Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
Have you ever had one of those moments of sheer terror at being caught? I mean the total anxiety panic of knowing… there is no way out of this. If you know what I mean, it was probably when you were younger? Though maybe not, contrary to what we like to think of ourselves, the youth do not corner the market on stupid decisions.
Whatever it was you were doing or did, I’m sure it was very attractive. The thought of all you could gain from going down that path was irresistible. It was so simple, required so little effort, and the benefits, well, they were pretty amazing. I’m guessing that the thought of being caught or the consequences never actually entered your mind. Maybe you had to think about one or two ways to smartly keep it hidden, but the fact that it was just wrong never really was part of the decision-making process.
At least, until you were caught.
You were… not so clever as you thought. Or you over-reached out of greed and arrogance. And if you’re remembering that moment from your life right now just like I am, you can feel the panic. Feel the fear grip your heart as you face whatever might be coming.
And that might be the worst of it. You don’t know what might be coming. I suppose it depended on what it was, how old you were and the like? Maybe privileges would be taken away. Maybe it would just be the shame of letting someone else down. Maybe it would break a relationship. Maybe it would be legal action. But the fear of knowing you’d been caught and there was no getting out of it, that tightening of your heart… that’s what I’m talking about.
Now why… why would I make you relive something like that this evening? It’s bad enough when those memories haunt us at quiet moments during the day or night. Why drag them up on purpose?
Well because that is exactly the feeling I want you to think of when you picture what it’s like to stand before God almighty and try to justify yourself to him.
To better appreciate this evening, I’d like to walk you through… well it’s a metaphor. This isn’t really how things will happen at the end, not literally. But the truth of it holds. So, imagine with me. Imagine the moment comes. Your earthly life has ended, and you are waiting to see what happens next. You’ve heard that Heaven is the place to be and Hell, well not so much.
Though there is some nervous anticipation, you’re feeling – pretty good about what’s to come. You’re a good person. You were a good son or daughter, a good spouse or a good parent. You did right by the people around you. You worked your job, you went to church, you helped those in need. This should go well.
And the time comes that your name is called. You are escorted from a waiting area into a courtroom. There is no jury, only the judge. And there are no witnesses, only the judge. God. One look from his piercing stare and it all comes crashing down. The intensity of that gaze opens your own eyes and you know. You know, and you remember everything he knows about you.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way;
The façade of goodness that you wear becomes as flimsy and fragile as tissue paper. All the selfishness that backed all those “good” deeds. All the times that the cost of doing the right thing was a little too high for you so you just walked by on the other side of the street. The secret thoughts, the greed, the lust, the selfishness, the anger, and more than any of that all the times you just thought you knew better than God.
That’s the panic moment. You’re caught, there’s nowhere to go, and you are utterly guilty. You did all of it, thinking no one was looking, no one would notice, but he saw it. There’s nothing to say in your defense. Anything you could think of in your own mind falls so flat that you can’t even utter the words.
Is there nothing to be done? You survey the crowd. Surely someone could speak up on your behalf and ask for leniency, mercy, or just to ask the judge to let this one go? Someone some authority or power or charisma or money could maybe do something for you…
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
A man does step forward. Not the one you were looking for. He is not wearing anything fancy. He has no regal bearing about him. You do not recognize him as anyone rich or influential. He instead looks like someone in as much need of help as you are. If you were not simply frozen by the terror of the moment you might motion for him to blend back into the crowd.
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,
He draws the judge’s attention. The man speaks.
“I did it.”
“Every charge you are about to read. That was me. I openly confess to every one of those crimes. I did it.”
“You are aware of the punishment?” the judge asks.
“I am. It was me.”
The confession is accepted. The man is bound and led away. What could you do? It might seem dishonorable to let him go in your place, but the terror of what waits at that end is too much to face. You let him go.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
You know what it means for that man. You know what you were expecting. The terror of hell itself. That the mercy and grace of God would be completely cut off from you. Absolutely lost in the outer darkness where there is no light and no hope and nothing but terror and pain forever. Maybe you didn’t grasp it before but you do now. That’s death. To be cut off from the source of life and creation is death.
It should’ve been you, but it wasn’t. What he suffers is of your making, no mistake. You earned and created the hell he is suffering now. You can’t help but stare at the door they led him through. It’s conflicting. You’re haunted by what he suffers in your place but there is still relief that it won’t be you.
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
As you muse, the judge speaks again.
“The guilty party having confessed and punishment rendered, the accused is declared not guilty. With no outstanding accusations, you are free to enter the Kingdom of God.”
Dumbfounded, you step forward. Heaven? You started with confidence you had no right to. It was quickly crushed and for what seems like an eternity you stood there with no hope, trying to accept the fact that you were going to die. And now so quickly that has changed to heaven? It seems so impossibly unlikely, but it’s happened.
You walk to the exit of the courtroom and the entrance of the kingdom. The reward is not just a perfect kingdom, it’s a perfect you. The last remnants of evil within yourself are stripped away and now you not only live in a place that will never cause you pain – you yourself will not be the cause of your own pain anymore.
