First Mennonite Church
December 10, 2017
Back to Basics: The God Who Saves
I believe the most important reason for our being here today is because we are responding to God’s offer of salvation. And although we can give many other good reasons why we congregate in this place Sunday after Sunday, the ultimate reason is because deep in our soul is a need and longing for God’s saving grace. God’s grace of salvation is something we cannot earn for ourselves. We all believe that God’s offer of salvation is the greatest news there could be. Thus, we all come together with the shared conviction that only God can give us the abundant and eternal life our soul is searching for and desperately needs. On the other hand, we are here because we want to give thanks to God for his saving grace. We congregate to celebrate the joy of being forgiven and welcomed into the family of God, through his Son Jesus Christ. But maybe someone might ask us, what evidence do you have that God saves? What convinced you of your need for salvation? From what are you saved and for what? I believe each of us has resolved these questions, but due to their importance we need to revisit them from time to time.
As per the evidence of God’s saving works, we go to the Bible to find it. From cover to cover, the Bible is the testimony of God’s saving acts. He saved Noah, Abraham, Lot, Jacob, and Joseph. God saved Moses, from drowning in the Nile River when he was hidden in the reeds. God saved Moses as he fled into the desert. God also called Moses to lead Israel out of bondage. The Exodus event, thus, became God’s greatest act of salvation Israel most fully experienced. God came at a time when the Israelite people were most powerless and unable to free themselves from the Egyptian oppression. Every previous effort Moses did on behalf of Israel’s liberation only worsen their condition as slaves (Exodus 5). Thus, God intervened executing judgment upon Pharaoh and his people. Yahweh’s judgment through the 10 plagues with which he struck Egypt has a theological layer that is often missed. The Egyptian Pharaohs considered themselves as gods and the human representatives of the supreme god Ra. It was the Pharaoh’s charge to embody and to be the guardian of truth, justice and harmony on earth. Thus Pharaoh’s refusal to let the Israelite people go to worship God highlighted a violation of his obligation, according to his own beliefs. Therefore, God’s judgment through the plagues came as a revelation to Pharaoh that Yahweh is indeed the Lord in heaven and on earth.
After the Israelite people came out of Egypt and came face to face with the Red Sea, Pharaoh took his last chance to reign them back into slavery. The Israelites were stricken with fear when they saw the Egyptian army coming after them. And they cried out to Moses saying, “It was better for us to die under slavery that to be slaughter by the Egyptian sword.” But Moses reassured them saying, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the salvation the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:13-14).
The Exodus event was supposed to be a permanent remembrance in Israel’s life. It was supposed to be commemorated and reenacted through its festivals. Israel should have become the living example of God’s saving will and work. In other words, God’s salvation is intended for the saved to become witnesses to God’s saving work. Those who have been save should become like the product in a display room, where everyone who comes in can see what it is like to be saved. This same idea is clearly stated about those whom Jesus Christ have saved. Peter writes:
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s
own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him
who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
10 Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.
Again, the Exodus event certainly became the archetype of God’s salvation through his Son Jesus Christ. From the announcement his birth, we are told, the primary reason for God in giving us his Son was to bring salvation. “For he will save his people from their sins,” the angel said to Joseph (Matthew 1:21). And in Luke, the announcement to the shepherds was, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
Jesus came to save his people from their sins. Jesus came to save us from our sins, which means, we are saved and are being saved from sin. Sin? What is that? Paul speaks of sin as the innate bent towards everything that is offensive in the eyes of God. Sin is the human inclination to push God out of our lives. But sin is also described in terms of concrete evil actions. These actions both hurt the actor and others.
