Sermon Options: April 3, 2022

September 2nd, 2021

GETTING ON WITH THE FUTURE

ISAIAH 43:16-21

The young recruit to the monastic order was warned of its severity, strictness, and vow of silence. At the end of ten years he was allowed to speak two words. To his confessor he said, "Food bad." Criticism accepted. At the end of the second ten years, again he lamented, "Bed hard." Accepted without comment. At the conclusion of the third ten-year period, the monk emphatically stated, "I quit." To which the abbot replied, "Good! You have done nothing but complain since you've been here."

A 1990's hit of the rock group, the Eagles, says, "Get over it!" Others may have replied to the monk, "Get on with it!"

How do we do that? How can we get over the past and get on with the future, particularly as we look forward to the wonderful climax of this Lenten season?

I. Don't Dwell on the Past
Isaiah tells the children of Israel to "forget the former things; do not dwell on the past" (Isa. 43:18 NIV). He did not say that the past was bad. In fact, there was much good—the deliverance of the Exodus, the Davidic Kingship, and Temple worship. He did not say that memory was unimportant. In fact, there is nothing more tragic than the loss of memory, whether it be personal memory loss or the inability to recall one's spiritual or national traditions. But to overly dwell on the past can be painful, even destructive.

When Miss Havisham in Dickens's Great Expectations was left at the altar, the clock stopped and her life stalled as cobwebs decorated the wedding cake. Isaiah would agree with Paul when he said, "Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead" ( Phil. 3:13 b). Get on with it!

II. Be Open to the God of Change and Surprise
Israel had to adjust to their God whose other name was "Surprise." God wasn't doing his "new thing" (v. 19) the old way through leaders such as Moses and David. Surprise! He was working his will through the heathen Persian King Cyrus! Deliverance from Babylon and return to Jerusalem will be partially facilitated through a non-Jewish agent! God's other name was "Surprise!"

It is important then that we not try to restrict God to the ways he has worked in the past but try to be open to the new ways he may be working in the present and future. Great coaches like Knute Rockne, Bob Neyland, and Paul Bryant were great in their eras, but would lose today unless they changed with the times. We have to learn to cope with the tension and insecurity of newness. It can cost a lot to say "yes" to God, but it will cost even more to say "no"!

III. Trust the God of the Process
We may not always be able to trust the process, but we always can trust the God of the process—the God who leads his children. Israel eventually learned that God always honors his Word (vv. 16, 19-20). Deliverance and restoration would be better than they imagined. Jerusalem would be rebuilt, the Temple would be restored, and the Messiah would come.

Lenten preparation is made richer by an abiding trust that God is going to use the process for his glory and our growth. John Claypool tells us that as the Christmas pageant neared for the nursery school, the anticipation for the little boy was not so much for the program but for the present he was to give his father. When the day finally arrived, the boy ran down the hall to give his father the ashtray he had made. But he tripped and fell, and the ashtray was broken.

The little boy stared in disbelief and began to cry uncontrollably. "Oh, that's all right," his father said, trying to comfort him. "It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter at all!" The mother, more wise in her way, said, "But it does matter. It matters a great deal." She then sat on the floor and cradled the little boy in her arms as they wept together.

After a few minutes when the sobbing ceased, the wise mother said, "Now, let's pick up the pieces and see what we can make with what's left."

It's called "getting on with the future." (Gary L. Carver)

BEFORE, AFTER, AND FOREVER

PHILIPPIANS 3:4b-14

Many people have a confused idea about how people become Christian. Some think they are Christian because they live in a "Christian country." Others think they are Christian because they were born into a "Christian family." Such people are not the first to think their relationship with God is based on birth, nationality, or even good works. The apostle Paul gives us a "before and after" comparison of the things upon which he based his relationship with God.

