Faith Basics: Salvation

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Sermon Sept 3, 2021

Today we are going to begin talking about the Basics of the Christian Faith. If you are a Christian or if you are not, this series entitled Faith Basics is for you. If you don’t know anything about the Christian faith, I assume you are open to learning more about it since you are listening to (reading) this message today. Perhaps you come from a background where religious groups have distorted the message of the bible. Maybe you came from a family or church that preached things that it didn’t live out. My hope is that at Viroqua Nazarene you will find that not only do we understand and believe what the bible says about God, Jesus, Sin, and salvation…but you see it reflected in the love and fellowship of believers who gather regularly here.

If you are a Christian, these messages are still for you as well! I find the toughest thing that most  Christians deal with is being bogged down by discouragement when it comes to sharing their faith. So the methods I’ll use each week to share the message about the Faith, you can use them as well. 

I’ll try not to over complicate things with big words, but know that if I do use these words I will define them for easy use. I went through numerous courses in college and kept forgetting what the meaning of this one word ment. The word was “Soteriology.” Any time you hear the ending “ology” it means “to talk about or the study of.” But what does Soteri mean? (Bible.org source)

It comes from the Greek word “sorteia” which comes from another Greek word “soter” (σότερ) meaning savior. So Soteriology is the study or the talk about Salvation or the work of salvation.

Whether you grew up in church or this is your first time, you’ve probably heard Christians talking about the need to “get saved.” Today, that’s what we are going to talk about and I hope to illustrate it in a way that this act of God (Salvation) is clear enough that we could easily share it with someone else.

Mankind’s main problem in Life is SIN.

Sin separates us from a relationship with God. Sin says, “I want what I want…even if it’s not what God wants.” Sin Says, “I know what is right, but I’m doing otherwise because It’s convenient.”

Around here, our beliefs and teachings are guided by God’s word, the bible. So don’t be surprised if I quote it to support each week’s Faith Basic. We look to The Bible because we believe it is the authoritative Word of God and the only perfect guide for all things concerning salvation. We’ll talk in more detail about the Bible in a different week, but I think you need to know this…before we go any further today: Christians believe in the authority of God’s Word. In God’s word we find all the details for God’s perfect plan of salvation. 

And God’s word tells us that mankind has a problem and it’s called SIN.

James, Jesus’ brother once wrote:

 “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”

James 4:17 NIV

Former persecutor of Christians, Paul of Tarsus wrote about how all mankind has had to deal with this sin problem.

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—”

Romans 5:12 NIV

So not only do we have a sinful condition because one man (Adam) sinned…it leads us to make sinful choices which ultimately lead to death. 

One day, Jesus was trying to explain to some people that what comes out of a person, their words and actions – that’s what defiles them and makes them unclean…rather than eating or drinking the wrong thing. Gospel of Mark chapter 7:20-23 NIV

He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Mark 7:20-23 NIV

Jesus spells it out for us, just in case we didn’t know what some prime examples of sin were. So we’ve all got this sin problem. We have desires to live in ways opposite of what God’s best is for us. But that’s not the worst part about sin.  

Sin Separates us from God

I know, forgive this very rudimentary drawing. We’ve got a cliff on either side. God’s on one side and we are on the other. I’m going to tell you right now, no illustrations are 100% perfect. So go with me on this one, if you will. 

Sin gets between us and God. 

A very good example of this comes from Isaiah 59. Isaiah was a prophet of God. God would tell him what to say to the Israelites and he would tell them. What he said wasn’t always pretty or even encouraging. He tells them:

“But your iniquities have separated

    you from your God;

your sins have hidden his face from you,

    so that he will not hear.”

Isaiah 59:2-3 NIV

You might say, “I didn’t do anything wrong!” “My mama says I’m perfect! My Granny says I’m perfect.” Maybe you just say, “Well I’m a good person, I don’t know anything about this ‘sin’ stuff of which you speak…”

I’ve got news for you. Romans 3:23 makes it very clear:

“23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”

Romans 3:23 NIV

Not only are we born with the desire to put our desires before others’, especially before God’s desires, but we practice it regularly!

It’s that sin that creates a chasm…between us and God. Our Sin…His holiness. And the thing we dislike most about this situation is that…

We can’t fix this problem ourselves.

Are you an Olympian or a track and field star? No? Awesome. No one can call me out for not knowing what I’m talking about. 

So, in Track and Field there are various events with similar goals:

With the Long jump it’s all about who can go the farthest. With the High Jump and Pole vault, the goal is to get over the bar without knocking it over. They keep raising the bar to see who can get the highest jump or vault.

