Who Are We Reaching? (Genesis 3:1-24)

Big Idea: Humanity is valuable, corrupted, but able to be restored.


In autumn 2002, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, a priceless 15th century marble statue of Adam toppled and shattered into hundreds of pieces while no one was in the room. Although vandalism was initially suspected, curators determined that the pedestal supporting Tullio Lombardo’s 15th-century marble Adam was collapsed and led to the tragedy.

“It will take a great deal of time and skill, but the piece can be restored,” the museum's director said. And it was restored and returned to public view after twelve years of work.

And that is a microcosm of the story of humanity: valuable, toppled and shattered, and ultimately restored.

Today I would like to look at the story of humanity. As we’ve been going through this series “Best News Ever” we’ve been looking at some important questions:

  • How are we doing? We talked about evangelism being hard, but worth it.
  • Who is Jesus? In our Grace Group, we talked about Jesus being God in the flesh, the resurrected King, the truth-telling Lord, the sin-bearing Savior, and the only way.
  • Who are we? We are forgiven and sent.

Today we want to ask, “Who are we reaching?” The question, as we look around us, is how does Jesus see the people around us? This is an important question, and one that should shape our attitudes and actions as his people.

So how does the Bible see humanity? The Bible sees humanity in three ways:

Humanity is Valuable

How much is a person worth, exactly? Estimates range.

You could go by Homer Simpson, who in an episode of the Simpsons sold his soul to the devil for one donut, estimated at about $1.00.

Or, if you feel that’s too low, you could go by the 1930s short story called “The Devil and Daniel Webster.” In the story, a man named Jabez Stone sells his soul to the devil for ten years of prosperity. Business Insider notes that had that story taken place today, that would have made his soul worth approximately $1.8 million dollars.

Or you could go with the estimate from the U.S. Government's Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA uses what it calls the VSL (or Value of a Statistical Life) — which is kind of hard to explain — but the current VSL is at $9.1 million.

The best way to calculate the worth of a human life, though, is by looking at the value that God places on a human being. It’s not a dollar or $1.8 million or $9.1 million. Every human being is inherently value because they are made in the image and likeness of God.

 In Genesis 1 we read these words:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:26-31)

There’s something to humble us in this passage. We are creatures. In other words, we are not God! But there’s lots in this passage to encourage us as well. We have great dignity in God’s sight. God has made us to be higher than any other creature.

When God decided to create us, he declared what he was about to do before he did it. He didn’t do that with anything else that he created. What’s more, God said that we were made in his image. This means that, more than anything else he created, we are like God. We are reflections of God and his character. John Frame explains:

Everything in us — intellect, emotions, will, even body — reflects God in some way. Think of standing in front of a mirror. The image reflects everything you present sent to the mirror, and everything in the image represents something thing in you. Of course, the mirror only reflects part of you, the front part and the outside, not the inside. But we image God far more profoundly: we reflect everything in God, and everything in us reflects God in some way.

If this wasn’t enough, God gave us a job. He told us to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it. In other words, he gave us the job to run this world on his behalf. Theologians call this culture-making. God made us to be creative, to shape this world into something beautiful, to relate to each other, and to create beauty. Andy Crouch writes:

Human creativity, then, images God's creativity when it emerges from a lively, loving community of persons and, perhaps more important, when it participates in unlocking the full potential of what has gone before and creating possibilities for what will come later…The best creativity involves discarding that which is less than best, making room for the cultural goods that are the very best we can do with the world that has been given to us.

We can conclude from this passage that “There is a rock solid, objective, irreducible glory and significance and value and worth about you and every human being” (Tim Keller).

So this is how the Bible sees us, and everyone around us. Humanity is valuable. It’s why we exist as a church: because people matter to God. The people around us are of great value and worth to God.

The mistake we want to avoid: not valuing people enough.

How does the Bible see us? As valuable. But there’s more:

Humanity is Corrupted

You may be wondering about the mess we see in the world given the value of humanity. I opened up Google News this week and read about suicide bombers, sexual assaults, assaults, and more. It’s sometimes hard to see the value in humanity because it’s been corrupted.

It’s important to understand what happened. When you get to Genesis 3, you read of the fall, something that has affected humanity and the entire world for thousands of years now.

We read in Genesis 3:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. (Genesis 3:1-7)

What happened? We could spend months exploring this passage alone. This tells us some important things about humanity. It’s crucial to understand this if we’re going to understand how God sees humanity — both ourselves and the people around us.

When God created the world, he allowed us access to everything, with one exception, one tree in the middle of the garden. I could never understand why God created this tree. Thomas Boston, a Scottish puritan, helped me understand it. It wasn’t only a test. It was a reminder that although we rule over the whole world, that we still have to submit to God. It was given so that we could know the difference between right and wrong. It was a reminder of God, and that happiness can only be found in submission to him.

But we blew it. And when I say that we blew it, I mean us, because we would have done the same thing if we were there. In a sense we were there, with our forefathers as our representatives. They did something that brought disaster on the human race. They rejected God’s command, and chose on the basis of their appetites and minds told them. The problem? The minute the human mind ignores God, it begins to turn in on itself, please itself. It ends up debasing itself.

The essence of sin is putting ourselves in the place of God, trying to dethrone him and taking his place for ourselves. That’s exactly what Adam and Eve did, and it’s exactly what we try to do today.

When they disobeyed God, they unleashed a contagion that has spread throughout the whole world and to everyone here today. “Sin is a plague that spreads by contagion or even by quasi-genetic reproduction. It’s a polluted river that keeps branching and rebranching into tributaries. It’s a whole family of fertile and contentious parents, children, and grandchildren,” writes Cornelius Plantinga. And the results are all around us. Genesis 3 describes just some of them, and they’re all things that we struggle with today:

  • Shame — Because of sin, shame is now a reality. Shame is the sense that there is something wrong with me. Shame didn’t exist before sin; it is now a constant reality for every human being.
  • Relational breakdown — As soon as Adam and Eve sinned, they experienced relational breakdown. Sin throws others under the bus. It leads to quarrels, hatred, gender battles, racism, murder and war. It led to superficial relationships, exploitative relationships, and more.
  • Spiritual breakdown — Our relationship with God was disrupted. We were made to enjoy a relationship with God. As a result of sin, we all experience estrangement from God at some level. Our relationship with God has never been the same.
  • Physical breakdown. As a result of sin, our work is full of thorns and thistles. The world is no longer as it should be. As a result of sin, we age, we get sick, there are natural disasters, and we die.

Erma Bombeck, who used to write humor columns many years ago, at one point said something like this:

You know, my life is dominated by dirt. At this end of the house there’s dirt. There’s dirt in the bathroom, dirt on the plates in the kitchen, dirt in the rug. So I work to get rid of the dirt, and by the time I get to the other end of the house, the first end of the house is dirty again. It never ends. And in the end, after all of these years of struggling against dirt, struggling against dirt, what do I get? Six feet of dirt.

Isn’t that the essence of human life?

The mistake we want to avoid: not taking sin seriously enough. Over a century ago, the British preacher Charles Spurgeon said this:

Few preachers of religion do believe thoroughly the doctrine of the Fall, or else they think that when Adam fell down he broke his little finger, and did not break his neck and ruin his race.

Let’s not make that mistake. Let’s take the problem of sin seriously. Every person has a disposition to sin. It’s not that we don’t do any good; through common grace, humanity has done much good in education, scientific and technological progress, the arts, the development of just laws, and general acts of human kindness. But every part of us has been affected by sin: our intellects, our emotions and desires, our hearts, our goals, our motives, and even our bodies. Sin has corrupted us to the very core of our beings.

There are a lot of people who tell us today that there’s nothing wrong with us. I would love to believe that, but we all instinctively know that there is something wrong with us and the world. We have been corrupted. We are like the priceless statue of Adam that toppled and shattered. Humanity is valuable, but it’s also corrupted as a result of sin. But there’s one more thing to see:

Humanity is Capable of Being Restored

As we close today, I want to end with the great news that God is in the process of restoring humanity. The Metropolitan Museum of Art spent 12 years taking the 28 recognizable pieces and hundreds of fragments back to restore it to its original beauty. The restoration took so long that there were rumors that the statue was beyond repair. Dozens of scientists and engineers put it back together.

It took the museum 12 years to restore Adam. God is on a similar project, except it’s one that spans millennia. He is acting in history to restore humanity. Ephesians 2 says this:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience…But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-2, 4-10)

God has not left us in hundreds of pieces lying on the floor. He’s restoring us from dead people to people who are made alive together in Christ, seated in heavenly places, into his workmanship, into a piece of art. How do we get in on this? By grace through faith — by putting our faith and trust in what Jesus has done for us. It’s the great news that I have for you today, and it’s the news we have for everyone around us.

Rick Warren recalled a time when he was speaking at a prison to an audience of approximately 5,000 inmates:

Nobody was paying attention except a couple of hundred people right up front. I was standing on the ground with no stage, just a microphone, but the microphone could be heard through the entire yard. I pulled out a $50 bill, held it up, and said, "How many of you would like this $50 bill?" Five thousand hands went up. I had everybody's attention. Then I crumpled it in my hands, tore it a bit, and said, "How many of you would still like this $50 bill?" Five thousand hands went up. Then I spat on the $50 bill, threw it on the ground, stomped it into the dirt, held it up, and said, "How many of you would like it now?" Five thousand hands went up.

Then I said, "Now for many of you, this is what your father did to you. You've been mistreated. You are abused. You are misused. You were told that you wouldn't amount to anything. You've done a lot of dumb things to. You sinned. You've done some crimes, and you're paying for them. You've been beaten. You've been torn. You've been dirty, but you have not lost one cent of your value to God."

That’s the message we have for the world. Humans have not not lost one cent of their value to God. “We serve a God who created our humanity, weeps at the fall of our humanity, became our humanity, and is redeeming our humanity” (Glenn Stanton).

The mistake we want to avoid: not seeing the gospel as great news for everyone around us, including us.

Two applications:

You are valuable to God. The invitation to you is to come to the God who has been working for centuries to put us back together, to restore us to who we were made to be. If you haven’t, come to Jesus tonight. He welcomes you with open arms as someone who is valuable, corrupted by sin, and yet so ready to be restored.

Second: would you look around you and see how valuable people are to God? We are here because people matter to God. Don’t minimize the effects of sin, though. We need to understand what needs to be restored before restoration can take place. Let’s remind ourselves that humanity is valuable, corrupted, but able to be restored through Jesus. This is God’s heart toward everyone we meet.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Forgiven and Sent (John 20:19-23)

Big Idea: Who are we? We are people who are forgiven and sent.


In the movie Memento, Leonard Shelby is an ex-insurance investigator whose wife dies. The last thing that he can remember is the death of his wife. He tries to solve his wife’s murder, but there’s a problem. Because of a blow to the head by the murder, Leonard has a type of amnesia that makes it impossible for him to remember anything new for more than a few minutes. As he tries to solve his wife’s murder, he has to create a system to help him remember things using notes, Polaroid photos, and tattoos.

During the movie, one of the characters says to Leonard: “You don't know who you are anymore.”

“Of course I do,” Leonard responds. “I’m Leonard Shelby. I'm from San Francisco.”

“No, that's who you were,” Teddy says. “Maybe it's time you started investigating yourself.”

What follows is a series of revelations about Leonard that cause him to question his identity. He then suffers a severe identity crisis that leads to the movie's shocking ending — all because he can't remember who he is. 

“You don’t know who you are anymore…Maybe it’s time you started investigating yourself.” These are great words, and I want to apply them to us today. When we forget who we are, it has disastrous consequences, and it leads to an identity crisis.

So today I want to look at the passage we just read and ask one simple question: who are we? And this passage gives us two answers.

1. We are forgiven

Here’s the background to the passage. Jesus has just been raised from the dead. Most of Jesus’ followers hid in fear when Jesus died. Many of them wouldn’t even believe that he had risen again. Jesus is meeting with his followers again, and it’s a potentially awkward moment. How will Jesus respond to his closest friends who let him down at the crucial moment of his death?

John 20:19 says, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”

Jesus could have said, "I've got something to say to you..." He could have condemned them for abandoning him. He could have criticized them for hiding. He didn't come, though, with a word of condemnation. He came instead with the everyday greeting, "Peace be with you."

In English, that sounds like he's saying a lot. That's not how we normally greet people. In that culture, this was a standard greeting. Jesus came in and simply said our equivalent of "Hello." He repeated himself in verse 21, saying again, “Peace be with you.” By the time he repeated it the second time, it began to take on more than the customary meaning of “hello.” Jesus was extending peace to people who had let him down. Jesus is restoring relationship with people who had abandoned him.

 He knows who he's dealing with. He knows their doubts and their failings. Here, and in other conversations with his followers after his resurrection, he reestablishes a relationship with these very normal people. He doesn't write them off or dismiss them. He reestablishes a relationship with them.

Here's the thing about Jesus that we need to understand. He is very aware of our shortcomings. A few years ago, the then-new president of the University of Toronto admitted that he was suffering from a case of impostor syndrome. “It was one of the more acute attacks of impostor syndrome that I've had,” he said. “You have a real sense that this is an enormous responsibility and worry that this is something you've been chosen to do by some misunderstanding.”

I think there is also such a thing as spiritual impostor syndrome, to think that God has chosen us due to some misunderstanding, or to think that God wouldn't have chosen us if he knew the truth about us. Of course, we know that God doesn't have any illusions about us. He's never surprised by how we let him down. It's not some misunderstanding. God looks at our lives, and he understands our weakness, and his word - because of what Christ has done for us - is, “Peace be with you.”

When I was twelve, I started to struggle in an area of sin that I thought was really bad. I somehow thought that I was struggling in an area that was unusual for a person who claimed to be a Christian. I remember feeling overwhelmed with guilt. I talked to a couple of people I looked up to, and they recommended that I talk to my pastor about it.

I did. I was as nervous as anything. I suppose I was hoping that he would understand, and I was afraid that I would see this shocked look on his face when I admitted my struggle. I told him, and for a second — before he had a chance to recover — I could tell that he was truly shocked.

We need to remember that Jesus is never shocked by what we've been struggling with. He's not surprised or overwhelmed by our failures and our doubts. He knows, and he still comes to us — even in our failure and our fears — and re-establishes a relationship with us.

He even understands and reassures our doubts. "When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side" (John 20:20). Jesus is not surprised by your sins and your doubts as he looks at you. He has no illusions about who you are.

This is huge, and it forms our identity, our understanding of who we are. We are, before anything else, a community of sinners who are in relationship with God not because of having it together. We are a community of people who are in relationship with God because Jesus looked at us in our weakness and said, "Peace be with you." We are a community of grace because we have received so much grace.

That is primarily how I understand who we are at Liberty Grace Church. Who are we? We are ordinary people who let God down, but have encountered Jesus and heard his words, “Peace be with you.” The thing that ties us together as a group of people is that we are in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We are not in relationship with God because we are any better than anybody else. We are in relationship with God despite our weaknesses and failures and doubts. It’s all because Jesus has initiated this relationship with us.

This is the basis of our identity. It shapes everything about us. It also means that as we come into contact with others, we don't go, "Ha! Sinner!" We live as those who have been forgiven, so we can live and explain grace and joy and peace and hope.

This is who we are - a group of people who know failure and doubt, but who are in relationship with Jesus. This is important but it's not enough. This is key to our identity. We are people who have been forgiven.

 But that’s not all that we are.

2. We are sent.

After Jesus re-establishes a relationship with his followers, he gives them a job to do — one that is unbelievable, considering their failures. He passes the baton to them, and gives his job over to them.

This is the opposite of what you'd expect. These people fail the test, and Jesus comes to them and puts them in charge. Jesus looks at us, sees who we are, and still he gives us the responsibility of doing what he did during his ministry.

Verses 21-23 say:

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Jesus restates his mission - “As the Father has sent me…” Jesus talked a lot about being sent by his Father. Over and over again, he talked about the reason for his existence, and the reason for what he was doing. “As the Father has sent me…” Jesus served because Jesus was sent. He preached, healed, and forgave because that is what God called him to do. Jesus was always clear on his mission, what he was there to do.

Jesus accomplished this mission by going to those who were out of relationship with him. He talked about not going to the spiritually healthy but to those who weren't doing well spiritually. His ministry was grounded in the nature of God, who is a sending God.

You can capture the sweep of this throughout Scripture. One of the big macro-themes is the image of God. God made us in his image (imago dei). This image has been broken by sin. God's been working to restore that image, to undo the damage caused by sin. The Bible tells us that we're being changed into the image of Christ, who is in the image of God. He's restoring that image.

Another macro-theme is the mission of God (missio dei). God is on mission to restore that image. The whole Bible is about the mission of God. God chose a people to carry out his mission to bless the world. God sent his Son to carry out this mission. Now, Jesus gives the mission to those who follow him, to the glory of God (gloria dei).

In other words, we were made in the image of God to participate in the mission of God, all for the glory of God.

This is the reason for our existence as a church, as a group of people. It's rooted in the very nature of God. God is a sending God. The Father sent Jesus; the Father and the Son sent the Spirit; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together send the church into the world.

Ed Stetzer and Daniel Im write:

God is a missionary God in this culture and in every culture. His nature does not change with location. Therefore, a missionary posture should be the normal expression of the church in all times and places..

The church needs to realize that mission is its fundamental identity. A nonmissional church misrepresents the true nature of the church. (Planting Missional Churches)

Who are we? We are people who are forgiven and sent. We’ve been given a mission by God who is on mission. We are a missionary people. We are a group of people who have been sent into this community to do what Jesus did. We've been called to enter the lives of people who are out there. We have been sent to leave our place of security, to risk ourselves, to travel to the places where people are, to go onto their turf rather than to expect them to come onto our turf. We've been called to become missionaries in our own societies, to understand our culture, to creatively engage the issues of the day. We've been sent into the world just as Christ as sent.

I find it fairly easy to remember the first part — that we’re forgiven — compared to remembering the second part of our identity: that we’re sent. But we need both parts of our identity. When we forget our mission, we soon lose the very nature of what it means to be the church. We lose our identity as the missionary people of God.

A church can't exist without mission. It's not an add-on or part of what we do. There is no such thing as a missions budget. The entire budget of the church is the missions budget. The essence of the church is to live in relationship with God, sent into the world just as Christ was sent into the world.

Think this is too much? I don't blame you. This is why Jesus breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” He’s given us everything we need to carry out our mission.

God has called you. He's not surprised by your mistakes or doubts. He's given you the job to be sent to live and serve just as Jesus lived and served. Reggie McNeal says:

God must have a lot of confidence in you to put you on the planet at just this time. It was his sovereign decision to insert you onto planet earth during a time of huge transition. It takes incredible faith to lead or follow Christ during hinge points of history ... Jesus doesn't slam you for your doubts, fears and uncertainties either. He wants to encourage you in your current assignment. (Reggie McNeal, The Present Future)

God must have had a lot of confidence in you? That's sort of right. God had confidence in what his Spirit could do through ordinary, failed people like us.

Some of us have been ordained as pastors. But some of you have an even higher calling. You've been ordained as teachers, firefighters, students, sales representatives, parents. You've been sent to where you live and work and study, just as Christ was sent.

You're not there by accident. God has strategically placed you there. He's given you all the resources you need. You have been sent. You are in relationship with God, and sent into the world to be a blessing to the world.

So today I want to ask you: Who are you? Who are we as a church? And the answer comes in two words. We are forgiven, and we are sent.

In the coming weeks, we’re going to talk about what this means for us as we try to live it out. But today I just want to pick up the notes, Polaroids, and tattoos, just like the character in the Memento movie, because like him, we tend to forget who we are.

Remember the line I mentioned from the movie? “You don’t know who you are anymore…Maybe it’s time you started investigating yourself.” What would happen if we investigated ourselves and reminded ourselves that we are forgiven and sent? What if we left clues about this so that we remembered this every day of our lives? How would we live our lives differently if we lived out of this identity? My suspicion is that it would change everything.

Who are we? We are people who are forgiven and sent. And this, my friends, changes everything.

Father, thank you today that the story doesn’t end with our failure. Thank you that Jesus enters the room and says, “Peace be with you.” And then he repeats himself to make sure we get the point. Thank you that we are forgiven and restored into relationship with you. It’s a core piece of our identity. We have been forgiven.

But thank you also that we’ve been sent. We are your missionary people, sent a missionary God. Thank you that you haven’t just given us a mission, but you’ve given us the Holy Spirit so we could carry out this mission.

I pray that this identity would shape everything about our lives. Help us to remember every day who we are: that we are people who are forgiven and sent. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Evangelism: How Are We Doing? (Romans 1:14-17)

Big Idea: Evangelism is hard, but it’s worth it because of what the gospel is.


I have a question for you today, and I want you to be honest in your response. When it comes to evangelism, how are you doing? When it comes to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ — his life, death, burial, resurrection, and all that it means — how would you evaluate your effectiveness?

I know that a question like this can be difficult to answer. There are really three ways to answer:

  • Some of you are here today, but you are not a follower of Jesus Christ. You may be skeptical or curious. In this case, you may have mixed feelings about evangelism. A study in England asked nonbelievers what it felt like to have a Christian speak to them about their faith. 19% said that it made them want to know more, but 59% said the opposite. Almost a third of people said it left them feeling more negative. Some of you don’t like evangelism, because you don’t want to be evangelized. Nobody likes to be someone’s project.
  • Some of you don’t mind the question, because you’re dong fine when it comes to evangelism.
  • Most of us, if we’re honest, feel a little guilty, because we’d like to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others, but we’re not. We want to share our faith, and what Jesus has done for us, but we feel nervous, or under pressure. It’s not a natural part of our lives. When I ask you how you are doing with evangelism, you may even feel guilty.

Today, I want to do a couple of things. The first is to let you off the hook by just acknowledging a basic reality about evangelism. Then I want to look at a man who knew this reality, but couldn’t not evangelize. I want to look at him, because he gives three reasons why evangelism is worth it.

So let’s look at this: one basic reality about evangelism, and then why evangelism is worth it, even though it's hard.

Evangelism is Hard

Here’s the one basic reality that I hope will help you breath a sigh of relief: Evangelism is hard. I was encouraged to read a great book on evangelism by a good evangelist recently, and read this as the first paragraph of the book:

I find evangelism hard. The problem with being an evangelist is that people assume that you find evangelism effortless; but I don’t find it easy, and never have. For me, telling people about Jesus has often been nerve wracking. But at the same time, it has been joyful.

He talks about a painline when it comes to sharing the gospel:

So if you are going to talk to people about Jesus, you are going to get hurt. It is going to sever some relationships. It is going to provoke people. Not every time, and depending on our circumstances, friendship groups, workplaces and so on, our experiences will vary; but we will face rejection enough of the time to give us second thoughts, because I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly like getting hurt. We’re wired to assume that if we’re getting hit, something’s gone wrong. And so whenever I tell someone the gospel message, and get hit (metaphorically speaking), there’s a temptation either to stop saying anything, or to change what I’m saying. I know there’s a painline that needs to be crossed if I tell someone the gospel; but I want to stay the comfortable side of the painline. Of course I do!

I think that’s the main reason why we don’t do evangelism. (Rico Tice, Honest Evangelism)

I like that the first line of his book says, “I find evangelism hard.” Later on, he says, “If you’re like me, you’ll never find evangelism easy. You’ll always find it hard to take the risk, and get over the painline.” It’s worth it, but it’s hard.

It’s not just us either. You find this implication in the text we’re looking at this morning. In verse 16, Paul says:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

Some have said that what Paul means is, “I am proud of the gospel.” But what he actually says is, “I am not ashamed of the gospel.” This indicates that it seems that Paul, like us, faced the temptation to be ashamed of the gospel. James Stewart of Edinburgh, in a sermon on this text, once made the perceptive comment that “there’s no sense in declaring that you’re not ashamed of something unless you’ve been tempted to feel ashamed of it.” Without doubt, Paul knew this temptation.

It’s a little surprising to hear the apostle Paul say that he’s not ashamed of the gospel. Why would anyone — never mind the apostle Paul — be ashamed of the gospel? The truth is that all of us have been ashamed of the gospel at one time or another.

The gospel has always been a source of ridicule. Archeologists in Rome have found a caricature from the Christian era, around 200 A.D. It depicts a slave bowing down before a cross. On the cross is a donkey-headed figure. Underneath the drawing it says, “Alexamenos worships his god.” It shows the attitude that Romans had toward Christianity. It was foolishness.

Around the year 178, the Greek writer Celsus wrote a bitter attack on Christianity. He said that Christianity is not for the instructed or wise, but for “ignorant, or unintelligent, or uninstructed, or foolish persons…the silly, and the mean, and the stupid, with women and children.” He compared them to a swarm of bats, ants creeping out of their nests, to frogs holding a symposium around a swamp, and to worms cowering in the muck. Tell us what you really think, Celsus!

Robert Haldane writes of Christianity:

 By the pagans it was branded as atheism, and by the Jews it was abhorred as subverting the law and tending to licentiousness, while both Jews and Gentiles united in denouncing the Christians as disturbers of the public peace, who, in their pride and presumption, separated themselves from the rest of mankind. Besides, a crucified Savior was to the one a stumbling-block, and to the other foolishness.

As Paul prepared to go to Rome, he went, as tradition tells us, as “an ugly little guy with beetle brows, bandy legs, a bald pate, a hooked nose, bad eyesight and no great rhetorical gifts” (John Stott) with an unpopular message. And he went to the greatest city in the world, to a place renowned for its wisdom, law, art, and military power.

It’s no different today. As we think about sharing the gospel, we face the reality that we are sharing news that seems like foolishness. And we’re doing so in a city that’s certainly among the world’s best, a place of wisdom and power.

The British preacher Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that if you have never been ashamed of the gospel, the probable reason is not that you are “an exceptionally good Christian,” but rather that “your understanding of the Christian message has never been clear.” Evangelism is hard, because there’s a painline in sharing the gospel. Paul got it, and so should we.

Evangelism is Worth It

As we think of evangelism, though, it’s not enough to admit that it’s hard. There are lots of things that are hard, but we do them anyway because they’re worth it.

This is important. We tend to like what and how questions: what should we do, and how should we do it? But before we get to the what and how questions, it’s important to answer the why question. We will not be compelled to share the gospel without answering the why question. Why should we share the gospel, even though it’s so hard?

In today’s passage, Paul gives us three reasons why evangelism is worth it, even though it’s hard. Paul found that these reasons made it impossible for him not to share the gospel with as many people as possible. What were they? Here they are.

Reason One: The gospel is a debt we owe.

Verses 14 and 15 say:

I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. (Romans 1:14-15)

I walked down the street in Liberty Village the other day. As I passed person after person, I thought, “I owe you.” I owe something to every person in Liberty Village. And so do you in your community.

That’s what Paul says in verse 14. He’s under an obligation to everyone — Greek or barbarian. Barbarians were non-Greek speaking Gentiles: Persians, Egyptians, Spaniards, Germans. He was prepared to share the gospel with anyone at any time, no matter what language, education level, or religion. Why? Because Paul owes them. He was a debtor. He owed them something, and he had to discharge his debt.

There are two ways that you can owe someone something. The first is if you borrow money from them. If I borrow $10,000 from someone, then I owe them that money. I’m a debtor to them.

But there’s another way that I can be in debt. If someone gives me $10,000 to give to someone else, then that money isn’t mine. I would be in debt to them until I saw the other person and handed over the money. That $10,000 in my pocket would be a debt that I owed to them until I had given them the money.

Paul says that this is the case with each of us. God has given us his gospel. He’s entrusted us with the unbelievable news of what Jesus has done. It’s a message that changes everything, and gives us exactly what we’re looking for: “acceptance, approval, forgiveness, newness, healing, worth, purpose, joy, hope, peace, and freedom” (Jonathan Dodson).

But Paul says that this is not a message that God’s entrusted to us for ourselves only. God has entrusted this gospel to us for the sake of others. We owe the debt to God, but the payment is to others as we share the gospel with them. We have no right to keep it to ourselves. The gospel is made for sharing.

Evangelism is hard, but Paul couldn’t help share the good news, because he owes it to God and to others.

Reason Two: The gospel is God’s power that saves everyone who believes.

Verse 16 says:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

Paul saw the gospel as a debt, but he also saw the gospel as a power. He reminded himself that the message of the gospel, which some see as weakness, is the very power of God. It results in the salvation of every single person who receives and believes this message.

Have you ever tried to change someone else? I have, and it didn’t work. I have about a 0% success rate in changing others. That shouldn’t be too surprising, though, because I have a fairly low success rate at changing myself. It’s just not something I can do. But the gospel isn’t like that. It has a 100% success rate at changing people who receive this message. In 1 Corinthians 6, the apostle Paul describes some of the people it’s changed:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

What changes people, all kinds of people struggling with all kinds of issues? The gospel. The word that Paul uses for power is one of six Greek words for power. It has the sense that there’s something that belongs to the object described that’s inherently powerful, residing in its state by virtue of its own nature. That’s the gospel. By its very nature, it is powerful. It can change lives. It can change people. It can change societies. When Paul saw the gospel’s power, he found it impossible not to share it.

Paul was going to the very power center of the civilized world at that time, a city where power was the keynote. But Paul held a conviction: the most powerful force in the world is not political or military power, wealth, status, or any power belonging to man or woman. The greatest power is the gospel. It is more powerful than the Roman empire in all its power, because it is the power of God that saves anyone who believes.

The preacher G. Campbell Morgan tells a story of a time that he was in Italy. He was in a graveyard saw that there was a huge marble slab over some man's grave. An acorn, though, had gotten into the grave hundreds of years ago. Out of that acorn came a shoot, and out of the shoot came a tree that had grown up so big and so tall it had split the marble slab in half. 

Most people would look at an acorn, and a thousand-pound marble slab, and ask, “Which is going to win?” Hands own, it will always be an acorn. The acorn always wins, even though it looks much less powerful.

Here’s the gospel, and here’s the greatest power known to humanity. Which is going to win? The gospel, or the Roman empire? The gospel, or any human power? It’s always the gospel. The power of the gospel is a great reason to share the gospel.

There’s one more reason to share the gospel, even though it’s hard.

Reason Three: The gospel is a revelation of God’s righteousness that’s given to us.

Verse 17 says:

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)

There’s so much in this passage. We could look at it for hours. It’s one of the most important statements in all of Scripture. It gets to the heart of the gospel. This verse has played an important role in church history. It’s the passage that played an important role in the Protestant Reformation, after Martin Luther, a Catholic monk, came to understand it. And it’s a message that can change us today as well.

Here’s what it means. The gospel reveals the righteousness of God. What is this righteousness? It’s not a righteousness of our own. It’s a righteousness that’s given to us. God in his grace gives makes a righteousness available to us, and we must receive it passively with empty hands of faith. We don’t add to it or contribute to it. We simply receive it.

And how do we receive it? By faith. Faith means we receive it. Faith means that we rely on it.

Luther came to understand this, and hit changed his life, and it changed history. He called it a justitia alienum, an alien righteousness; a righteousness that belongs properly to somebody else. It’s a righteousness that is extra nos, outside of us. It’s the righteousness of Christ. As Anders Nygren says, it’s a righteousness “originating in God, prepared by God."

