There are many choices that we have to make in life. Choices that are sometimes difficult to make. Choices that sometimes perplex us. Should I go out for the team or not? Who should I marry and how will I know that she is the one? Which school should I choose to go to? What kind of work do I want to make my “life’s work?” Where should I live and raise a family? What will I do with my time when I retire? What will I do now that my loved one has died? I could go and on with the millions of choices that we will be confronted with in life, but suffice it to say that we will be presented with many choices in all aspects of our lives—relationships within our families, on the job, at school, at church, in our neighborhood, our lifestyles, what to do with our money and time, and our faith.
Today in our society there is not much talk about the choices that are before us pertaining to any of the topics I’ve mentioned above other than the last one, our faith. We, as a society, have pretty much opened the door on the notion that all choices are equally valid. Whatever choices you make concerning your family, as long as you aren’t hurting anyone, are none of our business so do as you please. Work, school, church, lifestyles we choose for ourselves, how we use our money and time—all of the decisions that go along with these various aspects of life are open to whatever choice you want to make. When it comes to matters of faith, people have the same approach…whatever.
The discussion, or maybe I should say debate, comes into play when people turn their attention to matters of faith, and the choices that we can make. More specifically, the debate is stirred by the belief that some of us hold about Jesus and the claims that He made in the Bible. Let me give you just a couple of examples. In John 14, Jesus was getting ready to go to the cross. He was speaking with His disciples when He told them that He was going to prepare a place for them and that He would come back for them. He then said, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas spoke up and said, “Lord, we don’t know where You are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 NIV)
Jesus said, “I am the way…No one comes to the Father except through me.” He didn’t say that He was one of the ways to God, or that He was a better way than all of the others—He said He was the only way to the Father. That disturbs many folks in our society today.
In another example, in John 5, Jesus was being questioned by the Jews who were trying to find something to condemn Him for when Jesus said,
37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38 nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:37-40 NIV)
You and I have to remember that the only Scriptures they had at that time were the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament. There was no New Testament at that time. Jesus says that the Scriptures, all 39 books of the Hebrew Bible, were a testimony about Him. He also says that the people who were trying to find something to condemn Him for refused to come to Him so that they might have life. It is not too difficult to conclude that apart from Jesus, there is no life. Not the kind of life that God desires for us anyway. Evidently this was the belief of the early Church because John wrote in 1 John 5:11-12.
11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:11-12 NIV)
Our society reads verses like these, or listens to us quote these verses, and concludes that Christianity is exclusive and that Christians are narrow-minded. These conclusions could not be further from the truth. You want to talk about exclusive then take a look at our society. There are places that some of us here this morning can’t go. We don’t make enough money. We do not have the name recognition. We are not “members.” There are activities that take place in our city each week that are exclusive, only certain people can participate. There are professions that are exclusive; you have to meet certain requirements before you can participate in the profession. Jesus says,
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)
Are you poor? Don’t let that stop you, come! Are you rich? Don’t let your wealth get in the way, come! Are you educated? Come and learn of Jesus’ ways! Are you uneducated? He will give you an education like the world cannot offer, come! Are your roots in Africa, Europe, Asia, Latin America, or some other part of the world? Come! Come to Jesus. Are you an outcast, never have fit in, and oftentimes made to feel like you don’t belong? Jesus says, “Come!” In John 6:37, Jesus spoke these words,
37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. (John 6:37 NIV)
The invitation has been offered to everyone who hears my words. You can be a skeptic and come to know Jesus, but you must come. You can have a record longer than your arm and come to know Jesus, but you must come. You can be the most recognized woman in town and come to know Jesus, but you must come. You can be a failure and still come to know Jesus, but you must come. You can be a raging success, the talk of the town, and come to know Jesus, but you must come.
This room is full of oxygen and you can breathe it in if you will. If you choose not to then that is your choice. We would all like for you to breathe. We like having you around. If you choose not to breathe in this life-giving oxygen, if you choose to refuse the gift, then there will be dire consequences. And so it is with those of us who are followers of Jesus who offer the invitation to others to come to know Jesus. We are not narrow-minded, we are overwhelmed by the life-giving person of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. If you choose not to accept what He has done for you then that is your choice. For us not to share with you the Good News of what Jesus has done and what He has to offer, it would only demonstrate our apathy towards you, but we love you so we can’t keep quiet.
