Why We Don't Give up When Ministry Beats Us Up (2 Corinthians 4:7-5:10)

Big Idea: Don’t give up when ministry beats you up, because God uses your suffering now, and remove your suffering later.


Arnold Dallimore was, according to his granddaughter, a small man with a big voice. He was a world-renowned author, church planter, pastor, preacher, poet, and man of God. His biographies of Whitefield and Spurgeon have influenced many. D.A. Carson says of his two-volume biography of Whitefield: “Few books make me weep, but on occasion that biography did. For all its technical competence and heavy documentation, it made me pray, more than once, Oh, God, do it again!

Dallimore’s story fascinates me, in part because he was one of us. He was father-in-law to one of our Fellowship pastors. He was close friends with Hal MacBain, one of the key figures in our Fellowship. He pastored a small church in Cottam, Ontario for forty years.

But his story also fascinates me because of something that happened: he was once so beat up by ministry that he completely disappeared for months. Not even his wife knew where he went.

In the mid-1940s, Dallimore became pastor of Briscoe Street Baptist Church in London, Ontario. It was known as a pastor-killing church. Dallimore himself called it “a ministerial graveyard, as ministers remained but a year.” Dallimore did better: he lasted thirteen months. It didn’t kill him, but it drove him into depression. He took a three-year break from ministry, and supported himself by buying and renovating houses. Things were so bad that they started selling their wedding gifts in order to buy groceries.

During this time, Dallimore disappeared for three months to New York State on doctor’s orders. His wife has no idea where he went or what he did, only that he seemed much better when he returned home.

I get it.

Pastoral ministry is one of the greatest privileges. I often think of what Paul wrote to Timothy:

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service… (1 Timothy 1:12)

Nobody here deserves to be in pastoral ministry. It is an incredible privilege to be called to shepherd and love God’s people, and to devote our best hours to studying his Word and serving his church. It is an unbelievable privilege to be a pastor.

But make no mistake: pastoral ministry will beat you up. I remember my first summer as a student pastor in North Bay. My mother came up to visit me, and we walked along the shore of Lake Nipissing. She told me that he supported me and my call to ministry, but that she was also concerned. Her brother is a pastor, and she knew what I was signing up for. She wanted me to know as well.

That was almost thirty years ago. Since then I’ve seen pastors get beat up. I’ve seen pastors get fired — or even worse, not quite fired, but pushed out the door using passive-aggressive tactics. I’ve seen the bruises on the arm of a pastor’s wife that came from someone grabbing her in the aisle after church to confront her. I’ve seen pastors burn out, and I’ve come close myself. Pastoral ministry will beat you up.

To be honest, some of you are there right now. I attend an annual study week with pastors. Every year, about half the pastors arrive beat up. It’s never the same people. If someone comes saying what a good year they had, we laugh and say, “I guess it’s their turn next year!” So some of you are here, and you’re beat up. If you’re not, well, just wait until next year. None of us are going to escape unharmed.

And so we have to ask ourselves: if pastoral ministry will beat us up — and it will — how can we survive? And I’m so glad that Scripture answers this question.

I want to look at a passage of Scripture with you tonight written by the apostle Paul. If anyone knew what it was like to get beat up by ministry, it was Paul. Being beat up wasn’t a metaphor for Paul. He was actually beaten up multiple times. That’s on top of being imprisoned, shipwrecked at least four times. One of my friends says that if he lived back then, he’d check the passenger list, and if Paul was on the boat, he’d get off. Traveling with Paul was that risky. Paul would have been in constant physical pain because of all that he’d endured.

And then there was the church. “And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches,” he wrote (2 Corinthians 11:28). Paul faced a number of challenges and hardships, and of all of them, this seemed to be the climactic burden—the primary burden—that he carried on a daily basis. He cared for the church, the church that loved him and responded to his teaching, but also the church that badmouthed him, rejected him, and caused him so much grief.

Ministry will beat you up. So why not give up?

In 2 Corinthians 4 and 5, Paul answers this question. I really appreciate what Paul does in this passage. He does us a great favor by telling us two things:

First, that ministry will beat us up. Expect it. We’re going to see in this passage that suffering is part of pastoral ministry. If you haven’t experienced suffering in your ministry, you’re doing it wrong.

Second, that we can not only survived the suffering, but we can thrive. Paul uses language like, “We do not lose heart,” we’re “not driven to despair,” “we are always of good courage.” And then Paul tells us how.

So let’s look at this. Why should we, knowing that we’re going to be beat up by ministry, not give up? Paul gives us two reasons:

Because God uses your suffering now (4:7-16)

In other words, don’t give up, because your suffering is purposeful. There’s a reason for it.

Notice that Paul begins by helping us understand that ministry is suffering. He writes:

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)

The first thing that Paul tells us is that ministry will beat us up. You could almost make this the theme of every ordination sermon: Do you realize what you’ve signed up for? Kevin Miller of Leadership Journal once said:

If there were a binding contract to sign before entering ministry, the fine print would include: "The undersigned acknowledges that the pastoral ministry may be hazardous and subject the undersigned to expressions of animosity, including but not limited to calumny, slander, misrepresentation, and betrayal."

That’s what Paul is saying. He’s saying that we are fragile containers: mass-produced, ordinary containers that really don’t amount to much. We are fragile and ordinary — even the most impressive of us.

But then we enter ministry, and look what happens. Paul lists four terms that characterize ministry, before he gives us the qualifications that speak to how God uses these conditions. Listen to how Paul describes ministry in verses 8 and 9:

  • afflicted but not restricted — a catch-all phrase that summarized all of Paul’s trials and persecutions; but Paul says that all of these afflictions have not ended his ministry
  • baffled but not to the point of despair — meaning that Paul has faced times when he’s been baffled by what’s happened to him; but he’s never given in and permanently given up
  • abused but not abandoned — he’s experienced beatings, imprisonments, riots, slander; but God stood with him in the worst of what he went through
  • knocked down but not terminated — literally knocked down, but still alive

 This is what ministry looks like! I love the way that Paul is brutally honest about ministry, and yet he refused to give up even when ministry beat him up.

Why didn’t Paul give up? I don’t think it was because Paul was naturally optimistic or persistent. I think it’s because Paul realized that his suffering had a purpose.

The thing that keeps me up at night sometimes is wondering if the suffering that we’ve been through in our ministry was worth it. You may wonder the same thing. Paul tells us here that it was worth it. It was worth it because it accomplished quite a few things. Here are just a few:

God uses your weakness to show his glory. Your weakness is a great backdrop to demonstrate the power of God. (verse 7)

God uses your suffering to advance his gospel (verses 10, 15). “For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 4:15). Our suffering is a prerequisite for the spread of the gospel. It mirrors the cruciform pattern of the gospel: life comes through death. We are following the pattern of our crucified Lord. If pastors didn’t suffer, no gospel ministry would ever take place.

To use an extreme example, the daughter of missionaries to the Congo Republic recounted how as a little girl she had participated in a celebration of the 100th anniversary of missionaries coming to the Congo Republic. Speeches were given, music was played, and at the end of the day a very old man stood before the crowd to speak. He said that when the missionaries first came, the people thought them odd and their message suspicious. The tribal leaders, seeking to test the missionaries, slowly poisoned them to death over a period of months, even years. Children of the missionaries died one by one, but the missionaries stayed and proclaimed the gospel, even as they died. The old man commented, “It was as we watched how they died that we decided we wanted to live as Christians.”

Spiritual life comes through ministers who are willing to die, so to speak, so that others hear the gospel. Your suffering follows the pattern of Jesus, who suffered so that we could receive the gospel. Your suffering has a purpose.

God uses your suffering to make you holy. Verses 16 and 17 say:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison… (2 Corinthians 4:16-17)

It’s almost like a line graph with intersecting lines. One line shows our outer physical deterioration the longer that we’re in ministry. Ministry and life took a toll on Paul, just as it does with us. The longer we’re in ministry, the older and more beat up we’re going to be. Life and ministry in a fallen world is no party. I used to have hair! Everyone used to ask if I was the youth pastor. Nobody asks that anymore. And I have scars from ministry— not physical scars, but scars that show. So there’s a line that’s going down.

But Paul says there’s another line: the line of vibrant, spiritual, internal renewal. The more that life and ministry takes its toll on us outwardly, the more God uses all of that to bring us alive spiritually. If you have suffered as a pastor, God can and will use that to change you.

