Even If He Doesn’t
Pastor Barry Kerner
The Israelites had been taken captive in Babylon, forced to serve under King Nebuchadnezzar. Only a small handful of Israelites had remained loyal to God.
King Nebuchadnezzar built a towering gold statue and ordered everyone to bow down and worship. Anyone who refused would be thrown into the fiery furnace, cast away to their death.
But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused. They had a firm foundation in their faith, in their commitment to God. And, they were caught and turned over to Nebuchadnezzar.
If your Bibles are open let’s read Daniel 3:14-18.
Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue I have set up?I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments. But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”
We all know the outcome: King Nebuchadnezzar threw three men into the furnace, but when he looked up, there were four men walking around inside the furnace. He exclaimed, “Look! I see four men, not tied, walking around in the fire unharmed; and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” Nebuchadnezzar called the men out of the furnace, unscathed. He proclaimed God’s greatness, and promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
It’s a great story, one of God’s undeniable power. It’s a great testimony of three men who faced death and remained committed to their faith, to their God. It’s a great message of God’s ability to rescue His people from certain death.
But I think what I love most about this story is the declaration that God is able to save Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, but even if he doesn’t the men chose never to serve any other god or image except the one true God.
Do you have an “Even if He doesn’t…”
Even if He doesn’t save my marriage.
Even if He doesn’t heal my child.
Even if He doesn’t provide me with a new job.
Even if He doesn’t save me from bankruptcy court.
Even if He doesn’t give me a relationship with my estranged father.
Even if He doesn’t rescue my spouse from addiction.
Whatever your even if He doesn’t might be. Can you say, I will never serve any other god or worship the gold statue you have set up?
These three men were thrown into the fiery furnace; and God miraculously delivered them. They were prepared to die but their trust in God was an unconditional—“even if He doesn’t” They knew it was possible that they would be killed for not obeying the king’s order, and yet they remained loyal to God. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were ready to serve God, regardless of the circumstances.
Life is not a bouquet of roses. Psalm 34:19 tells us, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” We all go through difficulties. No one is exempted! Problems are impartial. In Matthew 5:45 Jesus said, “It rains on the just and the unjust too.” Being a person of faith doesn’t exempt us from the troubles of life. Every problem has a dual nature! They can either draw us closer to God or they can separate us from Him. When some believers are facing trials they give up their faith in God: They stop praying, attending church, giving to the things of God, and reading the Bible. But it ought not to be so! The purpose of life itself is in solving problems. Some are even going through theirs now. It may be in your marriage, business, health, ministry, relationship, job, school, or finances.
Every problem has an expiry date. Problem are transient. In 2 Corinthians 4:17 the Bible calls our trials and troubles our “light affliction.” This light affliction is but for a moment, for a short time, and then it will be gone. It’s also written in Psalm 30:5, “weeping may endure for a night but joy come in the morning.” No storm lasts forever, the wind will stop blowing, the battle will end, the rain will stop and your sun will shine again! Don’t give up in your trials. The night will soon be over. In Psalm 50:15 God lovingly tells us, “call on me in the day of trouble: I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
To be able to say, “Even if He doesn’t” takes unconditional faith. But, sometimes when circumstances are difficult, it can be tough to keep the faith. But God desires that we trust in Him—even if our prayers are not answered. We must never let our trust in God become conditional because we don’t see His goodness. Faith is trusting God even when it doesn’t make sense. Abraham had to wait for twenty five years before he saw Isaac. Soon afterwards God tested his faith and asked him to sacrifice his son. Abraham obeyed. He showed that he had unconditional trust. When God saw it, He was excited to reward his obedience. When you have unconditional faith in God you can never be frustrated. Faith believes in God regardless of the circumstances.
But what is Unconditional Faith?
It is a faith in God that is not subject to any condition.
It is to trust God without limitation or reservation.
It is absolute trust no matter the circumstances.
Unconditional faith is standing firm on God’s promises and believing what God says even when we don’t understand or see what He’s doing.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego trusted God unconditionally. They were committed no matter the outcome. Even if God choose not to deliver them the way they desired, they were determined to stand firm and be faithful. That is the proper attitude we should all have. It is not a matter of whether things turn out as we hope, the issue is whether we will be true to God.
Unconditional faith is to love God wholeheartedly. We trust Him because He love us unconditionally. Your trust requires you to believe in Him and follow Him wholeheartedly. There is no limit to what God can and will do if you fully believe in Him. Give Him your unconditional trust and faith today.
Even though we may not understand it, God has a plan, and He’s busy working behind the scenes! Romans 8:28-29 reminds us, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Faith believes that God always knows best. Faith believes that He is in control, and therefore we can rest easily.
But how do you develop unconditional faith?
First, Know God.
What gave Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego the confidence to speak so boldly? They knew their God and they knew what He could do. Clearly the Bible affirms God’s power. Job 9:4 says, “His power is vast.” Psalm 24:8 refers to the Lord as “strong and mighty.” Isaiah 40:26 says that out of His “great power and mighty strength” God brought forth the universe.” Like the three Hebrew boys, do you know the power of God in your life?
Second, Know yourself.
Do you know who you are? You are made in His image; You are a child of God; You are redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb; You are a new creation; You are God’s temple and God’s Spirit dwells within you; You are the light of the world. We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. We are the redeemed!
Third, Love God unconditionally.
The word that Jesus used to identify the greatest commandment in the Law was “agape.” In Matthew 22:37-38 Christ said, “You shall love (agape) the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment” The word that Jesus used to ask Peter whether he loved him or not was the same word “agape.” In the same way, God asks us today, “Do you agape me?”
Fourth, Feed your faith daily.
Proverbs 4:20-22 tells us, “My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings. (21) Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart. (22) For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.”
Matthew4:4 says, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”
Romans 1:16 declares, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”
The Word of God is alive. What we listen to affects what we believe. Go deeper in the Word. There is an old saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” I don’t know how true this statement is but I do know that feeding on the word daily is medicine to all your flesh.
Fifth, Exercise your faith.
Faith is like a muscle and needs to be exercised. Ephesians 2:8 tells us that faith is the gift of God. It is not of ourselves; we receive it from him. It is the special work of the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to who Jesus is and to show us our need of him and to create within us the capacity to trust him. He gives you a new heart, the gift of faith.
But Jesus’ question in Luke 8:25 makes it clear that you can have this gift of faith and never use it. “Where is your faith?” he asks the disciples, after a storm blew up as they were rowing across the lake. Jesus had been asleep in the back of the boat, and the disciples panicked! But Jesus awakens, calms the storm, and then asks, “Where is your faith?” In other words, “Why aren’t you exercising the faith I have gifted to you?”
We may not understand ergonomic engineering, but we sit on chairs without checking to see if they are structurally sound because we trust the proficiency of the furniture designers. That is exercising our faith.
