[Howdy, all, and I hope you are having a good Sabbath so far (actually, I hope you are asleep if you are anywhere near my timezone, and I plan to be in the same state soon, myself!).
I know that some of you in my congregations are under the weather, so to speak, and unable to make it to services. So, I thought that I would post something I just came across about half-an-hour ago or so: Some notes from a sermonette I gave almost 10 years ago in July of 1997. Usually I create my notes in an outline fashion, but on that occasion (as I do on some occasions) for some reason I wrote my sermonette out word-for-word. I then “transformed” it into an outline by highlighting key sentences. So I can’t say that the sermonette I gave 10 years ago exactly matched what you will read, but it should have been close! And even though I gave the sermonette in July, it seems fitting as something to consider as Passover moves closer and closer. In fact, some of the thoughts expressed will be in my sermon tomorrow.]
[By the way, for those who have heard me discuss my “plane-ride epiphany” in a sermon sometime in the last year-and-a-half, this one is a different epiphany. The one I’ve discussed most recently was my first flight after 9/11, whereas this one took place four years earlier.]
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Recently my wife and I and our newborn son took a plane trip to New York to attend a wedding, and as the plane began speeding up to take off I found myself considering my mortality. I felt the need to pray all of a sudden, in the event things were to turn out horribly (what pleasant thoughts, I know!), and the prayer that came naturally to mind at that time surprised me. What I felt most of all was a peaceful thankfulness that Jesus Christ had died for my sins. Perhaps it is odd that this should have been surprising, but it was. Then later, when I was going to relate the tale of my “take-off prayer” to my wife, I was actually a bit reluctant to bring it up.
Why was I reluctant? I have given it much thought, and I can only say that I think I sometimes go too far in my avoidance of excessive religious “sentimentality.” I, like I imagine many of you in the room, am overly repulsed by too-emotional “Jesus lovers” — people whose idea of a relationship with God is to “know” that Jesus died for them and to repeat “Thank you, Jesus!” and “Thank you, Lord!” four hundred and twenty times a day for every little thing — people who don’t consider that Jesus came to this earth to accomplish far more than they give Him credit for, or that there is more to God’s working in your life than being blessed with green lights at intersections when you want them and treating Him like a genie in a bottle.
But in my zeal to avoid being overly sentimental I often overlook certain facts — like the fact that Jesus did die for me, and the fact that I should be profoundly thankful for that sacrifice.
What did Jesus gain by coming to earth and being our Messiah? Glory? John 17:5 tells us that Jesus asked His Father on the Passover, “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory I had with You before the world was.” Christ was returning to glory, not gaining a more exalted existence.
Then why did He go through it all? 30+ years of ridicule, mockery, hatred, fears, tears, resulting in a brutal and agonizingly painful murder? What did He have to gain?…
The only thing Jesus really had to gain was you. And me.
I would never be a Child of God unless He was willing to do what He did. Philippians 2:6 tells us that with Jesus Christ, even His Godhead did not come first. He was willing to divest Himself of that–empty Himself of that–so that one day we might share it with Him.
What state would each of us, individually, be in if Jesus had not done what He did? What would God see when He looked at us? We all look great in our Sabbath suits and dresses, but what if sin were real, physical dirt and what if Jesus had not been sacrificed to clean us of our sins — what would we look like? If sin were dirt and mud? Well, I, personally, would look like “Pigpen” from the Peanuts cartoon. Worse — I’d be like the Swamp Thing! All of us would!
I sometimes forget that in my effort to live God’s way of life I am not cleaning myself — I am not ridding myself of the dirt and mud that has accumulated. Jesus Christ is cleaning me. As I continue to yield to Him and allow Him to live in me and to help me overcome and avoid the dirt as best I can, He is there cleaning me up when I inevitably dirty myself and He continues working helping me to stay clean once He’s done.
If God came to you in a dream and asked you why you ought to be accepted into His Kingdom, what would you say? Would you refer to how faithfully you have kept His laws? How you rested and worshipped on the Sabbath? How you loved your spouse? How you faithfully tithed? How you prayed and fasted? If that’s your answer, then you fall into the same trap as Luke 18’s Pharisee. Those things are important, and one not seeking to overcome and obey the law of God does not have Jesus as Lord — doesn’t even know Him, as Scripture makes plain (1 John 2:3-4, et al.). Yet, how well will your list of successes compare to Satan’s list of every wrong you have ever committed? Every single lie, every moment of lust, every feeling hate, every instance when the Spirit was willing but the flesh was weak? Do we really want to make the Pharisee’s mistake? Is our list longer than Satan’s? Does that “get us in”?
The fact is that Jesus Christ is what makes the difference. It is the tax collector who asked for mercy, not the Pharisee who presented His list of accomplishments, who Christ said went home justified in Luke 18. How would we answer God in that dream? Hopefully with the fact that Jesus Christ died and our sins were forgiven. Hopefully with the fact that He was resurrected after three days and three nights and that from the moment you repented and committed to Him in baptism, it is He who has been living in you, living His life again in you, crafting a new creation within you. It is only through His living His life in you that you are being saved (Gal. 2:20, Rom. 5:10). In answering God’s question, it is to Christ’s work that we should point our finger: His work in cleansing us, and His work in sanctifying us.
I suppose my point is this… At that moment in the plane, my surprise taught me that I had accidentally begun to be what our detractors often accuse us of being. In our zeal to live God’s way and please God with our lives and our obedience, let’s not forget Who is living in us, and the central role that He has played and continues to play. And let’s not wait until Passover or the next plane ride to spend some time in quiet and focused thankfulness for the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
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[Well, now that I’ve re-typed it all I hope that when I gave the sermonette it went a bit more smoothly than it reads! And I hope that it has been profitable for you. Have a great Sabbath!]