Luther said, “When I discovered that, I was born again of the Holy Ghost. And the doors of paradise swung open, and I walked through.”

This is why Paul couldn’t help but share the gospel, even though it’s hard.

  • The gospel is a debt that we owe.
  • It’s God’s power that saves everyone who believes.
  • It’s the revelation of God’s righteousness that’s given to us, that we simply receive by faith with empty hands.

When you get these, Paul says, you can’t help but share the gospel. There are going to be other questions about how to share the gospel, what to say, and how to deal with objections, and so on. But this comes first. Before we get to the hows and what’s, we need to deal with the why.

If you hear nothing else today, hear this: Evangelism is hard, but it’s worth it because of what the gospel is.

At the beginning of the message, I asked you how you’re doing with evangelism. And I guessed that most of us are probably struggling. Today I want to tell you that a certain amount of struggle is probably just part of evangelism, because there’s a painline that’s always going to be there. But I also want to tell you that the best way to get past that painline and actually share the gospel is to look at that gospel yourself, to be transformed by it and amazed by it. The more we see the gospel as a debt, as a power, and as a radical message, and the more it changes us, just like it changed Martin Luther, the more we will find ourselves compelled to share it. In other words, it all begins with delighting more in Jesus and all that he’s done.

The more we see the gospel, and the more we marvel at the gospel, the more we’ll be compelled to share the gospel.

As Jonathan Dodson puts it:

We must see Jesus, over and over again, as the source and goal of God’s work, and we must look to him as the renewing power of new creation. Jesus is our motivation for evangelism, and the Father is calling us to count on Christ, more than anything else, and entrust our evangelistic record to him. Don’t count on methods, conversions, cultural savvy, or your church. Count on Christ, deeply, and you will communicate Christ freely.

Let's pray.

Father, thank you for the gospel. Forgive us for being ashamed of the gospel.

Help us today to see the gospel for all that it is. It’s a message you’ve entrusted to us to share. It’s your power that saves everyone who believes. And it’s the revelation of your righteousness, an alien righteousness that’s outside of us, and that’s simply given by grace through faith.

May we see Jesus and his gospel over and over again as our motive for evangelism. May we count on him and his gospel rather than our methods and strategies. And, like Paul, may we be compelled to share the gospel as we grow in our marvel at the gospel. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Why Does It Matter That Jesus Rose Again? (2 Corinthians 4:7-18)

Big Idea: Easter gives us the ability to survive hardship, because death is not the end.


The most-sacred symbol in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, is a tree: a sprawling, shade-bearing, 80-year-old American Elm. Tourists drive from miles around to see her. People pose for pictures beneath her. Arborists carefully protect her. She adorns posters and letterhead. Other trees grow larger, fuller—even greener. But not one is equally cherished. The city treasures the tree not because of her appearance, but her endurance.

She endured the Oklahoma City bombing.

Timothy McVeigh parked his death-laden truck only yards from her. His malice killed 168 people, wounded 850, destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, and buried the tree in rubble. No one expected it to survive. No one, in fact, gave any thought to the dusty, branch-stripped tree.

But then she began to bud.

Sprouts pressed through damaged bark; green leaves pushed away gray soot. Life appeared in an acre of death. People noticed. The tree modeled the resilience the victims desired. So they gave the elm a name: the Survivor Tree.

What would it take for you to be as resilient as that? What would it take for you to be able to withstand the explosions and hardships of life, and to not just survive but live and thrive in the middle of difficulty?

This afternoon, for just a few minutes, I want to look at the passage of Scripture that we just read. And I want to do just three things, and I’ll be quicker than normal today.

  • I want to show you that life is full of trials.
  • I want to show you how you can hope in the middle of trials.
  • I want to show you how you can get that hope.

I want to show you that life is full of trials.

Read verses 7 to 12 with me:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)

Paul gives us a pretty powerful image in verse 7 of what life is like. He says we have a treasure — the good news of what Jesus has done, which we celebrate at Easter. But we have this treasure in clay jars. If you’re like me, you have nice storage containers in your house that you want to keep. You look after them, because they’re worth a bit of money. But then you have some plastic containers that came from the dollar store, or from take-out food. When someone comes over, and you want to send food home with them, you put it in that cheap plastic container and give it to them. When they ask if you want it back, you say, “No! Keep it!” It’s worth almost nothing. It’s disposable.

Paul says that we are like that. Back then, jars of clay were fragile, expendable, cheap, and unattractive. Now, Paul isn’t putting us down. But he’s making a pretty profound statement about life. We are pretty weak. We are confronted with weakness almost every day of our lives, even when we’re young. We reach the end of our capacity pretty quickly. It’s a universal reality.

But then Paul goes on and lists some of his hardships. He gives four paradoxes that form his reality, and that are going to help us as we look at them. These things shouldn’t belong together, but they do in Paul’s life, and they can in ours too. He is:

  • afflicted in every way, but not crushed — or, as one person paraphrased it, squeezed but not squashed;
  • perplexed, but not driven to despair — or, again, in the words of someone, bewildered but not befuddled;
  • persecuted, but not forsaken;
  • struck down, but not destroyed — knocked down but not knocked out.

Paul’s experience was that life is brutal. When you look at Paul’s life, and just take the first part of these paradoxes, you see that he was afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. Life is hard. Later on, Paul writes:

but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 6:4-10)

We have these images of what life should be like. We think that, ideally, it should be relatively problem-free. But Paul tells us that this is not what we can expect from life. In fact, it’s only in the past couple hundred years that we could even entertain such an idea. Most people in history, and even most people today, have no illusions about the difficulty of life. They’re not surprised by suffering. We are weak and fragile, and life is relentlessly hard. As Tim Keller writes:

Suffering is everywhere, unavoidable, and its scope often overwhelms…The loss of loved ones, debilitating and fatal illnesses, personal betrayals, financial reversals, and moral failures— all of these will eventually come upon you if you live out a normal life span. No one is immune. Therefore, no matter what precautions we take, no matter how well we have put together a good life, no matter how hard we have worked to be healthy, wealthy, comfortable with friends and family, and successful with our career— something will inevitably ruin it. No amount of money, power, and planning can prevent bereavement, dire illness, relationship betrayal, financial disaster, or a host of other troubles from entering your life. Human life is fatally fragile and subject to forces beyond our power to manage. Life is tragic. (Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering)

So that’s life. We’re weak, and life is hard.

I want to show you how you can hope in the middle of trials.

Here’s the irony. Some people are able to find hope, and thrive, even when they experience their weakness, and even when they experience extreme suffering. Paul is an example of this. He doesn’t deny suffering, but he finds hope even in the middle of suffering.

Where did Paul get that hope? Why was he not crushed, driven to despair, not forsaken, and not destroyed? There are at least four reasons in this passage — it has so much to offer those of us who are suffering — but today I want to focus on just one. Easter gives us the ability to survive hardship, because death is not the end.

Read verse 14:

…knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. (2 Corinthians 4:14)

Here is what Paul is saying. When God raised Jesus from the dead, it was a promise that he would also do this one day for those who believe and trust in Jesus.

Today, Christians are celebrating the event that took place on Easter Sunday almost two thousand years ago. God raised Jesus from the dead. It wasn’t just that Jesus came back to life. He was given a new kind of body. It was perfect. It wasn’t subject to weakness, aging, or death. It was like the human body he had, but even better. It was a completely new kind of human life, and the kind of life we all want.

Paul is saying that Jesus’ resurrection is more than an historical event, although it is that. It’s also a promise that God will do the same thing for us. All Christians everywhere will be gathered together in the presence of Jesus. We will appear blameless in his presence, united with Christ, with the multitude of others who have put their hope in Jesus Christ.

Because of this, Paul could put up with the difficulties he faced in life, because they’re only temporary. They’re just for now.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

Let’s get real about this. It’s been a hard week. Open the newspaper and you read about terrorist attacks, injustice, and premature death. Look around you, and you see people struggling through relational breakdown, mental and physical illnesses, and huge amounts of stress.

Paul doesn’t deny this reality. He doesn’t promise us an easy escape from the brutal realities of life. There’s no escaping this stuff. What he promises is that they’re temporary. One day we’ll be free from all of this stuff. And Jesus’ resurrection is proof that it’s not a pipe dream. It’s already a reality, and our turn is coming soon. 

One of the best books on suffering out there is Tim Keller’s book Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering. He doesn’t provide any cheap answers to the problem of suffering, because there are none. But he says something profound. Christians are able to suffer with hope, because we know that suffering is not the final word.

The Christian doctrine of the resurrection and the renewal of the world— when all the biblical promises and implications are weighed and grasped— comes the closest to any real explanation we have. The resurrection of the body means that we do not merely receive a consolation for the life we have lost but a restoration of it. We not only get the bodies and lives we had but the bodies and lives we wished for but had never before received. We get a glorious, perfect, unimaginably rich life in a renewed material world.

Steve DeWitt says:

This world and its history are prelude and foretaste; all the sunrises and sunsets, symphonies and rock concerts, feasts and friendships are but whispers. They are a prologue to the grander story and an even better place. Only there, it will never end. J. I. Packer said it so well: "Hearts on earth say in the course of a joyful experience, 'I don't want this ever to end.' But it invariably does. The hearts in heaven say, 'I want this to go on forever.' And it will. There can be no better news than this."

In the end, there are only a few approaches possible when it comes to suffering:

  • You can try to avoid suffering, but this never works.
  • You can try to accept suffering, but this offers no hope. We know it’s not the way it’s supposed to be.
  • You can embrace suffering and try to find good in suffering, but some kinds of suffering are too overwhelming for us. It’s hard to find any good in some of the kinds of suffering we experience.
  • You can refuse to deny, accept, or embrace suffering. Instead, you can trust in Jesus and find that your suffering is engulfed in something greater — that it’s just the prelude to God setting everything right. Not only will he take away everything that’s bad, but he will restore everything to the world and life we’ve always wanted.

The last is the only approach that works. You can’t avoid, accept, or embrace suffering, but you can trust that God will undo suffering. Everything sad will come untrue. And Jesus’ resurrection is the just the beginning of what’s going to happen to all of us. Easter gives us the ability to survive hardship, because death is not the end.

I want to show you how you can get that hope.

How do we get this hope? Two ways.

First: trust in what Jesus has done for you. The gospel is the news that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again to give us new life. His resurrection was God’s “Amen!” to Christ’s “It is finished.” The gospel is good news of God’s massive grace to sinners. Come with empty hands and receive the gift that he freely offers to you.

Second: live in light of that hope today. Fix your eyes on this hope. It’s a discipline. When you’re suffering, cling to this hope. Bring the reality of your future into the present. Grab it and don’t let go.

Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church and the author of The Purpose Driven Life, together with his wife, Kay, went through a devastating loss when their twenty-seven-year-old son Matthew took his own life after battling depression and mental illness for years.

About a year after this tragedy, Rick said, "I've often been asked, 'How have you made it? How have you kept going in your pain?' And I've often replied, 'The answer is Easter.'

"You see, the death and the burial and the resurrection of Jesus happened over three days. Friday was the day of suffering and pain and agony. Saturday was the day of doubt and confusion and misery. But Easter—that Sunday—was the day of hope and joy and victory.

"And here's the fact of life: you will face these three days over and over and over in your lifetime. And when you do, you'll find yourself asking—as I did—three fundamental questions. Number one, 'What do I do in my days of pain?' Two, 'How do I get through my days of doubt and confusion?' Three, 'How do I get to the days of joy and victory?'

"The answer is Easter. The answer … is Easter."

Easter gives us the ability to survive hardship, because death is not the end.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? (Romans 3:21-26)

Big Idea: Jesus died because our sinfulness and God’s holiness could otherwise never go together.


Today is the start of Holy Week, the week that leads up to Easter. It’s when Christians all over the world remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s an important week, but it’s also a week that raises a lot of questions.

That’s why we’re doing a short series called Easter Questions. We want to answer some of the top questions that come up when we think of Easter. The questions are:

  • Did Easter really happen? Did Jesus really die, and was he really raised from the dead? This is an important question, and we looked at it last week.
  • Why did Jesus have to die? This is what we’re going to look at today.
  • Why does it matter that he rose again? This is what we’ll look at next week.

But today: Why did Jesus have to die? Jesus said that his death was the very reason he came to earth. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). In other words, when Jesus died, it was fulfilling a purpose. It was for a reason. He gave his life for a purpose. And that’s what I want to look at today. What was that purpose? Why is Jesus’ death something that we celebrate every single week that we gather?

To answer this, we have to get wrestle with a passage that’s not easy to understand at first. Martin Luther, a famous theologian from many years ago, called this passage “the chief point and the very central place of the epistle to the Romans and of the whole Bible.” So it’s worth trying to understand, even though it will take a bit of work.

Why did Jesus have to die? Because of two facts that are otherwise unreconcilable. Here are the two facts: our sinfulness, and God’s holiness.

Fact One: Our Sinfulness

The entire point of Romans up to this point is that we have a problem: we are sinful. Verses 22 and 23 summarizes our problem:

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,(Romans 3:22-23)

This sounds pretty strange to people today. D.A. Carson, a brilliant Canadian-born theologian, says:

When I do university missions today, for the most part I am speaking to biblical illiterates. The hardest truth to get across to them is not the existence of God, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, Jesus’ substitutionary atonement, or Jesus’ resurrection. Even if they think these notions are a bit silly, they are likely to respond, “Oh, so that’s what Christians believe.” They can see a certain coherence to these notions. No, the hardest truth to get across to this generation is what the Bible says about sin.

Sin is generally a snicker-word: you say it, and everybody snickers. There is no shame attached to it. It is so hard to get across how ugly sin is to God. …They sometimes become so indignant with this notion of sin that I must spend a lot of time talking about it!

So that’s a problem that we have. We don’t really seem all that sinful to ourselves. Because of this, the problem that the cross is designed to solve doesn’t really seem like much of a problem to us.

But it is a huge problem. Paul’s just finished by bringing the greatest indictment possible against all of us, no exceptions. In Romans 1:18 he began by saying:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.(Romans 1:18)

And then he concludes in chapter 3:

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:19-20)

In other words, we are all guilty before God. We have all sinned. All of us have missed the mark God intended for the human race. All of us have lost the glory of the original creation.

Let’s see if I can make some sense of all of this.

Augustine — or Saint Augustine as he’s known today — was born in 354 AD in Roman Africa. He may be called a saint today, but he lived anything but a saintly life in his time. He wasn’t baptized until he was in his thirties, and he began an illicit relationship with a woman when he was 17 that lasted many years.

But of all the incidents that took place in his life, there’s one that doesn’t seem like much, but it really stands out. Augustine’s neighbor had a pear tree. He writes:

Wickedness filled me. I stole something which I had in plenty and of much better quality. My desire was to enjoy not what I sought by stealing but merely the excitement of thieving and the doing of what was wrong. There was a pear tree near our vineyard laden with fruit, though attractive in neither color nor taste. To shake the fruit off the tree and carry off the pears, I and a gang of naughty adolescents set off late at night after (in our usual pestilential way) we had continued our game in the streets. We carried off a huge load of pears. But they were not for our feasts but merely to throw to the pigs. Even if we ate a few, nevertheless our pleasure lay in doing what was not allowed.

Even though this was a small thing — the theft of a few pears — it was a big thing to Augustine, because it revealed that something was wrong with him. He didn’t need the pears. The pears weren’t even very good. He didn’t even want the pears. But he wanted the excitement of doing something that wasn’t allowed.

Think about this. No need. No coercion. Just an enjoyment of doing the wrong thing. “I had no motive for my wickedness except wickedness itself. It was foul, and I loved it.”

As Augustine thought about this, he tried to understand why doing the wrong thing was so pleasurable. He began to realize that underneath this seemingly harmless prank was a very serious problem: a sinful nature and disposition. He began to see that his eating from the tree wasn’t all that different from Adam and Eve eating from the tree in the Garden of Eden. It was like a reenactment of the original Fall.

What Augustine came to realize is that there are a lot of seemingly insignificant things that we do that, when you look at them closely, reveal a serious problem. The problem is that we kind of like doing the wrong thing. If you dig a little deeper, you discover that we’re not that different from Augustine, or from Adam and Eve for that matter. The root problem, as one person (D.A. Carson) puts it, “is our rebellion against God, our fascination with idolatry, our grotesque de-godding of God.” It’s revealed in all kinds of big and little things we do everyday: the way we cut corners, lose our tempers, get defensive, and more. Not big things, but little things that reveal a big problem.

In 2009, a German scientist named Jan Souman took a group of subjects out to empty parking lots and open fields, blindfolded them, and instructed them to walk in a straight line. Some of them managed to keep to a straight course for ten or twenty paces; a few lasted for 50 or a hundred. But in the end, all of them wound up circling back toward their points of origin. Not many of them. Not most of them. Every last one.

“And they have no idea,” Dr. Souman said. “They were thinking that they were walking in a straight line all the time.” Dr. Souman's research team looked for an explanation. Some people turned to the right while others turned to the left, but the researchers could find no discernible pattern. As a group, neither left-handed nor right-handed subjects demonstrated any predisposition for turning one way more than the other; nor did subjects tested for either right- or left-brain dominance. The team even tried gluing a rubber soul to the bottom of one shoe to make one leg longer than the other.

“It didn't make any difference at all,” explained Dr. Souman. “So again, that is pretty random what people do.” In fact, it isn't even limited to walking. Ask people to swim blindfolded or drive a car blindfolded and, no matter how determined they may be to go straight, they quickly begin to describe peculiar looping circles in one direction or the other.

And we’re like that morally, every single one of us. The Bible explains the underlying problem, and it’s called sin. And instead of being a fairly minor thing, it’s actually taken over, even when we try to hide it. It’s corrupted us, our relationships with each other, and most of all our relationship with God. It’s ugly, offensive, and treasonous to God.

That’s the first fact: we are sinful. And it’s a real problem.

Fact Two: God’s Holiness

Here’s the second fact: God is holy. In fact, holiness is the adjective used in the Bible to describe God more than every other adjective or attribute. Holiness literally means that God is set apart. As R. C. Sproul put it, “He is an infinite cut above everything else.”

This has a moral element as well, meaning that God is infinitely separated from sin. Habakkuk 1:13 says that God is of “purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong.” Not only is God completely separate from sin, but he’s angry about it. He’s full of wrath.

Sometimes anger is appropriate. Sometimes it isn’t. I think you’ll agree that there are times that it’s right to be angry. In fact, it would be wrong not to be angry about some things. When you read of baby brokers who look for poor women willing to sell their infants to baby farms for huge profits, of women being forced into sex work, of entire families forced to work for nothing to pay off generational debts, or girls forced to marry older men, the right response is anger. These are injustices. It would be wrong not to be angry about these things.

So it is with God. God would not be God if he were not angry at sin.

Miroslav Volf, a Christian theologian from Croatia, used to reject the concept of God's wrath. He thought that the idea of an angry God was barbaric, completely unworthy of a God of love. But then his country experienced a brutal war. People committed terrible atrocities against their neighbors and countrymen. He began to understand the necessity of God's wrath:

My last resistance to the idea of God's wrath was a casualty of the war in the former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3,000,000 were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry.

Or think of Rwanda in the last decade of the past century, where 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days! How did God react to the carnage? By doting on the perpetrators in a grandfatherly fashion? By refusing to condemn the bloodbath but instead affirming the perpetrators' basic goodness? Wasn't God fiercely angry with them?

Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God's wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn't wrathful at the sight of the world's evil. God isn't wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love.

So God is angry. He is not angry in a deranged or inappropriate way. His anger is just, and it is right. As Timothy Stoner writes, it’s the jealous anger of a husband whose bride has returned from honeymoon, and is turning tricks on the street for drugs. It’s the avenging anger of a father who walks into his baby’s room and sees a cobra coiled on his son’s lifeless body.

I want you to see this. God could not be God if he wasn’t angry at sin. It would not be right. Anglican theologian N.T. Wright puts it this way:

The biblical doctrine of God's wrath is rooted in the doctrine of God as the good, wise and loving creator, who hates—yes, hates, and hates implacably—anything that spoils, defaces, distorts, or damages his beautiful creation, and in particular anything that does that to his image-bearing creatures. If God does not hate racial prejudice, he is neither good nor loving. If God is not wrathful at child abuse, he is neither good nor loving. If God is not utterly determined to root out from his creation, in an act of proper wrath and judgment, the arrogance that allows people to exploit, bomb, bully and enslave one another, he is neither loving, nor good, nor wise.

I hope you see the problem. We have two facts that just don’t go together. We are sinners. We not only sin, but the sin is part of our very nature. We even like it. And then there is God, who is an infinite cut above us, and who can’t stand the very presence of sin.

What do we do when we have these two irreconcilable facts? What happens when sinners and a holy God who can’t stand sin get together? We can’t stop being sinners, and God can’t stop being holy. The problem seems unsolvable.

How Jesus Brought These Together

So here’s the problem. God is holy, and we are sinful. The problem is that these are two irreconcilable facts. God can’t just accept our sinfulness without compromising his holiness. We can’t be holy, because our sin nature runs so deep. What can be done?

Some people think the solution is simple: God should just simply forgive us. But there are a number of problems with that view. I read this week of a couple that listed their house on AirBnB while they went on a trip to Cuba. One of the renters held a massive party at their house. Three hundred guests and a DJ showed up at their house and partied until 5 AM. When they came back, their house looked like a crime scene. They found a fist-sized hole in the master bedroom, cut marks across the marble countertop and cabinetry, and stiletto pockmarks in the floor. Their clothing steamer was smashed. There were cigarette burns in the basement rug, and a closet wall was smeared with makeup. They found a bottle of Playboy shampoo in the master bathroom. Their daughter’s bed frame was broken into pieces. “Everywhere I looked,” one of them said, “there was something battered or broken.”

They contacted AirBnB, because the company has a host-guarantee program with up to $1 million coverage for each rental. They got nowhere for a while, which was very frustrating.

Now, imagine that AirBnB came back and said, “Good news! We’ve found the person responsible for the damage, and we’ve forgiven them.” You’d be outraged. It’s not their role to forgive the person responsible; it’s your role. And who is going to pay for the damage? You won’t be satisfied until the insurance adjuster comes by, that things are set right. That’s not unfair. That’s very fair. That’s justice.

So it is with God. When it comes to our sin, God is the most offended party. It is God that we have wronged. And justice must be done.

But here’s the thing: Instead of demanding justice from us, God has chosen to satisfy justice for us. Somebody’s compared it to a judge who has a guilty party before him at the bar. The judge pronounces the sentence — five years in jail, a $10,000 fine, or whatever. Then the judge steps down from the bench, takes off his robes, and takes the person’s place in prison or writes out the check for the fine. And we say, “This is what the Christian gospel is all about. It is a substitution.”

But that’s not quite right. In that illustration, the judge is not the offended party. He is a neutral arbitrator of justice. The offense was not against him, and if he was, he would have to recuse himself from the case.

But with God, he is the offended party. But he doesn’t recuse himself, because his justice is perfect. He stands over us and says that justice must be done. But then his Son willingly and joyfully pays the price, so that the penalty is paid, and justice has been done. And our sinfulness and God’s holiness come together without contradiction, because we are no longer guilty. We’ve been set free.

That’s exactly what Romans 3 explains:

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:22-26)

D.A. Carson writes:

Do you want to see the greatest evidence of the love of God? Go to the cross. Do you want to see the greatest evidence of the justice of God? Go to the cross. It is where wrath and mercy meet. Holiness and peace kiss each other. The climax of redemptive history is the cross. (Scandalous)

Jesus died because our sinfulness and God’s holiness could otherwise never go together.

Two applications.

First, don’t minimize your sin. The gospel isn’t good news until we realize how big of a problem we have. No blame-shifting. No defensiveness. It’s never an attractive thing when someone doesn’t take responsibility for what they’ve done wrong. Come before God, and come with the full weight of your sin.

Second, rejoice in what Jesus has done for you. I read this in my devotions this week: “In eternity past Christ saw all our faults, and not one after another, but all together” (David Clarkson). And yet he willingly died for us. Jesus has paid the price for us.

We’re going to sing a song with these words that capture it all:

Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders.
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers.

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished.
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished.

Father: thank you for the cross. Thank you that at the cross your justice and love met, so that you could be just, and that you could also justify us.

We worship you today. Thank you for the cross. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Easter: Did It Really Happen?

Big Idea: Easter passes the credibility test, and meets the deepest needs of the heart.


If you asked me if there are any deal breakers when it came to Christianity, then I’d have to say there’s one. It’s the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

If the resurrection happened, then the implications are staggering. If the resurrection didn’t happen, then Christianity has no validity at all. I would stop following Jesus. I would shut down the church. I would do something else with my life, and I would encourage you to do the same.

I’m not alone in saying this. The Bible agrees with me. The apostle Paul, a man who once opposed Christianity, said this:

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:17-19)

If Christ has not been raised, all of Christianity comes crashing down. The Christian faith is futile. The forgiveness of sins is nonsense. Death is the end. Christians are pitiable. If Easter didn’t happen, then there’s nothing that can be salvaged from the Christian faith. It’s that important.

I remember standing beside the grave of a friend of mine, and reading the words of Scripture about the resurrection. In that moment, I realized that I am either perpetrating a cruel lie, or I am speaking the most profound truth possible. There’s really no middle ground. It’s either a vicious hoax, or it’s a truth that changes everything.

So today, I want to look at this. Was Jesus really raised from the dead? Did the resurrection really happen?

As we consider this question, I want us to be as honest as possible. We want the evidence to speak. We can’t just assume the answer. Intellectual honesty demands that we answer the question honestly.

We have to admit: it’s not easy to believe in the resurrection. David Bowie died on January 10, two days after his 69th birthday, after an 18-month secret battle with cancer. If I told you that I saw him at Massey Hall last week, you’d conclude that I was either lying or that I’d lost my tenuous grip on reality. Nobody visits cemeteries to see if the people there are still dead. People who are dead stay dead.

This applies to Jesus as well. The resurrection of Jesus has always been hard to accept. It was hard to accept in biblical times. They had no categories for people coming back to life here and now. This was true, whether you were Jewish or Greek. Nobody could accept it, even back then, until they were compelled by the evidence.

So let me be clear: It’s never been easy to believe the resurrection. If it’s true, it’s a profound truth that changes everything. If it’s not true, then it’s time to shut down the church. So we need to look at the evidence, especially given the fact that resurrections aren’t exactly an everyday occurrence.

So what I want to do is to ask two questions. They’re two very different questions. The first is one that’s more modern, more evidence-based. It’s simply this: Did it happen? The second question is more of a post-modern question: what does it mean? The first question is historic; the second is theological. The first is about its credibility; the second is about its significance. I’m asking this because the resurrection has to pass two tests: first, that it’s non-contradictory, and second, that it’s livable.

Does Easter pass the credibility test?

So first: did Easter actually happen? Does it pass the credibility test?

To answer this question fairly, we actually have to answer two separate questions. The first is: did he actually die? The second is: did he actually rise from the dead?

So did he die? Occasionally you’ll hear a strange story about someone who is thought to be dead, but who comes back to life. Just this week I read about a baby in India who was declared dead, and woke up minutes before cremation was to take place. Some people — skeptics and Muslims — suggest that Jesus only appeared to die, but like Westley in The Princess Bride was only mostly dead.

What can we say to this? There is overwhelming evidence that Jesus actually died. Norman Geisler, a man who’s studied this, writes “The evidence for Christ’s death is greater than that for almost any other event in the ancient world.” Out of all the evidence, I just want to highlight two pieces: the nature of crucifixion, and testimony from others.

If we understood what crucifixion was like, there would be no question about the fact that Jesus actually died. He had no sleep the night before he was crucified. He was beaten and whipped. He collapsed while carrying the cross. The prelude to his crucifixion was enough that it brought him close to death. But then he was crucified.

He bled from gashes in his hands and feet, and from the thorns that pierced his scalp. He lost a lot of blood over the six hours he was crucified. Crucifixion required that the person pull themselves up by the nailed hands and feet in order to breath. Eventually, you would tire and be unable to lift yourself up anymore. Experts say that this would kill someone who was in good health.

On top of that, Jesus was speared to prove that he had died. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (21 March 1986) said:

Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted and supports the traditional view that the spear, thrust between his right rib, probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and heart and thereby ensured his death. Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.

The soldiers, who were trained executioners, pronounced him dead. It was common practice to break the legs of those being crucified to speed death, so that the person could no longer breath. In Jesus’ case, they decided it wasn’t necessary. Pilate, who was in charge of that Roman promise, double-checked whether Jesus was dead before giving permission for him to be buried. Then he was wrapped in a hundred pounds of cloth and spices, and buried in a tomb for three days. If he wasn’t dead by then, the lack of food, water, and medical treatment would have finished him off.

Not only that, but there’s lots of external evidence that he died. Both Jewish and Roman historians from that time record his death. There’s overwhelming evidence that Jesus died.

But what about his resurrection? It’s much easier to believe that someone really died than that they really came back from the dead. Well, there are a lot of reasons to believe that the resurrection really took place as well. Let me just highlight two lines of proof, although there are many more.

  • Appearances — He appeared to Mary Magdalene and to some other women. If you were made up the resurrection as a myth, you would never make up that he appeared to women first, because the testimony of women wasn’t accepted back then. The only reason to claim this would be if it was true, because it’s just not something you’d make up. But then Jesus appeared to the disciples, many of whom doubted at first. He ate with them. He ultimately appeared to 500 people at one time. Over 40 days, hundreds of people saw him alive. He was touched, and he ate food. Eyewitness accounts, especially by so many people, demand an explanation.
  • Effects — Then there are the effects of the resurrection. After Jesus was killed, all of his followers were scattered and afraid. Something happened to transform them into fearless men and women who transformed the Roman world, and were willing to die with courage for Jesus. Their dominant message — the thing they couldn’t stop talking about — was the resurrection of Jesus. Something has to account for that transformation, and the sudden growth and appearance of the church that spread throughout the Roman empire.

That’s not even getting into the other lines of evidence — the Scriptural predictions that were fulfilled; the fact that a heavily-guarded tomb was found to be empty, and a body missing; the fact that the authorities who killed Jesus didn’t organize a search or produce a body, but instead organized a coverup; and the conversion of skeptics like the apostle Paul, a persecutor of the church, and James, the half-brother of Jesus.

The evidence is so overwhelming that Norm Geisler says:

There are more documents, more eyewitnesses, and more corroborative evidence than for any other historical event of ancient history. The secondary, supplementary evidence is convincing; when combined with the direct evidence, it presents a towering case for the physical resurrection of Christ. In legal terminology, it is “beyond all reasonable doubt.”

Virtually everyone — Christians and skeptics alike — agree on four things: that Jesus died; that his tomb was empty, and the body never found; that Jesus’ disciples believed that they saw him resurrected from the dead; and that the disciples were transformed following their alleged resurrection observations. The case is so strong that there’s a burden of proof on those who disbelieve the resurrection to account for these facts. It’s not simply enough to believe that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. You have to come up with a plausible explanation for all of these facts, which is hard to do.

I heard recently of a teacher, a Christian, who was a little sneaky. He said to his students, “It’s about time that we disproved the resurrection!” He assigned them a research project, looking at the evidences for the resurrection and disproving them.

