MELVIN M. NEWLAND, MINISTER CENTRAL CHRISTIAN, BROWNSVILLE, TX
(Changed e-mail address: PowerPoint slides used in this sermon are available at no charge. Just e-mail me at email@example.com with your request - #237.)
ILL. As many of you know, there is a Ministerial Association in Brownsville, & I’m a part of it. It is not a formal organization, issuing pronouncements or passing resolutions. It is just a group of preachers meeting for fellowship, sharing ideas & concerns, & seeking to understand each other a little better.
In our monthly meetings over the years, as we were trying to learn more about each other, we have discussed such questions as: "How did you happen to enter the ministry?” “What kind of preparation or training did you have?” “What do you feel to be the most important part of your ministry?” “What takes up most of your time?”
Some other subjects have been: “What verse of Scripture has had the biggest impact on your ministry?” “If you were making a list of your priorities, where would you put preaching?” “What kinds of sermons do you preach?” And, “How do you decide what to preach?"
A. Now, why am I telling you this? It is because of a discussion we had a few years ago. You see, some of the preachers (& I have no intention of naming names or being unkind in any way) have been taught to preach only certain kinds of sermons.
They have been taught that it is old?fashioned to preach about sin & Satan, & that people as affluent & educated as we are today wouldn’t tolerate anyone talking about a real hell, or telling them that they’re sinners & there is a Judgment Day coming.
So they tend to preach on more agreeable subjects, such as love & brotherhood. They have been told, "After all, people want to be happy & go home feeling good, thinking positive thoughts about themselves. So stick to those kinds of sermons."
Now it would seem ridiculous to ignore sin & Satan completely, so they don’t. But what God calls sin in the Bible isn’t necessarily what they consider to be sin now. And the idea of a real Satan is hard for some of them to accept.
But then what do you say when something as terrible as 9-11 happens, or you see pictures of people rejoicing wildly when they hear that a homicide bomber has succeeded in blowing up a restaurant full of little children? How do you explain that? Where does such evil come from?
If you don’t believe there is such a one as Satan, then what do you say? How do you answer the questions, & calm the fears? That is the problem some preachers are facing, & they’re struggling with it.
Unfortunately, others are just shrugging their shoulders & going on preaching their pet topics, seemingly oblivious to the needs of the people for a clear message about what God says concerning right & wrong, good & evil, & an eternity of heaven or hell.
But before I go any further, let me read you an e-mail that came this past week. I got a chuckle out of it & I think you will, too. It’s entitled: “How It Happened.”
ILL. How It Happened:
God populated the earth with broccoli & cauliflower & spinach, green & yellow vegetables of all kinds, so Man & Woman would live long & healthy lives.
Then Satan created McDonald’s.
And McDonald’s brought forth the 99-cent double-cheeseburger.
Then Satan said to Man, "You want fries with that?"
And Man said, "Super-size them." And Man gained pounds.
God created healthful yogurt so woman might keep her figure that man found so fair.
Then Satan brought forth chocolate. And woman gained pounds.
God said, "Try my crispy fresh salad."
Then Satan brought forth ice cream. And woman gained more pounds.
God said, "I have sent your heart healthy vegetables & olive oil with which to cook them."
Then Satan brought forth chicken-fried steak so big it needed its own platter.
And Man gained pounds & his bad cholesterol went through the roof.
So God brought forth running shoes & Man resolved to lose those extra pounds.
Then Satan brought forth cable TV with remote control so Man would not have to toil to change channels. And Man gained even more pounds.
God brought forth the potato, a vegetable naturally low in fat & brimming with nutrition.
Then Satan peeled off the healthful skin & sliced the starchy center into chips & deep-fat fried them. And he created sour cream dip also.
And Man clutched his remote control & ate the potato chips soaked in cholesterol.
Satan saw it & said, "It is good." And Man went into cardiac arrest.
God sighed, & created quadruple bypass heart surgery.
Then Satan created HMO’s.
(Adapted from www.mamarocks.com)
It is rather funny, isn’t it? And I enjoyed reading it. But I’m afraid that too many people treat Satan & his power as a joke. They have sugarcoated sin, & laughed at the mention of hell. And they’re going merrily on their way into a Christless eternity.
ILL. I think Joe Wright, minister of Central Christian Church in Wichita, KS, was absolutely right in his prayer delivered before the Kansas Legislature a few years ago. And even though he had been invited to do so, what he said in his prayer created quite a controversy. You’ve probably heard it before, but please listen to it again. He prayed:
Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness & seek your direction & guidance. We know your Word says, "Woe to those who call evil good," but that’s exactly what we’ve done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium & inverted our values.
