All of us have probably spent time looking for a good deal. I watched the trustees purchase the data projector which we use to put the images on the screen. Kerry and Lonnie spent many days researching on the internet, trying to discern what we needed, looking at prices in Canada and the United States, going to stores and seeing who would give us the best deal. They did such a thorough job that I began to wonder if we would ever get it, so you can know that we, as a church, got the best deal possible.
Stores assume that we are looking for a good deal and so you often see them advertising with slogans like, “We will not be undersold.”
Are we as diligent about the way that we make choices with the rest of our life? What about our spiritual life? Have you ever looked for what is the best deal for all of life?
As human beings, there are several things that are pretty important if we want to have a whole life. If we are content to exist from day to day with the hope that tomorrow might be better and if we are content to live as if there is no one to whom we are accountable and if we are happy to live for today without worrying about what will happen after we die, then we can go on living without this kind of a “shopping” trip. But if we are concerned about the guilt which nags at our soul and if we are interested in a life that has meaning, purpose and in which we have strength to face whatever comes and if we want to know what will happen to us after we die, then we need to do this kind of thinking.
This morning, I want to point to Jesus Christ and tell you what the Bible says about why Jesus is the best answer to the deepest questions we ask as human beings. I have personally found that what the Bible says about Jesus and what He will do for us is true and leads to life that is whole. So, I invite you to listen to what the Bible has to say about the blessing of life in Jesus.
The ten commandments are probably universally accepted as the code expressing what is right. Although we may not have broken some of the commands such as “do not murder” and “do not commit adultery,” yet we do break some of the others. Who of us can say that we have never desired what belongs to someone else, or that we have always obeyed our parents or that we have never lied. When we read Jesus’ interpretation of these commandments, we learn that hatred is as bad as murder and a lustful look as bad as adultery. If we look at things that way, we do not have to examine our hearts very long to know that we have all broken God’s law. The Bible summarizes in Romans 3:23, “all have sinned…”
Because God is a holy God and a just God, our sins mean that we are all under God’s condemnation. Once again, we look at what the Bible says in Romans 1:18, 19 “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men…” God hates sin because he wants things good and He knows that every sin diminishes good.
Because we are sinners and because we are in bondage to those sins and cannot seem to get free from them and because we are under God’s condemnation because of them, we are left in a rather hopeless situation. Ephesians 2:1 describes it this way, “you were dead in your transgressions and sins…”
I read a story this week about Jimmy Karam. His parents were immigrants from Lebanon and settled down in the southern US. They were not accepted because they were foreigners. Jimmy grew up knowing this and hating it. As he grew up, he responded with violence to the rejection he experienced. He felt hopeless because he wanted so badly to be liked, but he always knew that people either tolerated him or hated him. In high school, he played football, and lived out his inner hatred on the football field. This made him very aggressive and, therefore, also a good player. He learned that people approved of him when he was violent. After high school and a few years in the army, he returned home and opened a men’s clothing store and then became involved in politics. But he continued to live with violence in his life. He ruined one marriage because of a desire to party - gambling, drinking, chasing women. In politics, he worked for the governor in Arkansas. His role was primarily as a trouble maker, stirring up strife to maintain segregation, violently working against unions. He used his violence to stir things up so that the governor could maintain power. His whole life was a desperate grasp for acceptance which he never found. He knew that there was a lot wrong with his life, but did not know how to find a way out.
Apart from Christ we are dead in our sin and guilt, but in Christ we have forgiveness of sins.
There is a story in Matthew 9:1-8 which tells about a paralytic man who was brought to Jesus. In front of the crowd, Jesus encouraged the man saying, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” The authorities questioned this statement, but Jesus demonstrated his authority to forgive sins by healing the man.
Jesus still has the authority to forgive sins. The reason Jesus has authority to forgive sins is because of his willingness to die on the cross. Jesus is God and His death on the cross was a way of saying, “you are a sinner and need to be punished and I will punish myself so that it will be right for me to forgive you.” This message is proclaimed many times in the Bible. For example, Ephesians 1:7 says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.”
I have a little “wet nap” here. It says on here, “Wash away your sins towelette.” “Anti-bacterial formula kills sins on contact.” “Right your wrongs with a wipe.” On the back it has directions:
1. Remove moist towelette
2. Devoutly wipe away wrong-doing.
3. Spot check for stubborn guilt.
4. Wipe again as needed.
5. Discard sins in waste receptacle.
6. Go forth purified and moisturized.
It will not work to get rid of our sins in this way. The only thing that will wipe away sin is the blood of Jesus. The promise is that when we receive His forgiveness, it is complete and we are free from the guilt of our sins.