Paul Tripp says, “We forget that God's primary goal is not changing our situations or relationships so that we can be happy, but changing us through our situations and relationships so that we will be holy.” God uses your sufferings in ministry to make you holy.

The fact that you are here today tells me two things. First: it tells me that you have suffered in pastoral ministry. Two: it tells me that you are still in the game. I want you to know that your suffering has a purpose. None of it has been wasted. God has and will use all of it to showcase his glory, to advance the gospel, and to make you holy. We suffer and die so that others can live, and it’s worth it.

As George Guthrie says:

Woe be to the minister or ministry that is always and only about winning, progressing, moving up, getting, succeeding—in short, “living!”… We “die” as we speak and explain God’s Word, but we speak and die in great hope, for “Christ is risen!” heralding our own resurrection and that of those to whom we minister, and the gospel advances in the world, bringing thanks and glory to God.

Why not give up when ministry beats us up? Because God uses our suffering now. He uses it to show his power, advance his gospel, and make you holy.

But that’s not the only reason that we refuse to give up when ministry beats us up. There’s another reason.

Because God will remove your suffering later (4:17-5:10)

If you know this passage of Scripture, you know that Paul begins to discuss eternity beginning in 4:17 and extending right into chapter 5:10. It seems like an abrupt change of topic. Why does Paul go from talking about suffering in ministry to talking about the intermediate state and eternity?

The answer is clear. Paul isn’t changing topics. Paul is making a point about suffering in ministry, and here it is: your suffering is pastoral ministry is worth it, because our suffering is insignificant and momentary compared to what’s coming next.

I love Guthrie’s translation of 4:17:

For our momentary, light bundle of affliction produces for us—in a way both breathtaking and immeasurable—an eternal tonnage of glory.

Everyone in ministry seems to like talking about “exponential growth.” They love talking about the things we can do that are small that will lead to disproportionately large results. Well, Paul gives us something that will lead to exponential growth in our ministries. A comparatively small amount of suffering for a short amount of time produces a staggering tonnage of glory.

And then he goes on. In chapter 5, he talks about the ultimate hope of those who are beat up in ministry. Although God uses our sufferings, it’s normal to want them to be over. Paul tells us that they will be over one day. Paul says that our suffering in ministry is worth it, because one day soon our suffering will be over. Our fragile, fallen existence will be over. The burden of mortality and the burden of ministry will be swallowed up in immortality. We will be resurrected and transformed. Contentious elders’ meetings will be over.

So, right now, Paul says, we can be of good courage. We won’t give up even when ministry beats us up, because God will soon remove our sufferings and give us the eternal tonnage of glory that we’ve been waiting for.

At the end of his excellent book Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor, D.A. Carson writes about the life of his father, a man who was never famous and never achieved great ministry success, at least by worldly standards. Carson says, “Tom Carson never rose very far in denominational structures, but hundreds of people…testify how much he loved them.” His ministry was in many ways ordinary, and he suffered for the gospel. At the end of the book, Carson describes the final moments of his life:

When he died, there were no crowds outside the hospital, no editorial comments in the papers, no announcements on television, no mention in Parliament, no attention paid by the nation. In his hospital room there was no one by his bedside. There was only the quiet hiss of oxygen, vainly venting because he had stopped breathing and would never need it again.

But on the other side all the trumpets sounded. Dad won entrance to the only throne room that matters, not because he was a good man or a great man— he was, after all, a most ordinary pastor— but because he was a forgiven man. And he heard the voice of him whom he longed to hear saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord.”

All of his suffering was worth it, because God removed his suffering and brought him into his glory.

I’m here to tell you today what you already know. If you’ve been called to ministry, you’ve been called to suffer. You will be beaten up by ministry. But don’t ever give up. God will use your suffering, and God will one day remove your suffering and give you an eternal tonnage of glory that outweighs anything you’ll go through.

I want to close in two ways.

Lee and the band are going to come and lead us in a final song. It may be that you came really beat up and you need some prayer. I want to invite you to turn to one or two people around you and ask them to pray for you. You don’t have to get into details, but just ask them for prayer. Don’t leave tonight without asking for others to pray for you as you go through this period of suffering. I invite you to pray as we sing this final song, or right after. Before you leave tonight, tell someone around you that you’re feeling beat up right now, and ask for prayer.

Second, I want us to recommit. Some of us may be tired of suffering, so it’s time to recommit and resubmit to God. I want to close with this prayer from Blaise Pascal that’s a recommitment of ourselves to God, no matter what’s in store. Would you join me in this and read it together?

I ask you neither for health nor for sickness, for life nor for death; but that you may dispose of my health and my sickness, my life and my death, for your glory.… You alone know what is expedient for me; you are the sovereign master; do with me according to your will. Give to me, or take away from me, only conform my will to yours. I know but one thing, Lord, that it is good to follow you, and bad to offend you. Apart from that, I know not what is good or bad in anything. I know not which is most profitable to me, health or sickness, wealth or poverty, nor anything else in the world. That discernment is beyond the power of men or angels, and is hidden among the secrets of your Providence, which I adore, but do not seek to fathom.

Amen.

As Lee leads us, let’s sing this final song together, and let’s pray.

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.

Stoke Evangelistic Passion (2 Corinthians 5:14-6:2)

Big Idea: Stoke evangelistic passion by seeing three things differently: Jesus’ love, others, and your new role.


I once heard a Christian leader say something that didn’t make sense to met at first: Vision leaks. Those two words didn’t make sense to me at first, but when he explained them, they made perfect sense.

Some leaders believe that if they fill people's vision buckets all the way to the top one time, those buckets will stay full forever. But the truth is, people's buckets have holes of varying sizes in their bottoms. As a result, vision leaks out. You or I could deliver a mind-blowing, God-honoring, pulse-quickening vision talk on Sunday that leaves everyone revved up to go change the world, but by Tuesday, many people have forgotten they were even in church the previous weekend. (Bill Hybels, Axiom)

It’s not just vision that leaks. Relationships leak. Passion leaks. Focus leaks. Everything worthwhile leaks, which means…evangelism leaks.

Over the past couple of months we’ve been looking at the best news ever, and how we get to share it. Today we’re done. But before we finish, we have to face a truth: it’s easy to drift from evangelism. If you look around, you will find dozens of churches that were once reaching people with the good news of Jesus Christ, that have now turned inward. I don’t say this to condemn, because we face the same challenge they do: evangelism leaks. What are we going to do to make sure that we don’t lose a passion to share the good news of Jesus Christ?

You can see this in the Bible as well. We just read from a letter that Paul wrote to a church in Corinth. In the letter, Paul, who was an incredible evangelist, talks about some of the challenges we face. A couple of times he mentions the danger of losing heart (4:1, 16). He mentions our need for good courage (5:6). It’s easy to lose heart. It’s easy for courage to fail in evangelism, because it’s hard work, and we suffer for it. Growing discouraged and giving up in evangelism is a constant temptation. Evangelism leaks.

So today I want to ask how we can ensure that evangelism remains at the heart of our church. We will lose our passion for evangelism unless we’re intentional. And when we lose our passion for evangelism, we begin to drift from God’s heart for people.

So how do we keep our passion for evangelism? We need to do three things:

Get the motivation right

Here, according to Paul, is something that we need to grasp about God:

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

This is so important that we could spend the rest of today talking about this alone. One of the most important issues we have to tackle is motivation. What will keep us going in sharing the gospel? Guilt? Obligation? Pressure? If we’re motivated by any of these, we will quickly lose our evangelistic passion. I guarantee you that we will not maintain our evangelistic passion for a week, never mind months or years. Guilt and obligation are horrible motivations.

I’m so glad Paul didn’t say, “Guilt controls us,” or “willpower controls us.” If that’s what he said, we’d be doomed. Instead, Paul says, “the love of Christ controls us.” What’s our motivation? Love. I think you’ll agree that this is a much better motivation. It may be the greatest motivation that exists. A guy will move across the world to pursue the girl he loves. A mother will risk her life to protect the child she loves. One person says, “Love is the most powerful motivator in the world. It spurs mortals to greatness. Their noblest and bravest acts are done for love” (Rick Riordan).

