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July 19th, 2017

Morning Star First Baptist Church Revival

 Philippians 2:15-16

July 19, 2017

Unlikely bond

It’s not as easy as you might think to come up with a sermon for a revival service such as this.  I have no problem preparing sermons for Corinth Reformed Church.  Over the course of almost 25 years I have preached well over a thousand sermons in that pulpit, and still haven’t run out of things to say.  But this is different.

As I prayed and walked and stared at my screen, the Holy Spirit kept bringing two streams of thought into mind.  The first was my friendship with your pastor, David Roberts.  I love this guy, and he loves me.  He consistently gives me praise I do not deserve.  We have a bond that is, in some ways, rather unlikely.

He’s Baptist.  I’m Reformed.  I like to read books.  He puts books under his pillow to absorb by osmosis.  He’s spontaneous.  I’m obsessive about my goals and schedule.

He’s so darn charming – sort of like your favorite Teddy Bear, Big Bird, and Cam Newton all rolled into one.  I’m about as charming as Mr. Spock from Star Trek– to everyone except my wife, of course.  She loves me.

And, of course David’s black and I’m white.  Especially in the last few years, I have tried really hard to understand what it’s like to be black in America.  I have read books and listened to stories.  One of the people who has patiently helped me understand the black experience is my friend David Roberts.  But I will never be able to change the fact that my experience and my church and my worship are as white as my skin.

There’s only one reason that my friendship with Rev. Roberts makes sense.  We both passionately love Jesus Christ.  We both believe Jesus is our only message.

Life is short

The other stream of thought surprised me.  I kept thinking about how short life is and how I’m getting older.  Not long ago I was telling my adult children about a gentleman in our men’s exercise group who still runs like a deer.  I added, “And he’s in his sixties!”  My daughter Cara said, “Dad, you’re in your sixties.”  I am, and I don’t know it happened.  Didn’t I just get married?  Well, it seems like it, but it was 39 years ago.  Didn’t we just come to Hickory?  It feels like it, but it was 24 years ago.  I’m about to be called “Grandpa” for the first time.  Where did all this gray hair – OK, white hair – come from anyway?

It didn’t help to be sitting in my mother-in-law’s living room last week and looking at a picture of my wife’s father, who died at 60.  On our recent travels Linda and I listened to an audiobook about the life of the 16th century reformer Martin Luther.  He died at 62.  Martin Luther King, Jr., died at 39.  Jesus was only 33.  Look how much they accomplished.

Our children were in New York City last week, where they toured the somber scene at Ground Zero remembering all those whose lives were so suddenly snuffed out. Then there’s the fact that the last three funerals at Corinth have been for young men aged 24, 24, and 33.  You heard from the Dad of one of those young men.

Even if I live to be almost 90 like my own father did, two thirds of my years have already passed.  My career as a full-time pastor likely has only a few years left.  What will matter most to me when God’s gift of time ends?  Only this: that I lived my life in the embrace and service of Jesus Christ.

As a teen, I chose as my life verse Philippians 2:15-16, “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God without rebuke in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life, that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain neither labored in vain.”

Wow.  The Apostle Paul thought his generation was “crooked and perverse.”  I thought mine was five decades ago.  Today I live in Hickory, North Carolina, a little town that ranks number 5 in the nation in opioid abuse.  The suicide rate among young people has doubled in the last decade in our nation, and we have experienced that tragedy in your church and ours.  In our church we have dealt with marital separation, youth rebellion, and family violence in the last week alone.  In national politics, we have never been more divided.  Racism is alive and well in the United States of America.  Hatred and abuse are thriving all around us.  We have never lived in a more openly self-indulgent society.  We rarely hear about the values of service and sacrifice in the name of Christ – or even in the name of good citizenship.  False religion and half-hearted faith surround us.  Ours is a crooked and perverse nation.  We need revival!

I don’t know if I will have made a difference for any of this when I breathe my last.  But I want it said of me that I lived my life blamelessly as a child of God without rebuke,  that I shone a light in this dark world, that I held forth the word of life, Jesus Christ.

Jesus in the New Testament

I had decided yesterday that my sermon would be on who Jesus is, because that’s what Rev. Roberts and I have in common and that’s what my life verse is about.  Then I came to the revival last night and heard Rev. Jones’ message on how life is a mess – your life, his life, my life.  What we need in the middle of the mess is the message about Messiah.  He did a marvelous job pointing us to Jesus.

I slightly changed my sermon direction.  I have titled my sermon tonight, “Why Jesus?”  Why is it that Jesus is the Messiah we need in the middle of our mess?  Who is he?  Then I had to decide which Scripture passage I would use.  Here’s my problem:  Every book in the New Testament .  Which one could I choose?  I love them all, and every New Testament book points to Jesus.  So I decided to use them all.  Yes, my text is every book in the New Testament.  You’re going to help me by naming them one by one while I give you just one line from that book in answer to the question, “Why Jesus?”

