Monday, April 18, 2005

the rough guide to salvation (a sermon)

Here's the text of a sermon I just gave last Sunday. I hope it helps you in some way. --Troy

The Rough Guide to Salvation
a sermon by Troy Cady

If you listen carefully, everywhere you turn you can hear a cry for help. You can hear it on the street, at work, at home, in your kids, in your friends, on the TV and on the radio. In fact, the other day I was listening to a CD by the popular song-writer Dave Matthews. In the middle of his latest disc there’s a song called “Save Me” that echoes a cry for help. The song poses a scenario in which the singer imagines meeting Jesus during Christ’s 40 days of fasting in the desert. The singer approaches Jesus and offers Jesus a bite to eat. Jesus refuses, saying: “My faith is all I need.” That’s when the singer realizes this man can help him. At that point in the song, Dave Matthews proceeds to ask for that help. Listen to the chorus, and see if you can pick out his plea for help. He says: “Come on, save me/ Save me Mister Walking Man, if you can/ Come on, save me/ Save me Mister Stranger, if you please/ Save me, save me, Stranger, if you please…”

If you listen carefully, everywhere you turn you can hear a cry for help. This cry should be taken seriously. If it isn’t, it imperils our lives.

For example, comedian Chris Farley from the popular program Saturday Night Live, cried for help. In his case, his plea was heard but not heeded. The results were fatal: on December 18, 1997 Chris Farley died of a drug overdose. Now, Farley’s problems with drugs were no secret, and his death at age 33, though a shock to many people, was no surprise to his friends. He had been in and out of various programs to clean up his life many times.

I shudder to think that his cry for help was publicly acknowledged but not acted upon. In one interview, Farley called out for help with these words: “I used to think that you could get to a level of success where the laws of the universe didn’t apply. But they do. It’s still life on life’s terms, not on movie-star terms. I still have to work at relationships. I still have to work on my weight and some of my other demons. Once I thought that if I just had enough in the bank, if I had enough fame, that it would be all right. But I’m a human being like everyone else. I’m not exempt.”

We’re all human beings. Like Chris Farley, we all have our own “personal demons” from which we need to be delivered. We all need a hero. Sure, the things from which we need to be saved may be different from person to person, but the fact is: we all need to be saved from something.

So, ask yourself, “From what do I need to be saved?” It may be something as “small” as lust or envy or pride or hatred or bitterness. With what do you need help?

No doubt, you’ve come up with at least one thing. That’s because (like I said), if you listen carefully, everywhere you turn you can hear a cry for help. That means you can turn outward and hear that cry for help in others. And that means you can turn inward, too. Listen carefully to your heart and you will hear it: a cry for help.

Now let me plead with you: listen to that cry for help. Heed what your heart is telling you. If you don’t, it could result in emotional, relational, even spiritual death. Please, if you get nothing else out of this: Listen to your heart crying out for help.

And, then, please, remember this: there is help. You are not alone in this. There is a hero. There is someone who has come, is here and will come to save you. His name is Jesus. And he brings a thing called salvation, which is just a fancy way of saying, “Jesus comes to save us, to rescue us, to help us, to be our hero." That's what Christians mean when they say, "Jesus is the Savior."

And today we’re going to look in-depth at a couple of questions: “Why is Jesus the only one who can save us?” and “How does Jesus save us?” So, let’s dig in.

First: “Why is Jesus the only one who can save us?” This’ll be short. Jesus is the only one can save us because he is the only one who has ever mastered the thing from which we need to be saved. Think back to the thing that came to mind earlier when I posed the question, “From what do you need to be saved?” You got it in mind? Keep it to yourself, but consciously acknowledge it. From what do you need to be saved? We all have something, believe me. Even pastors have something. Now: with that thing in mind, listen to these words: Jesus mastered the thing that masters you.

In fact, if we were to make a list of each thing that each of you has in mind right now, we would discover at least three things from that list. First, we would discover: “Wow! What an incredible variety of vices we all have! The thing that plagues you is not the same thing that plagues me.” But, second, we would realize: “We’re quite different, yet we’re all the same.” See, we all have something that causes spiritual and relational decay. That thing is called sin. We all have it in our hearts, whether we realize it or not. But, that’s where the third truth comes in. If we were to make a list and look at it, we would also discover that, in spite of the tremendous variety of vice on that list, none of those things beset the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, don’t get me wrong: Jesus was tempted. He, too, had to face the temptation to lust and hate and curse. He too had to confront the temptation to be self-centered and prideful. He too had the choice to exercise impatience over patience and harshness over gentleness. Yet go down every item on our imaginary list of vices and Jesus overcame them all. And he is the only person who ever lived who was able to do that throughout the whole course of his life, without fail. I’m sure you’ll agree: Jesus is the only one who can save us.