With our illustration here, we try things to get to God. We try “being good” or being a nice person. We back up really far, we take off in a dead sprint, we jump forward with all our might and all our goodness and niceness…and we fall short. We can’t get over that Sin pitfall by being nice or “good.” 

What if we jumped and put an extra little flourish to our jump, jumping higher. What if we said this was going to church…maybe saying “I’m religious” or even “I believe in God.”  These are things we might say that look like we are putting in a bit more effort to reach God…But just like before, we fall short. The pitfall of sin is what we can’t get past through being religious or being a church-goer.

What if we used a tool like pole vaulters use a pole to get over that super high bar? This might be doing good things: “I volunteer at a (fill in the blank). I DO lots of good and nice things. I teach Sunday school.” What about “I’ve dedicated my life to being a missionary” or “given it to religious service? I always recycle. I help clean trash on the side of the road. I encourage others to do good and nice things. I don’t just say I’m good or nice, I do nice things!”

OSLO, NORWAY – JUNE 28: Jeff Hartwig of the USA comes second in the mens Pole Vault during the IAAF Exxon Mobil Bislett Games at the Bislett Stadium in Oslo , Norway on June 28, 2002. (Photo by Christopher Lee / Getty Images )

This is that Pole in Pole vaulting. Have you ever seen a vaulter who fails to cleanly get over the bar? It’s disheartening. It’s sad. It’s embarrassing. It is the same with people who equate good works with a way over or past Sin. If that is their method, rather than the fruit of a tight relationship with God, they will knock that bar off everytime. They will not make it.

So believing we’re good enough isn’t enough. Being religious isn’t good enough. Doing “good” things isn’t enough. What’s it going to take to get over sin and to God? 

Fixing our sin problem takes an act of God 

God wants us to be close to Him. He wanted it so much that he took steps to help us cross that ravine. In the middle of the night, Jesus is teaching a religious leader, Nicodemus, about the Kingdom of God and the extent that God has gone to get us to him. He tell Nicodemus in John’s gospel, chapter 3 verse 16-17:

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:16-17 NIV

Jesus was of course talking about himself. What was the Son supposed to do to save the world?

He was to lay down his life as a sacrifice to fix the sin problem in our lives. That pesky thing that drives a relational wedge between us and God.

21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Cor 5:12 NIV

Peter, an early leader in the Christian faith proclaimed this boldly:

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Acts 4:12 NIV

This is one of the most challenging pieces for some folks. 

  • I want to be saved, but I’m going to get it by being good
  • Or I’m all good for the “afterlife” because I believe in this god or that god. I pray three times a day to that god.
  • Oh my salvation is found at the bottom of a bottle.
  • I’m part of a secret society that does good stuff for the community. I can’t tell you anything about it, but I’m sure that’s enough to get wherever I’m going.

There are countless other examples. 

So fixing our sin problem takes an act of God. God sends his Son, Jesus… 

And Jesus lays down his life as a sacrifice for you and me. He makes a way for us to get to God.  That bridge comes by his sacrifice on the cross. 

John 14:6 paints a clear description of what we see here today in this illustration.

6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6 NIV

The Key point to this message of salvation is this: JESUS is the only way. This is an essential basic piece to the Christian Faith. If someone believes or acts as though they believe something other than Jesus fixes the sin problem and restores our relationship with God, they are incorrect. 

36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

John 3:36 NIV

Jesus also describes himself as the gate in John 10:9

9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.

John 10:9 NIV

There is only one way to:

  • God
  • Heaven
  • Salvation
  • Forgiveness
  • Redemption
  • Wholeness
  • Holiness
  • Restoration

That is through Jesus Christ.

The question is, where do you see yourself in this illustration? Firmly planted on your side? Trying to run and jump over the chasm? A couple inches onto the bridge? Half way? All the way?

Smashing Pottery

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Sermon – Jeremiah 19

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

If you’ve got your bibles, go ahead and turn to Jeremiah 19, we will be looking at this whole chapter and then toward the end of the message we’ll fast-forward to see what happens down the line in the story of Jeremiah. 

Today, at some point in my sermon, I’m going to break something. I’m not going to tell you when. And right now, I’m not going to tell you what I will break. But I’m going to break something and I hope you will be caught off guard by it. If you want to prepare yourself, that’s fine…just know, it’s coming.

That being said, have you ever had a dish or a bowl you really liked, and it breaks? I mean really broken beyond repair. And I mean you really liked this bowl, cup or plate. It had sentimental value.