We may not understand the interplay between aerodynamic force and body force, but we trust that Airbus engineers know how to balance lift, drag, and weight, so we fly in their airplanes. That is exercising our faith.
We may not understand why God lets us suffer, but we know that he exists, he is present with us, he recognizes our plight, he cares for us, he has the resources to help us, and he has promised to come to our aid.
Therefore, we trust that he will help us endure our afflictions, produce goodness from them, and resolve them in accordance with his highest purpose for us and those in our orbit. That is exercising our faith.
Finally, Unconditional love gives thanks!
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Psalm 103:1-4 says, “Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name. Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all His benefits.”
1 Chronicles 16:34 wants us to, “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!”
And, Psalm 118:24 reminds us that, “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Give thanks for the results before you see them. Don’t complain – that shows you doubt God’s love and God’s answer to your situation. Give thanks in all situations
In Job 13:15, Job declares, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” This faith-filled statement has challenged countless believers through the centuries to strive for a similar trust in the Lord in the face of trials.
Job made this statement when he was in a terrible time of pain and suffering. He had lost all of his children, his wealth, and his health. His friends were of no help. His wife offered no support and was in fact telling him to give up. Job felt as though his life was over. The only thing left was to die. But, as Job says, even if God did “slay” him, Job would still trust in Him.
Of note here is the fact that Job realizes that, ultimately, the suffering he endures is allowed by God. It is God who has the right and the power to “slay” Job. Even in the midst of pain, we must remember as 1 Samuel 2:6 tells us, “the LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up.” and as Revelation 1:18 reminds us, The Lord alone holds the “keys of death.”
The faith of Job is seen in the fact that even if God’s plan results in Job’s death, Job will continue to trust in God. Nothing can shake the faith of someone so grounded in the goodness and glory of God. Job may not understand what is happening to him and why, but he knows that God is good, loving, and trustworthy.
The apostle Paul echoes Job’s statement of faith in Philippians 1:20 when he says, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”
Even if God left Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the furnace, He would still be God. Our God is able to heal and to deliver, but even if He doesn’t, will you still serve Him? If you are in the middle of difficulty today, look to God. The Bible says that He is the Author and Finisher of our faith. What you are facing is only temporary. Victory is on the way, and it’s closer than you think! Keep standing, keep praying, keep believing, keep praising, keep hoping, keep serving, and keep confessing the Word. Cease from worry and fear. Refuse to doubt. Have total faith in God. Trust Him unconditionally.
God honored the faith of the three Hebrews men. He delivered them from death; and His name was glorified. Your case is not hopeless. God cannot abandon His own.
Only He has the final say. In Isaiah 43:2 God strengthens us when he says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.”
Like Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego and like Job when we suffer and do not understand why, we can trust that God has a greater plan in place that we cannot see.
Let us Pray!
It Ain’t Over
2 Corinthians 4:7-10
Pastor Barry Kerner
If your Bibles are open, let’s read 2 Corinthians 4:7-10 together
7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. 8 We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; 10 Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.
This is a most powerful statement concerning the power of God in us. Verse 7 says, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” This verse sounds a note of victory in our spirits.
It has sister verses like 1 John 4:4 Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. And, Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me. And, Luke 10:19 Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.
If you have lived very long you know that life is not always fair, bad things happen to good people. Sometimes Christians have financial problems, Sometimes Christians get sick, Sometimes Christians fight personal battles in their marriage, in their minds, even in their flesh, or their appetites.
In our text Paul says, I have been troubled on every side, and perplexed, persecuted and knocked down, but he also says I’m not distressed, I’m not in despair, I’m not forsaken, I’m not destroyed. Let me tell you today that It does not matter what the enemy is working against you, or what your struggling with. Isaiah 54:17 declares, “No weapon that is formed against you shall be able to prosper.”
The bible did not say that Satan would not form weapons against you, or that he would not launch them at you, or that they would not touch you. But what the bible does say is, It shall not prosper, it shall not accomplish its intended purpose. As a matter of fact, In Romans 8:28, the bible teaches us that, “All things, work together for good to them who love the Lord and are the called according to his purpose.”
It doesn’t matter who you are or how spiritual you are, at some point life is going to deal you a blow. The good news is, that even though we all will at some point encounter these unexpected unplanned for attacks, problems, and circumstances.
We have the promise of 2 Corinthians 2:14 which says, “Now thanks be unto God, which always causes us to triumph in Christ, and makes manifest the savor of his knowledge by us in every place.” And, Revelations 12:11 which promises, “And they overcame him by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony.”
There might be someone here today who has been knocked down, life has thrown you an unexpected curve. It may be that in your future is an unexpected undesired situation and problems that will catch you off guard, and send your life into a spin. Divorce, sickness, financial disaster, a child who is on drugs, a lost job or the loss of a loved one. It can be a thousand different things, But the bottom line is: You didn’t expect it and it hurts, It throws your life into a tail spin. It knocks the breath out of you.
When I was a child, my brother and I were jumping on my parents bed one day. My dad would occasionally yell up, “Quit jumping on the bed, the ceiling down here will fall down.” After a while he had had enough and called us to come downstairs. We quickly jumped off the bed because we knew he had reached his limit. The only problem was, I didn’t land on my feet. I landed on my shoulder and broke my collar bone. And, it knocked the breath out of me. For a minute or two I could not breathe, I thought I was going to die.
That was almost sixty ago and I’m still here it didn’t kill me. Since that time life has thrown me some unexpected curves and there have been times when it has spiritually knocked the breath out of me, but It didn’t kill me I’m still here.
Paul had a similar experience. Acts 14:19-20 tells us, “19 Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. 20 But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe. ”
They thought Paul was dead. But he wasn’t: He just had the breath knocked out of him.
There may be someone here today who has taken a hard hit, and there’s no denying it, it hurts, it knocked you down, it knocked the breath out of you, It knocked you off your feet. But your still here, It didn’t kill you.
It knocked you off your feet but this is the biggest mistake the devil made, because when a Christian is knocked off their feet they fall to their knees, and when they fall to their knees they touch heaven, and when they touch heaven all hell trembles.
Let me tell you, you may have lost a round but you’re still in the fight. It may have slipped your mind so I want to remind you – This fight is fixed. Before you ever stepped into the ring called life it was already determined you were going to win.
I cannot say that I will never be knocked down. I cannot say that I will never be caught off guard. I cannot say that I will never be troubled or perplexed or even forsaken, but I can say, “I’m going to make it.”
I can say, “Nothing shall separate me from the Love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I can say as 2 Timothy 1:12 says, “I know whom I have believed and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto him against that day.”
I can say as Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
And, I can say as Romans 8:37 & 38 says, “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” You may have lost a round, You may have had the breath knocked out of you, you may have a black eye, and a busted lip and a bloody nose. But it ain’t over.