This is your end. The eternal, loving, unchangeable God as your perfect king. The one who cares for you perfectly. You, made perfect, and living the life you were meant to live from the beginning. All the things from before that gripped your heart with fear are just… gone. There absolutely cannot be a better end. And this is your end.
And what of that man that so boldly confessed to your crimes? The one that was led away to die in your place?
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
He lives. He is your king. He is the judge. He is your God. He died. He lives. You live.
Have you ever heard of Angie’s List? It’s an online service that lets you hook up with various contractors in all kinds of areas. From painters to dry wallers, from lawn care to carpet care, from lizard wranglers to sheep shearers -- you can find the professional you need on Angie’s List
But you might wanna shop around. The truth is there are usually more than one company you can go with. Take plumbing, for example. If you need a plumber, you might like Plumberee – with lots of experience and fine craftsmanship, but a fine way of breaking the bank. Then again, there’s Bargain Plumbers less expensive, but so is their work. There’s Plumber’s R. Us. A bit corporate in its structure – so you know they can get the job done, but bad customer service. Then, there’s Frank’s Plumbing. Not as well known, but you can almost always get him on the phone and he does a fine job -- just as long as you don’t mind the smell of cigarettes that he brings with him everywhere he goes.
Who do you choose? The wise person shops around first, before making his decision.
Is the same thing true about grace? The last couple of weeks we’ve talked about the blessing of grace that Jesus brings. It’s without cost. It covers even the worst of sinners. It lasts into eternal life. It brings forgiveness for all your sins.
But…the wise person shops around first so…
What about Buddha? What type of grace does he offer?
What about Mohammed? I hear he has a good plan.
What about doing your best, trying your hardest, and earning some grace with the human spirit? That’s the American ideal. Plus you can get away with a lot more sins.
After all, doesn’t it kind of depend on your geography?
Different gods? Different traditions? Different religions?
Today we are finishing our series called Surprising Grace by looking at the exclusivity of grace. We’ll see why Grace must be from Jesus and how that’s true, no matter who you are or where you’re from. Before we do that, let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Shopping Around for Other Options
Today’s account is taken from Revelation 5:1-12. Revelation is the final book in the Bible. It’s written by the Apostle John. It’s called Revelation because it’s a revelation that John received from God. A revelation of the future.
That’s why it has to be from God.
Remember: Time is like a jump rope. You and I are on the jump rope. Somewhere within this tiny ½ cm. It means we can only see behind us – as much as is preserved by history – and we can’t see too far in front of us – only making best guess predictions.
But God is of the timeline. He’s eternal. He sees everything from 6000 years ago to 15 years from now like it’s happening before his eyes.
That’s why God was able to tell John about the future in this revelation. He could see it happening. So, when we read Revelation, we find out about the future. We find out that sometimes – the future is comforting. Sometimes it’s scary. And sometimes…well…it’s strange.
John fell to his knees. The sight before him was too much.
For starters, there were these beasts. 4 incredible, terrifying beasts watching his every move. They were kind of like earthly beasts – and kind of not. One looked like an eagle. One like a lion. One like an ox. One like a man.
But they were only like these things. They were radiating. They were flying. They each had eyeballs all over them. Each eyeball blinking in tune with John’s every movement.
The beasts weren’t the only ones watching John. Surrounding him were 24 smaller thrones. Each throne had 24 elders – dressed in white and crowns of gold on their heads (v.4) Long, flowing, divine white hair gently flowing in the breeze – as if they were floating on water.
But the gentleness was interrupted. Flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder came from the center of the room. There stood a gigantic throne. There was a bright light radiating right in front of it. A white, bright light. The bright kind that makes you squint your eyes if you don’t have a pair of sunglasses.
But this light wasn’t coming from the sun. It wasn’t even coming from outside. It was coming from an ethereal rainbow that had fashioned itself at the top of the throne – marking and identifying the one who sat upon the throne.
Whose throne was it?
If John hadn’t figured it out yet – the melody of the elders made grew until it was at a thunderous level made him certain:
You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. (v.11)
John again looked to the ground in horror.
He was before God Almighty. He was before the Creator of heaven and earth.
He was before the one who makes volcanoes explode, tectonic plates shake, and flood water engulf the earth.
He, a sinner, was standing before the All holy, sin hating God.
But God wasn’t fixated on him. Not at the moment. At the moment, God was fixated on what he had in his hand.
It was a scroll. An ancient version of a eReader or book. Divine parchment tightly rolled up and sealed tightly with seven seals. (5:1)
What was in the scroll? Well there’s two books mentioned in the book of Revelation. One is called the Book of Life. That’s an important book. Because there is written the names of every person who has life – every person who is allowed to enter into heaven. Picture it like a divine guest list – only the bouncer isn’t some tough looking Italian guy named Guido.
It’s God himself.
Meaning this scroll was important. Without it, there was no way of knowing who it is that is allowed into heaven.
And…for whatever the reason, God wasn’t opening it.
