Sunday, August 29, 2010

of first importance

below is my first sermon, preached today at plainfield first church of God, plainfield, pa.


“now i would remind you, brothers, of the gospel i preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word i preached to you – unless you believed in vain. for i delivered to you as of first importance what i also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to cephas, then to the twelve. then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. then He appeared to james, then to all the apostles. last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared also to me.” ~1Cor. 15:1-8


today i want to speak to you about something hopefully most of you know. today’s sermon should have little new for you, though perhaps it might clarify some things in your mind. the purpose of today’s message is not so that you will come away with some new knowledge, or with a new way to apply what you know, but that your hearts would be filled anew with love for our Savior, and that your affections would be stirred once more by His gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

as this is my first time preaching to you, i figured i’d start with what’s most important. the text that is the “launch pad” for today’s sermon has in it an important phrase: “of first importance”. the apostle paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, calls what we’re going to be looking at this morning the matter of first importance. so i figure i’ll start at the top, so if, God forbid, i only get one chance, i’ve preached to you on the best thing i could.

now what is this gospel that God places such emphasis on? paul starts it off with a person: Christ. Jesus Christ, the Son of God who became a man, who lived like we do yet without sin. this is the Guy who the whole Bible is about. paul then states a historical fact: Christ died. while the Gospel narratives in our Bibles speak much about Jesus’ life and earthly public ministry, in the summary here paul skips straight to the point of the matter. many of you have heard this countless times in your life, but let me remind you that this is not some fairytale or bedtime story, not some parable or fable to be learned from. Christ’s crucifixion is a historical event, in a place and a time and with witnesses, as are all the other events that paul mentions here. and for sake of time, i won’t go into how absolutely brutal Jesus’ death was at the hands of the roman executioners, but think on this: our word “excruciating” was invented because they needed a new word to describe the agony of death on a cross. he says later in this chapter that if these things are not true, if they are only nice ideas and not historical, physical reality, then everything we believe is in vain.

paul goes on to give not only the historical event but its theological meaning. he says, “Christ died for our sins.” now sin is a word we use a lot in the church, but it’s rarely used outside spiritual or ‘God-talk’ conversations. we tend to think about sin as a list of things we’re not supposed to do. you might think of the ten commandments: don’t steal, don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, and so forth. or we might think of sin as the reverse: not doing things we’re supposed to do. so if we don’t pray or we don’t act nicely to other people, we’re sinning. and all of that is pretty much true. but that falls short of what the Bible means by sin, because it’s not just about what you do, it’s about who you are. it’s not just our actions that can be sinful; it’s also our thoughts, our motives, our emotions, down to the very core of us.

you see, sin is rooted in this simple idea: we want something other than God. we see this in the words of the prophet jeremiah: “be appalled, o heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” the people of israel, instead of enjoying God and drinking deeply from Him and His glory- they sought out other things to satisfy themselves. they went after other things, to honor them and praise them. we also see this in chapter 1 of the Letter to the Romans, where it is written that the people of the world, “although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but ...exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” or as paul summarizes it a few chapters later, “all have sinned and fallen short (or ‘lack’) the glory of God.” the basis of sin is that we trade away God as the object of our worship, the thing that we treasure and praise and seek after, and take instead something else as our ‘god.’ this goes back to the first commandment, “you shall have no other gods besides Me.” the essence of sin is idolatry: that we take something other than God as our highest treasure, what we are devoted to, in which we most delight, what we honor and prize above all else. as luther says, you’ll never break any other commandment if you keep the first one, because in order to sin in any way you must put something before God in your life.

now think with me a moment. most of us aren’t bowing down before some carving of a bird or cow or something. we’re not slaughtering farm animals to statues of wood or metal. our idolatry tends to be more ‘sophisticated’ and ‘civilized’ than that, but we still sacrifice for things other than God, we give offerings to them and make them our source of meaning and satisfaction in life. and some of you, as i’m saying this, will think of what most church folk tend to think of as the “big sins”: sex, drugs, money, and things along those lines; and those are definitely idols for many. but as calvin says, “our hearts are idol factories”, they keep producing new ones. for some, our tv or computer is a big idol: it’s where we escape to, it’s what we long for after a hard day at work, and we’ll sit staring at the screen for hours on end, numbing our minds and our hearts. for others, we make sports our idol. i know some african Christians who view the stadiums we build to our sports teams as modern-day temples, with mascots as the symbolic idol, and the team as our object of devotion. some make popularity an idol, or academic achievement. and we mentioned last week in sunday school that for some of us, our families are our idols. and some even make an idol out of external goodness and religiosity. we do all the right things, and check off all the boxes, either out of pride or for the praise of men.

one last example: one of the things we want for our kids is sexual purity, and that’s not a bad desire. but the guy who never slept around, who never looked at porn, who was abstinent ‘til marriage and completely faithful to his wife until the day he died: if that guy did not do so for the glory of God, he sinned in keeping sexually pure. because if he didn’t do it out of a love for God and a desire to know and honor Him, then he’s acting either out of self-righteous pride, or worldly fear, or people-pleasing vanity. Scripture says that “everything that is not from faith is sin.” so even our good works that are not born out of faith in God are disgusting in God’s sight; He tells isaiah that they are to Him as “dirty menstrual rags.”

now hear me out: most of these are good things. it’s not bad to love your wife, or your kids. and it’s not wrong to enjoy a sports game, or a tv show. the problem is that we make these good things into ultimate things. instead of being a means to honor and enjoy God, we make these things an end in and of themselves. instead of seeing God through the gifts, instead of being in awe of the display of God’s character and nature in the gift, we stop at the thing itself, and make it the source of our meaning and purpose and satisfaction.

