C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia were a staple in our home. We have read them together and individually, listened to them via CD's and watched many on film. We wore one set out and had to buy another. We sent them one at a time to Callie in Madagascar when she was in the Peace Corps. One of our favorite lines has been "the first joke!" from The Magician's Nephew. When Aslan created Narnia many animals were selected to become reasoning and therefore talking animals. The Jackdaw, enjoying his new voice for the first time, spoke out and unwittingly created the first joke. Our family byline became, "It's the first __________" (fill in the blank), which always brought a laugh. So, with a Lemont appreciation for all things Narnian, I present . . . The First Sermon. pll
When I was asked to be here this Sunday, my main concern was, what do I preach on? I asked the advice of a Nazarene pastor who is attending the Moreland church. He said, "Your first sermon should be on the area in your life where you have struggled the hardest to gain victory." It wasn't long after I talked to this pastor that I read the same thing. This was enough to convince me.
Throughout my life, I have always felt the need to do or experience more than just believe in Jesus, His death and resurrection in order to be saved from sin.
At the age of nine, an evangelist conducted services at my church for a two week period. He was an unusual evangelist compared to the ones I have seen and heard since. He preached the entire two weeks on Revelation and the tribulation. He was an artist and photographer along with his gift of evangelism. He used these gifts to produce imagined scenes from the tribulation -- terrible tragedies, broken-hearted people. The thing that put me under the most bondage I have ever known was his sermon that convinced me my parents were going to heaven and I would be left behind to deal with the tribulation and hell. A new and scary idea for a nine year old to consider.
Towards the end of that two week evangelistic campaign, I went forward to beg forgiveness of my sins. The Lord released me from that terrible bondage and blessed me greatly that night. My problem began the next morning.
When I awoke the next day, I remembered the events of the previous night -- how I had been released from a great burden and blessed. That emotional blessing was, in my mind, the proof that Christ had forgiven me. But that morning I had no great emotional feeling, and in fact, I was kind of on the down side.
To me this was proof that I had "lost" Christ. If I had lost that feeling I must have lost Christ. For a while I tried to get the feeling back by doing good deeds and acting the way I thought a Christian should act. That good feeling didn't come back and before long my act was falling apart.
As I grew older I continued to search for an emotional uplift that would ensure me of my salvation. And from time to time, I would try to earn my salvation back by acting like a Christian. Finally, at about the age of nineteen, I gave the whole thing up and decided I couldn't be a Christian at all.
My life went this way for two or three years until I was married and realized that to have a successful marriage, I must try and find Christ. During this time of search, I met someone who told me that I might never have another emotional experience like I had at nine.
He told me that all I needed to do was confess my sins and believe that Jesus' blood made me just as if I had never sinned. As I believed, there would be a peace that emotional highs couldn't give. As I believed, the good deeds would no longer be an act.
The key has always been faith or believing in Jesus as the Christ, the only Son of God.
As we read in John 3:16, God loved the world so much He sent His Son to die for our sins. This simple verse tells us several great things.
1) It tells us that the initiative in all salvation lies with God. Sometimes Christianity is presented in such a way that it sounds like God has to be pacified. Sometimes it seems people draw a picture of a stern, angry, unforgiving God and a gentle, loving, forgiving Jesus. Sometimes men present the Christian message in such a way that it sounds like Jesus did something to God that changed His attitude toward man from condemnation to forgiveness. But this text tells us it was God who initiated the plan and sent His Son because He loved us.
2) It tells us that the mainspring of God's being is love. The tremendous thing about this text is that it shows us God is acting, not for His own sake, but for ours. Not to satisfy His desire for power, but to satisfy His love. God does not smash men into submission. He woos them with love.
3) It tells of the width of God's love. It was (and is) the world that God so loved: It was not a nation,
it was not good people. It was not only the people that loved God (returned his love), it was the world. All are included as Augustine had it, "God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love."
4) It tells us that with salvation comes everlasting life. The word for everlasting is more concerned with quality than quantity. The implication of this is that everlasting life begins when we receive salvation, and that this is a taste of eternity. We believe that death does not end the existence of our soul, no matter what its state. But everlasting life, according to John, begins when we believe, and continues at the point of physical death.
5) It tells us how we come to have this salvation. The verse says whoever believes in Him. According to Webster, believes is a verb which means to have a firm conviction as to the reality of something. This verb does service for two nouns, faith and belief. The difference between faith and belief is the same difference as there is between the two statements believe me and believe on me. We need both faith and belief in Christ. Belief is that part of us that we call our intelligence. We have knowledge in a certain area. This has to come before faith but is not enough by itself. Faith then becomes the decisive action part of believing. It is trusting: It includes understanding, feelings and our will.
Let's go on. "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe already stands condemned" (John 3:17-18, NIV). Here we are faced with an interesting contrast: Salvation and condemnation.
First of all this contrast implies that there are two alternatives for the world -- salvation and condemnation. It does not leave room for anything else. Second, we know that salvation is gained by believing and we know that Jesus was not sent into the world to condemn anyone. Now we find out that we merit condemnation through unbelief. In other words, we pass judgement on ourselves. This always happens when man is confronted with greatness. Let me illustrate this:
A visitor was being shown around an art gallery by one of the attendants. In that gallery there were certain masterpieces beyond all price, possessions of eternal beauty and unquestioned genius. At the end of the tour the visitor said, "Well, I don't think much of your old pictures." The attendant answered quietly, "Sir, I would remind you that these pictures are no longer on trial, but those who look at them are." All that man's reaction had done was to show his own blindness.
The result of Jesus coming to earth as a man is not a Royal Command in the area of redemption. It confronts man with a moral problem. Faced with the alternatives, life or death, light or darkness, evil or truth, man himself has the responsibility of the choice that determines his destiny. If, when a man is confronted with Jesus, his soul responds to that wonder and beauty, he is on his way to salvation. But, if when he is confronted with Jesus, he sees nothing lovely, he stands condemned.
Let's go back to the beginning now. The reason I chose this text for my first sermon is because it explains the way to salvation in the way that I needed to hear it. Salvation it seems, is almost too simple to find. I found it as a young person with an emotional crisis, as can often be the case. But I got my eyes off of Jesus and started looking for the comfort of a big emotional lift. When that didn't work, I began looking for salvation in the doing of good deeds. It got to the point where I had so complicated the plan of salvation that all I could do was despair and give up the idea of ever being a Christian.
I am wondering this morning if anyone here has ever complicated God's plan of salvation. God said through the words of John that He loved the world so much He gave us a very simple way of coming to Him. We must only believe that Jesus came to earth as a man and was crucified as atonement for our sins. Trusting Jesus to take away our sins is all God asks us to do.