Have you ever had one of those moments when you just wish you could crawl underneath something and stay there for as long as possible? Boy, I have. I remember one time, in the seventh grade, there was this girl that I liked. Her name was Kristina, and man, she was cute. I really, really liked her. And so I decided that I was going to ask her out. So one day, during class, I got permission to go to the bathroom and I walked out, went to the bathroom, then took a note I had written that said, “Will you go out with me? Ben,” and slipped it into one of the slots of her locker, which luckily, was directly above mine.
After class was over we were all at our lockers switching our books out for the next class when all of the sudden this note I had written fell out of the locker I had put it in. The only thing was, I had put it in the wrong locker. I had put it in Kristina’s friend’s locker. Kristina’s friend was not pretty. I did not want to go out with her. And so I very quickly picked up my note and put it in my pocket. If she had opened that note I would have been in trouble. I didn’t put Kristina’s name on it. She would have thought I was asking her. That would have been bad news all around, no matter what her answer was.
Well, I managed to get the note in the right locker during the next class. So now it was just wait and see. Later that day Kristina and I had band together. And as I was sitting there warming up my trombone, all of the sudden one of Kristina’s friends comes out of the instrument closet and says very loudly so that everyone could hear, “Ben, Kristina said that she doesn’t want to go out with you.” That was embarrassing. That was one of those times in middle school when I could have would have just loved it if God would have ended my misery right there. If there was any hint of a stone in that classroom I would have done my best to crawl under it.
We all have moments like that, don’t we? Sometimes it’s because we get exposed in front of our friends. Sometimes it’s because we’re ashamed of something that we got caught doing. Sometimes it’s because someone that we’re with or someone that we’re associated with is embarrassing us in some way by their actions.
Several years ago my family took a big summer trip. Our second big stop was in Chicago. I love Chicago. But one afternoon we decided to take a little drive through the downtown section just to see the sights. And as we were creeping along in very slow traffic we found ourselves captivated by all the people who were walking down the sidewalks. Businessmen and women. Messenger boys on bikes. Homeless people.
One group of people in particular that I remember seeing that afternoon was a group of teenage skateboarders making their way through those streets. It wasn’t necessarily them that caught my attention though. It was my dad. You see, for some odd reason, I don’t know why, my dad decided he was going to roll down the window and yell at these guys. And I don’t remember what he yelled, but I was just sure it was something they were going to take offense by.
Now you have to remember, we’re creeping along in traffic. A guy in an electric wheelchair was going faster along the sidewalks than we were in our car. And I could just see these guys getting mad at my dad and skating over to our car and pulling us out and beating us up. This was Chicago. Those were punks. My dad was yelling at them. I could just feel myself sinking down as low as I could in my seat. I wanted to hide.
Have you ever wanted to hide before? Have you ever been embarrassed or ashamed? I think we all have. In John 18 we are told the story of Jesus’ arrest and trial. In the middle of that account though we find the focus shift, just for a second, away from Jesus, and on to Peter. And probably in what could be considered the lowest point of Peter’s life he is exposed before us. For we are told about how he stood in the courtyard of the high priest as Jesus was being questioned by the Sanhedrin. And as he stood there, warming himself by the fire, a servant girl approached Peter and said, “You aren’t one of Jesus’ disciples, are you?” And Peter’s response comes as a shock to us. “Of course not,” he answered. Peter? Why are denying to be a follower of Jesus when He needs you most? A little while later Peter was approached again and again asked if he was a follower of Jesus. And again, he denies that he is. A third time he is questioned, this time by a man who thought he had seen Peter in Gethsemane. But a third time, Peter denied that he even knew Jesus, and emphasized his answer with a curse.
In one sense it’s hard to understand why Peter acted the way that he did that day. Why would he deny the man who had made such an impact on his life? Why would he forsake his friend in such a time of desperate need? In one sense we can’t really understand Peter’s actions. But in another sense, I think we do understand. And not only do we understand, but I think we can empathize.