Richie’s parents divorced when he was 10 years old. And after having trouble with his mother, he moved to his grandparents on his dad’s side of the family. At a very early age he started getting involved with the wrong crowd. He started smoking pot and then he moved to heavier drugs. He was caught having drugs in his possession and was jailed. Richie became a repeat offender, not only because of drugs but also because of robbery and violent acts. One day when he was released, Richie decided he wanted to change his life. He bought a tent and went into the nearby woods to camp. He was homeless but thought camping out by himself might help him break away from his habits. One morning he was awaken by the local sheriffs and was charged for trespassing on private property. And he went back to jail. It was that last time in jail that Richie realized the change he needed required more that human effort. He needed God and the support of others to do so. Richie was tired of the kind of life he had lived and the loneliness in his heart was increasingly getting unbearable. He needed God and a community to surround him. The day Richie was once again released, he walked aimlessly on a street not knowing what to do nor where to go. He came to a water hydrant and sat on it. With his dead down, Richie desperately pleaded with God. “I want to change. Please help me!” It was then that he heard some singing. A church was having an afternoon service in their parking lot that summer. He walked over and identified someone whom he thought should be one of the leaders. Richie told him his story and his desire to change. Richie says that after the prayer he had with the youth pastor that afternoon, he felt like a heavy burden was removed from his shoulders. He felt a peace as he had never experienced. He felt he was given inner strength as that of a “big Mac truck.” But Richie was also surrounded by a new family which helped him with a place to stay meanwhile he got a job. Richie could not stop sharing his story with others who were in the same situation as he was. Richie began a ministry geared to help ex-convicts transition from prison life to freedom.
Dear friends, often times we who are second, third, or fourth generation Christians, have difficulty understanding the power of God’s saving grace. That is because we were raised in an environment where certain things considered “sin” do not take place. In our minds we are tempted to equate sin with stealing, doing drugs, domestic violence, murder, abortion, immorality, and so on. Although we also know that Christian-professing people have been found to doing some of those things, generally these sins are not common among Christians. But what could be our greatest challenge is the ability to recognize the insidiousness of sin. Sin can be subtle. Self-righteousness, vanity, anger, contentiousness, selfishness, indifference, complacency, and pride are ways in which sin can subtly creep in our heart. James give a serious warning regarding sin among Christians. After speaking about the sin of self-reliance he says, “All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them (James 4:16b, 17). For us who are Christians, sin might not be in the form of robbery, domestic violence, or murder. Sin might not be in the form of addiction, but can be in the form of holding grudges, un-forgiveness, pride, or simply by not doing what we know is good. Therefore we continue to be in need of God’s salvation. We continue to be in need of God’s redeeming grace. As long as we are alive we continue to struggle with the sin nature that is inherent to being human. Paul says that it is until we die that we are free from sin, that is, if we die in Christ (Romans 6:7, 8). Sin is real, in its power and in its effects.
Sin is real. Just take a look around. Violence in this country has left and continues to leave pain and grief from the large city to the smallest town. Injustice is rampant especially when the powerful walk over the poor and continue to lay heavy burdens on them. Racism, prejudice, sexual harassment, and the list can go on and on. Sin brings pain, grief, and ultimately death. Sin is real. But so also is salvation. For Israel the salvation of the Lord was not just a thought nor only a good feeling. It was literal and life changing. They were led out of Egypt. Salvation meant they had to move from one place to another. Salvation meant they stopped making bricks. The daily whipping stopped. Salvation meant they were headed to another place, which they would call home. Salvation meant they had freedom to celebrate their liberation and to worship God. Salvation meant they were called “the chosen people of God.” Salvation meant entering into a covenant with Yahweh.
God’s salvation for us means God rescuing us, not only the effects of sin but also from becoming the agents of sin. In other words, being saved means that upon our coming to Christ and confessing our wrongdoings and pledging our lives to him, we have been forgiven. God invested us with the righteousness of Christ. We began to share the pleasure God had in Jesus Christ. We began to share the holiness of Jesus Christ. Paul had a lofty way to describe the new position the believer enjoys in Christ when he writes:
But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him
and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness
toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works,
so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:4-9).
Jesus Christ, his life, teaching, death and resurrection is God’s demonstration of his great mercy for us. Through Jesus’ death we were give the possibility of a new life, if we only dare to accept God’s love.
We cannot earn God’s salvation. There is nothing we can do to merit God’s grace. He gives it freely to everyone who would come to Jesus Christ through faith.
I want to invite you to tell God how much you are grateful for his salvation in Christ. If you are not sure you have ever received this gift from God and do not know how to receive it, let me encourage to humbly open your heart to God and tell him you want to give your life to him. And that if he pleases, to give you the assurance that he accepted your offer. In the Psalms we find these words: The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Come to the Lord; give him your heart. He will not reject it. For our God is a God who saves. Amen