In fact, one of the angels, a mighty angel, the king angel with bulging veins in his biceps and a heart tattoo on his left delt, started shouting in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” (v.2)
No one moved.
He repeated himself. Louder. “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?”
John looked around. Why wasn’t anyone trying to do it? Sure, the seals looked intimidating, but they were in God’s throne room. Why wasn’t he burly angel giving it a try? Why didn’t the ox-like thing try smashing it with his hoofs? Why didn't the eagle like thing try dive bombing it from on high? Why didn’t the 24 elders work together to develop some kind of divinely inspired Rube Goldberg machine to open it up?
But none of them were making their way to the scroll.
None of them were lifting a hand to break the seals.
Mostly, they were just shaking their heads – their divinely, haloed, eye-filled heads.
John began weeping. If that scroll wasn’t opened, then he wasn’t getting into heaven. Then, his friends weren’t getting into heaven. Then, none of his loved ones and fellow believers were getting into heaven.
v. 3 No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside of it.
Pay attention here. Because this has everything to do with God’s grace. Because we need God’s grace to get into heaven. We need God’s grace to get our names onto the pages of the Book of Life.
And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could write our names in there. In fact, they couldn’t even open the scroll or look inside of it.
Not anyone in that throne room. Not the mighty angel. Not the eagle. Not the ox. Not anyone on below that throne room either. Not Zeus. Not Hades. Not Hercules. Not Buddha. Not Mohammed. Not Vishnu.
Not a president. Not a king. Not any member of congress. Not a brilliant scientist. Not a billionaire business man.
Not even a guy who tries really hard and does his best and hopes that it’s enough to get his name in the book of Life.
There is no one else. No one who can get your name on the Book of Life.
No one who can win your forgiveness.
No one who can offer you’re an eternity in heaven.
II. The Exclusive Answer
“Do not weep!” cried one of the elders. His mouth agape in excitement. “Look! The Lion of the tribe of Judah has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
John took a deep breath. Of course! A lion. Lions are the King of the Jungle for a reason. They have majestic manes and fierce teeth for sinking into their prey. They have powerful jaws and swift, fierce claws. Lions were some of the most muscular and magnificent creatures on earth. A divine, heavenly version of it would have no problem destroying those seals!
John looked up with excitement. He covered his ears anticipating this miraculous roar!
But what he saw wasn’t a Lion.
It wasn’t fierce.
It wasn’t intimidating.
It didn’t roar.
Then, I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne. (5:6)
John turned his head in shock! A Lamb? Lambs aren’t intimidating! They don’t have claws – they have unbalanced hoofs. They don’t have majestic manes, but soft, gentle wool. They don’t roar – they baaa!
How was this creature – a creature of nursery rhymes and preschools – supposed to be the one to open the seals?
And this one wasn’t even in good health? It was looking as if it had been slain. (5:6) It looked like it was limping along. It needed to be held. It needed to be nourished. It didn’t need to be trying to open up these incredible seals.
John looked around. Is anybody going to stop this?
But no one else shared his concern. In fact, the others in the room – the elders, the winged creatures, the mighty angel – God himself – smiled at the sight of the Lamb and erupted into a magnificent song….
…to the Lamb:
You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain. (5:9)
Suddenly, it hit John.
The Lamb. The Lamb of God. He had heard that before.
He had read about it in the Old Testament – as the blood of innocent lambs foreshadowed this moment.
He had heard it from John the Baptist as he pointed at his leader “Look! The Lamb of God! Who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
He had seen it from his fellow disciple Peter who wrote, “-- a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:1
That’s who the Lamb was.
That’s why he was slain.
That’s why he alone could open the scroll.
Because that Lamb was Jesus!
Brothers and sisters, understand this! There is no other being in heaven or under heaven or on earth who can open the scroll.
There is no other being in heaven or under heaven or on earth who can get you into heaven.
There is no other being in heaven or under heaven or on earth whose grace is enough for your eternal life.
No other being than Jesus Christ.
The Bible is simple then.
The Bible is clear.
God’s eternal vision has been revealed to you.
Do you desire forgiveness for your sins? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire to lose your guilt? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire to escape hell? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire eternal life? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire peace with God? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire eternal joy? Trust Jesus.
There is no one else who can provide these things – because the only one on the spiritual Angie’s List for salvation is The Lamb – Your Savior, Jesus Christ!!!
III. What Now?
(1) Celebrate this Exclusivity
Because what do they say? The only thing you don’t want to talk with people about are politics and religion. But…as this past election showed us – we had no problem talking politics. I’m friends with most of you on Facebook. I know this.
So why not religion?
Better yet…why not your Savior?
Better, better yet…why not the only one who provides forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation?
The elders didn’t mind shouting. Worthy is the Lamb!
The four living creatures didn’t mind shouting. Worthy is the Lamb!
The mighty angel didn’t mind shouting. Worthy is the Lamb!
Even John – stopped being nervous and frightened and as he watched Jesus open up that scroll shouted: Worthy is the Lamb!
