Pastor Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Community Lutheran Church; Message on The Appointment 03; Date: 3 May 09

For more sermons and other writings check out pastor’s homepage: http://www.geocities.com/mayeredgar

 

 

A Good Turn

 

Cornelius became a Christian. How did this happen? What makes a Christian? What makes you a Christian? The short answer is: God. Everything begins with him and so also in the case of Cornelius. God was the one that arranged the meeting between Cornelius and Peter who would preach to him and God was the one that provided the means of salvation – sending “the message … of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36). Therefore, the short answer is that God makes you a Christian. He makes salvation happen but – if you are not yet a Christian – this needs unpacking in order to become more practical and personal.

We have another look at Cornelius. Peter preached to him and the beginning and ending of his sermon give us important clues as to what makes a Christian – Acts 10:36-43 – I read from the Bible (Peter said): “ … peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all … We are witnesses of everything … They killed Jesus by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name

These are the keys – listen again: “ … Jesus Christ . is Lord of all … everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his nameTherefore – point one – let Jesus be your Lord which means: let him be in charge of your life. The Bible declares in a most radical way – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “ … you are not your own; you were bought at a price … “ Jesus died – for you. He gave his life – for you – as a sacrifice (payment) for your sins and you were not a bargain for him but cost him everything – betrayal, torture, death (on a cross). Love made him pay the price but now you are his and you want to be his. He is your Lord and with him there is peace with God.

Then – point two – put your faith in your Lord. Do not dishonour him by doubting his promises: “ … everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his nameAccept his goodness – his mercy – his forgiveness – by faith – for you. In summary then – from the preaching of Peter – we learn that in order to become a Christian we are to let Jesus be our Lord and have faith in him. We obey and take him by his word.

Can you do that – with the help of God? Are you willing? When other people heard about Cornelius and how he became a Christian, they used another word to describe his experience. They said – Acts 11:18: “ … God has granted [him] … repentance unto lifeThis one word “repentance” is an even more concise summary of what is involved in becoming a Christian. What makes a Christian? Repentance (which is granted as a gift from God).

This goes deep and not everyone understands how deep this goes. There are many who think that they are Christians when in fact they are not because they do not understand repentance. What these people take from the preaching of Peter is that Jesus died for our sins and therefore we can be forgiven – they believe that and they feel comfortable in their knowledge – but they forget that Jesus is not only our Saviour. He is our Lord (as Peter also preached).

Christians are coming under new management – his management – which requires repentance – the turning away from everything wrong in our lives toward him. The Bible is tackling people who claim that they put their trust in Jesus but then no actions back up their claim. They are not in touch with him at all. They don’t know him. The Bible confronts them, saying – James 2:18-19: “ … Show me your faith without deeds … You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudderThe Bible challenges anyone, saying: “How can you believe and not have some sort of reaction to the true God? The demons know him and therefore they shudder in terror of his holiness and might but you claim to believe in him and know him and yet, ignore himThe Bible says: “This is useless” James 2:20: “ … faith without deeds is useless [– dead].” No actions betray that you know nothing about God.

Cornelius was not like this. The Bible introduced him with these words – Acts 10:2: “He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularlyLater the messengers to Peter gave the same assessment, saying – Acts 10:22: “ … Cornelius … is a righteous and God-fearing man … “ At last Peter himself was preaching this about Cornelius – Acts 10:34-35: “ … God … accepts [those] … who fear him and do what is right

Cornelius – at that stage – had not yet been saved – he had not yet heard about Jesus – but he knew enough about God to be God-fearing, that is: to humble himself before him and serve him with reverence. Do we know what Cornelius knew or does he seem a little strange to us?

By the way – he did not get everything right in his God-fearing attitude. When the angel visited him, the Bible records that “he stared at him in fear” (Acts 10:4). He became scared which is not the same as fearing God and when he entered Peter’s house, he “fell at Peter’s feet in reverence” (Acts 10:25). This was misdirected and therefore Peter said to him – Acts 10:26: “Stand up. I am only a man myselfYet, Cornelius got more right than wrong. He knew how to be humble and honour in holy awe what God was doing in his life. He needed more knowledge – he needed Peter preaching to him about Jesus – but the attitude was right and if you want to be a Christian, you have to recover some of that for yourself. What makes a Christian? Repentance – the turning away from sin to the God whom we fear in holy reverence.

A man spoke to his pastor on the phone and confided in him, saying: “Never in my life have I ever been so utterly terrified. For God’s reasons alone God began to deal with sin in my life. God has brought up things that I have not thought about for years and years. He has brought up things from my youth that I have never dealt with in my life – things that have affected my marriage and my assignment. God was relentless for three weeks bringing to mind what he sees as sin and how serious it is with him. I came to the place a few days ago where I cried out to God and asked why God was doing this to me. God said to me, ‘Because you have lost the fear of me I am doing this.’” The question is: Does God have to do the same to us because we have likewise lost the fear of him.