You see, I believe that every one of us could probably look back and remember situations in which we found ourselves when we had an opportunity to stand up for our Lord, but for some reason we found ourselves looking for a rock to hide under. Some of us may not have to look back very far to find that moment. It was a moment in which we were asked a question about our faith. It was a moment in which we had the opportunity to stand for what’s right. It was a moment in which perhaps we were put on the spot about why we did or didn’t do something. And in that moment when we could have made Jesus proud by our loyalty and devotion to Him. But instead we shrunk away and found ourselves ashamed and did our very best to find a place to hide.
We’ve all been there. For whatever reason we’re afraid of what people’s reactions might be if they find out that we’re Christians. For some reason we’re afraid of what they might think about us or what they might say about us. They might think we’re a fanatic. They might think we’re one of those holy rollers or one of those Jesus freaks. They might not what to associate with us. They might laugh at us. And we shrink away from an opportunity to stand for Jesus in a time when, perhaps, it matters most.
Well, this morning I want to read you two verses from the first chapter of Romans. And my hope, this morning, is that before you walk out those doors you would have made a fresh commitment to stand unabashedly, unashamedly for Jesus Christ. For you see, I believe that in these verses Paul gives us three reasons why we don’t have to be ashamed, why we shouldn’t be ashamed when we would be tempted to hide.
Romans 1:16-17… For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”
Three things for you to remember when you’re tempted to
I. Ours Is A Gospel That Rescues
The first thing that I think we can remember about the Gospel of Jesus is that it is a Gospel that rescues. Paul said that “it is the power of God to salvation.” The good news of Jesus is something that works. It isn’t a powerless message. It isn’t just a fairy tail. It isn’t just a nice story. The message that Jesus came to die on a cross in order to save you from your sins, and then rose again on the third day is a message filled with power. Power to rescue the lost from the clutches of Satan. Power to rescue the lost from the damnation of hell. Power to rescue the lost from a life wrecked by sin. The message of the Gospel is a life changing Gospel. It’s a message that works.
Paul was someone who had a deep familiarity with this fact. It wasn’t something that he had researched carefully about. It was something that he had learned by experience. For he himself had been rescued. You know the story. Paul had been a Pharisee. He had been a very religious man. But his zeal for his religion had caused him to despise a group of people who had walked away from Judaism and had begun following a man named Jesus. Jesus had never been a friend of the Pharisees. They never did like Him. So they had done everything in their power to get rid of Him. And they thought they had succeeded, for they had watched Him died. But now there were rumors that He was alive again. And now His followers were becoming a pesky nuisance.
And Paul had hated them. In fact, he had given feet to his hatred and had personally headed up a movement to destroy all Jesus followers. He sought them out in their homes. He tracked them down to their meeting places. He had them jailed. He had them persecuted. He had them killed. The Bible tells us that he made havoc of the church. He was going to destroy this new heresy once and for all.
News had spread that many of these Jesus followers from Jerusalem had fled this persecution and gone to Samaria. And Paul had decided it wasn’t enough to just let them flee to another city. He wanted them brought back to Jerusalem and imprisoned. So he received permission from the high priest and made his way to Samaria, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.
But something happened on that trip. Something amazing. Something incredible. For on that trip Paul was confronted by the Lord Himself. And Paul’s life was completely changed from that moment on. He went from chasing down the followers of Christ to becoming a follower of Christ himself. He went from being a great persecutor of the church to becoming a great champion for the church. He went from journeying the country-side looking for people to imprison to traveling the world preaching the message of Jesus. No wonder he said, “it is the power of God to salvation.” No wonder he was so sure of the effectiveness of the Gospel. Because it had worked in his life. It had rescued him.
There was a soft-spoken man who was a commuter on the Long Island Railroad. Every evening, after the train had left the subway, he would begin a journey through the car from front to back. At each seat he would stop and say, “Excuse me. But if any of your friends are blind, tell them to consult Dr. Garl. He restored my sight.”
