March 4, 2012

Putting the Pieces Together

Passage: Mark 8:31-33

"He began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be  rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days  rise again.   He said all this quite openly.  And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke  him.  But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me,  Satan!  For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

This morning, (while there are many of you worshipping here), I’m going to direct my comments primarily to the four young people sitting in front of me, who today are committing their lives to Jesus Christ.  The rest of you are welcome to listen to what I have to say, but it is to these very special young people that I am speaking.

Fiona, Eden, Alex and Thomas – do you like working with puzzles?

When you first get a puzzle, - it comes to you in a box with all the individual pieces mixed up and lying loose in the box.  When you open it, it becomes your job to put those pieces together to form a picture.  If it’s a challenging puzzle, it may take you some time to put it all together.  It can also be very frustrating if you discover that one of the pieces is missing from the box.

I’ve been involved in the church all my life.    I’ve heard a lot of sermons and even delivered a few myself.  But there is one thing that has always frustrated me.  In all my years in the church, (including the time I spent at Divinity School preparing for the ministry), the message of the Christian faith has been presented to me – in little pieces, - much like a jigsaw puzzle that hasn’t been assembled, and is still lying in hundreds of pieces in the box.

What I mean, - is that I never heard the whole message of Christianity in any one presentation.

Getting the content of our faith in bits and pieces, (as most of you have also done) simply isn’t an effective way to understand the message that God has sent us.  And so this morning, I’d like to try to put all the pieces together for you.

In our Gospel lesson this morning, the apostle Peter was criticized by Jesus because he was unwilling to believe that Jesus was going to be arrested, and then put to death on the cross.  Jesus tells Peter that he has his mind set on human things, instead of godly things.  In other words, he’s being influenced by the way most humans think, instead of listening to Jesus, who is the Son of God.

Friends, that’s exactly what is happening in our world today.  Everywhere you turn you’re being told:-
• There is no God;
• Everything can be explained by evolution;
• We’ve simply evolved over eons of time, from lesser creatures and so,
• there’s no purpose for our lives;
• all that matters is that our species survive.

For anyone who believes these things, there is:
• no absolute right or wrong;
• no final judgment for our behaviour when we die; and
• no unique purpose for our individual lives.

In other words, we can do anything we want, without any thought of long term consequences, because in the end, there is no ultimate authority; no God whom we ought to obey.

But friends, that’s not the message of the Bible; and certainly not what Jesus taught.  So, let’s look at the biblical message, (which I think you’ll find) - is far superior to anything you will ever hear at school or in the secular world.

When God created Adam and Eve, he made human beings who were not only dependent upon Him for their creation, but also intended to have a personal relationship with God; - sharing in His life and love.   However, in creating us, God also gave each of us freedom of choice; and it was this freedom - which Satan exploited - when he convinced Adam & Eve that they didn’t have to obey God’s instruction.  The Bible tells us - that God told Adam & Eve not to eat the fruit of the tree in the centre of the garden.  But the Devil said that the reason God told Adam & Eve not to eat this fruit, was because if they did – they’d be as wise as gods.

Adam & Eve believed what Satan told them, and so committed - the first and most serious sin.  They defied God.

What we need to understand, is that sin isn’t simply all the little things we do which we know in our heart are wrong.  Such sins are merely symptoms of a bigger problem.  What’s really at the heart of our sinning is rebellion against God.

If God wasn’t a God, there would be no such thing as sin.  Human beings could do whatever they wanted, so long as other people didn’t object.

But the Bible tells us that God is the great, “I AM!”  This is how God described Himself when Moses asked God what His name was.  God replied: - “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14); in other words, God is our final authority, - the One whose Word is beyond question.  That’s why in the 10 Commandments it says:  “you shall have no other gods before me.”  (Exodus 20: 2-3)

Sin, - with a capital ‘S’ - is anything we do that rejects God’s authority and when we refuse to accept His direction and love.

Now because God is God, - God must always condemn sin.  If He didn’t, He’d cease to be God.

Adam & Eve were the first people to experience God’s punishment for sin.  As a result of that judgment,-  they were thrown out of the Garden of Eden, and from then on - they had to endure hardship, pain, and death.

That’s a pretty tough punishment, - and if that were the end of the story, it would be a tragedy for all of us.  By thank God, that’s not the end of the story.

