Here's one more Easter sermon from another great preacher. This message comes with a missional twist, as Briscoe points out how the love shown in the atoning death of Christ should motivate us toward serving as ambassadors for Christ. After you read Briscoe's message, take a minute to check out our new Easter-related sermons from N. T. Wright and Francis Chan. For more Easter ideas for your preaching—including sermons, illustrations, and videos—click here.
When the little woman met us at the airport in Kimberly, South Africa, she said, "Would you like to see the hole?"
I had no idea what she was talking about, but being terribly British, I said, "We would love to see the hole! Thank you so much!"
She said, "Would you like to see it before you see where you're going to stay, or afterwards?"
I said, "Could we please go right away?"
She said, "Of course."
And so we set off to see "the hole." She was obviously excited about this hole. She talked nonstop about it. "This hole," she said, "is the biggest man-made hole in the world." Dug with primitive implements, the hole was hundreds of feet deep and one mile in circumference at the top. People had come from all over the world to dig, and they suffered all kinds of deprivation: famine, murder, thievery. To my utter amazement, she said, "It used to be a hill, you know? It used to be a hill."
I still had no idea what we were talking about. Eventually we arrived at the hole: hundreds of feet deep, one mile in circumference, slimy green water in the bottom. In a nearby ramshackle hut, a display of photos showed all kinds of people with little leather buckets, using an intricate system of pulleys and ropes, digging furiously in the biggest man-made hole in the world. I asked, "Why would people come from all over the world to a place like Kimberly to turn a hill into the biggest man-made hole in the world?"
She answered, "One day some little boys were playing on the hill, throwing pebbles at each other. A gentlemen walking past noticed the sun glint on one of the pebbles. When he caught it, he recognized a diamond."
I guess that's how you get people to come from all over the world with primitive implements to turn a hill into the biggest man-made hole in the world! It's called motivation.
It's amazing how certain things will motivate certain people to incredible exploits. I'm convinced that motivation is important for the church of Jesus Christ. We spend a lot of time talking about methods and materials, money and manpower. Without motivation you don't have much at all.
There's something peculiar about the motivation of early Christians like the apostle Paul. We have many passages of Scripture that explain to us his powerful motivation. In 2 Corinthians 5:14, he says, "For Christ's love compels us." His understanding of the love of Christ became a dramatic, powerful motivation. Few of us will have his gifts, none of us have his opportunities, but all of us have the same message he received and may have the same powerful motivation. It would be perfectly proper for each of us to say with all sincerity, "The love of Christ compels me."
The word "compel" means, literally, "to hem in; to hold on both sides; to take away the options; to give no way out; to back into a corner." We are hemmed in by the love of Christ. Sometimes we think the love of Christ leaves us certain options. Paul would have none of that. He said the love of Christ takes away our options, backs us into a corner, holds us firmly on both sides, and gives us no way out. When we become motivated like that, we become a great power for God's glory and for the world's blessing.
Paul is compelled, motivated by the love of Christ.
The love of Christ compelled Paul because he understood that while we were still sinners, God demonstrated his love toward us in Christ's death. The love of God in Christ was unique. In exactly the same way that the power of God transcends any human power, and the wisdom of God transcends any human wisdom, so the love of God transcends any human love. This incredibly gracious love does not demand that we stop being sinners. It does not say, "I will love you if ________." God's love is not just a warm, fuzzy feeling. It took Christ to a cross! Paul tells us in Romans 5 that Christ, who knew no sin, was made sin for us, to make us righteous. He says in this same passage that God no longer counts people's sins against them.
The root of the human problem is the dynamic disease of sin operating within the soul and manifesting itself. Human beings are not unlike volcanoes. Inside a volcano, the pressure builds until the top blows with a dramatic eruption of lava. At other times, cracks slowly and insidiously appear on the side of the volcano, and the lava flows out in a different manner. So it is with human beings. We can never say that the circumstances in which a young person's character was formed did not have some impact on the way that he behaves. But inside each of us, there's a thing called sin. No matter what way our volcano was formed, whether we blow the top or leak streams of lava, it's the lava inside that's the problem. The ultimate disease is the problem, and there's nothing human beings can do about it. God demonstrated his incredible love toward us when he took the initiative and determined to do something about the sin problem. He invited Christ to take our sins on himself and die our deaths. God would no longer count our sins against us. He would reckon the sin to Christ and reckon to us the righteousness of Christ. That's love.
