David Jeremiah - Fully Engaged With the Gospel
Let me read to you the words of a man who was fully engaged with the gospel, his name is Paul. And he wrote this incredible letter to the Romans. In the 16th and 17th verses, we read his words, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith.'"
If you've ever dabbled at all in theology, you know these are two of the most important verses in the Bible. There are no two verses like it anyplace in the Scripture. These words are the essence of Christianity. And in many respects, these two verses are responsible for the Protestant Reformation. Knowing that Paul was on his way to Rome, the imperial city of his day, he's writing to the Romans to whom he is about to visit, and he wants them to know what he's bringing with him when he comes. He wants them to know that the gospel is his message, and that he is not ashamed of it. He's saying, "Though I may be the laughingstock of the aristocratic thinkers in the city of Rome, I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ".
Sometimes today, as you look around, you notice that some folks are ashamed of the gospel. They're all right to do church, they're all right to be good people, they're all right even to be known as religious, perhaps even as evangelicals. But when it comes to the gospel, they think maybe that's a bit over the top. And they don't want to be involved in preaching the gospel, or trumpeting the call of the gospel. Sometimes, it's true that they're this way because of intellectual reasons. Paul ran into that in his life when he wrote to the Corinthians. He said the Jews view the gospel as a stumbling block, and the Greeks think it's foolishness.
Well, he's about to go to Rome, filled up with Greeks, to tell them about the gospel, which they think is foolishness. Just think of it. In the midst of the pomp and ceremony of these Roman emperors and in the imperial city of Rome, here comes this guy who says that the Savior of the world was a carpenter who grew up in Nazareth. And imagines the ridicule and laughter of the court and the great people when they're saying to one another the latest joke in town is there's this guy who arrived actually saying that a carpenter from Nazareth in the land of the Jews is the Son of God. And not only that, he's the Savior of the world, and that he saves the world by dying helplessly on a cross.
How funny is that? A lot of people view the gospel in that way. Intellectually, it's inconceivable to them that the story of the gospel could be actually true. Sometimes, they reject it for philosophical reasons. Because, you see, the gospel reverses all of the other religions of the world. All of the religions of the world teach that you get to God by climbing up to him through all of the works of righteousness that you can manage. But the gospel says it's exactly the opposite. You don't climb up to God, God reaches down to you. So the gospel is counterintuitive to every kind of philosophical thinking you can imagine.
Someone has said that Christianity is the un-religion of the world because it turns all our religious instincts on their heads. Sometimes, people reject this gospel because of social reasons. It's not respectable to be a Christian, did you know that? Criticism of Catholics and evangelicals, berating them, almost as if to be a Christian, an evangelical, or a committed Catholic is to live beneath the intellectual line that is acceptable to the more aristocratic people. The Bible says that God chooses people, and he tells us how he goes about it. He says, "Not many wise, and not many mighty, and not many noble are called". He didn't say not any, he said not many. We're just common people. We're the people God has chosen, and those who do not like the gospel find that to be socially revolting that God should choose people like us to be born into his family. And some people are disengaged with the gospel for moral reasons.
One day, I was in my office in the church that I started in Fort Wayne, and a man came to see me. And he'd heard me preach the day before, and I gave a gospel message, and he said, "I just wanted to come by and tell you that I've been thinking about being a Christian, but I don't think I'm going to do it". And I said, "Why"? He said, "Well, Dr. Jeremiah, it'd be just downright inconvenient for me right now, if you want to know the truth". Then he began to tell me, and it would have been very inconvenient for him to have become a Christian. But how many of you know that Christ comes to take us out of our convenience, and give us something far more important than anything we've got going for us at the time?
But there are many people who do not like the gospel, because, you see, the gospel is offensive to the pride of man. The gospel tells men that they are sinners, and that they're rebels, that they're under the wrath and condemnation of God, and they can't do anything about it themselves. And that is so revolting to the modern "I can get it myself" person. They have to accept the fact that only Christ, who was crucified between two thieves, can save them. And it's just not possible for them to get their arms around it. So, as Paul says in Romans chapter 1, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ". He's saying something to us in our generation.
I want to ask you this question today, whoever you are, whether you're listening here in this auditorium, or through the Internet, or on the television program, or on the radio, or whatever. How do you stack up with this question, are you ashamed of the gospel of Christ? Are you willing to get into a conversation all the way up until then, and then you back away? I'm here to tell you that God Almighty has called us to a fully engaged relationship with his gospel. So, as we unpack these two verses, I want you to think with me not only about what Paul is saying concerning himself, but what Paul is saying to us, why should I be fully engaged with the gospel? And he helps us understand that in these two verses. First of all, it's the gospel.