You know, there’s just something about sharing a message with someone when you know it works. When you have seen how Avon can make a difference in your own life it becomes easy for you to go and encourage others to try it out. When you’ve noticed how much weight you’ve lost because of Weight Watchers it becomes very simple for you to point people who want to lose weight in that direction. When you see how effective a particular surgery has been for you it is no problem for you to share that with people who are facing the same problems you did. When there is something that you have seen work in your life you can’t help but let other people know about it.
Recently my wife has been kind of amused with me because I tell everyone about this guy I listen to on the radio named Dave Ramsey. Dave Ramsey is a financial guru who has developed a process of baby steps for getting out of debt and finding your way to financial peace. And I tell everyone about him. Why? Because I’ve seen how the principles he teaches have worked in my own life. I have experienced how much of a difference his teaching can make in my life. And so I’m excited to be able to share about him with other people who may be facing some financial hardships or who are wondering how to change their financial direction. It’s easy to share because I’ve seen it work in my own life.
And it’s the same way with the Gospel. If you are a Christian today you know from experience the power of the Gospel. You know how the message of Jesus can take a life headed for destruction and change its direction. You know how it can take a broken heart and make it healed and whole again. You know how it can take hopelessness and change it into confidence and assurance. You know what a difference the Gospel can make in a life, because you’ve experienced that change yourself.
You were once doomed to hell. You were once living a life of heartache. You were once chained by your addictions. You were once held captive by the power of sin. But something happened. Something wonderful and amazing and incredible happened. For there was a day when you came in direct contact with the Lord Himself. And that day was a day that brought great change in your life. You, who had been doomed to hell, were now put on the pathway to heaven. You, who had been living a life of heartache, felt the love of God rush in on your soul and fill you completely. You, who had been chained by your addictions, felt those chains loosen or break completely. You, who had been held captive by sin, were miraculously set free by the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
You know it’s a Gospel that works. You know it’s a Gospel that reaches. You’ve seen what it’s done in your own life. You’ve experienced its power. So don’t you think that just remembering that would help to make it a little easier to stand up unabashedly for Jesus Christ? Don’t you think that remembering where you were and seeing where you are should help to make it a little easier to spread the good news to those who are where you were? When you’re tempted to hide, remember, ours is a Gospel that rescues. It’s a Gospel that works.
II. Ours Is A Gospel That Reaches
Not only is it a Gospel that rescues, but it’s also a Gospel that reaches. Paul says, “It is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Rom. 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
The truth of the Gospel is this… there is no one who is too far gone to which the grace of God cannot be extended. There is no sin which is too great for God to offer pardon. There are no distances which cannot be spanned. There are no depths which cannot be reached. There is no sinner who cannot receive forgiveness. The Gospel reaches to the guttermost and saves to the uttermost.
Amalia was a Puerto Rican girl who grew up in the projects of New York City. She was the third of seven children packed into a tiny apartment with their parents. There’s was not a good home. It was a home filled with fighting and arguing. Her father was an alcoholic who physically abused her mother and sexually abused Amalia. School was a dreadful haven. She was safe from her father there, but the hopelessness and depression was constant. Her days were filled up with fearfully counting down the hours till she had to go home again. She wanted to kill her father, and when he would bring her into his room she would often hide a screwdriver or a knife under the mattress intending to do just that. But she just couldn’t stand up to him.
In high school Amalia found her only escape in a boy named Richard. He was a year older than she was and they started hanging out. The only way that she knew to get him to accept her and love her was to give him her body. That was what all men wanted, after all. They soon were married, and Amalia dropped out of school. She and Richard quickly got caught up in drugs. First was the pot. It wasn’t something she wanted to do, but it helped her to forget her problems for a little while. Then came the LSD and the cocaine. She tried heroin as well.