I. Before We Know Christ
Paul was born into a very religious family. He was born into the tribe of Benjamin, Jacob's beloved youngest son. When other Jewish people gave up their language and culture, conforming to the Roman and Greek influences, Paul's family remained faithful as "Hebrews among Hebrews." When he grew up, Paul became a Pharisee—a zealous advocate of the Jewish religion. He kept the Law, and persecuted those who attempted to change the traditional Hebrew religion. Paul was confident, if God would accept anybody based on birth, nationality, or actions, he would have God's approval.

I have talked to people today who likewise think because they were born into Christian families that they have God's ultimate approval. I was born into such a family of churchgoers. We attended weekly services, and evening services. Every Sunday in worship the congregation recited the Apostles' Creed. I can still remember the first Sunday when I said the creed along with the congregation without having to follow along with a printed copy. No one told me simply memorizing the creed would make me a Christian, but I believed I was. Quoting a creed no more makes you a Christian than counting to ten in Spanish makes you a Mexican! Other people I have known likewise have pointed back to something they did to become a Christian.

But Paul says everything he did he counts as "rubbish." People are not born into the Kingdom, and they do not earn their way into the Kingdom.

II. After We Know Christ
Paul wanted to know Jesus; he did not want to simply know about Jesus. Creeds and doctrines may be true and important as they tell us about Jesus, but they are not substitutes for having a personal relationship with Jesus.

Our first personal knowledge of Jesus is when the risen Jesus touches our heart and reveals himself to us personally. Were he not risen, this could not happen. Until it happens, our knowledge of him is only secondhand.

To know the "fellowship of his sufferings" is to know he took our sufferings, our punishment for our sins. We must share in his suffering and, as Paul said, be crucified with Christ. He took my cross as his, now I take his cross as mine.

III. Knowing Christ Forever
Paul now looks forward to his own resurrection from the dead. He looks forward to the day he will stand before God, not clothed in the righteousness he thought he had earned by keeping the Law and serving God, but clothed instead in the righteousness Jesus gave him.

The same future is available to us as it was to Paul by faith. By faith we invite the risen Jesus into our hearts. By faith we trust he has taken the penalty for our sins. By faith we share in his suffering when we confess the suffering our sins caused him. By faith count everything we have done, good, bad, or indifferent, a total loss. By faith we turn to Jesus, wanting to know him alone.

Have you trusted Jesus by faith? Or like Paul's "before" picture, do you place your confidence in yourself? (Bill Groover)

SITTING DOWN TO EAT WITH DIRTY HANDS

JOHN 12:1-8

The anointing at Bethany is one of many examples that reveal that those closest to Jesus had no idea what he was talking about. Mary's act of kindness and Judas's indignation were not informed by the sacrificial and salvific symbolism of the anointing.

Though ultimately proved to be unprincipled, Judas presents himself as morally superior to everyone else at the dinner party. Essentially, he accuses them of sitting down to eat with dirty hands.

There are people in this world who try to make us feel dirty. They show up in churches every now and then. Controlling cliques. The "nobody knows Jesus like I know Jesus" neo-Gnostics, the "Let me tell you about so-and-so to help you know how much better I am" holier-than-thou types.

I. Everybody's Dirty
The truth is we're all dirty (Rom. 3:23) . Everybody comes to the table with dirty hands. We're all sinners. Nobody's perfect. That's why God came in Jesus. We need Someone to save us from the damning consequences of our behavior. We need Someone to give us what we can never earn—the right to be a part of God's existential and eternal family. We need Jesus!

II. Everybody's Invited
One of my favorite stories is about the man who is greeted at the pearly gates by Saint Peter. Before letting the man in, Peter asks, "What's the password?"

Stunned but eager, the man guesses, John 3:16. "

"Good try," Peter says, "but that's not it."

"OK," the man guesses again. "How about John 11:25-26?"

"Good try," Peter says again, "but wrong."

After several more unsuccessful attempts, the man finally blurts out in frustration, "I give up!"

"That's it!" Peter announces.

Everybody comes to the table with dirty hands. The good news is we are invited to sit down and eat with the Host through faith.

We could say that his blood washes the dirt from us. (Robert R. Kopp)

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