In a recent interview with PreachingToday.com, Haddon Robinson said, "We want to reach people, but the clear terms of the gospel are seldom enunciated. It's probably an exaggeration, but I don't think in my lifetime I've heard twenty messages that I would say were clear gospel messages. If you didn't know any jargon, didn't have any religious background—if you came to church and wanted to know how to have a relationship with a holy God—the sermon would not tell you." If you've struggled with an effective way to offer a clear gospel call to your people, perhaps our featured sermon by Bob Russell will be of help. Toward the end of his sermon on heaven, Russell succinctly offers an outline for conversion: admit, believe, confess, and demonstrate.
Which of God's commandments would you say is the most difficult for you to obey? I'm sure some of you would say, "Well, the commandment not to lie is difficult because if you're in a tight spot and you can twist the truth just a little, it's hard not to lie." Some of you might say, "Well, the commandment not to covet is really difficult to obey in a materialistic society. If somebody you know gets richer or they achieve a status that you want for yourself, it's hard not to be jealous of them." Some of you might point to Jesus' command in the New Testament not to lust as one being very difficult to obey in a sensual society. Or what about Paul's commandment in Philippians 2: "Don't complain about anything"? Some of you think complaining is your spiritual gift. It's hard to obey that one.
I think one of the hardest commandments to obey is this one: "Don't let your hearts be troubled." There's so much to be troubled about: the war in Iraq, the immigration policy in the United States, the financial pressure that you have in the home, or maybe the struggles of your children and grandchildren. I confess that I am often tempted to worry. I can be ground down by "what if?" What if I get cancer? What if there is an accident?
Maybe you're troubled over potential problems in your life, and maybe there's not much contentment for you today. Would you listen again to Jesus' words? "Don't let your heart be troubled." That peace hinges on our being confident that Jesus has risen from the grave, and that he's provided a way for us to get to heaven and we know that we are going. Now keep in mind that Jesus spoke these words just a few hours before he was going to die. What reasons did he give his followers not to be troubled? He said: Trust in God; trust also in me.
We can trust Jesus with our future.
If you were troubled about your finances and somebody said to you, "Trust me with your finances; I'll have all your debts paid in the year, and I'll double your assets," you would be intrigued, but you would also investigate that person's credentials. You'd want to know about their experience and their past record. Why would you trust Jesus with your entire future?
He's trustworthy because of his supernatural identity. He said in John 14:9: "If you've seen me, you've seen the Father. I and the Father are one." Jesus was no ordinary man. He was God temporarily making a physical appearance on the earth. The Bible affirms his divine credentials from the moment he first arrived. The Virgin Mary conceived a child by the Holy Spirit, and she gave birth to a Son whose name was Immanuel, "God with us."
Jesus is trustworthy because of his impeccable integrity, too. The Bible says he was tempted in every way, just as we are, yet without sin. As a little boy, Jesus never sassed his mother. He never lied to his dad about where he'd been. He never cheated in synagogue school. As an adult, he kept the Law perfectly. His record was spotless. He asked his enemies, "Which of you accuses me of sin?" and none of them could. If I said to you today, "Which of you accuses me of sin?" there'd be a long line, and my family would be right up front. Most of their accusations would be true. But in a hostile courtroom, Pontius Pilate—the judge—said of Jesus, "I find no fault in this man."
Jesus merits your trust because of his keen intellect. The Jewish scholars were amazed at his depth when he was just twelve years old. No one could match his intellectual brilliance. The common people were able to understand him even though he was the smartest man who ever lived. Two thousand years later his words still stimulate our thinking and alter our behavior.
Jesus merits our trust because of his miraculous power. In John 14:11 he said, "Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles." Only Jesus could make the diseased well, the deaf hear, the demons flee, the dead come back to life. One politician of his day admitted, "Jesus, we know that you're a man from God because nobody could do these miracles that you do, except God be with him."