He knew what he was doing. The students came back, and many of them had come to believe the resurrection, because they found the evidence to be so compelling.

As someone put it:

The evidence for Jesus' resurrection is so strong that nobody would question it except for two things: First, it is a very unusual event. And second, if you believe it happened, you have to change the way you live. (Wolfhart Pannenberg)

I’d encourage you to examine the evidence for the resurrection. The evidence is compelling, and it’s virtually impossible to explain away. Easter passes the credibility test.

But I don’t want to just look at the facts today. I want to ask a second question.

Does Easter change our lives?

I was reading this week about Francis Schaeffer, a American theologian, philosopher, and pastor. He believed that all truths had to meet two requirements. First, the truth had to be non-contradictory. Second, the truth had to be able to be lived out consistently. In other words, it’s not enough for something to be true. It also has to be life-changing as well.

The fact is that Easter passes the credibility test, and meets the deepest needs of the heart. It’s not just true, but it’s also meaningful.

We’re going to look at this in more detail over the coming weeks. There are lots of things we can say about how Easter changes things. We could talk about what it means about Jesus. We could talk about what it means for our future resurrection. But today I want to speak very personally about the way that it changes the way we live, right here, right now.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a lecture by Mark Jones, author of a new book called Knowing Christ. I had heard good things about the book, and I know that Jones is a brilliant theologian, as well as a good pastor.

I attended the lecture, and Jones spoke on the humiliation of Christ. “There has never been a greater humiliation of a person than that of Jesus,” he said. “No one has ever descended so low because no one has ever come from so high.” Jones spoke compellingly about how Jesus joyfully, freely, and willingly became nothing for us. His whole life was one of humiliation — his birth and childhood, his ministry, his trial and execution, and his burial. I was transfixed and moved as Jones gave his lecture. “The readiness of Jesus to efface himself to the lowest pit of debasement, when he did not need to, should bring Christians to their knees in humble adoration of our Savior,” he said.

But then it struck me. I’m moved, as I should be, as I think about the humiliation of Jesus. But then I realized something. A few weeks ago I visited the home of Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States. I can know about Andrew Jackson, but I can’t know him, because he’s dead. But that’s not true of Jesus. I can know about Jesus, but because of his resurrection, I can do more than that, and so can you. I can know him. I can be in a relationship with him, and he with me. The resurrection isn’t just an historical fact. It also meets the deepest needs of our hearts, because we can know him.

In Philippians 3, the apostle Paul — a former persecutor of the church who encountered the risen Jesus — writes this:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11)

Here, Paul says that the main pursuit of his life, his driving passion, is to know Christ. Not just to know about him, but to know him. And not only can we know him, but we can experience the power of his resurrection in our own lives. We can be changed by him.

So not only is the resurrection true, but it’s captivating. If it is true, then it opens up a world of change. It means that the resurrection of Jesus isn’t just an historical fact. It is a reality that we can experience today. It opens us up to a relationship with the risen Lord, who has been serving and pursuing us all along.

As James Allen Francis wrote of him:

He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never owned a house. He never went to college. He never traveled more than two hundred miles from the place where He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself. He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away. He was nailed to the cross between two thieves. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today He stands as the central figure of the human race. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, have not affected the life of man on earth as has this one solitary life.

That’s our Jesus, who was raised from the dead. You can know him — not just know about him, but know him. Easter passes the credibility test, and meets the deepest needs of the heart.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

The Sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17)

Big Idea: The Word of God is a sufficient and effective weapon against Satan, so let's use it.


If you’ve watched The Princess Bride — and I hope you have — you would remember the scene called “the greatest swordfight in modern times.” It’s an epic scene that takes only a few minutes to watch, but months of work to produce.

The author, William Goldman, spent months researching sword fighting, and referred to specific defenses and styles based on 16th and 17th century books. Cary Elwes, the actor who played Westley, had taken some minor fencing lessons at acting school, but they had told him that he was hopeless, and that it was something that he couldn’t learn. “I wasn’t just a novice,” he writes. “I was clueless.”

When he began training for the movie, he thought, “How hard could it really be?…It didn’t seem all that difficult. A few quick thrusts, some fancy footwork. More like dancing than combat.” He couldn’t have been more wrong. He began training with people renowned for sword-training. He trained eight hours a day, five days a week. The actor who played Westley writes:

Even though I had the finest teachers in the world, and a costar whose unwavering commitment pushed me to a level I thought unattainable, I began to realize that the art of fencing is exponentially more difficult to master than it appears to be. And if you are completely new to this, even if you’re training several hours a day to achieve at least the appearance of proficiency, it’s almost impossible. I don’t care if you are the fittest guy on the planet with the dexterity of Yoda.

I may be many things, but I am certainly not a quitter. So I kept going to the studio, day after day, and thankfully, after a while things began to get a little easier. Slowly but surely, my muscles adjusted to the tasks expected of them. Inadequacy began to give way to competency…We’d train and train, learning one sequence at a time. They’d teach us the first five moves, then add another five moves, and then another set…and so on and so forth, until we finally had the basic outline of the whole fight.

Finally, after months of practice, they began filming. They originally hoped to film the swordfight in a day, but filming stretched out to almost a week. The result, though, was great.

Here’s what I learned from the swordfight in The Princess Bride: It takes months to even know how to describe a good swordfight. Sword fighting looks easy, but is anything but. It takes rigorous discipline and hard work. And that’s not even for a real swordfight. That’s just for a movie. The same is true as we look at today’s topic, the sword of the Spirit. It looks easy, but it’s not. It will take rigorous discipline and hard work. But it’s absolutely essential.

We’re coming near the end of a series called Stand. The premise of the series is that we’re in a fight. Ephesians 6:12 says:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

But here’s the good news: God has given us armor that we can use in this battle, and if we use this armor, we will be able to take our stand in the battle. Paul writes:

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:13)

So we’ve been looking at the six pieces of armor that Paul tells us to take up. Today we’re looking at the last piece of armor before we wrap up next week. The final piece of armor is unlike all the others, because it’s good for both defense and for offense. It’s the sword. Paul tells us to take “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).

There were two types of swords that soldiers would have used in Paul’s day. One was the long broadsword. That’s not what Paul refers to in this passage. He refers to the other type of sword that every infantryman would have carried: a short, double-edged dagger or short sword, no more than a foot or two long. It would have been used in close combat.

Paul doesn’t leave us guessing what the sword refers to. He calls it the sword of (supplied by) the Spirit. It is the word of God. The word that Paul uses for “word” isn’t the normal one that you’d expect. It’s not logos, for the written word of God. It’s rhema, for the spoken word of God. It probably refers to taking and speaking a particular passage of Scripture — not so much Scripture as a category, but a particular, specific portion of God’s Word. It’s not the Bible in abstract; it’s the Bible as it’s used and proclaimed. Paul wants us to know and use Scripture in our fight against Satan.

So I want to look at this today. I want to look at the sword: the word of God. Then I want to ask how we can use it, both defensively and offensively.

First: let’s look at the weapon, the word of God.

This is important. Before we use the weapon, we need to look at the weapon and understand it. It reminds me of Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, who once held up a football on the first day of training camp. “Gentlemen,” he said, holding a pigskin in his right hand, “this is a football.”

So let’s talk about the Bible, the word of God.

It’s completely unique. Amazon sells over three million books, with a new one added every five minutes. According to Google, nearly 130 million books have been published. But the Bible is completely unique. There’s no other book like it. It’s actually not a single book but 66 books, written over a period of 1,500 years, with 40 different authors. And yet it forms a unified whole.

There are some things that really set the Bible apart, such as its:

Authorship — I mentioned that the Bible was written by 40 different authors. It reflects their personalities and styles. And yet Scripture is also the word of God himself, so that “the words were fully their own words but also fully the words that God wanted them to write, words that God would also claim as his own” (Wayne Grudem). This is so much so that Jesus spoke highly of Scripture as being God’s word. He said:

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. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-19)

In John 10:35, Jesus said, “Scripture cannot be broken.”

2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God…” 2 Peter 1:20-21 says:

…knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21)

What does this mean? It means that the Bible is God’s very word to us. That makes it like any other book.

Authority — It also means that the word of God has authority. It means that when we open the Bible, we’re not just reading a human book. His word is powerful and authoritative. It means, as our statement of faith says, that “the Scriptures serve as our final authority of faith and practice.” It means that we yield to Scripture, rather than expecting Scripture to yield to us. You may have heard of the two battleships assigned to trainmen exercises. The captain noticed a light, and that his ship was on a collision course with that other ship.

The captain then called to the signalman, “Signal that ship: ‘We are on a collision course, advise you change course twenty degrees.’“

Back came the signal, “Advisable for you to change course twenty degrees.”

The captain said, “Send: “I’m a captain, change course twenty degrees.’“

“I’m a seaman second-class,” came the reply. “You had better change course twenty degrees.”

By that time the captain was furious. He spat out, “Send: ‘I’m a battleship. Change course twenty degrees.’”

Back came the flashing light, “I’m a lighthouse.”

The captain changed course.

The Word of God is like that. We don’t ask it to change course; we change the course of our lives according to its authority, or else we get into trouble.

Sufficiency — Not only is the Bible authored by God, and authoritative, but it’s also sufficient. By that I mean that it has all the words of God that we need. We don’t have to look for more revelation; we have everything here that we need for salvation, trust, and obedience 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

All of this leads to a major practical implication:

Priority — When we see the authorship, authority, and sufficiency of God’s word, it leads to one major implication. It means that God’s word has priority in our lives and in this church. It means that we see God’s word as the source of life and health, individually and as a church. According to a Canadian study, only one in five Christians reflect on the meaning of the Bible for their lives a few times a week. If this is really God’s authoritative and sufficient word to us, then that’s crazy. We need to be in this book all the time. Many churches and preachers use this book, but sometimes use it as a platform to get to their own thoughts and agendas. Again, that’s crazy. We need to commit to listening to God’s word, letting it set the agenda, and allowing it to shape our lives.

The health and growth of the church depends on the hearing, reading, and expounding of God’s Word. It’s central to what we do as a church. The New City Catechism says:

How is the Word of God to be read and heard?

With diligence, preparation, and prayer; so that we may accept it with faith, store it in our hearts, and practice it in our lives.

Friends, that’s why the Word of God is so important, and different from every other book that’s been written. 

I was reading a book by Rosaria Butterfield recently. Butterfield was a professor in a New York university who wanted nothing to do with Scripture. She began reading it, and as she did she found herself challenged.

I started…reading the Bible in earnest, with pen in hand and notebook in lap. I read the way a glutton devours…I started to read the Bible the way that I was trained to read a book, examining its textual authority, authorship, canonicity, and internal hermeneutics…I read the Bible like that the first year, arguing with its gender politics and its statements about slavery. But I kept reading it. Slowly and over time, the Bible started to take on a life and meaning that startled me. Some of my well-worn paradigms no longer stuck. As I studied the Bible, I found answers to my initial accusations. I delved into its canonicity, its hermeneutics, and its opposing theological approaches. My PhD training ably prepared me to know what a book says, to assess the integrity of its textual history and canonicity, and to make a call about its authority. God used this singular nerdy skill in the most important book study of my life.

The Bible simultaneously encouraged and enraged me….

After years and years of this, something happened. The Bible got to be bigger inside me than I. It overflowed into my world. I fought against it with all my might…

I had read the Bible many times through, and I saw for myself that it had a holy Author; I saw for myself that it was a canonized collection of sixty-six books with a unified biblical revelation.

And one day:

My hands let go of the wheel of self-invention. I came to Jesus alone, open-handed, and naked. I had no dignity upon which to stand. As an advocate for peace and social justice, I thought that I was on the side of kindness, integrity, and care. It was thus a crushing revelation to discover that it was Jesus I had been persecuting the whole time—not just some historical figure named Jesus, but my Jesus, my Prophet, my Priest, my King, my Savior, my Redeemer, my Friend. That Jesus. (Openness Unhindered)

What I love about her story is that she came to the Bible with all of her doubts, arguments, and assumptions. She wrestled with Scripture. But as she did so, she gradually discovered that the Bible is like no other book. The Bible began to take on a coherence and life that was greater than her life. She fought, but Scripture overpowered her. With all of her education, brilliance, and strength, she was no match for the power of Scripture.

What I love most about her story is that her wrestling with Scripture brought her to Jesus. The Bible is not just a book; it’s a book that leads us to a person. It’s a book that leads us to Jesus. Not just a historical person, either, but Jesus. Our Jesus. Prophet, Priest, King, Savior, Redeemer, Friend.

That’s why we have the Bible. That’s why it’s unlike any other book that has ever been written. It’s why Paul says it’s essential in our spiritual warfare. We can’t go into war without it. Get rid of every other book, but never get rid of the Bible. I love how Charles Spurgeon put it:

All other books might be heaped together in one pile and burned with less loss to the world than would be occasioned by the obliteration of a single page of the sacred volume [Scripture]. At their best, all other books are but as gold leaf, requiring acres to find one ounce of the precious metal. But the Bible is solid gold. It contains blocks of gold, mines, and whole caverns of priceless treasure. In the mental wealth of the wisest men there are no jewels like the truths of revelation. The thoughts of men are vanity, low, and groveling at their best. but he who has given us this book has said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Let it be to you and to me a settled matter that the word of the Lord shall be honored in our minds and enshrined in our hearts. Let others speak as they may. We could sooner part with all that is sublime and beautiful, or cheering and profitable, in human literature than lose a single syllable from the mouth of God.

Before we move on and look at how to use Scripture, I want to pause and make two applications.

First: I want to encourage you to do what Rosaria Butterfield did. If you are here today and skeptical about Scripture, then begin to read it. Wrestle with it. Understand it. Don’t be someone who opposes Scripture without having ever wrestled with Scripture. Come to it, and begin to allow it to speak on its own terms. Begin to read it and understand it. It is unlike any other book that you will ever read.

Second: As a church, we want to make a big deal about Scripture. God’s word is the source of life and health for our church. We need to be in the Word, here on Sundays, in our Grace Groups, and also in our individual lives. I want to ask you to do one thing. Bring your Bibles with you to church, either on your phones or tablets, or even on paper. The reason why is that we want to recognize that the preacher has no authority apart from the word of God. One of the ways we can show that is by opening our Bibles — apps or paper — and make sure that everything is rooted in explaining and applying God’s word. It’s a visible statement that we take the Bible very seriously.

The word of God is unique. It’s unlike anything else. Wrestle with it. Take it seriously.

But it’s not enough to just understand what the Bible is. Paul tells us to take it up as a sword. We need to take it up as a weapon. So for the rest of this morning, I want to look at how we can use Scripture. I want to talk about how we can use this sword, both defensively and offensively.

Second: Let’s look at how to use it.

I want to get very practical here and give you some ways that you can use the word of God in your life both defensively and offensively. You can use it both to ward off Satan’s attacks against you, and to also go on the attack against him.

We have to use it defensively, because Satan will come against us with lies. Jesus called Satan a liar and a murderer:

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)

One of Satan’s greatest tactics against us is the use of lies, which is why the truth of Scripture is such an effective defensive weapon. He is a master strategist who uses lies and half-truths. He wants to attack and destroy our faith. He constantly calls into question everything that God says is true. We need the Scriptures if we are to win this fight. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “We are not to fight the devil in our own strength or power, or with our own ideas; we are to fight him with this Word that the very Spirit of God Himself has produced…When you consider the strength and the power of the enemy that is against us you will see the importance of realizing the strength and the power of this particular weapon.”

How do we use it defensively? One of the greatest examples of this is what Jesus did when he was led into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. As Satan tempted him over and over, Jesus responded with God’s word. “It is written,” Jesus said. He was able to quote exact selections of Scripture that applied to the lies that Satan used. Here is Jesus, the Son of God, the almighty God, wielding the sword of the Spirit to resist Satan. He didn’t use Scripture as a concept or category. He used particular Scriptures. He had them ready. He knew how to use them. If Jesus used the word of God like this, how much more do we need to rely on Scripture and use it against Satan’s attacks?

But we can also use it offensively. Every time we open the word of God as a church, and every time we take the gospel to an unbeliever, we are going on the offense against Satan and his reign of terror. When we sing the word of God in our worship, we’re going on the offense against Satan. I love what John Piper writes: “Spiritual worship and spiritual warfare should be carried out with singing…Satan cannot bear the singing of the saints. You can drive him away with song.” He quotes Amy Carmichael, who said, “I believe truly that Satan cannot endure it and so slips out of the room—more or less—when there is a true song.”

The word of God has power. Use it in your life. Donald Whitney, who has written a lot on the spiritual disciplines we need to grow, says this:

No Spiritual Discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word. Nothing can substitute for it. There simply is no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture. The reasons for this are obvious. In the Bible God tells us about Himself, and especially about Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God. The Bible unfolds the Law of God to us and shows us how we’ve all broken it. There we learn how Christ died as a sinless, willing Substitute for breakers of God’s Law and how we must repent and believe in Him to be right with God. In the Bible we learn the ways and will of the Lord. We find in Scripture how God wants us to live, and what brings the most joy and satisfaction in life. None of this eternally essential information can be found anywhere else except the Bible. Therefore if we would know God and be godly, we must know the Word of God  — intimately.

Here are some practical things you can do:

Read it. One of the most important things you can do is simply to regularly read the Bible for yourself. We have so many printed Bibles and electronic options with amazing reading plans of every kind. We live in a golden age of Bible resources. The greatest advice I can give you is to read it regularly and systematically. In other words, don’t just pick it up and randomly open to whatever passage of Scripture you happen to find it. Read it, even a small amount at a time, and absorb it into your life. Make it your aim to read it from cover to cover, even the more difficult parts. It’s a great way of getting God’s word into your heart and mind. It’s something I try to do every day, over and over again.

Meditate on it. Don’t just speed read. That is good and important, but we also need to slow down and chew on Scriptures. Spurgeon says:

A man who wants to see a country, must not hurry through it by express train, but he must stop in the towns and villages, and see what is to be seen. He will know more about the land and its people if he walks the highways, climbs the mountains, stays in the homes, and visits the workshops; than if he does so many miles in the day, and hurries through picture galleries as if death were pursuing him. Don’t hurry through Scripture, but pause for the Lord to speak to you. Oh, for more meditation!

He compares it to a dog chewing on a bone. A dog will take a bone and work that until every morsel of meat has been worked off the bone, and then work on it some more. Do this with Scripture. Take it. Chew on it. Work every scrap of meat off the bone.

Memorize it. This is another way of meditating on Scripture and internalizing it. It helps to shape our minds. It prepares us for the day that we need God’s truth, when we need to recall what God has said in the middle of counseling someone else or fighting sin. Somebody has compared it to making a deposit to an account for tomorrow, while using it as an asset for today at the same time. If you learn a verse a week, it adds up quickly.

Pray it. Use the Bible in your prayers. Use words that originated in the mind of God; circulate them through your heart and mind back to God. Allow his words to shape your heart and mind in prayer. 

Consult it. A few years I wrote a post called “Do not put the Bibles away.” I thought of it again as I prepared this sermon. My point was that we open our Bibles for sermons and small groups, but put them away the rest of the time. What if we had our Bibles open during business meetings, during counseling sessions, and throughout the week? What if we were always dipping into Scripture and how it applies to every situation that we face?

The bottom line is this: Open your Bibles Get to know your Bibles. Master your Bible, and let it master you.

The Word of God is a sufficient and effective weapon against Satan, so let’s use it.

I began the sermon by talking about “the greatest sword fight in modern times” from the movie The Princess Bride. But the greatest sword fight in modern times is not one from any movie. It’s the fight that occurs when we take up the word of God and use it defensively and offensively in our lives. It’s a fight in which we not only learn the content of Scripture, but come face to face with Jesus and what he has done for us. Reading Scripture brings us before the throne of the one who lived and died for us, and sits at the right hand of God. It brings us face to face with our Savior.

Almost a year ago, Monty Williams was fired as the head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans two weeks after his team was eliminated from the NBA playoffs. Reporters asked him about the firing, and he replied:

God has always been in control of my life. . . . Romans 8:28 is in my heart. All things work out for people who are called by Jesus Christ. . . . God’s brought me through too much to complain and be bitter.

Just a couple of weeks ago, his wife and three of his children were in a head-on collision with a car that crossed the center line and hit their SUV. Tragically, his 44-year-old wife was killed.

At the funeral, he asked for prayer not only for his family, but of the family of the driver who hit his wife’s car. He said:

What we’ve gone through is pretty tough, and it’s hard, and we want an answer, and we don’t always get that answer when we want it, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that God loves us, and that’s what my wife [lived to], and that’s what I try to, however badly, exhibit on a daily basis. . . . He loved me so much that he sent his Son to die for my sins…

The Bible says Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy. America teaches us to numb that, and [says] that it’s not true. But it is true. This will work out. That doesn’t mean it’s not hard or painful. What we need is the Lord.

Reflecting on this, someone said:

This man appears to have walked with God such that when his wife was suddenly ripped away, he had the resources not only to suffer well, but to summon the world to his Savior. His grief doesn’t resound with self-pity or bitterness, but with strong and resilient hope and selfless compassion.

As he clings to his God and to the gospel, his loss declares and displays the power and the beauty of the cross.

When going through the toughest experience of his life, Monty Williams used the sword of the Spirit, the word of God. It gave him the resources to suffer well, to repel the attacks of the evil one, and to draw near to his Savior.

Let’s do the same. That’s the greatest sword fight in modern times. The Word of God is a sufficient and effective weapon against Satan. Let’s use it.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Samson (Judges 14-15)

Big Idea: Because our culture is enticing, and we are weak, we need God’s grace to save us.


Nate Larkin is a man who grew up hearing the gospel, and he enjoyed it. He grew into a young man that others admired, even though he struggled privately without anyone knowing it. He decided as a young man to become a pastor. On a seminary trip to New York City, he was taken by an anti-pornography group to see the horror of pornography firsthand, and sitting beside his wife, he caught his first glimpse of hardcore pornography. He was both sickened and fascinated.

“Those images lit a fire in me that would burn uncontrollably for nearly twenty years, a fire that smolders still,” he writes.

Larkin eventually did become a pastor. He continued to struggle, and entered a cycle: dissatisfaction, followed by a craving for relief, followed by sin, followed by shame and a resolution to never fall into the cycle again. But, of course, he did. He became, even as a pastor, what he calls a “professional Christian…the man with the answers, and the expert on all things spiritual,” but with a marriage and an inner life that was falling apart. The destructive cycle deepened, eventually costing him his ministry, and almost his marriage.

Eventually I reconciled myself to the ugly truth. I was a failure as a minister and a leader. I was a huge disappointment to everyone, especially God and Allie, and the best I could hope for was to live out the rest of my days in a moral and spiritual twilight. There was no hope for change.

I don’t have time to tell you his whole story, except to say that things got really ugly. But then Larkin experienced God’s grace in a new way, and eventually started something called Samson Societies, where Christian men share their real struggles and find real help.

God, in his grace, has used addiction to shatter my moralistic understanding of the Christian faith and force me to accept the gospel. I am not a faithful man. That’s why I need a Savior. I cannot live victoriously on my own. That’s why I need a Helper and brothers. I cannot keep my promises to God—the very act of making them is delusional—but God will keep his promises to me.

I find Larkin’s story fascinating, and I especially find it fascinating that he relates his story to Samson, the man we’re going to look at today. We’re in a series through the book of Judges called “Half-Hearted Discipleship,” and Samson is a great picture of the struggle that people like Nate Larkin — and people like us — face every day. I’m all too uncomfortable as I read about Samson, because I see so much of myself. You may too. The great poet John Milton said of Samson, “O mirror of our fickle fate.” Samson is, as we’re going to see, is the story of Israel embodied in the life of one man. But he’s not just Israel’s story. He’s our story too.

So let me tell you about Samson. In Judges 13, Samson is born, and it’s amazing. An angel appears and announces to this barren couple that they’re going to have a son, and that this son will be dedicated to the Lord, and that “he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines” (Judges 13:5). Chapter 13 ends on a high note:

And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the young man grew, and the LORD blessed him. And the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol. (Judges 13:24-25)

But in the passage that we’re looking at today, things go really badly. Let me give you an overview of what happens in chapters 14 and 15:

  • Samson sees a Philistine girl, and impulsively marries her.
  • Then he violates his Nazirite vow to avoid contact with corpses by scraping honey out of the carcass of a lion that he has killed, making him unclean.
  • He then tells a riddle — kind of a bet — at his wedding with his supposed enemies.
  • They cheat and beat him at the riddle.
  • In retaliation, he kills some of them.
  • In retaliation, his father-in-law won’t let Samson see his wife.
  • In retaliation, he burns their fields.
  • In retaliation, the Philistines kill his wife and his father-in-law.
  • In retaliation, Samson kills a thousand Philistines. Standing knee-deep in blood, he makes a bad joke about it.

It’s a disturbing couple of chapters. He’s making jokes, he’s kissing women, he’s jumping in and out of bed, he's killing people, and he’s following his own voice. He’s following his own pleasure. It makes Nate Larkin’s story seem kind of tame.

What does it have to do with us? It has a lot to do with us. In particular, it tells us three things.

First: It shows us our greatest threat (that culture is enticing).

I’ve read Judges many times, but I never noticed this until now. Israel faces a lot of enemies in the book of Judges. There were Ammonites and Midianites and Moabites. God raised up judges like Deborah, Barak, and Gideon to rescue Israel, because they were oppressive. They found their courage and, with God’s help, dealt with their oppressors because they were so nasty.

What made the Philistines particularly dangerous is that they weren’t that cruel. Actually, they got on fairly well with Israel for the most part. They intermarried. They absorbed the Israelites. They developed economic ties.

What’s so bad about that? If Israel became too comfortable with the Philistines, then they would end up completely assimilated. Within a couple of generations, they would lose not only their culture, but their faith, plus the world’s salvation, since they carried the bloodline that would lead to Jesus. So Israel was facing one of its greatest crises in the book of Judges. They don’t even cry out for deliverance this time. 

You see this with Samson too. He goes after Philistine women. He hangs out with them. He kills them, too, but only because he loses his temper. He’s completely okay with the Philistines, as long as they don’t get in his way.

Tim Keller writes:

In short, Israel’s capitulation to the Philistines is far more profound and complete than any of their previous enslavements. In the past, Israel groaned and agonized under their occupations by pagan powers, because their domination was military and political. But now the people are virtually unconscious of their enslavement, because its nature is that of cultural accommodation. The Israelites do not groan and resist their “captors” now because they have completely adopted and adapted to the values, mores and idols of the Philistines. Like Samson himself, the Israelites were eager to marry into Philistine society, probably as a way to “move up” in the culture. The Israelites no longer had a recognizable culture of their own, one based on service to the Lord. We can’t exaggerate the danger to Israel. The Israelites were on the brink of extinction. Within a couple of generations, they could have been completely assimilated into the Philistine nation.

Our greatest threat isn’t when culture opposes us. It’s actually when culture entices us. God’s people usually do okay overall when attacked. But when they begin to be assimilated into culture, and share the values, mores, and idols of the surrounding culture, then we’re really facing our greatest danger.

There are so many ways that this plays out. The heart of discipleship is what Paul talked about in Romans 12:1-2:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

What happens, though, when we end up conformed to this world, when we’re indistinguishable from everyone around us? Our surrounding culture right now is anything but godly. The media is full of stuff that doesn’t honor God, and isn’t good for my mind. The cultural idols of power, money, and success compete with our allegiance to God. We live in a society that is increasingly toxic to the Christian faith, valuing things like personal autonomy, individual freedom and self-expression, questioning any authority including God’s, tolerating anything but ultimate truth claims. So much of our surrounding culture is the antithesis of a biblical worldview — and it often looks pretty good to me. And it probably looks pretty good to many of you too. Our greatest danger is assimilation, because then we’re only a couple of generations from completely losing the church.

As Russell Moore says, “A church that loses its distinctiveness has nothing distinctive with which to engage the culture.”

So that’s the first thing that we see as we look at the story of Samson. Samson’s story tells us that we’re in danger of becoming half-hearted disciples at best when we’re enticed by culture, and assimilated into it.

But Samson’s story also tells us something else:

Second: We see a true picture of our hearts (that we are weak).

I used to read the Bible and get frustrated with the sinfulness of the people. There aren’t a whole lot of flawless heroes in the Bible. I’ve come to realize that these flawed characters — like Samson — give me a window into my heart. I’m just like them. I may not be guilty of the exact same sins, but I have a very similar heart.

As we look at Samson, we see some issues that seem a little familiar to us. In his book Judges for You, Tim Keller summarizes them in two basic issues:

  • Impulsive. “He is a completely sensual man, in the most basic definition of the term. His senses control him—he reacts to how he feels about what he sees, without reflection or consideration. He sees—and so he takes. This general impulsiveness leads to a specific weakness that we will see as the story proceeds; namely, a total lack of sexual self-control.” He’s a bundle of impulse. You see him using the language of lust and possession in pursuing a woman, using her as an object and not as a person. He breaks vows. He gives into outbursts of anger, killing people whenever he wants. He’s consumed with sexual lust and anger — two sins that the apostle Paul identifies as problems for believers.
  • Unteachable. “He is dismissive of parental counsel and authority.” When Samson’s parents tell him not to marry a Philistine woman, he doesn’t listen — and that was in a culture when fathers exercised a lot of control, including the selection of your spouse.

The author of Judges gives us a clue to how we’re supposed to interpret Samson. In verse 3, Samson says, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.” One of the central themes of the book of Judges is the phrase that’s repeated in later chapters: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6, 21:25). In other words, Samson is the personification of the spiritual state of Israel. It’s the story of Israel recapitulated and focused in the life of a single man. But it’s not just Israel’s story. It’s our story too.

As I thought about this, I was struck by how closely this parallels with a description I read the other week of our post-Christendom context. In other words, this isn’t just Samson; it isn’t just Israel; it’s Liberty Village. It’s Stouffville. It may be you and me as well. Listen to what one man describes as the central beliefs of our time:

  1. The highest good is individual freedom, happiness, self-definition, and self-expression.
  2. Traditions, religions, received wisdom, regulations, and social ties that restrict individual freedom, happiness, self-definition, and self-expression must be reshaped, deconstructed, or destroyed.
  3. The world will inevitably improve as the scope of individual freedom grows. Technology— in particular the Internet— will motor this progression toward utopia.
  4. The primary social ethic is tolerance of everyone’s self-defined quest for individual freedom and self-expression.
  5. Humans are inherently good.
  6. Large-scale structures and institutions are suspicious at best and evil at worst.
  7. Forms of external authority are rejected and personal authenticity is lauded.

(From Mark Sayers, Disappearing Church)

The greatest value today is self-expression. “Basically, for many in our culture, you should be able to do anything you want so long as you don’t inhibit someone else’s self-expression,” says Gavin Ortlund.

When I read a list describing today’s culture, a lot of it doesn’t sound too bad: individual freedom, self-definition, freedom and self-expression, questioning external authority, personal authenticity. These aren’t just the values of our culture; they are values that we begin to adopt sometimes as half-hearted disciples. A half-hearted disciple may go to church, but still does what they think is right, and reserves the right to question God, like God has to defend himself to us.