The pastor listened to the man and then wrote down his conclusions: “When you do not fear God, you will not fear sin. There is a direct relationship between a high view of God and a high view of sin. A low view of God brings a low view of sin. When there is no fear of God, there is no fear of sin. It is amazing to me the number of people who can sin grieveously against the Word of God … It amazes me how so many people somehow believe that as long as they do not feel that something is bad, that it is not bad – as long as they can feel okay about it, they can continue to do it … “ (Henry Blackaby: Holiness, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers 2003, p9-10).

No. Peter concluded his sermon by telling Cornelius – Acts 10:42: “ … Jesus Christ is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the deadJudgement is coming and the standard will be the holiness of God – perfect righteousness. Nothing will be compromised and the only reason that we will escape condemnation is the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for us. As Peter also said – Acts 10:43: “ … everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his nameNone of our sins will be excused. They will be forgiven because someone else suffered the punishment for our sins on our behalf – Jesus on the cross: wounded and tortured – for us.

God forgives us but he doesn’t change his nature which is holy. Therefore – we can never separate faith from repentance – ongoing repentance – making room for his holiness. Jesus himself declared that this is at the heart of the Christian experience. After he rose from the dead, he summed up the message of salvation with these words – Luke 24:46-47: “ … repentance and forgiveness of sins [flowing from repentance] will be preached in his name … “ Therefore – later – when the disciples preached their first sermon and the people asked them – Acts 2:37: “ … what shall we do”, there could only be one answer. The disciples said – Acts 2:38: “Repent … “ All of us here – understand who you are dealing with and how much you need to be saved. Turn away from sin and turn toward Jesus in holy fear.

I want to make another point clear. People said about Cornelius that – (I remind us of this verse) Acts 11:18: “ … God . granted [him] … repentance unto lifeGod grants repentance. It is always God that makes you a Christian. Without him setting up an appointment with you and without him tugging at your heart, nothing would ever happen. In the same way – understand that God keeps granting repentance to you as you keep turning towards him and what he wants. The Bible says – Philippians 2:12-13: “ . my dear friends, as you have always obeyed [as you have always kept yourself turned toward God] … continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purposeFor the duration of our entire life on earth – we continue to work on repentance with fear and trembling because our God is a holy God – but – we are not doing this in our own strength. It is he who works in us to will and to act according to his good purpose.

May I also add that the deep motivation for being so committed to God-fearing holiness is not just that we want to be saved and be secure in eternity. We are fascinated by God. He loves us with the kind of crazy love that even dies on the cross in shame – for us – flawed people like us. God is so pure in his love and this pure love – the total lack of selfishness – is precisely his holiness – his nature which knows no shadow or sin (cf. Hebrews 12:29; 1 John 1:5). The Bible says – 1 John 4:16: “ … God is love … “ Therefore – if we want to know him better – if we want to be consumed by him – then we respect his holiness (the nature of his love) with reverent fear and draw near to him with obedience. The Bible further says – 1 John 4:16: “ … God is love. Whoever lives in love [in his kind of holiness] lives in God and God in him

A human example would be that if – as a man – you love a certain woman, you are – in some cases – willing to commit to the study of Meg Ryan movies, the pleasure of shopping for clothes, learning to talk about your feelings and lots more – you respect all of these – because you want to draw near to this person and become one with this person. It is the same with God. Only he is holy. 1 John 2:3-6 – from the Bible: “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands … if anyone obeys his word, the love of God is truly made complete in him. This is how we know that we are in him … “ Hebrews 12:14: “ … without holiness no one will see the Lord” but – so Jesus said – Matthew 5:8: “ … the pure in heart … will see GodWe want to see him (nothing is more blessed) and therefore we pursue a pure and holy heart. We are driven by love which in the end fears God without being afraid of him (1 John 4:18). We fear him and we love him.

A perfect example of what I am talking about is Moses. He had seen the holy God in action – setting his people free from slavery in Egypt but also punishing those that opposed him with plagues (sending boils on people, even slaying the firstborn son of every family – horrific stuff). Yet, Moses fell in love with God and couldn’t get enough of him. When he and the people of Israel came to Mount Sinai, God was there.

I read from the Bible – Exodus 24:15-18: “When Moses went up on the mountain the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nightsThe Lord God called Moses from within the cloud – which contained his glory – and Moses was allowed to enter in for forty days and forty nights. From below the mountain the glory cloud looked like a consuming fire. Wow. I recall a testimony where a congregation was worshipping in a building in Latvia and the neighbours saw flames of fire coming out of the church building so that they – in fact – called the fire brigade. Yet, it was the glory of God. Moses was in it for forty days and forty nights. He heard God speaking with him and received tablets of stone which were inscribed by the finger of God.

Yet, he couldn’t get enough. Even at that very time he wanted more – Exodus 33:18: “ . Moses said, ‘Now show me your glory.’” And God was pleased with his desire for him. I read from the Bible – Exodus 33:19-34:7: “And the Lord said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.’ Then the Lord said, ‘There is place near where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.’ … And the Lord passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.’”

