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.

False Assumptions

I’ve been having an ongoing conversation with a few of my elders regarding Evangelism, Spiritual Development, and the stagnation that many of us experience in these areas.  These conversations were in the back of my mind while I was perusing a book called, “Evangelistic Sermons at Aberavon” by D.M. Lloyd-Jones.  In particular, his sermon entitled “False Assumptions” I found particularly moving.

Before I share a portion of his sermon I have to comment on the nature of the message. Lloyd-Jones’ message comes out of a reading of Luke 2:44 – “but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances.”  He then speaks about those who suppose that Christ is with them for all the wrong reasons, and finishes by sharing on the importance of knowing that we are with Christ. To take this one verse and build such a powerful message on it demonstrates a marvelous gift of grace in evangelical exposition. I dare say that I would have glossed over this verse and focused on why Jesus was there in the Temple – so perhaps this is a reminder to be more careful to observe all that is in God’s word.

What follows here, then is an excerpt from his sermon, highlighting the reasons Lloyd-Jones gives for those who falsely assume that Christ is with them, and how we may be genuinely assured that we are with Jesus.

I have often been struck, when talking to people about these matters, by they way in which, in the very terms they use, they confess that they had always assumed that they were Christians. This is their favorite terms, ‘Of course I am a Christian,’ they say.  Now, the very use of that term suggests that there is something wrong.  There is no ‘of course’ about being a Christian. It is something entirely new. It is by no means inevitable or something which is bound to happen. Indeed, becoming a Christian… is a supernatural act wrought by God Himself, something which is comparable to a dead soul being made alive… In this view, the Christian does not say, ‘Of course I am a Christian,’ but rather, ” By the infinite grace and mercy of God I am what I am, I am a Christian.’

But why is it that people should thus assume that they are Christians, or, in the more picturesque language of my text, why is it that people should thus suppose that Jesus Christ is with them on their journey through life and that He will be with them to the end?

There are some who actually assume that all is well with them for the simple and only reason that they being to a so-called Christian country.

There are those who base their assumption of their Christianity on their upbringing… Having been baptized when they were infants, they assume that they are Christians and that all is well with them.

Another group of persons base this assumption on the fact of church-membership or church-attendance. They have their names in the book, they attend with a fair regularity, they contribute to towards the funds… and on they go feeling quite happy and never doubting for a moment that God is well-pleased with them.

There are those that suppose that a good-life and good works mean of necessity that we are Christians and that Christ is with us. They have not gone near a church; they have not read their Bible for years; their prayers have been fitful and intermittent; but that has not concerned them at all.

Finally, there are those who would base their hope on the so-called love of God. Whatever may be said to them, they just wave their hands and say, ‘God is love.’ Nothing else really matters, a man’s life makes no difference at all. God’s love will deal with everything and all will be well.

What is at the heart of all of these assumptions?

Mary and Joseph assumed that the boy would follow them, that His one business was to do so, and that therefor the matter need not be considered any further… The whole fallacy is to think that our Lord must accommodate Himself to us and not we to Him. We expect Him to come, we assume He will come. We thank that we can come and go as we please and do anything that we like, but that He will always be there when we need Him. So we talk glibly and blasphemously about ‘taking Christ with us’ to various places – we leading, and Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the King of kings and Lord of lords, following. Oh, the blasphemy of it all!

How can we know that we are with Jesus?

‘If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.’ There it is. He promises to dwell with, and abide with those who keep the condition. And the condition is, loving Him and keeping His word. Without that condition there is no promise. And keeping His word means believing what He said and doing what He has told us to do. It means believing that He is the only Son of God who came on earth to save us. It means believing that He died for me and that He is my only hope of heaven. It means giving myself to Him, turning from my sins and from the world and doing my all and upmost to please Him in everything.