But do you want to see what this list looks like when it’s lived out? Look at Samson. The author of Judges is holding up a snapshot of a half-hearted disciple, and asking us if this is the life that we want for ourselves.

What’s the opposite of a half-hearted disciple? A full-hearted disciple is:

  • Teachable — Instead of unteachable, we want to be teachable. A full-hearted disciple understands that God is God, and that one day we’ll be accountable to him for every thought. It means that we come to look at his Word, because we want to submit to him in every detail of our lives. It means trusting the Lord with all our hearts, and not leaning on our own understanding, but acknowledging him in all of our ways.
  • Submissive — Instead of being impulsive, we want to be submissive before God. We want to understand that dying to self is the path to life.

That’s what Jesus taught us. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). Want to save your life, living it your way by being impulsive and unteachable? Then you’re going to lose your life, just like Samson. Instead, lose your life. Stop making your life about you. Make it about following him, and you’ll find life that you won’t find anywhere else.

So far this morning we’ve seen the bad news. We’ve seen our greatest threat isn’t a culture that opposes us, but a culture that entices us. We’ve also seen that Samson is a picture of where our hearts naturally drift when we become half-hearted disciples. But I want to end on a more positive note. We see one more thing when we read Samson’s story.

Finally: We see the hope that comes from the gospel.

What hope is there for a guy like Samson? A lot. The reason why is that God is at work. Judges 14:4 says:

His father and mother did not know that it was from the LORD, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines ruled over Israel.(Judges 14:4)

God wasn’t responsible for Samson’s sin, but he used it. This is the great news of the gospel: that God uses weak, flawed people. He even redeems their sins and uses them for his purpose. So we read that when he killed the lion, it’s because “the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him” (Judges 14:6). When Samson killed the 30 men at the end of chapter 14, “The Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him” (Judges 14:9). God gives Samson superhuman strength, so that even through his failures God can act to accomplish his purposes. In fact, Samson is listed in Hebrews 11 as an example of faith.

Here’s the great news we need to hear today: God uses sinners. It’s not an excuse to continue to sin, but it gives us all great hope, because it means that God can use people like you and me. Tim Keller once said:

If you ever feel that way about reading the Bible [that the Bible is a collection of moral fables showing us good examples], it shows that you don't understand the message of the Bible. You're imposing your understanding of the message on the Bible. You're assuming that the message of the Bible is "God blesses and saves those who live morally exemplary lives." That's not the message of the Bible. The message of the Bible is that God persistently and continuously gives his grace to people who don't ask for it, don't deserve it, and don't even fully appreciate it after they get it.

Here, according to the Bible, is who God uses: complete mess-ups; completely unqualified people; people with glaring personality and character defects; people that we would say are completely unusable by God; sinners.

Are any of you here today sinners, mess-ups, completely unqualified? Anybody here have glaring personality or character defects? Feel unusable by God? Improbable characters are almost the norm in the Bible. It doesn't justify the mess or the sin, but it doesn't stop God from working either. God uses mess-ups. He uses the most unlikely people. He can even use you. And when he does, it won't be because of how great you are. It's always about how great God is. Whenever God uses us, it's in spite of ourselves and only because of his grace.

The best news I have for you today is that there’s good news for people like us. Because our culture is enticing, and we are weak, we need God’s grace to save us. And that’s exactly what he’s done through Jesus Christ. He lived the life we should have lived, and he died the death that we deserved. He made a way for sinful people like you and me to come, to be forgiven, and to be changed into whole-hearted disciples of Jesus Christ. 


When Nate Larkin faced his own sexual addiction, and the unravelling of his life, he realized that he was a half-hearted disciple. And he realized that he was a lot like Samson. “My name is Nate,” he says, “but you can call me Samson.”

Having narrowly survived a bone-jarring, head-snapping collision with my own depravity, it suddenly occurred to me that my childhood fantasy had come true. I was Samson. Yes, I was a man with a mission. Yes, I was gifted. Yes, I had produced a few impressive accomplishments. From all outward appearances, I had been a competent professional and a mature Christian. But inside, I had been a desperate fugitive from reality, bound for blindness and self-destruction. Isolation, which had always felt safe, had really not been safe at all.

The solution, Larkin found, was to come face to face with his sinfulness; to begin to walk openly with others, confessing his sin and asking for help; and to encounter the present-day reality of God’s lavish grace for sinful people.

God, in his grace, has used addiction to shatter my moralistic understanding of the Christian faith and force me to accept the gospel. I am not a faithful man. That’s why I need a Savior. I cannot live victoriously on my own. That’s why I need a Helper and brothers. I cannot keep my promises to God—the very act of making them is delusional—but God will keep his promises to me.

Our culture is enticing, and our hearts are weak — but God has made his grace available to us. Let’s run to him today. Let’s ask him to redeem even our greatest sins. Let’s thank him that he makes room for sinful people like us. Let’s walk in the light. And then let’s ask him to change us from being Samson to being whole-hearted disciples of Jesus.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

The Shield of Faith (Ephesians 6:16)

Big Idea: Defend yourself from Satan’s attacks by trusting, at a practical level, what’s true about God.


Four years ago, we began one of the biggest trials in our lives. There was little warning. Out of nowhere, our lives were turned upside-down. I thought that I would be doing great things for God, but found that it was a good day when I could get out of bed, survive the day, and go to bed again at night. The trials continued like that for the better part of a year, and we are still occasionally dealing with parts of that pain.

What do you do when it feels like you’re under attack and you can barely survive? I’m talking about things like temptations, fear, oppression, doubt, despair, discouragement, worry, as well as external events that cause you to want to give up. When you’re under attack, and you want to give up, we need some defense. Today I want to look at a great defense that’s been given to us.

The passage before us tonight says:

In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one… (Ephesians 6:16)

So I want to look at what the shield of faith is, why we need it, and how we can use it.

First, let’s look at what the shield of faith is.

If you’ve seen movies about Roman warfare, you’ve probably seen a Roman shield formation. There were two kinds of shields. One was a small, handheld one. The other — the one that Paul is talking about — was larger, almost as big as a door. It was usually about 4 feet high and 2 feet wide. It was typically made of two layers of laminated wood, and then covered with linen, and then with hide. It was bound at the top and bottom with iron, and then it had an iron ornament on the front. It was big enough that you could crouch behind it and be completely protected.

The beautiful thing is that happened when soldiers used these shields in formation. Soldiers would stand together and hold their shields to create a wall of shields in front of them, beside them, and on top of them. They could then advance against the enemy and advance, even when under attack. The shields offered protection, and allowed the soldiers to advance even when they were being bombarded with missiles.

The apostle Paul tells us in this passage to take up our shields, which he calls the shield of faith. So what Paul is saying is that faith is our defense when we’re under attack. Faith is what will protect us when missiles are coming at us. Faith is what will help us advance even when we’re under attack. If we’re going to survive the attacks that are coming at us, then we need faith.

So what is faith? It’s important that we understand what faith isn’t. One theologian said that faith is the most misunderstood word in the religious vocabulary, and I think he may be right. Faith isn’t hoping or wishing. Faith isn’t believing something that is true even though it may not be. When you apply for a job and you’re pretty sure that you didn’t get it, somebody may say to you, “You’ve got to have faith!” That’s not what the Bible is talking about when it talks about faith. That kind of faith will never be a defense. When you’re under attack, wishing that something is true will never give you the defense that you need.

When the renowned missionary John Paton was translating the Scripture for the islanders in the South Pacific, he found there was no word in their vocabulary for believe or faith. He had no idea how to communicate it to them since they didn’t have a word for it. One day he was working in his hut translating, and a local came running in and just flopped himself in a chair. He said to Paton, “It’s so good to rest my whole weight in this chair.” John Paton said, I have my word. Faith is resting your whole weight on God. That became the word that he used in his translation, and that brought many of those people to faith in Christ. Faith is putting your whole weight in God, and saying that if he said it, then it’s true, and I’ll believe it.

Here’s how John Piper defines faith. “The essence of faith is being satisfied with all that God is for us in Christ.” It’s not just an assent to truths. It’s a “heartfelt valuing and treasuring of all that God promises to be for us in Jesus.” I like that.

Let’s put all of that together and say this: Faith is putting all our weight in what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. It’s believing what God says is true of us, but it’s more than that. It’s laying hold of what God says is true of us — all his promises and resources, along with who he says we are in Jesus — and living out of that reality. That’s what the shield of faith is.

I remember watching a movie about a Roman battle scene. When the Roman soldiers made their shield formation, I thought, “Those other guys don’t have a chance.” Their defense were impregnable. They were able to advance, and they were completely protected from enemy attack. Paul says that when we put our full weight in what God’s done for us in Jesus, that’s what we’re like.

So let me remind you what God has done for us in Jesus, so that you can put your full weight in this reality, based on the first few verses of the book of Ephesians:

  • He’s blessed us — “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…” This is a summary of everything that God has done for us. His intention for us is completely that of blessing us, giving us what we don’t deserve.
  • He’s chosen us — “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” If you have put your faith in Christ, it’s because God graciously chose you long ago, before this world even existed. He chose you not because you deserved it, but simply because of his grace.
  • He’s predestined and adopted us — “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” You’ve been given God’s family name, and have all the rights and privileges of being his child.
  • He’s redeemed and forgiven us — “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses…” You’ve been released from captivity. Your freedom has been purchased by Jesus Christ. Through his sacrificial death, Jesus has made a way for all of your sins to be forgiven.
  • He’s lavished grace on us — “according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us…” God isn’t stingy with his grace. He lavishes it on us. He loves to give us more grace than we can imagine.
  • He’s made his intentions known to us — “in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” We’ve been given insight into what Gods purposes are for us and for the world.
  • He’s given us an inheritance — “In him we have obtained an inheritance…” You will inherit the kingdom of God and the eternal life. They are yours in Jesus.
  • He’s sealed us — “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” God has put marked you with his seal. You belong to him, and you’re protected by him. You’re sealed with the Holy Spirit, who lives within you and is a downpayment and a foretaste of what’s coming.

This is just a sample of what God has done for you. One hymn says, “What more can he say than to you he has said?” In other words, what else could God have done for you? God hasn’t held anything back. He’s given us everything that we could ask for, including Jesus Christ.

Paul says that when when we put our weight on all that God has done for us in Jesus, then we are protected just like the soldiers were with their shields. Put your weight on what God has done for you, and you will be able to survive the attacks of the evil one, and even advance when under attack.

Let’s look at why we need the shield of faith.

So why is the shield of faith necessary? Paul says, “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16). You’ve probably seen the movies. Ancient soldiers would often dip their arrows in some kind of flammable liquid, and then light it on fire before firing the arrow like a missile. Paul says that this is Satan’s strategy with us as well. Our enemy will launch repeated volleys of blazing arrows at us at every opportunity. Jesus said of Satan, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies “ (John 8:44). 1 Peter says, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Here’s why you need a shield of faith. Satan is a lying murderer who would love to devour you. He wants to destroy you, and he’ll use any means possible in order to do so.

Thomas Brooks, who lived in the 1600s, did us all a big favor by writing a book called Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices. In this book he lists some of the ways that Satan loves to attack us. These are some of the “fiery darts” that he will lob our way every chance that he gets:

  • He will try to get us to sin by presenting the bait but hiding the hook, and by making sin look really, really good.
  • He will try to get us to ignore the means that God has given us to strengthen our faith, such as prayer, Bible reading, worship, and fellowship.
  • He will try to get us into a sad, doubting, questioning, and uncomfortable condition.
  • He will get us to believe lies, like that our sins are too great to be forgiven, or that God is unwilling to forgive.

This is a very helpful breakdown of some of Satan’s tactics. There’s nothing really innovative about his approach. He’ll try to get us to sin, to ignore things that will help us, he’ll make us miserable and doubting, or he’ll get us to believe lies about God.

What I want you to see is that these are attacks that you have faced this very week. Maybe even today. Who knew that we were under attack? As I review the past week, I can see that I’ve faced almost all of the attacks that Thomas Brooks described. This is our everyday reality. We’re always under attack.

But we’re not just under attack individually. We’re under attack as a church as well. There are at least three ways that I can think of that churches can come under attack:

  • Satan will try to get us to believe false doctrine. He will get us to believe lies about God that will poison our faith. He will inject falsehood any chance he can get. But he’s sometimes more subtle than that. Sometimes he will stop short of getting us to deny the gospel. He’ll settle for getting is to assume the gospel, which is only one step away from actually losing the gospel.
  • Satan will try to destroy our unity. Satan loves it when we don’t get along. He knows that all he has to do to stop a church is to get it fighting or gossiping. Even better, he loves it when a culture develops that includes fighting and gossiping. So many churches are stuck here. I was fascinated to read this paragraph from Revivals in Religion:

It is an instructive and solemn fact, brought out in the history of more than one revival, that when a whole neighborhood had been well watered with the showers of grace, no drop of blessing has descended there where a spirit of controversy and strife had obtained a footing. The Spirit of God hovered around but fled from the scene of discord as from a doomed region where his dove-like temper could find no resting-place. Ever remember that “his work is sown in peace of them that make peace,” and no dwelling can be more distasteful, no vessel more unsuitable to him, than a heart which delights itself with matters that provoke contention and strife.... Labor with all diligence to keep your own minds in the peace of God, and in your intercourse and connection with others ever to strive for 'the things which make for peace. (The Revival of Religion: Addresses by Scottish Evangelical Leaders delivered in Glasgow in 1840)

  • Satan will try to get us to settle for maintenance Christianity. Sure, Satan will get us to try to believe false doctrines, and to destroy our unity. But he doesn’t even need to do that. He would love to get us to settle for maintenance-level Christianity, just checking in like we don’t really expect anything to happen, going through the motions. He wants to deaden our hearts without us even knowing about it.

When I look at these forms of attack — making sin look good; ignoring prayer, Bible reading, and fellowship; doubting and questioning God; tempting us to wallow in guilt and shame; believe falsehood; get us annoyed and gossiping about each other; getting us to settle for going through the religious motions — I realize that we’re under attack all the time. In other words, the flaming darts of the evil one are coming our way every single day. That’s why we need the shield of faith.

So let’s look at how we can use it.

Given these attacks, what do we do?

Faith is putting all our weight in what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. This is the shield that we need to “take up” when Satan lobs the darts of doubt, unbelief, and deadness our way. So here’s the essence of what we need to do. When we’re tempted to doubt, disbelieve, grumble, or drift, put all your weight in what God has done for you in Jesus Christ. Remember what’s true about God, and don’t just think about it. Lift up the shield of faith by actually leaning into what you know is true about God.

For instance: What would it look like if we put all of our weight into believing the following truths (from Tim Chester’s You Can Change):

  • God is great— so we do not have to be in control. He controls all things, and knows exactly what we need. We can give up our roles as general managers of the universe and trust in his sovereign control. We don’t have to try to manipulate people or circumstances. Even when things seem out of control, we can know that God is working everything out according to his plan.
  • God is glorious— so we do not have to fear others. We don’t have to be trapped by our need to win the approval of other people, which can result in being overly eager to please others, being concerned with our self-esteem, being over-committed, telling lies to make ourselves look good, and comparing ourselves to others. We already have all the approval we could ever need. We couldn’t be more accepted in Jesus Christ. We can be free to serve others out of love, rather than out of a sense of earning or inadequacy. We can seek his glory, rather than trying to promote our own glory.
  • God is good— so we do not have to look elsewhere. If we look for meaning, satisfaction, and fulfillment anywhere but in God, we’ll be disappointed. Because God is good, we don't have to look anywhere else for our joy, contentment, security, and satisfaction. Only God can satisfy the desire of every living thing He has created, including you — and he’s happy to, because he’s abundant in love. We don't need to resort to our idols of food, sex, games, drugs, or laziness, because they’ll never give us what only God can offer our hungry souls.
  • God is gracious— so we do not have to prove ourselves. We don’t ever have to earn God’s love when we sin or fall short. We don’t have to worry that God has changed his mind about us, or that we have to jump through hoops to get right with God. We never have to worry about not making the grade, and we don’t have to put others down to feel good about ourselves.

These four truths — God is great, glorious, good, and gracious — are things you may already believe. But what would it look like if we put our weight into these truths about God? When Satan lobbed fiery darts at us, we could value with all of our hearts what we know to be true about God.

How do we raise this shield of faith? Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains it well:

The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. . . . You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: “Hope thou in God”— instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way, and then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and . . . what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: “I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God.

It’s not going to be easy, but we all need to do this. We need each other to do it for us. Preach to yourself. Remind yourself of God. Arrange your life so that you’re in the path of grace as much as possible — reading Scripture daily, praying, fellowshipping with others. Know where you’re vulnerable. And look to God, who will grant you the strength that you need. Then put your whole weight in what we know to be true about God.

Remember the Roman shield formation? It’s one thing to be a single soldier with a shield. Something much better happens when we come together with faith. As we create a shield-wall of faith, we’ll be able to advance even when we’re under attack. That’s what I want for us as a church.

William Gurnall, the English puritan who wrote the definitive book on the armor of God, give us this advice:

Keep your faith and it will keep you and all your other graces. You stand by faith; if that fails, you fall. Where will you be then but under your enemies’ feet? Be aware of any potential danger to your faith; be like that Grecian captain who, when he was knocked down in battle, asked as soon as he regained consciousness where his shield was.

You’re not going to get out of here today without a fiery dart coming your way. The moment we drop our shields, those darts can do great damage. But here’s the flip side: “No battle was ever planned by hell’s most gifted strategist which can conquer faith. All its inflamed and terrible darts fall harmless as they strike against the shield of faith” (E.M Bounds).

Defend yourself from Satan’s attacks by trusting, at a practical level, what’s true about God.

Where are you being attacked? What fiery darts are coming your way? What truths about God — his greatness, gloriousness, goodness, and graciousness — can you lean into today?

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

The Breastplate of Righteousness (Ephesians 6:14)

Big Idea: Protect your heart with the righteousness that God provides, and the righteousness the Spirit produces.


“If you are a true believer, Satan hates you.” That’s the way the book Fighting Satan by Joel Beeke begins. He hates you. He wants you back. You have an enemy, and that enemy is “a living, intelligent, resourceful and cunning enemy who can outlive the oldest Christian, outwork the busiest, outfight the strongest and outwit the wisest” (John Blanchard).

This is why we’re studying Ephesians 6 right now. It’s for two reasons. First: Satan hates you. He wants to bring you down, and he will use every trick in the book in order to defeat you. Second: Satan hates Liberty Grace Church. He hates that we exist. He hates churches, and he hates church plants. He would like nothing better than to shut this church down.

That’s the bad news, but here’s the good news: we have a defense. Although Satan hates us, and although he’s powerful, God has provided a way for us to take our stand against him. The passage we just read says, over and over again, that we can stand against our enemy:

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil…Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore… (Ephesians 6:11-14)

That’s the bad and good news: we’re under attack, because Satan hates us, but we can stand and prevail.

Tonight we’re going to look at a critical part of our defense.

So let’s review a little bit.

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about this reality, found in Ephesians 6:12:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

We talked about the fact that we’re engaged in deadly spiritual warfare. You live in a war zone. It’s a very serious war. It involves God, humans, angels, demons, principalities, powers, nations, and antichrists. We have enemies, and the enemies have tactics, and the fight is up close and personal. The warfare is going on right now, and you’re part of it whether you know it or not, and we’re all involved. But here’s the good news, and it’s very good news: we can stand. Over and over again in this passage, Paul tells us to take our stand. We need to pay attention to what he says in this passage so that we know how to stand.

Last week Nathan helped us look at the first piece of armor: the belt of truth. Here’s the essence of what the belt of truth means: knowing and living the truth is where our defense begins. One of Satan’s main tactics is deceit, and Paul says that we must begin by knowing the truth, and by bringing our lives in line with that truth. Truth is the first line of defense against the attacks of Satan.

But we don’t need just one thing. Paul tells us to take up the whole armor of God. The truth alone, important as it is, isn’t the complete picture. So tonight we’re coming to a second piece of armor: the breastplate of righteousness. It’s actually linked pretty closely to the belt of truth. Paul writes, “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness…” (Ephesians 6:14).

As we look at the breastplate of righteousness, we can learn three things:

  • Where we can expect attack
  • How we can defend ourselves
  • How to put on the breastplate of righteousness

First: Where we can expect attack

The image that Paul gives us isn’t hard to understand. Soldiers would wear breastplates — a layer of metal or very tough leather that covered the soldier from the neck to the thigh. It would usually come in two pieces: one to cover the front, and the other to cover the back. It was really like the ancient version of a bulletproof vest. If you wore the breastplate, then your vital organs like the heart would be protected, especially from thrusts from the short sword. You wouldn’t think about going into battle without wearing a breastplate.

It’s interesting that Paul talks about the breastplate so early on, because it shows us where Satan is prone to attack us. He’s going to come after our hearts. When you think about spiritual attack, many of us think about all kinds of weird things like you see in horror movies: lights flickering, doors slamming, rooms becoming cold, and cupboard doors opening and closing by themselves. That’s the horror movie version of spiritual attack, but it’s not how spiritual attack usually happens. One of the most common ways that Satan attacks us is by going after our hearts. He knows that if he get to our hearts, he can inflict a mortal wound.

What is the heart? The heart in Scripture represents our inmost being, the essence of who we are. One scholar says this:

The Bible uses the heart and reins to refer to the seat of the thoughts and the deep motives and emotions of men. People in Paul’s day believed that organs such as the heart and the liver were the center of affections. Emotions such as joy or anger originated in these organs. The apostle Paul used this understanding, unscientific though it was, to teach important spiritual lessons. He said believers must put on the breastplate of righteousness to protect the vital parts of the inner man and its faculties against the attacks of Satan. In their conflict with the invisible powers, believers are most vulnerable in their thoughts, motives, and emotions. They need strong protection—a breastplate of righteousness—to keep from being wounded in their inmost being. (Joel Beeke)

This is where we can expect attack:

  • Satan will attack our thoughts. He will try to entice us to think wrong thoughts about him and about us. If he can twist our thinking, then he can poison our relationship with God and lead us into error.
  • Satan will attack our motives. He will try to entice us to do the right thing for the wrong reason. He will try to capture us at the level of desires so that we want the things that God doesn’t want. If he can get us to desire anything more than God, then he’s got our hearts. He will have made us idolaters.
  • Satan will attack our emotions. Our emotions are a great gift from God, but they are also an area that Satan can attack. He can use our emotions to carry us away from God. Your moods don’t come from nowhere. They come from something that you believe. “When we are angry, discouraged, depressed, anxious, self-pitying, fearful, or irritable, it is likely because we are believing something very specific” (Jon Bloom). He can use our emotions as a means of doubting God’s love. When emotions and truth are in sync, it can be a powerful thing; when our emotions are out of sync with reality, then we’re in great danger.

This is so important, because we’re not usually aware that this is how Satan attacks. This gives Satan a huge advantage, because we’re not on guard. 

The heart is the essence of who you are. In the Bible it represents all that you are, the entirety of your inner person. Paul says that Satan is going to come after it. We mentioned that we’re in a war zone. Do you know where the front of the battle is? It’s in your heart. It’s in your thoughts, motives, and emotions. Satan’s out to get you. Satan is going to come after your heart. It’s going to be the first place that he attacks. He’s going to attack the core of your being, because he knows that if he gets your heart, then he can fatally wound us. Satan knows where we’re most vulnerable, and if he can get us here, then we’ll live with guilt, fear, depression, and discouragement.

This is why we need the breastplate of righteousness.  There’s no better place to attack, and so the breastplate is absolutely needed if we’re to survive.

So that’s where Satan is going to attack. Let’s look next at how we can defend ourselves.

Second: How we can defend ourselves

So how can we protect our most vulnerable area, the heart? We need the breastplate of righteousness. The breastplate is like an ancient version of a bulletproof vest. You wouldn’t think of going into battle as a soldier without a breastplate, and Paul says that we shouldn’t think about going into life without the breastplate of righteousness as well.

So whatever this breastplate of righteousness is, we need it. So what is it?

There are really three main theories of what the breastplate of righteousness are:

  • One theory is that it’s the righteousness that we get from God through faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, it’s Jesus’ righteousness that becomes ours when God saves us. In other words, the best defense against Satan is to remember that when you become a follower of Jesus Christ, you are pardoned, forgiven, and justified because of what Jesus has done for you at the cross.
  • Another theory is that it’s the righteousness that characterizes our lives as we follow Jesus. When God saves us, he sends the Holy Spirit to live within us and to change us from the inside out. So when Satan attacks us, we can increase our defenses against him through the transformation that the Spirit is working out in our lives.
  • A third theory is that Paul is talking about both. Paul wants us to defend ourselves with the righteousness that’s ours in Christ, and the righteousness that the Spirit is producing within our lives.

Which one is right? I think the third view is. I like how one person (G. G. Findlay) put it: “The completeness of pardon for past offense and the integrity of character that belong to the justified life, are woven together into an impenetrable mail.” Paul is telling us to take up the gospel (what God has done for us through Christ) and the effects of the gospel (the change that the Spirit is producing in us) together as a defense when Satan comes against our hearts.

Let’s talk about how this works.

Jesus’ Righteousness as a Defense (Imputed Righteousness)

We need the breastplate of righteousness to protect our hearts. One of the aspects of this breastplate is the righteousness of Jesus that’s given to us the minute that he saves us.

One of the ways that Satan attacks us is to accuse us. He says, “What? You sinned again? You’re no good. God could never love someone like you.” That’s one of the key ways that Satan attacks our hearts. He’s our accuser. Revelation 12:10 calls him “the accuser of our brothers…who accuses them day and night before our God." He loves to point out our flaws. And here’s the thing: he’s kind of right. We are sinners. We do have lots of flaws that he can point out.

When Satan attacks us this way, we need a righteousness that doesn’t come from us as our primary defense. If we try to argue with our own righteousness, we’re doomed. As one preacher said, our “integrity at its best is but as wax before the devil” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones). A wax shield just isn’t going to do it. In fact, the more you grow as a Christian, the more aware you are that you have no righteousness of your own. The more you grow in your faith, the more you know that your own righteousness is no defense before Satan.

So what do you do? You put on the breastplate of Jesus’ righteousness. I want to illustrate with one of my favorite stories from the Hebrew Scriptures. It’s an unusual passage, but it’s so profound. It’s found In Zechariah 3 in the form of a vision.

Joshua, the high priest of Israel, is in heaven standing before God. What you need to understand is that the high priest only came before God once a year on the day of atonement. Weeks of work would take place to prepare for this day, and to ensure that the priest was cleansed and ready to stand before God to represent the people of Israel.

But look what happened when Joshua the high priest came before God:

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him…Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. (Zechariah 3:1,3)

Zechariah sees Joshua appear before God after weeks of preparation. Satan is there too to accuse him. And we read, “Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel” (Zechariah 3:3). In the original it says he’s in clothes that are covered with excrement. It’s a picture of how we must look to God as we come before him in all our righteousness. He’s there on the Day of Atonement, but there’s big trouble because he’s unclean. There’s no way he can stand before God, and Satan is there to accuse him. It’s a disaster. It’s a good picture of our condition before God apart from Jesus. Even after all the preparation we can do, no matter how much we try to make ourselves clean, we show up covered in excrement, and Satan loves to point it out.

But look what happens when Satan accuses Joshua:

And the LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD was standing by. (Zechariah 3:2-5)

I absolutely love this picture. It’s a picture of what happens to us when God saves us through Jesus Christ. Before Satan can even speak, the angel says, “Take off his filthy clothes.” And then the angel says to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you” (Zechariah 3:4). God strips away his uncleanness and provides clothes that he couldn’t provide for himself. He’s reclothed in God’s presence and even given a turban, which at that time would have signified royalty. He comes before God covered with excrement, and in God’s presence he’s given ceremonially pure garments as a sign that God accepts him and the people that he represents.

This is a great picture of what God does for us. It’s a great picture of the righteousness that can be our defense when Satan comes after our hearts. God has taken away our filthy clothes, and has clothed us with a righteousness that’s not our own.

2 Corinthians 5:21 puts it this way: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). When Satan accuses us, and we have no righteousness of our own to defend us, we can remind Satan that we’re clothed in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Put on the breastplate of righteousness. Remind yourself, and Satan, that Jesus has died for your sins. Realize that the only way you can stand before God is based on the righteousness of Jesus Christ — and you have that. It’s enough. In Christ, you have been pardoned, cleansed, and perfected. It’s what theologians call imputed righteousness — that God has credited to us all the righteousness of Jesus Christ through faith. It’s not about our righteousness; it’s about Jesus’ righteousness. And Satan can’t attack Jesus’ righteousness. When we put on that breastplate, he can’t pierce it to get through to our hearts.

As one old hymn says:

Arise, my soul, arise; shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding sacrifice in my behalf appears:
Before the throne my surety stands,
Before the throne my surety stands,
My name is written on his hands.

Or another:

Well may the accuser roar
Of sins that I have done
I know them all and thousands more
Jehovah knoweth none

So let me ask you: have you done this? You won’t stand against the attacks of Satan if you’re trusting in your own righteousness. Have you looked to Jesus for the righteousness that he provides? Is it your defense against the attacks of the evil one?

Let me push a little bit more. Even if you’ve trusted in Jesus’ righteousness, is this the breastplate that you wear when Satan comes after your heart? It’s possible to have trusted in Christ, and to functionally live as if it all depends on you now. That’s a recipe for failure in the Christian life. We need to preach this gospel to ourselves everyday. That’s what Paul means when he says that we put on the breastplate of righteousness. Everyday we need to remind ourselves that we don’t stand based on our own record; we stand because we are in union with Jesus Christ. We stand because of the work of Jesus Christ that cannot be undone. And when Satan comes after our hearts, we can stand with courage knowing that the breastplate of Jesus’ righteousness can handle any attack that Satan brings against it.

But there’s another element of the breastplate of righteousness that we need to consider.

The Spirit’s Work in Us As a Defense (Imparted Righteousness)

One of the ways that Satan attacks us is through accusation. And the way that we can deflect that attack is through the finished work of Jesus Christ. In him, we are completely righteous. This is what the theologians call imputed righteousness.

But there’s another type of righteousness that’s important, and theologians call it imparted righteousness. When God saves us, he doesn’t just pardon us. He also goes to work in our hearts and begins to change us from the inside out. He begins a renovation project so that we’re not just forgiven, but we are gradually changed to become like Jesus. This is slow and gradual work, and it’s not done yet. But God never separates the two. If he forgives you, he also begins to change you. He frees us from the penalty of sin, and he’s also freeing us from the power of sin.

This type of righteousness is also something that we can put on. As we are changed by God, and as we begin to think his thoughts, and desire the things that he desires, we will be strengthened to resist the attacks by the evil one against our hearts.

Now I want you to hear me. Never base your standing before God based on your own righteousness. That will fail, because all of us still struggle with sin. Our own righteousness will never be enough to serve as a defense when Satan accuses us. At the same time, our growth in holiness will help us take our stand when Satan attacks. The Spirit’s work in our hearts, growing us in our holiness, is also part of our defense against the evil one.