There are no two ways about it, in the life of every person we sometimes find that the place that we are mentally, physically, emotionally, materially, or spiritually, is not the place we had believed we would be. We had envisioned that life would have more in store for us and that #1 would be our spot. We had high hopes and big dreams. We had envisioned that our marriages would last, our children would grow up and be model Christians, that our businesses would be booming, our house would be nicer, our car would be newer, our paychecks would be bigger and that life would be better. We had aspirations of reaching the pinnacle of success and happiness. Yet, we look around our reality and find that much of it has not panned out quite the way we planned. Life and it’s circumstances and situations have done a number on us and in the midst of that our dreams are now lying on the floor of our yesterday.
We cry and we pray but never really get it in our spirit that it’s going to get any better. We adjust our dreams to accommodate our today and we stop pushing for more. We figure that it is better to just accept the status quo than it is to press toward a mark that seems to be just beyond our ability to grasp. We quit in mid stroke, mid struggle and start looking for the nearest bench to park to watch time and life pass us by. But I want to tell you today, “Don’t throw in the towel just yet”. Though it may appear that all hope is gone, that everyone else is finishing the race without you, It Ain’t Over!!!!
Psalm 118:17 -18 declares, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the LORD. The LORD hath chastened me sore: but he hath not given me over unto death.”
There does not seem to be much hidden behind the words. I have searched it and searched it and yet it was simply what it said it was. I shall not die, I shall not quit, I shall not give up but instead I will live, I will survive, I will keep getting up and tell, evangelize if you will, about the goodness of God. There seemed to me not a whole lot to add. But earlier, as I was reading that Psalm, God placed it in my spirit that sometimes the significance of a text is not in the what, but instead in the who, the when, and the where.
So, the who of this text is the psalmist David. And if you know anything at all about David you will know that life for him was no rose garden. There were some mountains, some valleys, some hard times, some tests and some tribulations. Yet for all of that, there was this anointing from God that was upon his life. And at the time of this text, He was now sitting on the throne of Israel, a king of that nation. So when you look at this text, you see here a tried and true testimony of the sufficiency of God. A statement of what David had learned to be true.
You see this is the same David that God anointed, even as a young man to one day be King. That can testify that anointing from God won’t save you from trials. This is the same David that found himself wrestling with a bear and a lion and was able to kill them with his bare hands. This is the same David that the people were laughing at and scoffing at because he rose to fight the Philistine Giant Goliath. It was this same David who faced and defeated that Giant with nothing more than a few pebbles for his defense proving once and for all that if God is for you there is no one that can stand against you.
It was David who found himself running for his life from a man, Saul, that he had once called friend. And it was David who even after living in the promise of God who found himself so smitten by the flesh of a married woman that he was willing to not only to commit adultery but to kill for it. And as it mentions in the verses preceding the place where we pick up these verses he testifies of nations and enemies who had risen up against him. But in spite of all that and so much more, David kept pressing forward recognizing that for all that life was throwing his way that God had spoken promise over His life and because God had spoken there was no weapon formed against him that could truly prosper. There was no battle he could not win because God is a very present help in the time of trouble and yea though enemies should rise up against him they shall stumble and fall because in the time of trouble God will hide you in the shelter of his tabernacle. In spite of how dark the midnight, weeping will only endure for a night because as surely as God is God, joy will come in the morning.
Now there are more than a few things that we can learn from David and this testimony about God and the first would be that our tests are a testimony that there is more in store. See this testimony comes out from David’s spirit, not because his life had always been easy. In fact, as we just discussed it was not. This testimony does not come because God just planted him in the middle of the promise. This testimony does not come because David was always perfect and never struggled with the idea of being what God called him to be. This is a testimony that comes in spite of the testing. Actually, I’ll submit to you that this testimony comes not just in spite of but BECAUSE OF the testing.
Recognize that in life we all endure some difficult and trying times. It would appear that no matter how saved, and sanctified we may be there is no inoculation against the slings and arrows of life. In fact, it seems the more intent you are on doing the right thing the more intense the storms that rage in your life. But I suggest to you that for as varied as the difficulties we face may be, they all seem to have their root in one of three areas.
First, Temptation. Second, Trials and Third, Tests.
A temptation is designed for you to fail. See a temptation is what happens when there is this weakness in us, this proclivity towards some thing and we are presented with an opportunity to indulge the weakness. Since God’s desire for us is not to fail and the word says that God will not tempt us, know that this trap is from our adversary Satan.
The second source of our difficulties are trials. To understand a trial just look at our justice system. While the motto is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. You have to do no more than view a trial in progress to know that it seems to be the other way around. The focus seems to be proving your guilt. Likewise as God’s desire for us is that we stand blameless before Him He will not send trials our way for us to fail. Again, this is a trap of the adversary.
Conversely, we have all experienced a test. A test is designed for us to pass. A test is what God sends our way to prepare a testimony in our spirit. A test is what God sends our way to prepare us to move forward to the next level of blessing, the next level of victory, the next level of promise. The testing is for our good because it is in the testing that God is able to purge us, reshape us, mold us and transform us into what it is He needs us to be. There is a blessing on the other side of it. The reality of the situation is that there are times when God will hide our blessings right in the middle of our trouble. But because it gets hard we have the urge to quit.
Know that even before David began to truly realize who He was in God, God was preparing him. His tests were a testimony to that. Now, it would have been easy in the face of any of his difficulties to call it a day, give up the fight. But he recognized that even in his most desperate situation that… It Ain’t over There is more ahead. More peace, more joy, more fulfillment, more blessing. Understand that the brokenness, the emptiness, the hurt, the tears that you may have right now are just the wrapper for your blessing. It all has a purpose. There is a reason for the madness.
I had a class that I was required to take in college. I had to pass it in order to move forward to the next level. I struggled through the class and made pretty good grades but then it came time for the final exam. I failed it miserably. I had resigned myself to taking the class again. But for some reason my professor was determined I was not going to fail the class. So he told me I’ve seen your work and it was acceptable so I am going to allow you to take the test again. So, he tempered Justice with Mercy and allowed me to retake the test. Once again I failed. Again, he tempered justice with mercy and I was allowed to take it one more time. That time I passed and therefore was able to move on to the next level without having to retake the class.
It’s a beautiful thing that God in his graciousness tempers His justice with mercy and allows us when we fail to take the test again. You see, for as good as we look today we have all had some test that we failed. Don’t let the good looks fool ya. For all of us there were some marks that we did not hit, some places that we fell short for all have sinned and come short of the Glory of God. Yet, by the grace of God we were able to get back up again. For a saint is just a sinner who fell down and got up.
But the truth is that there are some times when we have fallen so hard or fallen so low that it seems there is no way to get back up. It seems impossible. But we serve a God who specializes in the impossible.