We confess that we have ridiculed the absolute truth of your Word & called it moral pluralism.
We have worshipped other gods & called it multi-culturalism.
We have endorsed perversion & called it an alternative lifestyle.
We have exploited the poor & called it the lottery.
We have neglected the needy & called it self-preservation.
We have rewarded laziness & called it welfare.
We have killed our unborn & called it choice.
We have shot abortionists & called it justifiable.
We have neglected to discipline our children & called it building esteem.
We have abused power & called it political savvy.
We have coveted our neighbors’ possessions & called it ambition.
We have polluted the air with profanity & pornography & called it freedom of expression.
We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our fore-fathers & called it enlightenment.
Search us O God & know our hearts today; try us & see if there be some wicked way in us; cleanse us from every sin & set us free.
Guide & bless these men & women who have been sent here by the people of Kansas, & who have been ordained by you, to govern this great state. Grant them your wisdom to rule & may their decisions direct us to the center of your will. I ask it in the name of your son, the living savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
(The prayer delivered January 23, 1996 by the Rev. Joe Wright to the Kansas House.)
Now what he had to say in his prayer may not be very popular, but our nation’s leaders need to hear it, & to realize that sin is no laughing matter. Do you remember the text from last week’s sermon? “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” That was true 3,000 years ago, & it’s true today!
B. In reading the Apostle Paul’s letters we find that he speaks quite clearly about our sins & the condition of mankind. Listen to his words in Ephesians 2:1?2,
"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions & sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world & of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient." (NIV)
Did you get that? Well, it might be easier to understand it the way The Living Bible paraphrases it. Paul says:
“Once you were under God’s curse, doomed forever for your sins. You went along with the crowd & were just like all the others, full of sin, obeying Satan, the mighty prince of the power of the air, who is at work right now in the hearts of those who are against the Lord.”
That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? And with those words ringing in our ears, I don’t hesitate to say that we’re sinners. We have all sinned & fallen short of God’s expectations for us. And unforgiven sin infects & affects every area of our life.
It affects our physical relationships. It affects our will & emotions. It affects our thoughts & imaginations, our hopes & our dreams.
And no place in all history is it more visibly demonstrated than on Calvary’s hill when mankind crucified the only Begotten Son of God. There men behaved like animals as they cried, "Crucify Him. Crucify Him. Crucify the Son of God."
I. SIN IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
A. But man’s sin began long before the cross. It began in the Garden of Eden. God created the Garden as a beautiful & perfect place. Adam & Eve are in harmony with God & everything seems to be going just fine.
Then Satan comes slithering onto the scene & he says to Eve, "Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
Eve answers, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, & you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ‘You will not surely die,’ the serpent said to the woman.” (Gen. 3:1-3)
That response by Satan is the first recorded lie, & it set a precedent for all that followed. "You will not surely die," he said, & as Eve & then Adam ate of that forbidden fruit sin entered the world. Satan was successful, & he hasn’t changed his tactics – he still lies & deceives to corrupt our lives.
B. And Satan continued his corruption of the world, until we read in Genesis 6:5-6, “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, & that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that He had made man on the earth, & His heart was filled with pain.”
Well, you know what happened. Then came Noah & the flood & the destruction of the world that once was ? all because of sin.
C. Then through Noah God starts over, & soon we see Him selecting Abraham & his descendants. He told them, "You are my chosen people. I want you to be living testimonies of me to the world, to be an example to them & show them my love." But no sooner had they started than we see 10 of them selling their brother into slavery.
And even after God raised up Moses to rescue them from their slavery, & while He was giving them the Law to guide them, Satan stepped in & soon they were engaging in all kinds of perversion, dancing around a golden calf.
SUM. With Satan on the prowl, no wonder the history of God’s chosen people in the Old Testament is full of so many “ups” & “downs.”
II. SIN IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
A. But when you turn to the New Testament everything starts so beautifully. There is the announcement by the angel to Mary, & the wonderful song of praise that she sings, thanking God for the privilege of being the mother of the Messiah.
Then there is that night in Bethlehem that still thrills & inspires the world. We see the glorious light from heaven & hear the angels’ song. We see the shepherds rushing to the manger, & the wise men coming, bearing their gifts. What a scene of rejoicing as the long-awaited Messiah is born!
But soon there is the sword of Herod dripping with the blood of infants because of his hatred & fear of the One who has been born. We hear the cries of mothers as children are ripped from their arms, & the cries of children being slaughtered on the streets of Bethlehem. Again we see the power of Satan & how it affects our lives.