That’s why Paul writes things like this in Ephesians:

…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Ephesians 1:4)

…to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:20-24)

Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:8-10)

It’s not hard to see how this works. If Satan attacks us in our thoughts, motives, and emotions, then a growth in holiness will help us to have holier thoughts, motives, and emotions. When we’re not living holy lives, we make ourselves easier targets for Satan’s attacks. So pursue holiness. Remember who you are in Jesus Christ. Live out that identity. Cast yourself on him every day and ask for his help. Worship together; confess your sins; fellowship with each other; get into the Word. As you grow in your holiness, you will grow in your ability to stand when Satan attacks your heart.

Just one word of caution before we go on. Never separate your imputed righteousness from your imparted righteousness. God never separates the two. We need both faith in Jesus Christ and good works, but as someone has put it, one is the root and the other is the fruit. Our good works grow out of our faith in Jesus. Don’t ever think you can grow in your holiness without centering on what God has done through Jesus Christ to save you. If you aren’t trusting the gospel, you will never grow in your holiness. Never stand based on your own righteousness, but seek to grow in your holiness and righteousness as you trust in the righteousness of Jesus.

This is what it means to put on the breastplate of righteousness. Put on Jesus’ righteousness, and based on that, strive to grow in your own holiness before him.

Finally: how to put on the breastplate of righteousness

How do we put on the breastplate of righteousness? You do it by preaching the truth to yourself. If Satan is coming after your thoughts, motives, and emotions, then the way we counter his attack is to bring our thoughts, motives, and emotions in line with the truth. It’s crucial if we are going to stand when Satan attacks. “To preach to yourself is to challenge yourself, push yourself, and point yourself to the truth. It is not so much uncovering new truth as much as it is reminding yourself of the truth you tend to forget” (Joe Thorn).

Last week Nathan talked about the belt of truth. It’s like a belt or leather apron that hung underneath the armor and protected the thighs. A belt holds everything in place; without it other weapons will fall apart in disarray. So what Paul is saying is that the truth, in a way, is crucial as we put on the rest of the armor.

The truth about who Jesus is and what he’s done for you are going to help when Satan comes after your heart. One preacher (Tim Keller) illustrates how this plays out in our lives.

  • When you’re disappointed or bitter — When we’re bitter, it’s usually because we are trusting in something that hasn’t worked for us. We are looking to something other than Jesus to cover us, to show that we’re okay. We’re looking to our career, or our accomplishments, or a relationship to give us what only Jesus can give us. When we’re bitter, we need to repent of making something else our way of salvation other than Jesus. We need to put on the breastplate of his righteousness as our defense.
  • When you’re guilty — We know what it is to feel guilty. There’s a good type of guilt, a godly type of guilt, that drives us to Jesus. But then there’s the wrong type of guilt that accuses you and causes you to doubt God’s love for you. It says that because you’ve sinned, you’re unworthy. It accuses you and puts you down. Look to Jesus. Say, “What you’re really doing is insulting the magnitude of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. You’re insulting the completeness of his righteousness, and I won’t have it. Go ahead and insult me. Tell me I deserve to be rejected. I already know that. But don’t you dare tell me I’m not worthy of going before the Father, because what that is doing is saying that Jesus’ righteousness is really insufficient.”
  • When you’re working too hard — Don’t base your righteousness on your own efforts. A lot of people who work too hard are trying to build their own righteousness. They are building a righteousness out of their careers and achievements. Remind yourself that’s not where your righteousness comes from. No matter how well you do in your life, it will never be enough to serve as your breastplate. Put on Jesus’ righteousness instead.
  • When you’re self-conscious — When you feel inadequate, when you feel like you don’t measure up, then it’s a good sign that you aren’t putting on the breastplate of righteousness. If God says you’re okay in Christ, who cares what anyone else thinks? Who needs the approval of the servant when you have the approval of the King? Sometimes even your own conscience can condemn you when it shouldn’t. 1 John 3:20 says, “Whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” When you feel inadequate, remind yourself that you are a son or daughter of the King, and that you have the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and you can stand.

In short, we need to preach the gospel to ourselves and to each other. As we do so, we'll be putting on the breastplate of righteousness that we need.

Satan hates you. He wants to attack you, and he wants to attack this church. He’s going to go after your heart: your thoughts, your emotions, and your motives. If he can get you there, he knows he can inflict a fatal wound.

So what should we do? Put on the breastplate of righteousness. Protect your heart with the righteousness that God provides, and the righteousness the Spirit produces. When he attacks your heart, and you stand in the truth of what Jesus has done, and what he’s doing in you, then you can stand. “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13).

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Stand (Ephesians 6:10-13)

Big Idea: Because we’re engaged in deadly spiritual warfare, we need God’s help to stand firm.


On May 1, 1915, the Lusitania set sail from New York to Liverpool. Almost 2,000 people were on board, including 95 children and 39 infants. It was an amazing ship: fast, comfortable, luxurious, and beloved.

But this voyage was to be its last. Days before the ship had left New York, The Imperial German Embassy placed a warning advertisement in 50 American newspapers, including some in New York:

NOTICE!

TRAVELLERS intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travellers sailing in the war zone on the ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.

IMPERIAL GERMAN EMBASSY

Washington, D.C., 22 April 1915.

Despite that ad, people embarked on the Lusitania, and you can still watch the film of the ship leaving port on its last voyage with people waving excitedly, before going to their first-class cabins and enjoying all the food and amenities that the ship had to offer.

On May 7, near the end of her 202nd crossing, a German U-boat spotted the ship. At a 700 meter range, orders were given for one torpedo to be fired. The torpedo — a single torpedo — hit the ship. Seawater drenched the passengers; children jumping rope on the deck stopped jumping. Within seconds, the ship rolled to the right. 18 minutes later, the ship sank, killing almost 1,200 of its passenger and crew. Never before had an attack on a civilian ship taken place like this. When you enter a war zone, even when you’re on a luxurious civilian ship, you may experience the worst that war can offer.

It’s important for us to realize this as well. We’re in a very similar position. A declaration of war has been issued. We’ve been told to expect attack. Yet it’s easy for us to think we live in peacetime conditions, and to be surprised when we find ourselves embattled and attacked. I don’t know how many times I’ve been surprised when it feels like I’m under attack. We live in wartime, but we expect peacetime conditions.

I read think of this quote by Charles Spurgeon often: “When you sleep, remember that you are resting on the battlefield; when you travel, suspect an ambush in every hedge.”

That’s why, for the next eight weeks including today, we’re going to be looking at what it means to not just survive the battle, but to take our stand. We’re going to begin today by looking at Ephesians 6:10-13. There are just a few things that we need to learn from this passage today, and here’s the first one:

The reality: We’re engaged in deadly spiritual warfare.

Read verses 10-13 with me:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:10-13)

Here’s the first thing we need to see: The Christian life is a battle. Some people think that the Christian life is peaceful, and I know where they’re coming from, but the Bible is clear that when you become a follower of Christ, you’ve entered a war. In this passage, Paul uses an extended military metaphor to help us understand what the Christian life is like. He says we need armor, and the reason is that we’re engaged in deadly spiritual warfare on the side of God against the devil. We’re at war.

Here’s what we learn about the battle:

We have enemies. Verse 11 talks about the schemes of the devil. He is the head of the demons, the fallen angels who are enemies of God. Jesus called him a liar and a murderer. He’s out to get us, to deceive us, and to rob us of our very lives. And he’s not alone. Verse 12 says that he’s joined by “the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” There’s not just one spiritual being who’s our enemy, but a whole range of evil spiritual forces. They vary in rank, authority, and capability, but they’re all opposed to us.

We don’t know all the details of these beings that are against us. We don’t have enough information to figure out every detail of how the hierarchy works. But we know enough to realize that a battle is going on with unseen spiritual forces against us. They’re powerful, wicked, cunning, and invisible. If our fight was against other humans, we’d maybe have to worry, but at least we’d have a chance. We have no chance on our own against these unseen spiritual enemies, which is why Paul is going to tell us what to do to stand under the attack of these spiritual forces against us. Don’t be surprised when you feel like you’re under attack.

So we learn that we have enemies. Then we learn that:

They have tactics. Paul tells us that we’re to stand against the “schemes of the devil.” What is a scheme? It’s a strategy designed by a careful strategist to defeat us. It means that the devil and his forces will use every scheme possible to turn us aside from pursuing Christ and achieving the goals that God has for us. Beneath the surface, there’s a battle going on. One preacher says:

He has been honing his methods for millennia. His emissaries visited the church councils at Nicea and Chalcedon. He sat in on medieval faculty meetings. He is an accomplished philosopher, theologian, and psychologist. He has had thousands of years to study.

I am no genius at mathematics, but even with my limited capabilities I could be terrific at math if I worked at it for 100 years (maybe!). If I labored hard at it for a 1,000 years and read all the learned theories, I would be a Newton or an Einstein. Or what if I had 10,000 years? Given that time, any of us could become the world’s greatest philosopher or psychologist or theologian or linguist (we could curse or preach in a thousand languages). Satan has had multiple millennia to study and master the human disciplines, and when it comes to human subversion, he is the ultimate manipulator. (R. Kent Hughes)

When you read this passage, you may have pictures of wild spiritual battles and direct spiritual attack. But there are a variety of ways that he can come after us. Clinton Arnold has listed some of the schemes or tactics of Satan:

  • interjecting an image into our minds of something enticing but sinful (Matt 4:8–10; Luke 4:5–8)
  • exploiting a sinful tendency, such as anger, and causing it to flare out of control (Eph 4:27)
  • inspiring others to create a principle, teaching, or idea that sounds plausible, but is wrong and dangerous to our souls (2 Cor 11:3, 15)
  • afflicting us with a physical illness or condition (2 Cor 12:7)
  • sending a horrible dream or demonic manifestation during the night that produces fear (Job 4:13–16; Ps 91:5)
  • enticing us to lie (Acts 5:3)
  • instigating a series of horrible “natural” calamities, e.g., the death of a loved one, loss of one’s home, or destruction or loss of property (Job 1–2)

Most of the time, Satan and his demons don’t use a direct attack. What we experience most of the time is much more subtle than that. That’s why the devil’s so wily. Satan doesn’t usually tip his hand. He likes to use trickery and subterfuge. As one person said, “Evil rarely looks evil until it accomplishes its goal; it gains entrance by appearing attractive, desirable, and perfectly legitimate. It is a baited and camouflaged trap” (Klyne Snodgrass).

One of his most effective tactics is simply to get us to question God’s goodness. He tries to tempt us to think that God is holding back on us. He causes us to question God’s Word. He loves to deceive us, and he knows what works. He’s been at it for thousands of years. We have an enemy, Paul says, and he has tactics.

One man reflects on the battle as he’s faced it, and says this of a defeat:

I was a fool. I believed lies, which led me to tell lies.

This is why temptation is so tempting. It’s insane how quickly it becomes rational and reasonable to believe and do destructive and evil things.

That captures it all. Remember that Jesus said that Satan is a liar and a deceiver. Satan gets us to believe lies, and uses these lies to get us to doubt God and do destructive and evil things. He has tactics, and one of the main tactics is deceit.

We learn one more thing about the battle:

The battle is up close and personal. Paul says, “We wrestle…” The word for wrestle is more of an athletic one than a military one. When you wrestle, you’re in close contact with your enemy. Paul uses this image to help us realize that this isn’t warfare that takes place with drones and joysticks. It’s close and intense. The battle takes place in our minds and hearts. It couldn’t be closer and more intimate than it is.

So this is the first thing we learn in this passage: that we’re at war, and that we have enemies who have tactics and are up close and personal. We need to expect that we’re at war. We can’t be like the passengers on the Lusitania. We can’t forget the fact that we’re at war.

Paul also wants to tell us what to do about it.

What to do: Be strong by putting on the armor of God.

It’s important that we understand that we’re engaged in warfare. But the way to win at the war isn’t to focus on the enemy. It was C.S. Lewis that said:

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.

The way we win at this battle isn’t to excessively focus on our enemy. Paul tells us what we should do:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:10-11)

“Be strong in the Lord.” Paul doesn’t say just to be strong. We’re too weak to be strong. Self-sufficiency is a killer in this battle. He says we need to be strong in the Lord. This whole passage is about that. We need God’s strength in verse 10. We need God’s armor, in verses 11 and 14 to 17, and we need open lines of communication with God in verses 18 to 20. We need God’s help.

I want you to notice a few things:

We’re not alone in this battle. You could easily read this passage and miss this, but Paul isn’t writing to us as individuals. He’s writing to a church. I had lunch with a friend this week, and we talked about this passage. He said, “The thing that bothers me is that everyone preaches this passage and applies it to the individual. What kind of person goes to war alone? Would you send one soldier to war in Iraq?”

He’s got a good point. The context for this battle is the church. Given that the Christian life is war, it makes no sense to try to do it alone. We need strength and encouragement from others if we’re going to make it. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder with each other if we’re to survive. These are instructions for the church collectively to put on God’s armor, and stand as one person in battle.

We can be strengthened. Verse 10 says, “Be strong in the Lord.” It’s hard to see in the English, but it’s passive. It means that we receive strength from an outside source: from God. It’s not, “Make yourself strong.” It’s, “Receive from the Lord what you need in order to be strong.” It’s tricky, because there’s a command for us to follow, but the command is to receive. We must take action, and the action is to seek God and present themselves to him for filling with his power.

When Paul says “in the Lord” here, he’s talking about Jesus. It’s here that we’re reminded of the words of Martin Luther in his song A Mighty Fortress:

Did we in our own strength confide, 
our striving would be losing, 
were not the right man on our side, 
the man of God's own choosing. 

It’s only because Jesus is on our side that we can be strengthened.

Tim Keller gives an illustration that helps me with this. Picture being sent into a battle in which you’re vastly outnumbered. You know that there’s not a chance that you can win against the enemy. You’re about to be slaughtered. But your commander says, “Tomorrow you’re going to go and attack that fortification.” But then he says, “Remember that as you attack that behind you, over you, and all around you will be this vastly superior air power. Charge, but count on the fact that you won’t be alone. If you don’t charge, you won’t beat them. But if you charge and trust that what I tell you is true, then you’ll be okay.”

We’d like to see the air power first, but that’s not how it works. Our job is to fill our minds with the magnificence of the power that we have all around us, and then to go out and battle like we believe it’s true.

Here’s what this means for us. We must fill our minds with what God has done for us. We’re going into battle, but we need to remember that God has already defeated Satan through Jesus Christ. I want you to think of three verses in particular:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil… (Hebrews 2:14)

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:15)

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus… (Ephesians 2:4-6)

As a church, we want to keep coming back to the reality that Jesus has done for us what we can’t do. We want to keep coming back to the gospel. We want to fill our minds with what he’s done, and then live in that reality.

The great news is that the weakest among us can be strong in Jesus Christ and what he accomplished at the cross. Jesus has accomplished everything that we need. We can trust in his work, and believe that he has abundant strength for us. He has everything we need. We can draw on that strength continuously. We can know the greatness of his power and live in that reality.

One of our values as a church is that we are dependent: apart from God, we can do nothing. I really want us to push into this. The only way that we can stand as a church in the battle is if we stay connected with God, as we fill our minds with what he says is true. The only way we’ll be ready to rush into battle is if we believe that we have air support all around us. It’s why prayer is so critical to what we’re doing as a church.

There’s one more thing I want you to notice:

There are things we can do. Paul describes the armor of God. In addition to taking advantage of our relationship with Christ, there are some things that he says we should do. He calls us to appropriate some gifts and to cultivate some virtues that are going to be important. We’re going to need all of it. He says to put on the whole armor of God, not just one or two pieces. We’re going to talk about this over the coming weeks.

Okay, let’s summarize what we’ve covered so far. We’ve looked at this passage and learned that we’re at war, and that we have enemies who have tactics, and who are up close and personal. We’ve also learned that we can be strengthened together by taking advantage of the resources that God has provided for us.

I want to finish today with some good news. Here it is:

The good news: We can stand.

Here’s the good news that I want to leave us with today: we can stand. Verse 13 says:

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:13)

Here’s the great news. Paul says that if we strengthen ourselves in God, and take up his armor, then we will be able to stand against the enemy of our souls. The word “stand” repeats itself four times in this passage:

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. (Ephesians 6:11)

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:13)

Stand therefore… (Ephesians 6:14)

Stand means that we hold our position. It means that the devil doesn’t gain an inch in our lives, or move us off course. When the devil advances, we are to hold our position and refuse to be moved. It doesn’t mean that we only play defense; it can mean that we take an aggressive stand against Satan. It means that we take up defensive positions, and also that we “stand like an oak against the winds of Satan’s lies that would sway us, against the floods of his temptations that would sweep us away, and against the leeches of his accusations that would deprive us of grace” (Stanley D. Gale).

Here’s what I want you to hear today: Because we’re engaged in deadly spiritual warfare, we need God’s help to stand firm.

A hundred years ago, passengers were warned that a state of war existed, and that they could expect attack. It was probably hard to remember this completely in the first class accommodations, and tragically, hundreds lost their lives.

We too have been warned that a state of war exists. We have powerful enemies who employ sophisticated tactics to try to defeat us. But we’ve been given strength by God through Jesus Christ so that we can stand.

Friends, let’s not forget that we’re at war. And let’s fill our minds what all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ so that we can stand. Let’s remember that we’re not alone as we go to war. We can “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Delight When Life Is Short and Hard

Big Idea: Because God is eternal and life is short, ask God to satisfy you with himself.


The movie City Slickers is a comedy about a man who’s 39 years old and in the middle of a mid-life crisis. He’s friends with two other guys who are also experiencing a mid-life crises, so they go on a cattle drive in Colorado. There’s a fascinating scene that goes something like this:

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is? [points index finger skyward] This.

Mitch: Your finger?

Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean [anything].

Mitch: But, what is the "one thing?"

Curly: [smiles and points his finger at Mitch] That's what you have to find out.

As we begin 2016, I want to return to a psalm that I read a lot at the start of a New Year. It gives us one thing that we need to focus on, and I think it’s probably the best thing that we could focus on all year.

First, though, let’s set the stage.

The psalms are a collection of poems that formed Israel’s song book. The one we’re going to look at today is one of the oldest psalms going. According to the inscription, it was written by Moses. It was probably written around the time that Israel was preparing to enter the Promised Land after years of wandering in the desert. It was written in the wilderness during the 40 years that Israel was wandering in the dessert. Some two or three million people left Egypt; a whole generation of people had to die as they made that 40-year trek. There would have been constant funerals. As Spurgeon said, you could track the progress of the nation by the graves they left behind.

The psalm has a very simple structure that goes something like this:

  • Verses 1 and 2 — God is eternal
  • Verses 3 to 6 — In contrast, human life is short.
  • Verses 7 to 12 — The reason that life is so short is the result of sin.
  • Verses 13 to 17 — So ask God to satisfy us with his unfailing love.

So here’s the gist of the psalm that we need to understand before we get to the advice that he offers:

God is eternal, but our lives are short and hard.

Look at verses 1 and 2.

First: God is eternal. Verses 1 and 2 say:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place

in all generations.

Before the mountains were brought forth,

or ever you had formed the earth and the world,

from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

Think about this. Moses zooms out to consider time. A couple of years ago, the Art Gallery had an exhibit on King Tut and Egypt. I remember walking through the exhibit, marveling at the age of what I was seeing. Some of the exhibits are over 4,000 years old. I couldn’t help but think about Moses as he grew up in Egypt.

We think Moses is old, but back then Moses zooms out and says helps us see time from another perspective. Before Egypt, before there were any mountains, before there was even an earth, God was God. God has no beginning. He was God before the mountains were brought forth. He is God from everlasting to everlasting, with no beginning and no end. God exists from eternity and to eternity.

Not only that, but enormous periods of time are insignificant to God. Read verse 4:

For a thousand years in your sight

are but as yesterday when it is past,

or as a watch in the night.

This is amazing. A thousand years ago, the Normans hadn’t invaded England. Vikings were establishing small settlements in North America. A Chinese artisan invented ceramic movable type printing. It was still the middle ages. It was a vastly different time from now. Moses reminds us that a thousand years ago to God is like yesterday to us. In light of God’s eternality, a thousand years is like a day to him.

Moses wants us to grasp the eternality of God. Consider this as we begin 2016. The past year has gone fast for a lot of us. Nobody here knows what the next year is going to bring. But God stands outside of time, and a thousand years is insignificant to him. For people living in tents in Moses’ day, or for people living in homes today, God can be our dwelling place in all generations, because God never changes.

Second: Your life is short and hard. Moses next invites us to consider our lives. In contrast to God, who is eternal, Moses says two things about our lives. First, he says that our lives are short. Verses 5 and 6 say:

You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,

like grass that is renewed in the morning:

in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;

in the evening it fades and withers.

A human life - even the longest of human lives - is insignificantly brief. It’s like a watch in the night, a flood, a dream, or some grass that sprouts in the morning and dies at night. When I lived in North Bay one summer, they had these things called shadflies that would come out. They were everywhere. You couldn’t drive your car without turning your windshield wipers on. But these shadflies live for only one day. In parts of the world, they’re called one-day flies. The psalmist says that this is a picture of our lives. Our lives are brief. God is eternal, but we’re only here for a fleeting moment, and then we’re gone.

Not only that, but Moses says that our lives are hard as well. Read verses 7 to 11. The point that Moses makes is that our lives are hard, and they’re hard for a reason. Why? Because of God’s anger. Remember why so many were dying in the wilderness. They had rebelled against God after the spies had returned from Canaan, saying that they could not enter. God said, “I, the LORD, have spoken, surely this I will do to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be destroyed, and there they will die” (Numbers 14:35). They were living and dying in tents in the wilderness as the consequence of sin. We’re not living in tents and dying in the wilderness, but life is still unbearably hard. We are still dealing with the results of human sin, and the mess it has made in this world. We are still dealing with God’s righteous anger against human rebellion, high treason against his reign.

So here’s an application, before we get to the crux of the advice that he offers as a response to this news that life is short and hard. Number your days. See what he writes in verses 10 to 12:

The years of our life are seventy,

or even by reason of strength eighty;

yet their span is but toil and trouble;

they are soon gone, and we fly away.

Who considers the power of your anger,

and your wrath according to the fear of you?

 

So teach us to number our days

that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Andy Stanley tells the story of a man who bought 1,300 marbles on his 50th birthday. He figured that, if he lives to be 75, he would have about a 1,300 Saturdays left. So every Saturday he goes and takes a marble out of that jar and throws it out. It’s a reminder to him that time is fleeting, and that he only has a short time left.

I don’t know what you need to do, but how will you remind yourself to number your limited days? To remember that your life is short? Steve Jobs once said:

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Take a look at this page. Your whole life easily fits on a single piece of paper. The psalmist says that it’s not depressing to realize this. It actually leads to wisdom. Mike Wittmer says, “Death is the destiny of every person, and those who take that truth to heart are finally ready to live.” What he writes is sobering but important:

You are going to die. Take a moment to let that sink in. You are going to die. One morning the sun will rise and you won’t see it. Birds will greet the dawn and you won’t hear them. Friends and family will gather to celebrate your life, and after you’re buried they’ll return to the church for ham and scalloped potatoes. Soon your job and favorite chair and spot on the team will be filled by someone else. The rest of the world may pause to remember— it will give you a moment of silence if you were rich or well known— but then it will carry on as it did before you arrived. “There is no remembrance of men of old,” observed Solomon, “and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow” (Ecclesiastes 1: 11).

You are going to die. What a crushing, desperate thought. But unless you swallow hard and embrace it, you are not prepared to live.  (The Last Enemy)

In this psalm, he gives us two things we should do. One of them is to ask God to teach us to number our days. I hope you’ll do this today. But there’s one other thing he challenges us to do.

Here’s the advice that he offers:

Because God is eternal and life is short, ask God to satisfy you with himself.

Read verses 13 to 17:

Return, O LORD! How long?

Have pity on your servants!

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,

that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,

and for as many years as we have seen evil.

Let your work be shown to your servants,

and your glorious power to their children.

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,

and establish the work of our hands upon us;

yes, establish the work of our hands!

The heart of the prayer is in verse 14.

Here’s what he’s saying. There’s no changing the fact that our lives are short and hard. No matter what you do, you’re not going to overcome this reality. Time will go faster. You will get older and eventually die. There are only X possible reactions to this:

  • Denial — Lets you enjoy life right now, but it’s based on a lie, and leaves you unprepared for ultimate reality.
  • Depression — Faces the facts, but robs you of the enjoyment of life now.
  • Distraction — Coping with the reality of life being short by distracting yourself with pleasure, money, and success. But this is only a distraction, and doesn’t deal with our deepest needs, and doesn’t survive death.
  • Delight in God — This is the only thing that can give us the satisfaction and delight that we’re looking for, and that will survive death and continue forever.

This is one of the best prayers you could ever pray. Our hearts were meant to find their ultimate delight in God. I love how John Piper puts it: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. Or, as C.S. Lewis put it, “God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing." You’ve just come through Christmas. Christmas has all this build-up. It promises that we will find happiness in gifts and family and food. And every year we’re a tiny bit disappointed as we come out of Christmas, because as good as these things are, they’re not enough to really satisfy us. So pray this year that you will find your heart’s deepest hungers met in God, because he is the only one who can truly satisfy.

I want you to think about this today. God doesn’t just want your duty. He wants your delight. He doesn’t just want your obedience. He wants your heart. He wants you to be eternally satisfied with him, to be glad in him. The psalmist teaches us that there is a happiness that can satisfy you at the deepest level, one that can coexist with the shortness and hardness of life, that can be yours now and last throughout eternity. It comes from not just serving God, but delighting in him. It will give you a joy and peace that can’t be taken away.

So that’s my prayer for you today. Because God is eternal and life is short, ask God to satisfy you with himself. Randy Alcorn writes:

Until Christ completely cures us and this world, our happiness will be punctuated by times of great sorrow. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be predominantly happy in Christ. Being happy as the norm rather than the exception is not wishful thinking. It’s based on solid facts: God secured our eternal happiness through a cross and an empty tomb. He is with us and in us right this moment. And he tells us to be happy in him. (Happiness)

So a few applications today:

I want you to evaluate yourself. How do you normally deal with the shortness and hardness of life? Remember that I said there are only four ways: denial, depression, distraction, or delight in God. If you tend to react through denial, depression, or distraction, then the first step is to admit and recognize that. They’re all dead ends. It begins with understanding that’s not what God intends for you at all.

Second: I want you to think about God and his desire for you today. I read this morning that the secret to happiness in life is relationships. Robert Waldinger, the director of a 75-year-old study on adult development, Waldinger has unprecedented access to data on true happiness and satisfaction. He concludes: “What are the lessons that come from the tens of thousands of pages of information that we've generated on these lives? Well, the lessons aren't about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.” Think about this. And then think about the fact that relationship is exactly what God desires with you. It’s a relationship that cost him everything. Jesus gave his life to make this relationship possible. He wants a relationship with you, and it’s one that will bring you greater joy than anything else you can experience. Oh, and it will bring you into relationship with others as well.

Third: I want you too pray this with me this year — “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, so that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” Don’t settle for duty. Ask God for delight. Ask him to satisfy your soul. Let’s do that right now.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Incarnation

Big Idea: Because God became human, we have the Savior we need.


We’re just days away from Christmas, which is strange. The last time I checked the weather is forecast to be about 8℃. That’s crazy. If you’re from around here, you know how strange the weather has been this winter. I don’t know whether to be happy or to be concerned.

It’s also strange for another reason, at least for me. Every year at Christmas I’m filled with a jumble of emotions. I’m excited about it, but if I’m honest, I’m also stressed by it. I’m not alone either. A survey in England found that Christmas is up there with divorce, moving house and changing jobs as the sixth most stressful life event —and it happens every year. So I have mixed emotions. It’s happy, but it’s also stressful.

It’s also a little strange for me spiritually. I’ve been trying to think about why. I think it’s because it’s easy to lose the original Christmas story in the middle of all the busyness and celebrations. Not only that, but the Christmas story can either become overly familiar, or overly strange. Angels, shepherds, mangers — it can either be something that’s old hat, or something that we find hard to swallow.

That’s why we’ve been looking at the old story in a new way. We want to do this because some of us aren’t familiar with the Christmas story. We also want to do it because some of us are overly familiar with the Christmas story, and we need to see it with fresh eyes.

So as we close our Christmas series, I want to look at a fancy term and what it means for us. Here’s the fancy term: incarnation. That’s not too hard, right? And here’s what the term means: God the Son took on human nature. That’s easy to say, but there’s a lot to unpack here.

The Bible teaches that God eternally exists as three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each person is fully God, and there is one God. See if that almost blows your brain circuits. It’s a unique and mysterious reality: there is one God, and that God exists in three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit.

Even more amazingly, the Bible teaches that the Son took upon himself human nature. God the Son himself became a Jewish artisan named Jesus. There is no equivalent to this in any other world religion. It’s astounding. The passage we just read talks about this. It says this about Jesus:

…though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:6-7)

Let’s unpack that.

  • “Though he was in the form of God…” — I like how the NIV translates this: “who, being in very nature God…” Jesus is God. From all eternity, he shared in the glory of God. Jesus himself talked about this when he prayed, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5). Hebrews 1:3 says of Jesus, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus is God.
  • “Did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped…” — This means that Jesus didn’t try to cling to his rights as God. Although he is God, he didn’t use his rights as God for his own selfish advantage.
  • He “emptied himself…” It’s not that he stopped being God. He actually added to it: he became both God and man. He took upon himself a human nature. In becoming human, he didn’t lose his divine nature, but neither did he use its benefits. One old preacher put it this way: “Christ, indeed could not divest himself of Godhead; but he kept it concealed for a time … he laid aside his glory in the view of men, not by lessening it, but by concealing it” (John Calvin).
  • “Taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” — What this means is that God the Son became human. Again, this will blow your circuits. God became a real human being. In every respect, he was fully human. He had a human body, with all its feelings and limitations. He had a human mind, and had to learn just like we do. He had a human soul and every kind of human emotion. The only part of humanity that he didn’t take on was our sinful nature. “God, without ever ceasing to be God, actually became what he created” (The Incarnation of God).

Jesus wasn’t half God and half human; he was and is fully God and fully human.

This is truly amazing. One person writes:

It would have been humiliation for the Son of God to have become man under the most ideal conditions, humiliation because of the discrepancy between God and his creation, between the majesty of the Creator on one hand, and the most humble status of the most dignified creature on the other. But it was not such an incarnation that took place. The Son of God was sent and came into this world of sin, misery, and each. These describe the situation into which he came. (John Murray)

So that’s what the word “incarnation” means. It’s “the act of God the Son whereby he took to himself a human nature” (Wayne Grudem).

It’s important to understand this. I don’t mean to say that it’s easy to understand. In fact, if you don’t have questions about what we’ve just talked about, then you may not have been listening closely enough. It’s truly amazing stuff. Somebody’s said that the incarnation is the “great central fact of the world” (John Williamson Nevin). This amazing fact is at the very center of the Christian faith. Joshua Harris says:

The idea of God being a human—a bundle of muscle, bones, and fluid—is scandalous. Hands. Arms. Feet. Body hair. Sweat glands. How can this possibly be? This is, without question, the greatest miracle recorded in Scripture [my comment: with the possible exception of the resurrection]…God the Son, existing for all eternity, now became dependent, floating in the amniotic fluid of a female womb. The One by whose power the whole world is sustained, now nourished by an umbilical cord. The God-man would have a bellybutton.