Their marriage only lasted a year, and Amalia got involved with man after man. Anyone who could sweet talk her and offer her a place to say could have her. She tried to stay high 24 hours a day. After some time of living like this she decided that she had to get a steady line of work, so she signed up for a bartending course. Why, she didn’t know. She hated alcoholics.
When she tried to find a job it was difficult because not too may places were hiring female bartenders. But one place offered her a job as a barmaid. Only when she actually reported for work did she realize that it was actually at a topless bar. Eventually she made her way from barmaid to dancer. She felt degraded, but the money was good and she got a lot of attention.
Amalia met another man there named Gilbert and they started dating. But all that changed when she found out she was pregnant. She had been pregnant several times before, but had just gotten abortions. But when she decided she wanted to try to be a mom Gilbert wanted nothing to do with her. She was devastated. She was alone. Her pregnancy made her unable to continue working. Her electricity was eventually cut off. Everything was wrong. She decided that the only way out was suicide. In fact, she actually began to slit her wrists, but couldn’t bring herself to do it.
She had hit rock bottom. She finally moved back in with her mother and after the baby was born returned to her job at the bar. Life didn’t get any better. More thoughts of suicide came. Several times she found herself ready to jump off of an eighteen story building or a bridge. She was scared to do it, but more scared of living.
Then one day Amalia’s brother-in-law, who had once been a partier with her, invited her to go to church at the Brooklyn Tabernacle with him and her sister. And she heard Pastor Cymbala say something about “Jesus loves you no matter what you’ve done. He will forgive you and take you past whatever has been done to you in your life.” She was sure that her brother-in-law had told him about her. She didn’t get saved that day. She wasn’t too sure that she wanted to be set up like that. But she went back the next week and somehow the love of Jesus reached that woman and turned her life completely around. The grace of God saved her from her sins. The mercy of God took her battered wreck that had been her life and exchanged it for a victorious testimony that God’s grace can reach you no matter how far you’ve gone, no matter how deep in sin you find yourself.
His is a Gospel that reaches. His is a grace that saves you no matter who you are, or where you’re from, or what you’ve done. God is a God who sent His Son to die for “whosoever.” He is a God who offers pardon to “whosoever.” He is a God with power and grace enough for “whosoever.” There is no person who is beyond hope. There is no stain too deep that His blood cannot cleanse it. There is no sin too big that He cannot wipe it away.
In the years of 1976 and 1977 New York was rocked by a crime spree of a serial killer called the “Son of Sam.” David Berkowitz was a troubled man. For his whole life he had been troubled. Even from his elementary days he was a problem child. He was very violent. He would often scream in the middle of class for no reason. He was overcome many times by violent seizures when it seemed as though something wicked was entering into his body and controlling him. His life was filled with darkness.
As he grew older he was attracted to the occult, witchcraft, and Satanic worship. The darkness continued to grow until if was finally culminated in murder. He became obsessed with hunting attractive women across the city and killing them for no reason. Terror grabbed New York. This was a crazed lunatic who randomly shot young women and wrote sick letters saying that he had to kill in order to please his master, a dog named Sam. By the time it was all said and done the Son of Sam had left 5 women and one man in their graves and countless others scarred for life.
When he was finally caught, Berkowitz was sentenced to 365 consecutive years in prison. Upon entering his reputation had preceded him and life was not easy. He barely survived when a fellow inmate slashed his throat. He had his shares of fights and problems. But ten years into his sentence, while feeling very despondent and without hope, David was walking through the exercise yard when he was approached by a young prisoner named Ricky. He began to share the message of Jesus’ love with the notorious serial killer who only mocked him. David said later, “Although I knew he meant well I mocked him because I did not think that God would ever forgive me or that He would want anything to do with me.”
