the garden, the kangaroo court before the high priests Annas and Caiaphas, the crowds calling for Pilate to crucify him, the beating, the Roman soldiers rolling the dice for his clothing. These are things we’d rather forget, but there was one thing during all of this that was right—the message Pilate demanded be posted on the top of the cross in three languages: “This is the King of the Jews.”

Without knowing it, Pilate told all who were present at the crucifixion that Jesus is the King of the Jews. He is a king the world does not recognize, and he is a King that takes us to paradise.

Let’s look a bit closer at this story and see how Jesus redefined the role of a king.

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. (Luke 23:33-34 NRSV)

We will get to the two criminals in a moment, but first, let’s focus on this statement of Jesus, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

A king never forgets his mission

There is a wonderful lesson here: Even though Jesus had been mocked, spit upon, beaten and nailed to a cross, he still carried out his mission. His mission was to show the Father’s love and to bring forgiveness. He demonstrated his love for the people so much that even while he was on that cross, he prayed for them. And he is not just praying for those who put him there—this prayer is for all of humanity. Jesus prayed for all of us because he could see what we would not and could not pray for ourselves.

Sometimes, forgiveness is difficult to do, isn’t it? When a person has hurt you or has done something to you that just pierced your heart, the last thing that you may want to do is pray for them and ask God to forgive them because they really did not know what they were doing. But, because of Jesus Christ, we can do that. Through the love and forgiveness we have received, we can forgive others, regardless of what they have done to us. This is the lesson for Christ followers—and one it seems we desperately need. It’s amazing how many who profess to be Christ followers fill social media with hate about their leaders or former leaders. We are called to pray for others, to ask God to transform them. We are not called to join in the mob mentality of sharing disdain.

Jesus prayed for the very ones who were casting lots to divide his clothing—that’s mercy, that’s love.

And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” (Luke 23:35-38 NRSV)

A king doesn’t have to prove his identity

If there was ever a king the world did not recognize, it was Jesus. Jesus had not only never committed a crime, he wasn’t convicted of a crime, yet he was killed in a manner used for low-life criminals and enemies of the state. The sign saying Jesus was “King of the Jews” was meant as a mockery and a justification. They had no other crime to convict him of except potential enemy of the state. Crucifixion was meant to be used as a spectacle to warn others. In this case, it became a sign of hope for all.

The sign brought a lot of mockery. Leaders were mocking him, the soldiers were mocking him, even one of the criminals mocked him. Still Jesus didn’t respond. It didn’t matter what they thought about him, nothing changed his identity. It didn’t matter if they believed him or not, nothing changed who he was. Most kings rule from a throne and the throne is often the symbol of their rulership. Our King turned his cross into a symbol of hope, peace, joy and love.

Jesus didn’t have to prove his identity to anyone—he was the Son of God, the Son of Man. It’s a lesson for all of us as Christ followers. It doesn’t matter what scorn people throw at us; it doesn’t matter if we are mocked for believing in something (someone) that cannot be seen; it doesn’t matter if we are mocked for showing mercy and forgiveness to our enemies; it doesn’t matter if we are called out-of-touch with reality, fools, or worse. We know who we are—children of the Father, servants of the true King. We should not have to use words to claim our identity—our way of living should show that we know who we are.

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:33-43 NRSV)

A king hears the cries of his people

The fact that Jesus and this criminal had this discussion while being nailed to a cross defies logic, yet the Bible shares the exchange with us. One criminal is mocking Jesus, and the other tells him to stop. “This man has done nothing wrong.” You can’t help but wonder if the sign on the cross made the man think. We don’t know, but we do know he turned to Jesus and addressed him as a king. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

I see our King doing three things here:

  1. Jesus puts his own needs aside and serves another—even while on the cross.

This wasn’t the only example of Jesus’ serving heart. One of the other Gospel writers tells us Jesus showed concern for his mother as well. The point is, Jesus didn’t make the suffering all about himself. Have you ever noticed when you are going through a severe trial, that when you pray for others or serve others, your own problems don’t seem so big?

  1. Jesus sees the man’s heart and declares him not guilty as he repented.

Jesus was relieving the man of his guilt, as it says in Romans:

But to the one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. (Romans 4: 5 NRSV)

This kingdom of God is so good, when you learn of it you want to be part of it. As we seek the kingdom, we cannot help but feel unqualified to enter it. This leads to repentance and an acknowledgment of who Jesus is and what he has done for us.

The criminal acknowledged his guilt, “we indeed have been condemned justly.” But then he saw Christ for who he was and asked to be forgiven and included.

And Christ responded—that’s what he does. He came to remove our guilt by paying the penalty for our wrongs through the body broken and blood shed on the cross. Notice that Jesus does and will continue to do the work of forgiving. He declares us forgiven by his work of salvation, not by any work we do.

  1. Jesus was with him in suffering.

Don’t just gloss over this. It would be easy to say Jesus didn’t have a choice when he was to be crucified or who was to be crucified with him, but it would be a mistake to make this assumption. The God who prophesied how Jesus would come into the world and how he would leave the world is the same God who could orchestrate who was to be crucified so we could learn from this man’s acceptance of Jesus. The criminal on the cross teaches us many things, the least of which is that God looks on the heart. This story reminds us that works are not necessary for salvation; rather, they are the result of receiving the gift of salvation. This story reminds us that God is willing to go to great lengths to reach out to us. It reminds us that we are not alone in our suffering. It reminds us that when we recognize the King, we are invited into the kingdom.

Jesus is the King of a radical kingdom—a kingdom for the broken, the poor, the sinners, the hungry, the downtrodden, the helpless, the hopeless, and even those who believe they don’t fit into one or more of these categories. He will return as King of kings and Lord of lords, never forcing anyone to follow him, but rewarding all who do.

This radical kingdom of God was brought to all of humanity by the Son of God—Jesus Christ—and is now carried on through his body, the church, you and me.

Let’s close with the words Paul used in Colossians, words that are also included in this week’s theme. These words come right after Paul tells us we should give thanks to the Father for rescuing us from darkness and transferring us to the kingdom of his beloved Son. Then he describes the Son:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20 NRSV)

The kingdom of God, the rule of Christ as the King of Kings, comes to bring justice and righteousness into the world. We are ambassadors to that kingdom; we are to bring justice and righteousness into this world because we are the body of Christ. We are to bring righteous and justice into this world because Christ lives in.

Let’s never forget our mission.

Let’s never forget our identity.

Let’s never stop viewing people as those whom God loves and forgives.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From “Speaking of Life:”
  • What events in your life have you had great anticipation for? Did you experience an anticipation of the anticipation? (Read and discuss Luke 1:5-25, 57-66)
  • What are some of the characteristics of the Messiah that Zechariah created anticipation for? What do you anticipate regarding the (second) coming of Jesus?
From the sermon:
  • With all the expectation and anticipation of Jesus being the Messiah, ponder and discuss what the disciples might have been thinking seeing Jesus hanging on a cross.
  • It seems that even the criminals on either side of Jesus believed at some level that he was the Messiah (one perhaps a bit sarcastically and the other more reverently.) (Luke 23:36-41.) For the thief who asked Jesus to remember him when he entered his kingdom, what do you think he was anticipating?