When I was a high school student I took electricity class. I think I took it, in part, because I wanted to see sparks fly. One day I got bored with the circuit I was building and thought I would liven things up. I purposely caused a short circuit, and got what I’d been looking for: sparks and loud noises.

It feels a little like this as we look at this topic. To think that God the Son would become human is something that’s almost incomprehensible. I never want to lose my amazement that this could be true.

Today, with the rest of the time that we have, I want to answer the question, “So what?” What difference does this make for us? And here’s what I want to tell you: Because God became human, we have the Savior we need. Let me repeat that: Because God became human, we have the Savior we need. Because God became human, he can do three things for us: show us, save us, and represent us. Let’s look at each one of these.

Because God became human, he could show us.

Because God became human, he could show us. Show us what, you ask? He could show us two things: what God is like, and what restored humanity is like.

Because God became human, he could show us what God is like. There are atheists out there, but most people have a sense that there is a God or some kind of higher power out there. A study this past year found that 73% of Canadians still believe that God or a higher power exists. The challenge is: how do we know what this God or higher power is like? That’s where the incarnation comes in. The Bible says that if you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. Jesus said this himself. One of his followers once asked him, “Show us the Father.” In other words, show us God. Jesus answered: “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:7). He also said, “If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19).

Here’s what Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher from London, England from the 1800s, said about this: “In every incident of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the Lord’s Anointed, there is much of God to be seen.” You see so much of God’s character:

  • His humility: that he was willing to set aside his rights and serve us. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45)
  • His wisdom: even today, skeptics acknowledge that his teaching is incomparable. Luke 2:47 says, “All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:47). Matthew 7:28-29 says, “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”
  • His power: his ability to feed huge crowds with just a small amount of bread and fish; his ability to calm storms, cast out demons, heal the sick, and raise the dead. Matthew 8:27 asks, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”
  • His love: his willingness to love us so much that he was willing to wash the feet of his followers, not to mention die for them. “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

His attitude toward sinners: he ate with them, and was called their friend.

Spurgeon says: “I cannot go through the whole life of Jesus Christ—it is impossible, for time would fail us—but if you will, yourselves, select any single incident in which Jesus appears, whether in the chamber of sickness or at the grave, whether in weakness or in power, you shall, in each case, behold the Glory of God!”

Jesus is the ultimate, final, and decisive revelation of what God is like. Who better to reveal God than someone who is God, but is also someone that people saw, touched, and heard with their own eyes?

Someone once mused about the reason why it’s impossible to know God. He thought that if there is a God, and he created us, then the difference between God and man would be so vast that no human could know God, any more than Hamlet could know his author-creator William Shakespeare. But as the thought about this, he realized that there is a way. He realized that Shakespeare could have written himself in to the play and dialogued with Hamlet. And then he realized that this is essentially what God did with us at Christmas: he wrote himself into our story. He entered the story, so to speak, so that we could see what God is like.

That’s what Jesus shows us. He shows us what God is like. But that’s not all. Because God became human, he could also show us what restored humanity is like.  I like what one writer (Hans Rookmaaker) said about what Jesus came to do: “Jesus didn’t come to make us Christian; Jesus came to make us fully human.” Jesus came to restore our humanity. Another author and pastor (Dick Staub) calls Jesus the great humanizer, the beginning of a new human race. In fact, you could argue that following Jesus is “an apprenticeship with Jesus toward recovering our humanity and, through his Spirit, helping our neighbors do the same” (Zack Eswine). As we follow Jesus, we learn from him what it means to be human.

This is why so many Scriptures talk of following his example:

Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:6)

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:21)

You’ve never met the perfect person — until you meet Jesus. He shows us what God’s intention for humanity was in the first place. Not only that, he shows us what we will become as we’re restored. Our goal should be to live like Christ did. Jesus had to become human to be our pattern and example. Of course, it’s impossible for us to follow Jesus’ example because we have a sin nature, but the Bible teaches that God gives us his Spirit to enable us. Once the Spirit begins his work in us, we begin the process of being changed into Jesus’ likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18) and conformed to the image of God’s Son (Romans 8:29).

God shows us though Jesus. He shows us what he is like; he also shows us what we will become.

Because God became human, he could save us.

The Bible tells us that there’s something drastically wrong with this world: sin. Sin is so serious that it was like unleashing a virus. Sin has an act of cosmic treason that it plunged humanity and the whole world into disarray. Just open the newspaper or visit the hospital, and you’ll see all the results of sin. We’re still feeling its effects today.

What could reverse the effects of sin in this world? The Bible says that because sin entered the world through a man, and so it has to be reversed through a man. But no man throughout history has been able to reverse the effects of sin, because each man and woman throughout history has been infected by sin. For someone to reverse sin, they would have to be human, and to have been unaffected by sin nature. And that’s exactly what happened with Jesus. He’s one of us. Hebrews 2:16-17 says:

For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:16-17)

If Jesus wanted to save the angels, he would have had to become an angel. But he didn’t. He wanted to save humanity, so he became human. Hebrews says that this allowed Jesus to do two things: to serve as our high priest — we’ll get to that in a minute — and to deal with our sins through his death. Because he’s one of us, he was able to die for our sins. “Unless Christ was fully man, he could not have died to pay the penalty for man’s sins. He could not have been a substitute sacrifice for us…” (Wayne Grudem). This is a huge topic, but we needed someone to do two things for us. One: we needed someone to obey the requirements of the law perfectly in our place as our representative. Second: we needed someone to take our place and suffer the punishment that was due to us.

One preacher says:

No creature was capable of this. Only Jesus Christ could be our substitute. It had to be someone who was totally man, to pay man's penalty and totally God, to have victory over death…He had to be the perfect combination of total God and total man. (John MacArthur)

Jesus had to become like us to become our substitute, our representative. It seems like a long time ago now that the Blue Jays were in the playoffs. You’ll remember some of the tense games in which someone would get on base, and Gibbons would send someone to run in his place. It’s called a pinch runner — a player substituted for the player on base because he’s faster or otherwise more skilled at base-running than the original player. That’s Jesus. He has been put in to live and die in our place, to do what we could have never done for ourselves.

I really appreciate how comprehensive his substitution was for us:

Jesus took a human body to save our bodies. And he took a human mind to save our minds. Without becoming man in his emotions, he could not have saved our emotions. And without taking a human will, he could not save our will. In the words of Gregory of Nazianzus, “That which he has not assumed he has not healed.” (David Matthis)

But he assumed it all, so that all of us could be healed.

This gives me great hope. Helmut Thielicke says:

It happened thus— God came down to you and searched for you. It happened thus— he became your brother. It happened thus— he planted himself in the abyss which yawned between you and him, which you had torn open in defiance. It happened thus— he placed himself in the same rank as you, he was found to be in the likeness of man (Philippians 2:7), he is tempted as you and I (Hebrews 4:15), and endures the Evil One with you, and at your side. It happened thus— he takes your loneliness upon his shoulders (Mark 15:34), dies your death, tastes your fear (Mark 14:33), has endured captivity (Luke 22:47ff.) and taken it captive (Ephesians 4:8).

Jesus has done all of this for us.

So why did Jesus become human? Because God became human, we have the Savior we need, because it meant he could show us, and save us. But there’s one more thing.

Because God became human, he could represent us.

We’ve already started to look at this. In ancient Israel, a high priest stood as the representative of people before God. The priest represented the people to God. To represent the people, he had to be like the people.

We just looked at Hebrews 2, which says:

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:17-18)

A couple of chapters later in Hebrews, we learn what this means for us:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

New York pastor Tim Keller gives an example that helps me understand what this means. As a pastor, he helped a lot of people who were going through hard times. He’d think he understood, but then he went through a medical crisis of his own. He came down with thyroid cancer and experienced the weight of sickness like never before. Listen to what he says: 

You don’t know how many times I sat with people, prayed with them before they got wheeled in, how many times I held their hand. In some ways as a pastor I must say I was conceited enough to believe I knew more about this than doctors did, because when you’re doctors and medical people, you’re there. You’re seeing it all the time, but you kind of get … It’s your job.

I was a pastor. I was there to weep with the people and to pray with the people and to be with the people. I thought I understood, but when I was finally wheeled in on that table, I realized I really didn’t understand what it was like. Till I experienced that darkness, I realized, “So this is what depression is like. You really can’t do anything about it.”

And then he brings us to Jesus:

The point of this passage, in fact, one of the main points of the Bible, is unlike what any other religion tells you about God. Christianity says God has been on any table you’ve been on, and God has been through any darkness you’ve been through and more. Therefore, you can trust him. Therefore, you can rely on him. Therefore, he understands. Have you been betrayed? Have you been lonely? Have you been broke? Have you been facing death? So has he.

Jesus is our great high priest. He’s been there. Because he’s human, he’s able to represent us before God, because he’s been there with us. He knows what it’s like. Jesus is compassionate because he’s been through what we have, except without sin. He understands what it’s like.

Let’s wrap this up.

The incarnation is astounding news. It means that God himself became human: fully God and fully human at the same time. Because God became human, we have the Savior we need, because he can show us, save us, and represent us.

That means that in Jesus, you have everything you need. Through Jesus you can know what God is like, and what his intentions are for you. You can know what restored humanity is like. If you trust him, you can see what he will make of you. Not only that, but because God became human, he is able to save you. And he can represent you, because he understands you.

Two responses: Worship him. Submit to him, maybe for the first time. He’s the Savior we need.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Christmas for the Weak and Small (Luke 2:8-20)

Big Idea: Christmas brings God’s glory to the weak and small, and gives us the two things we need most: praise and peace.


Have you ever felt, like me, insignificant in a world of seven billion people? There are all kinds of events going on — big political and economic and social movements, led by outstanding people with lots of power and prestige — and then there’s us. It feels sometimes like our lives are small, and we wonder if they really matter.

I saw a Buzzfeed article this week that made me feel small. The article showed the earth within our solar system. But then it showed how small our earth is within our solar system, and then how our solar system is only a blip within the Milky Way galaxy. And then it showed that there are thousands and thousands of galaxies, each containing millions of stars, each with their own planets. The pictures are startling. It concludes that we are “just a tiny little ant in a giant jar.” That may actually exaggerate our size. When you look at the size of the universe, we are nothing. I certainly understand why a psalm asks this question of God:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
(Psalm 8:3-4)

And then there’s not just the earth’s place within our solar system, galaxy, or universe, but our place within the earth. They estimate that over 100 billion people have lived on this earth. To say that we’re an ant in an anthill exaggerates our importance, and we feel that. It’s why the great novelist William Golding said, “I am here; and here is nowhere in particular.”

And so we wonder: Do our lives matter? Does our work matter? And ultimately, do we matter? We could ask ourselves: Does this church matter?

I read this week of a pastor who, when he started out, said, “Lord, do great things through me for the sake of the Kingdom.” After graduating from seminary, he thought, “Lord do great things through me in my denomination.” After a few years in ministry, he thought, “Lord do great things through me in the local church.” Now, after a few more years of ministry, he thinks, “Lord, just help me to finish the race!” Our grandiose plans to change the world eventually give way to the sobering realization that we probably won’t accomplish nearly as much as we’d thought. Eventually we realize that we’re not even sure we canchange ourselves.

So let me ask you again: Have you ever felt, like me, insignificant in a world of seven billion people? What do we do when your life, your job, your family seem so small?

I’m asking this, because that’s the question that appears for us in Luke 2, the passage that we just read. In these four weeks leading up to Christmas, we’re discovering — or rediscovering — the original Christmas story. Last week we looked at the story of Christmas in the gospel of Matthew. I reminded us that Jesus’ birth shows that God hasn’t given up on us, and has acted on our behalf. This morning we’re looking at the account of Jesus’ birth in another biography of Jesus, written by Luke. And Luke tells us two things we need to hear: First, that Christmas brings God’s glory to weak people, and second, that it gives us the two things we need most: praise and peace.

Christmas brings God’s glory to weak people.

We are weak and small. We are just like the people we encounter in Luke 2.

In verse 1 we read: “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria” (Luke 2:1-2). So here’s the deal with Caesar Augustus. His full name was Gaius Octavius Thurinus. He was the founder of the Roman empire, and its first Emperor. He had a collection of powers granted to him for life by the Roman Senate, including supreme military command, and those of tribune and censor. He reigned over a massive area throughout modern-day Europe, Asia, and northern Africa. He initiated an historic era of peace called Pax Romana (The Roman Peace), which allowed things to flourish under his reign. He enlarged the Empire, developed a network of roads, established a standing army, and rebuilt Rome. An inscription that celebrated Caesar’s birthday stated that his birthday “is a day which we may justly count as equivalent to the beginning of everything,” and that he “has given a new look to the Universe at a time when it would gladly have welcomed destruction if Caesar had not been born to be the common blessing of all men.” The decree resolves that Caesar is “a saviour for us and those who come after us, to make war to cease, to create order everywhere,” and that his birthday is the birth of a god, and the beginning of glad tidings. Luke’s story in chapter 2 is given within the context of one of the most powerful world leaders to have ever lived in the history of the world.

So that’s where Luke begins. He begins by placing the Christmas story in a landscape of one of the most powerful political rulers to have ever lived.

In contrast to this great world power, Luke introduces a bunch of nobodies. He introduces us to Joseph and Mary, an unmarried couple caught up in world events. In a chess game, Caesar would be king, and Joseph and Mary would be pawns. They travel back to Joseph’s ancestral home. We always picture Mary riding a donkey, but it’s likely they made the journey on foot. According to Google Maps — which I’m pretty sure they didn’t have — that’s a 34-hour walk. A three-day journey on foot, while pregnant. They are nothing.

They’re not the only nobodies. In verse 8 we’re introduced to shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. What’s important about these shepherds? They are the first visitors to learn about the birth of Jesus, and to visit him in the stable.

I spent some time researching shepherds. I’ve always heard that shepherds were hated — the downtrodden and the despised in that society. That’s true in later rabbinic Judaism, hundreds of years later. But it doesn’t seem to be true then. What’s true then is that shepherds were nobodies. In today’s terms, they’re the cleaners who take the TTC to work the midnight shift at minimum wage.

So you have Joseph and Mary, who are nobodies, and shepherds, who are nobodies, and Caesar, who is everything. We are supposed to identify with Joseph and Mary, and the shepherds. You have a picture like this: you are here. You are small. You are nothing in a world of big and important people. And all of this happens in Bethlehem, a place that’s away from the centre of attention as well.

But then Luke changes our perspective so that we feel even smaller. In verse 9 we read, “And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear” (Luke 2:9). I once read a book about a preacher who pastored a little church in the small town of Ashton. The book was wild, because it unfolded the story down here the same time as it unfolded what was happening up there as well. There were angels and demons and battles going on in parallel with the actions of Pastor Hank and his little church. It was a weird and wild and imperfect reminder that there’s a lot more going on around us, and that we only see part of the action.

Every once in a while in the Bible, you get a parallel picture of what’s happening in heaven and on earth at the same time, and this is one of them. Heaven’s glory came to earth, and filled the night sky. The glory of God refers to the brightness that surrounds God’s revelation of himself. Throughout all the Bible, there are only a few times that we get glimpses of God’s glory: the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night that led Israel through the wilderness; the “thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast” when Moses met God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16). When Moses got a glimpse of God’s glory, they had to cover his face because it became so radiant that people were terrified. God’s glory was so powerful that even if you met someone who had seen it, you would be terrified.

When Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem, we read, “the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God” (2 Chronicles 5:13-14).

The glory of God is so powerful that the book of Revelation tells us:

And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. (Revelation 21:23-25)

The glory of God is a stunning thing. It’s God’s self-revelation, and the smallest glimpse of it leaves us terrified. If you saw a sliver of God’s glory, it would mess you up forever. But here, God’s glory shows up. The curtain between heaven and earth is pulled back. The shepherds see God’s glory. Thousands of angels show up and announce the birth of Jesus. The word “great company” is a military term. It’s like an army of angels has shown up. It’s terrifying. It’s overwhelming.

Here’s what Luke is showing us. Christmas is about weak people. It’s about nobodies: a teenage couple giving birth in the middle of nowhere, shepherds working the night shift for minimum wage. The characters in this story are eclipsed by the glory of Caesar Augustus. And Caesar Augustus is eclipsed by the glory of God. The glory of Joseph, Mary, and the shepherds is like a speck of light shining beside the blinding light of Caesar. And Caesar’s glory is like a 100-watt light bulb compared to the blazing sun of God’s glory. Mary and Joseph and the shepherds are nothing compared to Caesar, and Caesar is nothing compared to the glory of God.

I want you to see this today, because it’s bad news that’s about to become good news. We have to understand how small we are in this world if the world is ever going to make sense. One of my favorite books from 2014, Beloved Dust, captured it well. It says that we’re always trying to escape how small we are, rather than accepting and embracing our smallness. We spend our hole lives fighting that we are limited creatures who occupy a small place in a vast world. We grasp at all kinds of things to escape our smallness. It argues that our limitedness, our smallness, our frustrations with ourselves, and our inabilities are actually gifts from God. They’re actually moments of grace. It argues that we need to learn the profound reality that:

  • I am a creature.
  • I am human.
  • I am temporal.
  • I am transient.
  • I am finite.
  • I am not all-powerful.
  • I am not all-knowing.

Listen to this profound thought from Beloved Dust: “We cease to grasp how finite we are. When we are confronted with the loss of a job, a broken relationship, financial problems, death, sickness, frustration, and hurt of any kind and we create strategies to deal with life and try to generate a better existence, we end up dehumanizing ourselves and others. When we reject what we are, we become less than what we were made to be.”

Let me put it a different way. This morning I’ve been talking about how we are weak and small. We spend most of our lives trying to overcome this reality. We somehow think that if we do the right things we’ll escape our weakness and smallness.

But Luke and the Christmas story are inviting us into reality: that the good news is that we are weak and small. “Trying to defeat our limitedness is fighting against our nature and seeking to live against the grain of who we are.” You’ll take a lot of pressure off of yourself if you embrace your smallness and weakness. It’s not an accident. It’s how God created you. Stop trying to be something that you’re not. Embrace your smallness and your weakness. The truth about our smallness and weakness is actually a liberating one. What starts out as bad news actually becomes the best news of all.

Here’s why. Because:

Christmas gives the weak and small the two things we need most: praise and peace.

What happens when God’s glory collides with the weak and the small? Notice, by the way, that God’s glory skips right past the powerful. It’s almost like — in this story, anyways, and also in most of Scripture — that God just sidesteps the powerful, and shows up right in the middle of the small and the weak. It doesn’t hit Caesar Augustus; it comes to Joseph and Mary, and to the shepherds.

When it comes, it comes with a message that you could argue is the central theme of the Bible, the sum of God’s message to us. Here’s the message that the thousands of angels said as they appeared and praised God:

Glory to God in the highest, 
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!
(Luke 2:14)

I’m not exaggerating when I say that the whole of Christian Scripture, the entirety of Jesus’ life, can be summed up in this message. So let’s look at it together. It’s the two great purposes for Christmas, purposes that touch every one of us today.

“Glory to God in the highest.” The first thing that the angels do is praise God for what he’s done. The omnipotent, eternal Son of God has just “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7). God has “sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). The only appropriate way to respond is with praise to God.

So we have to begin here too. This is not a subject to just discuss and analyze. It calls for worship. Here’s what I think: Angels are pretty smart and powerful. They’ve seen a lot. I would imagine it’s pretty hard to surprise an angel. But when angels look at what God has done for us by sending his Son to us to be our Savior, they marvel. Their response is one of wonder and praise. 1 Peter 1:12 says that angels long to look into the gospel, into what God has done to save us. And they’re only spectators of God’s saving plan. We’re the recipients.

The point is this: If angels get excited about the birth of Jesus Christ and our salvation, how much more should we. If angels love to look at the work of God in saving sinners like us, how much more should we who are the very recipients of that salvation, not just onlookers. We should love to look into it and be thankful for it. Our whole lives should be ones of praise to God for what he’s done. “Glory to God in the highest!”

I’ve just finished talking about the fact that we’re small and weak. We tend to approach this as a problem. The angels here point us to a solution to our smallness and our weakness. Don’t worry about it. It’s not about us. Get over yourself. It’s all about him. Reorient your life around the glory of God, because it’s all about him, and then your smallness and your weakness won’t even be a problem. Look at the angels. See how amazed they are by what God has done by sending his Son for us. And then join them in being amazed as well. You were made to bow on your knees and join the angelic chorus in praising God for who he is and what he has done for you.

So that’s the first thing we learn. It’s one of the major themes of Scripture. Get over yourself. It’s not about you. You were meant to orbit around God’s greatness, to not just study it intellectually, but to be overcome emotionally by the reality of what God has done for you. Let it amaze you again in a fresh way.

But that’s not all: “on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” The peace that the angels mention is the peace that we need most of all. It’s not just an inward peace, although it includes that. It is a peace that touches every part of our lives. It’s a state of harmony between God and us, and with us and others.

The movie Unbroken is about Louis Zamperini, who was captured by the Japanese and held in a P.O.W. camp in Japan. In the P.O.W. camp, he’s brutally mistreated. Everything goes wrong. He’s stripped. He’s beaten. He’s punched in the face. One day they’re told to bathe in the ocean. As they walk into water, they realize they’re surrounded by soldiers with guns. They are sure that they’re about to be executed. But suddenly, Allied planes fly overhead. The war is over. Peace has come, and it changes everything: their status, their freedom, their relationships, everything.

The angels announce that this kind of peace has come to us at Christmas. It’s a peace with God, which is our most fundamental need. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). Through Jesus Christ, our sins have been forgiven. He has come to earth to bear our sins and to save us. Through Jesus Christ, we can have peace with God. God adopts us into our family. He is for us. We never have to wonder about where we stand with God anymore. This is the foundation for the peace that the angels talk about.

But it’s more than that. It begins to flood our lives with peace, a peace that is independent of circumstances. It’s what Paul talks about in Philippians: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). It’s the peace that Jesus promised: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).

It’s a peace that also seeps into our relationship with others. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).

But what’s important here is that this peace is not for everyone. It sounds shocking to say this, but it’s true. The angels say, “peace to those on whom he is pleased!” God’s peace is available to those he’s chosen. God’s peace is offered to all, but a response is required.

“On whom his favor rests.” I like that. It takes the pressure off us. A Savior has come, and he’s taken the initiative in pursuing us. One of the hardest things in the world is trying to earn someone else’s approval. It’s exhausting. You’re trying to impress someone else. You’re never sure of their response. You feel like you have to keep your guard up, that you can’t really be yourself. You’ve experienced that in a job interview or a first date, or when meeting someone you really want to impress. You’re on edge because you’re trying to earn their favor.

This passage frees us from that when it comes to God. If you are here today, if you are sensing that God is drawing you to himself, if you are sensing the beauty of Jesus, then the good news is that God is at work. You don’t have to impress him. It’s evidence that his favor rests upon you. You’re being called to respond, to receive with empty hands what Christ has done for you. Do that today. Receive it. You’ll never be the same.

Here’s what this passage tells us: Christmas brings God’s glory to the weak and small, and gives us the two things we need most: praise and peace.

I love what John Piper says about this passage:

There is hardly a better way to sum up what God was about when he created the world, or when he came to reclaim the world in Jesus Christ — his glory, our peace. His greatness, our joy. His beauty, our pleasure. The point of creation and redemption is that God is glorious and means to be known and praised for his glory by a peace-filled new humanity.

I began today by asking you if you ever feel small and weak. If you do, good news! That means that you grasp reality, because that’s exactly what you are. But here’s the good news that the angels announce: God has come to people who are weak and small just like us, and calls us to see his greatness, and promises to fill us with his peace.

As we close:

Respond and believe. Respond to what Jesus has done by sending his Son. If you sense him drawing yourself to him, don’t resist any longer. Bow your knee, and join the angels in worship so that you can receive that peace.

Worship him. You can’t look at what Jesus has done without bowing down in worship to the one who has done so much. As we respond in a few minutes, realize that you are joining angels who can’t get over what God has done. Enter into that worship today. Reorient yourself around his glory.

Receive his peace. No matter what is going on in your life, know today that he is for you. Bring yourself before him. Hand your anxieties over to him, and know that he will give you his peace even in the hardest circumstances of your life.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

The Ordinary, Extraordinary Birth

Big Idea: Jesus’ birth shows that God hasn’t given up on us, and has acted on our behalf.


Two years ago I met someone outside of a café in Liberty Village who told me that we needed to book all the party rooms in all the condos, and tell the story of Christmas. Don’t embellish it, she said. Just stick to the real story, because the community needs to hear it.

The person who told me this isn’t a Christian, but I think she was on to something. We need to hear the Christmas story again. I need to hear it again. As someone has said, familiarity with the Christmas story breeds laziness. Not contempt, but laziness. When we get lazy with the Christmas story, we lose its impact. The beginning of the greatest true story to ever take place becomes dulled.

So let’s look at the story. There’s a relatively small amount of ground to cover. The Bible devotes only four and a half chapters (out of 1,189) to Jesus’s first days. But the story is huge, and it never gets old.

I want to look with you today at one of the early story of Jesus’ birth, and what it means for us today.

As you may know, there are four gospels or biographies of Jesus in the Bible. The one we’re going to look at today is the Gospel of Matthew. It was written by an early follower of Jesus, based on eyewitness accounts, and circulated around 50 or 60 AD, within a few years of Jesus’ life.

It is the most widely used Christian gospel in the first two centuries. When early Christians began to put the Scriptures together, they put Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life first. So it’s an important account for us, and I want to look at what it says about Jesus’ birth.

Here’s the strange thing, at least for us. Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus. The first seventeen verses are all about Jesus’ bloodline. The problem? Genealogies typically hold very little interest for most of us, unless you’re into genealogical research. But Matthew, who was a skilled writer, put it first. He knew the value of a strong lead, and so it was no mistake. We have to ask ourselves what we’re missing when we skip over the genealogy to get to the good stuff. But just file it away for a second: the story of Jesus begins with a genealogy.

But then, in verse 18, we meet Mary and Joseph. They’re betrothed. Weddings back then usually took place when the man was about 18, and the woman was in her early teens. Betrothal was a legally binding commitment to get married, that could not be broken except by divorce. Prior to marriage, they lived apart, and were expected to refrain from sexual relations until they were married.

So when Joseph finds out that Mary is pregnant, it’s a serious matter. He knows that he wasn’t the Father, and that Mary could be put to death in that day for sleeping with another man. He decides to keep things quiet, and to divorce her quietly to minimize the impact. But then an angel appears, and tells Joseph that the child was conceived as a direct result of the Holy Spirit. This is a supernatural birth. The baby will be the promised Messiah, the fulfillment of all the promises of Scripture. He will be the very presence of God with man: Immanuel, God With Us.

Joseph does what the angel commands, and took Mary to be his wife, but doesn’t have sexual relations with her until after the birth of Jesus.

So that’s the story. Matthew’s account doesn’t tell us everything. For example, he does not mention the lives of Mary and Joseph in Nazareth, the appearance of the angel to Mary, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, the census, the trip to Bethlehem, the lack of room in the inn, or the manger. We’ll have to look to other accounts for this. But you have the basic points: Jesus has a genealogy, and Jesus’ birth is supernatural.


At this point you probably have two questions. The first has to do with the plausibility of all of this. Angels? Virgin births? The Messiah? It all seems so implausible. I get it. I talked to a an recently who said that he couldn’t accept the miracles of the Bible because he believes in science. It’s important, though, to understand that this, too, is a belief system. It’s called philosophical naturalism, the view that the material world is all that exists, and that there is no such thing as God or supernatural intervention, and that science explains everything. I don’t think we realize how steeped we are in this view. Many of us were taught this growing up. The problem is, it’s also a view that falls short.

If you have a hard time believing in the existence of angels and miracles, at least consider that it’s because you have a prior commitment to your own belief system. Be willing to look at that belief system as well as Christianity’s. Don’t just assume that your belief system is accurate. Be willing to look at Scripture, which says on every page that there is a God who is involved in this world, who created science, and is not only powerful enough to create everything that we see around us, but can intervene in a supernatural way. That’s one question we have to get out of the way, because Scripture does say that Jesus’ birth was supernatural.

There’s a second question, though, we need to ask. What does all of this mean? We’ve talked about the genealogy, the pregnancy, and the angel’s announcement about Jesus?

Here’s what I think Matthew is telling us. I really want you to hear this. It’s important. Jesus’ birth shows that God hasn’t given up on us, and has acted on our behalf. Let me say that again: Jesus’ birth shows that God hasn’t given up on us, and has acted on our behalf.

The genealogy shows us that Jesus is part of a bigger story, of which we’re a part. It’s a story that shows us that although God could have given up on us, he hasn’t. In fact, the birth of Jesus marks a new beginning.

The miraculous birth shows us God hasn’t just refused to give up, but he’s acted in a way that we never could. He has has taken the initiative and has acted decisively for you.

Let me show you what this means for your life. If you thought the genealogy is boring, you’re going to be surprised that a lot of what I’m going to say comes from the genealogy.

God doesn’t give up. The genealogy reminds us that Jesus is part of a story that began much earlier, a story that includes us. The Bible tells us that our story began with our first ancestors, who rebelled against God. Their rebellion introduced evil into this world, which has infected everything. It’s what’s led to sickness, loss, and death — everything bad that we can imagine. Humanity has become slaves to the evil rule of sin and death, rather than to the good reign of God.

But here’s the good news: “God did not simply walk away from his creation in the midst of turmoil and rebellion but purposed to rescue it at great cost to himself” (Andreas J. Köstenberger and Alexander Stewart). Jesus is the hinge point in the story of God’s reclamation project. Long ago, God promised that he would crush the head of the Serpent, who tempted our ancestors with evil. He then chose a family, which is where the genealogy starts. And then within the family, he chose a tribe. And then, generations later, he chose the bloodline of King David. You read the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures, and you wonder: will God keep his promise? The people keep getting worse and worse. The promises don’t seem to be getting any closer to fulfillment. Entire centuries go by without anything seemingly happening. When the Old Testament ends, the promised offspring hasn’t come. God’s people are in exile. David’s kingdom has been defeated. The world has not been set right.

And then comes Matthew 1:1: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”

Finally, our reader finds resolution to the tension introduced in Genesis. Jesus is the promised seed who will set everything right! The entire Old Testament progressively narrows down the identity of God’s Messiah until the day he finally arrives— the day God comes to his creation to undo the work of the fall, destroy the works of the Devil, and begin to set things right. (Köstenberger and Stewart)

In fact, the first two Greek words of Matthew — we translate them “the book of the genealogy” — echo the first words of the Bible that introduce creation. It means that God is hitting the reset button, and giving us a new start in Jesus Christ. He’s making all things new.

God is incredibly patient. He doesn’t give up. He puts up with an awful lot. He does this for a long time. But count on it: God keeps his promises. You’re included. There’s no disappointment, no setback that can stand in the way of his purposes for your life. God just doesn’t give up.

