Pulpit Today Sermon
Robert D. Pace
A sermon dealing with what should be remembered can evoke many stories. For instance, I heard about the preacher that said, “When I entered this pulpit only God and I knew my topic.” After hesitating he said, “Now, only God knows.”
(Illustration) Unfortunately forgetfulness isn’t always comical. There are tragic accounts of memory lapses. Sometime back during the hot summer of central Florida a mother left her baby locked in the car for a brief grocery stop. Time slipped away and when she returned the child had suffocated. Memory lapses like this are rare but they do illustrate the gravity of what should be remembered. As Christians, it’s costly when we forget the essentials of the Faith.
(Transition) Today’s message deals with the imperatives that shouldn’t be forgotten. First, let me encourage you to, Remember your pre-conversion status.
I. Remember Your Pre-conversion Status
You say, “That sounds strange, why should anyone want to contemplate that?” Let’s return to our text in Ephesians 2. Paul said in verse twelve: “remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. Paul told us to remember that we were “separated from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel, foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope [and] without God in the world.” What a dreadful condition!
Occasionally we hear testimonies of those whose conversion required them to spurn stardom or lucrative careers. I had a friend that said before his conversion he would buy $50,000 worth of clothes at one time. But it isn’t what we as sinners give up that’s important. The incalculable blessing is what God makes available to Christians. We were without hope of heaven and a life that is filled with love, joy, and peace without Jesus Christ. Without Christ we are separated from fellowship with God. According to the book of Galatians, the person without Christ, regardless of their temporal successes, lives under the curse of sin. They’re attached to practices that are in the process of ruining their life. Think about it:
- People achieve wealth but they’re attached to it in a way that won’t let them rest.
They claim position but forfeit much of God’s grace because of their compromising and manipulation.
They possess power but employ it in ways that Christ warned would ruin them.
There’s nothing wrong with wealth, position, or power but we need Christ to cleanse us from the temptations associated with these things. The new life in Christ doesn’t mean we isolate ourselves from the world it means we sanctify ourselves from its contagion. We don’t lie anymore. We don’t manipulate anymore. We don’t compromise or seek to meet our needs in a selfish or offensive manner.
Look, cheating or defrauding others never let you feel good about yourself. Offending others never brought a sense of superiority. Unclean habits never enhanced your health. The old lifestyle didn’t work! It was a crash and burn experience! And we should remember that God wants us to exemplify love, truth, peace, and joy. He wants us to live honestly before all men.
(Illustration) Awhile back a mother and her son bought airline tickets from New York to Los Angeles. Before going to the airport the mother talked with her son. “Johnny, I know you’re eight years old but if anyone asks tell them you’re five. The airline is letting children five and under fly half price.” When they checked in the mother presented the tickets but not without the agent sizing up the little fellow. He bent over, pulled up the boy, and sat him on the counter. Looking into his eyes the agent said: “Son, do you know what happens to little boys that lie about their age?” The boy glanced at his mom and then turned and answered, “Yes sir. They get to fly half-price!”
“Be sure your sins will find you out!” Nobody can cheat the system and fly half-price. You may think you’re cheating the system and flying at half-price but you aren’t! In the end, the world’s ways don’t work! John said everything attached to this world is perishing and only that which is situated on truth and righteousness will endure! And God commands us to remember that! Leave your former lifestyle alone!
(Transition) Remember the victory factors of life.
II. Remember the Victory Factors of Life
(Illustration) Through experimentation psychologists have found they can manage behavioral patterns of animals. Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “Pavlov’s dogs.” Pavlov is known for his many experiments with dogs. One of his experiments involved controlling their eating habits. A man would appear with their food, the dogs would salivate, the food was placed in a dish, and the dogs would charge toward it to eat. The problem was the dogs experienced a shock when this happened. But if the variables were mixed just slightly, and a bell was rung before their feeding the dogs could eat without a shock. The animals modified their behavior to what worked best for them.
How do Pavlov’s dogs speak to sheep like us? Interpret it like this: When we positively respond to God’s commands we are rewarded. But we always suffer the shock treatment when we wrongly indulge in sin or make decisions contrary to God’s will. (The consequence of sin may not come in this life but we’ll face them in the life to come.) You see, just because something is available doesn’t mean it’s permissible!
There’s a simple admonition for those aware of life’s victory factors: Keep practicing them! Continue doing whatever God has blessed! It might be a commitment to a designated time of prayer or to a devotional hour or a stewardship practice. Continue to practice whatever has served to strengthen, bless you.
A. Commitment to God’s purposes brings reward.
I wonder what would happen if we could totally commit ourselves to God? If we could say: “Lord, my life is Yours. If Your Word says it, I’ll obey it. If You send me, I’ll go.” If You have a work for me, I’ll do it.” What would happen should we totally sell out to God’s purposes?
In 1 Timothy 4, Paul talked to Timothy about commitment. “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. (14) Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. (15) Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.” Isn’t that amazing? We are called to live in such a way that others can measure our spiritual progress.