Now let’s ask: “How does Jesus save us?” This is where it gets better and better! At the outset let me say that the way Jesus saves us is simply incredible.

For starters, Jesus can save everyone, everywhere in all times. There are at least two parts to that statement. First of all, Jesus has it within his power to save everyone. No one is ever too far gone that Jesus can’t save them. This is a good reminder because often I think: “Oh, crap. I’ve done it again. I’ve sinned. I’ve probably used up all of Jesus’ forgiveness this time. God’s gonna get me now!” But then I remember, “I’m never too far gone for Jesus to save me."

Sometimes I feel like a certain man named Gareth Griffith. He, too, had a time in his life when he thought: “It’s over. Nothing can be done to save me now.” You see, Gareth went parachuting one day. It was his first time. He jumped out of the airplane and pulled the cord to open up his parachute, but nothing happened. He just kept plummeting towards the ground. He faced certain death. Fortunately, Michael Costello (his skydiving instructor) was there with him and saw that Gareth was in trouble. That’s when Michael did an amazing thing: Just before hitting the ground, the instructor rolled over so that he would hit the ground first and Gareth would land on top of him. The instructor was killed instantly, but Gareth survived, escaping even paralysis.

Do you feel like me and Gareth sometimes? Like you’ve tried and tried and tried to open that stupid parachute, yet you just keep plummeting down, down, down, wondering when you’re going to hit bottom. This is to say: no matter how far gone you are, Jesus is with us and he has traded his life for our life. Through the sacrifice of Jesus, we can live. Jesus' death on the cross reminds us: Nobody is ever too far gone. Nobody. Including you and me.

But Jesus’ salvation is not just for all people, it is also for all time. In fact, the salvation Jesus brings carries a most remarkable characteristic: Jesus and his salvation are beyond time. This is brought out in a most interesting way, I think. You see: Jesus has saved us in the past, is saving us in the present and will save us in the future. Jesus’ salvation is beyond time.

Here’s how it works: 1. Jesus has saved us in the past from the penalty of sin. The Bible calls this justification. 2. Jesus is saving us in the present from the power of sin. The Bible calls this sanctification. and 3. Jesus will save us in the future from the presence of sin. This is known as glorification.

Now, you may wonder why I’ve introduced you to words like justification, sanctification and glorification that aren’t used in everyday language. I’ll address why I think it’s important for us to know these words with an analogy:

Imagine yourself spending one month in an emergency room observing the doctors at their work. It wouldn’t take long for you to realize that there’s an awful lot of lingo they use to communicate important information to each other. They use expressions like: GSW, CBC, Tox Screen, and intubate. When you first hear all this mumbo jumbo, you think, ‘My goodness, how do they ever get anything done? And why can’t they just make it easier to understand?’ But these terms are essential if you want to be a medical practitioner partly because they are concise ways of communicating large amounts of indispensable information. Naturally, learning these terms receives a high priority for anyone who wants to practice medicine. Now, being a Christian can be a little like learning to practice medicine effectively. There are certain words that Christians have used for centuries that are valuable precisely because they communicate large amounts of information concerning indispensable ideas in a very concise fashion. That’s what these words are like. Now, it’s interesting to note, that, in many cases, terms like intubate and EKG and BP and HIV deal with matters of life and death in the medical profession; such is the case with the Christian terms we’ll look at today: they refer to life and death issues. They refer to salvation.

So, first, let’s look at justification, which is salvation in the past tense. If you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ, keep this in mind: He has declared you just. All of us rightly should be declared guilty for breaking God’s law, but, in declaring us just, Jesus has saved us from sin’s penalty.

Now, we may wonder: “And just what is sin’s penalty?” The Bible tells us when it says, “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23a) Now, that statement may cause some of us to wonder, “Isn’t that a bit harsh? Death?” But you could look at it in a couple of lights:

One. What is sin? Sin is anytime we walk away from God. So, who is God? God is the source of all life. So, from whom are we walking away when we sin? The source of life. Now, what would the natural result be when one walks away from the source of life? Death.

