Sunday, June 1, 2008

Does Jesus Want You to Be Better?

Third Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, June 1, 2008
Matthew 7:15-29

There is a trend in Christianity today in America to seek the good life. To improve your lot. To become a better Christian. A better person. A better force in this world, in our society, in your home. There’s a natural tendency for us to latch on to this. That’s certainly God’s will, isn’t it? To become a better person. A better Christian. A better follower of Jesus Christ.

But that’s not the way Jesus speaks. With Him it’s all or nothing. You’re not a better or worse Christian—you’re either one or you’re not. Your spiritual house is either built on the rock or not. If it is you will stand on Judgment Day. If it’s not you will not.

There’s something missing in today’s pop Christianity. When it’s reduced to how you can become a better person, there’s no mystery, no majesty. The Gradual uses the word “unsearchable.” It says God’s “greatness is unsearchable.” Where do you find that kind of mystery in modern pop Christianity, which is often nothing more than pop psychology? Presenting Christianity as being a better you, or finding the drive to improve yourself as a person, is taking Jesus’ Words as nothing more than a motivational speech.

But Jesus is talking about life and death. He’s talking about much more than a better life. He’s talking about life itself, in direct contrast to death. You can build a better house, improve your life, become better and better, be as good of a person as you can be, but if you’re not building on the Rock, your house will fall. And great will be the fall. The man who built his house on the rock didn’t work at being better, he simply built his house on the rock. And the house stood firm in the midst of the storm. He lived whereas the foolish man entered into eternal damnation.

It may come across as judgmental or petty to attack the many out there who are popular and presenting a message that sounds Christian but really is just telling people what they want to hear. But Jesus did not come to be popular. He definitely did not come to tell people what they wanted to hear. Who was glad to hear Him call them wolves in sheep’s clothing? It was Jesus who hours before His death stood alone, as all either led Him to the cross or fled from Him in His hour of trial. Jesus didn’t come to be popular, He came to save. Our downfall will be great unless He warns us of it. Our destruction will be eternal unless He dies for us.

So will you be content to hear what the world says but under the guise of the Christian message? Will you satisfy yourself by knowing that you are trying to get better every day? Or will you listen to the Words of Jesus and do what they say? He says, “Everyone then who hears these words of Mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” His warning is likewise clear: “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.”

It sounds right that we should want to be better. But this is slippery. Try building anything other than a sand castle on sand. Your structure will not stand up against the forces of nature. Your best life now will not stand up against the wrath of a Just God on Judgment Day. It is now that you are building your house for eternity. Will it stand or fall? Build it on what will last. On the Rock. On Jesus Christ. Not on psychology. Not on improvement. Not on motivation. Build it on what will last. On what will stand the test of time and stand into eternity.

Those who teach that we follow God’s will by being the best we can be are telling you to build your house on sand. Don’t fall into their trap. Matthew says that “when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at His teaching, for He was teaching them as One who had authority, and not as their scribes.” Don’t listen to the many voices out there. There are false prophets in the Church. They sneak into your living room through your TV. They ride along with you in your car by way of the radio waves. They launch themselves onto the bestseller lists. They lure you with their promises of a purpose driven life and your best life now.

They will quote the Scriptures. They will look good. They will sound good. They will tell you about Jesus. They will get you excited about doing good works and being a good person and serving God. Jesus tells us about those false prophets: they will stand before Him on the Last Day and say, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?” Christ the Lord Himself will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.”

If this sends shudders down your spine, you are hearing the Word of Christ. It is never an easy sell. It is never what you want to hear. But it is always what you need to hear. Jesus loves you too much to send you away feeling good about yourself while your spiritual house erodes into the sand. He cares too deeply for you to leave you in the lurch. When the storm of Judgment Day comes upon you, He wants you standing before Him, not annihilated.

But how could Jesus really pour out His wrath upon those who are trying so hard to live a good life? How could He actually damn people for eternity if they’re not vile people like the worst of the worst, like an Adolph Hitler or a Saddam Hussein?

The question should rather be, why are we taking the grace of God and trampling it under our feet? Why are we despising the holy God who has given us His only-begotten Son? Why are we taking the mercy of God Almighty and slapping Him in the face by our continual sin against Him? We are drawn to the message that we can try harder and be okay, when all we end up with is improvement in rationalizing away our sin and feeling good about how better of people we are becoming.

Instead, may our prayer be that of the Collect we prayed earlier: “Lord of all power and might, author and giver of all good things, instill in our hearts the love of Your name, impress on our minds the teachings of Your Word, and increase in our lives all that is holy and just.” This prayer takes Jesus’ Words for what they are: the work that He accomplishes in bringing about in us new life and sustaining us in this life. Is there improvement that will be occurring in our new life in Christ? You bet. Will we want to seek to do better? Most definitely. But our focus will be on Christ. It is by His authority and power and grace and mercy that we are who we are. That we have new and eternal life. And that we have the opportunity to live it out in service to others.

We will look and live more like Christ. But it will all be by the grace of God and because of Christ. Our focus will be on Him and the life that He lived, living in humility, not seeking better or greater, but compassion and suffering. He didn’t come to stir people on to do better but to call them on their sin and die for them. He wasn’t slick or motivational, but ended up blood-stained, hanging limply on a cross. His work of salvation was a matter of giving up all. This won’t make the bestseller lists or motivate people to be better people. But it will save them. It won’t be glorious, but it will stand the test of time.

That’s a mystery we don’t want to get a handle on, but rather marvel in. His greatness is unsearchable, but never out of reach, for Christ comes to you in His flesh and on Him you will stand for eternity. Amen.

SDG

4 comments:

steve martin said...

Pastor,

That was a powerful post. Powerful.

I am going to forward this to all my friends (both of them).

May I reprint this on my blog site with a link to your site?

Thanks Pastor!

- Steve Martin

rev will said...

Hi Steve:

Thanks for your kind comments. And yes, of course you may reprint and link and send and anything you like. The stuff I post on my blog is for whatever use it will be of benefit to people. Thanks!

Pastor W.

Peter said...

I agree with Steve -- a powerful sermon!

You hit home by telling us that we are really enthusiasts who want to make our lives better. It's all about me, instead of about Christ. And when we get on the right foundation of Christ, then we realize that He is dying and rising for me. The foundation is about God and His salvation history which is the true understanding of the Bible (as opposed to it being a bunch of self-help guidelines) as Jesus is coming to save me. You unpacked all that extremely well in your sermon. Excellent!

rev will said...

Peter: You always do such a good job of summarizing my sermons. Thanks!