The word "gospel" is made up of two Greek words, one word means news, and the little preface to the word means good. The word "gospel" means good news. How could you not want to be fully engaged with good news? It's an announcement not about what we do for God, it's an announcement about what God has done for us. The gospel isn't a list of things you need to do to get to God. The gospel is a list of everything God has done to reach down to you. How could you not want to be fully engaged with the gospel? Tim Keller says that here's the gospel: you're more sinful than you ever dared believe, and you're more loved than you ever dared hope. Isn't that the truth? Listen to how Paul continues, "The power of God to salvation". The gospel is not only the promise of good news, it's the power that God brings into the situation.
By the way, if you're a grammatical student, you might notice that the word "for" is in these two verses a lot. The word "for" is a word that tells you this is the because in the sentence. We should not be ashamed of the gospel because the gospel is the power of God to salvation. Did you know that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the most powerful force in the universe? It is the deliverance of man from the consequences of the fall and sin. To be saved means to be set free from the greatest evil, and placed in the possession of the greatest good. A friend of mine, who is a young teacher of the Word of God by the name of J.D. Greer, has written a little book on the gospel. And in that book, he makes this incredible statement.
The gospel reveals a greater power than even the power of creation. It is the power of new creation, redeeming from sin, and regenerating life from death. Did you know that nothing else in the Bible except for Christ himself is referred to as the power of God? Think about that. The sun is 9,900 degrees Fahrenheit on the surface, and 27 million degrees at its core. Tsunami waves rise up to 100 feet high, and travel at over 80 miles an hour, destroying everything in their path. A recently discovered star is reported to streak through the heavens at 1.5 miles per second. We know of volcanoes that spew lava up to 17 miles into the atmosphere, whose eruptions can be heard from more than 3,000 miles away. And none of these is called the power of God. Jesus' victorious work of putting away our sin forever is what the Bible calls the power of God.
If you're a Christian here today because you've accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you are a very wonderfully blessed and unique person. You have experienced the power of God. Thank God it's always sufficient, isn't it, the power of God.
Several years ago, I met a pro golfer by the name of Greg Powers. He'd been in a terrible accident, and was told that he would never play golf again. During his recovery and rehabilitation from surgery, someone gave Greg Powers a set of my teaching tapes on the book of Daniel. So Greg began to listen to those tapes over and over again. And as the result, he fell under conviction, and received the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior. It was the power of the gospel that captured his mind. Once, he visited our church here in southern California. Since I'm not a golfer, we had a lot of leisure time to talk about what was happening in his life. And after he returned to his home in Florida, he wrote me this letter, which demonstrates the change that takes place in life when it is exposed to the power of God. He said:
My trip back across the country last week, some 3,100 miles in my van, proved very enlightening. While in El Cajon, I picked up five more series of tapes. I'll give you some idea just how far 3100 miles is. It's the 'Ten Burning Questions from Psalms' twice, 'Turning Toward Integrity' twice, 'Home Improvement' three times, 'How to Survive in a Hostile World, Volume One and Two' once, 'The Greatest Stories Ever Told, The Parables of Jesus' twice. And of course, the trip would not have been complete without another rendition of 'The Handwriting on the Wall, Volumes One, Two and Three,' which makes about 30 times of Daniel's life and God's secret that led me to accepting our precious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Now, God can use his power. In this man's life, he put it in cassette tapes, where he heard the Word of God audibly, and the power of God was released on his life. Men and women, I'm here to tell you like never before in all of my time as a pastor, I am so excited and committed to be involved as a distributor of the power of God. Because as I look at the world today, it is the only thing powerful enough to rescue us from ourselves. And I hope you catch in this sermon today that all of us need to re-energize ourselves toward this message, which is the one life-changing thing we have to offer to a dying and desperate world. We should be totally engaged with the gospel because of the promise of the gospel, it's the good news. Because of the power of the gospel, it's the gospel that leads us to salvation. And because of the purpose of the gospel, it says, "For everyone who believes".
