Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Power and Wisdom of the Cross

You can tell much about the state of the Church by the messages that are preached to it. I want to share with you two lists of sermon titles. See if you can figure out what these preachers and their people value by simply noting their sermon titles. I am not criticizing one or the other. I just want you to see the difference. One list is contemporary; one is from the past.

How To Tell God You Love Him
The Five Essentials of Life
It Takes Courage To Make A Difference
Where To Find The Hope You Need
How God Heals Your Hidden Wounds

VALUES: simplicity, structure, help for personal problems, lightheartedness

A Family Well-Ordered (Cotton Mather)
Charity and Its Fruits (Jonathan Edwards)
Gospel Worship (Jeremiah Burroughs)
Duty of Self-Denial (Thomas Watson)
The Art of Divine Contentment
The Mischief of Sin
The Desperateness of Sinners
An Alarm to Sinners
Hell’s Furnace Heated Hotter

VALUES: Christian virtue and character, seriousness, biblical terminology

Comparing one list with another, it seems there are some truths which have lost their centrality in preaching. What once was at the core of biblical proclamation is now hard to find at all. Our text today speaks about one of these truths which we hear less and less of. It is the message of the cross.

I hope that the Church has not outgrown the cross, has not moved on to bigger and better things. I hope that we have not forgotten the most pivotal act in history and relegated it to the sidelines. The Latin word for cross (crux) is where we get our word crucial. The cross is crucial to our faith.

When Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, it was to address their many problems: divisions, worldliness, tolerating immorality, issues of marriage and food, and the display of Christian love at their church meetings. But both at the beginning and end of his letter, he reminds the church of the centrality of the message of the cross.

In chapter 1, verses 17-25, Paul gives us two reason why we need the cross.

1 Corinthians 1:17-2:5

You need the message of the cross because you are too weak to save yourself.

A. [PROBLEM] You cannot save yourself.

1. Your nature is dead in its orientation toward God. (Eph 2:1-3)

Ephesians 2:1-3 (NIV)
1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

2. You are enslaved by the power of sin. (Rom 7:14-15)

Romans 7:14-15 (NIV)
14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

3. Those who are dead toward God and slaves to sin have no resources in themselves to cancel a sin debt. (Rom 5:8)

Romans 5:8, But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

B. [SOLUTION] The cross demonstrated God’s power to save.

1. The cross satisfied God’s wrath toward sin. (Rom 3:25)

Romans 3:25 (NIV)
25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—
2. It secures a new heart orientation for those who have faith in Christ.
3. Christ broke the strength of sin when he rose from the grave because sin’s strength is demonstrated in death. (James 1:15; 1 Cor 15:17, 54-57)

James 1:15 (NIV)
15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

1 Corinthians 15:17 (NIV)
17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

1 Corinthians 15:54-57 (NIV)
54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

A boy and his father were traveling in a car when a bee flew through the open window. The boy was so highly allergic to bee stings that both he and his father knew that his life was in danger. As the boy frantically jumped around and tried to avoid the agitated bee, the father calmly reached out and grabbed the bee. When he opened his hand, the bee began to fly again, terrorizing the boy once more. The father then said, “Look, son,” holding up a hand with an implanted stinger, “his stinger is gone; he can’t hurt you any longer.” As a bee loses its stinger when it stings, so death lost its sting when it stung Jesus.

4. There is even more to the power of the cross!

THERE IS WONDERFUL POWER in the Cross of Christ. It has power to wake the dullest conscience and melt the hardest heart, to cleanse the unclean, to reconcile him who is afar off and restore him to fellowship with God, to redeem the prisoner from his bondage and lift the pauper from the dunghill, to break down the barriers which divide [people] from one another, to transform our wayward characters into the image of Christ and finally make us fit to stand in white robes before the throne of God. John Stott, The Preacher's Portrait

You need the message of the cross because you are not wise enough to save yourself.

A. You are not wise enough to save yourself.
B. The wisdom of the world is foolish in God’s sight.
1. Philosophy (Acts 17:16-21)
2. Psychology and Theology
C. The cross demonstrated God’s wisdom to save.
1. The one who went to the cross was both God and man.
2. The one who went to the cross fulfilled all of the law’s requirements.
3. The cross secures salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life for all who believe.