First we need to practice the books of the New Testament to make sure you can say them in order with me.  “Matthew, Mark, Luke….”  Now, one at a time – you say the name of a book and I will tell you “Why Jesus” from that book.

Matthew:  He is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (16:16).

Mark:  He “came not be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (10:45).

Luke:  “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you.  He is Christ the Lord” (2:10).

John:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….The Word became flesh, and lived for a while among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father” (1:1,14).

Acts:  “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (4:12).

Romans:  “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1).

1 Corinthians:  “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (3:11).

2 Corinthians:  “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (8:9).

Galatians:  “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world was crucified, and I unto the world” (6:14, KJV).

Ephesians: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (2:13).

Philippians:

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father” (2:9-11).

Colossians: “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation….He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy” (1:14-18).

1 Thessalonians: “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:9).

2 Thessalonians:  “He called you to (the truth) through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2:14).

1 Timothy: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am chief” (1:16).

2 Timothy: “He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time” (1:9).

Titus: “We wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2:13).

Philemon: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (3).

Hebrews: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (13:8).

James: He is our “glorious Lord Jesus Christ” (2:1).

1 Peter:  “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1:3).

2 Peter:  “You will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:11).

1 John:  “Jesus Christ is the true God and eternal life” (5:20).

2 John:  “Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love” (3).

3 John:  “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (4).

Jude:  “To the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!” (25)

Revelation: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and hell” (1:17-18).

All I have to offer

So we come back to the question.  Why Jesus?  Why do we come to him when life is a mess?  Why do we come to him when we can’t pay the bills?  Why do we come to him when waves of grief drown us once again?  Why do we come to him from the bottom of a pit we dug for ourselves?  Why do we turn to him when our sins feel like the weight of the world? Why do we need him in a crooked and perverse nation?

Why Jesus?  Because he is fully God.  Because this Jesus existed throughout eternity past with his Father and the Holy Spirit.  Because this Jesus flung the stars into space, spoke the water and dry land into being, created flowers and sunsets and rainbows and tuna and lions and mosquitoes and us in his very image.  Because he sustains all things by the word of his power.

When we watch Jesus, we know how God feels about us.  When we hear Jesus, we know what his father says.  Because Jesus is fully God, his power is unlimited.  He raised the dead and cast out demons and healed the sick.  Why Jesus?  Because as God there is nothing he can’t do!  Turn to your neighbor and say, “Neighbor, whatever you need doing, he can!”

Why Jesus?  Because he is fully man.  Because he stepped into our world to experience everything that it means to be us.  Because he passed through a woman’s birth canal, and had messy diapers, and stumbled as he learned to toddle, and played with friends, and was bullied on the playground, and had sinners for brothers and sisters, and wanted separation from his parents at age 12, and grew up with a single Mom after his Daddy died, and worked with his hands, and was tempted by the devil, and was misunderstood by those who listened to him, and had nowhere to lay his head, and wept at his friend’s grave, and was doubted by skeptics and betrayed and denied and mocked and beaten and crucified as an innocent man, and cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Has anybody here experienced any of that?

Why Jesus?  Because as a human he was tempted in all points as we are, yet was without sin.  Turn to your neighbor and say, “Neighbor, whatever you’re facing, he knows!”

Why Jesus?  Because he died for your sins, because he was raised for your justification, because he ascended to the right hand of the Father where he, right now, is your defense attorney and is praying for you, and because he will come again to judge the living and the dead.  The Apostle Paul said, “He who did not spare his own Son, how will he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32

What do you need?  Hope?  He’s got that.  Freedom?  He’s got that. Friendship?  He’s got that. Forgiveness?  He’s got that.  Joy?  He’s got that. A reason to get out of bed tomorrow?  He’s got that.  Healing?  He’s got that.  Turn to your neighbor and say, “Neighbor, whatever you’re needing, he gives!”

That’s why Jesus.  Because no one and nothing else will ever satisfy our deepest craving.

You can’t depend on family or friends or neighbors.  They will let you down.  You won’t find God in the flesh through Buddha, Muhammed, or Karma.

You’ll never be satisfied if you pursue power or go for gold or search for sex.  Your sins cannot be forgiven by psychology, sociology, or theology.

You can’t straighten out a crooked world by turning to Democrats, Republicans, or Independents.  Our world will never be perfected by legislation, education, or liberation.

Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, full of grace and truth.  He is our hope, he is our joy, he is our aim.

He is all I have to offer you tonight.  With the Apostle Paul I say I have no message to preach except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I know we live in a crooked and depraved generation, but I am as determined as I was at age 15 to shine as his light in the world by holding forth the word of life – Jesus Christ.

Rev. Roberts, you and I are different in so many ways.  But what makes you my brother, my colleague, and my friend is that we both declare, “I am not ashamed of the gospel (of Jesus Christ).  He is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:17).  Amen.

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