You do that too. In fact, why do you get on your Smartphone today and make that your status. #WorthyIsTheLamb
Don’t be afraid to let others know who it is that you trust. Don’t be afraid to let them know who it is they can trust.
(2) Celebrate Diversity
Because notice what it says about the Lamb in verse 9 You are worthy…because you were slain and with your blood you purchased persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
I love that. It means Jesus is your exclusive king no matter who you are.
It doesn’t matter what tribe you’re from. Which may be the closest Bible words for “race.” This is key, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, Asian or Latino, middle Eastern, Native American, combination of the above.
JESUS IS YOUR KING. JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOR!
And it doesn’t matter what language you speak. He’s the answer if you speak English or Spanish. Italian or German. Nigerian or Malawian. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Sign Language…even if you speak in emoji!
JESUS IS YOUR KING. JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOR!
And it doesn’t matter where you live. It doesn’t matter if you live in America or Iraq. Whether you live in Russia or China. Whether you live in Mexica or Canada. It doesn’t matter if you live in Durham or Cary or Chapel Hill or Knightdale or Morrisville or South Raleigh or North Raleigh or anywhere else on this planet!
JESUS IS YOUR KING. JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOR!
And if Jesus is king of us all – that means we’ve got to celebrate that diversity just like Jesus does. We’ve got hug those from different backgrounds. Speak with excitement – show excitement – to those who speak different languages. Grab hands and go to work with those from different places.
Celebrate Diversity because that’s what Jesus celebrates!
(3) Celebrate Unity
Because diversity…sometimes leads to division. I fear it’s happened to America. There’s so many different people in America that we let our differences get the best of us and we fight.
The same is true in Raleigh. It’s a global, multicultural, multigenerational community. It’s started to get divided.
The same could be true for our church. More and more God has enabled us to reflect the global, multicultural, diverse community that He will have in heaven.
How do we stay united?
Look carefully at verse 9 again You are worthy…because you were slain and with your blood you purchased persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom.
Did you hear that?
Not many kingdoms.
No a White kingdom and a Black kingdom and an Asian kingdom and a Hispanic kingdom.
Just a kingdom.
Jesus creates only one kingdom.
And we stand together as one kingdom, by remembering who it is that created that one kingdom.
And that’s kind of what happens at the end of the section. Everybody remembers that it’s all about Jesus and they started shouting – despite their differences – despite some being angels and some being lions and some being elders and some being many-eyed-flying-ox-like creatures.
Then, I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice, they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!"
But that’s not it. Because then, John prophesies about us. And he says this:
Then, I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea and all that is in them saying – (and since you are one of those creatures – please, say it with me ) “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever!”
And the elders said “Amen!”
And I say “Amen.”
It was Halloween about 25 years ago. I was dressed up as a fisherman. I had on my dad’s vest. I had my dad’s fisherman’s hat. I had my bright green, Oscar the Grouch fishing pole with a bright red and yellow bobber. I was carrying a mini-bucket in order to collect my candy.
It was going as expected. I went up to a house. I knocked on the door. I said, “Trick or treat.” I got a Tootsie Roll and moved on.
But then, we approached a house that was different. The candy was located outside. It was being held by a giant mannequin in a grey snowsuit with a hockey mask on. There was a sign attached to his suit that said, “Have one.”
I thought – “This is unexpected. It’s a little different. But it’s easier. I’ll be saving myself about 15 steps all the way to the front of the door and the awkward fifteen seconds waiting to see if anyone came. If more people did this, I could get more bang for my buck, save time and get more candy.” This is a nice surprise!
Then, I walked up to the mannequin. I reached out my hand. I grabbed a Butterfinger. And…
The mannequin reached out and grabbed my hand. I turned tailed, dropped the Butterfinger and ran as fast as my little Cabella boots could take me.
That was a scary surprise.
Today we are starting our sermon series it’s all about surprises. It’s called Surprising Grace. Our goal is to examine God’s grace through the lens of God’s Word and learn some surprising truths about His Grace. Some terrifying. Some wonderful. Before we take a look at some of the first surprises in God’s Word. Let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Scary Price
Today we want to start our series by talking cost. (I know that sounds like a political ad), but I think it’s real important to talk cost when you’re talking about buying anything.
If you’re buying a home, you want to talk cost. Sure, you look at the floorplan, the rooms, the updated hardwood, the open concept living room, the backyard, and the location. But you’ve also got to talk cost. What’s the down payment? What’s the homeowner’s insurance? What’s the tax value? How much will renovations cost? Can you get the NC State Wolfpack washer and dryer set for free or not?
It’s the same with God’s grace. It’s filled with value. In God’s grace, we get forgiveness of sins, peace with God, the promise of heaven, a joy filled heart, the assurance that we are God’s children and a beautiful connection with people of all races, ages, and social status.
Those are some pretty awesome things. Those pretty, divinely, awesome things.
As your grandpa would say, “Sounds expensive.”
But God doesn’t deal in dollars and cents. That’s physical.