John 3:16 says that God loves the world, and that if we believe in him, we won't perish. Acts 2:21 says, "And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved". Yes, the gospel is God's power offered to us. But it must be received by us. And the Bible says there's a priority to the gospel. Some people struggle with this. This verse says the gospel comes first to the Jews, and then to the Greeks, to the Gentiles. Now, there's only one gospel, so if you've heard some of the rumors that have been floating around lately that Jewish people get saved in a different way than Gentiles, don't believe it because there's only one gospel. There's not gospel number one and gospel number two, or plan A and B, there's just one gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is the great leveler. Everybody comes to faith the same way.
When you get to heaven, everybody else who's there got there the same way you did. Nobody climbed up over the wall, nobody offered some bribe, nobody said, "I'm better than they are". You only get to heaven one way, that's through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Whether you're Jewish or Gentile or Muslim or whoever you are, the gospel is the great leveler. But in the economy of God, he allowed the gospel to begin to his chosen people, the Jews. And you and I are grafted into this because, listen to Acts chapter 13, "Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, 'It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.'" It's the same gospel, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
And then we should never be disengaged with the gospel not only because of the promise of the gospel, that it's the good news, and the power of the gospel because it's what causes salvation to happen, or the purpose of the gospel for everyone who will believe, or the priority of the gospel, the Jew first and then the Greek, but because of the plan of the gospel, "The righteousness of God is revealed". Put on your thinking caps right now, don't take a mental vacation. Stay with me for these moments, these are the most important truths in this verse. We should be engaged with the gospel because it's the gospel that helps us understand how we can become worthy of heaven.
When humans invent religion, they usually do it for one of two reasons. Sometimes, they invent religion to make themselves look good. I've been telling you that we have gotten it all wrong. God created us in his image, and we have missed it, and decided to create God in our image so we can feel comfortable with God, and that's what goes on all over the place, especially in these recent days. But the gospel that doesn't have any information in it about how an unrighteous person like me can get to heaven is not the gospel because I'm still outside. I need someone to show me how, in my sinful self, I can get to heaven. And this is the thing that drove Martin Luther to the Reformation. Here's a little bit of a story out of his life.
Martin Luther, as a monk, was living an ascetic life in an Augustinian monastery. He was determined that he would live his life holy and self-denying, that he would qualify for heaven. He fasted, sometimes 3 days without a crumb. He laid on himself vigils and prayers in excess of those stipulated by his rule. He cast off the blankets that were given him at night, and well-nigh froze himself to death because he thought it would be more acceptable to God. He went to confession every day, and sometimes spent as many as 6 hours in a row wearing out his priest with every possible sin he thought he might have committed. In everything he did or thought, he was seeking to work his way to heaven.
That's Martin Luther. He later reflected on his early religious commitment, he said, "I was a good monk, and I kept the rule of my order so strictly that if I may say so myself, if ever a monk got to heaven by his monkery, it would have been me". And it wasn't until he started to study Paul's epistle to Romans, and it challenged him in his thinking. And it was utterly new to him, he'd never have heard anything quite like this, though he'd grown up religiously. He said, "I greatly long to understand Paul's epistle to the Romans, and nothing stood in the way but one expression, and that expression was the justice of God. Because it seemed to me that it was saying that God is just, and deals justly in punishing the unjust, and my situation was that, although I was an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner, troubled in my conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would ever satisfy him. Therefore, I did not love this just and angry God, but I hated and murdered against him".
Years later, when he was writing his own commentary on the book of Romans, Luther reiterated what he had learned. "For God does not want to save us by our own righteousness, but by an extraneous righteousness, one that does not originate in ourselves, but comes to us from beyond ourselves, which does not arise on earth, but comes from heaven". Martin Luther discovered the righteousness of God and the incredible transaction that takes place on the cross. Ladies and gentlemen, when Jesus died on the cross, he took all of our sin upon himself, and stood in our place, but that's not the end of the story. In exchange for our sin, he gave to us his righteousness, so that we can now stand before God, not because of anything we have done, but we are the receivers of the righteousness of God through salvation in Jesus Christ alone.
And when that broke across Martin Luther's mind, and he began to see that all you can do to work your way to heaven is worthless, that the Bible is true when it says that our righteousnesses are as filthy rags before God, he began to understand the hope that is in the gospel because that hope is not resident in the one who is seeking heaven. That hope is in God, who in heaven offers us his righteousness. We should not be disengaged with the gospel. How could we be disengaged with something so marvelous, so wonderful? The verse ends with this thought, that we should not be disengaged with the gospel because of the principle of the gospel, "for everyone who believes, from faith to faith, 'The just shall live by faith.'"