Years ago, when I was a young banker, we used big leather ledgers where all accounts were entered by hand. I remember daydreaming about those ledgers and God's ledgers in heaven. I imagined my name, David Stuart Briscoe, and God adding up the sum total of my indebtedness against him. I could never cancel the overwhelming indebtedness. In my mind's eye, I saw God take his pen and transfer the sum total of my indebtedness to the account of the Lord Jesus Christ. On the account of the Lord Jesus, he wrote, "Transferred from the account of David Stuart Briscoe." I thought God was finished. But then I saw him do something incredible. He added up the total righteousness of Christ and against it wrote these words, "Transferred to the account of David Stuart Briscoe." That's love.
Paul never recovered from the discovery that all the unrighteousness of Saul of Tarsus had been credited to Christ and taken to the cross. All the glorious righteousness of Christ had been credited to Saul of Tarsus. It hemmed him in; he couldn't escape. It took away his options, and he was backed into a corner, held firmly, unmistakably, unshakably, by the love of Christ. "The love of Christ," he said, "compels me."
We are compelled because we are convinced.
In 2 Corinthians 5:14, Paul lists three ways the love of Christ has hemmed him in. First, "Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced."
Notice the word "convinced". The love of Christ hems us in to a solid conviction. Os Guinness once wrote that one of the problems in our contemporary culture is that sentiment has taken the place of conviction. One of the reasons sentiment has a tendency to take the place of conviction is that sentiment is nowhere near as challenging or as costly as conviction. Consider this: Three whales were once trapped under the ice in Alaska. All kinds of money was raised. The media covered the story in minute detail. Rescue equipment was flown in from around the world. People volunteered to help. I don't have anything against whales, but what bothered me was this: at the very same time the whales were demanding so much attention and so much help, there were tens of thousands of people starving to death in the Horn of Africa, and no one could get anybody interested. You can be sentimental about whales, but being sentimental about starving Africans doesn't help. It's conviction that's needed. There's a marked degree of sentimentality in the church at the present time. What we need is men and women hemmed in by solid conviction, not sweet sentiment.
Notice the conviction by which Paul has been hemmed in: "He died for all, that all those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." That is Paul's solid conviction. He is working, very logically, toward his conviction. If it is true that Christ died for all, then there is a sense in which all died. If it is true that all died in Christ, then that is either the end of them or they have been raised to life with Christ. That is the beginning of something utterly new. Paul's conviction is simply this: he has been crucified with Christ; nevertheless, he lives. Yet the life that he lives, he does not live in and of himself. He lives because Christ lives in him. That's the conviction. He is absolutely, totally convinced of this inescapable fact.
One of the ways that the gospel is being abused in many of our churches today is that people feel they have the freedom to ask Christ to die for their continued self-indulgence. Paul would have none of it. Paul's conviction that if one died for all, then all died. I no longer have the freedom to live in the things that I believe it was necessary for Christ to die for. When people come to faith in Christ, it is in order that they might come to newness of life. Paul puts it this way: in Christ the new has come, the old is gone.
We're looking for transformed lives; we're thinking in terms of real conversion; we're thinking in terms of people in Christ walking away from the old life, and living in newness of life. Being solidly convinced that we have no freedom to live as we used to, we have only freedom to be new creations in Christ. That's the message.
We are compelled by a new perspective on people.
Notice the second thing in verse 16 that is hemming in the apostle Paul: "So, from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer." Paul has arrived at a striking conclusion. He is no longer free to look at people from a purely earthly, human perspective. If the love of Christ was made available to all people so that Christ died for all, then it is perfectly obvious that if Christ loved all these people enough to die for them, I no longer have the freedom to look at them any differently than Christ looks at them. I must look at those whom Christ loves through an entirely new set of spectacles.