B. We see it often during the ministry of Jesus - the corruption, the thievery, the plotting one against another. It even invades the small band of apostles that Jesus has brought together. Tempers flare. Lies are told. One betrays & another denies. Finally it culminates at a place called Calvary as gentiles & Jews come together to crucify the Son of God. “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” they shouted. And they did.
III. SIN IN THE CHURCH
A. But that doesn’t stop God. In fact, His program had just begun. Jesus is resurrected from the grave, appears again & again to the Apostles & to others, & then He ascends back into heaven, telling them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; & you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, & in all Judea & Samaria, & to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
Just 10 days later, on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon them & the first Gospel sermon was preached. On that day 3,000 were won to Christ, repented of their sins, were buried with Him in Christian baptism, & the church was established. And day by day, the Lord added to the church those who were being saved.
From all appearances it seemed like everything was going to be all right. People by the thousands were coming to Christ. Great things were happening. And a world that was filled with sin was being turned right side up!
B. But then came persecutions, & murmuring & dissatisfaction & false teachers & division, & soon many in the church began to go astray. In time, a great proportion of the church drifted away from the pure teachings of Christ, & became a man?made organization desirous of worldly riches & power.
C. So today the church is divided into hundreds of sects & denominations preaching man’s own creeds & doctrines - not what the Bible teaches, but what man has devised. And the world gets more & more confused.
IV. GOD’S ANSWER TO MAN’S SIN
But there is still hope in this world of confusion & sin, for this sermon was not meant to discourage, but to remind you that Satan is alive & well, & that the wages of sin have not been reduced.
But in His love for us, Jesus declared war on sin. And He has won. On Calvary’s hill He won the victory. There He took away all our sins. The sins we have committed in the past, the sins we are committing now, & all the sins we will ever commit - He died to pay the ransom for us. He died to set us free, to justify us, to sanctify us, to redeem us & save us for all eternity.
But you see, there is something that bothers me. And maybe I can explain it by telling you the story of Elizabeth Barrett, one of the greatest female poets of England in the 1800’s.
ILL. When Robert Browning came into her life, Elizabeth Barrett was a 39-year-old invalid. Daughter of a jealous & dominating father, her first 4 books of poetry had been published when she was just 12 years old. At 15 she injured her spine, & the resulting confinement in London affected her lungs, & she came to be regarded as a permanent invalid, doomed to spend her life in bed. But still she kept writing.
As time passed, the grief caused by the drowning of a brother, & her father’s refusal to allow any of his children to marry made her a recluse. Nearing 40, she seemed destined for a life of helplessness & gloom.
But the publication of one of her books brought about a correspondence with another poet, a man by the name of Robert Browning. He visited her, & then they wrote often to each other, with him encouraging her to try to get out of bed & make every effort to resume a normal life. But this met with strong resistance from her parents. And they resented Robert for even suggesting it.
They refused to allow him to visit her again, but the correspondence continued, & soon they were in love. Finally, more than a year later, she escaped the possessive vigilance of her father & they were secretly married. They immediately moved to Italy, & in that sunny climate it wasn’t long until she was strong & active once again.
Her parents disowned her, but she wrote almost every week, telling them that she loved them & longed for a reconciliation. After 10 years of writing to them, she received a huge box in the mail that contained all the letters she had ever sent. Not a one of them had been opened!
Although these "love letters" have now become a precious part of English literature, it’s sad to know that they were never read by her parents. Had they looked at just one, the broken relationship with their daughter might have been healed.
But no, they wouldn’t & they didn’t. We hear a story like that & we think, “Oh, what a pitiful story. What a pitiful thing for her parents to be like that.” You’re right. But let me ask you, “Is it possible that as far as God is concerned, that some of us are acting exactly the same way that her parents did?”
How often has God made His love known to us? How often has He expressed it? How great a gift He has given that we might know that He loves us! And we never open His letters. We never talk about His love. We never respond to His invitation. We just ignore Him.
You see, Satan is alive & well. God, in His love, has done so much. He has knocked upon the doors of our hearts. He asks for entrance within. In fact, the question could well be asked, “What more could He do than what He has done?”
Well, outside of slamming us up alongside the head, I don’t know what more God could do to get our attention. You see, He loves us. But God does not force His way. God does not make us change our mind. He simply presents Himself in Jesus, through His Word, through His love, through His family all around us. He asks, “Do you see me? Will you love me? Will you accept me?”