I do not typically type out the full text for a sermon, but I did that for yesterday’s sermon. Since I have the full text rather that just an outline, it makes sense to post it here for others to read if they so desire. The full text is below.
Christian in “Pilgrim’s Progress” met all sorts of temptations. Each temptation was an attack on his belief in what the evangelist told him. The messenger told Christian where to go to relieve the burden he carried, but Mr. Worldly Wisdom and Mr. Legalism offered other ways in which he might release his burden. Christian’s only real option, though, was to heed the direction of Mr. Evangelist.
CLAIM OF CHRIST EXAMINED
When Jesus says He is the way, the truth and the life, He is claiming to be the only path on which we might go where our burden of sin might be lifted. Our guilt is removed only as we walk THE path, namely Christ. And we walk this path by believing in Him. Why must we believe IN HIM? Simply because He is THE TRUTH. He is not a messenger of truth. He is not A truth, but He is the essence of all truth. The world was made through Him. “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.” “All things were made through Him and without Him was not any thing made that was made” He upholds the world today as always. The only way to navigate the path (the way) is to believe TRUTH. He is not merely a means to a good life. He is not a merely a supplier of needs. He IS LIFE. Without Christ, Life does not exist. If Christ pulls back His breath from us, we die. If Christ so desires, we cease to exist. These things are hard for our finite minds to fathom. Paul uses the words of Isaiah to explain the mystery of God’s grace when he says (1 Cor 2:9) “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him.” These words explain the mystery of the wisdom Paul was bringing. It was not a wisdom understood by the world. It was the secret and hidden wisdom of God. And it was good. And it IS good. And it is for US to know and believe. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father but by Him. But for all that do come by faith through Christ to the Father, no imagination on earth that can capture rightly what God has waiting for them. This majestic and beautiful existence that God has prepared is spoken of by Christ when He says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself that where I am you may be also.”
The Christian message is one of hope that we might one day live eternally in the good favor of the Creator of everything that we know (as “existence”). We hold fast to hope that, although we have gravely offended Him by sinning against Him and have come to deserve His punishment (justly and rightly), we will one day have this awesome, eternal and immovable burden lifted from us by the one who has the power to raise the dead. The one who claims to be the only path to the Father and the very essence of truth and reality also claims to be THE life that we all long to have. We long for peace, eternity, joy and satisfaction, and Christ claims to be the one through whom we can have all of this.
All too often we say with Peter, (Jn 13:37) “I will lay down my life for you,” as we seek to follow Christ. It is Christ who laid down His life for us. Yes, our faith moves us to lay down the passions of the flesh and live for eternity, but only after we first believe in Christ, who went to the cross for us. The problem with Peter’s statement is found in Thomas’ question, (14:5) “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus IS the way, the truth and the life. He is not leading us anywhere, but we are being carried along IN Him. Consider Noah. His faith brought about the Ark. Had he not believed God, the Ark would not have been. Had God not helped Noah and provided for him, the ark would have ceased to exist. Now when the storms came, Noah and his family were carried along by the Ark which was guided by God to the resting spot on the top of the mountain. The Ark was not something Noah followed, but it WAS the way. Noah got in and was carried along to safety. Christ is THE WAY. Those who are IN CHRIST, are assured that the storms of God’s wrath will not bear down to destruction upon us, but rather we will be carried through safely. Just as the Ark took the brunt of the winds and water, Jesus has taken the wrath of God on our behalf. He IS THE WAY. He IS THE TRUTH. As Noah found favor in the eyes of God, he was brought to safety through his faith in God. His faith was not a good work that earned God’s favor. Noah had found favor in God’s eyes even before he built the ark. He found favor while the hearts of men were “only evil continually.” After they exited the ark, the hearts of men were still only evil continually. The condition of mankind had not changed, but Noah’s safety was brought about by God because God had chosen Noah for this purpose.
HOW DO WE EXPERIENCE LIFE
We, the Church, are God’s chosen people for salvation. We who are here today are here because God wants us to hear about THE WAY and the TRUTH so that we might know LIFE. So, then, how do we experience LIFE. How do those of us who believe react to these words of Christ? We see more information about who Christ is in John 15:5. Christ says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” What fruit? Truth. Life. Continuing IN the PATH (Christ) that leads to the day in which our burden (Sin) is finally and fully lifted. Christian, in the Pilgrim’s progress, met many antagonists and they were all ultimately challenging his faith. We, as Christians, will meet the same challenges, and we must abide in Christ. This is how we experience life!