He deals in righteousness and perfection. That’s divine. In fact, God puts this rather simple yet expensive cost on His eternal and divine gifts – his Grace. The price tag is found in Leviticus 4:2:
Be holy as I the Lord you God am holy.
Holy seems like a key word then. Holy is what you’re going to need to get to heaven. Holy is what your gonna need to have peace with God.
What’s holy mean then?
Does that mean you go to church a lot?
Does it mean that you wear nice clothes to church?
Does it mean that you have a nice, holy, smile on all the time?
Nope. Holy means “without sin.” It means “without defects.” It means “without sin.”
Jesus helps us out with this when he quotes this passage and uses a Greek word that means “perfect” to translate “holy.” He says, “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”
So are you perfect? You’re going to need to be perfect to get to heaven.
Understand this. You can’t trick God. You can’t convince him that you're trying hard and doing your best and your good intentions are perfection. God knows a bogus holy payment when he sees it. That’d be like trying to take some Monopoly money to buy a house. It won’t work.
Let’s be real: What do you have lying around? What is in your spiritual piggy bank? I imagine it’s a lot like mine. I don’t have any perfection. I have imperfection.
I have a thing called Sin.
The Bible says this, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
The word for sin there is interesting. The Bible was written in Greek and the Greek word translated sin here is one of the most popular words for sin in the New Testament. It’s hamartia. Hamartia means to miss the mark or to be off target.
It’s like darts. Ever played darts? Your goal is to aim your dart and try to throw it onto the bullseye…or at least somewhere on the board. If you miss, you don’t score any points. If you miss the board entirely, you are a laughingstock to your friends.
That’s sin. God has given us a benchmark for our lives. He says, “Don’t lust. Don’t hate. Don’t be a jerk. Be king. Be loving. Help others.”
When we don’t do that, when we sin…it’s like we’re taking a dart, aiming carefully, and hitting the drywall about 3 feet to the left of the dartboard.
Now a bargaining man might ask – What’s my sin worth? I might not be able to get all of it, but how much of God’s grace can I get by offering him my sin?
Ever heard of Kelley’s Blue Book? It’s a place online where you type in your car make, model, and year. You let them know what condition it’s in. You tell them if has a Smartphone port, a CD play or a (gasp) tape deck. You let them know if you have made any upgrade and whether or not those stains from that time your kid spilled red Kool Aid on the back seat are permanent. You enter in all that information and the website provides you with the appropriate value of your car.
Sin doesn’t work like that. You can’t type in the amount of sin, type of sin, year of sin and expect a price that it’s worth to come back to you.
Kelley’s Blue book for sin is called the Bible.
And the Bible places the same value on sin regardless of size, shape, and variety.
Romans 6:23: The wages of sin is death.
Let’s break that passages apart. First, zero in on the word wages. That means the payment. It’s a word that’s used to described what you get paid for raking the leaves – what you get paid for crafting a cabinet – what you get paid for working 40 hours a week at your job. A wage is what you get paid for what you do. It’s what you earn.
What is sin worth? What do we get paid?
Pay careful attention to that. Because the wages of sin is NOT a $20 offering. The wages of sin is NOT saying the Lord’s Prayer 10 times. The wages of sin is not 15 good deeds. It’s not 10 hail Mary’s. It’s not trying, really, really, really, hard for the next couple of weeks.
The wages of sin is death.
And it doesn’t matter what kind of sin it is.
Stealing a pencil from work? Death.
Calling your husband a loser? Death.
Not holding the door for the guy behind you because you don’t feel like it? Death.
Taking a second glance at the secretary who is not your wife, but is looking real good today? Death.
Checking your phone at church to see if your Fantasy team is set for today, because that’s more exciting to you than singing God’s praises? Death.
It’s all the same and it’s all worth the same. Death.
And notice this – Each sin is worth one death. One sin costs one death. Two sins cost two deaths. Seventeen sins costs seventeen deaths. One hundred-forty seven sins costs one hundred forty seven deaths. If you’re like me (and you are) then you have so many sins that you can’t even count.
An infinite amount.
An eternal amount.
Payable with eternal death.
Can you imagine your bill? Can you imagine how impossible this is? Because sin is all we’ve got. A piggy bank filled with sin. A bank account bulging with imperfect. A fully funded H.S.A. of death. This means that the surprising and terrifying truth about God’s grace is this:
You can’t pay for God’s grace.
You haven’t in the past. You can’t right now. You will never be able to in the future.
You can’t pay for God’s grace.
II. An Incredible Gift
That’s a keyword in Romans 6:23. “But.” It means there is more to come. It means the thought is going to change. It means there is a solution. It means there is someone who can help us. It means keep reading…
The wages of sin is death, BUT the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.
Do you know what a Shopkin is? It’s these little plastic appliance action figures that kids love.
But here’s the deal – They cost a bit of money. And if, like any good Shopkins collector, your kid wants them all – they are going to have to turn to you for help. Mommy, can you buy this? Daddy, I don’t have the money?
Of course, the same thing is true when you’re an adult. You ask someone with the money to help you pay for something you don’t have the payment for.