I want to tell you something else, the seemingly impossible is possible with God. Truth be told, that just like David, we sometimes find that it seems as if the whole world is trying to war against us. It seems like we have a Giant to face and nothing but a few pebbles for our defense. In short, we find that we get into places, situations and circumstances that seem impossible to overcome. And because of our inability to keep pressing through toward the mark of the high calling, the adversary gains the victory.
Understand that every time that you allow anything, any one, any obstacle to deter you from being all that God has designed for you to be and all that God has designed for you to have you have given the adversary a victory. Every time that you turn your back on the things that God has spoken into your spirit because you can not discern with your natural eye how it can be possible you give the adversary a victory. But, when you learn to trust him…when you learn to discern his voice even in the midst of your storm. Then you will be able to step into the seemingly impossible with a confidence that knows that nothing is impossible with God.
You can press forward with a confidence that lets you know that all things work together for the good of those that are the called according to His purposes. Then you can step into the furnace knowing that God will be there because He is a very present help in the time of trouble. Then you can step out of the boat and into the raging sea knowing that God will keep you afloat because he will never leave you nor forsake you. Then you can step into the face of a storm knowing that he’ll be there to speak, “Peace be still.” Then you can step into God’s promises for you because then and only then will you begin to fully comprehend the idea that no matter how bad today may look It ain’t over because you serve the one who holds tomorrow in His hands.
Let me tell you that the best is yet to come. Your set back, is just a setup, for a comeback. 1 John 4:4 reminds us that, “you are of God little children and have overcome them, for greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.” If you’re down today you need to know that it ain’t over. The Devil may have rung the bell and said it’s over, but that’s just the end of the round, the end of the chapter. You’re getting ready to start a new round and a new chapter,
Do you remember the three Hebrew children, Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego. Do you remember how they heated the fiery furnace up 7 times hotter, and how they bound them up and threw them into that fiery furnace. They walked away saying, “The end.” Not quite. It wasn’t the end, it wasn’t over. The wicked king looked into the furnace and saw not 3 but 4 men up loose walking around in the midst of the furnace and he said the fourth is like unto the son of God. When those 3 Hebrew boys came out of the fire, they had not been hurt, and the smell of smoke was not on them, and not one hair of their body was singed. And, the king promoted them in the kingdom.
Or we could talk about Daniel and how because of his commitment to God, they threw him into a hungry den of lions Daniel 6:17 says, “And a stone was brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet, and with the signet of his lords; that the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel.”
They walked away saying, “The end.” Not quite. That’s just chapter one. You see, it wasn’t over. If we read on we see that God sent an angel to shut the mouths of the lions. When Daniel walked out of that lions den he had not been hurt because he believed in his God.
Life and circumstances and people, may have thrown you into a fiery furnace and closed the door behind you, but, It Ain’t Over, Or you may have been thrown into a den of lions, and they rolled the stone over the door, and said this time it’s over for sure. But the same God that delivered the 3 Hebrew boys from the fiery furnace, and the same God that delivered Daniel from the den of lions, is the same God that is lifting you up.
Let me close with this thought, “What the devil sends to take you out, God will use to lift you up.”
Let us pray.
Pastor Barry Kerner
Today our topic is change. It seems like it is a subject that we are all focused on today. In general everything changes but there are parts of our lives that we like just as they are. Our homes, cars, favorite chair, or a favorite restaurant, we never want to see them change.
I read a story about Henry Ford. It seems that Mr. Ford had a man working for him in management named William Knudsen. Knudsen became convinced that it was time to update the Model T as it has been in production for 4 years. The competition was coming out with updates, changes and improvements. But there was a problem; Mr. Ford would not even consider the idea. Ford loved his creation just as it was and was opposed to any changes at all.
While Mr. Ford was away on a vacation in Europe, Knudsen decided to put together a car to demonstrate his ideas for changes using a new design and color. Ford returned from a European vacation, and he went to a Highland Park, Michigan garage and saw the new design created by Knudsen.
Some of the mechanics later revealed how Ford responded. They say that the car had four doors, and the top was down, painted gleaming red and built on a new, low version of the Model T frame and wheels. One eyewitness reported that “Ford had his hands in his pockets, and he walked around that car 3 or 4 times…. Finally, he got to the left hand side of the car, and he takes his hands out, gets hold of the door, and bang! He ripped the door right off!… He said he did not how Mr. Ford did it. The he jumped in the front seat, and bang goes the other door. Bang goes the windshield. He jumps over the back seat and starts pounding on the top. He rips the top with the heel of his shoe. He wrecked the car as much as he could with his bear hands.
For some unstated reason Knudsen soon left Ford for General Motors. It was some time before Mr. Ford started working on the Model A. Henry Ford was one of the most creative men of his age. And yet… He resisted the obvious need for change forced by the competition and times.
I think it is generally true that most people don’t like change. Not everyone will become violent at the suggestion or even when forced to do things differently buy rarely do they like it. I read someplace that the only people who DO like change are “wet babies” … and even they aren’t too excited about it.
Churches are notorious for that kind of attitude as well. You’ll find many church boards and members saying things like, “Well we’ve never…………………………….done it that way before”
Someone once said that when it comes to change, the church is often like the snail riding on the back of a turtle …and do you know what a snail does when it rides on the back of the turtle? It holds on tight and yells : “Whee!” Many churches balk at even the slightest change in their routine. Even when they’re fairly sure the changes would be something pleasing to God they still resist.
Now, things weren’t a whole lot different back in the days of the early church. People back then didn’t like change anymore than people now do.
In our scripture today it is hard for us to imagine just how dramatic the changes described in the text are. We really don’t recognize how different our world is in comparison to the early church. We don’t even consider that what happened in our reading today did not become widely accepted until many years passed.
When Peter was invited to participate it was so big that the first half of the chapter describes how God prepared Peter. He gave him a vision that blew his mind. This big sheet comes down out of heaven and inside of it are all the unclean animals, the ones that every Jew learns from childhood are not to be eaten. And he also heard a voice, “Get up, Peter, Kill and eat.”
I think that you will recall that Peter is often a bit vocal and sometimes says things before he thinks them through. “No way God! I have never eaten anything unclean. “
God takes him through the vision and words 3 times. Peter knows who he is speaking to and yet he argues with the Lord about change.
None of us does that, right? We never question God about what is happening in our lives. I think the truth is that we often do. It seems that Peter would never have been open to visiting the home of Cornelius if he had not been prepared first. What is holding Peter back? Why would he not even think about being open to Gentiles? Is it because of the great success that the new church is having? Is it because of lots of converts and acceptance within the community……I don’t think so.
