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.

Something about the resurrection…

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!
According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again
to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…
(1 Peter 1:3 ESV)

I make it a point not to talk about politics, too much.  I don’t want my position as pastor, nor my pulpit and the message of the Gospel that I proclaim, to be too closely identified with one particular party or another.  I will not put campaign signs in my yard.  I will not financially support one candidate or another.  I have in the past been asked to pray at the opening of a county-wide rally for a particular party, and if asked by the opposing party, I would gladly offer the same prayer for them as well.

That being said…

Tuesday President Obama spoke at a Easter Prayer Breakfast at the White House about the amazing ability of the resurrection to “put everything else into perspective.”

Here’s the content of the President’s message:

“I wanted to host this breakfast for a simple reason – because as busy as we are, as many tasks as pile up, during this season, we are reminded that there’s something about the resurrection – something about the resurrection of our savior, Jesus Christ, that puts everything else in perspective.”
“We all live in the hustle and bustle of our work… but then comes Holy Week.  The triumph of Palm Sunday.  The humility of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.  His slow march up that hill, and the pain and the scorn and the shame of the cross.
“And we’re reminded that in that moment, he took on the sins of the world – past, present and future – and he extended to us that unfathomable gift of grace and salvation through his death and resurrection.
“In the words of the book Isaiah:  “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities:  the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”
“This magnificent grace, this expansive grace, this “Amazing Grace” calls me to reflect.  And it calls me to pray.  It calls me to ask God for forgiveness for the times that I’ve not shown grace to others, those times that I’ve fallen short.  It calls me to praise God for the gift of our son – his Son and our Savior.”
(Source CNS News

First, let me say “thank you” to our President for publically affirming his faith, but also the centrality of the teaching that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, our Savior, who died for our sins, and was raised from the dead for our salvation.  Any opportunity to have that message proclaimed is welcome.

Secondly, it is so true that as we recall the events of Holy Week, we can begin to get our priorities back in order.  Jesus willingly took that road of suffering which led to the cross for us, he bore our sins in his body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24), the righteous for the unrighteous (1 Peter 3:18).  This was the ultimate demonstration of God’s love for us (Romans 5:8), and the love which His disciples are to show to one another (John 13:34-35).  Truly the events of Holy Week are a great reminder to repent of our cold and unmoving love, our reluctance to take up our cross and follow Christ, and a motive to praise God for the gift of His Son, in whom we have our victory.

However, is this all that “something about the resurrection” does?  I don’t fault the President here.  He is not the “Pastor in Chief” or the nation’s resident theologian, so I do not expect an exhaustive answer here.  But as a pastor, I must add that the resurrection must do more than just “put things in perspective.”

The resurrection is the sine qua non of the Christian faith.  Without the resurrection of Christ, Christianity is meaningless, deceitful, and we Christians are pitiful fools (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).  Before the resurrection, the disciples were ready to give up and go back to fishing.  Without the resurrection, Jesus would have gone down in history as another good teacher and prophet, no different than all those who had come before.  But because of the resurrection, Jesus is revealed to be the Son of God (Rom 1:4), those who believe in Him are justified by God (Rom 4:25), we are assured of our victory over death and of the resurrection to eternal life (1 Cor 15:50-57; 1 Thess 4:13-18); and the life we now live we live in the power of the risen Lord (Rom 6:4, 8:11).  The resurrection is so much more than an adjustment of our priorities – it is the confirmation of God’s gift of life and peace to those who believe in Christ the Lord.