Mom, help me with this car payment?
Dad, can you give me money for the new TV?
Credit card company, can you help me get these things that I don’t need?
It’s the same thing with all of God’s heavenly blessings.
We can’t pay for it for us.
We need someone to pay hundreds of thousands of deaths for us.
Someone who doesn’t have his own sins to pay for.
Someone who has an infinite life funding his death.
Someone like Jesus.
The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.
That’s why he died! Jesus didn’t die because he owed God a death for his own sins. The Bible calls him perfect. The Bible calls him without sin.
Jesus didn’t die for his sins, but for your sins. Jesus died because you owed God a death for your sins.
That’s why he went through a horrific and terrifying, Halloween-esque death on the cross. It’s why he bled and hung with nails in his hands and through his feet. It’s why a crown of thorns was pressed into his skull. It’s why his lungs slowly stopped breathing.
Jesus was paying for sin. He was earning God’s grace. Jesus was buying your way to heaven. And his death was more than your average human death. It isn’t like he just died for one of your sins. He was the Son of God. He was the Divine Lord of heaven and earth himself. His death is worth a lot more than a normal human death. He’s got God blood. It paid for your first sin, your last sin, and the hundreds of thousands of sins in between. His death paid for your sin and your sin and your sin and your sin and your sin.
Want proof? Jesus came back to life! If he hadn’t paid for your sins, then, he would still be dead – still dying – still paying….like a Credit Card debt with interest that just keeps multiplying, he would have stayed dead.
But he didn’t stay dead. Three days later, he rose. That cross is empty!
This means that Jesus did paid for your sins.
He paid for all your sins.
He paid for every, last one of your sins.
Jesus paid the steep price for God’s grace.
Our first truth was terrifying. You cannot pay for God’s grace. But here’s something amazing. God’s grace is already paid for which means -
God’s grace is free. That’s what our passages says, “The gift of God is eternal life.” If it’s a gift, that means it doesn’t cost anything.
Think about your grandma. Maybe she has made you a nice sweater before or crocheted you a blanket or a pair of socks. If you open up your gift and look at the socks, and say “Thank You” and her response is, “That’ll be $42.50.” IT’S NOT A GIFT! It’s a wage.
God doesn’t do that. God paid for it all. The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.
The gift of God.
That’s exactly what God gives you in Jesus.
He gives you forgiveness.
He gives you peace.
He gives you heaven.
III. What Now?
1) Stop Trying to Pay for the Gift!
Because it’s really quite rude. God bought you the gift. God paid for it all. God brings it to you in His Word.
And we say, “Nah, God. I think I’d rather try to pay for it by myself. I don’t trust your money. I don’t trust it’ll be enough.”
We’re the ones who don’t have enough. God is the only one who does. Stop trying to pay for God’s grace and simply rejoice in it!
There’s a change in the way you live your life. The burden is gone. There is no eternal debt over your head. You don’t have to sit there each day thinking, “I gotta be good. I gotta be good. I gotta be good. I gotta be…ahhh! I missed a chance to be good because I was too busy trying to remember to be good! That’s selfish. It’s another sin. Now I’ve got even more good to be doing!”
That’s foolish. It’s impossible.
It’d be like throwing away an all-expense paid gift card to Applebee’s. Racking up a $780-dollar bill on ½ price apps. But then, doubting that the gift card will work. Throwing it into the garbage and trying to pay with what’s in your wallet.
If you do that, you’re in trouble.
And if don’t trust Jesus, you will be in trouble.
2) Have Faith in Jesus.
But God is God.
God doesn’t lie.
He doesn’t change his mind on payment.
He doesn’t offer incomplete gifts.
He says, For God so loved the world that he gave His One and Only Son – that’s Jesus – that whoever believes in Him – and what he did! That he lived perfectly, died innocently, and rose triumphantly to pay every last bit of God’s grace for you – shall not perish, but have eternal life.
If you trust him, God’s grace is yours. As expensive as it is, as impossible as it is for you to earn – it is yours.
That’s life changing.
A while back I met a woman at the hospital. Maria. I stumbled into her on an elevator and we exchanged pleasantries.
How are you?
I’m fine; how are you?
How was the person that you came to see?
What treatment did the doctor’s recommend?
And so on…
I said to her before I left, “May God bless you and your family with healing.” I meant it to be nice – but she began to frown.
“God couldn’t be nice to me. I don’t deserve it.”
I stopped her. I asked her to explain. We sat down and I listened.
About how God couldn’t love her.
About how God had seen her do awful sins.
About how God had seen her do drugs and sleep around and cheat on her husband and even…try to take her own life.
She knew it was wrong. Oh, she knew it was wrong. She understood sin.
Because of it, she couldn’t ever earn God’s blessing.
She couldn’t earn his grace.
And I looked into her eyes. I looked past the tears. I smiled and said,
“You’re right. You can’t….But Jesus can.”
The wages of sin is death. But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. Amen.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Hero, they returned to their country by another route. Matthew 2:1-12
What’s the longest road trip you’ve ever taken?