the reason i need you to get this, to get what sin really is, and how pervasive it is, is because if you don’t get this, you won’t love Jesus much. Christ said that “the one who has been forgiven much, loves much, but the one who has been forgiven little, loves little.” the reason i’m praying to God that you get this is that if you don’t understand how great a debt you owed God outside of Christ, you won’t be in awe of the gospel, and the heart that once sang out “amazing grace! how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!” will start to think of what we don’t have, and what we’re entitled to, and become puffed up like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son.

but get this, please get this: Jesus died for your sins. and i know we say that all the time, and as the old saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt.” that’s why if you look at church history, you’ll see that one generation believes and loves the gospel, the next generation assumes the gospel, and the third generation ends up denying the gospel.

so hear this and let it impact your hearts: Christ died for your sins. and if you don’t know what that means, let me walk you through how the Scriptures unpack that.

• in Isaiah 53, we’re told that Jesus “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows...upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”
• in Acts 10 we’re told “everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.”
• in Romans 3 we’re told that we “are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, Whom God put forward as a propitiation [that is, a wrath-absorbing sacrifice] by His blood.”
• in Galatians 3 we read that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”
• in Hebrews 2 God says that “through death [Jesus] destroy[ed] the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
• in 2 Corinthians 5 we read, “God made Him Who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
• in Colossians 1 we read that “He has now reconciled [you] in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him.”
• we read earlier that Revelation 5 declares of Jesus that “You were slaughtered, and by Your blood You ransomed a people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God.”
• 1 John 4 declares that “in this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him.”
• 1 Peter 3 says that “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God.”
• in Ephesians God tells us that “in love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace.”

so because of the death of Christ, we get all this: our sins are forgiven, the wrath of God against us is removed, we are freed from the curse of the law, we are free from the power of death and the devil, we have the righteousness of Jesus counted as our own, we are considered holy and blameless before Him, we have been made a kingdom and priests of God, we have everlasting life, we know the love of God, we are brought back to God, we are adopted as sons, and we are free to praise His glorious grace forever.

think about this: how many of your sins were future sins when Christ died? all of them. Christ knows we’re unrighteous, we’re messed up, we’re broken, we’re evil. Romans says that before God got a hold of us, we were His enemies. but He loves us through all of that, not based on anything in us or anything we do, but because that’s the kind of God He is. we can’t earn it, and we can’t pay Him back. He doesn’t want us to! that’s the point of it being a gift! you don’t try to repay someone for a gift: it’s almost insulting, and it goes against the idea of giving.

so what do we do with a great gift? we enjoy it. we delight in it. we praise it to other people. i mean, if you get something really good for your birthday, within a few days all your friends know about it, right? we love the giver more because of the gift, because the gift reveals the character of the one who gives it. and we respond in thanksgiving.

and so, as Christ has saved us by His death, we receive all these wonderful blessings by grace, for free. we rejoice in this great gift of salvation, because now we have what we most need, and what is our highest joy, namely, we have God. through Christ, we get God, as our King, as our Father, as our Friend, and as our Treasure.

i wish i had time to really unpack the rest of this morning’s text for you. briefly, paul tells us that Christ’s death, burial and resurrection all happened, and they all happened according to the Scriptures. if you look through the Old Testament, the details of the gospel are laid out in dozens of prophecies, all from hundreds of years before Christ came. and because Jesus was resurrected, we know that God accepted His sacrifice on our behalf, and now He is interceding for us before the Father. and we know that we too will one day be raised, and live on the new earth with Him forever. and finally paul backs this all up by naming a bunch of witnesses to the whole thing, so if anyone had any doubts, they could go ask these guys.

so this is the gospel of our Savior, Jesus Christ. this is the good news “which [we] received, in which [we] stand, and by which [we] are being saved.” i hope your affections for God have been stirred, that your spirits have been re-awakened to these glorious truths, and that your passion for the gospel has been fanned into flame once more. this morning i’m not going to go through practical applications of this, because the entire Christian life is the application of this message, of the gospel, to our lives. but this morning, being reminded of the great gift we have received, i invite you to respond to God. in a moment, we’ll respond in song, praising our God together. we’ll respond in giving, because our God is a giver, and He declares that “it is more blessed to give than receive.” we’ll respond in praising God for all the things He’s been doing in our lives: blessings purchased for us by the blood of Christ. we’ll respond in pouring our hearts out to God, asking Him to make His grace more evident in our lives: as peter says, “casting our cares before Him, because He cares for us.” we’ll respond by recognizing God’s work in the lives of our children, and dedicate their teachers to His work. and then leaving this place, we’ll respond with the rest of our lives, loving and enjoying God, “to the praise of His glorious grace.” amen.

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At August 29, 2010 at 10:39 PM , Blogger Dan Masshardt said...

Nice job bro. I enjoyed reading that even though I don't usually like reading sermons. I would have liked to have heard it.

Did you get any feedback?

At August 30, 2010 at 4:54 PM , Blogger Susan said...

Good Job John - Thanks for posting it on line. We were all thinking of you and praying for God's power in the message.


Aunt Sue

At August 30, 2010 at 8:46 PM , Blogger James said...

John, I thought you did a nice job on your sermon. I thought you communicated the Gospel. We are saved through God's grace. Since we cannot earn this gift, we should praise our God for what he has done. AMEN.

God Bless,

Uncle Jim W.


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