So, here's this gospel, the power of God. How do we get it? We get it by faith. One interpretation of this says that it's out of faith and into faith. And the idea is that it comes to us sometimes through others. The righteousness of God is conveyed to me out of the testimony of another man's faith, into the receptivity of my faith. And the righteousness of God will be communicated to many out of the testimony of my faith, into the receptivity of their faith. One man preaches, another man believes, and faith comes to your heart from faith to faith, and people believe. As I ask you today, think about how you came to know Jesus Christ. Was it not someone who told you about him, either your parents, or the people in your small group, or in your class, or maybe a preacher? How do we get this faith? It's from faith to faith. And when we get the faith, we receive it, now we become reservoirs. And from our lives, others get faith.
So, the gospel says the way faith is communicated is originally comes from God, it's deposited in a human, and through that faith in that human, he is the transferor of that faith to others. The gospel is shared by faith. I'm here to tell you today that there's someone waiting for you to share your faith. Did you ever think about what that term means? "I want to share my faith". That doesn't mean just talk about what you believe. That means take the faith that God has given to you, and allow yourself to be a conduit so that that faith can come from you into others, from faith to faith. Every one of us has some faith to give away, don't we? No, we don't give anybody salvation, we help them understand what faith is. And it's through our witness that they become Christians. But the gospel's not only shared by faith, it's received by faith. "For everyone who believes, and the just shall live by faith".
Earlier, Paul has written that the gospel is for everyone who believes. That means you may know about the faith, you may have seen the faith, you may understand the faith, but you don't have the faith unless you receive the faith. You have to reach out and take the gift. The gospel says that salvation is a gift of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. You may not even really be able to say you have a gift until you receive it. Did you get anything for Christmas? "Yes, it's sitting up in the room, unwrapped". You didn't get anything because it's not your gift until you receive it, until you accept it. And so it is with the gospel. If you don't know Jesus Christ, it's not going to come through osmosis, it's not going to come through coming to church. You only get Jesus Christ when you understand that he loves you, and he sent his Son to die for you, and by faith, through prayer, you ask Jesus Christ to be your Savior.
Four times this statement, "The just shall live by faith," is found. You'll see it in the book of Habakkuk, in the book of Galatians, in the book of Hebrews, and here in the book of Romans. And this is the war cry of the Reformation, "The just shall live by faith, not by works which we have done". The Reformation was a resistance against the idea that you could work your way to heaven, that you could buy your way out of indulgences and other things, and merit God by your own activity. The Reformation is all about this, "The just shall live by faith," not by works, not by good deeds. We are not saved by works, we are saved unto good works. We are saved, once we're saved, we do these good works according to the Scripture.
But this was the truth that riveted the heart of the great reformer Martin Luther. On three separate occasions, this phrase had an impact on his life. First of all, in Wittenberg, in the quiet of his cell, while the world is still asleep, he's being incarcerated for all that he's been doing, and he's poring over the epistle to the Romans. And Paul's quotation from Habakkuk strangely captivates him, and he begins to say to himself, "The just shall live by faith. The just shall live by faith".
Years pass, and Luther, in the course of his journey, crosses the Alps, and there is overtaken by a serious sickness. His mind relapses into utmost darkness and dejection, and the sense of his sinfulness troubles him, and the prospect of judgment begins to fill him with fear and dread. But at the very moment at which those terrors reached their highest pitch, the words that had already struck Wittenberg recur forcibly to his memory, and he begins to hear them again, "The just shall live by faith. The just shall live by faith".
Restored and comforted, he gains his health back, and continues his journey. And his third and final and absolute most important experience with this phrase happens at Rome, an incredible story. In the city of Rome, there is the cathedral church of St. John the Lateran. In it is a famous staircase that's built in three sections, the ancient staircase with two parallel staircases, one on each side. And people would come to St. John's church, and walk up the staircases to the left and to the right. But on the staircase in the center, only pilgrims were allowed. And they would come to that staircase, and on their knees, they would climb up painfully, step by step, reciting their prayers as they went. On two or three of the stairs, there is a covering of plate glass, through which you can see red stains. As these steps are climbed by these anguished pilgrims, they often stop on the plate-glass stair, and look through there to these bloodstains. There is a tradition that says that these stains come from Pilate's hall in Jerusalem, and that these are the stains of the blood of Jesus Christ.