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO ABIDE IN CHRIST
What does it mean to abide in Christ? Consider the vine. Psalm 80:8 speaks to Israel as God’s vine that He planted when it says, “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.“ God planted them as a vineyard and expected excellent fruit. Fruit like the juicy, sweet, and ripe grape that bursts in your mouth. The grape that makes the sweetest wine. The grape that comes from the perfect vine. God cared for His vineyard with excellence, (9) “You cleared the ground for it;” and His vineyard prospered, (9-11) “it took deep root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches. It sent out its branches to the sea and its shoots to the River.” Interestingly, in the end, God allowed His cultivating work to be laid to waste (12), “Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?” Why? Isaiah 5:4-6 gives us the answer. God had indeed cared perfectly for His vineyard, Israel, (4) “What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it?” Yet it did not yield the juicy sweet grapes that burst forth flavor into your mouth. It failed to yield grapes appropriate to the perfect vine and the perfect vinedresser, (4) “When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?” Therefore, God, the vinedresser removed His cultivating hands, (5-6) “And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.” Do not be confused, though, Israel did not fail to live up to God’s expectations causing Him to reverse the original course He planned for them. Israel did precisely what God planned. Israel proved out what God told us in Noah. The indictment of Genesis 6:5, “that every intention of the thoughts of (man’s) heart was only evil continually” is repeated after the flood so as to ensure we understand that Noah was not exempt from the state of misery (sin), but that He was simply chosen by God for a purpose. Israel’s purpose was to reveal man’s need of redemption and to bring us the savior. The nation of Israel accomplished both tasks. Israel is NOT the WAY and they do not embody the full essence of TRUTH nor do they bring life. But they did birth the ONE who gives all of these things to us, and that was God’s purpose for them. Abiding in Christ, then, is to feed off of Him as our vine and produce the fruit that comes from Him. Abiding in Christ is to live out the purpose God has for us joyfully. As we abide in Christ, we will burst forth with the fruit of the vine to which we are connected. We will produce the, “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (eph 2:10)
THE BENEFITS OF ABIDING IN CHRIST
Now the vineyard of God was destroyed because it failed to produce the fruit of TRUTH. It failed to produce the fruit of LIFE. It failed to produce the fruit of a pathway to God. And God knew this would be its end; thus, He promised a savior and this Savior came in the person of Jesus Christ. We go to the Father through the WAY, Jesus Christ, by faith. Faith is a gift from God and through it we find TRUTH and LIFE. So, then, Christ is the vine to which we have been engrafted. He is our source of LIFE. The Fruit we bear flows out of faith, which, remember, is a gift from God. As our faith deepens, the TRUTH of reality that Christ brings becomes more cherished and the LIFE we await becomes more real. All of this begins to change who we are on this earth. It begins to change how we view the family and the relationship between wife, husband, and children. It begins to alter our view of work, of wealth, of social status, of friendships, and especially of our purpose. This is why I was once told that a Christian will never look back over the last 10 years of his or her life and say nothing much has changed. Faith in Christ as the way, the truth and the life, brings us into contact with the source of perfect fruit. The juiciest grapes in existence come from Christ, the vine, and our fruit comes from our abiding IN Him. Our baptism symbolizes exactly this. It is a sign and seal of our engrafting into Christ. We are united with Him in baptism, and when our faith is manifest, we have confidence that our baptism has produced fruit. The Lord’s supper is a sign and seal of the promises of Christ intended to strengthen our faith and keep us walking along the path that we set out on in Christ. Christian came upon struggles, but he had help along the way. We also find struggles along the way, and God brings help through the sacraments, through prayer and through the word and through fellow Christians as we minister to each other with these gifts of God. He also brings help through His Holy Spirit living within each of us. Faith, then, is not a one-time act. Justification is a one-time act of God brought to us through Faith, but faith that justifies is living and continues and is held firm by the One who began a good work in each of us. As our faith deepens, we begin to believe and understand more of what Christ was telling the Apostles. He wanted to lift their eyes to see the Kingdom of God and to show them that this life is temporary. A deeper faith leads to life change and our life on this earth begins to yield to TRUTH, which points us to life in the kingdom. The joys of this world fade as the glories of eternity reign supreme. And as this happens, you know you have been abiding in Christ and that you have been experiencing the earthly benefit of abiding in Christ. It is a privilege and a joy to grow in our belief of the not yet fully revealed Kingdom of God.
THE CHALLENGE OF ABIDING IN CHRIST
The pilgrim, Christian, met many adversaries to his faith much as we do. Every single interaction we have with this world will challenge our faith. This is why we are often warned to guard our ears and be wary of the images our eyes see. We are cautioned to filter the music we listen to and to place limits on the movies we find acceptable to watch. Every single input into our minds that is not expressly proclaiming the truth of Scripture is a challenge to believe something other than Christ. Everything has a message. Everything is calling us to heed its ways. Some messages are explicit and easier to guard against, but others are subtle, hidden, and even devious. Some of these messages bring more forceful challenges to our feeble minds than others. Many creep in unnoticed and affect us over lengthy periods of time. This is where the American Church stands today. We have slowly walked a “safe” distance behind society without noticing the length we have traveled away from the TRUTH. The call from Christ is to look to Him as THE WAY, THE TRUTH, and THE LIFE. The call from Christ is to be transformed by the renewing of our minds using our bodies as a living sacrifice to Him. So, yes, He does call us to lay down our lives for Him, but only after we have seen and believed that His sacrifice is the WAY to the Father. Let the means of God’s grace transform you. Do not neglect them, but rather allow God to strengthen your faith in Him through them (Word, Prayer, & Sacrament). Abiding in Christ is something we do. It is a hard work. It is a life long work. It is not a life producing work, but it is a faith deepening and sustaining work. Draw near to Christ and He will draw near to you. Work at walking in THE PATH. Work hard to immerse your mind in THE TRUTH. And work hard at being ALIVE to Christ and dead to this world. And in doing all of this, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Next week, we look at the resurrection. Christ, walked the pathway of the Cross and became our WAY, and He opened the doorway to heaven for us through the resurrection. Come next week and worship the Creator of the Universe with us as He strengthens our faith through prayer and His word as we look to the resurrected Christ.