The Old Testament tells us how the Jewish people struggled - because of their broken relationship with God.  Sometimes they listened to the voice of God and followed His guidance, and when they did, things went well for them;   at other times they disobeyed God, sometimes worshipping other gods; and when they did, they suffered defeat, humiliation and slavery.

In an attempt to make things right with God, they would make sacrifices to God, using animals and grain.  But these sacrifices had to be repeated, over and over again; because no one sacrifice was ever enough to make amends with God.

When a little child does something wrong, and then later says, ‘I’m sorry’, - his parents will often say:  “I forgive you,” and the matter is closed.  But God can’t treat our sin against Him so easily, - not when the cause of sin still lies in the heart of people.

If God were to simply wave His hand over us and say:  “I forgive you,” - He’d trivialize our sin and make it seem that it really didn’t matter.  But it does matter.  Sin is serious because it’s the rejection of God’s authority over us.

By committing the very first sin against God, Adam & Eve passed on to rest of humanity, the tendency to do the same thing.  In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he said:   “Sin came into the world through one man, and his sin brought death with it.  As a result, death has spread to the whole human race because everyone has sinned.” (Romans 5:12)

In other words, the Bible tells us that the punishment for sin is death.

So here’s the dilemma we face is.  There is nothing we can do on our own, to correct that which is causing us to sin against God.  But so long as we continue to sin, God can’t forgive us.  -  Fortunately, this isn’t the end of the story either.

The Bible tells us there’s only one solution; and this is where Jesus comes into the picture.  There had to be someone, who lives without sin, who would pay the price for all our sins.

So, to break the curse of sin, God did the one and only thing possible to rescue us.  He sent Jesus, His own Son, to live among us and to be one of us.  And so 2,000 years ago, a baby was born - who grew up to be the very first person – to live a life completely without sin; - without any rejection of God.

To accomplish His mission, Jesus had to be both completely human, and also completely God.  That’s something that’s very hard to understand because it’s never happened before.

In a letter to his friend and co-worker, Timothy; - Paul explained this.  He said:   “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men,  (and that is) the man Jesus Christ.”  (I Peter 2:5)

Now, in order to be an effective mediator between two parties, you really need to be able to identify with both groups in any dispute.  That’s what Jesus was, - He was a member of both groups, - He was both human and divine; both man and God.  He was also sinless, - and so the forces of evil had no power over Him.

Whenever the Jews made sacrifices in the temple, they always used animals that were without blemish.  But in spite of that, those sacrifices had to be repeated over and over again.  But with Jesus, since He was a human without sin, His sacrifice was once for all time.

In dying on the cross, Jesus was a substitute for all of us.  He paid the full penalty of all our collective sins upon Himself.  The punishment wasn’t reduced, because if it had been, it would have meant that God didn’t take sin seriously.  So Jesus had to pay the full penalty for our sin.

But in doing this, Jesus broke the spell of death, and made it possible for God to forgive everyone who sincerely seeks forgiveness, and is willing to accept Jesus Christ as their Saviour.

This Good News is recorded in many places in the New Testament, but one of the best is in the first letter of John where it says:  “God loved us and sent His Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven.”  (I John 4:10)

There are some Christians who still question why Jesus had to die.  They think the idea of sacrificing is old fashioned and doesn’t mean anything today.  But they’re wrong.  Because by dying for us, Jesus has overcome death, and made it possible for all believers to experience eternal life.

The fact that Jesus rose from the grave, on the third day after His crucifixion, is proof of this.  It also assures us that at the end of time, there will be a Day of Judgment for all of us - and that Jesus Christ will be our judge on that Day.

In the Gospel of John it says:   “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; (but) whoever disobeys the Son  will not have life, but will remain under God’s punishment.”  (John 3:36)

So, there you have it.  The puzzle assembled the way the Bible tells us the story.

I know this has been a pretty heavy message this morning, and you probably won’t remember it all, even though you’re hearing it twice this morning.  So, to help you, I’m going to give each of you a copy of what I’ve just said to add to the material you’ve collected in your Confirmation Books during our course.

But, the one message I really want you to remember this morning is this.  What you are doing here today is setting you on the right track for the rest of your lives.  You are promising to let Jesus Christ be your Saviour and to follow His way.  However making this commitment is just the first step.  Being a Christian is a life-long journey; - a journey which will have many twists and turns along the way.  You’ll experience many temptations to break away from Jesus, - and you’ll need to draw upon the power of the Holy Spirit to resists those temptations.  But I believe in each of you, and know that you will make the right choices in the years to come.

May God bless you on your journey.