Still the young man persisted. They eventually became friends. And little by little Rick shared his own testimony with David, and kept reminding him that it didn’t matter what he did God could and would still forgive him. He gave him a Gideon New Testament. David read that Bible and one night, as he was reading Ps. 34, he came upon the words that read like this: “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him from all his troubles.” And in that moment the Son of Sam began pouring out his heart to God. The guilt was overwhelming. The shame was disgusting. And as he cried out to Jesus it seemed as though a heavy, invisible chain that had bound him for years was suddenly broken. It was replaced by a peace and an assurance that his life and heart was going to be forever different.
The song says, “I cried, ‘I’ve gone too far.’ He said, ‘My blood’s gone farther.’ I cried, ‘The stain’s too deep.’ He said, ‘My blood’s gone deeper.’ I cried, ‘I’ve done too much.’ He said, ‘My blood’s done more.’ I thank God for the cleansing blood.”
“The purpose of the cross,” someone observed, “is to repair the irreparable.” That’s the message of the Gospel. That God’s grace can be extended to anyone. That His love is freely given to everyone. That His forgiveness is offered to anyone. His hands of mercy are extended to the drug addict, the alcoholic, the murderer, the homosexual, the liar and the cheat, the hypocrite. His forgiveness reaches even the vilest of sinners. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. I’ll tell you what, that’s a message to be proud of. That’s a message that I want to be willing to stand unashamedly for. That’s a message that I want to spread to anyone who will listen.
III. Ours Is A Gospel That Reveals
Very quickly, let me just tell you that not only can we stand unashamed because the Gospel is one that rescues and one that reaches, but lastly, it is a Gospel that reveals. What exactly does it reveal? Paul says, “in it the righteousness of God is revealed.”
What does that mean? I believe that it means that in the Gospel we find “the way, the truth, and the life.” You see, if the Gospel were just one that rescued, if it was just something that worked and changed lives, it could be considered to be just a good social plan. If it was just something that could be offered to anyone, no matter what they’d done, it could be considered simply as a good message of hope to the down and out. But I’m here to tell you this morning that the Gospel message is more than just a good plan for social change; it’s more than just a feel good message for those who have lost hope. The message of the Gospel is the only way to God. This is the right way.
I don’t have to be ashamed of the Gospel today because it is the truth. I don’t have to be ashamed of the Gospel today because there is only one God; and that is the God of the Bible. I don’t have to be ashamed today because there is only one way to God; and that is through the blood of Jesus Christ. I don’t have to be ashamed today because the Bible is not just a book of fairy tails and wisdom. I don’t have to be ashamed today because Jesus was not just a good man and teacher. I don’t have to be ashamed today because the empty tomb is not just a fable. I don’t have to be ashamed today because the message of the cross is not just one way to heaven. I can stand unabashedly and proudly for the Gospel of Jesus Christ because it is right. The Gospel is what reveals the righteousness of God. The Gospel is what reveals the pathway to heaven. The Gospel is what reveals the road map for life. The Gospel is the only way.
And so this morning, I challenge you to stand along with that unknown African pastor and say: “I’m a part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I’m a disciple of His. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away or be still. My past is redeemed. My present makes sense. My future is secure. I’m finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap living and dwarfed goals. I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, lift by prayer and labor by power. My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way rough, my companions few, my Guide is reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded or hesitate in the presence of the adversary, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity or meander in the maze of mediocrity. I won’t give up, shut up, let up, until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up paid up, preached up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go till He comes, give till I drop, preach till all know and work till he stops me. And when He comes for His own, He will have no problem recognizing me -- my banner will be clear!”
Today I encourage you to stand unabashedly for Jesus Christ. Don’t give in to the temptation to hide when the opportunity is ripe for you to stand for the Gospel. Don’t give in to the temptation to run away when the opportunity is full for you to share the message of the Gospel. Because there is no need to be ashamed. There is no reason to be bashful. There is no cause to be silent. Because the Gospel works. Because the Gospel reaches to the vilest of sinners and cleanses the deepest stains. Because this is the right way. When you’re tempted to hide, don’t. Stand and say with Paul, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel.”