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.

Broken People Do Broken Things

“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

“Broken people do broken things.”

I first heard this nugget of wisdom form a funeral home director.  He and I were riding in the hearse to a graveside service after having left the funeral home and a family that was fighting with each other.  I don’t remember why they were fighting (probably something to do with inheritance), but I was visibly shaken and the director could tell.  I remember asking why they couldn’t get past their difference for at least an hour and be civil with one another during the service, and that’s when he said it, “Broken people do broken things.”

I don’t think he meant it to excuse their behavior, but perhaps to change my perspective on the world.  The world is full of broken people.  Some have managed to put a good spin on their brokenness, their sins are the acceptable kind that are given a wink by society.  For others, their brokenness is clear for everyone to see, and often that brokenness is worn as a “red badge of courage.”

Hasn’t the brokenness of the world reared its ugly head this week?  Over the weekend we heard of ISIS having beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians , and this just after the news of the death of Kayla Mueller, the burning of the Jordanian pilot, their names added to a very long list of victims of horrible terror . (I read just this morning of another report that ISIS had burned to death another 45  people in an Iraqi town.) There was the shooting rampage in Denmark, the foiled terror plans in Canada, the murder of three students at the University of Connecticut.  Add to that the horrible news coming from Lennox, SD, where I’ll soon be moving, of a gunman who shot two people and then killed himself – all because of an argument over a delivery.

It’s all the kind of thing that makes you not want to get out of bed in the morning.

I make no effort to make sense of senseless violence. You cannot explain or rationalize brutality like this. Sometimes, all it feels you can do is throw up your hands, keep your head down, and resign yourself to the fact that “lost people do lost things.”

But that is not the Christian message.

I don’t purport to have all the answers regarding evil and it’s place in the world.  I must leave that discussion to better minds than mine.  But I do believe that our faith has something important to say in the midst of such atrocities.

First, we must realize that evil is real, and we live in a fallen world.  Since Adam’s fall, all the world has been subjected to futility, and creation itself awaits the revealing of the sons of God in which it too will be released from its bondage to corruption (see Romans 8).  Suffering and violence, natural disasters and wars, these are symptoms of a greater sickness, namely, we live in world that subjected to corruption because of man’s sin and rebellion from God.

Second, I believe Scripture teaches that God has a purpose in everything, including the evil we face in this life.  Often it is hard to see and difficult to understand – and we may never find in this life the ultimate meaning that is hidden in the heart of sorrow, disappointment, and grief.  But we remember the words of Joseph to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen 50:20).  Even more, we see God’s providence working even in the death of Jesus Christ, who was holy and without sin, the greatest tragedy ever committed on the face of the earth, and yet through His death and resurrection, we find the salvation of all who would call upon His name (Acts 3:13-16).

Finally, we must remember, evil does not have the last word.  Though their powers may flare and cause us to tremble, though

this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear for, God hath willed his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

We abound in hope, even in the face of evil, tragedy, and loss. We abound in hope because we know that because Christ has been raised in victory over death, those whose lives are hidden in Him have received that victory as well.  We know that no matter what we face, even if we are handed over for tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger or the sword, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us…” and nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:31-39).

In John 16:33 Jesus says, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Christ has overcome!  Therefore, in good times and in bad, let us look to Him that we may be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord [our] labor is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58).

SDG