I think it is much simpler than that, Peter is holding on to his traditions of Clean and unclean from the Law of Moses. These same laws of clean and unclean apply to people as well. Gentiles are automatically unclean! Just hanging out with them will mess you up. It is like hanging around a smoker – you don’t have to smoke yourself before you smell like smoke. So, being around unclean foods or people automatically made you unclean.
It was bad for a good Jew’s reputation. It put barriers between yourself and other Jews that hold more firmly to the law. A bad reputation took away opportunities to share your own faith with other Jews. So, it was important to keep in a right relationship…..
At the time of this event, the church is said to be someplace between 3 and 10 years old.
They have established rules and traditions. The church at this point, is a group of Jews that believe in Jesus as the messiah. They don’t offer sacrifices any more because they understand the sacrifice of Jesus as being the full atonement for their sins. They keep a different Sabbath day than the traditional Jews, changing from our Saturday to Sunday to celebrate on the day that Jesus was raised from the dead.
But, in spite of the fact they believe differently than most Jews… the Christians in this early church were still – very much – good Jews. Gentiles were not a part of that set of traditions. They had changed a lot, but they had some limitations as to how far they would go and whom they would accept. Generally, they still thought like Jews and so they still lived a life blending the law with their new understanding and traditions.
There was one loop hole in the Jewish tradition that would allow a gentile to be accepted. A gentile could convert to Judaism, It was a fairly long process and there would always be limitations at the temple. But a Gentile could be accepted into the Jewish community if they lived by the Law of Moses, following the rules for clean and unclean. They had to come to the synagogue to study scripture and worship. And that also meant that before they could be fully accepted into the Jewish community the men had to be circumcised.
However, God was preparing Peter to understand that God’s plan was bigger than Peter could have ever imagined. The events that looked like change were a part of the plan.
God planned to bring the Gentiles into His church….into the covenant. And He did not have a requirement of commitment to Judaism first.
So, to the Jews and to the followers of the Way (messianic Jews) and even to Peter it looked like God intended to bring about a major change in His church. And God knew that people are no different than people now… they resisted and hated change.
So, He had to bring about this adjustment in the most shocking way He could. He brought about a meeting between Peter and Cornelius. Peter being the leader of the church and Cornelius a Gentile and an important military a man that God had already drawn into a direct relationship.
Cornelius was a righteous God-Fearing man. He had power and wealth and did not abuse either. – He was known as a man of prayer and a man who gave to the poor
This was a Gentile that the Jews of Caesarea knew well and probably already respected. But, he had not taken the final step to become a full convert. He had not been circumcised.
God waited until Peter and his friends actually got to Cornelius’ house before He revealed what he was there for. A surprise party of sorts, where God would clearly demonstrate that He want not only accepting gentiles but calling them into a relationship with Him.
When Peter got to Cornelius’ house along with 6 Jewish witnesses, he preached about Jesus. How He had lived and died, and rose from the dead. And Peter preached about what God had done in the church since that day.
I don’t think that Peter and his Jewish companions had any idea or even expectations about what God was about to do. They had arrived and Peter was going through the motions of teaching. Peter was obedient to the Spirit and he allowed the vision to influence….to open his mind to something new.
But, if these gentiles were to respond, I would think that they would be setting up a Judaism 101 class for the family and then giving the invitation to be circumcised.
But before Peter finished his speech, God moved and the Holy Spirit was poured out on the whole household. Family, servants and military aids and guards They are speaking in tongues and praising God. (We might think that it was scary stuff if we had been one of the witnesses.) Peter notices that this is God working and he takes the steps to receive them into God’s new church because of the obvious signs.
We live in a very changing world. People age, eyes loose focus, cars wear out, restaurants change recipes and prices. We even know that mountains wear down and canyons are formed over time. It seems that almost everything changes for the worse.
The only thing that really does not change….. is God.
God has always offered mercy and grace to His people. His plan from the very beginning of the universe included salvation for His creation. In Jeremiah 29:11-13, God explains, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
Change in this world appears to be total and constant. None of us can avoid being affected by the change around us. The only sound thing we can do is to seek God when we are uncomfortable with changes in our lives. God is the unchanging constant in our changing world. We can’t get totally away from our situation. But we can be open to the change that God intends and trust that it is for the good of creation.
This morning we are at what may seem a mountain of change in the life of this congregation. You are sitting there this morning and are facing something new. Something that none of you asked for. And, you are sorting through your feelings and thoughts of what lies ahead. It is a completely natural thing that happens in a situation like this. This may be a big change in your lives.
On the other side of the mountain, my family and I will leave behind a family that we have grown to know over the last two years. A place where everybody welcomed us and every body grew to know us. Let me just say it was comfortable and pleasurable here. Where we end up we don’t know. But, we do know that God will be with us.
When change comes into our lives it is easy for us to emotionally land in one of two extremes. We can decide that we don’t like the change without ever giving it a try. Or we can totally embrace the change with no questions asked and just move ahead seeing no value in the past. However, the right way to face change is never from the extremes.
We should start someplace in the middle. Peter seems to have done his best to remain neutral. He took a bit of a risk as he went to the house of a gentile. He responded to God’s preparation and he witnessed God pouring out the Holy Spirit on an unexpected group. No one present at the event knew what was going to happen. Any of them could have jumped to an extreme end of the scale. However, they seem to have been willing to accept what God was doing—– a new thing.
As a church, a body of Christ, we have to let God help us with change. Today we are looking at pastoral change in a few weeks. Tomorrow it could be a family problem or a new friendship or a deep loss. We struggle in a world of changes big and small, it is important that we learn to adapt. That we trust that God is in control and be open to the idea that it is His plan.
If we are astonished, or shocked or disappointed, if we jump to any extreme response to change then we may not fully accept that God really is in control. What it really comes down too, do you trust God enough to allow him to change your community, YOUR Church, Your Family ……you? All Glory be to God.
There are a few things that we share this morning. We are all looking at a change of circumstances so none of us really knows what to expect. But the most important thing that I hope we share is a common faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. And from that faith comes the trust in the promises of God’s plans for us.
Church – I have no doubts that the changes we are living through in this place may look dramatic and shocking, but are a part of God’s master plan. His plan is not always comfortable, but it is always ultimately for our good. What looks like dramatic change is simply something new…an opportunity to see what God will do next.
Our really like the song Change my heart O God. The chorus goes “Change my heart oh God, Make it ever true. Change my heart oh God, May I be like You.” Over the past few weeks as I faced the changes that God was revealing I sang this song as my prayer. I hope this morning or any time you resist change that you might use it the same way.
Let us pray!
Make Your Life Count For Something!