Our society is not comfortable with what I’ve just shared with you. They say that Christianity is divisive, exclusive, and too narrow. They believe that each of us has our own “truth” and all truth is valid and equal. Most of those in our society today are convinced that if they simply live a good life then that is enough. Doing what’s right, loving people, caring for others, being a good, productive member of society, and most of all, being tolerant—these are the things that will get you to heaven. It is the age-old delusion that is still with us today. I say “age-old” because it is the same deception that the Apostle Paul was fighting in his day. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in Romans 10:5-13.
5 Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: “The man who does these things will live by them.” 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: 9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile–the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:5-13 NIV)
Paul begins our section of Scripture for today by saying that Moses describes righteousness that is by the law. We have to understand that God gave the law not to save His people, but to show His people how desperately they needed Him. If you go back to the book of Exodus you will notice that God saved His people from the Egyptians before He ever gave them the law. The quotations from the Hebrew Bible that are found in our Scripture for today are from Leviticus 18:5 and Deuteronomy 30:11-14. Let’s take a look. In Leviticus 18:5 we read,
5 Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD. (Lev 18:5 NIV)
The Hebrew word for “live” does not merely mean to exist in this instance. It also means to prosper, to be quickened, to be made alive. It is a verb. If you live by God’s decrees and law, by His will, then you will truly live. I don’t know of anyone who believes that if you follow God’s Word it will result in ruin and emptiness. Just think with me for a moment. If you keep yourself from worshipping any thing or any one other than God will you not more fully experience life? If you refrain from letting your anger grow to the point where you murder someone, will you not experience a more peaceful life? If you are faithful to your husband or wife throughout your life and refuse to commit adultery, won’t life be better, more stable? If you tell the truth at all times and refuse to lie, won’t life be less cluttered and you less confused? All that God has given us is for our benefit. The problem is not with God’s Word, the problem is with us. When we deviate from living in dependence upon the Lord and following Him then we are headed for trouble.
The next Scripture that Paul quotes from is found in Deuteronomy 30:11-14. In this Scripture, Moses is addressing the people and telling them that when they turn away from God they will be disciplined. When they are disciplined and sent into exile, then God will deliver them and He will circumcise their hearts so that they might love only Him and live. Moses then goes on to say,
11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. (Deuteronomy 30:11-14 NIV)
It’s not work, it’s trust. You don’t have to scale the heights of heaven or traverse the seas, but you must trust God. We must trust God with all of our hearts. Believe that what He says is true. Our being made right with God is not based upon our being better than we are, but upon what God has done for us in the life, death, and glorious resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. Being made right with God is not a matter of morality, but of surrender to God and the acceptance that what God says is true.
The law that was given to show God’s people how desperately they needed to trust in God, became the means of being right with God in the minds of many of the Jews. What the law became is never what God had intended. Paul wrote, in Romans 10:1-4,
1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. 2 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 3 Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Romans 10:1-4 NIV)
There is a big difference between God’s righteousness and the righteousness that we think we can obtain by “doing” for God. Throughout the ages there has always been those who were convinced that works righteousness is what is most important to God. Some who have traveled this road of works righteousness have discovered that works just don’t work. In The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Reformation & Protestantism, we can read about one man who gave himself to earning God’s grace. Martin Luther is the founder of what we know today as Protestantism. James Bell and Tracy Sumner write,
Luther spent his time in the monastery not just studying, praying, and practicing the sacraments, but examining how he had lived his life. That was standard practice for a monk, but Luther’s self-examination led him to deep sadness, fear, and hopelessness over his own sinfulness. In later years, he wrote of great sadness in his heart during this time in his life.
Luther was told to repent of his sins and to do penance, and he did both more than regularly. Luther went to his priest for confession often—so often that he probably wore the man out—and engaged in long periods of prayer, fasting, sleepless nights, and a practice called, “flagellation,” in which the monk inflicts beatings to himself as punishment for his sins.
Luther did all of the things that a monk was supposed to do, and he did them almost compulsively. He did all those things because, like most monks, he believed that the practices would bring him closer to God. Later he said, “Could ever a monk have got to heaven by monkhood, I should have attained it.”
But no matter how hard he studied, no matter how many religious activities he took part in, no matter how many penances he did, no matter how much he punished himself for his own sinfulness, Luther couldn’t shake those nagging thoughts and feelings that something was missing inside him. He couldn’t find any kind of inner peace. Luther continued to have doubts about his own standing before God. He began to wonder about his own personal salvation and he began to doubt that life in the monastery was a sure path to God.