I think of my mother. My mother went through a really difficult time in her life. She says that the only thing that got her up in the morning was her kids. In other words, my mother’s motivation was love. It kept her going. Love is the greatest motivator that exists.

Paul tells us that love is the motivation for evangelism. This is good, because it taps into the greatest motivation out there, or in here.

You have to admit, though, that our own love runs out. As much as love is a powerful motivator, the fact is that if evangelism depended on our love for others, we may run short at times. We’re not always loving towards other people.

But Paul doesn’t say that our love is the motivation. He says, “the love of Christ controls us.” Paul isn’t talking about our love for Jesus. He’s talking about Jesus’ love as the bottomless, limitless, infinite, and unending source and motivation for evangelism. It will never run out.

How do we know that Paul is talking about Jesus’ love for us? Because he mentions what Jesus did for us. Paul confesses “that Christ died for all,” and in the next verse, “he died on behalf of all,” and that act of giving himself in death for the benefit of “all.” As Billy Graham put it:

When we preach atonement, it is atonement planned by love, provided by love, given by love, finished by love, necessitated because of love. When we preach the resurrection of Christ, we are preaching the miracle of love. When we preach the return of Christ, we are preaching the fulfillment of love.

The gospel from beginning to end is love.

Years ago, a large group of Vietnam veterans traveled to a parade in Chicago. Part of the commemoration was a mobile version of the Vietnam Wall. Like the original, it bore the names of all the soldiers who had died in Vietnam.

A newscaster asked one veteran why he had come all the way to Chicago to visit this memorial and to participate in the parade. The soldier looked straight into the face of the reporter and with tears flowing down his face said, "Because of this man right here." As the soldier talked, he was pointing to the name of a friend that was etched in the wall. He traced the letters of his friend's name in the wall. The soldier continued to answer the reporter by saying, "This man right here gave his life for me. He gave his life for me." As the news clip ended, the sobbing soldier let the tears flow as he stood there tracing the name of his friend with his finger.

It was hard for that man to get his heart and mind around the sacrifice of his friend, so he kept retracing the story. We have that problem, too. There is, of course, someone who gave his life for me. We don't want to grow dull to Jesus' death for me, but we do.

The sacrifice of that friend compelled the veteran. And Paul says the same thing can happen for us. When the love of Christ controls us, Jesus’ love will become the controlling force in our lives. It is what drives us. It motivates us and boxes us in so that we can’t imagine doing anything else. It is the dominant force in our lives.

Paul even describes what happens when we get this in verse 15: “that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” Paul says that when we understand Christ’s love for us, and for all people, we will stop living for ourselves, which is the natural course of fallen human nature. Instead, we’ll live for Jesus and his agenda in the world.

Do we want to keep our evangelistic passion? It begins with returning over and over again to Jesus’ love. It is the best motivator in the world. Besides that, Jesus’ love is inexhaustible and will never run out. Let’s keep returning to Christ’s love. Let it control us and compel us, and move us from selfish living to living for him and others.

That’s the first thing we need to do to maintain our evangelistic passion: get our motivation right. But Paul says there’s something else we need to do.

See people differently

Paul writes:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:16-17)

We all do it. We all make judgments about other people all the time. We judge others based on a number of factors:

  • appearance — things like attractiveness, age, fashion
  • accomplishments — things like career, social standing, and prestige
  • character — qualities like warmth and competence

The moment we see someone, our brains begin making judgments: Are they someone to approach or to avoid? Are they friend or foe? Do they have status and authority? Are they trustworthy, competent, likable, confident? And we do all of this in seconds. According to Forbes, we make all of these judgments within seven seconds of meeting someone.

That’s what Paul means when he talks about judging someone according to the flesh. We no longer evaluate people based on things like appearance, accomplishments, and character. We go deeper than that.

Paul says that there was a time that he judged everyone — including Jesus — according to these old standards. But once he met Jesus, things completely changed. Now Paul judges everyone by a new standard: a kingdom of God standard. He judges everyone by the central event of human history: the cross of Jesus Christ. Paul says that when we come to Christ, everything changes. We become new people. Old ways of relating to people have changed. We become new people who see each other in new ways.

There’s real power in living this way. One pastor talks about an insurance salesperson in his congregation who lives this way:

Robert Seelye, the most effective personal evangelist I have ever known, is like this. His great heart sees everyone through the eyes of Christ’s love. All, whether senators or parking attendants, receive the same engagement. And what a varied multitude have come to God through his ministry. Because he regards no one according to the flesh, he sees the least likely of new converts as having immense potential. I can think of no one who has indelibly marked more souls than this man. He keeps in personal correspondence with hundreds around the world who follow Christ because of his ministry. This is even more remarkable because he isn’t a professional evangelist or preacher but an insurance salesman. How Pauline, how Christlike, how Christian, how loving, how liberating, how empowering, how potent it is when “we regard no one according to the flesh.” (Kent Hughes)

 I think there’s a progression in this passage. It begins when we experience Jesus’ love. That begins to control and compel us. But then something else happens. Then we begin to see other people differently. We don’t judge people the way we used to. Instead, we see them as spiritual beings. We see them as people who could experience the love and grace of God. We see everyone as sinners in need of a Savior; as rebels who need reconciling to God. We see the immense potential of everyone arounds us.

It reminds me of what C.S. Lewis said:

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

Think about this. How are we going to keep our passion for evangelism going? By getting the motivation right. That motivation is Jesus’ love. Also: by seeing people differently. Let’s ask God to help us see people the way the way that he does. Let’s stop judging people the way that we used to, and let’s ask God to see everyone we meet the same way that he sees us.

How do we keep our passion for evangelism? Get the right motivation. See people the way God sees them. And, finally:

Embrace your new role

All of this means that we’ve been given a new assignment. Paul writes:

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

According to verse 18, we have a new job: the ministry of reconciliation. Those who have been reconciled to God have been given the ministry of reconciliation. Reconciliation is all about reestablishing an interrupted or broken relationship; it’s about exchanging hostility for a friendly relationship.

In our case, it’s God who has taken the initiative in reconciliation. It was all his idea, and it’s all his work. If you’ve been reconciled to God, then you’ve also been called into his service: to bring that reconciliation to others.

In fact, Paul says in verse 20 that we’re God’s ambassadors. We’re his envoys. An ambassador is a representative who travels and represents an authority in an official capacity. He would not speak or act in his own authority. His message did not originate with himself. In the Greco-Roman world, they had to be treated well. If you treated them poorly, you’d be asking for trouble. If they faced rejection, it wouldn’t be a personal rejection. They would be backed with all the authority of the one who sent them. If they were rejected, it wouldn’t be a rejection of them as individuals. It would be a rejection of the one who sent them.

There’s one important difference in the type of ambassador that Paul talked about, though. In the Greco-Roman world, lesser powers would send ambassadors to greater political powers in order to plead their case. It’s the exact opposite here. “In the gospel we see an amazing reversal. The all-powerful God sends his ambassadors, seeking reconciliation with those whom he has created but who lack a relationship with him” (George Guthrie).

Friends, if you’ve been reconciled to God, this is your new role. God has commissioned you. You have his authority and message as you go out and tell others about Jesus. You get the opportunity to state God’s case, the message of peace: be reconciled to God.

How do we keep a passion for evangelism? Stay motivated by Jesus’ love. See people the way that he sees them. Embrace your new role. Stoke evangelistic passion by seeing three things differently: Jesus’ love, others, and your new role.

As you think about this, what’s the next step for you? What one thing do you want to see God change in your heart so that you keep your evangelistic passion?

  • Do you need to see Jesus’ love for you in a new way so that it becomes the controlling force in your life?
  • Do you need to see others differently? To judge everyone you meet not by how others see them, but by how God sees them?
  • Do you need to embrace your new role? To realize you’ve been commissioned by God with his message and authority?

I’d encourage you to pick one of these, and focus on it in your prayers in the coming week. Write it down, and ask God to grow passion for evangelism as you focus on this truth.

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.

How Do We Speak? (1 Thessalonians 2:1-12)

Big Idea: Share the gospel boldly, honestly, and lovingly.


One of the best ways to learn something is to examine the life of someone who does it well. If you want to be a great investor, study the life of Warren Buffett. If you want to learn business, read about someone like Richard Branson or Jeff Bezos. If you want to be a great writer, read biographies or memoirs of great writers.