So, Martin Luther is climbing up the stairs in the cathedral of St. John the Lateran, wishing to obtain an indulgence promised by the Pope to all who would ascend the so-called Pilate staircase on their knees. Luther is painfully weeping his way up those stairs, in hopes of pleasing God. While he is performing this meritorious act, he thinks he hears a voice of thunder, "The just shall live by faith. The just shall live by faith". These words, which had twice before struck him like the voice of an angel from heaven, resound powerfully within his heart. And in a moment, when he realizes the work of climbing these stairs will never get him to heaven, there are no stairs long enough or even painful enough to get you to heaven, Martin Luther stands up from the steps on which he is dragging his painfully weary body. He shudders at himself. He is ashamed at seeing to what a depth he has plunged. He runs as far as he can from the scene of his foolishness.
And today, if you would visit the library of Rudolstadt, there is a glass case where you will discover a manuscript that memorializes Luther's experience in Rome. This letter is in the handwriting of Dr. Paul Luther, the reformer's youngest son, and here's what the letter says. "In the year 1544, my dearest father, in the presence of us all, narrated the whole story of his journey to Rome. He acknowledged with great joy that in that city, through the Spirit of Jesus Christ, he had come to the knowledge of the truth of the everlasting gospel. It happened this way, as he repeated his prayers on the Lateran staircase, the words of the prophet Habakkuk came suddenly to his mind, 'The just shall live by faith,' thereupon he ceased his prayers, returned to Wittenberg, and took this as the foundation of his life and his doctrine". After all of the effort, all of the monkery, and finally he got it. We are not saved by our works, we are saved by his work. The Bible tells us, "For by grace we are saved through faith, and that not of ourselves; it is a gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast".
Ladies and gentlemen, the reason I want you to hear this story, and hear the heart of your pastor, is this. We basically just have one job to do as a church. We do a lot of other things that are important. And if we're not careful, we let all the other things get in the way of the one thing we're supposed to do, and that's to carry the message of the gospel to the world, and let everybody know that the just shall live by faith. And if you'll put your faith in Jesus Christ, he will change your lives, can I get an amen?
I want to end by telling you a more modern story. On the morning of September the 11th, 2001, the Brooklyn Tabernacle lost four of its members. One victim was a police officer, and the officer's funeral was held at the church building. And Rudy Giuliani, then mayor of New York City, had asked to share a few thoughts. In his book "You Were Made for More," Jim Cymbala, pastor of the Tabernacle, records what the mayor shared with the audience that morning. Listen carefully. "You know, people," he said, "I've learned something through all this. Let me see if I can express it to you. When everybody was fleeing that building, and the cops and the firefighters and the EMS people were heading up into it, do you think any of them said, 'I wonder how many blacks are up there for us to save? I wonder what percentage are whites up there? I wonder how many Jews are up there? Let's see, I wonder how many people up there make $400,000 or $24,000 or whatever?' No, when you're saving lives, they're all precious. And that's how we're supposed to live all the time.
How would you want the cops to treat you if you were on the 75th floor that day? Would you want them to say, 'Excuse me, but I got to get to the bosses and get them out first'? Not exactly". Giuliani said, "I haven't always lived this way, but I'm convinced that God wants us to do it. He wants us to value every human life the way he values us". Jim Cymbala said, "I sat there thinking, 'My goodness, the mayor is preaching the gospel.' And it's a gospel that seems to have eluded so many of our churches throughout New York and this country. The world you and I live in is falling apart before our eyes, and we are God's only representatives on the planet, and simply cannot take time to pick and choose who needs our help. They all need help. They all need the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. They all need to be rescued from the horror of an eternity apart from God".
And gentlemen and ladies, that's what God has called us to do as a church. I don't want us to lose our way. We've had lots of distractions of late. But let's get back to the main business to which God has called us. Nobody else offers what we do unless they're a church that bases its truth on the Word of God. We have a commodity, if I can use that word, that is in great demand. And we need to be very serious about the calling that God has placed upon us for the gospel. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation".
I hope you will join your pastor with a new and greater understanding not only the responsibility, but the privilege we have to preach this gospel and share this gospel. And don't think because you're not a preacher or teacher, that doesn't involve you. Listen to me, everything you do that advances the ministry, whether it's with children or young people or anybody else, is helping us get the gospel forward. Don't diminish the importance of your job, and don't say, "I'm not a preacher, so". Or don't say, "I haven't been asked to teach". No, do what God has called you to do where you are, and trust God. Don't worry so much about the promotion, worry about yourself. Worry about what God has called you do, and then go do it with all your heart. And the gospel of Jesus Christ will be the winner. Amen.