Pastor Barry Kerner
1 “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters, and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. 2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Ecclesiastes 12:8-13 “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Everything is meaningless!” 9 Not only was the Teacher wise, but also he imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. 10 The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true. 11 The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails–given by one Shepherd. 12 Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body. 13 Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
Wherever I’ve lived I’ve always wanted to have a lawn. Unfortunately I always had a yard…that’s a yard as opposed to a lawn. The difference between the two is found in their composition and appearance. A yard is composed of some grass, lots of weeds, and is usually not too tidy or trim. A lawn, on the other hand, is grass; green, rich grass…weedless, well watered, about an inch and a half in height…yeah…I’ve had a yards.
In some communities, there’s a tremendous amount of social prestige in having a nice lawn, and a tremendous amount of pressure as well. As long as I’ve known him, my Brother-In-Law has always had the perfect lawn. I don’t have to describe it for you; you’ve already got the picture in your heads. That lawn was his passion. He worked a full time job but in the evenings and on the weekends he spent hour after hour making his square of green look like something out of a golfing magazine. Yeah, lots of pressure there.
I’m almost convinced that the whole thing is the result of some international, corporate plot, after all, lawns had originally been the mark of wealth and prestige. But over the past 150 years the concept of having a lawn has been popularized. Grasses have been developed; the lawn mower, rubber hoses, sprinklers, chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides have all been invented, manufactured, and marketed. So where God had originally planted dandelions, violets, clover, thistle, and other stuff, which are tough, and grow anywhere without care, and attract butterflies, honey bees, and songbirds, we dig it all up and plant…grass.
The way some people act toward grass makes no sense whatsoever. They take great pains to keep the stuff healthy and growing. They fertilize it in the spring, but as soon as it starts to grow pretty good, they dig out the mower and cut it off! Then, they rake it up, buy bags to put it in, and pay someone to take it away. When it’s growth starts to slow in the heat of the summer, they haul out their hoses and pay to water it so it can grow so they can cut it again and so they can pay to have it taken away again.
Anyone interested in a dollar figure for this whole process? Ready for this? In North America, over 40 billion (that’s right, BILLION…that’s 40 and nine zeroes…) Dollars are spent EACH YEAR on…you guessed it…lawn care. That’s like 8000 people working 40 hours a week and paying $100.00 per hour all for the great joy of having a lawn…and doing it for 24 years. Or it’s like one of you working 15 hours a day, six days a week, and paying $1000.00 for every hour you work….and doing it for 8500 years. All to plant, care for, and cut a crop that you can’t eat, sell, or make into anything useful. Now that’s empty labor.
8500 years of mowing the lawn. Being an indentured servant to a green rectangle. Doesn’t it frustrate you just to think about it? To put it in perspective, try thinking of this: to go 8500 years into the past would take you back over 4000 years before the birth of Abraham! When the foundations of Egypt’s most ancient pyramids were being laid, you’d have already been working on your lawn for over 3000 years. 8500 years of labor with absolutely nothing to show for it. When others were building pyramids and founding nations, you were busy mowing the lawn. That’s spending your labor for what doesn’t satisfy.
That’s what some of you may have done all of your lives; worked for nothing. I don’t mean that you haven’t received wages, but that your best strengths and efforts have been spent on things that are hollow and fruitless. Make work, empty labor, like digging a ditch and filling it back in…over and over again. Investing the best years of your life in things that are not lasting…about to look eternity in the face…do you ever wonder what your life has counted for?
If you have your Bibles open to Luke 12 verses 16-20. 16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
In Luke 12:16-20, Jesus told of a man who had worked very hard. He’d been smart with his money, smart with his farming, and he was ready to put a lot of cash into expansion. New barns! Bigger barns! Maybe take a larger salary! Relax and enjoy life a bit more! He’d scrimped when he had to. He’d saved. He’d labored. He was not a stranger to sweat and callouses. Yet God interrupted all of his planning with the statement, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded of you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” All of the rich man’s labor was shortly to prove in vain, for death would call him at the pinnacle of his prosperity.
Jesus didn’t condemn this man’s wealth, his acquisitiveness, or his labor. The man was good at what he did, careful with what he earned, and wise in his investments. There was nothing necessarily ill gotten about his gains. What then was so wrong that God would call him a fool? It was the fact that he had labored and planned for things that were merely temporary, without giving any thought to things eternal.
So what would become of all his labor? Who would be the recipient of all his efforts? His heirs? His partners? The government? Would his goods be stolen and his barns fall to ruin? Who knows? The point of the story is that all of his effort counted for nothing in the end. He spent himself on things that would vanish in a moment with no thought of the things that would endure forever. That’s empty labor.
As we opened we read Solomon’s summary of the book of Ecclesiastes: “Fear God. Keep His commandments. This is the whole duty of man.” Solomon. Now there was a man who understood the frustration of empty labor. You know how some people talk like they’ve experienced everything the world has to offer? Well, Solomon had. Everything from sobriety to drunkenness, from the worship of God to the worship of idols. He’d climbed the heights of philosophy and plumbed the depths of depravity. So when you read Ecclesiastes, the weariness of Solomon is very plain to see. In fact, the entire book is largely devoted to expressing the frustration of empty labor. One word serves as the key word in the book, and it’s the one word that describes it all; vanity.
“Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher, all is vanity.” Emptiness. Useless. Foolishness. A waste. All of his strength spent…for nothing. All of his mental energies exhausted, pointlessly. All of his spiritual energies wasted, for no purpose. And “vanity” is the word he used to sum up his life of empty labor.
In this book Solomon details his pursuit of pleasure and beauty. He gave himself to it, spent himself in it. He wanted to know pleasure, to experience beauty. After sampling all he would, he recorded his feelings as, “Vanity. It’s all madness.” He also tells of his acquisition of wealth and power; how he gained and achieved everything he desired. His was Israel’s golden age of peace and prosperity. Yet his post script of those untroubled days was, “Vanity. It’s all profitless.”
So he turned to seek wisdom and knowledge, and he records that there was nothing he heard of that he didn’t search out. His wisdom grew legendary, even in is own time. But still he summed it all up saying, “It’s vanity, and I’ve worn myself out for nothing.”
Yes, Ecclesiastes is the story of Solomon’s life of empty labor. So you see, you’re not the only one who has worked for nothing. The greatest of the greats and the wisest of the wise have done so too. The positive thing about this is that you can read Solomon’s final lesson in life before you reach the end of your own. This lesson is the thing that he’d no doubt wished he’d learned early on, the thing that could have transformed his life from one of empty labor to a life that counted in eternity.
Solomon’s last lesson, and his final message to the world is found in Ecclesiastes 12:13, where he writes, “Fear God. Keep His commandments. This is the whole duty of man.” Everything that will count for anything in humanity must find it’s root in these; “Fear God. Keep His commandments.” Everything that will be lasting, that will endure into eternity finds it’s origin in those brief statements, “Fear God. Keep His commandments.”
Many people have hungered for the pleasures of this world, some even as relentlessly as Solomon did. And usually their testimony is the same as his hollow cry; “All is vanity, emptiness, useless. The pleasure passes like a breath, the happiness fades in a moment, and they are left as empty as before.”
The answer? “Fear God!” Psalm 19:9 says that the fear of the Lord is pure, and it endures forever. The fear of the Lord purifies like a cleansing agent. It cleanses the heart and mind, and purifies the motivations. The fear of the Lord creates in us a sense of the clean pleasures of life; those free of shame and guilt. The fear of the Lord puts you in a frame of mind to be receptive to His presence, and the Bible tells us that “in His presence is fullness of joy, and at His right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Others have pursued materialism and position, believing that the ownership of things and the prestige of position would provide them with satisfaction. To no avail! For gaining more brought the desire for more still until the passion for gain had used them up. Prestige didn’t soothe their hearts or calm their griefs; it only veiled them for a little while.
The Bible’s answer to those tired of longing is, “Fear God!” Psalm 31:19 says that goodness is laid up for those who fear the Lord. Goodness, meaning beauty, joy, gladness. Goodness, meaning physical good and prosperity. Paul said, “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory.” You can be freed from the never ending desire for gain, and delivered from the thirst for assurance. The prophet Isaiah said, “Come, all you are thirsty! Come to the waters!” Jesus said, “If any man thirst let him come unto Me and drink. He that believes on Me as the Scripture has said, out of his innermost being will flow rivers of living water!” And this Jesus said concerning the Holy Ghost, that those who believe on Him should receive.
Some have sought wisdom and understanding. Filled with questions about life, they have searched in education, various philosophies and religions, until the attempt to find answers has only created more questions. The wise man’s answer? “Fear God!” In Psalm 111:10 the Bible says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It is in the presence of the Lord that the answers to life’s great questions are found. And there is the amazing discovery that some of the questions weren’t important after all. God’s wisdom will provide you with direction for your life, with skill in your dealings with others, and with answers to your spiritual searching. The Scripture says that God will show you the path of life, and that the path of life will take you into His presence.
Fear God! And keep His commandments! Jesus was asked one time which was the greatest commandment out of all of the many that God had given. Jesus responded that the greatest commandment was to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Literally this means to love God with the center of your entire physical and spiritual being, to love him with the very breath that you breathe, and to search out His ways so that you might understand more of Him. You might think that you can’t please God, that there was no way you could be a Christian. But let me tell you that pleasing God isn’t a problem to those who love God this way.
But of course, to love Him you must know Him. You must have been introduced to Him before you can begin to love Him. To know Jesus you must be born again! You must come to Him, accepting what He says in His word about your life, and believing that He’ll receive you. In coming to Jesus you must repent of your sins…that is, being sorry for your sins, seeking His forgiveness, and then turning your back on your old life with the determination to live differently. You should be baptized in water in the name of Jesus Christ to declare to the world that your sins have been washed away. Then God promises to fill you with the precious gift of His Spirit. All of the things you say are impossible for you won’t seem so difficult when His Spirit is living inside. And oh! How you’ll begin to love Him then! For to know Him is to love Him!
You don’t have to spend the rest of your days in empty labor, forever seeking, forever searching, forever thirsting. Your life can count for something eternal. The way to making your life count is simple, tried, and true; Fear God, and Keep His Commandments.
Do You Know Where You’re Going?
Pastor Barry Kerner
13- Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide [is] the gate, and broad [is] the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
14- Because strait [is] the gate, and narrow [is] the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Have you ever started out thinking you were headed one place, and then when you got there you discovered that where you had wound up was someplace else? I know that’s kind of hard to follow, but just imagine that you started out on a trip from Syracuse, and you planned on winding up in, let’s say, Buffalo, New York. How hard can it be? That’s a road trip most New Yorkers could make with their eyes closed…and from the way some drivers do it, I’d say they do have their eyes closed. But what if you ended up in Albany instead. You’d know that you took the wrong road.
There were a few times that Cheryl and I were traveling and we weren’t paying attention. Before we knew it where were in the wrong place. Once we missed a turn off and went almost 250 miles in the wrong direction. It wasn’t until we saw the signs that we were leaving the state that we realized we had taken the wrong road.
Have you heard about the British couple who made their vacation plans for Sydney? Planned on enjoying the surf, the sun, the culture, the friendly locals… They booked their airline tickets and got on the plane. They thought they had things all looked after. How hard could it be to go from London to Sydney? Wellll… when the plane landed in Sydney nine and a half hours later, they discovered to their surprise that they were in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Where had they planned on going? The other Sydney…Sydney, Australia.
The differences between the two Sydney’s couldn’t be greater. Sydney, Australia is a sunny, thriving metropolis with a population of four million that recently hosted the Olympics. Sydney, Nova Scotia is a community of 26,000 that’s plagued by high unemployment, and is home to one of Canada’s worst industrial waste sites. The good folks did their best to make the mistaken Brits feel welcome. But truthfully, on it’s best day Sydney, Nova Scotia is a poor substitute when you are anticipating Sydney, Australia. I wonder what clued them in? Maybe the utter lack of Australians…
Just because you think you know where you’re going doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get there. After all, you could start out for Paris…and when you got there, discover to your chagrin that you were in Paris, Maine…not Paris, France. Of course, you probably understood that you’d taken the wrong road when you asked to see the tower and they took you to the water tower instead of the Eifel Tower. What if you were going to take a taxi to London, Ontario and wind up in London, England. You’d probably figure out that you weren’t where you’d wanted to be when the taxi fare was around $28,000.
Look, you might laugh and think, “Now that’s a little foolish!” But it happens more often than you’d think. Now it’s true that most folks headed to Sydney, Australia don’t wind up in Sydney, Nova Scotia. And probably no one has ever mistaken Paris, Maine for Paris, France. And I doubt that large numbers of people heading for London, Ontario have ever wound up in London, England. Yet it’s also true that people do often get lost, take the wrong road, and wind up someplace other than they intended. You can start out with full intentions of going to one place and wind up someplace completely unexpected. It’s all a matter of getting on the right road. You see, the wrong road, in spite of intentions, will never get you to the right place.
You can’t start out wrong and wind up right. The best of intentions won’t get you to the right destination if you take the wrong road. Or, as the old saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who started out on a journey for the purpose of winding up lost. And I’ve never known anyone who started life with the intentions of going to hell. I’ve known some hard cases, some tough guys, some wicked people who revel in their sin, yet, none of them started out intending to be that way.
I’ve never talked to a child who wanted to go to prison. I’ve never talked to a young person who wanted to be an alcoholic. I’ve never talked with a couple who married with the intentions of divorce. At some point in everyone’s life there is nothing but the best of intentions! So then how do cute little kids grow up and go to prison? How do able young people wind up alcoholics? How do starry eyed couples wind up divorced? It’s a matter of being on the wrong road.
If you’re on the wrong road, your destination may surprise you…unpleasantly. All of the most careful planning and the purest of motives won’t get you to the right place if you’re on the wrong road. That’s why it’s important to not only know where you want to wind up, but you’d better make sure of the path you take to get you there.
I’ve never known anyone who really wanted to be lost and without God. I’ve never known anyone who admitted the possibility of hell who really wanted to go there. Underneath all of the mocking bravado of, “Well that’s where all my friends are,” they all wanted to be right, to be safe. I’ve never known anyone who started life with their own eternal destruction as their goal. I think it’s safe to say that there’s a lot of people very surprised to close their eyes in sleep and open them in hell. How do people wind up lost and without God? How do they wind up in hell? It’s all a matter of being on the wrong road.
In this life there’s really only two roads. Jesus said, there’s a road that leads to life, and there’s a road that leads to destruction. Jesus was saying that there’s only two roads; the right one and the wrong one. Your intentions or my intentions don’t have any impact on the eventual destination. No, Jesus taught that your destination is determined by the road you choose…and you only have two choices. Remember, Jesus said that.
I know there’s a lot of people telling you things like, “All roads lead to Rome.” But the truth is, they don’t. That’s like saying that all methods of doing something get the same result in the end. They don’t. “All paths lead to the same destination,” they say. But really, they don’t. “All faiths take you to God.” No…sorry. “We’re all going to the same place.” No, we’re most certainly not. And it’s not because I say so, but because Jesus said that there were only two roads; the road to life, and the road to destruction.
First, there’s the broad way. Jesus said, ‘Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.’
How can you tell if you’re on the wrong road? There are no sign posts saying, “This way to destruction!” Or, “Hell, 120 miles” How then can you figure out what road you’re on? Well, there are some characteristics of the wrong road.
First of all, the road to destruction is the route of least resistance, the direction that’s easiest for you to go in. Jesus said that the gate was wide and the road was broad, which means that it is easiest to walk on. But it’s important to remember that the route of least resistance is usually a downhill slope, and that “ease” doesn’t mean “safety.”
If being on the road you’re on didn’t require thought, decision, or a choice, then you’re probably on the wrong road. The gate is wide; you slipped through it without even noticing. It’s not like you’ve had to search or anything. It’s not like you’ve had to find the wrong road. But if you haven’t found the right one, you’re on the wrong one.
If it seems like everyone else in the world is headed in the same direction as you are, you’re probably on the wrong road. Jesus said that many travel on the broad road to destruction, but only a few journey on the road to life. I know it seems like there’s safety in numbers, and it sure makes for interesting traveling to be surrounded by so many fascinating people, and I know that lots of people believe that the journey and not the destination is what’s important. But nobody believes that in hell.
If you weren’t challenged to change, you’re probably on the wrong road. Jesus said that the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction. That means you can carry all of the baggage you want when you’re on the wrong road. You can carry your load of sin, you can bring all the shame of your past, you can drag along all of your guilt; there’s plenty of room for it all on the broad road. That’s right! You don’t have to change one thing to travel to destruction!
Destruction. In the original language of the Bible, that word illustrates the destruction of vessels of clay when they were past their usefulness. Break them, destroy them, and throw the pieces away. The word also describes the devaluation of money, a loss of confidence in its value, considering it to be valueless.
There is no better word that describes the effects of the broad road of sin than the word ‘destruction’. Sin uses you until there is nothing left worth using, and then breaks you in pieces. Sin spends you and exploits you then tells you that you are worthless and hopeless.
But there is another way! Jesus said that there was a strait way. Strait meaning narrow, close, confined…yet it’s this way that leads to life!
The right way isn’t always the most obvious; you’ll have to find it. Unlike the broad road, it does require a decision to enter through the narrow gate. It does require thought and it does require a choice.
Some people find it by accident. They’re blindly moving along toward destruction and some event transpires that shakes them to the core. Then, in their time of pain and desperation, they see it! Another gate! Just off to the right! Just a narrow door…but it seems to hold the promise of a better life than the one they’re living. Yes, some find it by accident, but they enter it by choice.
Some find it by searching. There must be a better way, there must be more to life… looking to one side and then the other…even trying to move against the tide, trying to go against the flow. And then they find it; the way to life.
Others have found it and walked by unconcerned. After all, it is such a narrow gate, and it isn’t as popular as the road they’re on…but later on they somehow realize that it’s the pathway they should be traveling and they return to enter in.
There are some wonderful advantages to the right road, some wonderful benefits of walking the narrow way. You need to understand this morning that a narrow gate means lighter burdens, for there are some burdens that won’t fit through the narrow gate. You’ll be able to leave your burden of sin at the entrance to the narrow way… you won’t have to carry that load any longer. You’ll be able to leave the weight of your shame at the entrance to the narrow way… it won’t fit through the door, and you won’t have to bear it any more. You’ll be able to leave the heaviness of your guilt at the entrance to the narrow way…you can walk a new way in a new life without that load!
That’s what Jesus was talking about when He said, “Come unto Me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you’ll find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”
The narrow way means less distractions, because your friends can’t enter beside you…each has to pass through by their own choice. This means that the opinions of others can’t keep you from eternal life. This means that someone else’s decision to choose destruction can’t keep you from eternal life. Moms, Dads, brothers, sisters, friends, extended family, co-workers, fellow students; there’s no one with the ability to turn you aside if you choose life.
Let’s talk about how you enter in through the narrow gate.
If destruction is not the end you had in mind for your life…
If you are tired of being broken in pieces, if you’re tired of being exploited and squandered…
If hell has never been your goal…
You need to know that you do have an option. You can choose life. You can choose to walk another way. But how? How can a whole direction in life be altered? How can I enter the narrow gate? How can I lay these heavy burdens down?
A long time ago, people asked the Apostle Peter the same thing. And he replied, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
You need to understand this simple truth; the narrow way is a way of repentance. To enter into life you must repent of your sins. Repentance is being sorrowful for your sin, asking God’s forgiveness, and then turning your back on your sin to walk in a new pathway.
And the Bible says that after repenting, you should be baptized in water in the Name of Jesus Christ to signify the remission of your sin. Remission! Now there’s a fancy word that simply means ‘forgiveness’. Jesus washes the guilt and shame of your sin from you, and breaks the power of sin in your life. You can be free! You can be clean! You can live without guilt! You can live without shame! Your past doesn’t have to hold you!
Then He promises to fill you with the precious gift of the Holy Ghost…His Spirit coming to live in your heart! His Spirit will provide power to live! His Spirit will give you peace! His Spirit will give you joy!
If you find that you’re outside take a look at the narrow gate! Go ahead! Enter in! And find what Jesus called abundant life!
Let us pray.