III. The message of the cross is “Christ crucified for sinners and raised again.”

The cross is a stumbling block.

Commenting on the atoning death of Jesus, a Muslic cleric said, “That means God is thirsty for the blood, and he wouldn’t give forgiveness to anyone except if he sees the blood–and the blood of who? His son! It is ridiculous!”

But the message is “Christ crucified.”

The story is told of a small English village that had a tiny chapel whose stone walls were covered by traditional ivy. Over an arch was originally inscribed the words: WE PREACH CHRIST CRUCIFIED. There had been a generation of godly men who did precisely that: they preached Christ crucified.

But times changed. The ivy grew and pretty soon covered the last word. The inscription now read: WE PREACH CHRIST. Other men came and they did preach Christ: Christ the example, Christ the humanitarian, Christ the ideal teacher.

As the years passed, the ivy continued to grow until finally the inscription read: WE PREACH. The generation that came along then did just that: they preached economics, social gospel, book reviews, just about anything. This story illustrates how man’s philosophical detours affect how the gospel is transmitted.

Let the power and wisdom of the cross be applied to you. Put your trust in the Savior of the cross.

A. He died for you, in your place.

B. He calls you to believe in his name, trust in his provision, and treasure Him above all else.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

God's Purpose in "Unfortunate Events"

John 13:18-32

Daniel Handler is an author who writes under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket. Some of his books were put into a movie called A Series of Unfortunate Events. In this story three children of the Baudelaire family (Violet, Klaus, and Sunny) find themselves orphans after their house burns down and they are left without parents. They are soon placed in the custody of a family friend, Count Olaf, who really has no use for them except to steal their family inheritance. After revealing this sinister plot to the executor of the parents’ will, the children are placed in the care of their Uncle Monty, but Count Olaf finds them, disguising himself as Stefano, and successfully removes Uncle Monty from the picture. Next the children are placed in the custodial care of strange Aunt Josephine who has a penchant for grammar. But again, Count Olaf tracks the children down and does away with Aunt Josephine after her house falls into Lake Lac LeMond. By the end of the movie, you get the sense that nothing can go right for the children except for their determination and resourcefulness in the face of tragedy.

The passage of scripture that was read today was a very brief event in real time but it was very significant. In the life of Jesus, you might call it an unfortunate event. What does God do with these unfortunate events, especially when they show up in the middle of his plan of redemption? Does it catch him off guard? When an unfortunate event happens in your life, does God have to call an audible? Change His plan? Does He find Himself scrambling to figure out what to do next? This morning, we shall see. What Judas did and thought in his heart was not so important to you and me as what it accomplished and how it fits together in God’s plan.

If you look closely at John’s Gospel, you will see that he devotes about half of his text (10 chapters!) to the last week of Jesus’ life. That tells you by the amount of space devoted to that week that it was very important! John 11 and 12 set the scene for what we read in chapter 13. We find that Lazarus has died and his sisters send word for Jesus to come but he delays. He delays so much so that there is no chance that Lazarus can be helped – or so it seems. Mary and Martha learn an important lesson from the Savior – he is the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in him though he die, yet he shall live! Taken back by the power and compassion displayed by Jesus, a few days later Mary takes a jar of nard, breaks it open and pours it onto the feet of Jesus. Remember Mary – the one who wanted to sit at the feet of Jesus and fellowship with him? The one who could find time out of her busy day to learn from him? This Mary anointed Jesus for his burial. This Mary did a beautiful thing to him. But at the same time we learn something about Judas. We learn of his greed and thievery into the common purse that the disciples kept. At the beginning of chapter 13, Jesus has a private moment with his disciples. He begins to wash their feet – an act which is misunderstood by Peter and shows their true resistance to the plan that God has. After the washing, Jesus shares a meal with his disciples, an intimate meal of fellowship. But all is not well and he must tell them some disturbing news: one of them is about to betray him. It is indeed a very unfortunate event.

On Friday, one of the biggest headlines in the news stated this: Judas is No Traitor in Long-Lost Gospel. The National Geographic Society has published the translation of a document dating from the year 300 AD which has been called the Gospel of Judas. The ancient document lay hidden in the Egyptian desert for nearly 1,700 years until some looters discovered it in the 1970s. An antiquities dealer in New York purchased it and kept it in a safe-deposit box until the year 2000 when it was purchased and subsequently restored.