The same thing applies to sharing the gospel. If we want to learn how to make a difference in people’s lives spiritually, then we need to look at the life of someone who’s done so.

So today we’re going to look at a case study of someone who evangelized effectively, and helped to plant a church We want to look at this case study and learn what we can, because many of us learn better from examples rather than principles.

The man was Paul. Paul once hated Jesus and Christianity, but, after an encounter with Jesus, had his life completely transformed. He became one of the greatest evangelists the church has ever known. He traveled all throughout the Roman empire, starting churches, and sharing the good news of Jesus.

One of the cities he visited is called Thessalonica. It’s a city in Greece. When Paul came to share the gospel there, it was a city that was strategically located. It was over 100,000 people, which made it large for its time. It was important within its region, and religiously pluralistic. People worshiped many gods there.

In the book of Acts (Acts 17), we read about Paul’s time in Thessalonica. He first went to the Jewish synagogue, and for three Sabbaths, he shared the gospel there. During the week, he worked his trade (making tents) to support himself. Some believed, but some hated his message, and started a riot. We don’t know how long Paul was in Thessalonica, but we know that the opposition cut his time there short.

Out of Paul’s ministry there, though, an important church was founded. But Paul couldn’t stay there, and was concerned about how this young church was doing. He had sent his associate, Timothy, to see how the church was doing, and had received a mostly positive report. He writes this letter to encourage the Thessalonians, and to deal with some issues within the church.

I’m glad that Paul wrote this letter. It gives us a window into what an effective evangelistic ministry looks like. As Paul recounts his missions trip to Thessalonica, we see from his example how the gospel must be declared.

Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica had at least three characteristics that we can emulate. Here are three ways we can learn to be more effective in sharing the gospel :

Share the gospel boldly, even when it is hard (verses 1-2)

In verses 1 and 2, Paul says:

For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.

Here’s the first way that Paul shared the gospel: he was bold, even when it was hard.

Paul says that “our coming to you was not in vain.” We’ll return to that later. And then he begins to list problems he’d had in Philippi, as well in Thessalonians. Here’s a short list.

In Philippi, according to Acts 16:19-39, he and his coworker Silas were insulted, attacked by a mob, publicly stripped and beaten by rods with many blows. They were then thrown in prison and had their feet put in stocks. All of this violated their rights as Roman citizens.

That was before they got to Thessalonica. When they showed up, they were still probably in pain from the beating they’d received. Within a short time, they encountered “strong opposition.” Some unsavory characters started a riot, and went looking for Paul and his friends, and they had to flee the city in the cover of darkness.

I don’t know what Paul and his friend Silas talked about as they fled. They were likely sore, tired, and more than a little frustrated. I think I would say something like, “You know, Silas, it might be time to try an easier line of work.”

But that wasn’t Paul’s heart. Paul says, “we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.” When we learn from Paul’s example, we will share the gospel boldly, even when it’s hard.

You see, boldness was a prerequisite for the results that Paul experienced. If he hadn’t been bold, then the Thessalonians wouldn’t have heard the gospel. If he hadn’t been bold, his life wouldn’t have been fruitful. All the things that Paul lists in this passage — the approval of God; the close fatherly relationship he had with the Thessalonians — wouldn’t have been true. If we’re going to be fruitful, we’re going to have to learn to be bold, even when it’s hard.

Where did Paul get this boldness? He actually spells it out for us in verse 2: “we had boldness in our God.” It wasn’t boldness in himself. It was a rock-solid confidence that “God was so real, and so powerful, and so wise and so utterly committed to doing all for Paul’s good that he knew nothing could separate him from the love of God” (John Piper).

I don’t know about you, but I know the missing piece in my life, especially when it gets hard, is boldness. When there’s opposition — and I’m not even talking about the kind of opposition that Paul faced — it’s easy to clam up and say nothing about the gospel. We don’t want to upset people or cause a scene. That’s what we think. The reality, though, is that there’s a deeper problem. We like comfort. We all do. Again, I like human approval and praise. I like money and comforts. And that’s exactly why I don’t want to speak up sometimes.

One preacher put it well:

So at least these two things have to happen inside if we are to be bold: we have to get free from the need of human acceptance and praise, and we have to get free from the need for the comforts and securities that money can buy. If we are free, we will be bold…Paul had his approval from God. He did not need human approval. He had his future in God. So no human threats could stop his courage. (John Piper).

The key to boldness is looking to God more than we look to our need for human approval and comfort. Ultimately, the best approval and comfort comes from God anyways.

If our lives aren’t going to be in vain, and we’re going to be fruitful and effective, we’re going to need a boldness in God even when it’s hard. Here are a couple of things we can do to cultivate that boldness:

  • Ask God for it. Pray for boldness. After all, Paul asked others to pray that he would declare the gospel “boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:20). Pray for boldness. Ask others to pray for boldness in your life. Boldness isn’t a personality trait; it’s grown as we look to God and prize him more than anything else.
  • Every time you’re not bold, try to figure out what happened. Figure out what you were trusting in that moment more than God — human approval, comfort, money. Confess it to God and others, and ask God for help in overcoming that idol.

That’s the first way we can learn to be more effective in sharing the gospel: with boldness in God, even when it’s hard.

Here another way we can learn to be more effective in sharing the gospel :

Share the gospel honestly, which pleases God (verses 3-6)

In verses 3 to 6, Paul says:

For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ.

We see in this passage that motive is a pretty big deal. Verse 3 focuses on three ways that he tried to weave honesty into his life and ministry:

  • message — His message was true. “…our appeal does not spring from error”
  • motives — His motives were above-board. His appeal didn’t spring from “impurity.” This is a word that was often used for something that was so immortal that it was dirty. In this context, he was talking about avoiding dirty motives like financial gain or people-pleasing.
  • methods — His methods were honest. He says that he avoided “any attempt to deceive.” He didn’t use underhanded rhetorical tricks that would have manipulated his audience.

Paul lived so that his whole life and ministry were above-board. People could make whatever accusation they wanted against him, but it sure would have been difficult to say much about his integrity.

This is so important because we live in a world of fakes. Many products are designed to imitate the real thing. There is plastic decking that looks like real wood. Vinyl flooring that appears to be ceramic tile. You can purchase fake fur or jewelry, phony noses, hairpieces, and other body parts. The purpose behind all of these items is fairly obvious, but what about a can of Spray-on Mud?

Spray-on Mud is designed for use on the outside of your SUV. That way it appears you use your expensive gas-guzzler for more than taking the kids to soccer practice. Spray it on and friends might think you've just returned from a wilderness adventure.

We can learn a lot from Paul. When we are real, and our lives match the message, we’ll be a lot more effective in sharing the gospel.

You’ve probably heard of Billy Graham, the American evangelist who’s held evangelistic meetings in Toronto a number of times. It’s estimated that he’s preached to over two billion people, which would mean he’s preached to more people in person than anyone in the history of Christianity. He’s also known for his integrity. As early as 1947, he and his campaign team met in a motel Modesto, California to discuss the pitfalls faced by revivalists. They identified four issues: misuse of money, sexual immorality, exaggeration of results and criticism of other clergy. They resolved that they would conduct regular financial audits, that they would never travel or dine alone with a woman outside their families, rely on independent confirmation of attendance at their meetings, and emphasize areas of agreement rather than disagreement.

I read the other week that when he checked into a hotel, his team would rip the cable TV from the wall. That seemed extreme, but they explained that they would pay for the damage. They were serious about maintaining integrity and avoiding the temptation of watching some of the adult content.

Ripping a cable from the wall may be extreme, but the underlying principle is a good one. When people look at our lives, they have to see that our lives match the message of the gospel. This doesn’t mean that we’re perfect. It means that we are pursuing integrity, and that we repent when we fall short. Paul’s message, motives, and methods were all above board. We can learn to share the gospel honestly like he did.

We’ve been trying to learn from Paul’s example. We’ve learned that we can be more effective in sharing the gospel by being bold and honest. Here one more way we can learn to be more effective in sharing the gospel :

Share the gospel lovingly, through our lives as well as our words (verses 7-12)

In verses 7 to 12, Paul says:

But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

I’m glad we’re finishing on this one. It would be easy to stop earlier and think that we all just need to be bold and above-board, and then we’ll be effective in sharing the gospel with others. But we’d be missing a key ingredient that’s absolutely necessary if we are going to be effective, and it’s found in verse 8: “we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves.” We’re not just sharing the gospel; we’re sharing ourselves. We’re opening up our lives to people.