Martin Luther’s feelings of fear and insecurity were made worse by an emphasis within the church at the time on the doing of good works in order to attain the favor of God and on the doing of penances as a way to pay for sins committed.
Luther wanted absolute assurance that he was accepted by God, but it would be a matter of years before that would come. (Bell, James S. and Sumner, Tracy Macon. The Complete Idiots Guide to the Reformation & Protestantism. Alpha Books, 2002. pg. 90)
You have to admire Luther’s understanding of the holiness of God. Because of Luther’s grasp of the holiness of God he knew that his sinfulness must be dealt with. As a result, Luther went about trying to do everything he could to rid himself of his sin. He went to confession constantly, he prayed, he fasted, he studied God’s Word, he even punished himself for his sin. Luther would experience fleeting moments of feeling clean and acceptable before God, but as soon as the feelings came they left because Luther would soon discover that he was still a sinner. Luther struggled with his dilemma for years until he discovered, in God’s Word, the righteousness that comes from God and not from his own futile efforts. In Glimpses of Church History we read,
Through his laborious studies of the Scriptures, Luther came to see that the guilt that consumed him could not be lifted by more religion, and the God he dreaded so much was not the God that Christ has revealed. Shooting forth from the book of Romans (1:17), another thunderbolt crossed his path: “Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that ‘the just shall live by his faith.’ Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which, through grace and sheer mercy, God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the ‘justice of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven . . .” (Glimpses of Christian History. Glimpses #15: Martin Luther; Monumental Reformer. http://www.christianhistorytimeline.com)
Luther discovered what I pray some of us will discover this very morning. Our righteousness is found in a life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus took upon Himself the punishment of our sins. Jesus fulfilled the law in our place because we could never uphold it. Jesus was not only God’s perfect Gift to accomplish everything God wanted for you and me, but He identified Himself with you and me. Let me show you what I am talking about. First of all, in Matthew 5:17, Jesus said that He did not come to do away with the law, but to fulfill it. Let’s read the verse together.
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17 NIV)
Jesus never sinned. He never broke God’s law. He came to do His Father’s will, and that will was to bring glory and honor to God and to offer Himself in our place so that we might be made right with God.
Secondly, Jesus identified Himself with you and me. That is an astounding statement. We are sinners. Flawed to our core. If people really knew us, not just the things that we have done, but the thoughts that have run through our minds, then we would be mired in shame. Yet, Jesus, sinless and perfect in every aspect, came to take His place among us. Let me show you what I am talking about.
In Matthew 3, Jesus approached John the Baptist to be baptized. Now, John’s baptism was for repentance. It was a sign to the community that a person was turning from their sins and to God. Jesus had never committed any sin so why did He desire for John to baptize Him? In Matthew 3:13-15 we read,
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. (Matthew 3:13-15 NIV)
John’s baptism was specifically for the community of sinners whose eyes had been opened to their sin. It was a public declaration that they were turning from their sin and to God. Jesus had no need to be baptized, but He had a great desire to join the community of God’s needy people in order to save them from themselves. Jesus told John that it was proper for Him to be baptized in order to “fulfill all righteousness.” Throughout His life, Jesus lived with intentionality. His purpose was to come and live a sinless life so that He might offer His life for folks like you and me, sinners desperately in need of forgiveness.
We, as people, know how easy it is to become arrogant. I hear it all the time. Because we might not struggle with some of the same sins as someone else we find it easy to look down upon them, to make snide remarks about them, or to dismiss them altogether. How easy would it have been for Jesus to simply condemn us because of our sin? Yet, the writer of Hebrews tells us,
11 Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. (Hebrews 2:11 NIV)
Jesus is not ashamed of you. Oh, hear it again. Jesus is not ashamed of you. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been ashamed of myself. There are certainly those who know me that have been ashamed of me, even though they are sinners just like me. Yet, Jesus is not ashamed of me. Isn’t that good news?
Before we get out of here today I have to ask you, “Which way will you go?” Will you continue to buy in to the societal idea of trying to live a good life in order to please God or will you raise your eyes to Heaven and praise God for the provision of His Son for your righteousness? Jesus is not ashamed of you. That is why He came to offer Himself for you. He knows what you’ve done. He knows who you are. He knows your failure, the sin in your heart, and the emptiness of your soul, but He is not ashamed of you. He loves you and desires for you to come to Him this very morning. Won’t you come?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
May 6, 2014