4 hours to Charleston? 8 hours to New York City? A day and a half to the Grand Canyon?
If you take a long trip, there’s should be a good reason. There needs to be! The goal is what gets you through endless cornfields, static radio, countless Capri Sun spills, Dramamine induced headaches, flat tires, and that wonderful sounds from the back seat: “Are we there yet?”
Some good reasons for a long road trip: To see family. To attend a wedding or a funeral. To visit a national landmark. To ride the Teacups at Disney.
What about visiting an infant that you’ve never met before from a family you’ve never met before that is definitely not expecting your arrival in the slightest?
This is the trip that the magi took. A trip over thousands of miles. A trip that took over a year. A trip on the back of a beast of burden. A trip without DVD players, cruise control, or Trivia Crack to entertain you on the ride.
Why would the Magi take such a trip?
Magi in the Greek refers to an astronomer. An ancient stargazer. Men like this were very scientific and used the latest technological advances to track star movements in the sky. Recently, the magi in question, had noticed a strange thing. A new star. A special star. A bright star. One that appeared to the West toward the land of Judah.
They packed their bags. They began their long journey. If they were riding on camels, I’m sure whenever they stopped at an oasis they bobbed up and down as they felt like they were still riding between humps. Why go on such a trip?
They came to Jerusalem and explained their visit. “Where is the one who was born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the East and have come to worship him!”
Doesn’t that still seem a little strange? King of the Jews. Why would they travel so far to meet a king from a different nation? To pay respects to their on king, sure…but to travel across the continent to visit a new king from a different country?
Do you know the name of the current Prime Minister of Canada? The leader of Australia? How about the governor of South Carolina? (Isn’t it someone from American Idol?) The truth is that we don’t usually care about government and governors unless they directly affect us!
The Magi must have been convinced that this king directly affected them. It didn’t matter that he was “King of the Jews.” It didn’t matter that the prophecy from Malachi said, “Bethlehem…out of you will come one who will be ruler over Israel!” It didn’t matter that seemingly an ‘earthly rule’ of this king wouldn’t come close to affecting their day to day lives. They were convinced that this baby born countries away from them would be their king?
1) MYTH: The Messiah is the Savior the Jews Only!
This idea flew in the face of a very popular myth at that time. The Messiah is the Savior of the Jews only. It’s easy to see why they might have gotten that sense from Scripture. Throughout the Old Testament, God operated though the Israelites. He did miracles in and among the Israelites. He made promises to the Israelites. Very easily the devil would get a hold of Israelite hearts and lead them to believe – God hated the other nations. God wanted nothing to do with the other nations. God was not the God of the Gentiles.
This is a big deal. Because Gentile means “someone who isn’t Jewish.” If you aren’t Jewish (and this would be true), then Jesus would not have come to save you!
What was it then that convinced these Gentile men to travel a long distance to visit a king of a country that seemed to be opposed to their very existence?
Simple. They saw the birth announcement.
It wasn’t on Facebook. It wasn’t Tweeted to them. They didn’t receive a postcard with a blue bubble gum cigar in the mail.
It was a star.
And how many people do you know that can create stars? We’ve got smart phones, smart TVs, and robotic limbs, but still not the technology to create stars in the sky – BOOM – just like that. Yes, if you pay thousands of dollars, you can buy the right to name a star, but humans cannot create stars.
Only ONE has the ability to create a star in the sky. Only one could be behind the intergalactic birth announcement. God himself.
This is huge. Because it was God who announced to these foreigners, these Gentiles, these strangers to the land of Israel, that their Savior had been born. It means God wanted them to know about this Savior. It means this Savior was their Savior. The God of the Jews, yes, but also the God of the Gentiles.
The book of Galatians talks a lot about this. In chapter 3 Paul wrote the following beginning at verse 7, “Understand then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham--the father of the Jews. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advent to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” This means the Magi. This means you.
Later on in verse 26, Paul describes what this inclusive Jesus means for you, “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus! If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise!”
Jesus is inclusive! He came for all people. He didn’t come just for the Jews; he came for the Gentiles. He came for you.
Of course, once you grasp and believe this awesome truth, it isn't long before the devil starts to trick you into believing a brand new myth about how Jesus includes in his love:
MYTH #2: The Messiah is the Savior of my people only.
My people could mean a lot of things. The people who like the same style of worship as I do. The people who like the same football team as I do. The people who go to the same church as I do. The people who have the same taste in clothes as I do.
The people who are of the same race as I am.
One sad thing we learned in 2014 was that racism is still very much alive in America. If it wasn’t from the big events themselves, then the bickering in the media, on TV, and in the comment section of blog posts revealed some very sad disconnects between races. Selfishness and even hatred.
But I don’t believe the saddest thing has even been covered…When this racism leaks its way into the eternal, saving message of Jesus.
Does it leak into your message of Jesus? If not verbally, subconsciously?
