This week we entered the New Testament in our readings! Matthew 1-20. For the next 5 weeks we will be in the gospels hearing from two eye witnesses of Jesus and two close friends of eye witnesses of Jesus. God has preserved for us four records of His Son’s life, works, teaching, death, burial, and resurrection. These give us the account of the coming King of the kingdom of heaven.
This afternoon in our groups, we will be discussing the cost of following Jesus. This morning I’d like us to consider the cost that God paid so that we could follow His Son. God has made major sacrifices in order to save you. He’s written a book about it too. The Bible provides the window through which we can know God and the guidance by which we can come to God. His book describes our divine origins, our glorious identity, our free will, our sinful rebellion, our historic resistance, our chronic weakness, our only hope, our glorious calling, our faithful awakening, our gospel obedience, our joyful reunion, our eternal life… or, our evil rejection, our final condemnation, our eternal punishment. The Bible also describes God’s continual interaction and involvement with humanity throughout history. God is. He is the source of all else. His authority is unquestionable and, if He choses, irresistible. Only by His own ordaining grace and wisdom is their any possibility for turning from His will. God’s kingdom in heaven is absolutely compliant to Him. Thus the prayer, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But God ordained time and space and He also created the possibility and place for the fall. God, whose will and purposes can not be thwarted, made allowance for and conditions by which sin could take place. God put the forbidden tree in the garden. If God had not allowed it, it could not be. Even Satan’s existence came about by God’s ordained purposes. Satan is a creature, fallen from God’s goodness. He is the father of lies and murderer of life. God’s absolute authority over all that exists is, in our temporal experience, self restrained. God, whose very words spoken produce light, life, and the universe, purposefully limited Himself and ordained space and place for the fall to occur. Peter’s statement, “It is not God’s will that any should perish, but that all come to repentance” reminds us of God’s allowance for the existence of contradiction to His will. This “allowance” is temporal. God’s kingdom is eternally secure. Sin will not last. God will put all His enemies under the feet of Christ and His saints and God will crush Satan completely, and all who side with Satan when God brings this temporal universe to an end. God’s kingdom, which has always been and will always be, will then be all that there is. God wins. We are His, but now, in real time and space, God allows us to chose Him… or not. He has entered human history and paid the price for us. The amazing thing is, He, who by the power of His word holds the universe together, does not drag us into glory or force our obedience upon us. Since this is true, God has given us a power that we can’t even begin to appreciate. We can chose God, or not. We can love this world and lose our souls, or we can love God and receive His saving grace. God gives you the choice. Calvin was wrong. God has given us the power and authority to chose our eternal destiny.
Let’s consider the book God wrote:
The Bible is truly a phenomenal collection of writings from over a 1500 year period. More than 40 authors from various places and backgrounds penned its words, as God inspired them to write, and it was collected and preserved for us as the word of God. Those who wrote the Bible were not passive reporters whose highest goal was to give an objective view of things. No! They all clearly intended for those who read these words to be convinced and convicted that what they were saying was from God, Himself. This book is no hoax, put together by charlatans to deceive us. The authors of scripture were fully and completely convinced that what they gave us was from God.
Reading the Bible, and knowing a bit about the times and places that its various books were written is a powerful witness of the validity of their conviction that this is God’s word. In particular, the prophets words that are fulfilled in Jesus are now a compelling evidence for us today. Combining that which we read in the Old Testament with the New Testament witnesses who told us about Jesus and then went to their deaths claiming their witness to be true, supplies further assurance that this book is indeed a work of God. Its words are not mere man’s words and opinions. Its message is not a collection of cleverly devised tales of fiction.
There’s a realness about the words of the Bible that reaches out and calls you and compels you to make a decision about them. The Bible is a demanding book. It holds out the ultimate hope of eternal life and warns of the ultimate tragedy of eternal condemnation.
Jesus words at the end of His Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7) state this plainly in three forceful parallel images:
The narrow and broad gates – one leads to life, the other to destruction
The good and bad fruit trees -one leads to harvest, the other is cut down and thrown in the fire.
The wise and foolish builders – one leads to safety in the storm, the other to a great crash.
Jesus drives home His intentions for His listeners to submit, to accept and to obey His words of instruction. He speaks with surprising authority that caught the attention of all who heard Him.
Lets face it, God places serious demands on us. God requires a kind of commitment from us that is a complete sell out, an absolute surrender to His rule and a total dependance upon His care and guidance. God demands to rule over us completely. If you haven’t taken this to heart yet, or haven’t heard this concept, then you haven’t been reading the Bible with us. This is not a new thing on the scene with Jesus. Remember Noah and the big boat? How about Abraham’s call to sacrifice Isaac? Think of Joseph or Job’s faith and commitment to God. Remember the 10 commandments? How many God’s are allowed? What happens if you break the rules? Fast forward a bit to Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego and the fiery furnace, or Daniel and the Lions den. How committed were they to God? We could go on and on. What kind of commitment to God would you say these all had? Hearing of these and reading the Bible’s account of them makes me ask: Does this describe my commitment to God? Am I among the faithful who submit to God’s rule over my life? What’s this kingdom of God all about?
The Old Testament reveals that the majority of humanity are wicked, but it also give us many examples of people of faith and commitment, men and women who were flawed sinners just like you and me, but who surrendered to God as their King and Lord and were ultimately defined by their faithfulness to God instead of their flaws and falleness. These all died without the gospel of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, to give them the full expression of God’s love. Yet their commitment to God staggers the imagination at times. It’s shocking to read of the sacrifice many have made because of their deep commitment to God, even before the New Testament was written.
How much more should we who have the life, works, teachings, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ be committed to this awesome God?
I love Mark’s opening words: The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Or John’s: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
This cuts the chase and glaringly expresses it: We are talking about God here, God’s Son, Word of God who is God. Got it? What follows is the portrait of God’s love and price He paid for you and me. God’s skin in the game. God’s commitment to your salvation. God’s whole house sell out to make you His.
Instead of dragging you to glory against your will, Jesus died to bring us to glory and invites us to come, bow, surrender our lives to His authority and enter His kingdom until one day, God brings to an end this temporal world and hands this kingdom up to God the Father, where there can be no sin, no death, no temptation, only eternal life and endless joy in His presence.
Here’s the illustration that gives this sermon its name:
There’s an old saying: “Give a man enough rope and he will ___________? (hang himself).
For the sake of this illustration, let’s agree that this is true. When Satan came before God in the days of Job, God gave Satan enough rope. Satan’s accusations proved false. The liar’s mouth was shut. Job’s faithfulness was vindicated and God’s honor was preserved. But in that story, Satan was not the only one handed enough rope. Job was handed a lot of rope too, was he not? And, for sake of our illustration, Job hanged himself too, but Job put the end of his rope in God’s hand. Job’s rope was his choice. Where will I hang my life? To what hope shall I tie my rope? Satan’s rope was tied to the hope that Job would fail and that God would be dishonored by Job’s choice. Job hanged himself on God. But, again for the sake of the illustration: God has all the rope! God had enough rope to do the unthinkable. He gave it to His Son so that He would hang himself for our sins.
God has given us all enough rope to hang ourselves. You will ultimately hang your life on something. Who do you trust with the other end of your rope?
Jesus is God’s rope to eternal life. He came and was hanged on a cross to pay the price of our sins so that He can take our rope out of Satan’s hands and let us give it to God.