Preaching the Impossible

This week I have the distinct privilege of preaching the impossible!  It is “Holy Week,” that week in the season of the Church when we especially focus our attention on the passion of Christ, His suffering and dying upon the cross, and His resurrection on the third day for our salvation.

In reality, I hope to preach this Gospel message every Lord’s Day; that in every text, on every day, we can once again hear that Christ has died for our sins, and has been raised for our justification.

This message never grows tired.  It is full of power to transform lives. This Gospel message can set the vilest offender free from sin and death, can loose the bonds of guilt and shame, can restore the rebel to fellowship and peace with God.

And yet this message, on its surface, is simply impossible.  How can the dead come back to life?  How can the human heart, broken and corrupt, ever hope to change? How can a sinful person ever hope to fully satisfy the righteous demands of a holy God?  “Who can be saved?” the disciples cried!  Jesus’ replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God!” (Luke 18:27).

I recently came across this conclusion from a sermon by D.M. Lloyd Jones entitled “The Wonder of the Gospel.”*

In view of the fact that salvation is of God and therefore supernatural, although we cannot understand it, it holds out a hope for all. “For with God nothing shall be impossible.” It is our only hope. it is the only way. It is the only gospel, the only really good news. It is the one thing that enables me to stand in the pulpit and preach with confidence and assurance. The gospel is “the power of God unto salvation” and not merely an indication of how men can save themselves!

It is God’s work, and because it is His work, it is possible for all and can be offered to all. Were salvation something human and natural it would be impossible for all, yes, even for those who talk most about it in that way. For it is one thing to talk, it is a very different thing to live and act!

It is all very well to use idealistic phrases and to talk beautifully about love, and, to consider exalted ethical standards and to talk glibly about applying the principles of the gospel to the problems of life. But the question is, Can they be applied? Do those who talk thus apply them in their own lives? Can they do so? And can all this teaching be “applied” to the world? Look at the world today in spite of all this teaching. And what has such teaching to offer to the failures, the broken and the maimed in life, to those who have lost their will-power as well as their character?

Oh! how I thank God that salvation is something which He gives to us, for we can all receive a gift, the weakest as well as the strongest. There is literally hope for all.

“How shall this be?” asked Mary. “Nothing shall be impossible with God”, came the answer.  And in due time Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem. The impossible happened. And oh! the hundreds and thousands of cases in which that was repeated during His earthly ministry! Which are the cases that the people and the disciples take to Him? Oh! always the most hopeless, always the ones which had baffled and defeated everyone else and all their powers – the born blind, the deaf, the paralyzed, yes, even the dead. The hopeless of the hopeless, the most helpless of the helpless. Can Jesus do anything for them?

“How can these things be?” Can it really happen? “Go and show John again those things which you hear and see: the blind receive their sign, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matt 11:4-5). Yes, it happened. There was no limit to His power. The most desperate case was no more difficult than any other, for “with God nothing shall be impossible.” Is that so? Is that really true? Surely there is a mistake! For one afternoon He is to be seen hanging upon a cross utterly helpless, and the people standing near by say, “Others He saved, Himself He cannot save.” So mighty in life, apparently conquered by death! “Nothing impossible”?  And He there, dying, yes, dead and buried in a grave! But wait! He bursts asunder the bands of death and rises from the grave. Even death could not hold Him. He has conquered all; yes, again I say, “With God nothing shall be impossible.”

“But how does that affect us?” asks someone. Well, I am here to tell you that whatever your problem, however great your need, it is still the same for all who ask. The gospel just asks you to allow God to forgive you, to pardon you, to cleanse you, to fill you with a new life by believing that He sent His only begotten Son into the world, to live and die and rise again in order to make all that possible. “How can these things be?” “With God nothing shall be impossible.”

* Lloyd-Jones, D.M. Evangelistic Sermons at Aberavon. (The Banner of Truth Trust; PA, 1983). Pages 203-204.

The Storm Rages On

Listening to the weather forecast on the first day of spring was infuriating.  I found myself shaking my fist at the TV and calling down curses upon the “computer models.”

This is spring, but its spring in the High Plains, which usually means another three weeks of winter! How I long for the sun to shine through these bleak overcast skies; for the world to turn green rather than this shoe-bottom brown.

But, alas, I must wait.  Though the sun is trying to shine through my window now, off in the distance the clouds are forming and the storms rage on.  More snow, more cold, more winter – that’s all the weather man said.

I saw this meme and knew it to be true:

Winter Meme

Old man winter just won’t die. He keeps rearing his ugly head. Doesn’t he know when he has overstayed his welcome?

Just as I long for the sun to shine and new growth to come to the world outside, how desperately do I long for this in my own heart.  I long to walk in the radiance of the glory of God, to see new growth in the life on the vine. I want to live a life that delights my creator, to love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength and to grow in my love for my neighbor.

And yet, the old man in me simply won’t die.  Sin keeps rearing its ugly head.  The temptations I thought I had overcome keep creeping back in, the vices the gripped me, continue to squeeze all life from me. My old self, with all it’s worldly passions and tastes still rages on.  Like a winter storm that comes in the midst of spring, the old life in me  comes to bite, devour, and delay any growth in righteousness.

I grow tired of the battle, of fighting the same fights day after day.

Doesn’t the old life know its defeated? Christ has conquered sin and death, and in Christ, I live a new life.  The war is over, but the battle rages on. Why then do I struggle with sin?

Galatians 5:17, while speaking truth to my heart, may not give me a lot of encouragement.  Paul writes, “For the desires of the flesh are against he Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to teacher other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”  In Romans 7, he famously writes, “I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me… Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

There is a war that is raging between the old life in the flesh and the new life in the Spirit.  If we enter this battle simply laying down our arms, we will be overcome and lose all the joy of our salvation.  If we are engaging in this war, fighting against the last outposts of worldliness and the strongholds of sin in our hearts and minds with the sword of the Spirit (which is the Word of God), the breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of faith, and all of the armor of God, then we will overcome, as Christ has overcome the world.

There is promised victory, new life, in Christ. Yet this victory, while glorious, is never complete in this life. The Westminster Confession describes it this way:

This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.
In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail; yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

How do we ready ourselves for this battle?  While I could focus on the armor of God, or the means of grace, or the pursuit of spiritual disciplines, I think the best place to start is with looking to Christ.  If you want to enjoy the delights of spring, then when the sun is shining – go stand in it for a while. If you want to engage in the battle against sin in your life, then “walk in the light as He is in the light” (1 John 1:7).  Fix your eyes upon Christ. Read in His word of His grace, His love, His power, His goodness.  Allow Christ to become bigger than any obstacle you face today (1 John 5:4-5), to become more satisfying than that which temps you (John 6:35), more rewarding than anything this world offers (Psalm 16:5-6).

I’ll conclude with yet another quote from Robert Murray McCheyne:

Learn much of your own heart; and when you have learned all you can, remember you have seen but a few yards into a pit that is unfathomable.
Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief!
Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in His beams. Feel His all-seeing eye settled on you in love, and repose in His almighty arms.
Let your soul be filled with a heart-ravishing sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him.
Let the Holy Spirit fill every chamber of your heart; and so there will be no room for folly, or the world, or Satan, or the flesh.

McCheyne, Robert Murray, and Andrew A. Bonar. Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne. Edinburgh; London: Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier, 1894. Print.