Paul gives us a dramatic illustration of the change that has taken place in his attitude toward people, the dramatic change in perspective when Paul changed his mind about Jesus. Saul of Tarsus, the brilliant rabbi who was well-versed in the Old Testament, had arrived at a logical position. Saul the rabbi believed everyone who hangs on a tree is accursed. Jesus of Nazareth hung on a tree. Therefore, Jesus of Nazareth is accursed. That's simple logic. Then Saul went a step further. Jesus claims to be Messiah. Messiah cannot be accursed. Therefore, Jesus is not Messiah. Saul of Tarsus now takes his logical conclusion a step further and says that Jesus got what he deserved. He was a blasphemer; he's accursed; the curse rightly rests upon him. His misguided followers must be stopped.
Saul devoted considerable energy to exterminating the followers of the Way, until he had an encounter with the risen Christ. In that encounter with the risen Christ, he suddenly noticed something. Saul had been convinced that Jesus was wrong and he was right. Now he realized, "Uh oh! Saul is wrong, and Jesus is right! Jesus is not accursed; Jesus is Messiah. Jesus is the Son of God with authority, proven by his resurrection from the dead. I am the chief of sinners." That is a dramatic change of mind.
Paul also says that now he understands Christ's love for people was such that he died for all. He no longer has the freedom to look at people the way he did before. He must look at people through Jesus' eyes. That means he needed to have as radical a change of mind about people as he had about Christ.
It is not uncommon to find people in the church of Jesus Christ who simply look at other people from a worldly point of view: "I don't like him;" "I don't agree with him;" "I won't take that from her;" "Who does she think she is?" "Why in the world does she get the recognition and I don't?" Outside the church, we discover Christians despising certain members of the larger community. We're not exactly falling over ourselves to do something about AIDS patients. We're not exactly showing a tremendous concern about racism. We're not really too involved in trying to approach the crushing problems of poverty. In our convenient, comfortable, evangelical churches, we reserve the right to regard other people from a human point of view. Paul says the love of Christ takes away that option. The love of Christ leads us to this striking conclusion: I am no longer free to look at people from a purely worldly point of view.
We are hemmed in by a serious commitment.
Paul is now hemmed in by a serious commitment. Notice the nature of this serious commitment. Verse 20 reads, "We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: be reconciled to God."
An ambassador lives in a country other than her homeland. She lives in that foreign country in order to represent the government at home. She does not propagate a personal message but simply communicates the message communicated to her, and she seeks to do nothing that would infringe on the nature and the character of the home country. The analogy is so obvious it hardly needs application. One of the great needs of the church today is to produce men and women who make a serious commitment based on those convictions and conclusions. Their commitment means living as representatives of the age to come in the fundamentally alien territory of this present evil age. Those who are committed to the cause march through time as if they represent eternity; they live on earth representing heaven, living among people to give them a vision of God. The committed think in terms of the spiritual, not of the material.
How easily Christians become absorbed with this present evil age: temporal considerations, material concerns, and preoccupation with human thinking rather than God's revelation. What a glorious opportunity for ambassadors who unashamedly represent the home country in the alien territory. These ambassadors have a message from the king. The message is simply this: the day is coming when the king will appear in great glory. When the king appears, human history will come to its divinely ordained end. The grand consummation of all things is at hand.
The only reason it hasn't already happened is the incredible patience of God, who is not willing that any should perish. I have a great desire to see more people understand the love of Christ in such a way that they are hemmed in and motivated by solid convictions. Christ died for all; I died with him. I'm no longer free to live for myself but for him who died and rose again for me. I'm also anxious to see people in my church arrive at this striking conclusion. I am no longer free to look at people from a human point of view, but I must begin to see them as Christ himself sees them. I'm trusting that more and more people will begin to see themselves as ambassadors for Christ and come to a serious commitment that sees God glorified in their lives and his kingdom extended. All it takes is people rightly motivated. The love of God, rightly understood, will motivate us in those ways.
To see an outline of Briscoe's sermon, click here.
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?