If you are tired of the guilt of your sins, there is nowhere else that you can get a better offer. I invite you to receive forgiveness from Jesus. This is a great blessing found in Jesus alone.
Have you ever felt an emptiness in your life? Do you ever question the meaning of life? Do you struggle to face the trials of life? What strength do you have to face such trials? Where do you go for help when you need it?
It is a sad thing to watch people use alcohol and drugs to dull the pain in their life, yet many people are so overcome by their pain that it is the only way they know how to cope. But drugs and alcohol are not the only way in which people try to dull the pain of life. Many turn to food in order to cope. Others strive for one pleasant experience after another - sports, entertainment and so on - to find meaning and hope in life. What about the use of money? I suspect that there are many who gamble to find some pleasure in order to cover the pain of life and very many who dull the boredom and heal the ache by making one purchase after another. Others look to relationships to find the meaning that makes life worth living.
Some of these things, like drug abuse and alcoholism, are harmful in and of themselves, but other things are good things which are, nevertheless, used to fill an otherwise empty life. Perhaps you recognize the cycle. You become bored with life and that boredom leads to a mild depression. You need some kind of a narcotic to help you overcome the pain of the depression, so you eat, or drink or buy something, or go on a trip or do some other thing so that you will feel better again. For a while, it works. The narcotic has its effect and you are filled with joy, but before long the boredom sinks in again and the depression follows and the need to buy another toy or experience another high is necessary in order to dull the pain. Before long you recognize the cycle and the hopelessness of it adds to the pain and life becomes an endless cycle always ending in emptiness and hopelessness and pain.
I spoke before about Jimmy Karam who recognized how this had worked in his life. He said, “When I think of it now, it’s as though I spent all of my life- until my conversion - halfway under ether, seeing nothing, feeling nothing, knowing nothing…it’s the opposite of what the Communists say. They tell you that religion is the opiate of the masses. Not true. It’s the other way around. Sin is the opiate...it is the thing that dulls the senses, that pulls the shades over your eyes.”
In Ephesians 4:17, 18, the Bible talks about those who “live…in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God…”
Apart from Christ we have frustration and emptiness, but in Christ we have the promise of an abundant life.
Jesus himself said in John 10:10, “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.” What does that abundant life include?
The abundant life that Jesus promises includes being loved. Romans 8:38, 39 promises, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
It includes a restored relationship with God. Instead of the emptiness of life, we experience the fullness that comes from knowing God as a friend and more than that, knowing that we are accepted by the creator of the universe. II Corinthians 5:18 says, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ…”
Having experienced such a reconciliation and knowing that we are loved brings with it a tremendous peace in our hearts. Romans 5:1 assures us, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Earlier we saw the tremendous blessing of having our sins forgiven. The new life that Jesus promises includes the promise that by God’s Spirit, we will be made holy. Romans 6:22 indicates, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness...”
All of these things fill us with a hope that extends to all the different parts of life. Instead of a cycle of depression or a life of slavery to sin or the discouragement that comes from not knowing where to turn, we have the hope of living in relationship to God who has overcome death and lives to be our Saviour and Lord. I Peter 1:3 encourages us when it says, “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…”
Let me share with you a few stories about how that has worked in life.
Jimmy Karam speaks of the new life that occurred for him. Earlier I mentioned that he had lived violently in order to find acceptance. After finding Christ, he writes, “You take my family. Never believed they loved me for me alone. Thought my wife married me for my money. Thought my kids and my brother and sisters loved me only for what I could give them. Never trusted any of them. Never believed them. I went my way and they went theirs; even my wife and I. We had nothing in common. Now it’s different. We all love Christ together. We all have Him in our hearts.”
“I helped set up an organization called We Who Care, and we who cared dedicated ourselves to doing good instead of bad. I told angry, bitter people how much easier it was to love instead of hate; how much easier it was to use your energy for good instead of harm. And, most of all, how much better off they would be.”
“God has made a place for me,” he says, “just as He can make a place for everyone who opens his heart…I always wanted to be a good man a man I hope I am now. I didn’t have the strength. I lied, I cheated, I gambled, I fought, I caroused. The devil was in me and I couldn’t fight him because I couldn’t replace him. Once I accepted Jesus Christ as my Saviour, my devil died.”