In this gospel, if we may call it that, Judas is portrayed very differently than the gospels of the Bible. According to Bart Ehrman, a religion professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “He’s the good guy in this portrayal. He’s the only apostle who understands Jesus.” Rather than betray Jesus, Judas actually does was Jesus wants him to do, which is turn him over to the authorities so he can be crucified and thereby released from the prison of his body into the enlightenment of spiritual existence. Later, when Judas sees what has happened to Jesus, he commits suicide, which, in this interpretation, is good because he too wants to be freed from the prison of the body and be with Jesus.

The Gospel of Judas is actually a gnostic document which valued hidden or mysterious knowledge as a means to salvation and spiritual existence over a physical existence. Of course, the timing of the release of this information is very interesting, on the eve of Holy Week. I am afraid, however, that those with a weak faith and do not understand how we got the final version of our Bible, will find their trust of church history and what was handed down to use eroding. This same thing will be happening with the release of the major motion picture The DaVinci Code which essentially says that everything you have been taught about the Jesus and the Church is wrong; it is a scandal; it is a coverup. This is why we must know why we can trust the Gospels in the Holy Bible. This is why we must know how God Himself gave us the books of the Bible as he worked through a long process of scriptural canonization.

When all the hoopla dies down, Judas will still be who he was. On the one hand he was exercising his free will to be greedy and covetous; on the other hand he was fulfilling a plan.

I. God ordains that some “unfortunate events” would happen as part of his plan. (13:18-20)
A. It is hard for us to grasp how God can ordain bad things and still be a good, loving God.
B. God chooses some men to fulfill good purposes, some to fulfill bad purposes. (18)
1. Judas was a person who had evil intent in his heart and demonstrated it with his covetousness. (12:6; cf. John 6:64, 70)
2. Judas may have been in league with the Zealots to betray Jesus as part of a larger plan to throw off the Roman government.
3. Judas succumbed to Satanic influence. (13:2, 27)
C. We cannot presume to know the infinite mind of God.

II. God utilizes these “unfortunate events” to bring about greater good for man. (13:21-30)
A. Jesus shared with his disciples the troubling truth that one of them would betray Him.
1. Jesus was distressed in his heart because of this.
2. The disciples sought to know who it was.
3. Jesus prompted Judas to quickly do his business.
B. Jesus could do this because of the great benefit to man Calvary would bring. (Heb 12: 1-3)

III. God utilizes these “unfortunate events” to secure greater glory for Himself. (13:31-32)
A. God gets greater glory when men recognize what He has done for them. (Subjective)
B. God gets greater glory in the act itself apart from man’s perception of it. (Objective)
1. The cross would vindicate God’s justice in the overlooking of sin for so many years. [like carrying a credit card balance forward for years but finally paying off the balance in full]
2. God demonstrates power over sin, death, and the grave.
3. God solved the problem of how to keep the standards of His holy law and yet freely offer forgiveness in Christ.
4. The cross gives unhindered access to God by faith in Christ.
5. The cross makes unrighteous men righteous by the merit of Christ.
6. The cross satisfies God’s wrath for man’s sin.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The offensiveness and deceitfulness of sin

I feel that I should begin this morning with a few comments from last week. Last week we began to explore the basic problem of man which is described in the Bible as sin. Sin has several shades of meaning. It is an act, a state, and a nature. We understand the act portion of that definition because we see the acts of sin everyday in hatred, discord, pride, cruelty, and various other expressions. It is a state in the sense that we live in an environment that has been tainted by sin’s corrupting nature and there is nothing we can do to escape it. It is a nature in the sense that we are born into a corrupted condition in both body and soul. David said in the 51st Psalm, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (5) Paul says “we were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” (Eph 2:3)

We also looked a biblical descriptions of sin as missing the mark, transgression of the law, rebellion, and lawlessness. Briefly we talked about the effects of sin upon man and I drew the cords tighter in describing church life and relationships. This morning I want to focus on two aspects of sin: one as it relates to God and the other as it relates to man. I will not belabor a discussion on the need of this topic as it will be readily apparent immediately. As you ponder these words this morning – as you consider them in your mind – open up your heart to feel because a right response to sin and to the gospel involves the intellect, the will, and the emotions.