One preacher (John Piper) captures it well: Where the gospel flourishes, people share their own souls. Where the gospel flourishes — where people are encountering the truth of the gospel, wrestling with spiritual issues, and coming to faith — it’s because people aren’t just sharing the gospel. They’re sharing their lives. 

I find this pretty challenging. It’s easy to hand out literature or hand someone a book. It’s easy to hang banners and run Facebook ads. All of those are good, but they’re not the same as sharing ourselves with people.

You have not shared the gospel when you have just shared information. It involves much more. Look at the language that Paul uses: like a nursing mother, working day and night, like a father with his children. Think about what this would have looked like. It would have involved patience, nurturing, encouraging, comforting, and exhorting. It would have involved being an example. It would have been hard work. It’s much more than information. It’s sharing our whole lives.

When I think about the those who have impacted my life the most, I think of people who gave me much more than a message. They gave me their lives. I think of people like Don Taylor and Bill Henderson who cared for me, encouraged me, and built into me. I bet it’s the same for you. Where the gospel flourishes, people share their own souls.

What does effective gospel ministry look like? Sometimes we think it would take someone who’s more gifted or skilled than we are. But when we look at Paul’s life, we see that some of the traits that made him effective are traits that God can grow in anyone.

If you hear nothing else, I want you to hear this: Share the gospel boldly, honestly, and lovingly.

When we see how much grace God has lavished on us, and what Jesus has done for us through his life, death, and resurrection; when we see how he desires to use us by the power of his Spirit, how could we not respond with boldness, integrity, and love?

Lord, Thank you for Paul’s example. Thank you for taking someone who was opposed to Jesus and turning him into one of the greatest evangelists of all time.

Would you use us? Please give us boldness, honestly, and love. Help people see Jesus in our lives. Thank you that you use people like us. I 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.

What Do We Say? (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Big Idea: Communicate the gospel — that Jesus took our sin so we could take his righteousness — clearly.


One of my heroes is a man named Haddon Robinson. Haddon is now 85 years old, and his health is poor. But I had the privilege of studying under Haddon for three or four years. The impact of his life is profound.

Haddon has said a number of things I’ll never forget. As a preaching professor, he listened to thousands of sermons. Sometimes he commented on the fact that he had listened to so many sermons and hadn’t become an atheist yet! One thing he said, though, really stuck with me:

We don't preach the gospel! As I listen to some preachers, if I were an outsider, I honestly wouldn't know what I was to respond to…

We want to reach people, but the clear terms of the gospel are seldom enunciated. It's probably an exaggeration, but I don't think in my lifetime I've heard twenty messages that I would say were clear gospel messages. If you didn't know any jargon, didn't have any religious background—if you came to church and wanted to know how to have a relationship with a holy God—the sermon would not tell you.

“We don’t preach the gospel,” he said. In the thousands of sermons he’d heard, he could only think of about twenty that were clear gospel messages. Those words haunt me. If true, we need to do better.

So today I want to do better. At least, I want to try. Why? Because I don’t think that pastors are the only ones who struggle to explain the gospel. We all get tongue-tied. So I want to look at how we can explain it as clearly as possible.

Mark Dever, a pastor in Washington, D.C., always asks his potential members to explain the gospel in one minute or less. That’s a great exercise, and it’s worth trying. Thats the whole point of this sermon. At the end of this, I want you to be able to explain the gospel in one minute or less. In order to do this, we need to know what to exclude, and what to include. So let’s go. Let’s talk about how to get to the heart of the gospel in one minute or less.

What to Leave Out

Here’s what to leave out. I didn’t make this up. I stole this list from Mark Dever’s book The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, and I like it.

Here are things we don’t want to include in our one-minute gospel message. In fact, they don’t even belong in our one-hour gospel message.

It’s not that we’re okay. Sometimes we communicate a message that doesn’t take our biggest problem. The gospel is sometimes presented as a way to live a better life. The gospel isn’t a message about reaching our full potential or improving our lives. It cuts much deeper.

It’s not simply that God is love. It’s not that this message is untrue. It’s just incomplete. It gives a one-dimensional picture of God and leaves out other qualities. As D.A. Carson says, “I do not think that what the Bible says about the love of God can long survive at the forefront of our thinking if it is abstracted from the sovereignty of God, the holiness of God, the wrath of God, the providence of God, or the personhood of God—to mention only a few nonnegotiable elements of basic Christianity.”

 It’s not simply that Jesus wants to be our friend. Jesus does want to be our friend, but again, there’s more to the message. There’s a real past to be dealt with. Real sins have been committed. “Christ isn't just our friend. To call him supremely that is to damn him with faint praise. He is our friend, but he is so much more! By his death on the cross Christ has become the lamb that was slain for us, our redeemer, the one who has made peace between us and God, who has taken our guilt on himself, who has conquered our most deadly enemies and has assuaged the personal, just wrath of God” (Mark Dever).

It’s not that we should live rightly. Some people think the gospel is that we should live moral lives. “Christianity is sometimes presented as nothing more than virtues - public and private. Christians are thought to be simply about doing religious things, such as baptism, and communion, and going to church. The Christian life is nothing more than obeying the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule, reading our Bibles, and praying. Being Christian means building up the community, giving to others, contributing to soup kitchens, and preserving historical buildings rather than making parking lots.” But, surprising as it may be, this isn’t the gospel. The gospel isn’t about anything we do or can do. It’s about what Jesus has done for us. It’s “not simply an additive that comes to make our already good lives better. No! The gospel is a message of wonderful good news that comes to those who realize their just desperation before God.”

No matter how long we have to present the gospel, we want to be clear. We want to avoid distortions of the gospel. Here’s what the gospel isn’t: it’s not that we’re okay, or simply that God is love and Jesus wants to be our friend. It’s not that we need to live good lives. Leave all of those out, and if they come up, be ready to clarify that these aren’t the gospel.

What to Say

The most important concept to remember as we prepare to speak is this: “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5). Keep it focused on Jesus!

I want to use one word, one verse, and one sentence for what I hope is the simplest gospel presentation ever. Here’s the one word: exchange. And here’s the one verse:

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV)

This verse is 15 words in the original language. It’s two clauses. And yet it takes us to the heart of the gospel. Someone said of this verse:

It is not the puzzle of the New Testament, but the ultimate solution of all puzzles…the key-stone of the whole system of apostolic thought…it is the focus in which the reconciling love of God burns with the purest and intensest flame. (James Denney)

Here’s what this verse tells us: Jesus took our sin so that we could take his righteousness. That’s it. It’s the greatest exchange in history.

Jesus took our sin. Jesus never sinned. He’s the only human who’s ever lived who never sinned. But Jesus took our place. You see, we were separated from God because of our sin. We were enemies of God. But God sent his Son Jesus to come to earth to become our substitute. This means that he became the enemy of God in our place. Even though he had never sinned, he took our place. It was if he had done all the sinful things that we had done. He bore our sins on the cross.

Think about all the sins you’ve committed in your life. None of us can think of all of them, but maybe think of a couple. Think of a recent one. Think of one that left you deeply ashamed. You would be embarrassed if anyone in the room knew that you had thought or done what you did. Imagine that we could put the sins of just the people in this room right now on the screen and watch them. We would go running out of this room. We would never look each other in the eye again.

But Jesus didn’t run away. He stepped in and, even though he was perfect, he took your place. He suffered our separation, took our place, and secured our salvation.

In Hunger Games, contestants are forced to kill each other to stay alive. When contestants are chosen from each district, the name Primrose Everdeen is plucked from a large bowl. As the authorities lead Primrose away, her older sister Katniss suddenly yells out. The guards stop Katniss from approaching Prim, but Katniss shouts, “No! I volunteer! I volunteer! I volunteer as tribute!” So Katniss becomes the representative for District 12. She takes her sister’s place. She becomes a substitute.

Katniss a moving example of courage and sacrificial love. She voluntarily substitutes herself for another human being. But it's also an understandable substitution. She does it for her little sister. It's admirable, but it's the kind of thing we hope we'd all do for our younger siblings or our children or our spouses.