Moses loved God with a passion but even in his relationship with him God never lost his fearsome holiness. He was and is a God that is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin”. Yet, at the same time he does not leave the guilty unpunished and even someone like Moses was not allowed – not able – to see his face and live. This side of eternity none of us impure humans can survive the exposure of too much from God. We would die. [For instance, some people get so filled with the joy of God or the love of God that they feel like dying. It is too much. Their human frame cannot contain so much of God in his purity.]

When Moses came out of this encounter with God, his own face ended up shining – glowing – with the glory of God. It was so bright that he needed to cover himself with a veil before others (Exodus 34:33) because others were able to tolerate far less of God than he was. We want to fall in love with God – draw near to him – more and more – but at all times we will respect the fearsome quality of his holiness. [Isaiah 6:3: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lost of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”]

Let’s become more practical again. What do you think is the current state of your repentance? Up to now – how serious have you been about turning away from sin and toward God? Do you agree with what the Bible says – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11: “ … Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 6:18: “Flee from sexual immorality … “ How pure are you when it comes to the sins of the flesh? Are you committing adultery or thinking about it? Are you in the grip of lust? Do you consume pornography? The Bible warns us: “Do not be deceivedYou must repent.

Hear more from the Bible and make it practical for yourself. What do you need to let go? Galatians 5:19-21: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” You and I – ask yourself: Do I get jealous of others? Do I have selfish ambition? Do I get drunk? Repent – even this morning. Love God and fear God.

We are to be thorough in this because the standards of God are high and we are his people – Colossians 3:8-9: “ . now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other … “

Another good practice is to spend time on meditating on the ten commandments and what they mean. Martin Luther did this every day and I now read from his small instruction booklet which is called the Small Catechism [read two or three examples]:

 

The First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods.” What does this mean? We should fear, love and trust in God above all things. The Second Commandment: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. The Third Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” What does this mean?We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. The Fourth Commandment: Honour your father and your mother. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them. The Fifth Commandment: “You shall not murder.” What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need. The Sixth Commandment: “You shall not commit adultery.” What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other. The Seventh Commandment: “You shall not steal.” What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbor's money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his possessions and income. The Eighth Commandment: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest possible way. The Ninth Commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbor's house.” What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor's inheritance or house, or get it in a way which only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it. The Tenth Commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant, or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not entice or force away our neighbor's wife, workers, or animals, or turn them against him, but urge them to stay and do their duty.

 

Did you notice how Luther also begins explaining every commandment by saying: “What does this mean? We should fear and love God … “ Fear and love! Then the holy standard of God’s commandments – like a mirror – exposes our imperfections – when we do misuse God’s name – by swearing and tolerating movies that are full of swearing – or when we give false testimony – by harming another one’s reputation with our words of gossip.

This is all rather practical and you cannot be a Christian if you are not willing to let go of your sin, that is: repent. Let God grant you repentance unto life and then follow up your repentance with practical fruit – as the Bible says – Luke 3:8: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance … “ which means that you are to make reparations (cf. Luke 19:8) and start acting in love. Give back what you have stolen. Say sorry to those that you have damaged.

Right – this may sound like a lot of pressure right now – and therefore – in closing – I want to warn you about a common mistake. Salvation is by repentance and then – on the basis of your repentance – by the forgiveness of your sins – not by our own efforts of fixing what we have messed up in our lives. An evangelist complains: " ... what is particularly saddening and even agonizing, is that many ministers and leading Christians give completely false instruction on how to overcome sin [on how to be a Christian]. The directions that are generally given on the subject, I am sorry to say, amount to this: 'Take your sins in detail, resolve to abstain from them, and fight against them, if need be with prayer and fasting, until you have overcome them. Set your will firmly against a relapse into sin, pray and struggle, and resolve that you will not fall – and persist in this until you form the habit of obedience and break all your sinful habits.' To be sure, it is generally added: 'In this conflict, you must not depend upon your own strength but pray for the help of God.' ... " (Charles Finney: Power From God, New Kensington 1996, 119-120).

This is wrong. We cannot get rid of sin in our lives by fighting sin just as we cannot get rid of the darkness in a room by trying to shovel out the darkness. We have to turn on the light. Repentance is turning on the light of Jesus in your life which overcomes sin with his power. Repentance is coming under his management and is not a self-improvement program where you struggle on your own to make yourself God-pleasing.

When you see it from this angle, repentance is a wonderful gift and is an exercise of joy because you can simply turn to Jesus – walk away from the bondage – let the old die – and then receive forgiveness and a new life which flows out from this forgiveness with the power of God. Do you understand what I am trying to say? Turn – repent – with your eyes fixed on Jesus – not the sin that you need to overcome. By faith – let him overcome the power of darkness in your life.

Now – are you ready? Do you want to repent? Peter preached to Cornelius, saying: “ … Jesus Christ . is Lord of all … everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his nameAre you ready to turn and let Jesus Christ also be your Lord? It is a good turn – on offer from God – for you. Repent unto life. Amen.