The offensiveness of sin in the sight of God is very great.

In a daily scanning of the news we learn about sin from the unlawful acts of people. We read of child abuse perpetrated against a 15 year-old boy while chained to a bed; we read about alleged sexual battery against blind students in Watertown; we read about a minister’s wife in Selmer, TN who confesses to the murder of her husband. Some of the sins we read about or witness firsthand push our hot buttons and we are quick and right to condemn them! Yes, some crimes are particularly evil. If you ranked the top five sins in the order of offensiveness and outrage produced in you, what would be at the top of your list? Homosexuality, drunken vehicular homicide, abortion, or murder? Ted Peters wrote a book about sin and listed seven categories of sin; I think they are worth a mention: worry, unfaith, pride, concupiscence (a fancy word for lust), self-justification, cruelty, and blasphemy – in that order, going from bad to worse. I find that list interesting because it doesn’t mention any of the sins I previously mentioned as those which might be most offensive to you. Regardless of whether they are “big sins” or “little sins” even the smallest is offensive to God and deserving of eternal punishment. Maybe this is why the first sin of Adam and Eve was not a heinous crime like we might expect so that we could not later point back to the episode and say "my sin wasn't as bad as theirs!" How many of you have ever said to yourself, “at least I didn’t sin like Adam and Eve.” (You probably said that but substituted Hitler or Stalin for Adam and Eve.) But the Bible says, "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags" (Is 64:6)

Why is it hard for us to grasp the offensiveness of sin to God? Think of it this way. A blind man cannot see the difference between Michelangelo's statue of David and a tower of Lego Blocks. A deaf man cannot hear the difference between Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and heavy metal. A black vulture which has a terrible sense of smell cannot tell the difference between roses and road kill. Or think of a dog whistle. If I blow a dog whistle long enough, my friendly four-legged friends will let me know that it irritates their sense of hearing. But none of my two-legged family members can hear a thing. Why? Because we don’t have the right sense to do so.

What's my point? All of these illustrations have to do with a sense that is not developed and the inability to see the beauty of one thing and the wretchedness of another. The Bible says we are dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1) and we do not have a "sin sense" that works very well. God's "sin sense" is perfect and He is rightly and infinitely repulsed by the presence of sin. It takes a person who has the imputed righteousness of God and the indwelling Holy Spirit to have a sense of the holiness of God and the sinfulness of sin.
Read Isaiah 1:10-17

The deceitfulness of sin to the heart of man is very great.

The second characteristic of sin that I want to address is the deceitfulness of sin to the heart of man. The Bible says in Hebrews 3, “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

A. Man wants to minimize his sin.

You want to minimize the seriousness of your crime.

We give our sins new names. Lust becomes appreciation for physical beauty. Greed becomes business savvy. Stubbornness becomes principle. Pride becomes self-esteem. Irresponsibility with family becomes corban, or "devoted to God." Worry becomes human nature.

You want to deflect responsibility for your crime.
You want to claim ignorance of God's requirements.

B. Sin is deceitful in several ways. (How is sin deceitful?)

It is pleasurable to the flesh. (Eph 4:22)
It does not remind us of the deadly consequences.
Its means of entrapment are stealthy. (Prov 5:1-6)
It hardens the heart against God.
It promises freedom but delivers bondage.

I have a friend who sees the beginning of his father's slipping into a delusional disorder. His dad is becoming accusatory of his wife; he is often irritable and angry (which is very much out of character for him); he is forgetful from day to day of the conversations he has with people. My friend fears for himself because it is a hereditary problem. He said to me, “maybe I should write myself a letter so that if this happens to me, I will know what is going on.” This is what the Bible is for us – a letter from God in the midst of our delusion. Sin has so affected us and deceived us that we need a communication from outside to show us reality.

What should I do knowing the offensiveness and deceitfulness of sin?

  • You need the Spirit of God to search your heart. Confess what the Spirit reveals. Make this a daily practice. Read scripture and pray while you do this.
  • Don’t trust your flesh – that part of you which is at enmity with the Spirit. The roots of sin in the garden of the heart can never be destroyed until God takes us home.
  • Ask God to quicken (to show signs of life; stimulate) your “sin sense” or conscience. This is not pleasant; it hurts. Ask Him to replace it with an appetite for holiness.