But Jesus' substitution doesn't work like that. Whose place does Jesus take? He takes the place of cowards, hypocrites, criminals, sinners. Jesus took our place. When we were being lead away to face our just punishment, Jesus volunteered. Jesus willingly took our place so that we could live.

The reason we could take his sin is so that we could take his righteousness. Here’s the reason why Jesus took our place: so that we could take his righteousness. We gave Jesus all of our sin, and he gives us all of his righteousness. Right now, if you are a Christian, when God looks at you, he doesn’t see all that sin. He sees the righteousness of Jesus.

The famous preacher Charles Spurgeon called this the heart of the gospel: the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ:

The Lord God laid upon Jesus, who voluntarily undertook it, all the weight of human sin. Instead of its resting on the sinner, who did commit it, it was made to rest upon Christ, who did not commit it … Christ was not guilty, and could not be made guilty; but he was treated as if he were guilty, because he willed to stand in the place of the guilty …

As Christ was made sin, and yet never sinned, so are we made righteousness, though we cannot claim to have been righteous in and of ourselves. Sinners though we be, and forced to confess it with grief, yet the Lord doth cover us so completely with the righteousness of Christ, that only his righteousness is seen, and we are made the righteousness of God in him. This is true of all the saints, even of as many as believe on his name.

How do we get this? Don’t miss the one simple phrase in verse 21: “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” It is only when we identify with Christ, coming to him and receiving his gift, that we get this benefit. So come.

You're Ready

Tonight I’ve given you one verse, a one-word summary, and an eleven word explanation. I’ve gone on to explain and illustrate it a bit more, but that’s all you need. You can add in your own illustrations. I’ve noticed over the years that there are tons of them. Watch movies, read novels, and keep your eye open for illustrations of substitution. You’ll notice them all over.

Here’s the one word at the heart of the gospel: exchange.

Here’s the one verse: 

 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV)

Here’s the short explanation: Jesus took our sin so that we could take his righteousness.

But here’s the most important thing I want you to realize. If you are hearing this for the first time today, you’re ready. And when I say you’re ready, I mean two things.

First — you’re ready to respond. In verse 20, the verse right before, Paul says:

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20)

The idea is of an ambassador who has an urgent message. An ambassador was an imperial legate in the Roman Empire. This would have been a man of immense authority. He didn’t speak in his own name or act on his own authority. His message didn’t originate in him, but from a higher authority. He stood in his Sovereign’s authority. 

Paul, through Scripture, makes the appeal, but it’s not from Paul. It’s from God. And it’s an appeal with passion and urgency. He says: be reconciled by God. Receive God’s offer of reconciliation. Jesus took our sin, so we could take his righteousness. I urge you not to just hear this message. Receive it today. Be reconciled to God. Put your trust in what Jesus has done for you, and receive his gift today.

Second — you’re not just ready to respond, but to share. If you have heard this message today, you’re ready to share it. Most conversions don’t take place instantly. You don’t share the gospel once, and someone believes. It takes many people and many conversations to see someone move to the gospel. And you have what it takes. You can play an important role in pointing someone to the gospel. Just take this one verse, one word, and one sentence, and you have everything it takes to share the gospel.

So here’s my encouragement: memorize the one verse, one word, and one sentence. You probably won’t ever use it word for word. You definitely won’t use it as a formula. But when you get a chance to explain the gospel, you’ll be able to do so clearly in a minute or less. It’s a great starting point for sharing the gospel when God gives us the opportunity.

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.

How Should We Pray? (Ephesians 6:18-20)

Big Idea: Pray always, about everything, without giving up — especially for the spread of the gospel.


It was 2013. Seventy thousand people were crammed in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. Another 108 million people — almost half of the American population — were watching on TV. Baltimore was ahead of San Francisco by a score of 28-6. And then the power went out. For 34 minutes, the play was stopped and millions of people waited for the power to come back on.

Players stayed on the field during the outage. Some laid on the ground. Others spent time stretching. Fans started doing the wave. Nothing happened. Everyone waited.

I thought of that this week as I prepared this message. We’re in a series on Best News Ever. We’re talking about sharing the best possible news:

God, through the perfect life, atoning death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, rescues all his people from the wrath of God into peace with God, with a promise of the full restoration of his created order forever— all to the praise of the glory of his grace. (Ray Ortlund)

But I need to be honest. Sometimes it feels like the power is out. Sometimes it feels like the game is on, but the power’s out, and nothing is really happening even though we know it should be.

So today I want to talk about something that’s absolutely essential if we’re going to share the gospel. I want to talk about prayer. Jack Miller, one of my heroes, says, “Let’s now face a painful but helpful truth: the boldness of grace cannot come from our natural selves.” In other words, if we rely on our own power, we are not going to share much of the good news. And even if we do, it won’t be very effective.

Today, then, I want to talk about the role of prayer in evangelism. I want to begin by saying that prayer is hard. Paul Miller, who’s written my favorite book on prayer, talks about why prayer is so hard:

  • We wonder, “What good does it do?”
  • We find it frustrating. Our minds wander, and then we feel guilty.
  • We don’t know what it makes for a good prayer.
  • Prayer exposes our doubts.
  • We’re so busy that when we slow down to pray, we feel uncomfortable.
  • “We prize intellect, competency, and wealth. Because we can do life without God, praying seems nice but unnecessary.”

With all of these barriers to prayer, it’s a wonder we pray at all. And maybe some of us don’t.

But in today’s passage, we see that prayer is essential to the Christian life. The passage is at the end of an image of life as a battle. If we are going to win the battle, then we need armor. And we can’t take up our armor. We must take up God’s armor. The last thing that’s mentioned is prayer. It’s not a piece of armor; it’s how we put the rest of the armor on. It’s actually given more space than any piece of armor mentioned.

As someone’s said:

Prayer is critical because every piece of Christian armor is useless without it. Prayer is like oil. Just as every part of an engine is useless without oil, so every part of Christian warfare is vain without prayer. Fighting Satan without prayer is like David fighting Goliath in Saul’s armor. The armor doesn’t fit, and it is ineffective against the blows of the enemy. (Joel Beeke)

If we are going to win the battle, we must pray. If we are going to share the best news ever with people, then we must pray. If we are going to fulfill our mission as a church, then prayer will be essential. A life of dependence of God is essential if we’re going to live the Christian life, and share the good news with others. It’s our secret resource.

We’re still stuck, though. How should we pray? What’s interesting about this passage is that there are a few “all” statements in here. They give us some hints about how we should pray. So how should we pray?

Pray Always

Paul writes, “praying at all times in the Spirit…” What does Paul mean by this? He doesn’t mean that we should do nothing but pray all day and night. He’s not saying that when you get asked to go out for dinner or to a movie, you should say, “I can’t. I’ll be praying.”

Here’s what Paul does mean: Weave prayer into your life, so that like breathing, there’s never a time that you’re not praying. Prayer is the expression of all of us — our struggles, our feelings, our desires — before a God who sees all. As someone’s said, the heart of Christianity is to be with the God who is always with us. That means bringing all of us — even the difficult, uncomfortable parts — into God’s presence. Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel write:

Life is found in real, honest, and vulnerable relationship with the God who calls you his beloved. As we embrace this posture of openness before God, the soil of our hearts will indeed be pierced by the living Word and searched by his Spirit. They will till the hard ground of your heart so that the living water can penetrate to the root system of your soul. Embracing a posture of exposure before God is diving deeply into the joy of communion with God, even when, like Adam and Eve, you feel naked and ashamed. This is a call to embrace God in times of abundance and in times of drought. It is a call to be always with the God who is ever present with you.

I was talking to someone in Liberty Village who’s in a long-distance relationship. She would get her fiancé on FaceTime and talk with him. When they were done, though, they didn’t end the call. The call continued throughout the day as she ate and worked and lived. That’s a good picture of what “praying at all times” means. Pray with focus sometimes, but never stop praying. Don’t end the call at the end of your prayer time. Take prayer into your life, so that your whole life is a life of prayer.

There is nothing that can’t be prayed for, and there is no occasion in which prayer is inappropriate. One preacher said, “Paul lets us know by repeating the word “all” four times in this passage, as if to say that there is nothing that cannot be prayed for and that there is no situation in which prayer is unavailing” (James Boice).