Jesus is worthy of your trust because of his sacrificial death. The religious leaders of that day looked so irreligious in contrast to Jesus, so they deviously connived to put him to death. Jesus permitted it, explaining, "Nobody takes my life from me. I give it up of my own accord." I lay down my life as a ransom for many. So he didn't die the sad victim of injustice, but he died a deliberate substitute for our sin. The Bible says, "God laid on him the iniquity of us all."
Let's say that you were three months behind on your house payment, and the banker called you for an appointment. You sit there, with fear and trembling, knowing that you're about to be evicted. You're homeless. You're helpless. But the banker says, "I've got great news. You have a wealthy relative who has not only paid those three payments, but he's paid off the entire house. Here's the deed. It now belongs to you." You'd walk away so grateful and so elated at that gift.
We all have a huge debt of sin that we cannot pay, and we're subject to being evicted from God's house. But Jesus came and paid off the entire debt for us. The Bible says, "He who knew no sin became sin for us." He merits your total trust because he sacrificed his life for you. Nobody ever cared for you like Jesus.
Jesus is worthy of your trust because of his predicted resurrection. He predicted the impossible. He said: We're going up to Jerusalem; I'm going to be crucified. But on the third day I'm going to come back from the grave.
No one believed that, but he did exactly what he said he was going to do. Luke records it like this: On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they didn't find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside him [these are angels]. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and on the third day be raised again?'" Then they remembered his words.
They went back to Jerusalem, rejoicing with excitement that Christ had conquered the grave. If a man can predict his resurrection and then do it, he's certainly capable of handling any of my troubles.
Finally, Jesus is worthy of our trust because of his present position. Romans 8:34 says, "Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." The Bible teaches that Jesus ascended into heaven, and now he's with the Father praying for us, interceding for us, countering the Accuser for us. Wouldn't you trust somebody who has big-time influence with the judge of the universe and is pleading your case? That's the one who says to you: Don't let your heart be troubled. You trust in God; trust in me.
When I was nine years old, I started playing Little League baseball for a team that was four miles away from my home. Once in a while, a teammate's father would drive me home and then let me off at the end of the dirt road, half-mile up to where I lived. If it was getting dark, I got troubled. I hated to walk that spooky road after dark. To a nine-year-old boy, every rustle in the bush is a coyote or a kidnapper about to jump out. I'd heard the stories! So I set the record for a nine-year-old in the half-mile a number of times as a little boy. If after practice the adults would stand around and talk and laugh, I'd get anxious. On the way home, I'd get quiet and troubled because it was dark. But once in a while, he'd stop at that road, I'd look out, and there I'd see the silhouette of my dad who had come to walk me home. Suddenly all my troubles were over, and the two of us walked home. I didn't have a care in the world.
Don't let your heart be troubled about your uncertain future. The one who has all power and authority in the universe will not let you walk through the darkness alone. David said, "Yea, though I walk though the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me." "Don't let your heart be troubled," Jesus said. "Trust in me."
Put your hope in heaven.
Put your hope in heaven. "In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you." There are several biblical metaphors about heaven—the kingdom of God, our blessed hope, the marriage supper of the Lamb, the wedding feast—but here's the one I like the best: my Father's house. Heaven is home. If you grew up in a good home and somebody says, "After the service today, we're getting together over at Dad's house," that immediately conjures up a picture of security, affection, acceptance, laughter, fellowship, and food. When Jesus says "in my Father's house," that should conjure up for us a sense of confidence and fulfillment. If you grew up in a dysfunctional home, the Father's house should conjure up an image of a place where you're going to experience those wonderful values for the first time, to the nth degree.
"In my Father's house there are many rooms." I like that phrase "many rooms." I believe that there's a room with my personal name on it. The Bible says we have a place in heaven reserved for us. But there are many rooms, so there are many other people who have a reserved room in heaven. There are going to be a lot of interesting and fascinating people in heaven. Revelation 7:9 says John had a vision of heaven. He said, "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count." Every once in a while, I run into people who say, "I could never come to Southeast Christian Church—too many people." My answer is always the same: "Don't go to heaven then! You're going to be real uncomfortable there." John saw a vision of heaven, a number no man could count. He says, "From every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb."