Another way of looking at it is in this light: Sin is the thing that causes breakdown of all sorts. Look on it as the kind of breakdown that results when parachutes fail to function as they should. Any time that happens, some kind of death results. Death is always the natural consequence when we sin. Death, in that sense, is sin’s penalty.

The good news is: Jesus pays that penalty for us. Jesus dies on our behalf, like Gareth’s skydiving instructor. That’s what the cross was all about and that’s why the Bible expresses what happened on the cross this way: “[Jesus] bore our sins in his body on the [cross]…; by his wounds you have been healed.” (I Peter 2:24)

It is a bit of mystery how that works, but suffice to say that if you have placed your faith in Jesus, you do well to remember this: he has saved you from sin’s penalty. That’s a fact. And if you have yet to place your faith in Jesus Christ, let me urge you: do so today. Remember, we all urgently need to be saved.

But, acquittal from sin’s penalty is just the beginning! Jesus also wants to deliver us from sin’s power. Look at it this way, it wouldn’t do much good for Gareth to walk away from his near-death experience and then try parachuting again with the same pack. Something different needs to happen next time around, otherwise he’ll end up in the same place as before.

This is what the Bible calls sanctification. Sanctification literally means to be “set apart for God.” Another way of putting it is by saying, “We need to learn to live life more like Jesus.” In other words, if you struggle with harshness learn to be gentle. If you struggle with bitterness, learn to forgive. If you lust, learn to love. If you are cynical, learn to believe. Learn to be more like Jesus.

Now: fortunately, Jesus isn’t just a model for us to follow; He also provides the power that enables us to follow. The Bible tells us that, when we come to place our faith in Jesus, we receive his Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit, then, Jesus comes to dwell in our hearts, giving us the power to follow Him. It’s through the Spirit that Jesus saves us from sin’s power in the present.

But, wait: there’s more! Jesus will also save us in the future from the presence of sin. There’s a name for this: it’s called heaven. In the olden days, my grandmother used the word “glory” as a synonym for “heaven.” That’s why this aspect of salvation is called glorification (because in heaven--in glory--we will be saved from the very presence of sin). And, as a song my grandmother used to sing says: “Oh what a day that will be!”

You know, ultimately, this is what God wants. At the end of the day, God doesn’t simply want to save us from sin’s penalty and sin’s power. Ultimately, God wants to save us from sin’s very presence. The Bible tells us that this will happen only when Jesus comes again. In Jesus’ first coming, He took away sin’s penalty by dying on our behalf. Fortunately, while we await his second coming, he’s given us his Spirit to give us power to overcome sin. But, ultimately, what we really need is to be saved from sin’s presence. That’s why there’s a phrase included in the Apostle’s Creed regarding Jesus coming again to put everything right. That’s why Jesus’ Second Coming is regarded as an essential component of the Christian faith.

But rather than just appeal to reason in explaining the importance of Jesus’ second coming, I’d like to appeal to your imagination. Think for a minute, back to where we started this message. Think for a minute about that thing that plagues you day in and day out. And now think for a minute how the vices that other people direct towards you bring you down and tear you apart in varying degrees. Think for a moment of the various relationships you have had in the past and the relationships you have now. If you’re like me, you have had some things happen in the past that have caused grief, pain and sorrow in varied levels of intensity. And, if you’re like me, you realize that much of the pain you have experienced (or are experiencing) is because of some sinful action or attitude either directed towards you or emanating from you. So much of our suffering can be traced back to things like lies, envy, greed, hypocrisy, pride, lust and hatred.

Think how your workplace, your home, your school, even your friendships have been spoiled in various ways (big and small) by sin’s presence.

And now imagine all those places void of sin.

If you find it too hard to imagine, let me paint the picture for you with these words, in closing. Imagine this scene from Revelation 21 and 22: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. [The City] shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It was 1,400 miles in length and as wide and high as it is long. Its wall was 200 feet thick. The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass.

"Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.

"There is no temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life."

Now, as you’re gazing on the beauty of this city, and contemplating the safety of this place, you hear a voice 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. 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."

That's why, when you hear Jesus saying to you now “Yes, I am coming soon”, you want to say, “Amen. So be it. Come, Lord Jesus.”

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