Bring prayer into your whole life: when you go to work, when you hang out with friends, when you’re out shopping, and when you’re dead tired and have nothing left. Prayer becomes like the background music of our lives. There is no time that you shouldn’t be in prayer. The key is to realize how much we need God, so there’s no way we’re going to stop praying.

Live your whole life before God and his presence.

Pray About Everything

Paul writes, “with all prayer and supplication.” You notice that it’s a bit repetitive. Paul says, “pray with all kinds of prayers and requests.” This cuts through the formality and predictability of prayer. Pray everywhere. Pray in all kinds of ways. Pray for yourselves. Pray for others. Pray alone. Pray with your significant other. Pray with your family. Pray in a social meeting. Pray in church. Pray at your regular time. Pray when you’re doing other things.

Not only that, but pray differently. Adore God. Confess your sins. Give thanks. Ask him for things. Paul is telling us to pray with variety and ways. There’s hardly a wrong way to pray. It’s varied prayer, and it’s eager, intense prayer. “Paul is calling us to warfare prayer that is not sleepily rambling through a grocery list of requests but is earnest and urgent” (Spiritual Warfare).

Joel Beeke writes:

Bring all your needs to God, great and small. Tell the Lord everything about you, as if He knew nothing about you, yet knowing that He knows all things. Entrust yourself and all of your needs into God’s all-sufficient hands if you would defeat Satan on things small and large.

So pray all day, and pray all kinds of prayers. Live before God, and talk to him about everything.

I read two books last year that really helped me think about prayer. One of them was A Praying Life by Paul Miller. I even love that title: A Praying Life. That speaks to prayer being something we just do sometimes. It’s really our whole lives. Miller writes:

A praying life isn’t simply a morning prayer time; it is about slipping into prayer at odd hours of the day, not because we are disciplined but because we are in touch with our own poverty of spirit, realizing that we can’t even walk through a mall or our neighborhood without the help of the Spirit of Jesus.

I also read another book, Beloved Dust, that says a similar thing. It says that there are times that he hide from God, because we “see our brokenness, our finitude, and our sin as things that keep us from God rather than as opportunities to throw ourselves at the foot of the cross and grasp his grace.” But when we lust again, gossip again, or erupt in anger in the kids, that’s exactly when we need to be in the presence of God. They say to bring your whole life before God and live it in complete honesty.

Are you angry? Be the angry person before the face of God. Are you prideful? Be the person filled with pride before God. Are you selfish? Be the selfish person before God. It does not help to pretend you are otherwise. You are not fooling God….He died for the real you, the messed-up, messed-up, sinful, broken, anxious you. Why are you hiding from him now?

I think that’s pretty close to what this passage is saying. Bring prayer into your life. Bring prayer into not just the neat parts of your lives. Bring prayer into your commute, your struggles, everything. Pray all day, and pray all kinds of prayers. Talk to him about everything. This is more than just a prayer time; this is a praying life.

Pray Without Giving Up

What we’ve talked about so far almost sounds like it’s supposed to be easy, and it’s not. That’s why I’m glad the passage continues: “To that end keep alert with all perseverance…” I’m so glad that the Bible says this. It’s easy in a sermon like this to talk about the praying life as if it’s just something that happens. That’s not the case. It takes alertness, because we’re going to lose focus and drift. Things rarely drift in a positive direction, as you know. It’s also going to take perseverance, because we’re going to feel like giving up. Jesus told us to keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking.

The 20th century Norwegian pastor Ole Hallesby likens prayer to mining as he knew it in Norway. Demolition to create mine shafts took two basic kinds of actions. There are long periods of time, he writes, "when the deep holes are being bored with great effort into the hard rock." To bore the holes deeply enough into the most strategic spots for removing the main body of rock was work that took patience, steadiness, and a great deal of skill. Once the holes were finished, however, the "shot" was inserted and connected to a fuse. "To light the fuse and fire the shot is not only easy but also very interesting … . One sees 'results.' … Shots resound, and pieces fly in every direction." He concludes that while the more painstaking work takes both skill and patient strength of character, "anyone can light a fuse."

Pastor Tim Keller comments:

This helpful illustration warns us against doing only "fuse-lighting" prayers, the kind that we soon drop if we do not get immediate results. If we believe both in the power of prayer and in the wisdom of God, we will have a patient prayer life of "hole-boring." Mature believers know that handling the tedium is part of what makes for effective prayers. We must avoid extremes—of either not asking God for things or of thinking we can bend God's will to ours. We must combine tenacious importunity, a "striving with God," with deep acceptance of God's wise will, whatever it is.

Paul says to keep alert, to keep praying with all perseverance. Don’t give up. Keep boring those holes with great effort. Don’t give up.

Pray Especially for the Spread of the Gospel

Finally, Paul writes, “making supplication for all the saints…” And he gives one particular area to pray for:

…and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:19-20)

We’re in this series on sharing the good news with others. And this is really why I wanted to look at this passage today. We could do a whole series on the things that we have to do to share the gospel, but one of the most important things we can do is to pray. Pray that we will do our part. Pray that words will be given to us. Pray that we’ll be bold.

As I mentioned earlier, one of my mentors — a man I’ve never met but who’s mentored me through his books — says this: “Let’s now face a painful but helpful truth: the boldness of grace cannot come from our natural selves.” There is, he says, an important link between evangelism and prayer.

Prayer starts the promises of God on their way to fulfillment. Here is God’s battle plan for our time. In prayer, God allows us to lay hold of his purposes as these are expressed in his promises. Each promise is a hook for pulling our faith into the heavens. There we catch God’s missionary vision of a world filled with his praise (Psalm 67). By claiming God’s promises as we petition him in prayer, we set God’s work in motion (Luke 10:1-3; Acts 4:23-31). Unbelievable as it may seem, the omnipotent God uses our requests to activate the fulfillment of his mighty promises in history (Revelation 8:1-5). As the laborers pray, he begins to ripen the harvest for reaping (Acts 13:1-4). (C. John Miller, Powerful Evangelism for the Powerless)

If we’re going to see evangelism take place, it’s going to take prayer.

Hear this: Pray always, about everything, without giving up — especially for the spread of the gospel.

I want to close today by reminding you that the only reason we can pray is because Jesus has made a way. His life, death, and resurrection have made it possible for our sins to be forgiven and for us to approach God. Even now, Jesus is praying for us. I want to remind you of the access that’s available to you to the King of the universe because of what Jesus has done. Let’s come to Jesus today.

And I want to ask you to join me in praying evangelistically. I want to ask you to do two things: to pray for the evangelism of this church, and then to pray for three people who are important to you. Join me in praying for these three people every day, that they may come to know the love of Jesus.

Pray always, about everything, without giving up — especially for the spread of the gospel.

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.

What Is the Gospel Plan? (Romans 3:27-4:5)

Big Idea: The gospel is that we don’t measure up, but Jesus has measured up for us. It’s based on our need, not our doing.


A preacher once told the story of a frog that one day fell into a pail of milk. Although he tried every conceivable way to jump out of that pail, he always failed. The sides were too high, and because he was floating in the milk he could not get enough leverage for the needed leap.

So he did the only thing he could do. He paddled and paddled and paddled some more. And one day, his paddling had churned a pad of butter from which he was able to launch himself to freedom.

The preacher’s message was: “Just keep paddling, keep on working, keep on doing your best, and you will make it.”

I sometimes think that’s what people expect to hear when they come to church: work hard, do more, and one day you’ll measure up. It’s not only the message that we think we’ll hear in church, but it’s also the message that many of us live by in our lives.

We’re in this series called “Best News Ever.” It’s about knowing and sharing the message of the gospel. It’s the very reason that we exist as a church. And today we’re going to ask ourselves, “What is the gospel message?” What is the message that we want to share with as many people as possible? So today, I want to share with you what this message is. I want to share it for two reasons:

  • First, because we need to hear it. I need to hear it today.
  • Second, because we need to share it.

My goal is to give you something that you can use as you share the gospel with others. I encourage you to take notes, and to make it an aim to use this within the next couple of weeks.

So what’s the heart of the Christian message? One way to put it is to look at three things: how we try to measure up, how the Bible says we can measure up, and then what we need to do.

How We Try to Measure Up

This passage gets to the heart of a problem that’s common to all of humanity. It’s true of everyone who’s present here today. The problem: boasting.