Brothers and sisters, hear my heart: There is no worse racism than withholding the saving message of Jesus from someone, simply because they look different from you! If that is us, when that is us, we need to REPENT! Repent and turn to our Jesus who really is his own race: a divine race, a sinless race, a perfect race – he’s God himself and all people came from his creation. Asian, African, Hispanic, Native American, White…whoever from wherever, God created them, loved them, and died for them.
What does John 3:16 say? “For God so loved the world. The World. THE WORLD!!! That he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him, whoever, whoever, whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life!”
Jesus is inclusive. He is the Savior of all people. He wants us to reflect that.
MYTH #3: Someone Else Will Tell Others of this Inclusive Jesus.
Think about what told the Magi about their Savior. It was a star. Brilliant and bright. It was obvious to these men that this was a special star. God was shining that star so brightly that people from very far away knew that God had a very special message for them.
That star is no longer in existence. But…that doesn’t mean the light has gone out.
Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” He was talking to his disciples He was talking to you. Previously he used starts to point people toward Jesus. Now he wants to use you.
To continue Jesus says, “You don’t light a lamp and put it under a bowl.” That would be foolish. Similarly, you don’t learn about Jesus and then…not tell anyone! That’s foolish and you can’t expect others to learn about Jesus this way.
Shine. Shine in your actions. A smile. A hug. A gift card. A listening ear. These are things that speak through languages. These are things that speak to people - even if they are of a different race: YOU ARE LOVED!
That needs to be a goal of our this 2015. As a church we will to think of ways to reflect that truth – to speak to people with our words, our worship, and our actions – this is a church for you. You are included in his message of Jesus!
Shine in your words. Tell others about Jesus in your interactions. As Raleigh becomes more and more global, teach these global neighbors about the Savior you have in common.
You know those mission videos that show parts of Africa or Russia and how they need to hear about Jesus. Those are in our backyard. You can be a part of this! You can be a part of this now!
Take a look at your Connection Cards. On the back are some ways we are reaching out in 2015. Can you be a part of this? Some are simple. Some take some courage. All of them will be backed by the power of the Holy Spirit. The same God who put the star in the sky to guide the wise men, has put you on this earth to guide your neighbors.
Brothers and sisters, shine! Shine to tell of your Savior. Shine to tell of the Savior of the World. Shine together!
Have you ever looked up at the night sky and seen one star peeking out? One star gives a little light, but it’s not enough to see much without street lamps and flashlights. But if you head out into the country on a clear night – stars are everywhere! Many stars light the way easily.
That's us. Together we will light the way to Jesus. With our actions and words pointing people to the inclusive love of Jesus.
Who do you invite to your birthday party? This is a big deal when you are a teen.
Do you invite your best friend? Probably. The athletic football guys? Yes. The popular girls? Of course.
But that shy girl with the glasses? She won't come anyway. And that boy with the learning disorder? No one wants him. Then, there's the kid that wears the same clothing day after day. He'll scare all the other guests away!
The teen world is a microcosm of adult life. Humans are very selective and oftentimes superficial when it comes to associating themselves with others. The richest, most famous, best looking, and most advantageous to our career type people are the ones we want to surround ourselves with.
This is why Jesus' parable is so shocking:
1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. 4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’
5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. (Matthew 22)
Amazing isn't it? The important, fancy people were too busy for the banquet. So their invitation was rescinded. The king then invites the poor, the sick, the simple, those whom you would never expect to be at a royal banquet -- to a royal banquet.
It's a parable though. So there's a spiritual meaning.
God is the king. He invites people to his banquet. He invites them to come and be a part of his family of believers -- a family that will one day join him for a feast in heaven.
But many refuse.
The intelligent say, "This doesn't make sense."
The successful say, "I can't be bothered by this now."
The famous say, "How will this association with Jesus make me look?"
But Jesus doesn't stop with his invitation. He goes out into the streets. He searches for the poor. He reaches out to the sexually abused. He calls to the drunkards and drug addicts. He spreads the words to refugees and oppressed minorities. He asks the mentally handicapped and the physically disabled. He even invites the children to come and join him at his feast!
BOTTOM LINE: Jesus has no problem inviting the people you wouldn't expect to be at a royal feast to his royal feast.
Now you might be asking, "What about me? Am I invited?"
If you are reading this, then the answer is "Yes." Listen to this invitation to Jesus.
"Come. I know this world is a mess. I know your life is a mess. It is because of sin. But I died to save you from that. I rose to assure you of my love. By faith in me, life will turn around. Sadness of failure will turn to the joy of victory in me. The sorrow of guilt will become the peace of forgiveness. The nervousness of life will be replaced with the confidence of life thereafter. Trust me. Believe me. I am your Savior. I am your king. And I want you to be at my banquet."
PRAYER: Dear King Jesus, forgive me. Forgive me when I callously ignore your requests to have me at your banquet. Forgive me when I make assumptions about who you would like in heaven. Forgive me for the sake of Jesus who died for all humans -- including me. Lord, keep me safe from pride. Keep me safe from complacency. Open my eyes to share your invitation with those I meet today. Amen.