So don't let your heart be troubled. You have this hope of heaven. This present distress that you're going through is not the end anymore than the Crucifixion was the end for Jesus. You are not home yet, so believe Jesus' words: "I will come again and receive you to myself." Now, he may have primarily been referring to the Second Coming when he comes for his saints, but I think he's also talking about the day we die. He will come and receive us to himself.
A little while ago, Anthony Burger died at age 44. Many feel that he is the finest gospel pianist that ever lived. He spent the last ten years playing for the Gaither Vocal Band, accompanying the Gaithers on a Christian cruise in the Caribbean last month. Fifteen hundred people were on the cruise. They vacationed during the day, and they'd come to a gospel concert in the ship's theater at night. The fourth night out, Anthony Burger had just played a piano solo. About five minutes later, during the concert, he collapsed of a massive heart attack and died instantly at the piano. Everybody, especially his family, was totally distraught.
Becky Pippert, of our church, was a guest teacher on that cruise, and she was to address the people the next morning in a Bible study. Becky said that before she got up to teach, a woman came to her and said, "Becky, I want to tell you what happened to me last night—just before Anthony Burger died." Becky said, "Bob, you know you sometimes have people come up to you, and they want to give their testimony or they want to be on the stage; they want the spotlight. But this is not one of those ego-driven people. She's very humble and unassuming. She said, 'In the concert last night, after Anthony Burger played his solo, the spotlight went to the other side of the stage, but for some reason I kept my eyes on Anthony Burger. I felt like God was impressing these words in me: I'm going to show you something from my realm that will be an encouragement to people. I was troubled! And suddenly,' she said, 'I saw standing behind Anthony Burger, an angel.' She said, 'He appeared to be seven feet tall, dressed in white and gold, and he just stood there for about 30 seconds.' And she said, 'He put his hand on Anthony's shoulder, and Anthony looked up and then slumped down and died—when just minutes before, he had played the song "We Shall Behold Him."
You may question that woman's vision of an angel. That's okay. It's not out of the Bible; it's not a test of your faith—there are some false claims out there. But you know what I think? I think God sometimes gives us an additional glimpse of his glory to bring us supplementary hope. Those revelations are rare; they're not the foundation of our faith. But don't they quicken our expectation and our anticipation?
Jesus is the way to heaven.
Jesus made this dependable promise: "'Do not let your hearts be troubled … I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again to receive you to myself; that where I am, you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.' Thomas said to him, 'Lord, we don't know where you're going. How can we know the way?' Jesus said, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'"
Folks, here is a sobering truth about heaven that most people don't understand: the majority of people are not going to heaven. A survey of the American people showed that 85 percent of the American people believe they are going to heaven, and most of those believe they're going because they're pretty good. Although there is going to be a number greater than we can count, the Bible teaches that there will be more people who don't make it to heaven than those who do. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." You can see it's very important that we don't just believe in heaven, but we must also know how to get there and follow Jesus' instructions. He said: I am the way. Follow me. I am the narrow gate. Come through me.
Do you know that there is a way to get to the roof of this building from the inside? There is a hatch in this roof. You can get to the roof from the inside. If you were skeptical of that, I might say to you, "Well, just follow me." I would lead you up an elevator to the fifth floor, down a hallway, and through two locked doors. Then I would unlock a closet, and in that closet there is a ladder that leads up to the darkness of the attic. I might say to you, "You stay here; I'll be back in ten minutes. But before I go, I want you to take a picture out of your wallet and give it to me." Let's say I then disappeared up that ladder, and ten minutes later I came back with a digital camera with a picture of me sitting at the base of the cross on our roof, holding that photograph you just gave me. You probably would be convinced that there's a way through the roof from the inside.