What is the deal with boasting? In history, boasting was a ritual that people practiced before going into battle. They would line up, and the commander or king would know that he was sending many of them into certain death. So how do you get them ready? You get them ready with a ritual boast. William the Conquerer reminded his soldiers of all the insults that his enemy had made against their families, and said, “May the lightning of your glory be seen and the thunders of your onset heard from east to west, and be ye the avengers of noble blood!" And then everyone would cheer and go crazy, and then go into battle. You see this all throughout history, as well as in literature like Shakespeare.

What’s interesting is that the Bible takes this and says that this is what the human heart does. In fact, it’s the spiritual problem that all of us have. It’s boasting: publicly proclaiming that we’re satisfied with our own achievements. 

In the passage we just read, the apostle Paul says this:

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Romans 3:27-28)

This is what happens when the frog paddles hard enough to create butter and escape the bucket. It’s what we celebrate in all the stories of rags to riches. It’s why we read self-help books and why we try to do better. And it’s a problem.

Here’s the heart of what Paul says in this verse: human boasting is excluded in our desire to measure up before God. It’s something that religious people do, but it’s also something that is a problem for all of us. We all tend to take pride in our accomplishments, and base our standing on these.

I once heard Tim Keller preach on this passage, and he explained:

The whole idea behind ritual boasts is, “We can do it. We can get it. We’re strong enough. We’re good enough.” What God says is the problem with every human heart is you look at your beauty, you look at your smarts, you look at your talent, you look at anything good about yourself, you look at your achievements, and you say, “I did that.” You take credit for it…

Every single soul makes its boast in something. I want to look at two types of boasting, because both of them are common.

Non-religious ways of measuring up — The first kind of boasting is non-religious boasting. It looks at money, strength, athletic ability, beauty, intelligence, career success. It could be family, or social standing, or reputation. We look at it and say, “This is why I’m valuable. This is why I’m worth it. This is my glory and significance. Because of this, I am worth it.”

We all do this. We’re not that different from the warriors going into battle, when you get down to it. If you know me at all, and if I know you at all, we’ve probably already discovered each other’s boasts, the things that really matter to us and make us feel like we’re something.

But Paul says that boasting is excluded.

Religious ways of measuring up — There’s a second type of boasting that’s also excluded. In the context, Paul was talking about the boasting that a religious person would do based on how good a person he or she was. And Paul says that any kind of boasting based on our moral record is completely excluded. It’s just not welcome. It’s a problem, and a disease. It is not what the gospel is all about. We all do it, and it’s a problem.

As a case study, Paul uses the example of Abraham. Abraham was the man that God chose thousands of years earlier to be the founder of the nation of Israel. But God chose Abraham not because of anything that he could boast about. God chose Abraham simply because of grace, and he was justified completely by his faith in God. If Abraham couldn’t boast about anything, Paul is saying, why would any of us think that we could?

If there’s one kind of boasting that is especially dangerous, it’s religious boasting. If you are a church-going person, you may be in greater danger of boasting than you realize. James Boice says:

The sphere of life in which people show the most pride is religion. And there is a good reason for this. Religion—not true Christianity, but religion in the generic sense—is the ultimate setting for the very worst expressions of pride. For it is in religion alone that we are able to claim that God, and not mere human beings, sets his approval on us as superior to other human beings. Moreover, the more demanding or rigorous our “religion” is, the more prideful we become.

He then quotes C.S. Lewis who says:

Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good—above all, that we are better than someone else—I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil.

Any type of boasting is dangerous. But religious boasting, based on our faithfulness, our knowledge, or our piety, may be especially dangerous.

There’s the problem: our boasting, our working to make ourselves good enough.

So this is what I’d want to share: We all want to measure up. We all do this. Religious people do it, and non-religious people do it as well. And it’s futile. I think I’d want to talk about some common ways that people around us are tempted to measure up: health, career success, wealth, and status. I’d also want to talk about some ways that you personally are tempted to measure up and boast as well. It helps a lot when you’re honest about your temptations as well.

We’re all tempted to try to measure up. But the Bible says that this never works. So what is the answer?

The Heart of the Gospel: Grace

The alternative to trying to measure up is one word: grace. Paul explains this in Romans 4:4-5:

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness… (Romans 4:4-5)

Notice the contrast: working versus not working.

Working — Here’s one problem with trying to measure up. If God accepts us because we measure up, Paul says, then God accepts us out of obligation. He uses the example of our jobs. When we work, our employer pays us. When we get the pay, we receive it as something that we deserve. It’s not a gift. It’s not because our boss is generous. It’s because we earned it. We had it coming to us.

If we were able to do this with God, then our standing before him wouldn’t be a gift. It would be something we deserved, and we would be able to brag about it. We would be able to boast and be spiritually proud. Life would be a meritocracy in which only the good people get in, and they’re proud because they know they earned it.

There’s another problem with this. You can break down all human acts into four categories:

  • bad - bad — bad things done by imperfect people (crimes, immoral things)
  • good - bad — good things done by imperfect people (civility, human goodness)
  • bad — good — bad things done by perfect people (doesn’t exist)
  • good - good — good things done by perfect people (doesn’t exist)

The problem is that to earn our standing before God, we have to be in the last category. We have to do good things as perfect people. The problem, though? None of us ever make it. We can get to the good things done by imperfect people category, but that’s as far as we can get. That means that we’re in big trouble if we think we have to measure up to be right with God.

Not Working and Believing — Paul shows us a better way: “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Romans 4:5). Here’s what Paul is saying: God isn’t looking for good people. He isn’t looking for people who are working to earn their standing before him. He’s looking for imperfect people.

How does this work? It works because Jesus’ righteousness is credited to us. We get the credit for the only perfect person who ever lived.

In the spring of 2002, Denise Banderman left work early so she could have some uninterrupted study time before taking a final exam. When she got to class, everybody was doing their last-minute studying. The teacher came in and said he would review with them before the test. Most of his review came right from the study guide, but there were some things he was reviewing that they had never heard. When questioned about it, he said they were in the book and we were responsible for everything in the book. The class couldn't argue with that.

Finally it was time to take the test. “Leave them face down on the desk until everyone has one, and I'll tell you to start,” said the professor.

When the class turned them over, every answer on the test was filled in. Each student’s name was even written on the exam in red ink. The bottom of the last page said: “This is the end of the exam. All the answers on your test are correct. You will receive an A on the final exam. The reason you passed the test is because the creator of the test took it for you. All the work you did in preparation for this test did not help you get the A. You have just experienced grace.”

The professor then went around the room and asked each student individually, “What is your grade? Do you deserve the grade you are receiving? How much did all your studying for this exam help you achieve your final grade?”

Then he said, “Some things you learn from lectures, some things you learn from research, but some things you can only learn from experience. You've just experienced grace. One hundred years from now, if you know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, your name will be written down in a book, and you will have had nothing to do with writing it there. That will be the ultimate grace experience.”

That’s exactly what Paul says here: To the one who doesn’t work, but trusts God who writes the test for us, that person will get the mark they couldn’t earn with all the work in the world.

How to Communicate It

There are many ways to communicate the gospel. This is just one of them.

We can share that everyone tries to measure up. We all try to do this, using religious ways (going to church, being a moral person) or non-religious ways (achievements, wealth, status). But everyone tries to measure up. We all look to something so that we can know that we’ve made it.

But the message of the Bible is that our efforts to measure up before God backfire. The best we can do is to become an imperfect person doing good things. But this isn’t enough. The good news is that God accepts people who don’t work, but trust God to make them right because Jesus has written the test for them. This is the heart of the gospel.

Dane Ortlund says:

Christianity is the unreligion. It turns all our religious instincts on their heads ….

The ancient Greeks told us to be moderate by knowing our inclinations. The Romans told us to be strong by ordering our lives. Buddhism tells us to be disillusioned by annihilating our consciousness. Hinduism tells us to be absorbed by merging our souls. Islam tells us to be submissive by subjecting our wills. Agnosticism tells us to be at peace by ignoring our doubts. Moralism tells us to be good by discharging our obligations. Only the gospel tells us to be free by acknowledging our failure. Christianity is the unreligion because it is the one faith whose founder tells us to bring not our doing, but our need.

This is the simple message we need to believe. And this is the simple message that we need to communicate.

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.

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?

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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.

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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.