About 4-5 years ago, in all the hustle and bustle of life, we broke a few bowls and plates in our good dish set. We purchased this set of dishes when we were first married. We didn’t really have people over for meals, so 16 plates and 8 bowls lasted us a long while before having to do dishes. Then for some reason we started having more dishes to wash…something to do with having kids and that they enjoy food like adults…I guess. Somehow dropping two of these bowls into a sink with soapy water can lead to breakage. At least that is what happened with a couple of the bowls. It’s a bit sad when you look at something attached to memories and know it’s destined for the dumpster. You pick up the pieces and no matter how good you are at glueing things, you probably wouldn’t want to eat Christmas dinner off it. 

Other breakables, such as nick-nacks, can be repaired with glue and maybe some touch-up paint. Such as my little Garfield the cat figurine. Decades ago, his arm needed to be glued back in place. Unless you look very carefully, you probably couldn’t tell. 

not my real nick-nack

Breakable things. Some breakable things can be put back together when they are broken. Others, such as jars and cups, really can’t or should not be put back together. They no longer can serve their intended purpose. We end up replacing them or living without them. 

Something similar is presented to the leaders of Jerusalem and Judah. Last week’s illustration of the potter breaking down the clay and making a new jar…that didn’t sink in enough for the people Jeremiah told it to. Let’s look at the first few verses of Jeremiah 19.

“This is what the Lord says: “Go and buy a clay jar from a potter. Take along some of the elders of the people and of the priests 2 and go out to the Valley of Ben Hinnom, near the entrance of the Potsherd Gate. There proclaim the words I tell you,”

Jeremiah 19:1-2 NIV

I can’t tell you how jealous I am of Jeremiah. Well maybe not so jealous of how well his message is received, but seriously! Coming up with object lessons and visual aids to help drive home the message that God is trying to get across? That can be like 50% or more of sermon prep! I have learned that not everyone is a visual person or needs the visual aids to assist in communication. However there are just some people who just WON’T concentrate or listen unless you do something tangible, something to connect the spiritual realities you’re talking about with their physical every-day life. I know, because I’m one of them!

God tailor makes these object lessons for Jeremiah to present. Jeremiah records “God told me to go to a place…and I did. God told me to buy a thing…so I bought a thing.”

He even tells him who to get to listen to the message.

“the elders of the people and of the priests.“ He tells Jeremiah, “this is for the leaders among you. They are the ones who need this message.” The judgement that will flow from the message also means that the leaders are responsible for leading the people astray. Their veering so far off course should have been corrected by the leadership if they had also not been caught up in the same sinful acts Jeremiah is about to call them out on.

If bad things happen within the organization, it’s the leadership who will be looked at, questioned and potentially fired.

It’s so true. Leadership of any group, religious or otherwise, are responsible for their organization’s direction. If bad things happen within the organization, it’s the leadership who will be looked at, questioned and potentially fired. Let’s keep reading…

“There proclaim the words I tell you, and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, you kings of Judah and people of Jerusalem. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Listen! I am going to bring a disaster on this place that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle.”

Jeremiah 19:2c-3 NIV

I want you to stop and think of a sound that makes your ears tingle. Perhaps, sets you on edge. When I’m working at the store and my head is buried in the cooler, all I hear are the humming of the fans. That is until someone, from out of nowhere calls out my name or starts talking to me without me knowing what’s going on. Each time, I startle a bit, but then I figure out what has happened. Maybe for you, you’ve been out to a restaurant before and through the normal noise of plates, cups and mumbled conversations of about 50 different people, a loud CRASH coms from across the room. It seems everyone stops and looks, trying to find the source of the frightening sound. Perhaps a waiter or waitress dropped a tray and all the plates and glasses are on the floor. Other employees come to aid their colleague in cleaning up the mess. As adults we know that is about as far as we respond to this startling noise. When you are a highschooler and someone in the cafeteria has just dropped several plates making a tremendous amount of noise, you stop and look and then you clap and hoot and holler. It can be extra embarrassing for the person who dropped their stuff.

This is the tingle that God’s talking about. A sudden, shocking disaster that will get the attention of all who hear it and cause some sort of reaction. My guess is shivers up and down their spine or at least some goose bumps.

Why is God bringing this calamity? Let’s read on.

“4 For they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned incense in it to gods that neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah ever knew, and they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. 5 They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind. 6 So beware, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when people will no longer call this place Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter. 7 “‘In this place I will ruin[a] the plans of Judah and Jerusalem. I will make them fall by the sword before their enemies, at the hands of those who want to kill them, and I will give their carcasses as food to the birds and the wild animals. 8 I will devastate this city and make it an object of horror and scorn; all who pass by will be appalled and will scoff because of all its wounds. 9 I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh because their enemies will press the siege so hard against them to destroy them.’“

Jeremiah 4-9 NIV

God is Calling them out for their ungodly behavior.