The Bible tells us the story of the woman at the well. She was a woman who was without hope. She had been married five times and was an outcast in her village. Jesus promised her in John 4:13 that he could be to her “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
In the current issue of Faith Today, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada magazine, there is an article about “Finding Christ Behind Bars.” It tells several stories of lives changed. “One of those whose life was changed is Monty Lewis. While lying naked, broken and hopeless in a solitary confinement cell in Dorchester Prison, Ontario, he prayed a prayer of desperation. To his absolute amazement, God answered that prayer and touched him with His supernatural power. After spending years in and out of jails, detention centres, prisons and mental institutions, Lewis’ life of crime and drug abuse was totally transformed…Today in Fredericton, N.B., Lewis oversees the prison ministry Bridges of Canada Inc.”
If Jesus can give life to the likes of Jimmy Karam, the woman at the well and Monty Lewis, he will also provide us with life in all its fullness.
But what about the ultimate question of life? What about what happens after we die.
Although we can hope that after we die we might have a fairly pleasant existence or that we will simply cease to exist, the Bible tells a different story. John 3:36 warns that “Whoever…rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” These are serious consequences. They tell us that apart from Christ, we will not see life and in fact, we will remain under the anger of God, who cannot stand sin. As we read the Bible, we hear more bad news. We learn that Matthew 25:46 says that those who sin, “…will go away to eternal punishment...”
What will that eternal punishment be like? The Bible has a description of it in Revelation 20:14, 15, “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” The imagery of punishment used here is “a lake of fire.” A further description is found in Revelation 20:10 where we read, “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”
Of course these descriptions are intended to describe punishment in terms that we can identify with. Fire speaks of destruction, of extreme discomfort, in short of a place we do not want to be. The worst part about hell is that it is a place where God is not. If God is creator and life and sustainer of all that exists, then his absence would be terrible indeed. The Bible talks about how God continues to work in this world today. If God was totally absent, then all the evil things in this world would simply be multiplied because although it is bad enough in the world today, God prevents it from going totally out of control. I can’t imagine the terror of a world without God. We need to ask ourselves, why hell would be any different than the worst frustration, failure, and devastation we experience in the world today.
One book I read described it as complete aloneness. Imagine that you are in a large house in the middle of a large desert, surrounded by stark mountains. There is no phone, no television, no books. There is no road out. Every day is dreary and you have to stay there forever alone. Such aloneness is another picture of hell.
Apart from Christ we will experience eternal death, but in Christ we have the promise of eternal life.
God promises in John 3:15,16 that, “…everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
A further promise is found in Romans 6:23 where we are assured that “…the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
What will eternal life be like? Revelation 21:3-5 is so encouraging. It says, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
These are the blessings which are ours in relationship to Christ Jesus. He promises us forgiveness of sins, abundant life and eternal life. I don’t want to give the impression that a relationship to God is a bed of roses. The way of following Jesus is called in Matthew 7:14 a “narrow way.” It is difficult to find and follow. It is also difficult because it is hard for us to give up control to someone else. John 12:25, tells us that the only way to God is to give up control of ourselves. It says, “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” It is hard to give up our life. The Bible also tells us that anyone who will follow Christ will experience persecution. II Timothy 3:12 says, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…”
However, the promises of forgiveness, life and eternal life deal so deeply and so eternally with what we really need, it is still the best offer you will get anywhere. It is the only way to get rid of sin and guilt. It is the best way to find a life full of meaning and includes the promise of a present helper. It is the only way to get eternal life.
However, it is not enough to know about it. A response is required. You need to receive Jesus.
God offers these gifts, but we need to receive them. In order to receive them, we need to:
1. admit our need of God’s help. If we continue in our pride, we will not be able to receive God’s gift. I John 1:9 says that “if we confess our sins,” “he will forgive.”
2. When we have admitted our need, we must believe that it has been met in Jesus. John 3:16 says that God’s gift is for, “whoever believes.”
3. A part of that belief is the acceptance of Jesus into our life. We must allow Him to be the Lord of our life. He wants to take control and we need to give it. John 1:12 says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…”
4. The promise is that if we do this, we will have all the blessings that we have spoken about this morning. I John 5:12 assures, “He who has the Son has life…”
John 10:9,10 says that salvation comes when we believe in our heart and confess with our mouth. Therefore, I invite you to believe and to confess that belief by letting someone else know that you have made it.