Well I did it again this past weekend. I listened to two sermons. And I again see an opportunity for discernment of the Good News by juxtaposing them. But it's not all smooth sailing. The two sermons differ quite a bit, and even conflict in ways that I hope sharpen your powers of discernment. Each perhaps gives some insight into a weakness or two of the other. But it's my hope that ultimately, by comparing the two, it's the gospel that you will be able to see more clearly. What do you come away with?
Each sermon has been distilled to almost exactly 5 minutes of audio.
Part of our gathering might have something to do with our desire for faith. And that would be OK. But again, what is it we're actually asking for? Well, Amy was pretty sure she knew what a lot of people were asking for when it came to faith: I want something to help me. I want some advantage from belief. I want it to do something for me. And I think this plays right into our deep insecurity, doesn't it? Because isn't that, in fact, what some of us think? If God is good for anything, it ought to be to give some advantage to people who believe in Him. Well there was a time when I thought that way too. And the more I showed my seriousness, and my willingness to commit, that the more likely it would be that God would give me more faith. And I'd get the benefits of all that work. Well, somewhere along the way, I was dis-abused of this false idea. And faith became something quite different.
And today, He speaks to His disciples. And they, like we, want some advantage from Jesus. So they say to Him, "Lord, how about a little more faith." Plug us into the power source. Give us more faith. At just at that point in the text, we can say some things about what Jesus is doing. And of course what He's doing is He's exposing them. And of course what the scenario here portrays in the text among the disciples is ... well if even a tiny bit of faith can do these huge, amazing things, then there really must not be much faith in us at all. And that's what Jesus is trying to point out.
Well that poses a problem for me because I thought that faith is supposed to be that empowering thing, that trusting thing, that makes it possible for me to be all that I can be. No, that's not what the bible talks about as faith. That's what religion talks about as faith. The power source to overcome the obstacles of life. But remember some months ago we talked here about the paradigm of the christian faith is not from lower to higher, from immoral to moral. It is from death to life.
Years ago a very wise person said to me words that were oh so true. And have always been a great help. "Never forget that you are a dying man preaching to dying people." Don't ever forget it. Because they are going to want you to pretend you are a living man who is there to make them live even better than they are now. And that's the false gospel of glory.
The faith that we are talking about is not the message that says, "If you only had more, think of what you could do." "You need to get your christian act together." "You need to read the bible more." "Pray more, spend more time around the church." "It's all you!" That's not our message. The faith that Jesus speaks of. That faith that is *in* Jesus, is precisely that. It is trust, (faith means trust), it trust that the promises of God, for us, will be fulfilled, in His time, for His sake, for Christ's sake.
Faith and love don't require a list of do's and don'ts. You see, Jesus was on to these guys, these young men of his, his followers. And He's on to us too. How many of us need lists, so to speak, to do something decent once in a while, the right thing. If when left to our own devices we'd just as soon blow it off and forget about it.
So, God has not left us to ourselves in the Gospel. In Jesus Christ, God who fully understands our inwardly turned ways, our profound self interest, our lack of love and trust and faith, has taken it upon Himself, thereby ensuring that God's word of 'yes' is greater that our word of 'no'. That this faith, this confidence, does not have to reside inside ourselves, where we start questioning it, and spinning it, and distorting it. But that it is given to us externally in these words of promise, and so there our inner doubts and our inner failures, and our inner uncertainties are met by the certainty of God's promise... The body of Christ, the blood of Christ, given and shed for you, which cannot be compared to any word of faithfulness on our part, where God is concerned.
This is what the bible says ... to our world ... "your pleasure is too small." That's what the bible says. Do you understand this as a believer? You need to understand this. If you are anchored in God, if you have tasted the joy of salvation, the world can't touch you. You have tasted eternal pleasure. You have tasted the joy of obedience. There is nothing more pleasurable than holiness. And if we are not, in other words, finding pleasure and delight and happiness (pervasive happiness), [not in a kind of smile on your face way, but deep abiding happiness that winds its way through the path of life, in other words that navigates the valleys and the peaks of life and is always cemented in God.] Then we are cued up to understand why heaven will not be boring.
This eternal life, has begun now. You and I aren't waiting for pleasure to kick in. Do you see this? We have seen the eternal way of pleasure, of joy, begin now. That's why the bible looks at this world and says to it, "Your joy is too small." Show me joy that lasts forever, and you will have my attention. But God never promised us, did He, that we would be safe and secure in a worldly sense. Right? Outside of Christ. The only security and comfort and confidence we have in this world is at the right hand of God.
So this way of life has begun now. You have security and pleasure now. As you go about your life... working, raising children, going through the small parts of your day that are seemingly inglorious, you are living the life of pleasure. It's not the people in the club, who are leading the life of pleasure. It's not the people who have way more vacation time than you do who are leading the good life. It's you!
But lastly, how do we get there? I want to suggest to you that there is only one answer to the problem of pleasure in an ultimate sense and it is Jesus Christ. He is the way to pleasure. How? How do we take control of our lives? ... Jesus Christ, slain and ascended. How is it that we become transcendently happy? ... We enter into this world, by the grace of God, taking up our cross. In Jesus Christ, in repenting of all your sin, turning your life over to Christ, trusting in His death on that cross and His resurrection from the grave, it is in Him, it is by that work, that we become truly happy, and truly holy. We want as much as we can get, more that we can handle, of pleasure. And where do we find it? ... We find it in doing the will of Christ.
So in application, four quick things. Number one, remember that you were made for happiness. You're not supposed to grimly discharge your duty as a christian until you get booted up to heaven. Right now you are made for happiness. Number two, know that you will grow in happiness as you grow in holiness. Happiness will not ultimately come outside of holiness. So number three, kill sin. Kill every sin you can find. If you are killing sin, you are undertaking truly pleasant work. Ask a friend, if you're single, ask a friend how you can grow in holiness. If you're in a marriage, have a conversation and say, "how could I grow as a believer?" "How could I care for you better as a husband or wife?" And then lastly remember that it is in setting our eyes on Christ, and daily taking up our cross, that we will be most happy.
[Let us pray...] Heavenly Father, we are pulled by the world, the flesh, and the devil today. ... Father I pray for myself and for this congregation, that we will resist that temptation ... and we will recognize that your gospel is far more powerful than the flesh, and than satan. You have made us, as Paul said, more than conquerors through Christ. So we can conquer any setting, any trial, any sin, any challenge.