For their choices, including but not limited to:

  • Making their land a place for foriegn gods
  • Burning incense to “new” gods
  • Filled the land with the blood of the innocent (This is a reference to child sacrifices.)
  • Building high places on which to do the sacrifices

Essentially, by their actions Judah and Jerusalem’s allegiance had switched. They were the people of God, of Yahweh. Now they are the people of whatever god feels good at the time. They might call themselves the sons and daughters of Abraham. But they are not holding up their part of the promise. They are unfaithful and have broken trust and relationship with the one true God.

So God (through Jeremiah) pronounces terrible doom upon them. Disgraced deaths, horrible living conditions requiring them to survive through cannibalism, and their “great city” will be reduced to something to scoff at.

Then Jeremiah reaches into his brown paper sack and brings out a baked potter’s jar. This isn’t metal or wood. It’s made from expertly formed, hardened clay.

10 “Then break the jar while those who go with you are watching, 11 and say to them, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter’s jar is smashed and cannot be repaired. They will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room. 12 This is what I will do to this place and to those who live here, declares the Lord. I will make this city like Topheth. 13 The houses in Jerusalem and those of the kings of Judah will be defiled like this place, Topheth—all the houses where they burned incense on the roofs to all the starry hosts and poured out drink offerings to other gods.’”

Jeremiah 19:10-13 NIV

HULK Jeremiah SMASH!

This is the abrupt, shocking, physical representation to the people he is speaking to. CRASH! BANG! BOOM! He breaks this item in their viewing and hearing. It’s a message of condemnation. It represents:

  • The broken relationship between God’s people and God
  • The sudden and shocking nature of the consequence (tossing a plate or jar to scare and frighten)

I know I’ve said this a time or two, but one of my favorite Old Testament characters is Gideon. During one part of his story God gives Gideon instructions for overthrowing the Midianite camp. Thousands of Midianites and only 3 groups of 100 men each. Just 300 men armed with their voices, torches, jars, and horns to sound a battle call on. They smashed the jars, all at the same time. The midianites heard they were surrounded by a great noise. It only grew worse as shouts of “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” followed by noisy trumpet like blasts came from groupings of flaming torches on the hillside surrounding them. This was psychological warfare! The noise was the weapon and it worked. The Midianites panicked and began to turn their swords on one another.  Sudden, shocking noises can make us realize how much trouble we are in. This was true for Midian. It was also true for Jeremiah’s audience. When something breaks, very rarely can it be properly repaired. Which leads me to the last point of the smashing of the pottery. It represents the…

  • The finality of the judgement – It’s going to happen. It can’t be repaired (like the potter’s jar can’t be repaired.) We learned last week that before a jar is fired in a kiln, or the clay is completely hardened, there is still hope for tearing it down and making something new out of it. It can be rewetted, merged together with other pieces of clay and the potter starts all over again with a hunk he or she shapes into a new item.    In the hearing of THIS particular pronouncement, it was final. But here is why:
  • Not because God had given up on the work of restoration. He’s still open to doing his part. He sent Jeremiah to warn the people before it was too late. No, not because of God but because of the hardened hearts of man. The people had already made up in their hearts and minds who they would serve. God saw and knew this. He knew the path they would take. It broke something. God’s heart.

The last two verses of this chapter are what we hear from Jeremiah before the people begin to retaliate against his message. Remember, they already did all they could to discredit his warning in chapter 18. They attacked his character instead of debating and considering the message he brought.

“14 Jeremiah then returned from Topheth, where the Lord had sent him to prophesy, and stood in the court of the Lord’s temple and said to all the people, 15 “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Listen! I am going to bring on this city and all the villages around it every disaster I pronounced against them, because they were stiff-necked and would not listen to my words.’”

Jeremiah 19:14-15 NIV

They didn’t waste much time after this pronouncement by Jeremiah. I talked about it a bit just a couple weeks ago. Pashhur, the official in charge of the temple of the Lord…had Jeremiah the prophet beaten and put in the stocks at the Upper Gate of Benjamin at the Lord’s temple.

There were much more severe consequences for Jeremiah, yet he continued to speak what God had called him to speak.

In Chapter 24 exile begins to happen. And later, in chapter 26 it seems we have a flashback to the early days of King Jehoiakim, King Josiah’s son, happening before the exile. Jeremiah is giving yet another warning:

‘This is what the Lord says: If you do not listen to me and follow my law, which I have set before you, 5 and if you do not listen to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I have sent to you again and again (though you have not listened), 6 then I will make this house like Shiloh and this city a curse among all the nations of the earth.’”