B. Maintaining a right attitude leads to spiritual victory.
Look again at 1 Timothy 4:16. Verse sixteen summarizes what Paul had been telling Timothy when he says: “Watch your life [personality] and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Do you see what Paul is asking from Timothy? He’s appealing to Timothy’s overall character and disposition. He’s calling Timothy to maintain a right attitude. We have to commit to a right attitude because it marks and identifies us. It’s how we’re known and how we influence people for Christ.
A sour, ill-tempered disposition attached to a Believer ruins their testimony. That’s why Paul said: “Watch your life [personality] . . . because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” The world needs somebody to model this thing in order to be saved!
(Illustration) I heard the story of a family on their way to Church when a careless driver pulled in front of them. The offended driver wheeled his car beside the careless driver, shook his fist, yelled, and then drove on to Church. It wouldn’t have been so bad had the careless driver not followed the angry driver into the parking lot. But it really worsened when the angry driver tried to hide behind the pulpit to deliver his message. Attitude means a lot!
We’re going to get offended and we have to be prepared to respond with Christ’s love. How you act doesn’t always reveal the real you. How you react defines the real you. How you react in times of crisis or offense or even opportunity reveals your character.
(Illustration) It reminds me of the woman that had a hard day of shopping at the mall so she stopped for a coffee break. She purchased a few cookies, tucked them in her shopping bag and then moved into the coffee line where she selected her favorite gourmet brand. After she paid she searched for a place to sit but all the tables were occupied so she was forced to share a table with a stranger. That was alright because she had a magazine to read. She sat down, began sipping her coffee, and read. A moment later she reached out and took a cookie. Much to her shock the man across the table smiled, reached out, and seized a cookie too. She was speechless. Several moments later she took another cookie and with a nod from the man he too took another. By now she was steamed but instead of chiding him she just burned with a scowl and silence. There was only one cookie left and before she could take it the man grabbed it, broke it into, and offered her half. That was all she could take. But before anything else could happen the man rose from his seat, wished her a good day, and walked off. She was left trembling. Her coffee break was ruined. She grabbed her shopping bag and started to stuff her magazine back into it when she noticed her own unopened bag of cookies.
Attitude! This man had the right one. “Watch your life [personality] . . . because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
(Transition) Third, and most importantly, it’s imperative to remember Calvary.
III. Remember Calvary
There are seven major feasts the Old Testament instituted for Israel: The Passover; Pentecost/Weeks/Harvest; Trumpets; Tabernacles; Dedication; Unleavened Bread; and Purim. There was a mutual requirement for each festival. Each feast demanded a sacrifice of blood. God demanded the shedding of blood at these feasts to constantly remind the worshipers that it was associated with their redemption. Hebrews said: “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.” While we don’t typically celebrate these feasts there’s something we should remember: Faith in Christ’s Blood cleanses us from all unrighteousness! Calvary should be the focal point for every Christian. The reason God piled that mound of clay called Golgotha was to forgive us and restore fellowship between Himself and us.
Psalm 137:5 says: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. (6) May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.” We have no hope without Christ’s saving work in that city. It’s where he won the spiritual battle of the ages. It’s where everything that cursed us was defeated—sin, death, and evil. And it’s where the streams of everything we needed flowed—healing, help, hope, peace, reconciliation, and life. How can we forget everything that happened there? (Pardon me for getting preachy here.)
- How can we forget that demonstration of infinite love?
How can we forget His sufferings—the cursing, maligning, and ridicule?
How can we forget His explicit obedience? 10,000 angels were poised to rescue Him but He submitted “as a lamb led to the slaughter.”
How can we forget His compassionate prayer: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do?”
How can we forget His promise? “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
No victory equals the victory Christ won at Calvary. There may not have been national warfare between armies but it was the battle of the ages. I know the Prophets dealt with the apocalypse when the world’s armies would surround Jerusalem and the northern army would swim in its blood. But that won’t be the greatest victory for God’s people. The Prophets predicted Armageddon when the nuclear weapons will instantly melt man’s skin from his bones. But this isn’t the battle of the ages. Christ won the battle of the ages 2000 years ago at Calvary! He triumphed over the enemy of our soul. And there’s no greater news, no greater testimony, no greater story to remember and tell and retell.
- When Isaac Newton spoke of Calvary he wrote: “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”
When William Cowper spoke of it he declared: “There is a fountain filled with blood and it’s drawn from Emmanuel’s veins. Sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.”
When Fredrick Handel spoke of it he used the double-doxology: “Hallelujah. Hallelujah.”
And yet there’s a higher testimony than these, it’s the testimony of Apostles.
I hear John saying: “The blood of Jesus Christ [God’s] son cleanses us from all sin.”
I hear Paul testify: “For I resolved to know nothing . . . except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1CO 2:2).
The apostle of Hebrews noted Christ’s incomparable sacrifice when he said: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more” (10:17).
And finally Revelation 5:12 reveals the testimony of angels when they chant: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise.”
How can we forget Calvary? It’s our victory over sin, death, and hell. Remember to thank God for that Blood-stained hill and for cleansing our sins.