Jesus said to his disciples that there is a way through to life after death: "Follow me." Then he led them to a cross where he died for their sins, and they followed as the body was taken, put in a tomb, a stone was rolled against it, and Jesus was gone. But three days later, he came back with nail prints in his hands. He said: I am the way to eternal life. You follow me, and you can make it through.
No other religious founder can make that claim—not Mohammed, not Moses, not Buddha. None came back from the grave. Only Jesus can say: I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life. Follow me and you will get to heaven.
Getting to heaven is as simple as A, B, C, and D.
How do you follow Jesus? How can you be assured that you have the promise of heaven? God has made it as simple as A, B, C, and D.
A—Admit that you have sinned and separated yourself from God. The Bible says, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." Your chances of getting to heaven by being good are equal to your chances of swimming from California to Hawaii on your own strength. We've all fallen short of God's glory. Instead of comparing yourself to other people and smugly feeling like you're pretty good, compare yourself to God's law. Align yourself to the Ten Commandments and realize you've broken—I've broken—every one of them. We've fallen short. Romans 3:20 says, "No one will be declared righteous in God's sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin." I must humbly admit I am a sinner; I am in need of God's forgiveness; I am hopelessly lost unless the Lord acts.
B—Believe in Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. Would you all repeat John 3:16 with me? "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." To believe is more than just a mental agreement: "Yes, he's the Son of God." It's putting your faith in his death on the cross to save you—and not in your good works. It's humbly trusting him, swallowing your pride, and not trusting in yourself. The Bible says, in Ephesians 2, "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not of yourselves … not of works, so that anybody should boast."
Admit you're a sinner, believe in Jesus, and C—confess Jesus as the Lord of your life. Romans 10:9 says, "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved." When Jesus Christ died for us, he died publicly on a hill outside the big city of Jerusalem on the busiest day of the year. He asks that when we make a decision to follow him, we confess him publicly, unashamedly. The Bible calls it our good confession. We don't have to confess our sins, but we confess the good truth that we believe in Jesus.
When you get married, you stand in front of people and make a public pledge of allegiance to your mate that you'll be faithful till death separates you. That may make you nervous, but if your heart's right, you'll do it. When you become a Christian, God asks that you state publicly your allegiance to Christ. Abdul Rahman was sentenced to death by the government of Afghanistan because he was converted to Christianity—and it's illegal in strongly Muslim cultures to convert. Last month, knowing the potential consequences, he stood in front of a camera and courageously said, "I am a Christian," while holding a Bible up for all to see. He added, "I am not afraid to die." Thankfully, outside pressure forced the new Afghan government to drop the charge, and Rahman fled the country because his life is still very much in danger. If that man, in a hostile environment, has the courage to confess, "I believe in Christ," is it too much for the Lord to ask for you to confess him in a free society? In Matthew 10:32 Jesus said, "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven."
Admit that you're a sinner, believe in Jesus as your personal Savior, confess him publicly, and D—demonstrate your allegiance to Christ by repenting of sin and being baptized into Christ. Acts 2:38 says, "Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Repentance means you change directions. You've been living for selfish pleasure; now you live for God's will. It doesn't mean you're going to live a perfect life from this point on, but it means you changed your direction from following the crowd to following Christ. Baptism then becomes your benchmark, the dividing line between the old life of sin and the new life resurrected with Christ. Listen to what Romans 6 says:
Don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.
Don't let your heart be troubled; trust in Christ. Nothing is going to happen to you in the darkness that the two of you can't handle together. Put your hope in heaven; you're not home yet, but there's a place reserved in heaven for you where there are many rooms. And follow Christ. Be confident that you're going there—not because you're trusting in your goodness, but because you're trusting in the perfect work of Jesus' death for you on the cross, and you believe that he is the way, he's the truth, he is the life.
For your reflection:
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul?
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach?
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers?
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points?
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers?
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers?