October 27, 2013

Sermon, Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity

Christians Hold Fast
Psalm 71, Numbers 20:14-29, 2 Timothy 11-14
Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity
October 27, 2013

I am surprised at the increasing nihilism in our culture.  I should not be for nihilism is the natural philosophy of man, but it is such a degrading and depressing view of life I am surprised anyone can tolerate it.  Nihilism is the philosophy of nothing.  It is based on atheism, and states that, since there is no god, there is no purpose or meaning to anything.  There is no moral standard; morality itself is a meaningless word, for all thoughts and actions are meaningless.  Therefore cruelty and kindness are morally equal; or, more accurately, without moral value or meaning.  In this view nothing means anything, nothing has any value, except what you can put into your own life, and that generally becomes a matter of finding pleasure.  That is why we are such an entertainment oriented culture; we are looking for pleasure.  Even though pleasure is empty and meaningless in this view, it is basically all there is.

The Bible refutes this view at every point.  According to the Bible the world has purpose, human life has purpose, your life has purpose because God is, and God has purpose.  What is God’s purpose?  It is stated well for us in Ephesians 1:9-10.  This is one of the foundational points of Scripture and we ought to memorise it the way we have memorized other verses of Scripture.  If I say, “John 3:16,” most of you can quote it from memory immediately.  If I mention Romans 3:23 most of you immediately think, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”  If I mention Romans 6:23, most of you will automatically say, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  But how many of you can quote, or even state the essence of Ephesisans 1:9-10?  These verses describe the purpose of God, and here it is:

Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in himself: that in the dispensation of the fullness of time he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.

God’s purpose is to gather all things into Christ.  Some will be gathered into Him in sorrow.  They are the unbelievers, the wicked.  Others will be gathered into Him in joy.  They are the believers who have come to God in Biblical faith.  But all will be gathered together in Christ.  That is what God is doing with this world.

That purpose is manifest, that is, it is revealed and put into action by the appearing of Christ according to 2 Timothy 1:9-10.  The “appearing” of Christ here refers to His birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection.  By this we have seen the purpose of God.  But also, by this we see that He has “abolished death and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”  He has abolished the wages of sin.  Remember Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death.”  This refers to the second death, a living death of the soul in the hell of eternal punishment and separation from God.  This has been abolished by Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.  He died the sinner’s death, and now the sinner does not have to die.  Instead, He has brought life and immortality to light.  He has revealed the way of eternal life.  He has even purchased it for us.  It is in His cross.  He died in our places, and offers life to those who will accept it.  “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

We learn of this through the Gospel, according to verse 10.  In one sense the Gospel is the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation.  It is the whole story of God’s dealings with humanity from the very start of time to the very end of it.  In a more limited sense, the Gospel is the story of Christ dying for our sins and gathering us into His Kingdom of Grace.  It is the story of Him purchasing eternal life for us, and giving it to us as His free gift, which we receive by faith.

Now we come to the point of today’s sermon; “Christians Hold Fast.”  Christians hold fast to this Gospel of Christ, according to verse 13.  That means we cling to it like a life preserver in a stormy sea.  It means we honour and preserve it as an heirloom, as a great treasure above all treasures.  It is our most prized possession.  Christ is worth more to us than all the world, even more than our very lives.  We know the truth of the words that to gain the whole and loose our own soul profits us nothing.  Without Christ we have nothing.  We are thrown back into the nihilism I spoke of earlier in this sermon.  Without Him nothing matters.  But with Him we have purpose, we have fullness, we have hope and joy and happiness and peace.

We hold fast to the form of sound words.  Many say the faith and the Church has to be re-cast into the lingo and culture of each new generation.  We must speak their lingo, their street talk.  We must sing their music and dress their dress.  I fail to see the logic in this.  It seems to me that most of the lingo, music, and fashion of the world is intentionally anti God.  Why would I want to imitate that?  I would rather call people into the forms that have served God’s people for thousands of years.  I would rather call people out of their worldly identity into a new identity.  I don’t want to show the world how much I can be like it and still be a Christian, I want to show the world how being a Christian is different and better than the world.

Certainly we hold fast the form of sound words rather than changing those words to please people.  Paul refers in part to the ancient way of teaching and learning that prevailed in his time.  That method was memorisation.  Hebrew children memorised vast portions of Scripture.  They memorised the history of Israel.  They memorised their family history.  They did this partly for education and partly for entertainment.  The result was a sense of connection and belonging in the children.  They had an identity and a solidarity with the Jewish people.  The Apostle Paul, as a Jew, had also memorized much of the Scriptures.  He had probably memorized most of the words of Jesus while he was a new Christian in the Church in Antioch.  He memorized them word for word.  To change or omit a word was not permitted.  He kept the form just as the Jewish children kept the form of words they memorised, word for word.

Paul passed this form of sound words on to Timothy.  Timothy passed them on to the people and ministers of the Church.  They have passed them on to others, who passed them on to others, and eventually they have come to us.  We, have not memorised them they way the early Christians did, but we read them in the Bible.  We hold them fast.

Paul tells us to hold fast the form of sound words, “in faith.”  This means first with understanding.  It means we know the words and their meanings.  It means also that we believe the words.  It means we believe the Gospel.   We trust it.  We trust that in Christ we are clean.  Our sins are washed away and we are dressed in the righteousness of Christ.  We believe we are accepted by God, forgiven by God.  We have been made acceptable to God, and God has been made acceptable to us.  God and us are reconciled in Christ.

It is, as verse 12 says in some of the Bible’s most famous words, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto him against that day.”

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