God doesn’t write us off. I love the people listed in this genealogy. You have great people, but even the great people weren’t all that great. Abraham pimped out his wife. David committed adultery and committed murder. And those are the good guys. You also have four women listed in the genealogy, which would have been very unusual back then. All four women were outsiders to Israel with questionable backgrounds.

  • Tamar was a Canaanite who disguised herself as a prostitute in order to seduce Judah.
  • Rahab was a Canaanite prostitute who lied to protect the Israelite spies and helped overthrow Jericho.
  • Ruth was a Moabite woman who moved to Israel upon the death of her husband.
  • Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite; King David married Bathsheba after fathering a child by her and killing her husband.

Matthew is showing us that God is gracious. He doesn’t write us off, despite our sordid stories and questionable pasts. God actively seeks to restore sinners and include us in his story. There’s nothing that you have done that excludes you from the grace of God. God doesn’t write us off, no matter what he’s done.

God is sovereign even when he seems absent. Matthew divides the genealogies into three periods of fourteen generations: Abraham to David, David to the exile, and the exile to Jesus. Matthew is showing that God was in control of history, even through the most difficult periods of Israel’s history. God is in control, even of the difficult parts of our stories. He’s sovereign and active even when he seems absent.

God has done what we couldn’t do for ourselves. You may be asking yourself why the virgin birth was so important. John Frame gives five reasons:

The virgin birth is doctrinally important because of: (1) The doctrine of Scripture. If Scripture errs here, then why should we trust its claims about other supernatural events, such as the resurrection? (2) The deity of Christ. While we cannot say dogmatically that God could enter the world only through a virgin birth, surely the incarnation is a supernatural event if it is anything. To eliminate the supernatural from this event is inevitably to compromise the divine dimension of it. (3) The humanity of Christ. This was the important thing to Ignatius and the second century fathers. Jesus was really born; he really became one of us. (4) The sinlessness of Christ. If he were born of two human parents, it is very difficult to conceive how he could have been exempted from the guilt of Adam’s sin and become a new head to the human race. And it would seem only an arbitrary act of God that Jesus could be born without a sinful nature. Yet Jesus’ sinlessness as the new head of the human race and as the atoning lamb of God is absolutely vital to our salvation (Rom. 5: 18– 19; 2 Cor. 5: 21; Heb. 4: 15; 7: 26; 1 Pet. 2: 22– 24). (5) The nature of grace. The birth of Christ, in which the initiative and power are all of God, is an apt picture of God’s saving grace in general of which it is a part. It teaches us that salvation is by God’s act, not our human effort.

I want to focus on the last reason. The virgin birth of Jesus reminds us that salvation is of the Lord. It’s all his doing, and it’s not by human effort. It’s all of God’s grace. God has acted in history and has done what we couldn’t do for ourselves.

Two years ago, my friend told me that we need to hear the real Christmas story. She was right. Here’s what I needed to hear today. Jesus’ birth shows that God hasn’t given up on us, and has acted on our behalf.

So here’s what I want to invite you to do. Bring yourself to Jesus, who has never given up on you. Your story is not too messy for him. He has acted in history to send his Son for people like us. The real story of Christmas is about a God who just won’t give up on us, and who has intervened in history to give us His Son to save us. Let’s come to him today.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Beware of Church (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7)

Big Idea: It’s dangerous to worship God, so guard your steps, listen well, do what you say, and hope in Christ.


This afternoon you’ve come to church. You may have fought with someone right before you came. You may have come on time; you may have come late. You may be thinking about what you’re doing for dinner. You may be able to relate to the people in this video. We look good when we arrived, and we’re on our best behavior, but what’s really going on in our lives when we show up to worship?

What may be surprising to you today is what this passage tells us: you’ve come to a dangerous place this afternoon. Please don’t tell our insurance broker, but this is a dangerous place. Pastor and author Eugene Peterson put it this way:

Sometimes I think that all religious sites should be posted with signs reading, “Beware the God.” The places and occasions that people gather to attend to God are dangerous. They're glorious places and occasions, true, but they're also dangerous. Danger signs should be conspicuously placed, as they are at nuclear power stations. Religion is the death of some people.

Did you hear that? Beware the God. You are coming to a dangerous place this afternoon. 

In the book of Exodus, Moses went up the mountain to meet with God. Think about the privilege that it would have been to meet with holy God. In the preparations for this meeting, the people were warned not to come near the mountain because of the danger. We read in Exodus 19 that the mountain was wrapped in smoke, and that God descended in fire, and that the entire mountain trembled. The sound was overwhelming. God warned the people to stay back from the mountain so that God didn’t break out against them. Even an animal approaching the mountain would have to be stoned to death. Beware the God!

Let me say it again: you are coming to a dangerous place this afternoon. It’s dangerous to worship God, so be careful. We’re especially in danger because many of us have had afternoons like the one we just saw on the film. You may have stayed up too late last night. You may have fought on the way here. Who knows what’s happened? It’s easy to come in here without adequately preparing for what’s going to take place.

This afternoon’s passage helps us understand the danger we face when we come to worship God together, and how we should act as a result.

Main Idea: Guard Your Steps

We’ve been studying the book of Ecclesiastes together. Ecclesiastes is a book of the Bible that’s intended to help us understand how to live wisely in the world. It’s probing the meaning of life and helping us understand where and how to find true meaning. He’s visited the courtroom, the marketplace, the highway, and the palace. Now he visits the temple and considers what happens there.

Listen to what the Teacher says about worshiping God. Verse 1 says, “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.” There you have the core of what he’s going to tell us in this passage. He’s putting up a danger sign for us. He’s essentially saying:

Be careful…Think of what you are about to do. You are not just dropping in on a neighbor for a friendly chat. You are not just passing time with a friend. You are going to “the house of God.” You are going to the place where the almighty Creator stoops down to meet with you. “Guard your steps!” Think of Moses meeting God at the burning bush. God said to him, “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). “Guard your steps!” (Sidney Greidanus)

What he’s doing is issuing a warning, and it’s one we probably need to hear. His warning is for those of us who are well-meaning and who show up for church, who like to sing a good song and hear a good sermon, but sometimes find it hard to pay attention. It’s for those of us whose thoughts wander, and who are full of good intentions, but who never quite follow through. The Teacher is warning us against sleepwalking through church. You don’t come to worship God half-awake and stumble your way through worship and then stumble out.

According to Derek Kidner, these words are for “the well-meaning person who likes a good sing and turns up cheerfully enough to church; but who listens with half an ear, and never quite gets round to what he has volunteered to do for God.” In other words, the Preacher is speaking to just about everyone who ever goes to church.

Did you see the video of the lady who was texting while walking though a mall? She walked out of a department store texting on her phone. She kept walking and she walked right into the fountain out of the store. A security video caught this, and they posted it on YouTube. She’s an example of how many of us spend our lives: half-present, not even aware of what’s going on around us.

Business guru Seth Godin writes:

Yes, you shouldn't text while driving, or talk on the cell phone, or argue with your dog or drive blindfolded. It's an idiot move, one that often leads to death (yours or someone else's).

I don't think you should text while working, either. Or use social networking software of any kind for that matter. And you probably shouldn't eat crunchy chips, either.

He’s saying: Don’t go through life half-present. I think the Teacher would add: Even if you do go through life half-there, don’t do this at church. Don’t text and worship. Don’t show up half-awake and stumble through what’s taking place here, because we come to meet with the God of the universe. This is not safe. It shouldn’t be approached casually.

What does this mean? The Teacher gives us two specific instructions on how we can guard our steps as we come to worship God.

First: Come prepared to listen to God and his Word.

Read verses 1 to 3:

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil.  Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes with much business, and a fool's voice with many words.

There’s something strange going on as we gather together. There’s an old book on writing called If You Want to Write that’s become a classic. The first chapter of the book is: “Everybody is talented, original, and has something important to say.” We’re steeped now in this way of thinking. Self-expression is huge. We tweet. We blog. We share our thoughts on Facebook. We’re used to speaking and telling others what we have to think.

The danger is that we’ll come to worship with this attitude as well. The Teacher essentially says in these verses that we should come to worship with the expectation that we listen more than talk. The picture is that of a worshiper walking into the house of God, the holy sanctuary. It would have been the temple in Jerusalem when this was written, but it applies to any place that is set aside for worship. The Teacher is telling us that there’s a right way and a wrong way to enter as we come to worship God.

The right way is to come with our ears wide-open. We come to sit and to receive what God has written in his Holy Word. As we worship, it’s time to read and preach the Word of God. Philip Ryken says, “Understand that whenever we go to worship, we enter the presence of a holy God who has gathered his holy people to hear his Holy Word.”

The wrong way is to come a little too quick to speak. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.

Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter.

The Teacher would agree. He cautions us not to be rash with our mouths, not to be quick to utter words before God. We should come prepared to hear what God has to say.

The reason he gives us is at the end of verse 2: “For God is in heaven and you are on earth.” In other words, remember the tremendous distance between God and us. God is in heaven; we are on earth. God is far superior to us. He is infinite; we are limited. He is Creator; we are created. His thoughts aren’t our thoughts; his ways are higher than our ways. Gregory of Nyssa wrote, “Knowing how widely the divine nature differs from our own, let us quietly remain within our proper limits.”

So we have to come to listen, to hear. I can’t tell you how important this is. Take what we’re doing right now. I’m speaking; you’re listening. It seems wrong for one person to do all the speaking - unless the person doing the speaking isn’t speaking for themselves. The only way it makes sense for one person to be speaking is if the person is speaking on behalf of someone else who does deserve to be heard. Thabiti Anyabwile puts it this way:

The Christian worship service is inherently dialogical.  The dialogue, however, involves a more important party than any living human.  The Lord of the Universe speaks during the service.  We have the wondrous privilege of being able to speak to Him as a community of saints.  When God speaks through the exposition of His word there certainly will be many reactions, but as our Sovereign speaks there should not be an interruption in favor of our pooling our comments and sharing our insights.  Our best wisdom is foolishness before God.  Better to first listen to the One who speaks, then talk with one another about it afterward. 

So I’d better come prepared to speak not my words but God’s. And all of us should come, guarding our steps, prepared to hear from God and his Word. Come expecting God to speak, and don’t interrupt. Respond, but don’t interrupt.

But that’s not all.

Second, the Teacher says, do what you say.

Read verses 4-6:

When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? (Ecclesiastes 5:4-6) 

In Bible times, people made vows to God, often in the context of public worship. The problem is that it’s much easier to make a vow than to keep it. The Bible is very clear that when we make a vow to God, we’re required to keep it. It’s much better to not make a vow than to make a vow and then not keep it. Deuteronomy 23:21-23 says:

If you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the LORD your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin. But if you refrain from vowing, you will not be guilty of sin. You shall be careful to do what has passed your lips, for you have voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God what you have promised with your mouth.

That’s exactly what the Teacher is saying. God takes it very seriously when we make promises to him and then fail to keep them. It’s a dangerous thing to come into worship and make promises to God and then not keep them.

It’s dangerous thing to stand before God and to promise to live together as husband and wife “till death do us part.”

It’s dangerous thing to present our children before the Lord and vow to instruct them in the Christian faith and to lead them into Christian discipleship.

It’s dangerous to read a covenant in church and make vows before the Lord of how we will relate to each other.

It’s dangerous to pray and make commitments to God.

It’s dangerous to sing many of the songs we sing: “O Jesus, I have promised to serve thee to the end.” “Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold.” “Jesus, all for Jesus, all I am and have and ever hope to be.” “I will follow you all of my days.”

It’s dangerous to vow to give a certain amount to God and then renege. Verse 6 is about that. The Teacher seems to be referring to the vow that people made to pay a certain sum to the temple treasury. When they failed to come through, the priest or some other messenger would come and visit them to remind them of their vow. People might respond that their vow was unintentional, a mistake. The Teacher says that God isn’t fooled by our games. “Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands?”

It’s a dangerous thing to make promises to God. So think carefully before you do. Guard your steps when you go into the house of God. Listen to his Word, and make sure you keep the promises you make before him. Don’t be a deadbeat worshiper.

All of this is capped off with verse 7: “For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear” (Ecclesiastes 5:7). It’s dangerous to worship God, so listen well and do what you say. Fear God. Instead of multiplying words, fear God. Fear is not cowering in terror. It’s recognizing that God is God, and that we’re to enter his presence with reverence and awe. Guard your steps as you come to worship him. God struck down seventy people because they looked into the Ark of the Covenant (1 Samuel 6:19). He struck down another for touching the Ark of the Covenant when it was about to fall (2 Samuel 6). In Acts 5 a husband and wife died for lying to the LORD. Our God is a consuming fire. We come to a God who is good, but he is not safe. 

Our Response

What we really need is what one person experienced with a tornado. You can talk about tornados and read about tornados. You can watch Twister dozens of times but not be changed. But what happens when you’re actually in a tornado? Don Ratzlaff writes:

[Since] last spring ... I look for tornadoes. ... One personal encounter with a power that before was only theoretical can make all the difference. You live differently after that. You respect the power. You live in awe of its presence and tremble to think of its potential. Above all, you live in profound humility because you recognize your inability to control it.

If all this for tornadoes, then what of the Almighty God? I am reminded of the quote from C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where Mr. Beaver describes the might and majesty of Aslan, the lion-God. When he finishes, Lucy asks, "Is--is he safe?" Replies Mr. Beaver: "Safe? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King I tell you." This is our God: hardly safe but thoroughly good. We cling to the King in fear, but much too afraid to let go.

What happens when we experience God, when we get a glimpse of his other-ness, when we’re gripped with holy fear? It will change you.

Somebody paraphrased this passage:

How brazen and dishonest people are
with their religion. They will go so far
with it as suits their needs; so they attend
the services and sing the hymns, and when
they have to, give a little money to
the Lord. But do they live as one should do
who’s made a vow to God? Don’t kid yourself.
Among their friends their faith is on the shelf….

Remember, God knows everything.
He knows our hearts when we before him bring
our worship, and you can’t fool him. So take
a good look at yourself before you make
your next appearance before the Lord. And go
to listen, not to speak, for he will know
just what you need. Why, any fool can spout
a lovely prayer or sing a hymn about
his faith. His words are mindless, like a dream,
although to people looking on they seem
impressive. Not to God….

For words are cheap,
just like the dreams you have while you’re asleep.
God wants your heart, my son, not just a show.
Get right with him before you to him go.
(T.M. Moore)

Annie Dillard writes:

Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday afternoon. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.

Let me tell you a couple of ways that we need to respond.

First: we need a new reverence of God, a new sense of awe for what takes place here. We really need to raise the stakes and raise our expectations. We can’t afford to worship casually. We come to a God who is a consuming fire.

Second: we need to ground our confidence. Listen: the people could not approach God’s holy mountain. God told them to stay away. Moses himself trembled in fear before God. They had to kill even animals that approached the mountain. God is a consuming fire. But the writer to the Hebrews says we can approach God with confidence.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

It’s dangerous to worship God, so guard your steps. Listen well and do what you say. And most of all, put your hope in the great High Priest who makes it possible for us to approach God in worship.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Three Ways to Live (Ecclesiastes 4:7-16)

I want to introduce you to three type of people you will meet in Liberty Village. Although the passage we’re reading was written at least 2,400 years ago, it accurately describes people that you can go out and meet today right around here. Not only that, but it helps us think about what we want to do with our lives. It's a choice between three ways of living.

So let’s look at the three people we see in this passage, and all around us today. And let’s consider where we see ourselves in this picture.

First Person: The Hard-Working Professional

Here’s the first picture, found in verses 7 and 8:

Again, I saw vanity under the sun: one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business. (Ecclesiastes 4:7-8)

This person has a lot going for them:

  • They’re independent. They can live however they please.
  • They have a job, and a demanding one.
  • They have money.

In other words, this is the prototypical Liberty Village professional. Picture someone who has a great job, and who works long hours. Relationships have come and gone. But they’re doing okay. They have the condo. They have some money saved away. They can pretty much buy whatever they want. They’re not rich, but there’s enough money to buy some nice stuff for themselves. It’s a pretty good life overall.

You meet people like this around here every week. In fact, we praise this type of person. They know what they want. They make tough choices to get there. If you’re hiring, you’d gladly have this person working for you.

Yet there are problems with this picture. The Teacher examines this picture and finds two problems. The first is that success comes at a pretty steep price. Verse 8 speaks of a viscous circle: there’s no end to the toil. Why? Because they’re never satisfied. No matter how much they earn, it’s never quite enough. Last year’s bonus was nice, but unless you beat last year’s performance you’re not going to get a bonus this year, so you have to work even harder this year. So you’re caught in this treadmill of never having done quite enough. The carrot on the stick is always just slightly out of reach no matter how fast you run, so you keep running faster, but you never quite catch up.

You see this quite often. The stuff that we think will make us happy ultimately doesn’t. No job, no possession, no pleasure is enough to fulfill the desires of our heart. They work for a while, but Ecclesiastes hits the nail on the head: “his eyes are never satisfied with riches.” No matter what we have, it never fully satisfies our desires.

There’s another problem. This person is successful but solitary. Verse eight says that they have “no other, either son nor brother.” It doesn’t really bother them most of the time, but it’s only because they try to avoid thinking about it. Verse 8 says that they never ask, “Why am I doing this? Who is it all for?” The Teacher concludes with these words: “This also is vanity and an unhappy business.”

This is a big help. The Teacher is warning us not to do this with our lives. Don’t become a successful, solitary person, he’s saying. It’s just not worth it. You’ll end up enslaved to your work, never really satisfied, and you’ll have no-one to share it with.

Let’s pause here and take a minute to reflect. We live in a world in which we have to make choices. You can’t have it all. Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Perpetual devotion to what man calls his business is only to be sustained by perpetual neglect of many other things.” I know that some of you are facing pressures at work and you’re making difficult choices. If you don’t keep up, there are others who will gladly take your place.

The Teacher is holding up a picture and asking, “Is this what you want?” Are you sacrificing your relationships for the sake of a career that will leave you successful but solitary? I like how Tim Keller puts it:

Sin isn't only doing bad things, it is more fundamentally making good things into ultimate things. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything, even a very good thing, more than on God. Whatever we build our life on will drive us and enslave us. Sin is primarily idolatry…

If you center your life and identity on your work and career, you will be a driven workaholic and a boring, shallow person. At worst you will lose family and friends and, if your career goes poorly, develop deep depression.

If you center your life and identity on money and possessions, you'll be eaten up by worry or jealousy about money. You'll be willing to do unethical things to maintain your lifestyle, which will eventually blow up your life.

This is the first type of person. It’s actually the default mode in our culture. And yet Ecclesiastes says that there’s a problem living this way. You can be a success and attain all your dreams, and it still won’t be enough. In fact, you’ll be enslaved, because success is an idol that always wants more.

So let’s look at the third person that we see in this passage.

Third Person: The Popular Person

I want to look now at the third person that the Teacher gives us, before we go back and look at the second. The first picture is of a successful, solitary person. The third picture is of a politically successful but solitary individual. It’s a little hard to untangle, but let’s see if we can understand the picture that he gives us in verses 13 to 16:

Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice. For he went from prison to the throne, though in his own kingdom he had been born poor. I saw all the living who move about under the sun, along with that youth who was to stand in the king's place. There was no end of all the people, all of whom he led. Yet those who come later will not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and a striving after wind. (Ecclesiastes 4:13-16)

There’s some debate about the details of this picture. Here is, as best as I can see, what it means. There’s an old and foolish king who’s lost touch and who won’t take advice. For the sake of argument, let's call him Stephen. Perhaps he’s fired his advisors. I can think of a number of politicians who have done this. Once they reach the top they stop listening, and eventually they drift towards irrelevance. Everyone’s glad when they’re gone.

But then someone new and better comes along. He comes from nowhere. He was born poor. He captures the imagination of the people and inspires them to hope again. For the sake of argument, let's call him Justin. He’s immensely popular. “There was no end of all the people, all of whom he led.” Again, I can think of many examples of new leaders who have come to power and have inspired hope. Their popularity levels have been off the charts. It actually reads like the Canadian newspapers these past couple of weeks.

But the Teacher shows us where this leads. “Yet those who come later will not rejoice in him.” People are fickle. This new and better king will become yesterday’s news before very long. The Teacher is showing us that the life guided by wisdom, who rises from obscurity to the pinnacles of achievement, and who receives the adulation of millions - that life is also futile and useless in the end. The Teacher says it’s “also is vanity and a striving after wind.”

It’s like what the actor Jim Carrey said: “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it's not the answer.” The Teacher would agree with that. You can attain the respect and admiration of the crowds, but in the end be left alone because your friends are not true friends. They’re just fans who will eventually move on to the next new thing.

Do you realize that the Teacher has just put the spotlight on two of the things that we value most: career success, and fame and popularity? George Harrison - one of the Beatles - said:

At first we all thought we wanted the fame. After a bit we realized that fame wasn't really what we were after at all, just the fruits of it. After the initial excitement and thrill had worn off, I, for one, became depressed. Is this all we have to look forward to in life? Being chased around by a crowd of hooting lunatics from one crappy hotel room to the next?

Maybe on a more personal level, the Teacher would caution us about building surface relationships that aren’t really true friendships. You can have a lot of Facebook friends without really having intimate connections. Don’t live to become a successful, solitary person, the Teacher tells us. And don’t live to become someone who lives for the acclaim of the people, because you’ll die as alone as the solitary person in the first picture. Neither one is really the destination you want to choose for your life.

So if success and popularity won’t satisfy, what will?

Second Person: The Person in Genuine Community

How, then, should we live? In the middle of these two negative pictures, the Teacher gives us a positive one. Read verses 9 to 12:

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

In contrast to the successful and solitary person, or the person who achieves temporary fame and acclaim, the Teacher offers us a picture of someone who is in genuine community. It’s the only one of the three pictures that doesn’t end with a pronouncement of vanity. This, the Teacher says, is what we should aim for. Genuine community is better than solitary success or popularity. It’s what we need in our lives.

The Teacher tells us four benefits of genuine community.

First, we’ll have a larger profit. “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.” Two people working together often produce more than twice what they’d produce alone. Not only that, but it’s a lot more fulfilling to share the rewards of hard work with another.

Second, we’ll find help in times of need. “For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” When you used to go swimming as a kid, you were probably told to use the buddy system. When they blow the whistle, you need to make sure that your buddy is okay. You can’t be responsible for everyone in the pool, but you can be responsible for your buddy. We need the same thing in life. We need others who have our back.

Third, we’ll have more comfort. “Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?” This one sounds strange to us. It’s not talking about a married couple. It’s probably speaking of the travel that took place on dangerous roads in the ancient Middle East. They would sleep outdoors at night. On cold nights, a single cloak would not be enough. You may not be comfortable with the thought of huddling under a pair of cloaks on the side of the road, and that’s okay. But you too have found comfort in community. You’ve experienced the warmth of friendship. You know what he’s talking about.

Finally, you have greater protection. “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” When you’re alone, you’re vulnerable. When you’re in community, you have greater protection. Spurgeon said, “Communion is strength; solitude is weakness. Alone, the free old beech yields to the blast and lies prone on the meadow. In the forest, supporting each other, the trees laugh at the hurricane. The sheep of Jesus flock together. The social element is the genius of Christianity.”

Genuine community is better than solitary success or popularity. It’s what we need in our lives.

This Fall we’ve spent some time talking about our strategy as a church. As a church we want to do only three things, but we want to do them really well. One of those three things that we want to do is to build community. We want — we need — genuine community. Today’s passage has explained to us why this is so important. Success and popularity is nice, but genuine community is even more important. We need to know and be known.

Many of us are scared by this. Maybe you can relate to what one person said: “I was willing to trust Christ, but I was not ready to trust the body of Christ" (Nate Larkin).

I want to ask you honestly to answer four questions from this text:

  • Do you have someone in your life who is helping you be more productive spiritually?
  • Do you have a buddy who knows you’re down, who will notice when you’re in trouble, and who will pick you up when you fall?
  • Do you know what it’s like to find comfort in the friendships you have with other believers?
  • Do you have the protection that comes from being in this together rather than going at it alone?

There’s a limit to what you can do in life alone. It’s futile! Jesus invites us into community characterized by love. I never get tired of reading what Jesus said right before he offered his life for us:

No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. (John 15:15-17)

Here’s an example of someone who did this:

One of the most important moments of my spiritual life was when I sat down with a longtime friend and said, "I don't want to have any secrets anymore."

I told him everything I was most ashamed of. I told him about my jealousies, my cowardice, how I hurt my wife with my anger. I told him about my history with money and my history with sex. I told him about deceit and regrets that keep me up at night. I felt vulnerable because I was afraid that I was going to lose connection with him. Much to my surprise, he did not even look away.

I will never forget his next words. "John," he said. "I have never loved you more than I love you right now." The very truth about me that I thought would drive him away became a bond that drew us closer together. He then went on to speak with me about secrets he had been carrying.

If I keep part of my life secret from you, you may tell me you love me. But inside I think that you would not love me if you knew the whole truth about me. I can only receive love from you to the extent that I am known by you. (John Ortberg)

I don’t want us to think that church is just this - sitting in pews and then leaving. Church is community. It’s loving. It’s costly love. We can get started by taking relational risks and just beginning to build strong connections with others in this room. It’s time to break through.

Here’s what you can do. You can become someone who pushes toward genuine community. If enough of us do this, it won’t take long before we infect this whole church with a taste of what it’s like. It begins with committing to more than attending services. It means getting plugged in to a small group. We were built for relationships like this in which we can drop the mask and find the community that we really need.

Choose your goals carefully. Don’t become a solitary, successful person. Don’t become someone who lives for popularity. Develop genuine community. Let’s begin by seeing Jesus who called us friends, and who called us to become friends who love one another.

Father, we want to be known. We want to drop the masks and stop pretending. But we’re scared. So I pray that you would help us today.

I thank you that the gospel frees us from pretending and brings us into community with you. I pray that you would help us enter into the relationship that you has provided for us through Jesus Christ, in which we can stop hiding from you. We can be fully known and accepted through the gospel, through what Jesus has done for us. We want this, and we long for this today. Thank you for Jesus, who have his life for us, who accepted us when we were at our worst, and who invites us into intimacy with you. I pray that all of us would receive that today.

And then I pray that you would help us enter into community here. It’s what we need more than success or popularity. We’re scared of it, and yet we need it. I pray that every person here would enter the freedom of dropping masks and finding safety and friendship with others. And I pray that this invitation would extend into our community. I pray this all in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

You and the Church (Ephesians 3:1-13)

Big Idea: God uses unlikely people, and they get to be part of his church.


There is only one cause in all the world today that will still matter a bazillion years from today.  You can be involved, and on terms of grace.  You can bring your weakness to the table, and the risen Christ brings his Spirit to the table, and you walk away clothed with power from on high to promote a kingdom that has no end.

That’s how Ray Ortlund Jr. began a sermon recently, and it’s a good way for us to begin today.

We’re concluding a series today on the church. Over the past three weeks we’ve talked about our strategy as a church. God wants us to go deeper into the gospel, deeper into fellowship, and farther into mission. That’s it. Everything that we do is going to be one or more of these things. There isn’t anything that we will do that doesn’t fit into one of these categories. This is what God is calling us to be and do as a church.

Today I want to finish with one simple question: Will you bring your weakness, and be part of what God is doing through the church?

My sermon is simple today. I have only two points, and then I want to ask you if you’re going to play your part. Here’s my first point.

God uses unlikely people.

Read verses 1 to 7 again with me:

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. (Ephesians 3:1-7)

As Paul wrote this letter, he was probably under house arrest in Rome. If the average person had met Paul, they probably would have seen him as nothing more than a common prisoner waiting trial. But as you read this passage, you see that Paul understands that he is part of something much bigger. In verse 2 he talks about being a steward of God's grace. Paul sees himself as having a God-given role in making the gospel known to others, specifically to the Gentiles who hadn't heard it yet.

This gospel never ceased to amaze Paul. He's already told us that what the gospel is in chapter two. First: God has taken spiritually dead people and has made us alive by grace through faith. "But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved" (Ephesians 2:4-5). Second: God has already begun to unite all things together again in Christ, and he's begun in the church. He's done this by breaking through all the barriers that divide us to make us into a new humanity in Christ. He alludes to this again in this chapter, verses 5 and 6: God has revealed something now that nobody in previous generations understood. Sure, they understood that Gentiles would be included in God's plan. But nobody ever thought that Gentiles would one day be on completely equal footing before God. We are, Paul says in verse 6, "are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus."

In other words, Paul realized that he was part of something much bigger: part of the plan of God who created all things. Notice the change that it made:

He calls himself a "prisoner of Jesus Christ" in verse 1. Not a prisoner of Caesar, but a prisoner of Jesus. He could see that God, not Nero, was in control, and had put him right where he wanted him.

He said "on behalf of you Gentiles." Paul had been arrested because of his association with Gentiles. He could see that his suffering had a purpose. It wasn't just random. He was giving his life to a purpose that transcended his imprisonment.

He spoke of becoming a "a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace" (verse 7). Most of the time, I think we tend to talk about what we do for God. Paul didn't. He saw ministry not as his gift to God, but God's gift to him.

Then notice his humility in verse 8. He calls himself “the least of all the Lord's people.” This isn't false humility. Paul knew that he was in need of God's grace as much as any person who has ever followed the LORD.

Because Paul grasped the gospel and his part in it, he had confidence and hope even in the middle of trials. He knew he was part of something bigger, and it gave him hope even under house arrest. Understanding the gospel gives us confidence and hope in our trials.

We all need to live for something bigger than ourselves. Paul David Tripp writes, "There is woven inside each of us a desire for something more - a craving to be part of something bigger, greater, and more profound than our relatively meaningless day-to-day existence." That longing to be part of something more in your life - that's God given.

What is it? It's the gospel. Understanding the gospel allowed Paul to see his life completely differently. The same thing can happen for us. Instead of seeing ourselves as a teacher, or an entrepreneur, or a church planter, we can see ourselves servants working for Jesus Christ. When we suffer, we can see that even our suffering has a purpose. When we serve God, we can see the ministry as a gift from God rather than an obligation or something we're doing for God. And it will give us a humility, because we'll marvel that God has chosen us even though we are the least of all of God's people. Understanding the gospel gives us confidence and hope in our trials.

Here’s what I want you to know: You matter. You. Not extraordinary you. I’m talking about ordinary you. Let me quote Ray Ortlund again:

Don’t waste your life in the false peace of worldly comfort and small ambition and being cool.  Jesus is looking for gospel hooligans who want to get messy and relevant and involved.  He wants to use you for the advance of the gospel.  Don’t miss out.  Don’t settle for a life that won’t matter forever.  Do you want people to say at your funeral, “What a nice person,” and that’s it?  Your life can count for many people forever.  All he asks of you, all you can do, is keep listening to him moment by moment and then take your next step, whatever that might be.  You provide your weakness and need.  He provides his strength, his wisdom, everything.  And if we will together live that way on mission, we will experience what only God can do.

If you ever go to the south coast of England, I hope you get a chance to stare out over the English Channel and imagine what happened there in the spring of 1940. Hitler had the Allied Forces in a corner and was getting ready to invade Great Britain. His troops were closing in on the Allies in what was going to be an easy kill. Nearly a quarter million young British soldiers and over 100,000 allied troops faced capture or death, and the Royal Navy could only save a small fraction of this number.