Jeremiah 26:4-6 NIV

For this warning, the prophet received a death threat and a semi-formal request to the religious officials for his execution.

At this point you might think Jeremiah was toast. Though the fact this is a flashback chapter AND that we still have 30 more chapters in Jeremiah help us to relax a bit. The Officials finally get their heads on straight. They reason that someone who has brought messages from the Lord shouldn’t be executed, especially just because we didn’t like the message! 

18 “Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah. He told all the people of Judah, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: “‘Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.’

19 “Did Hezekiah king of Judah or anyone else in Judah put him to death? Did not Hezekiah fear the Lord and seek his favor? And did not the Lord relent, so that he did not bring the disaster he pronounced against them? We are about to bring a terrible disaster on ourselves!”

Jeremiah 26:18-19 NIV

It’s the ultimate, “don’t shoot the messenger” scenario. We’ve heard this one before! They didn’t kill the prophet in the past, why start now?

Conclusion

This passage from Jeremiah is about one main thing: a warning. The abrupt smashing of a pot. The shock to the system. Danger Will Robinson, Danger! And like any other passage, head knowledge is great and all but it’s got to apply to us today. So, how many warnings will it take before “the jar” is smashed in our lives?

In our families?  Community?  County?  State?  Country? World?

How many loud, abrupt, irreverent crashings need to happen before we turn back and make a change? Only you can answer that for yourself.

And it’s true because the solution is you making a change. It’s taking personal responsibility, something the people of Judah and Jerusalem were not doing. It’s personally removing idol worship in your life. Sure you probably don’t have household gods (although you might have a Ganesha or a Budda statuette on your mantel), but there are plenty of other things we worship in this life that need to be knocked down to size. Cell phones, news and TV, career ambitions and how we look in the mirror. All can be idol worship that needs cleaning up. 

Judah no only had a problem with idol worship…by giving time and attention to gods other than Yahweh, they would sacrifice their children. This was literal, but children figuratively stood for a person’s future. Your legacy dies with you when you don’t invest it into the next generation.

Today we literally and figuratively sacrifice children at the behest of our own benefit.

  1. Literal child sacrifice today – abortion, abandonment, absentee parents (provide financially, not there relationally)
  2. Caring more about your career, making money than caring for your family
    1. I don’t think it would surprise you to know that pastor’s families are not immune from this. The pressure to perform, achieve goals, or just keep things afloat…can get in the way of ministry leaders being there for their spouse and children.
    2. If we succeed in business, in growing a large church but sacrifice our families to do so…we’ve already lost.

So we remove sacrificing our future, our children, the next generation, for the immediate benefits that might come our way if we do.

Judah, in their worship to other gods, burned incense. I see this as a reliance on something other than the God of all the universe and everything. People still do this today.

They rely on whatever it is to fix all their problems.

  1. Technology – better phone, car, computer…
  2. Money (touched on career and money earlier)
  3. Status…We don’t have Lords, Ladies, Dukes and duchesses but you know when you see someone with status. They generally look down their nose at those without status.
  4. Politicians – Looking to laws and rules and funding to fix the woes of society.
  5. Medicine/Science
    1. Have you ever listened to those commercials that say, “Ask your Doctor if medicine “so and so” is right for you?” They legally have to list off all the potentially harmful and unwanted side effects of taking the drug in order to deal with another problem in your body. The funniest ones (not really funny) but happen to be anti-depressant meds with side effects of potentially suicidal thoughts!
    2. Medicine has given us some wonderful things, but we often rely on it to be our “magic bullet” and solve our medical problems.
    3. Science and scientific data is another one that we can cling to…yet eventually, if you wait long enough…you’ll be let down. New, better discoveries will be made. Scientists might rush things in order to be first and most famous.

We might find out that in 1883 the Paleontologist, Charles Marsh “discovered” the Brontosaurus. He actually had a nearly full skeleton of a dinosaur he dubbed “Apatosaurus” but it lacked a skull. He then included a skull from a different dinosaur in order to make the discovery first. Later a skull was found and he declared that one to be from a “brontosaurus” but it was actually a more complete skull for the skeleton he already had. (Source)

So even science can let us down and mislead us.

So what do all these things have in common? Fully trusting in, worshipping, and obeying God solves it all. Trust, Worship, Obey. The very things the people of God needed to do were the very things they ran from. Let’s run to these things and not end up smashed. Not end up broken like a jar. It no longer serves its purpose of holding liquid. It no longer can be repaired and be of any use.

Let’s Trust God. Let’s Worship God alone. Let’s Obey God.

To hear what I broken during this sermon…listen to the recording. It’s best to hear it for yourself.