But a bizarre fleet of ships appeared on the horizon of the English Channel. Trawlers, tugs, fishing sloops, lifeboats, sailboats, pleasure craft, an island ferry named Gracie Fields, and even the America's Cup challenger Endeavor, all manned by civilian sailors, sped to the rescue. The ragtag armada eventually rescued 338,682 men and returned them home to the shores of England, as pilots of the Royal Air Force jockeyed with the German Luftwaffe in the skies above the channel. It was one of the most remarkable naval operations in history. It didn’t involve warships and destroyers. It involved trawlers and pleasure craft. And for those few days they were more than trawlers and fishing boats, and they could put up with all kinds of trials because they had a purpose. You can have the same thing happen in your life. It's the gospel that gives us purpose that we're part of something much bigger even in our trials.

God can use you, friends. Don’t waste your life. Be part of what he is doing. And that leads me to my second point.

We get to be part of something huge: the church that God is building.

God uses ordinary people, but what he does with them is extraordinary.

Look at verses 10 to 11 with me. Not only did Paul see his life as part of something bigger, but he looked around and saw that as the mystery of the gospel was being revealed, God was accomplishing something that boggles our minds. He writes:

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ephesians 3:10-11)

This is going to blow our minds. The very existence of the church, Paul wrote, has a much higher purpose than we realize. It's an amazing thing that spiritually dead people are raised to new life, and that former enemies become family with each other within the church. This is such a big deal that it is the way that God has chosen to reveal his wisdom in its reach variety. Think for a minute of all the ways that God could show to angels and demons that he is wise. The human genome shows that God is wise. Scientists are unravelling all the ways that information is stored in our DNA that makes us who we are. It's amazing. The universe shows God's wisdom. I could think of many ways that God could choose to show angels and demons his wisdom.

But look at how God has chosen to reveal his wisdom: through the church. As somebody has said, the history of the Christian church has become a graduate school for angels. Demons thought they had Jesus killed once and for all. All of his followers were scattered. But he rose from the dead. But then he left. You can't expect much from a small group of followers who had never amounted to much. But then Peter - yes, that Peter - got up to preach, and thousands joined the church. Satan and demons threw everything they could at the church, but the church continued to spread all throughout the Roman Empire, so that this obscure, marginal movement became the dominant religious force in the western world for centuries.

John Stott says:

It is as if a great drama is being enacted. History is the theatre, the world is the stage, and church members in every land are the actors. God himself has written the play, and he directs and produces it. Act by act, scene by scene, the story continues to unfold. But who are the audience? They are the cosmic intelligences, the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. We are to think of them as spectators of the drama of salvation. Thus ‘the history of the Christian church becomes a graduate school for angels’

The very existence of the church is a sign to demons that their authority has been broken, and that their final defeat is imminent. God shows through the church that his purposes are being fulfilled and they're moving toward their climax. F.F. Bruce says that the church is "God's pilot scheme for the reconciled universe of the future." God has chosen to display his wisdom in all its dimensions through, of all things, us, his church.

You know what this means? As Liberty Grace Church takes shape, demons are getting schooled. We are a tangible reminder to demons that their authority has been broken, and that Jesus Christ is victor, and that he is on the move. The progress of the gospel will not be hindered. God is on the move, and he uses us — us! — as proof to the spiritual realm that his kingdom is victorious.

Because Paul saw his life as something bigger, and the church as something much bigger, he was able to write in verses 12 and 13:

In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

Because of all of this, we have access to God that's unhindered by hostile powers. We can have assurance that our sufferings have a purpose, and are actually tied to our glory. Understanding the gospel gives us confidence and hope in our trials. We can know that even though we’re ordinary, our lives are part of something that is far from ordinary. This church, as God builds it, is part of God’s eternal purpose. It matters, and it will matter for eternity.


The church of Jesus Christ is the most important institution in the world. The assembly of the redeemed, the company of the saints, the children of God are more significant in world history than any other group, organization, or nation. The United States of America compares to the church of Jesus Christ like a speck of dust compares to the sun. The drama of international relations compares to the mission of the church like a kindergarten riddle compares to Hamlet or King Lear. And all pomp of May Day in Red Square and the pageantry of New Year’s in Pasadena fade into a formless grey against the splendor of the bride of Christ…Lift up your eyes, O Christians! You belong to a society that will never cease, to the apple of God’s eye, to the eternal and cosmic church of our Lord, Jesus Christ. (John Piper)

Most of us live with little to no awareness to the drama going on around us. Our lives, and this church, have cosmic significance.

Your gift may seem small. Your life may seem small. But it’s not. It’s part of something bigger, and it’s part of what God is doing in the world. Don’t ever think that God can’t use you. Your weakness and God’s power are a perfect match. How can you take part? We’ve just covered it. Go deeper in the gospel. Get deeper into community. Go farther into mission. Repeat.

We’ve covered and started a lot this past month. I want to ask you to do three things.

First, take this strategy card. Internalize it. Put it into practice. This isn’t just a piece of paper. It’s the DNA of our church. Help us translate this card into reality. Someone has asked a good question about church mission statements and strategies: It’s hanging on the wall, but is it happening down the hall? Let’s resolve to work this so it’s happening. We’re off to a good start, but let’s keep going. Master this. Work it. It’s what God is calling us to do.

Second, join this church. If you have been coming out, and you are a follower of Jesus Christ, we are asking you to commit to this church. We want you to identify with this expression of the church, and say, “I’m in. I’m committed.” I’ve given you a membership covenant today. I’d like to ask you to take it, read it, and to return it. You can be part of what God is doing in this church. “You can bring your weakness to the table, and the risen Christ brings his Spirit to the table, and you walk away clothed with power from on high to promote a kingdom that has no end” (Ortlund).

Finally — Would you believe that we are part of something bigger? You are, and we are together. It’s not because we’re anything special. It’s because God uses unlikely people, and they get to be part of his church. It isn’t just you and Jesus; it’s you and the church. Enter into what God wants to do with your life. Walk in weakness, obedience, and humility before him. And he will use you in ways you can’t even imagine for his glory. Don’t waste your life.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Vision: Mission (Colossians 4:2-6)

Big Idea: What’s it going to take to show and tell the gospel to resistant people? It’s going to take three things: prayer, life, and words.


Every month or so, around dinner time, I get an annoying call from a telemarketer. It’s always the same company, and they’re always trying to sell me the same thing: a furnace. And every time I tell them the same thing. I live in a condo. I have no use for a furnace. They always apologize, but then they call back the next month. They just won’t give up. No matter how many times they call, I’m just not in the market for a furnace.

I wonder sometimes if that’s how people feel about us. We’re here today as a church talking about our strategy. This weekend we’re celebrating our second anniversary. Two years ago we held our first service as a brand new church, and right now we’re replanting the church so that we’re as clear as possible about what we’re here to do.

Illustration credit: Seth McBees Napkin Theology'

Illustration credit: Seth McBees Napkin Theology'

And so we’ve talked about our very simple strategy:

Gospel — We exist to go deeper and deeper into the gospel — the good news that God has rescued sinners through the finished work of Christ. We want a gospel doctrine and a gospel culture. We want to keep coming back to Jesus and what he’s done for us. It’s how we begin the Christian life, and it’s how we grow in the Christian life as well.

Community — We also want to experience the kind of community that the gospel creates. The gospel always creates a community. We want to drop the masks and find safety here. Next week we’re beginning small groups, because we believe that the gospel creates community, and Christian growth necessitates community.

Mission — Our church is also about mission. We want people who’ve never heard of the gospel to hear it. We’re here because a lot of people have not heard the good news about Jesus, and we want to experience the beauty of relationship with Jesus.

As we think about missing today — of showing and telling the gospel — we need to face some questions. How do we share the gospel in a community in which many seem to be resistant? How can we share the gospel effectively, when it sometimes feels like we’re about as welcome as the furnace telemarketer? How can we — ordinary people like us — live on mission?

Here’s our problem. We live in what many call a post-Christendom culture. That means that church seems like it’s a fine option for some, but it’s not on the radar of most people. I have a friend who moved from Nashville. He told me that in Nashville, one of the first questions you’d hear is, “Have you found a church yet?” When they moved to Toronto, they discovered that you could be asked twenty or fifty questions when you moved in, but that wouldn’t be one of them. We’re not just dealing with unchurched people who may come back with the right programs or music; we’re dealing with resistant people who don’t think that Jesus or the church have anything to offer them.

I don’t want to overstate the case, because I believe that there are still many people who are open to the gospel. I believe that God is still at work in the lives of many people in this community. But we do have to face the reality that things have changed. Tim Chester and Steve Timmis say this:

If we could place people on a range of one to ten depending on their interest in the gospel, where one is no interest and ten is a decision to follow Christ, lots of evangelism assumes people are at around eight. We teach our gospel outlines. We teach answers to apologetic questions. We hold guest services. We put on evangelistic courses. We preach in the open air or knock on doors. All these are great things to do, but 70 percent of the population is at one or two. (Everyday Church)

Given this, how do we live on mission? How do we show and tell the gospel, sharing the gospel through our lives so that people are invited into community to hear about Jesus?

It’s going to be harder than before. In his book Honest Evangelism, Rico Tice says that people used to generally understand the gospel, so that when Billy Graham came to town, they were ready to be invited and to respond. But then things changed. People began to hold beliefs or objections that had to be dealt with before they could respond to the gospel. Some of the beliefs are: Christians are weird. Christianity is untrue. Christianity is irrelevant. Christianity is intolerant. So you had to work to deal with thee objections and build their trust. Now, things have changed even more. Our culture is defined by tolerance and permissiveness. People don’t engage with faith; they simply dismiss it. Jesus simply isn’t on the agenda; he isn’t even an option to be considered. People don’t think about why they disagree with Christianity; they just think it’s fine for you and not for them. As a result, evangelism takes time and effort. It’s rare to see a person become a Christian very quickly. Things have changed, and in some ways our evangelism has to change as well.

In fact, our evangelism has to change to be closer to what we read about in the Bible, because our situation is closer to the age of the apostles now than it was a few years ago. There’s lots of hope. In today’s passage, Paul is writing to the Colossians, and he gives three important clues about how we can share the gospel in a gospel-resistant culture. What’s it going to take to show and tell the gospel to resistant people? It’s going to take three things: prayer, life, and speech. We’re really going to need all three, because one or two alone probably won’t get the job done.

Let’s look at each one.

First: It’s going to take prayer.

Paul writes in verses 2-3:

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. (Colossians 4:2-4)

If we’re going to share the gospel, it’s going to take prayer. “What opens the door, again and again, is prayer” (N.T. Wright). We have a role, but if we ever think that we can accomplish what God has given us to do without prayer, then we’re delusional. How do we show and tell the gospel when many people are resistant? Pray. It always begins with prayer.

One of the things I love about this command is that it’s so accessible. The Colossians were brand new Christians. They were just taking their first steps in the Christian life. Paul was an accomplished missionary who had been halfway around the northern Mediterranean preaching and planting churches. What could the Colossians possibly do to help him? Pray. Prayer isn’t a small thing in evangelism. Paul recognized that unless God opens the door, and unless God enables us through the Spirit, then we’re sunk. Prayer is essential to evangelism.

Notice that Paul doesn’t just say to pray. He says to continue steadfastly in prayer. This is especially important in contexts in which people are resistant, and opposition is expected. We simply can’t do this without prayer. The only way that we can plant this church evangelistically, and see people come to Christ, is if we devote ourselves to prayer.

Friends of mine went to Thailand and India this summer. They both have jobs here in Canada, but they see themselves as missionaries here in Toronto. Their passion is to see people come to know Christ in their neighborhood and workplaces. So they travelled to Thailand and India, and met missionaries there. They wanted to learn lessons about what effective missionaries do there, so that they could be more effective ministries here.

When I saw them a few weeks back, they were changed. They told me that the missionaries said, “We don’t understand what you Christians are trying to do back in North America. You are trying to serve God, but you’re doing it without prayer.” My friends told me that the main thing they learned is that if we are going to get the job done, especially in a resistant setting, it’s going to take prayer. Not just general prayer, but tactical prayer. We’re going to have to ask God to give us insight into particular situations, as well as to pray that he opens doors, and gives us clarity. How do we show and tell the gospel to resistant people? It begins with prayer.

Hudson Taylor, a missionary in China in the 1800s, had a mission station that was particularly effective. There was no accounting for it, because they other stations were equal in devotion and ability. Hudson Taylor was traveling and speaking in England, and after a meeting a man came up and began to ask him about that particular station. Then he began to ask many personal questions. It turned out that the man had been the college roommate of the missionary at that station many years earlier, and he had committed himself to daily praying for the work there. Hudson Taylor said, “Then I knew the answer.”

So pray. I encourage you to pray for individual people, to pray for evangelism in our church overall. I have a friend who walks into a coffee shop and prays that God would direct him to the right person. Pray! Our whole ministry must be bathed in prayer — and certainly our evangelism must be.

This is essential, but it’s not everything. What’s it going to take to show and tell the gospel to resistant people? Prayer, but something else too:

Second: it’s going to take our lives.

Paul writes: “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time” (Colossians 4:5). “Walk” is a term that refers to the way we live our lives. In other words, Paul is talking about lifestyle evangelism. He tells us that our lives should be compelling demonstrations of the gospel.

But then Paul says that the way that our lifestyles should be marked by wisdom toward outsiders. Paul wants Christians, a minority in a hostile environment, to engage others effectively in proclaiming the gospel. He wants ordinary Christians to demonstrate Christ’s teaching in their lives as they relate to others. It’s about living everyday life with gospel intentionality. Not only that, but he wants us to make the best use of our time. Time is short, and we shouldn’t squander opportunities to evangelize others.

In his book Saturate, Jeff Vanderstelt explains what this can look like. He says that our evangelism can’t be based primarily on church events, because then we’ll be too busy for relationships with people who don’t go to church. Besides, if evangelism is mainly about church events, then evangelism will only happen once or twice a week. Instead, Vanderstelt says:

It must involve everyday life. We need to see that life is the program, because people need to see what it means to follow Jesus in the everyday stuff of life.

We realized we needed to help our people see that life has a normal rhythm. All people everywhere are engaged in things that happen in rhythm— day in and day out. When we engage in these everyday rhythms with Jesus-centered, Spirit-led direction, mission can happen anytime and everywhere, and anybody can be a part of it. 

We needed to train people how to live everyday life with gospel intentionality, showing what it looks like to follow Jesus in the normal stuff. So we asked ourselves: “What are the everyday rhythms of life that everybody engages in everywhere? How can we engage in what is already going on? And how does our submission to Jesus change how we do it?” We knew that if we identified the everyday rhythms of life and trained people to engage in them in light of the gospel with the purpose of making disciples, they would be better equipped to be disciples of Jesus anywhere and everywhere.

Vanderstelt lists six things that we do regularly. All of these are opportunities for us to showcase the gospel in our lives:

  • Eat — “You’re already eating, probably three times a day. Don’t do it alone. Do it with others and watch Jesus join you at the table and change the meal.”
  • Listen — “Quiet your soul and listen to God. And close your mouth once in a while and listen to others. Do both together, and you will find yourself joining in with the activity of the Spirit…”
  • Story — “Know and rehearse God’s story, learn others’ stories, and consider how aspects of God’s story can bring redemption and restoration to theirs.”
  • Bless — Bless others, especially those who don’t deserve it. I heard this week from someone who feels under-appreciated at work. Rather than withdrawing or lashing out, she looks for ways to bless these people, and to treat them better than they deserve, just like Jesus has done for her.
  • Celebrate — Everybody celebrates. Join the celebrations around you, and make them better. Serve. Show people what Kingdom joy looks like.
  • Re-create — Use your hobbies and downtime as ways to connect with others, and to show what true rest in Jesus looks like.

“Live in such a way that it would demand a ‘Jesus explanation,’ Vanderstelt says. That’s exactly what Paul is saying. In our strategy card, we talk about living compelling and attractive lives marked by the gospel. In a resistant culture, that’s what it takes.

Listen: If you understand the gospel, and your life is being changed, then your life will be different. If you eat with others, really listen to others as you listen to the Spirit, if you bless your enemies, and if your life is marked by humility and joy, then it will stand out. Your life will demand a “Jesus explanation.”

What’s it going to take to show and tell the gospel to resistant people? Pray, and then live your life with gospel intentionality. But there’s one more thing that Paul tells us:

Finally: It’s going to take our words.

Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” I love what Paul says here. A lot of people think that when Christians talk with people who aren’t Christians, the tone is going to be harsh and judgmental. We’re going to have to set everyone straight. That’s not what Paul says, though. We’re to be gracious to others. It should also be seasoned with salt. That means that our speech to others shouldn’t be boring, but appealing to others. It should leave them wanting more.

I especially appreciate how verse 6 ends: “so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” There is no cookie-cutter approach. We’re going to get questions about the Christian faith. Some of them are going to be difficult, maybe even hostile. Paul tells us to grow in our ability to answer these questions, but in a way that makes the gospel attractive. One commentator puts it this way: Paul expects the Colossian church “to hold its own in the social setting of marketplace, baths, and meal table and to win attention by the attractiveness of its life and speech” (James Dunn).

I want to emphasize that this doesn’t mean that we have all the answers. Many times we can tell people that they have a good question, and that we’ll get back to them. That’s much better than bluffing our way through an answer that doesn’t cut it! It does mean that we are growing in our ability to answer questions and to share the gospel.

St. Francis of Assisi is sometimes misquoted, “Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.” There’s actually no record of him saying such a thing, which would be funny coming from a man who preached five times a day. He had no problem using words. Besides, as Paul tells us here, sharing the gospel will take our words. We can’t live out the gospel or be the gospel to others. We must speak the gospel. A godly, compelling life is important, but at some point we will need to also tell people about Jesus. So use your words. Be gracious and winsome, but speak of Jesus. Make him the hero. He is worth it.


Most of us are scared of evangelism. Most of us think we can’t do it. Not only that, but we’re overwhelmed in a culture that seems resistant, even hostile sometimes, to the message.

Today’s passage gives me hope. When Paul wrote this letter, he wrote in a setting that was even more hostile to the Christian message. As Paul wrote these words, he was in prison for the gospel, and yet he is full of hope. He writes to a group of new Christians and is full of hope that they will be able to share the gospel effectively. What’s it going to take to show and tell the gospel to resistant people? It’s going to take three things: prayer, life, and words. It may take time. But with God’s help we can do it.

God uses ordinary people like us. Many sociologists have now recognized that “most conversions are not produced by professional missionaries conveying a new message, but by rank-and-file members who share their faith with their friends and relatives” (David W. Pao). God can use us as we pray, as we live ordinary life with gospel intentionality, and as we point to Jesus with our words in as winsome a way as possible.

I want you to take the strategy card that we’ve given you. This is our entire strategy as a church. We want to go deeper in the gospel, deeper into community, and father into mission as a church. It’s not complicated. This is as accessible for all of us, and yet it’s deep enough that we could spend our entire lives doing this.

God wants to use you in a resistant culture to spread his gospel. I want to ask you to apply this today:

  • Pray — Who can you pray for? I have prayer cards, and I flip through them daily as I pray for people. Who can you pray for in your network of relationships? Could you also pray for us as a church, that God would grant us open doors, and that we would be bold to speak the gospel?
  • Live — How can you live your life with gospel intentionality? How can you walk wisely, making the most of every opportunity? How can you eat, listen, story, bless, celebrate, and recreate so that your life demands a Jesus explanation?
  • Speak — How can you speak the gospel? How can you make your faith an everyday, natural part of your conversations with other people? How can you ask questions, pray for opportunities, and then be ready for an opening?

Paul had every confidence that God could use ordinary, baby Christians in a resistant setting. I have every confidence that God can do the same though us. God is on mission, and he can use us as we show and tell the gospel through our lives.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Vision: Community (Romans 12:3-18)

Big Idea: Sunday mornings are good, but not enough. We also need to serve each other and to love each other.


Even though we are a new church, and even though we’re still small in number, we’re relaunching our church this month. We are going back to the very beginning and making sure that we’re clear on who we are, and what we’re all about. We’re doing this because it’s easy to forget.

When Charlene and I first got married, I was very clear what marriage was all about. But a couple of years in, I began to forget. She started to annoy me sometimes, to tell you the truth. I think I started to annoy her too. And so we had to go right back to the beginning and remind ourselves what marriage is all about. Remembering elevated us from seeing just today, and brought us back to the big picture. It gave us a picture of who we were supposed to be, by God’s grace. It reminded us of his calling.

It’s the same thing for us here as well. You are here because, at some point, you caught a vision of what a church plant could be. But it’s so easy to forget. It’s easy for me to forget! We need to remind ourselves who we’re supposed to be, by God’s grace.

So we want to relay the foundation, reset the DNA. We want to remind ourselves of why we’re here in the first place. Even better, I want to invite you into something. I want to invite you into something new and exciting. I’m not exaggerating when I say it could change your life, and it could change this community as well.


So last week we looked at the first part of our strategy: the gospel. It all begins here. We said that the gospel is the news that God made us and owns us, but that we rebelled against him. But God has initiated a rescue plan to save us through Jesus Christ, and all we have to do is to receive his finished work with empty hands, and then follow him. That’s the gospel. It’s central to our lives and our church. It’s not just how we become Christians, it’s how we grow in the Christian faith. We never outgrow the gospel.

As we said last week, we want to be a church that believes the gospel. But we want to be more than that. We also want to have a gospel culture. A church with gospel doctrine and a gospel culture is a beautiful and powerful thing. We looked at 1 John, and reminded ourselves that the gospel creates community, and that it also provides a safe place for sinful, messy people. If you weren’t here last week, let me tell you what this means: We want the gospel to shape the culture of this church, so that because we have Jesus in common, we have everything in common. The gospel creates a family, and that family is a place where we can drop the masks and stop pretending. We’re home.

We’ve given you a rack card today that explains our strategy. You’ll see that the gospel is the first piece of our strategy. We want you to go deeper in the gospel yourself, and to absorb a gospel doctrine and culture in your own life. As part of that, we want to encourage you to practice spiritual disciplines like worship, reading Scripture, praying, and repenting. We’ll return to these and help you unpack them in your lives. The result, as we do this, is that God will transform us through his Spirit so that are lives are compelling and attractive, and marked by the gospel. That’s what we’re aiming for in our lives.

So that’s the gospel. We will never move beyond it. We will keep returning to it over and over. It’s not the ABC’s but the A to Z of the Christian life.

But today we’re coming to the second part of our strategy: community. Here’s the problem. What do you think of when you think of church? We usually think of a couple of things, and here’s the first:

Building — When you ask most people about a church, they automatically think about a building. When we were kids, we learned the rhyme: “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple. Open the doors, and see all the people.” It’s ridiculous, because although we think of church as a building, the true biblical meaning of church is about as far from building as you can get. The early Christian church had no buildings. The early Christians were often persecuted and, as a result, they often met in secret in homes.There’s nothing wrong with having a building, as we do, but this is not the church. When we see this as the church, then church becomes compartmentalized and segmented as a tiny part of our lives.

But there’s another way that we usually think of church:

Service — A lot of people think of church as a worship service. For them, church means attending a service once a week. It involves sitting in rows and singing, and listening to a sermon. I actually think that worship services are important. Public worship and proclamation are important — but they are not what it means to be the church! 

In a book called The Trellis and the Vine, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne make a very good point:

Sunday sermons are necessary but not sufficient…Sermons are needed, yes, but they are not all that is needed. Let’s be absolutely clear: the preaching of powerful, faithful, compelling biblical expositions is absolutely vital and necessary to the life and growth of our congregations….Clear, strong, powerful public preaching is the bedrock and foundation upon which all other ministry in the congregation is built. The sermon is the rallying cry…

But then they quote Peter Adam, who says:

…While preaching…is one form of the ministry of the Word, many other forms are reflected in the Bible and in contemporary Christian church life. It is important to grasp this point clearly, or we shall try to make preaching carry a load which it cannot bear; that is, the burden of doing all that the Bible expects from every form of ministry of the Word.

Here’s the deal. If church = Sunday service for you, you’re not getting the whole package. You’re missing a huge part of what it means to be the church. You’re getting the all-inclusive without the meals. You’re getting the burger without the beef. It’s not enough. Church was designed to be more than what you’re experiencing so far. It’s not that the service is unimportant, it’s just that it’s designed to be more.

So let’s get practical. What’s needed beyond the worship service? I want to notice two things from Romans 12 that we need on top of coming together for public worship. It means that we make two practical commitments.

1. I am here to serve

Romans 12:3-8 makes one main point: everyone in the church is needed to serve everyone else. In other words, we all need each other! That’s why Paul begins in verse 3 the way he does: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Romans 12:3). Here’s the problem. When we overestimate ourselves, we think we don’t need the ministry of other believers. Paul calls out what’s behind our thinking that we don’t need the ministry of the body: arrogance.

As you know, the Jays have been playing really well lately. Third baseman Josh Donaldson is having an exceptionally good season. He’s on pace to have the best individual season by a position player in Jays’ history. Imagine today, as they’re playing Boston, if Donaldson said to the team, “Hey guys, I’m frontrunner for American League MVP. You guys take the day off. I’ve got this.” That would be extremely arrogant. We get that. Donaldson needs what the others on the team can do, and so do we. We need the ministry of others.

What does this look like? Verses 6 to 8 tell us:

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:6-8)

Paul says that all of us have gifts. The Holy Spirit empowers us in such a way that we’re able to help strengthen the church and help it to flourish. We all have a role. Every one of us is needed. He lists two broad categories: speaking gifts (prophesying, teaching, and encouraging), and serving gifts (serving, contributing, leading, and showing mercy).

God’s glory is revealed through his people — not just through some of his people, but in the diversity of gifts that he’s given his people. This means that we need your ministry. We need what God has prepared you to do in this church. We need more than the ministry of the few to the many; we all need what God has put you here to do. I like how Ed Welch puts it:

We were meant to walk side by side, an interdependent body of weak people. God is pleased to grow and change us through the help of people who have been re-created in Christ and empowered by the Spirit. That is how life in the church works. (Side by Side)

Let’s get very practical. What does this look like? It means that we need community so that we have the time to serve each other. We need enough time so that we can encourage each other, teach each other, contribute to each other in practical ways, and show mercy to each other. That’s more than a meeting. It’s a way of life.

This is the way the church moves forward— through mutual love and care. Such expression of love was less obvious in the Old Testament, when people relied on kings, leaders, and prophets, but when the Spirit was given at Pentecost— everything changed. Suddenly, ordinary people had extraordinary impact. (Ed Welch)

That’s the first commitment that we must make as we come together. I am here to serve. That’s very different from the attitude, “I’m here to be served.” God has brought you here because you have a contribution to make. The Lord has given spiritual gifts to every Christian in this room. Find your gift. Embrace it by faith. Use it with the strength that God supplies, so that God will get the glory and you and your church will get the joy. I am here to serve, and you are too.

There’s one other practical commitment I find in this passage:

2. These people are here to be loved.

Serving each other is one thing. Paul ups the ante in verses 9 and on:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. (Romans 12:9-13)

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. (Romans 12:15-16)

Here’s what Paul says church life looks like: genuine love. Treating each other like family. Outdoing each other in showing honor. Never hesitating in our eagerness to love each other. It means praying for each other, contributing to each other’s financial needs, and inviting strangers into our homes. It means identifying with each other’s joys and sorrows. It means that we never look down on another person in the church, and that we never think more of ourselves than we do of anyone else.

Who wouldn’t want to be part of a community like that? All of these are the practical outworking of what Paul said in verse 9: “Let love be genuine.” If you get that right, everything else flows out of that. God commands what we should feel for each other. And God shows us what this would look like if we lived it out.

In her off-beat memoir, journalist and writer Heather Havrilesky reminds us how community (whether in a family or a church family) implies carrying one another's burdens. Havrilesky writes:

We weren't meant to suffer alone! We weren't meant to … escape the indignity and frustration of asking for help, for needing help, from someone who might not always enjoy giving it, someone who gets on our nerves, who has never made much sense to us, someone whom we break down and bicker with occasionally. We were meant to lean on each other, as messy and imperfect as that can be, to be capable when we can, and to allow the world to take care of us when we can't. It won't be all bad. Or it will be. But at least we'll have each other.

That’s what Paul is talking about. He’s talking about breaking through the barrier of polite relationships to something much deeper — to genuine love. He’s not talking about sitting in rows. He’s talking about turning our chairs towards each other, and opening our homes and our lives.

And it’s a beautiful thing. By God’s grace, it can happen. By God’s grace, it must happen. It’s simple, but it will take God’s power to keep these two commitments: I am here to serve, and these people are here to be loved.


I have to confess that there was a time that I didn’t think this was really possible. But now I not only think it’s possible. In fact, I was reading a book on this one time, and I put it away because I thought it was a pipe dream. Not anymore. I think it’s absolutely necessary. It’s what God wants for our church. I’m all in on this. This is the type of community that God wants us to have at Liberty Grace Church.

You may have never realized how crucial the local church is to your walk with Christ. 

We think that this kind of living, this kind of biblical Christianity, requires small groups. We believe that this is pie-in-the-sky theory if the we do not have a web of deepening, regularly-nurtured personal relationships. We need a way for Romans 12:3-18 to become a regular, personal, relational reality.

You’ve been given a rack card today. It illustrates our mission and our strategy as a church. I want you to keep this card. I’d encourage you to stick it on your fridge, or tuck it in your Bible as a bookmark, or download a copy for your phone or tablet. It’s so important.

Our whole strategy as a church is here. We’ve already covered the first: that we go deeper in the gospel, and that we practice spiritual disciplines by God’s grace, so that our lives are compelling and attractive, marked by the gospel.

Today we are at the second strategy. It’s the strategy of community: to do life together, to participate in public worship, small groups, and hospitality. The result will be safe and engaging Christian community. All of this is a reflection of the gospel. It’s only possible because we see what Jesus has done for us, and because our lives are being transformed as a result.

I have two ways for you to respond.

First: I invite you to memorize Romans 12:10 with me: “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10). Let’s internalize this and let it get under our skin.

Second: This week, you will receive an invitation to a small group, starting the week after next. It will be messy at the beginning. We’re just beginning to figure this stuff out. But by God’s grace, we’re going to do this. I want you to respond, and to join a small group community in which you can live out these two practical commitments: I am here to serve, and these people are here to love.

In his book The Pastor, Eugene Peterson describes his wife Jan's understanding of what it means to be a pastor's wife. As I read Peterson's words, I was struck with how apt the description was not only for pastor's wives but for all Christians as they enter fully into the life of the body of Christ.

And so, I would like to modify Peterson's words slightly and substitute church member for pastor's wife. See if you don't think this is a good description of what life in the church should be:

Being a church member is a vocation, a way of life. It means participation in an intricate web of hospitality, living at the intersection of human need and God's grace, inhabiting a community where men and women who don't fit are welcomed, where neglected children are noticed, where the stories of Jesus are told, and people who have no stories find that they do have stories, stories that are part of the Jesus story. Being a church member places us strategically yet unobtrusively at a heavily trafficked intersection between heaven and earth.

That’s where I want to live. That’s what I want this church to feel like. Will you join me?

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.